broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

In Defense of Protest

In Defense of Protest

H. Bradford

1/15/18

Across the world next weekend, there will be marches to mark the anniversary of the Women’s March.  Last year’s marches in defense of women’s rights brought over five million people together in events held in over 80 countries.  Despite the historic size of the marches and the epic accomplishment of bringing so many people together, these event has been widely criticized.  Worse,  the very notion of protest has been critiqued as ineffective, outdated, or inferior to other methods of social change (namely, electoral politics).  Disagreements about tactics or critiques of events themselves have the potential of helping movements to grow, become more inclusive, correct mistakes, sharpen messages and demands, etc.  At the same time, there is something deeply pessimistic, and worse yet, submissive to capitalism, about the critique of protest itself.  This is why I will take a moment to defend protest.


Why Protest?

To begin, it is useful to ask what is the point of protesting?  From an organizer perspective, the general goal of protest is to bring a group of people together to highlight an issue or injustice and make a demand.  This action is a public display of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a call for change.  The power of protest is that it is visible, massive, public, uniting, and disruptive.  Another positive aspect of protesting is that it can be done immediately, without having to wait for election cycles.  For those who are alienated from the political system, it is way to voice an opinion or concern which may not be addressed by politicians or ruling parties.  It is also an opportunity for those with power to react with promises, concessions, or changes to avoid being ousted from power.  Ideally, protest is a method of challenging and reshaping power.  It can be a pathway to revolution.  For example, in March 1917, women gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia to march, mainly demanding bread (or an end to war time food rationing).  They were joined by striking workers and within a few days, the protests swelled to 200,000- demanding not only food but an end to the Tsar itself.  Tsar Alexander abdicated eight days later, ending three hundred years of Romanov rule.  One of the early events of the French revolution was The Women’s March on Versailles, which began on October 5th, 1789 when women began rioting in Paris’ markets over the cost and scarcity of bread.  This swelled to thousands of women, who marched to Versailles Palace to not only demand bread but political reforms.  Certainly, very few protests in history have resulted in such dramatic overhauls of systems of power.  But, there are many examples of protests that resulted in significant reforms.  The March on Washington in 1963 pushed the United States government towards passing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  While social movements employ a variety of tactics, protest in one form or another, played an important role in many social changes in history from winning women the right to vote to earning the right to an eight hour day.

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Women’s March on Versailles

Protesting doesn’t work…

While historically, protests have won us many of the rights we often take for granted, there is a great deal of cynicism that this tactic works or remains relevant.  It is easy to see why people may feel that protesting fails.  In recent years, there have been many massive protests that have not resulted in much significant or obvious social change.  In February 2003, millions of people around the world protested the Iraq War, but this did not avert the war and over the years, the anti-war movement his dissipated into invisibility.  The Occupy Movement drew attention to such things as economic inequality, the commons, bank bailouts, and fictitious capital, but it was ended largely through the criminalization of the movement (i.e. law enforcement broke it up).  Climate change threatens to bring on a mass extinction event and it seems protest has done little to slow it.  Protest could not stop Scott Walker from hobbling public unions in WI.

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February 15th Iraq War Protest

Redefining Success:

It is hard to know the impact of recent protests, since history continues.  We live in a moment of time, only able to see the defeats behind us.  Successful protests seem to be somewhere further in history or in some far off place in the world.  When success feels distant, it is easy to become demoralized.  Many people may not even be aware of past victories won through protest, because mainstream history tends to focus on great individuals rather than the accomplishments of mass movements.   Viewing history in this manner makes it hard to imagine the possibility that ordinary people can come together en mass and create social change.  This is why it is useful to both redefine what success looks like but also refocus history.  Because I am a revolutionary socialist, my ideal vision of success is the end of capitalism.  I would like to see a world where no one goes hungry, war is no more, climate change is stopped, everyone is housed and clothed, reproductive rights are a given, education is free, health care is a human right, and all people are treated with dignity and full humanity.  This requires both a long view of history but also a long view of the future.  In this viewpoint, protest in the interest of this future is never a failure.


Consider the Iraq War movement.  The failure to end the U.S. war on terror is painful.  But, was this movement a failure?  My first steps to becoming an activist were in 2003.  That was when I became a socialist.  Before I was a feminist activist, I was an anti-war activist.  It is through considering global issues like war, poverty, and colonization that I became a socialist to begin with.  It is through becoming a socialist, that I became a feminist.  On a personal level, the Iraq War movement was part of my political coming of age.  I imagine there are others like me.  And, there are those who participated in their first protest when they attended the Women’s March last year.  That will be part of their political coming of age.  These protests did not bring down patriarchy or thwart U.S. imperialism, but they are part of the process of creating people who will make change.  Even when protest fails in a traditional sense, it can be powerful in personal ways.

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At the same time, while some protests have not yielded the necessary and immediate results that one would hope for, they have not been for nothing.  There are plenty of times that I have participated in protests of less than a dozen people.  This certainly feels like a failure.  However, it puts a message out into public space.  It may spark a conversation.  At the minimum, it shows the world that this is an issue that a few people think matters.  On the other hand, there are much larger protest movements that may be seen as failure since they became smaller or disappeared.  The Occupy movement resulted in the popularization of a tactic: to occupy!  It also generated interest in anti-capitalist politics and perhaps in spotlighting social inequality, inspired other movements, such as the movement for $15 an hour minimum wage.  The Women’s March last January was followed by a burgeoning of feminist activism over the past year including #MeToo and the International Women’s Day Strike.  The story is not over because history is not over.


Alternatives to Protest:

There are of course, alternatives to protest.  To clarify, when I speak of protests I refer to activities such as marches, pickets, sit-ins, and demonstrations.  These are public events with participation ranging from a handful to millions.  Alternatives to protest include such things as voting, boycotts, divestment, petitions, lawsuits, strike, riot, terrorism, and warfare.  A strike would be a wonderful tactic since it wields a lot of social power.  However, it is not an easy tactic to pull off because many people fear losing their jobs, union membership is not widespread, and most people do not have experience with even more basic labor activism.  This is an aspirational tactic which protest could and should be built towards.  Terrorism and warfare are not on the table for most activists because they are violent, can result in criminal charges or death, are usually not mass movements, and alienate potential supporters.  Boycotts, petitions, and divestment can be useful tools in an activist tool box.  The only shortcoming is that they are often private, so those who are not involved in the movement may not know about them and those who are involved may not feel connected to a larger movement in the same way a protest brings people together.  Legal actions can also be a useful front, but again, this is not as public, massive, and visible.  Even voting or electoral politics can compliment protests.  But, none of these things should replace or usurp protests (well, strikes could but usually massive strikes also include protests).  It seems to me, when there is critique of protest, the alternative tactic suggested is voting.

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This is an example of protest combined with divestment.  In this case, activists were asking for divestment from apartheid South Africa.  Apartheid in South Africa was ended through a variety of tactics, including riots, labor organizing, divestment, protest, international sanctions,  boycotts, armed struggle, etc.

Political Process and Protest


I am extremely alienated from the U.S. political system.  Because both major parties fully support the continuation of U.S. capitalism and the resulting imperialist foreign policy of violence, poverty, and oppression, I can’t get behind Democrats or Republicans.  Therefore, I tend to avoid activist events that involve meeting politicians, phone banking for politicians, or really, anything that diverts energy towards getting candidates elected.  I am open to these tactics for candidates from anti-capitalist parties, but the goal shifts in these situations.  Since individuals who are not a part of mainstream political parties are not likely to win an election, the goal of campaigns tends to be more educational.  These campaigns might be used to point out the political shortcomings or hypocrisies of other candidates, educate people about socialism, or popularize anti-capitalist ideas.  This approach may be hard for others to understand, but at my core, I don’t really care about the existence or well-being of the United States as a nation.  I care about the working people or oppressed people of the world.  Thus, I find it hard to participate in the electoral process of the United States, as once again, both parties generally want to continue the U.S. dominance of the world and capitalism.  Still, I do not absolutely rule out participation in the political process as an activist tool.  I simply do not emphasize it as a prominent tool.


Bringing the topic back to protest, if social movements are effective in mass mobilizations, they can shift the political system without necessarily voting.  For instance, if a protest movement becomes widespread and it seems clear that public sentiment has shifted, politicians will shift.  After all, they want to be re-elected or at least see that their party is re-elected.  Social movements make it “safe” for mainstream politicians to support same sex marriage, utter the word climate change, or proclaim that they are for the 99%.  Thus, the horse is always social movements and the cart is the politicians being dragged along to speak to public sentiment.  Mainstream electoral politics doesn’t favor the brave.  Ideally, it would be wonderful to build space for alternative parties and reforms to our political system that create more opportunities for political representation from a variety of viewpoints.  This won’t happen with the acceptance of lesser evilism, a concession to perpetual disappointment, disempowerment, and disillusionment.


Why so Cynical?

I think there are many reasons why protests are critiqued.  I have only touched on a few.  At the heart of some of the critique is the notion that they have not been working.  It is certainly sad and frustrating to see so much misery and destruction go on, seemingly unchecked.  And, while I can be optimistic about small victories or alternative successes, this means little to those who struggle without a living wage, are brutalized by the police, watch natural resources wrenched from the earth while the planet warms, cannot afford housing, die of preventable disease, live in warzones, or all of the other sufferings in the world.  Change is needed immediately and systemically.  Protests themselves sometimes fail to be inclusive or fail to connect to other struggles.  Beyond this, there is the problem that most people are not engaged in political struggle.  The “masses” are often dismissed as fat, stupid, and reactionary.  It is hard to see our future liberation in the faces of the oppressed in our midst.  Once again, one might find inspiration in the long view of history.  In 1524, illiterate peasants gathered in the Black Forest and managed to create demands, create a banner, and elect leaders, launching the Peasants’ Wars in Germany (which were brutally suppressed, but it is always impressive when a group with little political experience or social leverage manages to organize and fight).  Our president recently designated Africa and Haiti as “shithole” places.  The Haitian revolution was the most successful slave revolt in history- which horrified Europeans with the reality that Black people could defeat white power and govern themselves.  The “shithole” countries of Africa managed to eventually defeat European colonial rule, even if they have not yet defeated capitalism, post-colonial economic relations, and legacies of exploitation.  I bring these examples up because when the masses are dismissed as too stupid, too lazy, too addicted, etc. it not only underestimates them, but concedes that some people are inferior.  This notion of inferiority is thinly veiled classism, racism, sexism, ableism, or other isms.  It is unfortunate that this dismissal of ordinary Americans and the elitism inherent in this sentiment only serves to make Trump more appealing.

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If this is your image of why Americans can’t liberate themselves, consider the classism, fat phobia, ageism, ableism, or other isms which cause you to write off sectors of society as incapable of social change.  People can be mobilized towards many things- from Black Friday shopping to White supremacy.  But, if a person can be mobilized towards these things, then can also be mobilized towards progressive social change with organizing that speaks to the conditions of their oppression and honors their humanity.


There are alternative methods of social change, which certainly can be used with mass demonstrations.  All of these methods may inevitably fail.  Protest as a tactic remains viable inasmuch as it is a visible, social, collective, public expression of the desire for social change.  It also remains viable in the context that working towards systemic change will require mass mobilization.  Tactics should ultimately seek to inspire others towards a cause and serve as a stepping stone to larger more system challenging actions.  Ultimately, what choice is there?  While there may be some tactical choices, there is little room to choose defeat or complacency.  This is not Pascal’s Wager, where faith is a tepid attempt to avoid the possibility of hell.  Hell is here in the creeping barbarism of everyday life in Late Capitalism.  The choice now is between accepting its inevitability or working to end it.  Accepting it is a betrayal of all who suffer and of present life on the planet. Therefore, we must fight relentless and together by all means available, but especially those which offer the most promise of dismantling systems of oppression once and for all.

