conventional

I wonder sometimes, how much of my life can be explained if I tell you that my parents voted for Nader in 2000. I was a good daughter back then, and dutifully followed along. I was the only girl in my 2nd grade class to do so, the only block of green construction paper on the chart we compiled. I was proud of myself then, and I’m proud of myself now.

I hate politics. That might be a lie. I hate the way the American political system exists and is executed currently. I like politics as an idea. I’ve watched a season and a half of the West Wing in the last week. Politics are fine and good when they’re fictional.

Today is day two of the Democratic National Convention. I had to leave the house to get away from my mother watching it on TV. Last night I stayed and hid in my room, but I could still here the rhythms of the speeches through the wall, and that was too much. Thinking about politics makes me sad. I simply do not want to here them talk.

Yesterday’s speakers included a line up of politicians I like alright, and respect as much as I respect a politician. I like Franken a lot, I’ve voted for him. Elizabeth Warren is great. I graduated from the same high school as Keith Ellison’s kid, and I’m proud that he’s representing me. Bernie almost got me invested in this whole shebang. But god, I did not want to hear them talk last night.

Whatever they were saying, I knew I couldn’t make myself trust it. I knew I wouldn’t really care. As much as I like these individuals, as much as I think they’re probably descent human beings, they’re still politicians.

This past week I’ve been reading The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem, who’s a situationist, which is as I understand it, a very specific sort of Anarchist. Reading anarchist thought in the middle of American Politics is Not Good for my mental health. I lean towards anarchism on the best days, and party conventions are the worst days. Party conventions are an example of all the things that get on my nerves about America politics. They’re about money, and popularity, and selling slightly different flavors of centrism.

At least that’s usually what they’re about. Trump and the Republics last week are more frightening than that, but it’s still a fair point. The Republican National Convention actually didn’t bother me as much as the DNC is. The RNC had an element of theater of the absurd. It was poorly executed, and at times laughably bad. That people were listening to him is incredibly frightening, but I’m still far enough away that I can laugh some. Laughter is a better choices than wanting to die. I didn’t see anyone expecting the RNC to be anything other than a joke or a tragedy, and it was both.

My problem with the DNC is that people I know are getting excited about it, and it seems like they think I should be excited about it, and that isn’t gonna happen. I am not going to get excited about the Democratic party. I’m going to vote for them, but I’m not going to like it. They’re the lesser of two evils, but a wide margin this year, but still — not great.

I’m not excited by this political machine that’s far more to the center than I am. I don’t feel like it’s speaking for me — looking out for my best interests, sure, definitely more than the other guy, but actually speaking for me? Actually reflecting what I care about? No.

And nothing in mainstream American Politics ever will. Because to become Mainstream American Politics and actually get anything done you have to have money, and you have to make deals, and compromises, and basically sell pieces of your soul to a thousand different interests. That’s how Mainstream American Politics work. It sucks, but I’m not going to be the one to change it.

I am going to use harm reduction practices and vote democratic. I am going to support the local politicians who seem like they’re still human. And I’m going to invest all of my idealism and energy into things that aren’t politics.

Politics are dead to me. Politics are lies. I am not about them.

I am about volunteering at the collectively run bookstore in my neighborhood, and helping with the community meal at my church, and doing small things to be good to the people in my life. Engaging with Mainstream American Politics makes me want to die, so I am going to do Not That.

It’s simple really.

I was in high school when the RNC was held in St Paul. I remember friends going to protests. I remember months later going to a house concert where the cover went to the folks who got arrested. I remember being so confused as to why the fuck this thing was in my Cities, where it clearly does not belong.

I wasn’t watching the DNC speeches yesterday, but I saw on twitter that Wellstone’s name got mentioned, and there were still cheers in the crowd, more than a decade after he died. I remember when he died. It was right before the election, and they scrambled to see who would be running in his place. It wound up being Walter Mondale, a good name, but not the one on all the green signs in people’s yards. My mother and I made a Mondale banner, and walked to hang it off the edge of the Lake Street Bridge. Mondale lost that election.

There are still so many Wellstone signs in Minnesota. So many bumper stickers. I see a car ahead of me with a green rectangle with the Wellstone name on it I know it’s someone I could have a conversation with. I know we believe in one of the same things. That’s what politics is supposed to be.

I wish there were more politicians I could get behind. I wish there was a system I could trust. But there isn’t, and expecting this to be anything other than shit is just going to break my heart, and I have better things to do with my life.

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Star Trek Beyond

This was everything I wanted. I loved the reboot to pieces, but Into Darkness was depressingly terrible, a misstep that it could be hard to recover from. I was nervous, but this movie was so incredibly satisfying.

