EuroTrip Prep

I am overjoyed to be going to Europe in only a few short weeks, though I really really cannot believe it’s almost here. I’ve been planning my 3 week trip to Europe for a while now, and am finally putting finishing touches on the plan. I’m not sure how much more adventure I need after Dominican Republic in January and March, but I’ll be getting more, so I guess I’d better be prepared! I’ll be sure to keep you updated–I’m sure tales will be epic!!

Choice: The Loaded Word

Just a brief followup on my previous post about women’s judgement on other women’s marriage decisions. Jezebel posted a piece today that perfectly summarizes my point, much more eloquently than I could. Basically Moore says that it’s all relative. I particularly like her explanation that

One: All kinds of relationships, with lovers and friends, with pets you care for, with yourself, in all varieties, can offer something toward our growth and/or stunting as people. Two: marriage, in and of itself, isn’t stable. Or intimate. Nor does it offer companionship. It’s a legal/religious agreement. The people inside of it can foster and nurture those things. Or not. A lot of ’em do. A lot of ’em don’t. That’s what the whole divorce rate is about.

I don’t see why people attribute what’s good about marriage to marriage as a concept, as opposed to the people in it and the work they are doing. Marriage is just a framework. Everything about the way it goes comes down to the two people in it and how they face the challenges that befall them.

(Emphasis mine) This is the same argument, essentially, that I’ve made actually about social media–that social media (Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, etc), are tools, but not, themselves, content, and you really need both. Content without tools means there’s no distribution, so to speak, and tools without content (a much more common way to interpret things) is empty and pointless — you’re essentially trying to eat with just a fork and plate. You need food though.

Moore asks, “Isn’t it weird to assume women don’t understand the risk of marriage, or not marrying, just as we understand the risk of marrying young, or old?” I agree, and would go one step further and point out that this comes back to the idea of choice, and understanding choices. I am pro choice, because I believe that people, women included, because you know, women are people, know best about their own (our own?) circumstances. They know when it is right for them to get married. They know when it is right for them to have a child. And people are better off when they are free to make that decision that they know if right for them. So I’ll also provide you with an incredible (seriously) argument about what women deserve by Sonya Renee, via RH Reality Check’s tumblr. It made me cry. But only because I already believe that women are people, people who are smart and resilient and know what they need, and I believe we should respect that as a society. I also believe that the only way to do that is through trusting women to make their own choices about their lives and their bodies.

Spring Breakers: Insane, or Brilliant? [SPOILERS!!]

Tonight I got to play with Gypsy (improv group) at The Magnet for the Rundown, which was great fun, if not really amazing, and then after some shuffling of plans, ended up randomly seeing Spring Breakers, one of the new films James Franco is in. I’d listened to the Slate Culture Gabfest discussion of the film, and it kind of made me curious. And I’m actually super glad I saw it. And even more glad that I listened to their discussion of it before seeing it, because I feel like this is not a movie you should walk in blind to.

So first of all, I just want to describe the feel–flashy, lots of bright and obnoxious colors, fluorescent lights, and boobs and butts galore. So many bikinis. The opening scene is just girls shaking their butts and naked breasts with alcohol being sprayed all over them in the ocean and on the sand. And it was such a strange combination of titillating and yet really creepily not sexy at all. Like, it was too ostentatious to be really sexually appealing.

After stealing money from a local restaurant with a water gun and sledgehammer, the ladies go to St. Petersburg, FL to see a world different than what they’re used to. And meet Alien, Franco’s character, who is really into money and guns. And also shorts and cologne, much like this guy.

My favorite scene in the movie, and the moment I really started to believe this film is seriously satire was when three of the girls, dressed in one piece swim suits with generously cut out sides, ridiculous pink masks, sweat pants with “DTF” (Down To Fuck, for anyone not familiar with this phrase) printed on the butts, gently carrying AK-47s, stood around a gorgeous white baby grand piano at Alien’s house, by the pool, with an incredible ocean view. They ask him to play a sensitive song, and he proceeds to play (and sing) Britney Spears’ (an “angel on Earth, according to Alien) “Everytime.” This is perhaps the weirdest scene I’ve ever seen in a movie. The screenshot is used for one of the posters:

Spring Breakers, movie poster

 

Strange. Also a key that the movie is really not supposed to be taken seriously, in my opinion.