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Image from 350.org

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How to Be a Sneaky Secret Santa

How to be a Sneaky Secret Santa

12/31/17

H. Bradford

The internet is full of tips of how to figure out what gifts to buy for a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange, but there are not a lot of pages with advice on how to be a sneaky Secret Santa.  That is, what if you want to put extra effort into hiding your identity as a Secret Santa or want to make the gift exchange itself more mysterious?  This holiday season I felt like being a little extra sneaky in our Secret Santa gift exchange at my job.  Here are some ideas of how to add a little ho, ho, ho to the average ho hum gift exchange:

The False Flag:

I did not set out to do anything special this year for our annual Secret Santa gift exchange.  However, I became aware that one of my co-workers was disappointed that she had not yet received a gift from her secret Santa.  Worse, she believed that I was the negligent party!  I didn’t want her to believe that I had forgotten to give her a gift (over a week into the exchange), so I concocted the idea that I would give her a secret Santa gift- even though I was not her actual secret Santa.  This spiraled into the idea that I should give a gift to another co-worker who had been pretty vocal about having been forgotten in the secret Santa exchange.  From there, the idea grew even bigger…


The first rogue secret Santa gift to my coworker “S”  was designed to be a false flag.   Well, not in the very literal sense.  A false flag is a an operation that is designed to appear that another group, organization, nation, etc. has carried out the action.  In this case, I wanted to make it obvious that I was the person behind this Secret Santa gift.  The idea is that by doing so, I would mask my other actions and confuse my ACTUAL secret Santa recipient  into believing that I was “S”‘s secret Santa.   I wanted S and my other coworkers to think that I was her Secret Santa even though I was not her actual secret Santa.   It was false evidence meant to distract from my actual activities.  While it does not quite fit the military or cyber definition of a false flag, I will use that term since I used my identity in one context to conceal or distract from my identity in the other context.


My first false gift involved a Scavenger Hunt to find two gifts hidden in my work place.  This Scavenger Hunt comprised of a message left on her desk, a second clue with a gift, and a final gift hidden in a hard to find location.  The clues in the Scavenger Hunt were written in three foreign languages and also provided GPS coordinates to the final gift.  Since my coworkers know that I like to travel and that I also do geocaching as a hobby, the Scavenger Hunt was purposefully made to make them believe that I was the Secret Santa behind “S” ‘s gift.   I think that this worked out pretty well since “S” sent a group email thanking the Secret Santa for the scavenger hunt and gift- which was helpful in making everyone aware of the ruse.   My only regret was that the Scavenger Hunt may have been a little too difficult.  It took two days to find the final gift (since reasonably most of my coworkers would not be able to use GPS to find a location in the workplace).

Big Idea: Pick someone to be your fake secret Santa gift recipient and provide obvious clues that you are the one behind this false gift.  Better yet, provide clues that lead everyone to believe that another one of your co-workers is behind the gift!

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The Informant:

Early on in my Secret Santa schemes, I enlisted a co-worker who works on the night shift with me to provide me with information and collaborate.   I don’t often speak to all of my coworkers, but “C” the informant, is much more social and closer with them.  She had a lot of great information that I would never have had access to.  For instance, many of my coworkers had confided in her who they had been paired with in the Secret Santa gift exchange.  I took notes based on her information (which helped me to plan my own actions).   Aside from providing me with information, “C” helped me by writing notes for me.  Obviously, I didn’t want to use my own handwriting when writing messages to the recipients of my gifts.  Therefore, I had her write some of the notes for me.   This was also useful as it might have led coworkers to believe that SHE was their Secret Santa (a distraction that benefited us both). Big Idea:  Enlist a trusted coworker in the schemes.  However, be careful, as they could spill the beans to your other coworkers!


Disinformation:

There is always the chance that “C” would tell others about my Secret Santa shenanigans.   To avoid that, I told her that I was “S”‘s Secret Santa.  Since she had already told me the gift exchange pairs that she knew, I knew that she did not know who “S” ‘s real secret Santa was.  So, I pretended to be “S” ‘s secret Santa when talking with “C” so that she would spread disinformation if she happened to tell others who I was paired with.

Big Idea:  Strategically plant false information.

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Dead Drop:

One of the challenges to being a secretive Santa is that workers have set schedules.   I have a very predictable and repetitive schedule wherein I work for eight days on and six days off.  Anyone with deductive reasoning can start to figure out who their secret Santa is or is not if they pay attention to work schedules.  For instance, if a gift always appears in the morning or afternoon, there is a good chance that it is from someone working one of those shifts.  If a gift only appears on weekdays after 10 am, it is easy to start to narrow down potential secret Santas.  Because I have six days off, I had to be a little bit creative about what to do about the long stretch of days that I am not at work.  I had two solutions to this, but I will only share one of them, which was the Dead Drop.   Basically, on the last night of my stretch of shifts, I hid gifts within my work place.  These had to be good hiding spots, as they would have to remain hidden for several days.


My first Dead Drop a hidden a gift card behind a poster in our office.     The other hiding spot was in an empty metal dresser in the maintenance room.  Finally, a third gift was hidden within our staff conference room.   With the gifts hidden in the shelter, I could choose the time and day that the secret Santa gift recipients would learn of their gifts.  This liberated me from relying on my work schedule.   However, this meant that I had to create secret communication channels to let my co-workers know about their gifts.

Big Idea:  Hide gifts to avoid reliance on a schedule or in-person exchanges.

 


 

Create Secret Communication Channels:

To inform the gift recipients of their hidden gifts, I had to create secret communication channels.  The first one that I created was a fake email account.   I used the fake email account to email “L” about the hidden gift card.   I did this at noon on a day that I did not work.   I figured that noon would be a good time, since as a night shift worker, she might conclude that I would be sleeping at that hour.   Using the fake email account, I sent an email to her which provided the following clue:

She is the one with the cheerless eyes,

 

She is cloaked in porpoises,

 

But what is her purpose or plan?

 

There are many things that start with the letter P

 

Look beyond the painting,

 

Hiding behind Patricia Wyatt

 

You will find a surprise or a disappointment.

The clue was meant to lead her to the framed poster in the office, behind which the gift card was hidden. Image result for patricia wyatt art she dreams in the rhythm of the waves

This is a copy of the poster that we have hanging in the office.

Several days later, I used a friend’s phone to inform another gift recipient (N) that she would find the gift in the maintenance room.   I felt that N would not be offended by getting a text from a mysterious number, since she seems like a pretty good sport.  I would not advise this method for a coworker that you don’t know well or who is not as into the gift exchange, since they may feel violated by a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar phone number.  In my case, N seemed pretty happy to be informed about the gift and intrigued rather than threatened.   My friend has a phone number from out of the area, which added to the mystery.  I made sure the friend immediately deleted the number from the phone and that it was someone that I could trust not to misuse the phone number.


Finally, I used my secret email to email my supervisor to make an announcement at the beginning of our staff meeting.  The supervisor was told to announce that an anonymous source had informed her that there was a gift hidden in the conference room.  Staff searched for the gift at the beginning of the staff meeting, which was turned over to the gift recipient, who also happened to be “N.”   Again, using a fake email to email a supervisor is only advisable if the supervisor is a good sport and on board with the Secret Santa gift exchange.  My supervisor happens to love the holidays and likes to coordinate the gift exchange, so I wasn’t too worried.  The only downside was that my coworkers had a hard time finding the gift, so I had to pretend to help them find it (to avoid taking up too much meeting time).

Big Idea:  Use a fake email, alternative phone, posted message, or other employees to create secret channels of communication.


 

Data Smog:

As my Secret Santa operation evolved, I eventually decided that I would give gifts to all of my coworkers.  Some would be elaborate, such as the scavenger hunt, hidden gifts, poems, anonymous letters, thoughtful cards, etc.  Some would be low-key, such as small gifts that randomly appeared in staff mailboxes with nothing more than a note that it was from Secret Santa.   I decided that I would try to give everyone a gift as a matter of fairness but also Data Smog.   Data Smog is the idea that it is hard to determine what is true or false when there is too much information to sift through.  By providing a lot of information and gifts to everyone, it would be hard for anyone to know which gifts were from a Secret Santa and which were from me, Rogue Secret Santa.   In the last two weeks of my Secret Santa operation, I mostly gave out subtle, anonymous gifts.   On Wednesdays, when all of the staff were gathered for a meeting, I chose to do a more elaborate gift exchange. Big Idea:  A variety of information, including obvious clues that it was Rogue Secret Santa as well as subtle, anonymous gifts given without fanfare was meant to obscure my actions.


Puzzles, Poems, and Messages:

One of my favorite parts of my Secret Santa operation was devising a number of poems and messages for my coworkers.   For instance, prior to our regular Wednesday meeting I baked two dozen cupcakes and set them on the table along with a typed message.  The message told my coworkers to eat the cupcakes and that under some of them, they would find a letter that spelled out the name of the coworker whose gift was on the table.   Everyone helped themselves to the cupcakes, eventually spelling out the letters in the co-worker’s name (which could be found on the bottom of the cupcake wrapper).   The gift itself included a Finnish language Christmas card and a poem by the famous poet, A. Leppanen.   There is no Finnish poet with this name.   I wrote the poem, but attributed it to a fake Finnish poet.  (The recipient of the gift had a Finnish background).   I created several poems or rhymes during the course of my secret Santa operation.   Each used a different style.   For instance, when “L” complained that she had been forgotten by her secret Santa, I provided her a small gift and the following typed Haiku:

Forgotten no more. I was called out for neglect.  Santa is Sorry

Image result for secret santa


 

Miscellaneous:

Aside from the techniques listed above, I tried to remain sneaky by keeping notes of my activities.  This helped me to keep track of what I had done, who I had given gifts to, how they reacted, and plans for the future.  This aided in the timing of my gift giving and make sure that no one was forgotten.   I typically typed my messages to my coworkers, as this disguised my handwriting, but on two occasions I had other people write my messages (one was C-the informant, and the other was my housemate).   I also used pre-made Secret Santa labels that I found on the internet, with one of my Secret Santa gift recipients.  Generally, I tried to be consistent.  For instance, I typically used decorated brown paper bags and printed labels for my gifts to N. Big Idea:  Take notes to keep track of your activities, use a variety of styles of packaging and messaging.  Avoid using your own handwriting.


Conclusion:

My Rogue Santa activities did concern some staff.  A few staff were worried that they had the wrong name in the exchange or were somehow doing the gift exchange wrong after mysterious gifts appeared from the Rogue Secret Santa.   The panic meant that my supervisor had to send an email warning staff not to worry and that there were some pranksters in their midst.  I genuinely enjoyed watching as the staff discovered their gifts, especially if they liked them.   I also enjoyed some conversations with staff.  For instance, one of my coworkers told me about a poem and gift card she had received.  She was convinced that they came from B., our supervisor.   I had to laugh a little to myself.   I also enjoyed doing little things such as hiding bags of candy under the seats of my coworkers before a staff meeting and making them the cupcakes.  My actual Secret Santa recipient did not know that I was her Secret Santa!  So that was also fun.  The main drawback is that I can only be a Rogue Secret Santa once!  Next year, if I do anything tricky, they will all know that it is me!  Another drawback is that because I bought at least a small item for each of my coworkers, it was a costly little operation.   While I won’t be playing the role of a Rogue Secret Santa next year, hopefully this list of ideas inspires someone else to make Christmas a covert operation.

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Embracing Winter Solstice

 

Embracing Winter Solstice

H. Bradford

1/21/17

In an earlier post, I discussed feeling down about winter and some strategies of overcoming seasonal shock (as I prefer to frame winter blues).  Winter does come as a bit of a shock.  Thankfully, I have adapted to winter and there are even some days that I thoroughly enjoy it.   Today was one of those days.  It was the winter solstice today, so I woke up eager to make the most of the day.  I wanted to celebrate the shortest day of the year.  In a way, there is something almost instinctual about wanting to put the darkness behind me.  It is a primitive drive of yearning for light and warmth.  Yet, here we are- still very much in the early half of winter.   I could hardly sleep- even after coming off of eight consecutive midnight shifts.  This is how I made the most of Winter Solstice.

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This photo was actually taken last week during a snow storm- but reminds me of hardship and beauty of winter.


 

A Winter Walk:

After doing a few errands, I went for a winter walk along the Lake Walk, a paved path along Lake Superior.  The temperature was about 28 degrees F, so comfortable enough to make outdoor activity easy.  The lake itself is still open and was deep blue and wavy today.  There were others out and about, jogging and walking as well.  Although the clouds were heavy and gray, there was a prettiness to the day.  Winter seemed to have a weaker grip on the Northland today, despite yesterday’s fresh snow.  There are many people out to challenge it.  Even ducks and gulls actively defied winter by floating on the steely waves.  As I looked back at the Lift Bridge, taking in all of the gray and white, I felt happy.  That summer version of myself- that person who begins dreading winter around the 4th of July- seemed weak and foolish.  It isn’t so bad!