It captured the spirt of space exploration that I want from Star Trek. It’s a science adventure about the frontier. It’s a funny movie, and true to what I’m looking for from these characters. The way that the bridge crew cares about each other and rely on each other was incredibly strong. I care so much about the idea of the Enterprise’s crew caring about each other. Like, this is not a reasonable feeling, I know, but that’s where I am.

I’m going to wind up watching this again, and I’m sure I’ll find things to be critical about, but I really loved it. Some of the action sequences were hard to follow, and they could have used Idris Elba better, but those are minor complaints. What movie couldn’t use more Idris Elba really? This was the Star Trek film I was hoping for. It isn’t the most amazing movie in the world, but it’s a really good Star Trek movie, and loyal to what sort of story that’s supposed to be.

There was one moment where everything thing lined up — the humor and the plot came together to set up an action sequence, and the musical cue was so perfect, I sort of wanted to cry. I love these characters, and I love this franchise, and I feel lucky when stories this great get told.

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

I kind of need everyone to read this book. It’s really smart, and about something really important, and about something that I have a really hard time talking about.

One of the big things that I spend time thinking about and trying to live around is intoxication culture, which is basically the sets of cultural norms that exist around drugs and alcohol. Understanding the extremely fucked up way the war on drugs has been implemented is an important part of understanding and resisting intoxication culture.

So this book which is all about understanding why the war on drugs started and what it’s done is obviously a huge resource. It’s a very thorough, wide ranging book. Hari traveled all over to talk to people and see the different way the war on drugs has impacted the world. It’s very well researched, and goes very in depth. He uses stories of individuals to explain things that are happening on a systemic level. Looking at statistics and populations it can be easy to get impersonal, but Hari always brings it back to people.

The problem with how drugs are controlled and legislated is a huge problem, and it isn’t discussed as much as it should be, and so much of the discourse that is around is really unhelpful, uninformed, or actually damaging.

This should be required reading. It’s the best non-fiction book I’ve read in ages. It manages to be an accessible enjoyable read while explaining an important subject. I got it from the library, but I’m going to buy it so I can make other people in my life read it.

It took until the end of the book when he starts talking about legalization for me to realize what wasn’t quite clicking for me, where Hari and I were approaching these subjects from different directions. He came in with a history of drug use in his family, and accepted the common narrative that illegal drugs are worse than alcohol. I came I with a history of alcoholism in my family, so I know that it can be just as fucked, but the social norms around it are different.  He explains why our current system of criminalization doesn’t work, but he doesn’t really acknowledge how the current way that alcohol is regulated is pretty fucked up as well.

One of my issues with legalization is that if this country can’t manage a functional relationship with alcohol, why would it be able to do much better for other intoxicants? Hari almost touches on this when discussing prescription painkiller abuse, but he never really engages with whether America has a fundamentally unhealthy relationship with both legal and illegal intoxicants, which I’d say is true. Prohibition doesn’t work, but the regulations and culture around alcohol isn’t anything to aspire to. There doesn’t just need to be a legal change in how drugs are criminalized, but a cultural shift in how we approach intoxicants.

This isn’t a flaw of the book, it’s an example of divergent interests. He’s looking at the legalization/prohibition of drugs, while I’ve mostly thought about the social norms around intoxicants. He’s talking about incredibly important things, but doesn’t address everything I care about.

Overall, I loved it. Hari mentioned an ex-boyfriend in the first chapter and knowing that he isn’t straight made me trust him instinctively, which might be weird, but whatever. Figuring out a better way to deal with intoxicants and addiction is something that needs to happen because the current model is so dysfunctional. Having an informative and interesting book like Chasing the Scream as a resource is awesome if that change is going to come.

Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon is one of my idols. She’s a woman I look up to, the kind of woman I want to be. She seems so effortlessly cool, and is involved in creating such interesting art. She sang and played bass in Sonic Youth, and seemed to have a dream marriage with her bandmate Thurston Moore. They were the kind of couple who made me believe in the possibility of having a loving creative partnership. But then he cheated, and the band broke up, and they got divorced. That happened in 2011, and this book came out in 2015.

There are wonderful parts about being a woman in the music industry, and about balancing art and motherhood. She’s still one of my idols and role models. But the big takeaway was the pervasive sense of bitterness and heartbreak.

Almost every part of book is colored by the way Gordon’s relationship with Moore ended. The early parts of her biography, growing up in California raised by liberal parents with a bipolar older brother, are fascinating and untouched, but everything that comes after meeting Moore in New York has to be read in relation to his betrayal.

Of course she’s bitter. That’s to be expected. There are still times where it still hurts to read. I guess this is one of the differences in reading a memoir vs reading a novel. With a novel, even when a relationship ends badly, the initial romance is usually still presented as a romance, not a tragedy. I guess I’m the sort of person who wants to believe that even failed romances had their moments, and that at one point my heros were happy and in love. And they probably were, at one point, but with the rawness of Gordon’s writing this doesn’t really come across.