Yoga:

I have not been to a yoga class at all this year.  I know this because attending yoga classes was one of my many New Year’s Resolutions last year.   Well, 2017 isn’t over yet!  Two of my co-workers from the domestic violence shelter met me for an hour yoga class at Essentia Health.   It was my first time attending fitness classes there!  Also, this month the fitness center is offering discounted day passes.  A day pass only costs $3 and gives a person access to the fitness center, fitness classes, pool, and sauna!  Wow!  I purchased 20 passes and may buy some more since it is such a great deal.


Anyway, the class was perfect!  The fitness studio has large windows which overlook Lake Superior.  Since the class began at 4:15, I was able to watch the sunset (or at least the dimming of the light and transition to darkness).  The room itself was dimly lit, illuminated by battery operated candles.   Throughout the class, the instructor adjusted the heat.  Needless to say, the room had a warm, peaceful ambiance that perfectly matched the quiet, thoughtfulness of winter.   I can’t say that I was awesome at the class.  But, I really enjoyed the bear pose.  This also seemed symbolic of winter- as bears hibernate in the winter (spare an angry bear that attacked three people in Northern Minnesota two days ago).   The Greek word for bear is Arctos- which we find in the word “Arctic.”   While Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are easy to spot year round, because they are circumpolar constellations, they are more easy to see in the winter because of the darker and longer nights.   Thus, bears are very deeply connected to winter.   The class itself had some challenging moments, but was generally relaxing.  I felt the class feeling that I had purged my insides of a lot of stress and negativity.

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I thought a lot about bears and winter during the yoga class…

Sauna:

After the yoga class, I used the sauna at Essentia.   There is really something special about saunas.  Because I am mostly Finnish, I feel that taking a sauna harkens back to some distant, primitive part of myself passed down from generations.   In the deepest reaches of history, there were distant relatives who 2000 years ago took saunas- back when they were a sacred and ritualistic part of life.  Of course, sweat baths are not unique to Finland- so they are a tradition to many people.  On the solstice, it is a way to embrace warmth and feel renewed.  It is a way to reconnect with the past.  I expected that I would be disappointing by the sauna at Essentia, but I found that although it was small- it was pleasantly hot.  Unfortunately, I had a meeting to run to- so I was only able to enjoy it for about 15 minutes.

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A Finnish wood carving of a Sauna scene.

The County Board Meeting:

I raced from the sauna, dressed, and drove back to the Superior government center for the county Board Meeting.  I literally ran from my car to the meeting room- with less than five seconds to spare before the meeting started.  I guess I took up a bit too much time at the sauna.  The reason for the race to Superior?  Well, the County Board was scheduled to vote on a resolution regarding the cut to 25 programs at UW-Superior.  I  have missed other meetings due to my work schedule or conflicting events, so it was important that I attend today.  I arrived in time to listen to the Chancellor of UWS defend the suspension of 25 academic programs, comparing them to products that were not selling.  I felt incensed by her words, so I volunteered to speak.   Mind you, I had no intention to speak before the board nor had I prepared ahead of time.  So, I just stepped up to the mic and spoke from my experience.   I am an alumni of the sociology program (a program that is being cut) and went on to get a Master’s degree in sociology.  I wanted to make the point that education has qualitative value that is hard to measure.  It is more than a product, like Big Macs or ceiling tiles- it enriches the human experience and our communities.  This issue is bigger than UWS.   UWS is symptomatic of a larger, business model of education that seeks to shrink education- or for there to be less education or fewer people with access to education.  The vote was an opportunity to take a stand against a larger trend in society wherein education is diminished.  I know that I did not collect my thoughts perfectly, but I was proud of myself for speaking up.  In the end, the County Board voted 13 to 3 in favor of a democratic process for determining which programs are cut.


Bentleyville:

I have already visited Bentleyville three times this winter, but I thought that it would be a great way to celebrate winter and add some more steps to my step counter.   So, after the county board meeting- I went home, debriefed about the meeting with my roommate, then returned to Duluth to stroll along the light displays.  It was my best visit to Bentleyville this season since it was far less crowded.  I felt that I could take my time and really take it in.    Bentleyville is free-with free cookies, marshmallows, and hot cocoa.  I love it, since I see people from all walks of life wandering around and enjoying the lights together.  Granted, I think that I am the only solo adult who haunts the holiday display.  Most visitors are families and couples.   Oh well!  Once again, I enjoyed embracing winter and the darkness by surrounding myself with light.

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Trivia:

Twice a month, I get together with friends and play trivia at Pizza Luce.  Tonight, I was short on a team- so I joined up with a group of UMD students.   We didn’t win at trivia- or even get third place- but it was still a fun time.  My friend, Jenny, arrived a bit late and joined the team.  While this wasn’t specific to Winter Solstice, it was still a fun addition to my day of celebrations!


The Samovar:

The grand finale of the day was opening a package that I received the other day.  I ordered myself a 1988 Soviet Samovar from Ebay.  This may seem like a frivolous purchase, which- it is- but I enjoy drinking tea and have a fond memory of drinking dozens of cups of tea from an antique samovar at a dacha during my first trip to Russia.   My hosts seemed so proud of their samovar- which was old enough to be heated with charcoal.   My samovar is electric.  I pulled it out of the package, while my roommate, Lucas- a lover of antiques- watched the pieces emerge from newspaper and packing plastic.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect!  I had looked over several Soviet Samovars online.  Many were ordinary, with a bronzed finish.  This was one special because of its black and gold enamel folk motifs.  It did not seem as industrial as the others.  Because of the folksy currant and golden leaf design, it seemed that it was timeless.    I have never been to Russia in winter, but to me, it seems like a place where Christmas, cold, and darkness must last forever (owing to the old/new calendar, continental climate, and latitudes of some places).   In a way, this object seems to resonate warmth as it invokes Russian history and culture- and quite literally, it creates warmth by heating water.  It is only a material thing, but it was love at first sight!

Well, there you go!  It was a pretty great day!  Maybe winter isn’t so bad after all.

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Spark In the Dark-Activist Report

Spark in the Dark-Activist Report

H. Bradford

12/17/17

On December 16th, over a dozen feminists gathered in Duluth to protest sexual misconduct in an event called “Spark in the Dark.”  The event was organized by the Feminist Justice League in response to the growing number of public figures that have been accused of sexual harassment and assault.  The goal of the action was to draw attention to the ongoing issue, show solidarity with survivors, and embolden victims who remain silent.  Those who attended were asked to wear black, as this was symbolic of the silencing, blaming, and disbelief of victims.  At the end of the event, protesters lit sparklers, which was representative of the spark needed ignite a social movement.


The chilly December weather may have deterred some activists from participating, but the issue remains important as both major political parties have been mired in sexual scandals.  Some political figures, such as Al Franken and John Conyers, have stepped down from their positions.  Others, such as Ruben Kihuen and Blake Farenthold, have decided not to seek re-election.  Roy Moore, who victimized several underaged women, was narrowly defeated in Alabama’s senate race on account of a higher turn out of Black voters.  Despite resignations and losses, it is important to continue to demand accountability for all offenders accused of sexual misconduct, while continuing to support victims.  As exemplified by the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and sexual assault are part of the everyday lives of all women in society and are the result of the unequal position and worth of women within patriarchy.  It is critical that the media attention these extensive and high profile sexual misconduct cases has garnered does not fade into apathy or indifference.  Instead, feminists should treat this as an opportunity for building a mass movement that seeks to end sexual harassment and assault through accountability of victimizers, as well as mass education, awareness, and changes in the discourse surrounding these issues.  Feminists should demand dignity, safety, and corrective actions in all arenas where these behaviors occur.  This is why the event was organized.  While the event was small, it was organized with the hope that this kind of action might spark future protests, marches, and actions around this issue.  In the 1970s, feminists mobilized to take back the night.  Today, it is time for feminists to organize to take back their workplaces, schools, streets, households, and all other places where power based harassment, violence, assault, and threats occur.

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Plants Remember

 Plants Remember

H. Bradford

12/16/17

 

Plants forget birthdays,

where the car is parked,

and the hierarchies of life

that put them below animals,

but above fungi and bacteria.

 

Plants forget Lysenko’s science

and spirituality.

They forget the stress of the dark and dry.

All the things we can do without.

 

Plants Remember…

winter so they can bloom,

their neighbors,

and an unkind touch.

They keep memories stored in their

roots and leaves,

like sugar,

water,

and pain.

 

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image from https://phys.org/news/2014-03-greenhouse-long-term-memory.html

Fear is an Eurypterid

I wanted to write a poem dedicated to Eurypterids, the prehistoric predator also known as sea scorpions. 

Fear is an Eurypterid

by H. Bradford

12/16/17

Fear is an eurypterid.

It is the horror of claws and spindly limbs, coded into our DNA

It is epigenetic trauma that crawled out of the sea on the fins of fearful fish.

They turned terrestrial to escape it.

So now we shiver at the sight of spiders and scorpions.

The archetype of arachnophobia is inborn.

Our phobias are Paleozoic.

Our maladies never truly vanished from Mesozoic seas.

Fear is a package, delivered through time in the bodies of fish, frogs, and apes.

Fear is the eurypterid who hunted long ago,

and we’ve been haunted ever since.

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A 1910 painting of eurypterids by Charles Knight

More Fluid Than Blood: Vampires and Bisexuality

More Fluid Than Blood

Vampires and Bisexuality

  1. H. Bradford

      12/10/17

 


Each month, Pandemonium meets to discuss issues related to bi+ identities and organizing.  This month, the group gathered to discuss vampires and bisexuality.  Anyone who has watched or read vampire themed media might have observed that vampires are often portrayed with ambiguous sexualities, if not outright gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  The following presentation seeks to uncover the history of how vampire sexuality has been depicted as well as the implications of these representations.  Vampires are very much a reflection of the times in which they were imagined.  As monsters, they represent challenges to the social order.  Since bisexuality, or for that matter any non-heterosexual sexuality, is a challenge to heteronormative patriarchy, it makes sense that vampires often lend themselves to a queer reading.


Before they were the subject of books or television series, vampires have long been imagined beings from the folklore of many cultures.  Blood drinking spirits appear in the stories of many cultures, but vampires as they are understood today were mostly based upon the tales of Eastern Europe.  These stories entered the public consciousness of Western Europeans during the 18th century with several highly publicized cases of vampirism within East Prussia and the Hapsburg Empire.  Incidents of vampirism and the related hysteria was investigated by 18th century scholars and Maria Teresa of Austria sent her physician to uncover the truth about vampires.  He concluded that they were not real and she subsequently passed laws against opening graves or desecrating the dead, which put an end to outbreaks of vampire panics. From then on, vampires, at least in Western Europe, were mostly a matter of fiction.  Thus, vampires began appearing in Western European fiction in the early 1800s.   The spread of vampires in Western Europe from Eastern Europe represents a transition of folklore and superstition from the lesser developed parts of Europe to the large, urbanized, mostly literate population of the West (Paolucci, 2000).  

A “vampire” skull from 1500s Venice, found among plague victims

One of the first works of vampire fiction was Polidori’s 1918 story The Vampyre, which featured a vampire named Lord Ruthven.  Polidori served as Lord Byron’s physician and his character, Lord Ruthven, established the trope of that vampires should be aristocratic and seductive (Primuth, 2014).  The plot of the book involves Lord Ruthven travelling around Europe as he seduces various women, often accompanied by his friend Aubrey.  Ruthven and Aubrey have a falling out, but reconcile.  Later, Aubrey watches Lord Ruthven die and makes a promise not to tell anyone of his death.  Aubrey stays true to the promise, even after Ruthven is later discovered to be alive.  Only when Ruthven tries to marry Aubrey’s sister, does he confess his oath in a letter.  Ruthven kills Aubrey’s sister on their wedding night and Aubrey dies as well.  While the story is interesting because it establishes the notion that vampires are alluring, sexual, and aristocratic, it is also of interest because Lord Ruthven may have been based on Lord Byron.


Early Vampire Literature

Prior to the publishing of The Vampyre, Byron wrote a poem about a vampire in 1810 while touring Greece.  The poem entitled The Giaour takes place in Greece, then ruled by the Ottomans, wherein a character named Leila is killed for her infidelity to her husband, Hassan.  Her lover avenges her death by killing Hassan, but Hassan curses him to become a vampire.  This early take on the vampire does not have common conventions such as fangs, sleeping in coffins, aversion to sunlight, etc. Yet, the vampire character in the poem is a Byronic hero inasmuch as he is cursed, dangerous, and an outsider (as Giaour means infidel) (Luchsinger, 2015).  Later, in 1816, Lord Byron stayed in Lake Geneva with his physician, Poliodori, as well as Mary Shelley and Percy Blythe Shelley and his mistress, Jane Clairmont.  During their stay, there was a snow storm, during which they challenged each other to invent stories for entertainment.  Mary Shelley developed the story of Frankenstein.  Byron began a story about a vampire, which Polidori fleshed out and published as The Vampyre (Lord Byron’s image inspired modern take on vampires, 2010).    


Lord Byron, or George Gordon, was a controversial, larger than life figure in his day.  He may have had a child with his half-sister Augusta.  It is also speculated that he may have been more than friends with Mary Shelley and Percy Blythe Shelley.  There is evidence that he was not strictly heterosexual.  He wrote poetry under the female name Thyzra to John Edelston, a young choir member who he fell in love with at the age of 17.  In letters that he wrote during his travels in Greece and Turkey in 1810, he expressed his interest in seeking same sex encounters in these places, which were more tolerant at the time.  He also bragged to friends back home that he had 200 sexual encounters while in Greece and Turkey.  At the same time, the punishment for sodomy in England in the early 1800s was death.  In 1815, he married Annabelle Milbanke, who left him a year later with their infant daughter.  She went to stay with her parents and requested a separation, which unleashed various rumors about his relationship with his sister, adultery, and sodomy.  He negotiated a separation from his wife outside of the courts and left for Europe, where The Vampyre was written (MacCarthy, 2002).  Certainly, the plot line of the story mirrors his life, as the vampire travels through Europe seducing and harming women in locales such as Italy and Greece, then eventually England.  The plot line of Aubrey following Lord Ruthven around Europe, then having a falling out, also mirrors the falling out that Polidori had with Lord Byron.  Finally, while Ruthven mostly preys upon women, the relationship between Ruthven and Aubrey may hint at bisexuality.  Paolucci (2000) suggests that a cave scene between Ruthven and Aubrey is suggestively sexual and that Aubrey’s refusal to believe in the supernatural is a rhetorical denial of queerness.


It is difficult to classify Lord Byron’s sexuality, since modern sexual identities were not yet developed.  The word bisexual was not used until 1892 in the Psychopathia Sexualis, a book about sexual pathologies.  While Byron might be viewed as bisexual, inasmuch as he expressed attraction to both men and women, caution should be used in applying modern notions of sexuality to people and situations that pre-date these understandings.  Still, he was one of the first famous writers to be labeled bisexual.  Though, literary scholar Emily Bernard Jackson warned against this, arguing instead that his sexuality was too fluid and complex for labels (Lord Byron, n.d.).  Nevertheless, in studying the history of bisexuality and vampire’s in the media, it is certainly important to recognize that the first vampire in English literature was modelled after Byron, who was controversial, charismatic, and attracted to both men and women.  In this sense, bisexuality, is built into the fabric of vampire literature, even if Ruthven’s character is not overtly bisexual.  At the same time, this inclusion isn’t necessarily positive, as homosexual/bisexual behaviors and attractions were viewed as deviant.

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Lord Byron- the inspiration of Lord Ruthven- an early vampire in Western fiction

In the 1840s, Varney the Vampire appeared as a newspaper serial (Primuth, 2014).  Varney the Vampire introduced some modern staples of vampire stories, such as fangs, nocturnal visits, entry through a window, super strength, and hypnotic power.  He is also a sympathetic vampire, even though part of the plot of the series involves him trying to take advantage of Bannersworth family.  Varney is important because he was the first sympathetic vampire.  He feels guilty and alone, and tries to control his predatory nature.  He mourns his wife and children from 180 years earlier and is the first vampire to commit suicide.  He is attracted to young, virginal women and seems primarily interested in women (Paolucci, 2000).  Varney is not a virtuous vampire, but he is a conflicted vampire that is not always villainous.  It is possible that his perceived heterosexuality is used to cast him as a “good” vampire rather than a deviant, villainous vampire.  There is less scholarly work on the sexuality of Varney, as opposed to other vampires of the 1800s.        


Carmilla and Lesbian Vampires

While Varney the Vampire has not lent itself to extensive and rigorous analysis for sexual themes, the novella Carmilla has.  Published in 1871, the novella Carmilla predates Dracula by 26 years. Joseph Sheridan Fanu’s novella follows the story of a girl named Laura, who befriends a mysterious girl named Carmilla.  Carmilla makes romantic advances on Laura, does not join her family in prayer, sleepwalks at night, and sleeps during the day.  Girls in the nearby village begin to become sick and die, while Laura herself begins to have strange dreams, poor health, and mysterious bites on her chest.  Eventually, it is discovered that Carmilla is actually Countess Mircalla, a noblewoman from two hundred years prior who had a relationship with a woman whose decedent became a vampire hunter.  Laura, whose memory of the events is unsteady, does not grasp the romantic inclinations of Carmilla towards her and even theorizes that perhaps Carmilla was a boy in disguise. Laura explains how Carmilla took her hand, breathed heavily, and kissed her neck.  The novella is unique in that Carmilla is not interested in the blood of women and men, but exclusively females.  She also explicitly has sexual interest in women with no interest mentioned of men.  She was, by modern understandings of sexuality, a lesbian vampire.  Since Carmilla visits peasant girls in the area, she may also be viewed as polyamorous as she is not uniquely attracted or bonded to Laura.  In the end, it is male power which restores the patriarchal, heterosexual, monogamous order as Carmilla is staked, then beheaded and burned by Baron Vordenburg and General Spielsdorf (Künnecke, 2016).  

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Perhaps owing to Carmilla, lesbian vampires are stock characters in vampire media.  For instance, between 1968 and 1970, there were 20 lesbian vampire films released in the US, Britain, and Western Europe.  These films often drew from the story of Carmilla or from the tale of Elizabeth Bathory.  Elizabeth Bathory was a 17th century aristocratic woman who used the blood of young women to stay youthful and whose history includes rumors of lesbianism and vampirism.  The accusations of lesbianism ignore the fact that she was married to a man, so, perhaps she would more accurately be considered a bisexual woman.  Bi-erasure aside, there was a proliferation of lesbian vampire films in the 1970s, which may have been in part to generate interest in horror films, a dying genre at the time.  Censorship was also relaxed in the United States in the 1960s along with the sexual revolution which opened society up to sexuality. Another explanation is that lesbian vampires, especially those who preyed upon men, appealed to male anxiety regarding feminism.  In these films, the vampire woman must compete with mortal men for the mortal woman.  The vampire is killed and the threat to the order of patriarchy is destroyed.  Lesbians are doubly marginalized, in that they are women and homosexuals.  They are also doubly threatening to patriarchy, which makes them particularly dangerous or sinister vampires.  Whereas Lord Ruthven escaped without punishment, this is not possible for Camilla, because of her claim to male power.  While many films of the 1970s had lesbian vampire characters, the use of violence to restore male power is graphically evident in the 1974 film Vampyres in which the opening scene depicts two women having passionate sex until they are suddenly shot.   Through flashbacks, it is revealed that these two women are vampires who take men home with them to suck their blood after sex (Uygur, 2013).    


The most well known of the lesbian vampire film genre were The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, which featured Carmilla, but changed her to a bisexual woman.  A 1973 film called Female Vampire is a pornographhic film wherein the vampire Irina has graphic sex with men and women, yet is classified as a lesbian vampire film.  Again, there has been a problem with conflating of bisexuality and lesbianism in film discussions.  In The Vampire Lovers Baker (2012) cites the argument of Weiss that this represents a bisexual triangle, wherein the man is aligned with the forces of good and the vampire with evil, with the woman sought after by both is a neutral party.  After Carmilla is destroyed, Emma is united with Carl and Emma’s response to Carmilla’s seduction is reframed as delirium.  In seven of the twenty films of the era, the bisexual triangle is employed as a plot device (Baker, 2012).  Later films also use the bisexual triangle.  For instance, The Hunger uses bisexual triangulation by centering the story  on the love triangle between John, Miriam, and Sarah.  Miriam is a married bisexual vampire who falls in love with Sarah, who is also bisexual.  Miriam is haunted by her male and female lovers from over the centuries.  Blood and Roses and Daughters of Darkness, are two additional films which feature bisexual love triangles (Ritscher, 2013).

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A scene from Daughters of Darkness

 Despite the common use of bisexual love triangles, many of these films are classified as lesbian vampire films.  Richter (2013) argued that bi-erasure is a perennial problem in media studies, as bisexual characters are often miscategorized as gay, lesbian, or queer.  For instance, the movie Brokeback Mountain is often called a gay film in the media.  However, several bisexual theorists have argued against this and used this as an example of bi-erasure as the men in the film are romantically and sexually involved with each other, but also their wives.  Ritscher identifies several ways that bisexuality is erased from film.  The first way that bisexuality is erased is when scholars or reviewers refer to same-sex attraction or behaviors as homosexual.  This creates a false dichotomy wherein sexual acts are either gay or straight.  By this logic, only threesomes can be coded as bisexual.   In The Hunger, bisexuality is rendered invisible when Sarah and Miriam have a “lesbian sex scene” which is discussed and remembered by critics, scholars, and film viewers.   Another way that bisexuality is erased is by downplaying opposite sex relationships.  For instance, in the film Daughters of Darkness, Elizabeth who is a vampire, has an erotic scene with Tom, a human.  Despite this, she is still considered a lesbian.  In Blood and Roses, the character Camilla is depicted as in love with Leopold.  In the end, she kills her female lover Georgia and takes her place, so that she can marry Leopold.  Nevertheless, Carmilla is classified as a lesbian character.  Down playing opposite sex relationships is done to bolster same sex relationships, but in doing so reinforces the binary between straight and gay.  Richter (2013) cited Kenji Yomito, who argued that both straights and gays have an interest in erasing bisexuals.  Though, this may not be intentional and malicious, but an unconscious social norm.  Lesbian vampire film theory is problematic because it has assigned homosexuality to characters that may instead be viewed as bisexual.  In doing this, homosexuality is contrasted against heterosexuality as an opponent.  According to bisexual theorists, bisexuality is not merely a sexual identity, but an undoing of  the two oppositional poles of of sexuality and a challenge to the notion that sexual identity as a category.  As such, the goal of bisexual scholarship should not be to spot the bisexual, but instead to challenge thinking about the gay straight binary.  Bisexual theorists argue that bisexuality threatens not only the order of male supremacy but is also a threat to sexual rigidity (Ritscher, 2013).  I would argue that both male supremacy and sexual rigidity uphold patriarchy.  Sexualities that are fluid or non-monogamous threaten capitalist patriarchy because they threaten the structure of family and the gendered roles of men and women.  In doing so, these threaten the social reproduction of labor.     