Overall it’s a really incredible book. It makes me want to go out and be creative and awesome. She’s a messy wonderful woman writing about her journey and her heartbreak.

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll

I was listening to “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll, and then he started talking about The Basketball Diaries, and he bought the book for us to read.

It is very much a boy book, a teenage boy book. It’s about drugs and sports and sex. He does a lot of drugs, and is starting to have sex, which is very thrilling, in a teenage boy way. There is also basketball. That is the name of the book after all. He’s on a travel team, and pretty good, or at least he could be if he wasn’t more interested in sex and drugs and drinking.

I don’t understand teenage boys. I didn’t when they were my peers, and I still don’t, and have accepted that I probably never will. This book didn’t really help, but did confirm my belief that teenage boys are ridiculous and generally terrible. Jim Carroll probably isn’t representative of teenage boys as a whole, but I feel confident with my conclusion.

The writing is excellent. It’s very simple writing, fitting with the age of it’s protagonist. There are parts that are startlingly poetic, which resonate even more because they stand out.

I appreciated the book, but it wasn’t my kind of punk. I’m into the rebellion and the fashion, not the nihilism. This is the start of something dark. It goes from sports and hijinks in to heroin. It’s a very compelling stumbling into darkness, that never completely loses its sense of humor, because sometimes humor is the only response.

Normal pt 1 by Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is one of my absolute favorite writers, and he’s doing an interesting thing with a serialized story right now. Normal refers to a center where Futurists get sent after they go crazy. The first part isn’t long, but it sets up really interesting characters, and ends with a mystery. The most compelling writing was about the experience of being cut off from your internets, and the overwhelming compulsion to stay caught up. There are so many podcasts, and messaging services, and newsfeeds, and they’re all asking for your attention, and that works, until it doesn’t It seems like Normal is about what happens when that level of engagement and networked life stops working.

The next part comes out July 19th, and I’m looking forward to it.

The Girls by Emma Cline

I’m going to do something a little bit different with this write up. Instead of writing something that resembles a review, I’m going to give you a bit of the paper I could write about this book that I’m not going to write because I’m not in school anymore and don’t have to. I’m going to be talking about a lot of plot points in a spoiler filled way, so skip if you want to read it uninformed. You might want to read it? I didn’t love it, but it was interesting.

rough thesis: the key behind The Girls is the weird magnetic homosocial relationships between young women, but falters because it doesn’t tackle how this grows into adulthood.

The plot of the book is playing with the idea of a Manson-like cult that a thirteen year old named Evie gets caught up in. She’s living in California, the only child of affluent divorced parents. She spends much of the summer before she leaves for high school hanging around the ranch of a charming psychopath. It isn’t the cult’s leader, Russel, who draws her in, but an older girl, Susanne.

Susanne is oddly beautiful, and absolutely magnetic. Evie wants her, or wants to be her. It’s never clear in her adolescent mind. She has crushes on boys, but these are shallow curious things, nothing like the need for approval that she feels for Susanne. Their relationship is very homoerotic. Susanne is an inspiration for Evie’s budding sexuality.

Evie’s virginity is offered up to the fake Beach Boy in the novel. Russell sends her and Susanne to the house hoping to trade sex for a record deal. Evie is aware that she’s being manipulated, and is coerced into the sex. She isn’t interested in the musician, but Susanne’s presence makes it a bearable situation. Having this man touch her is unpleasant until Susanne starts kissing her. That’s the part of the sex that she enjoys. This is a pivotal point of the book.

Russel’s offering doesn’t succeed, he doesn’t get a record deal, and the next time Susanne is back at the musician’s house it’s to commit murder under Russel’s orders. For some reason Susanne leaves Evie behind on the night of the murders. No explanation is offered, Susanne just pulls the van over on the side of the road, leaving Evie behind. She’s stuck calling her step mother for a ride home, but she gets to go to boarding school in the fall. The rest of her life is influenced by this crime in much subtler ways than if she had taken part of it.

The book is told from the point of view of Evie as an adult woman. She was shaped by the trauma she experienced with the cult, and by the secret of her involvement. She’s never reconciled what that time meant to her or how it influenced who she is now. As a middle aged woman she is still confused about what Susanne meant to her.

Despite the homoerotic elements and actual sexual connection, this female-centered eroticism is not a part of Evie’s present. She mentions past failed relationships with men, but not women. Basically, why doesn’t she grow up to be a lesbian? Was her sexuality all caught up in this one formative relationship with Susanne, and she was never able to disconnect her desire for women from the trauma of the cult?

I wanted to see this get dealt with, and it never did. The sensual aspect of Evie’s infatuation with Susanne is so important. In the sections set in the present day it neither gets handled or ignored to a satisfying degree.

tldr: it should have been about lesbians. Most books should be about lesbians, but especially this one.