Examining Dracula:

While Carmilla serves as the foundation of lesbian and female bisexual vampirism, it is not the most famous or generally influential vampire novel.  The most famous vampire novel, Dracula, was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker, an Irish writer.  Bram Stoker himself was believed to have been gay, or at least this was an argument made in ‘Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula.’  Bram Stoker wrote letters to his close friend, British author Hall Caine, which may be interpreted as romantic.  He also wrote a gushing letter to Walt Whitman regarding his ability to be natural and unashamed when speaking to him, but how his is shackled or unfree (Cardamone, 2017).  Presumably, the letter was about his closeted homosexuality.  In 1895, when Oscar Wilde, a friend of Stoker’s, was convicted gross indecency, Stoker disavowed the twenty year friendship in a panic.  Perhaps this was due to his own anxiety as a closeted, gay man when being out of the closet was a criminal offense (as in the case of Oscar Wilde who was sentenced to hard labor).  It is in this context that Dracula was written.  McCrea (2010) suggests that the novel depicts closeted heterosexuality, that is, it is written from the view that heterosexuality is foreign and frightening.  This interesting argument follows that the story of Dracula is a marriage plot.  In the story, Mina and Jonathan are going to be married, their lives are interrupted by the chaos wrought by Dracula, and when this resolves, they become a happily established married couple with a son.  At the same time, Lucy, Mina’s less sensible friend, considers her marriage prospects but her life is cut short by vampirism and death.  McCrea (2010) notes that many scholars have analyzed Dracula as an “other” in post-colonial, feminist, Marxist, queer, etc. interpretations of the novel.  However, McCrea (2010) proposes that Dracula is familiar.  For instance, Jonathan Harker passes deeper into Eastern Europe in the novel, into increasingly uncomfortable superstitions, spicy food, slow trains, and unnerving sights.  Yet, when he arrives at Dracula’s home, his first thoughts are to pause and consider how he is moving up in his career and what Mina would think of this.  Even Dracula himself is courteous, well read, and welcoming.  Dracula saved Jonathan from the three vampire women who tried to seduce and bite him, for which he is thankful.  Dracula even treats Jonathan’s stay at the castle as a marriage contract, saying that he has entered freely of his own will.  When Dracula leaves on unknown business, Jonathan waits for him in the castle, like an imprisoned wife (McCrea, 2010).  In this way, the novel is a dark fantasy about heterosexual marriage.   


Although Stevenson’s (1988) analysis is dated, it does make specific mention of bisexuality in Dracula.  His piece is mainly focused on the theme of exogamy.  That is, Dracula represents a foreigner who is trying to seduce the female characters and as such, represents an external threat that must be fought against.  He represents British imperialist anxieties over their racial order of the world.  Aside from exploring this theme, Stevenson (1988) took time to examine female sexuality in the novel and suggested that vampires are bisexual.  However, his view of bisexuality was very narrow and conflated with understandings of gender or even sexual roles.  His main argument is that vampires are bisexual because both female and male vampires are penetrators and receivers.  Their fangs penetrate and at the same time, they ingest the fluids of their victims.  Female vampires in the novel become more sexually aggressive, a demonstration of their masculinity.  Stevenson’s (1988) analysis is interesting, but lacks the language and nuance to explore gender as something apart from sexuality, which unfortunately is generically labelled as bisexuality.  However, this may be due to the fact that in 1988 there was less knowledge and awareness of bisexuality as an identity and little visibility as a distinct part of the LGBTQ movement.  BiNET USA, the oldest bisexual organization in the United States was not founded until 1990.  To broaden this analysis, it might be argued that if blood sucking is a metaphor for sex, then vampires are bisexual in that they prey on any human victim, male, female, trans, gender non-conforming, etc.  Gender is not as important to vampires as blood itself.  Even if drinking blood is not viewed as a metaphor for sex, it is an intimate act in that it usually involves drinking directly from the neck, which is often viewed as a sensual location for kissing in Western societies.  This act is usually done privately and at night, again, if not blatantly sexual, at least following social conventions regarding sex.  Upon closer examination, there may be hints of bisexuality in Dracula.  One example of a homoerotic or bi-erotic scene is the passage wherein Jonathan Harker is passively seduced by a group of vampire women living in Dracula’s castle.  This is interrupted when Dracula arrives and tells the women that Jonathan belongs to him (Künnecke, 2015).   Dracula affirmed the trope that vampires are threatening to both men and women.   


Many of the vampires of the 1800s have “deviant” sexualities.  According to Foucault, the development of capitalism resulted in the increased repression of sexuality, so that by the Victorian Era, when many of these famous vampire novels were written, sex had become relegated entirely to the personal sphere. That is, sex and sexuality were not to be expressed or discussed in public.  At the same time, the roles of men and women were more sharply defined than any other time in history and homosexuality or any other “deviant” sexual behavior or identity was driven underground.  Male homosexuality became highly regulated, whereas female homosexuality was given less attention.  Women were viewed as more emotional in general and given more social leniency to express affection towards one another (Künnecke, 2015).  Perhaps this accounts for why Carmilla was depicted as a lesbian, whereas male vampires were not overtly homosexual or bisexual.  Foucault also noted that monsters are individuals whose behaviors must be corrected.  At the core of monstrosity is deviance and irregularity.  Monstrosity is threatening because it calls into question social norms.  To Foucault, homosexuality became understood as something deviant because society had come to the understanding that the strength of a nation was bolstered by its citizens, their marriages, and their families.  In this understanding, sex was a tool used by the state for regeneration.  A monstrous vampire always represents a threat to the order and is constructed as somehow deviant.  Defeating a vampire results in the re-establishment of order.  As such, if blood drinking is a metaphor for sex, a vampire is a bisexual or homosexual threat to society.  Early folkloric vampires may have represented fear of Plague.  However, 18th century vampires were written about in a time that was beginning to fear homosexuality, and as such they represent anxieties over violations of sexual norms (Uygur, 2013).  


Early vampire characters were mostly constructed as monstrous and evil, with some exceptions, such as Varney the Vampire.  The ability for vampires to be portrayed as anything other than overtly heterosexual and is a function of social movements which sought to expand the rights of the LGBTQ community.  In general, if gays or lesbians appeared in the media before the late 1960s were tragic, unstable, or miserable characters.  Some films, such as the 1943  Creature of the Devil may hint at homosexality or bisexuality, in that the main character becomes jealous of his twin brother’s relationship with a woman and sends a hunchback to kill him.  The 1944 short story, The Bat is my Brother may allude to homosexuality or bisexuality, in that the main character is shown how to be a vampire by an older vampire mentor.  The younger vampire is guided through his vampirism, coming out and and coming to accept his condition.  Still, there are no overtly bisexual or homosexual vampire characters.  The 1931 film version of Dracula was directed by Tod Browning, who was gay, but in general, queerness was consigned to the shadows due to social conservative and active persecution of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (Primuth, 2014).  Vincent (2015) noted that 1960s and 1970s saw an opening of sexuality in America with the feminist movement and gay rights movement.  The FDA approval of birth control in 1960, its legalization in 1964, the elimination of homosexuality as a disease in 1973, and the Stonewall riots in 1969 all contributed to the process of broadening the expression of sexuality in society.  The most landmark piece of vampire media created during this era was Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.  She created morally ambiguous characters that usurped traditional sexuality.  For instance, Louis described his first encounter with Lestat in suggestive terms, describing Lestat as extraordinary, graceful, like a lover, and opening up new possibilities.  Yet, even though the transformation into a vampire is coded in homoerotic imagery, Louis becomes interested in woman named Babatte Freniere who spurns him as unholy.  Louis and Lestat have fluid sexualities, which may be due to their dependence on the blood of women and men, their outsider status to human societies, and sexuality that is unbound by reproduction (Vincent, 2015).

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The 1980s saw a backlash against the gains of the 1960s and 1970s.  During the 1980s, vampires were often villainized again, such as Fright Night in 1985 and The Lost Boys in 1987.  The AIDs epidemic also influenced vampire media.  For instance, in the 1991 novel, Dracula Unbound, Dracula contracts syphilis.  In the 1998 film Blade, Blade takes a serum to stay alive, which might be comparable to the cocktail of pills that HIV patients must take to ward off AIDS (Primuth, 2014).   It was not until the 1990s that more positive representations of LGBTQ characters began to appear.  For example, the heroine of the 1990s young adult book series, The Last Vampire, is a bisexual, though this series mostly focuses on her relationships with men.  In 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer began airing and featured Willow as a positive lesbian character.  


Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Willow was a popular character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer because of her dialectical nature.  She was a character with destructive power, but also the power to help.  She was also one of the first characters on television to be depicted in a lesbian relationship, when she entered a relationship with her fellow witch Tara.  However, Willow is also an example of bi-erasure because her sexual fluidity is ignored in the series.  For instance, her previous heterosexual relationships were ignored or dismissed when she asserted that she was “gay now.”  In the series, she was depicted as heterosexual, with a crush on Xander or her relationship with Oz (Muscat, 2014).  Mo (2016) noted how in seasons one and two, Willow was depicted as interested in men.  First she was interested in Xander, which was unreciprocated in season one.  She later became involved with Oz, but cheated on him with Xander, eventually reconciling with Oz who she dated until season four.  However, in season five she reminded Anya that she was gay now when Anya expressed concern that she would steal Xander away from her.  Later, Tara was worried that Willow wasn’t really a lesbian and would return to dating men.  Willow defended herself against this accusation that her sexuality was fluid, which was reinforced by the narrative of the story which did not allow for any deviation from being fully lesbian from then on.  Muscat (2014) argued that Willow was reduced to a binary of totally straight or totally gay, which denied the possibility that she might have been bisexual or fluid.  In an episode wherein all of the female characters vied for the love of a character named RJ due to the effects of his magical letter jacket, Willow only falls for him when she uses her magic to alter his gender.  This reinforces the notion that homosexual attraction is only authentic when absolute.   Muscat (2014) also noted that within the Buffyverse, bisexuality is coded as dangerous and often associated with vampire characters.  For instance, Vamp Willow, an alternative universe version of Willow was coupled with Xander, but propositioned a girl at The Bronze and licked the neck of regular Willow.  In the series Angel, there are homoerotic undercurrents to both Drusilla and Darla’s relationship as well as Spike and Angel’s.  Only if a character is evil or morally ambiguous can they experience fluid sexuality.   Even Willow called her vampire self skanky (Mo, 2016).   

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Mendlesohn (2002) argued that in contrast to other characters, the series denies a queer reading of the relationship between Buffy and Willow.  A “queer reading” is when a reader, or in this case viewer, constructs homosexual desire in situations wherein this sort of attraction is not overt and heterosexuality is normalized.  It is way for readers who was oppressed or excluded to identify codes for same sex relationships or cues that two characters may be flirting, loving, or passionate towards one another.   Willow is coded to be young and innocent, as she wears pinks and reds rather than darker colors.  Throughout the series, her behaviors are rarely sexualized.  Intimacy with male or female partners is usually shown off screen.  Buffy, on the other hand, has more overtly sexual behavior.  Buffy also tends to look to male characters for support and validation.  Throughout the series, Willow grows, changes her appearance, makes new friends, and becomes more confident.  On the other hand, Buffy does not grow, nor does her appearance change.  Their relationship lacks the necessary tension to drive it towards a queer reading.  In contrast, it is easier to do a queer reading of the Buffy and Faith relationship because Faith is the opposite of Buffy in appearance, unrestrained, and sexual.  Willow is more of a backdrop to Buffy rather than her equal or antagonist. (Mendlesohn, 2002).  Casano (2013) agreed that while While there is no overt bisexuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the relationship between Buffy and fellow slayer, Faith is sometimes speculated to be bisexual.  Faith appeared in season three of the series, following the death of the slayer, Kendra.  Eliza Dushku, who played the character, felt that Faith had feelings for Buffy and was bisexual.  Faith is promiscuous, fearless, bad girl, who is an outsider to the Scooby Gang (Casano, 2013).  Any hinting that her character is bisexual would play into the stereotype that bisexuality is deviant or that only a morally ambivalent character could be bisexual.  Certainly, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the series aired, there was growing awareness of bisexuality with the establishment of BiNet in 1990, the release of the book Bi any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out in 1991, the first international bisexual conference was held in Amsterdam in 1991, the bi flag was invented in 1998, and the first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was celebrated on September 23, 1999.  The 1990s was a pivotal time for biseuxals because it saw the establishment of organizations and inclusion of bisexuals in Pride Festivals.  Still, despite the flourishing of bisexual identity in the 1990s, it is disappointing that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did not handle the issue of bisexuality as well as it might have.

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An example of wholesome, non-sexualized Willow

In the decades since the 1990s and early 2000s, there has been some improvement in the portrayal and visibility of bisexuals.  HBO’s series, True Blood, which aired from 2006-2014 and was based upon Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries novel series, depicted many LGBTQ characters.  One prominent bisexual character was Sophie-Anne LeClerq, the Vampire Queen of Louisiana who was sexually, romantically involved with male and female characters, including Sookie’s cousin Hadley (Reynolds, 2014). Sophie-Anne appeared in eight episodes and was portrayed as a mentally unstable, but powerful antagonistic vampire.  She wears glamorous clothes, longs to be in the sunlight, collects birds, plays Yahtzee, and seems genuinely attached to Hadley.  In the series, she acquires some debts and resorts to selling vampire blood.  Facing an IRS audit, she is forced to marry Russell Edgington, the vampire King of Mississippi.   Sophie-Anne is a capricious, immature, unstable, frivolous character so in a way, she may pander to some stereotypes about bisexuals being mentally unstable.  However, the character was a survivor, who clambered her way up in the world to become the vampire queen of Louisiana, then submitted to marriage to Russell Edgington to overcome her financial troubles.  Evan Rachel Woods played Sophie-Anne and is openly bisexual.  At the same time, in an interview with US Magazine, her character was called a lesbian, even as she says her bisexuality has been a part of her for as long as she can remember (Ravitz, 2011).   

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Sophie-Ann in True Blood

Pam de Beaufort, the bar manager of Fangtasia, was also depicted as bisexual and had a relationship with Tara Thornton (Reynolds, 2014).  Pam appeared in 63 episodes and is loyal to Eric Northman.  She is depicted as more interested in women than men, has a dry sense of humor, and dislikes children.  In her human life, she ran a brothel and was romantically involved with Eric Northman, who later turned her into a vampire.  Generally, the character was developed well enough that she doesn’t particularly fall into any bisexual stereotypes.  Like most vampires in the series, she is morally ambiguous and in some ways deviant, but generally she is a well-rounded likeable character for the setting and tone of the show.  Pam does have a fun quote, “Let bygones be bygones and bigirls be bi girls.” (Nicolaou, 2017)  At the same time, her bisexuality was erased when Sookie told her that she didn’t have time for her lesbian weirdness.

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Pam- attacking Sara Newlin

Tara Thornton  was the most prominent bisexual character in the series (Reynolds, 2014).  Tara is Sookie’s best friend in the show.  She is sour towards vampires and a survivor of abuse.  When she becomes a cage fighter, she begins dating a fellow female cage fighter.  She later is turned into a vampire by Pam de Beaufort and the two eventually have a relationship (Zakarin and Fleenor, 2017).   Eric Northman is also depicted as bisexual.  He is the owner of Fangtasia and a love interest of Sookie Stackhouse.  In the series, he seduces Talbot, the partner of Russell Edgington the King of Mississippi (Nicolaou, 2017).   The series features many bisexual, gay, and lesbian characters.  Even characters that are not portrayed as bi or gay are never rigidly straight.  For instance, in season three, Sam the shapeshifting bartender, has a sexual dream about Bill Compton (Gray, 2011).  Finally, while Sookie Stackhouse, the main character, is depicted as straight, Anna Paquin, who portrayed her, is bisexual.  She has been very open about her bisexuality, but it has been the subject of confusion.  In an interview with Larry King, she discussed her marriage to her co-star Stephen Moyer and the birth of her twins.  Larry King assumed this meant that she was no longer bisexual.  She had to correct him by stating that a straight person does not stop being straight if their partner dies or they become single, so her bisexuality does not change if she is in a monogamous relationship (Nichols, 2014).  This demonstrates the misunderstandings that persist about bisexuality.     

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Tara had a variety of relationships in the series, including a relationship with Pam, a short lived relationship with “Eggs,” a longtime crush on Sookie’s brother Jason, and a relationship with Sam.

The series itself was produced by Alan Ball.  Other than portraying a variety of queer characters, the show had many clear and obvious parallels to LGBT issues.  For instance, the series takes place after vampires have “come out of the coffin” and are publicly known to exist.   Obviously, coming out of the coffin is the vampire equivalent of coming out of the closet.  Vampires themselves have their own vampire rights organizations and vampire-human marriage has been legalized, again mirroring the LGBT movement.  Not everyone is on board with vampire rights, which mostly include far right Evangelical Christian figures.  One hateful church has “God hates Fangs” as a slogan on a sign outside the church, again, a parody of “God hates Fags.”  (Primuth, 2014).  According to Campbell (2013), queer politics seeks to challenge heteronormativity, resist assimilation, embraces differences, and combats social forces that discipline and normalize.  Rather than focusing on identity, it focuses on fluid and contextual opposition to dominant norms of gender, race, class, and sexuality.  In True Blood, vampires are a metaphor for queerness and queer politics.  Campbell (2013) cites Cathy Cohen when he argues that U.S. institutions seek to appropriate and assimilate queer life and in doing so, marginalize queer women, poor, working class, and queer of color.  This mirrors the vampires of True Blood.  While all vampires drink blood, some vampires are better than others.  For instance, some vampires drink “True Blood” a Japanese blood substitute which allows these vampires to assimilate into society and are viewed as safer than others.  Bill Compton, for instance, is presented as a protagonist in early seasons.  He is a white, heterosexual vampire who values monogamy, in contrast to other vampires.   Bill is gentlemanly and better than other vampires, such as the hedonistic Malcolm, Liam, and Diane.  Malcolm was presented as a gay character, who was against coming out of the coffin and assimilation.  As such, he is seen as dangerous, immoral, and a stand in for an anti-assimilationist queer identity.  In the series, deviant vampires are signified drug use, hedonism, and promiscuity.  Cohen called this secondary marginalization.  So, although there are many queer characters in the series, many of the characters are vampires, which enjoy power, wealth, comfort, beauty, and immortality.  Many, like Eric Northman, Bill Compton, Pam de Beaufort, Sophie-Ann, etc. are white, conventionally attractive, and generally privileged.   The show could be critiqued for promoting an assimilationist viewpoint. Nevertheless, the show generally did a good job portraying a large number of queer characters and developing many of those characters beyond stereotypes.  

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Other recent television and film series have not handled LGBT issues as well.  The television series, The Vampire Diaries, did not introduce its first same sex couple until Season Seven.  The characters were Nora and Mary Louis, villainous vampires.  Mary Louis was captured by an organization that hunts supernatural creatures called the armory, where she was injected with vampire hunter blood.  She and Nora both died together in an attempt to destroy Rayna, the vampire hunters, magical sword (Anders, 2016).  Their deaths were rather pointless and the characters were not allowed to stay in the series long enough to become compelling.  Also, their sacrificial deaths harkens back to film norms that LGBT characters must die or experience tragedy.  The Vampire Diaries introduced, Luke, a gay character in season five.  He was a witch and had a twin sister named Liv.  He sacrificed his life to save Liv, but was never well-developed nor shown in a relationship.  Again, the series used the old trope that gays must die tragic deaths.  While Caroline Forbes’ father was gay, he was never shown in the series and was referred to disparagingly.  Once again, this was not a positive depiction.  Finally, Matt, Rebekah, and Nadia had a threesome in the series, but Rebecca and Nadia’s bisexuality is never expanded upon beyond this scene.  Because this is the only context for their bisexuality, it seems that the show depicts bisexuality as a performance for the pleasure of men (LGBT Characters in the Vampire Diaries and the Originals, 2015).   

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While vampire fiction has historically been an arena for expressing subversive sexualities, this is not the case with Twilight.   Twilight goes against earlier traditions of gender non-conforming characters by creating characters that are very traditional.  Edward Cullen and Jacob Black are brave and muscular, while Bella and female characters have female slumber parties, bake cookies, and cook meals for men.  Bella is often a damsel in distress and Edward Cullen shuns intimacy before marriage.  When Bella and Edward are finally married and do have sex, Bella finds herself bruised from the encounter and blames herself (Ames, 2010).  The Cullens themselves, though not related by blood, live as a family unit of heterosexual couples, with Edward being the only character not coupled until he meets Bella.  Other vampires, such as the Nomads and Volturi, do not live in the same traditional family units.  They drink blood and act more like traditional vampires.  The Volturi allow for more of a queer reading, as the Volturi consist of a trio of men, Aro, Marcus, and Caius, who spend more time together than with their wives.  The Volturi are also presented as feminine men.  The Nomads are also a trio, which begs the question of how the third person relates to the couple.  In contrast, the Cullens consist of Carlile and two males and two females.   The Cullens represent the monogamous, heterosexual ideal.  Bella marries early in life and become immediately pregnant, then fights the keep the pregnancy even after it threatens her life.  Throughout the relationship, Edward is protective and watchful of Bella, which could be viewed as controlling and stalking behavior.  When Bella is injured by sex, she is mostly concerned about comforting Edward than her own well-being (Hofstatter, 2012).  In this sense, the series is not only heterosexual, it is violently heteronormative.   Despite the confining heterosexuality and gender roles in Twilight, Kristen Stewart, who played Bella is openly bisexual and told the guardian that she was not confused about her sexuality and that in general, she saw sexuality as grey or fluid (Brooks, 2017).

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“Move along…nothing queer here…we assure you” -Actual Volturi Quote…or not.

The popularity of vampire fiction has declined over the last several years, but more recent vampire stories offer insights about the future.  Obviously, True Blood came along way from Dracula in its overt depiction of sexuality and other media in general for its positive and prominent depictions of LGBTQ characters.  At the same time, Vampire Dairies was centered upon heterosexual relationships and kept queerness in the margins.  Twilight was even worse in its hammering assertion of heterosexuality.  The stark differences between these series demonstrates that queer liberation is incomplete.  Twilight represents the alluring hold that tradition and conservatism continue in society.  It represents a world where deviance from heterosexuality does not dare name itself or where it simply does not exist.  This is the same world of Dracula, where sexuality is quieted, impulses controlled, and deviance is exiled or destroyed.   In The Vampire Diaries, queerness can exist as an auxiliary to heterosexuality, so long as it stays quiet, does not distract, and dies when necessary.  True Blood made the most ground, but it still portrayed queerness as preferable when it is expressed by those with beauty, wealth, power, and whiteness.  As for bisexuality, there have been many mis-steps in its presentation over history, the largest being its invisibility, fetishization, or conflation with gay or lesbian identities.  However, bisexual social movement organizations are only a few decades old.  Better representation of bis in the media hinges upon the success of this movement along with the larger LGBTQ movement to assert itself in society as a whole.  Hopefully this is done with a mindfulness towards the rights and representation of people of color, people with disabilities,  the working class, people who are poor, people of diverse sizes and appearances, and all the many other ways that groups of people are marginalized in society.  Liberation expands the lense of who is portrayed and how they are portrayed in the media.  Vampires have long made for fascinating characters and storylines.  They are also a mirror for how society constructs deviance and acceptability.  In this reflection, there is plenty to see.             



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Anders, C. J. (2016, April 04). The Vampire Diaries Picked the Worst Month for These Pointless, Tasteless Deaths. Retrieved December 02, 2017, from https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-vampire-diaries-picked-the-worst-month-for-these-po-1768964780

 

Baker, D. (2012). Seduced and abandoned: Lesbian vampires on screen 1968–74. Continuum, 26(4), 553-563.

 

Brooks, X. (2017, March 09). Kristen Stewart: ‘It’s not confusing if you’re bisexual. For me, it’s the opposite’. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/mar/09/kristen-stewart-bisexual-personal-shopper-trump-tweets

 

Campbell, P. O. (2013). Intersectionality Bites: Metaphors of Race and Sexuality in HBO’s True Blood. Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader, 99-114.

 

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Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Reflections on Al Franken

H. Bradford

I haven’t weighed in publicly on the Al Franken sexual harassment debate.  I don’t have the time to engage in internet debates and I don’t want to alienate allies in the Democratic party, who feel very personally hurt and confused by his resignation.  At the end of the day,  all feminists must work together to end sexual harassment/assault.  Further, as a Marxist feminist, I am in the extreme margins of feminism.  I feel that my opinion means little to most people or that my opinion is a quaint anachronism that is tolerable so long as I do my best to work well with others.   Still, I do want to share my opinion, as I feel very frustrated by some of the ways this debate has been framed.   Thus the following is a laundry list of my Marxist feminist “pet peeves.”

1: Al Franken was a feminist/ally to women


Many people have expressed a sense of grief, loss, disappointment, anger, etc. because of the argument that Al Franken was an ally to women.   I fundamentally disagree with this statement.  He supported the Iraq war in 2003, he has supported airstrikes in Syria, voted for increased sanctions against Iran, approved the national defense budget, voted in favor of PROMESA, he supported Israel’s 2014 attacks on Gaza, against closing Guantanamo Bay, etc.   I have said this many times, but internationalism is central to my feminist beliefs.   US foreign policy is based upon promoting US interests in the world.   The US has violently exerted its power in the interest of profit making.  This has been done through countless coups and wars.  What benefits the continuation violent US hegemony does not benefit women, does not benefit working people, does not benefit oppressed nationalities, does not benefit people of color, does not benefit the environment, and does not benefit the vast majority of the world that lives in poverty.  It does not benefit our own people, who fight in these wars and who pay for these wars (at the expense of social spending towards education, health, jobs, environment, etc.).   Supporting Palestinians is a feminist issue.  Supporting Puerto Rican independence is a feminist issue.  Supporting the end to US wars is a feminist issue.  Politicians who support the status quo of US foreign policy- that is, those who do not question our right to play world police or the assumed moral superiority that nationalism grants us the right to starve, bomb, or destabilize other countries… is not in my opinion a feminist.  Women happen to live ALL over the world.  American women are no more important than women in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, or Iraq.

This woman in Gaza matters, along with thousands of other people who were killed/injured in Gaza in 2014.  (Image from International Business Times).

 

2. It isn’t Fair that He Stepped Down

The “it isn’t fair” that he stepped down while worse Republicans remain in office is weakest, least morally courageous argument I have heard.   If someone does something bad…something that has hurt women…isn’t the morally responsible thing to do …is take accountability, step back from public life, and quietly work to rebuild trust through atonement?  It doesn’t matter if someone is worse, has done more, or others are not taking accountability.  The “grown up” thing to do when a mistake is made is admit it, apologize, bravely face the consequences, reflect on what happened and how to prevent it again, and work towards remedying the offense.  Yes, it certainly stinks to get in trouble for something when others are evading the consequences of their actions- but if a person truly believes that what they did was wrong, then the punishment of others should be of little concern.   This could have been an opportunity to set an example of how to gracefully, genuinely handle the serious issue sexual harassment.  Instead, Al Franken’s unapologetic resignation made him look like a petulant child- the same sort of behavior one would expect from Donald Trump.


3. Victim Blaming

One of the grossest things throughout this ordeal is the amount of victim blaming.   Despite photographic evidence of Al Franken groping Leann Tweeden, her credibility was attacked because of the bawdy nature of comedy, her conservative interests, her history with Playboy, etc.   Victims who have not identified themselves have even been blamed for not having the courage to reveal themselves- which implies perhaps they are not credible.  Worse, some people bemoan the fact that Al Franken was SUCH a good politician.  Why, he might have had a chance at becoming president some day!  Oh my!  Well, Brock Turner was SUCH a good swimmer!  That pesky sexual assault got in the way of such a promising athletic career.  When people bemoan “what could have been” it blames victims for ruining the careers and futures of offenders.  It is true that groping a sleeping woman is not the same as raping an unconscious woman.  However, there has been a great deal of minimizing Al Franken’s behaviors.   Eight accusations of unwanted touching and kissing IS a big deal.  And yes, Trump’s pussy grabbing and Roy Moore’s grabbing, dating underage women, forcing an underage woman’s head to his crotch, and other allegations of nastiness also matter.  ALL of this matters.  Everyone should resign.  Everyone sucks.  But please, believe victims!!


 

4. Get a Woman into Office!

Another pet peeve has been that the solution to all of this should be the appointment or election of more women into office.  Indeed, the socialization and social position of women in society has not lent itself to the same kinds of oppressive behaviors.  Women are more often the victims of sexual harassment and assault because women it is a method of social control of all women, this keeps women in their place, men feel entitled to women and have historically been entitled to women, women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive or exert control over men in this manner, victims historically and currently are not often believed, this behavior often goes on without consequence, etc.   However, this argument is troubling for a variety of reasons.  For one, it reifies gender.  That is, men and women are different, women are naturally better or less violent/gross/terrible, and the solution must be to include more women in power.  I think that this oversimplifies the problem while reinforcing the gender binary.  It assumes that there is some evil kernel within all men that makes them sexually harass/assault people.   This also ignores transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, or the many other ways to express gender and that these individuals are ALSO often the victims of sexual assault.  It also makes the issue a matter of who is in power rather than a matter of power itself.  Returning to the first point, women in power can be just as terrible- if they are promoting capitalist interests.  The world does not need more Condoleeza Rices, Madeline Albrights, Angela Merkels, Margaret Thatchers, and Hilary Clintons.  Yes, these are women, but they all promoted policies that have hurt women.  While it is less common, men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Women can sexually harass and assault each other in same sex relationships.  So…this argument is very base to me.  It does not tackle some fundamental issues of power or broader issues of feminism beyond sexual harassment. Image result for madeleine albright starved iraqi children


Beyond this critique, this is a disempowering message to feminists.  This message says that the best thing we can do is hope for a female politician to save us!  Gross.  We should be out in the streets.  Every night should be Take Back the Night.  We should be blocking roads and walking out of our work places in protest of sexual harassment/assault.  We should make power FEAR US.  We should not accept that power should be replaced by a female face.  We should take back power.  We should become power.  Politicians of both parties should fall over themselves to resign, because they fear the rage of millions of mobilized men, women, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, etc. people in the streets demanding  not only accountability….but the destruction of patriarchy itself.   This is a great opportunity for building a mass movement against the machinery of sexist oppression.  A woman will not save us.  We must save ourselves….and this planet.  The politicians will scramble to follow our lead.  If we are smart, we won’t give them the luxury of promises.


Conclusion…

I am sure I could go on, but these are some of the main “peeves” that have angered my socialist sensibilities.   I know that everyone is struggling with these issues.  I know that activism is a path- there is always room to grow and change.  I don’t wish to shame my fellow feminists.  I just…feel like I am alone in the wilderness sometimes.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat.   I don’t have any skin in that game.  I want a new game, with new rules, and new players, and a lot more winning for everyone.  I’m tired of playing Monopoly or Risk.  We are ALL losing.  We will ALL keep losing if we can’t change the discourse and step out of the realm of elections and politicians and into the realm of building the power of mass movements…and labor movement.

Beating the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Blues

H. Bradford

11/30/17

It seems that winter came early this year.  Although I have lived my whole life in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, winter still arrives with shock and disappointment.  This year, it seemed to begin on October 27th with our first snow storm of the season.  The following weeks remained fairly cold and that initial snow didn’t melt until mid-November.  Daylight Savings Time, which sets the sunset back an hour, only seems to worsen the onset of winter, since suddenly it is dark at 4:30 pm.  I escaped for two and a half weeks to warmer climates, so this only added to my “season shock” this year.  (I have coined my experience season shock- which is like culture shock- but about seasonal adjustment).  Yes, upon returning home after visiting my brother in Texas- I felt demoralized by the cold and darkness.  He will be moving back to Minnesota next year.  I wanted to warn him not to.  It is miserable here.  This place is a cold, dark hell.  In some mythologies, it might be akin to the imagined land of death- white, sterile, and quiet- where bones crack in the cold, snapping like icicles off ledges.  My work schedule of night shifts makes things worse- since I live in the the long dark space between sunsets and sunrises.  I felt crabby, lethargic, and disappointed.  Well, I really don’t want to be that way!  So, here are some things I have done to make the most of winter and try to changed that attitude.


Bentleyville:

Each year, Duluth features a free light show- with free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, marshmallows, costumed characters, bonfires, and more!  I have gone twice already this year.  Perhaps, this will even be the year that I finally try to volunteer there.  While winter isn’t awesome, I will say that the darkness creates the canvass for stunning light displays.   I can relate this to the concept of Metaxu (from Simone Weil and Plato), which roughly describes things that separate us in some ways but connects us in others.  Darkness separates us from the visual world.  Night is bothersome since it makes it harder to enjoy the outdoors or do activities that we might enjoy during the day.  In this case, while darkness connects us to the beauty of light displays.  These displays would not be a pretty in daylight.  So, in this way, the darkness connects us to beauty and light.   Plus, there is so little that is free in capitalism!  You can’t complain about free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, and wholesome fun!  I think that Bentleyville is wonderful.

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

The Night Sky:

Following the same logic as the last point, the darkness of winter and the long nights make it an optimal time of year for stargazing.   While I have not gone star gazing yet this month, I do plan on rescheduling a Feminist frolic for the planetarium and trying to catch the Northern lights (which are predicted to make an appearance early next week).  So, one great thing about winter is that it is a nice time of year for enjoying the night sky.


Birding:

I was a little sad to see all of the birds migrate.  While I was on my trip, I was reminded of all of the birds that were gone for the winter.  I even saw some of the species of birds which had migrated south!  However, on Sunday I drove to Two Harbors to hike around and do some geocaching.  I actually saw quite a few birds.  There were a few Common Goldeneye ducks, diving and bobbing in Agate Bay.  I watched them, getting a closer view than I’ve had of that species.  I also saw a NEW species of duck- a female Harlequin duck.  I was surprised, since I didn’t expect to see many new birds this winter-if any at all.  I think that it was a good reminder that there are still plenty of birds around.  On December 9th, the Sax Zim Bog will open to winter visitors and host a few birding/nature hikes.  I hope to attend.

Image may contain: outdoor and water

Geocaching:

I tried geocaching for the first time in March.  While it isn’t the most educational hobby, it is fun to search around for these hidden treasures.  I am not great at it, but it does bring a sense of accomplishment to me each time I manage to find a hidden container.  While I don’t do it all of the time, I decided to go geocaching on Sunday in Two Harbors and Monday at Pattison State Park.   Today, I found my 100th cache.  I think that winter is a great time to geocache since there is less foliage and vegetation to thwart my view of the caches.  Also, there aren’t any wood ticks.   It is also a nice hobby for winter since it doesn’t compete with birding as much (since there are fewer birds out and about).

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature  Just a photo from Pattison State Park, where I geocached earlier in the week

Winter’s Solitude:

On Monday, I went to Pattison State Park for hiking/geocaching.  I was the only at the park.  The park office was closed and the parking lot was desolate.  It was wonderful to haunt the park, wandering the trails as the only soul on the premise (there were park service people somewhere, but I didn’t see anyone at the park office and there were no other park visitors).  In the summer, parks tend to be busier.  The beach would be full of swimmers and the tables occupied by picnic-ers.   On Monday, it was only me.  It was wonderful.  I enjoyed it too much and kept reminding myself of the moral lessons of the Twilight Zone (don’t wish for people to go away.  You might lose your contact lenses).  It was a really enjoyable time.  This is something to really be thankful for- a whole park to myself!  I found a few caches and enjoyed the waterfall (the tallest in Wisconsin- though that doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a waterfall).

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor, nature and water    Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Embracing the Indoors:

During the summer, I sometimes feel guilty for sleeping during the day after a night shift.  I feel like I am missing out on a beautiful, sunny day.   In winter, while I still feel like I am missing out on sunlight, this is unavoidable.  So, I guess that if nothing else I can embrace the season because the cold and darkness give me a good excuse to stay indoors.   In my ideal world, I would use this wonderful indoor time to write, read, study, create art, try to practice violin, do fitness DVDs, or any number of other hobbies that I could explore.  But, this is not my ideal world and I am not my ideal self.  I haven’t done many if any productive indoor hobbies lately.  However, I have embraced the indoors by taking advantage of indoor fitness classes.  While I am not a member at any gyms, I have gone to a few fitness classes with my coworkers Kaila and Katie at CSS.   I have attended a dance cardio class and a barre class.  I also try to do a ballet class through Sterling Silver Studio in Superior.   Since it is cold outside, I may as well embrace the indoors by attending indoor fitness classes.  Walking on a track or treadmill is no substitute for a walk outdoors, but it helps to combat the cooped up/inactive feeling that I dislike about winter.


Embracing Winter Hobbies:

Snow does allow for winter hobbies.  We don’t have any snow at the moment, but maybe later this winter I can go cross country skiing and snow shoeing again.  There are other winter hobbies I could try as well.  One of my goals is to try out a fat tire bicycle this winter.  We’ll see if I finally try one out this winter…


Embracing Warm Things:

One positive thing about winter is that it makes warm things far more enjoyable.  I can definitely say that soup, hot tea, hot cocoa, or generally any hot food or drink is much more pleasant in the winter.   Even if I don’t have a cold, Throat Coat is my favorite and most soothing hot tea by far.

Image result for throat coat tea

Embrace Seasonal Sweaters:

I like being warm.  A fun way to stay warm is with seasonal sweaters.  The other day, I went to Goodwill and bought a few seasonal sweaters.  By seasonal, I mean the sort of sweaters that an elderly woman might wear- with snowmen, mittens, cats, or cardinals on them- some are embellished with sequins, tiny rhinestones, and puff paint textures.  Having an arsenal of winter themed sweaters/sweatshirts helps me get into the mood of winter.  It is hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a sweatshirt of three snowmen sharing hot cocoa.

Image result for sweatshirt with snowmen

I don’t own this sweater, but it represents the spirit of winter whimsy.

 

Season Shock:

The reason that I feel that I experience “season shock” rather than seasonal affect disorder is because my experience is more of an adjustment issue.    I feel that the transition to winter is disappointing because it means a loss of freedom, outdoors, health, light, and warmth.  It means that life is harder- since the weather is harsh, the day is short, the roads are icy, cars need to be warmed up, and illness spreads more easily.  Adjusting to the “new normal” of winter isn’t an easy process.  But, I don’t feel that for me, it is a form of depression.  To me, the difference is that when winter hits, I want to be active, I WANT to be outdoors, I WANT all of the fun of fall and summer.   Winter is an insult to my drive to live and experience.   When I am actually depressed, I don’t want to do anything….and don’t even want to want to do anything.   I think that by being intentional, setting goals, and taking advantage of the 40 degree weather we’ve had lately has helped me escape my winter funk.   But…we’ll see how it goes when the temperature continues to decline next week- and we see highs in the teens….

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

H. Bradford

11/28/17

(Trigger warning for anyone with emetophobia or an aversion to stories about gastrointestinal illness…and anyone who doesn’t want to read about gross sickness stuff)

I haven’t really written anything this month.  Sorry that the one thing that I took time to write is about…getting sick.  But, it was a big event this weekend.  This narrative is not flattering or fun.  It is the story of me and my pal, Norovirus.  I feel that if we were both characters in a novel, there is enough tension and antagonism that we might even love each other…in that Batman/Joker sort of way (that the “other” defines you).  What a weird thought.  I had a lot of time to have weird thoughts this weekend.   Norovirus is my nemesis, but like any nemesis, it grows familiar through obsession.  It was certainly no stranger on Thanksgiving.


I’ve come a long way in my journey to overcome emetophobia.   In other years, I had panic attacks as the holidays approached since it is prime time for winter vomiting bug…aka…norovirus.  I would fret over my food and stay inside.  But, having come a long way, I didn’t think much of it this year…or at least not as much as other years.  Even though Thanksgiving at the shelter inevitably means norovirus.  As predictable as the shortening days, the shelter will experience norovirus in November.  Sure enough, many residents, though mostly children, vomited through my nine day stretch of shifts.  One person vomited in the kitchen and in the office.  I always find this befuddling.  The kitchen and dining room are the absolute worst places to vomit- seeing as norovirus can spread through vomit particles launched through the air.  Yet, this seems to rank highly on everyone’s Top 5 Best Vomit Spots in the shelter.  In any event, it isn’t really surprising that at 2am on Thursday night I began to feel a little ill.  At first I thought it was hunger, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm.  I ate some leftover stuffing, but became increasingly bloated and uncomfortable.  At 4am, the liquid diarrhea began.  This was followed by nausea and a single retch.  By 4:30, I had used the bathroom three times and felt that this was just the beginning.  I decided that I needed to leave (leaving my coworker alone and rushing home).


I drove home without incident, hurried to unlock the door, and raced upstairs to the toilet to dry heave twice and turn around for some more diarrhea action.  This was about when the searing stomach ache began.  It felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with scissors.  The next two hours was a lovely relay race from my bed to the bathroom to take turns retching and shitting green swamp water.  (Yes, this is all very unpretty, but this story isn’t meant to be attractive).  I dry heaved hard four times at six a.m.  (I am not sure why nothing comes up, but it had already been four hours since I had eaten so maybe there was nothing to come up.)   My usual sources of relief: emetrol and pepto bismol did nothing.   I felt weak and was not able to drink much, but sometimes sipped tiny amounts of water through my teeth.  The stomach pain continued nonstop for eight hours.  This time was spent in moments of fitful sleep or pitiful whimpering.

Image result for pepto bismol

My trusted allies failed me…


I watched the time.  Time is a friend when stomach bugs hit.  The worst symptoms don’t last forever and do tend to slow down over time.  It took time for things to slow down.  It took eight hours for the stomach cramps to go away.  The nausea did improve and the dry heaving stopped (mostly because I willed myself to stop it- as I was too worn out to endure the effort of punching up my innards).   But, the diarrhea was remarkably constant.  Another remarkable characteristic of the diarrhea was how uncontrollable it was.  While I have certainly had my share of the “green apple trots” as my grandpa used to call it, I have never had uncontrollable “trots.”    Yes.  Indeed, the deluge of darkness arrived without herald or the slightest urge.  In other words, I pooped myself….more than once…without even feeling like I needed to go, was going to go, or that “going” was going to happen.   It was as if a magical spigot was suddenly turned on…and ta da!  That was a first in my life time.   Now, admitting this makes me feel like a swamp monster.  But really, it was not in my capacity to predict or control this bodily function.  That is humbling.  And disgusting, of course.  But, as I mentioned earlier, time is a friend.  By the late evening on Friday I was able to suck on ice and everything had slowed down.  However, I was met by a new symptom: severe body aches. Image result for green apple


Being sick is a learning opportunity.  The body aches were severe and made it hard to rest.  Still, they were preferable to the other symptoms.  I could not take any Tylenol because I had no desire to ingest more than ice.  So, I just wined quietly to myself as I curled up into various positions.  These body aches, while annoying, at least show that my body was trying to fight the virus.  The lower half of my body was where most of the pain was concentrated.   I guess that when the immune system makes antibodies, it also releases histamines to the infected area- which dilate the blood vessels and allows for more antibodies to pass through.  But, the histamines can pass to other areas of the body, where they trigger pain receptors.   I am not knowledgeable about health or medicine, but it is comforting to think of when I don’t feel well.   Once I felt well enough to drink enough water and have something in my stomach, I eventually took some Tylenol and this pain subsided (but by then it had been another eight hours).  From then on, I slept until about 2pm on Saturday.  This meant that I spent about 34 hours in bed (or between bed and the toilet).


When I awoke, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 34 degrees F.  I put on several layers and decided that the most logical thing I could do was celebrate my recovery with a brisk, wintery hike in the Superior Municipal Forest in search of a geocache.  This was certainly an ambitious goal after sustaining myself on ice cubes.  I didn’t have my appetite back yet, but set out anyway….since I was done being sick.  Nope, I wasn’t done being sick.  I went for a hike, against my better judgment, feeling weary and light headed.  But, I stayed out anyway (yes, I know this was foolish but I wanted to be better and was tired of staying in bed).  I didn’t find the cache, but was determined that the hike was what I needed.  After an hour of hiking/searching for the cache, I returned to my car.  Even though I felt rather weak, I decided to try to find another cache.  I also failed to find this one.  By the third attempt to find a cache, I felt that I could no longer stay awake.  I promptly went home and fell asleep for several more hours.  However, by the time I awoke, I did have my appetite back and a bit more energy.  By Sunday afternoon, I had indeed recovered (and had a more successful attempt at hiking and geocaching).


The illness gave me a lot of time to think.  My roommates were gone-celebrating Thanksgiving with their families over the weekend- spare one roommate who I don’t know well yet.  The internet was not working Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  So, I was alone and a bit bored.  Even the television converter box was malfunctioning.  I didn’t have the energy for reading books- so I mostly sat in bed and thought about things.  The topic at the top of my mind was norovirus, of course.  There is something so terrible about norovirus.  Really, there is very little that can be done to prevent its spread.  While it is only spread through the oral-fecal route or by airborne vomit particles, it is extremely virulent.  A tiny drop of vomit or pooh contain millions of viral particles.  It only takes a few to become sick.  At the same time, many cleaners do not destroy the virus.  For instance, clorox wipes do not destroy it.  Alcohol sanitizer does not destroy it.  At work, I bleach surfaces and door knobs at night, but it isn’t actually known how much bleach is needed to destroy norovirus.  The diluted bleach solution that I use to clean the office and shelter may be as ineffective as the commercial cleaning supplies at the shelter.  Therefore, if norovirus is around you…it is safe to assume that you will probably become ill (though hand washing does work and is probably the only way to really avoid it.)

Image result for clorox wipes

Kills 99.9% of germs.  Guess what that .1% includes?  Hmmph….I say rise up against the .1% and take back the means of cellular reproduction!!


I also thought about viruses themselves.  Viruses are just plain weird.  Scientists had no idea that they existed until speculations in the late 1800s that there might be something smaller than a bacteria.   There really is something impressive about the idea that viruses were discovered at all- considering they are so tiny and not even alive.  Norovirus was discovered in the 1920s (which seems recent, but ALL viruses are pretty recently known).  Viruses are all around us.  Relatively few make us sick, but they attack all life forms.  Thinking about viruses made me really, really, thankful for vaccines.  I mean…anti-viral drugs are rare and really complicated (involving confusing the process by which viruses replicate themselves in cells).  So, vaccines are pretty awesome and a lot easier to understand and seemingly to develop than anti-viral drugs.  Norovirus does not have a vaccine, but there have been clinical trials for a vaccine in Japan and Ohio.  So, someday there could be a vaccine- which would be pretty awesome- since norovirus kills about 200,000 people in the US each year (and of course, countless more in developing countries).  Plus, norovirus is the second most common illness in the US after the common cold.   Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I want a world where people don’t poop themselves or at least not as much.  But on a more serious note, it would actually end a lot of mundane human suffering/real suffering and death.   Yep, as I sat in bed, I thought- give me ALL the VACCINES.   I also thought about the anti-vaccination movement.  While I know that for those who are against vaccination it is a serious issue- I just have to think- c’mon…viruses suck SOOOOO much.  HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people!  Influenza killed like 3-6% of the global population in 1918/19!  In the throes of my viral misery, it was very easy to be on TEAM VACCINATE. Image result for norovirus I will admit that this orange tinted version of norovirus is sort of cute.  You are my sunshine…my only sunshine….


Oddly enough, I also thought about Rick and Morty, a cartoon I have seen a few times.  I thought that maybe Rick is such a jerk because he can see himself in the past, present, future, and all universes.  I can only see myself in the past and present.  I thought that if I could time travel, my advice to myself would be “don’t be afraid.”  One of my fears has been throwing up, but there are lots of little things.   I was too miserable to even fear throwing up.  This is what actually happens when I am truly sick.  The anxiety really happens in the expanse of calm moments between illnesses.  And, norovirus is unpleasant and traumatic enough to worry about- but, it does end.   It may take a day or three days, but it ends.  Ultimately it is hard to control and possible to survive, so it is not worth fearing or worrying about.    So yes, past self- don’t be afraid.  Don’t be so fearful.  I really want past self to know that.  Present self is not really an adventurer.  I like tea, birds, books, hikes, quietude, etc.  Past self was always too afraid.  I want to be a jerk to past and present self.  I wish present self liked scuba diving, parasailing, rock climbing, roller coasters, sky diving, etc.  I don’t.  I am more of the bookish, timid sort.  Present and past self- you suck.  See, I only see two parts of myself and I am already a jerk.  So, maybe Rick just sees so many versions of himself that it lends itself to being awful.  I mean, in at least several multiverses I am still pooping myself.  That is gross and intolerable. All humans are limited by their own mediocrity, mortality, and social conditions.  Even if I were entirely fearless, I would be met by the limits of being born into this particular place and time- this person-this body- this class and gender within patriarchal capitalism.  To live is to come to terms with limitations of what is possible and to compromise wants against realities.  At least I can only see two worlds of disappointment, but if I could see all versions of myself I would probably become soured by the infinite pointlessness of all of our struggles.   So…that is what I thought about.  Rick and Morty and how it relates to norovirus.


I thought about other things as well, but it would be boring to write about all of my thoughts.   I am happy that I am feeling better.  At least I probably won’t get norovirus for a few months (immunity does not last very long).   I survived it.  It was the second worst bout of stomach illness I have had in my life.  The number one worst was only worse because it was on an airplane.   Now that I am feeling better, I had some fun outdoors and even saw a new bird yesterday.  Things aren’t so bad.  Norovirus won a battle, but didn’t win the war….

 

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