Subsequently, one of the girls gets shot in the arm by Alien’s enemy/childhood best friend. She goes home, and the other two girls seek revenge; Alien gets killed in the process, while the girls go on a shooting spree, leaving many of the gang the enemy is a part of, including him, dead. And then they go back to school.

There was lots of gratuitous violence/showing off of guns & cash, and MANY shots of boobs and butts, which were entirely unavoidable, sometimes boobs taking up the ENTIRE SCREEN. But my take is that that’s sort of the point. The film feels (and I don’t know how to explain this really, or why it is exactly) sexual, but in a dirty, creepy way, as I say. It feels like it’s forcing you to be turned on, if that makes sense? But like, not in a fun way. In a forceful, violent way. And through that violence, for lack of a better phrase, the film jolts you into recognizing how unfulfilling these things are, and how demoralizing the concept of spring break can be. Repetition is used throughout the film and creates sort of a strange alternate universe, particularly Alien saying, “Sprang braake 4eva.” It’s eery. The whole movie is. But I kind of loved it.

Bullying

I went to see Emily Bazelon speak yesterday with Dave Cullen (who wrote Columbine) at the New America Foundation about her new book, Sticks and Stoneswhich I have been listening to on Audible (<3!).

I never really thought I’d be particularly interested in bullying, but I really really appreciate Emily’s nuanced take on the issue, as Dave pointed out last night. She focuses primarily on the case of Phoebe Prince, a girl who committed suicide after suffering from depression for years and dealing with some harassment from classmates, who were then charged with crimes basically claiming that they had led to her suicide. Emily focuses mostly on the importance of teaching kids empathy, and how bullying primarily comes out of kids just not being empathetic to the particular kid they’re bullying. Which is really interesting, and while I’ve not been terribly interested in understanding bullying, I’ve always been fascinated by empathy, especially because I have been obnoxiously highly empathetic (one of the most extreme stories about this is coming home crying to my mom in first grade that another kid was being picked on by the teacher). I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m too empathetic, if it’s a way to escape what I personally am feeling. Regardless, I guess it’s made me not a bully. And interested in class and oppression, which are things I’m so so very happy to be interested in. My emotional investment in social justice is certainly rooted in my empathy. And though it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, I wouldn’t give that up.

I’d definitely recommend the book–Emily is a great writer (you can also find her on MY FAVORITE THING EVER, the Slate Political Gabfest), and as I say, really treats the subject incredibly eloquently. I really can’t express enough love for the Gabfest–they are so so so awesome. And I definitely make it a point to see, hear or read Emily, David Plotz, or John Dickerson whenever I can.

Also, got my hair cut tonight. Yay!

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Ladies Be Judgin’

I am a bit unnerved by Slate’s article urging young people to get married. It seems like it’s written as if marriage is a choice that you make unilaterally. The reality is, you have to agree to be with another person, and that other person has to agree to be with you. I feel personally a bit upset by this because I, personally, have always been open to relationships, but nothing has worked out. And all the better!! Had I married at 23, I wouldn’t have developed into who I am, I wouldn’t have traveled as I have, gotten to make the (sometimes) crazy decisions about moving to New York City and really getting to know myself and what I want in my life. I’m still on that path. I’ve never been opposed to someone else fitting into that, but they haven’t. And now, at this point, I’m doubtful that the sacrament of marriage is even something I’m terribly interested in. It has such a shitty history, beginning as something that was pretty much just passing “property” from one man to another, and many parts of that tradition still hold (rings, father walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away,” asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, etc). I have always been a bit feisty. And never have I been more proud of that than I am today. I am not, by any stretch, opposed to finding a partner to share my life with, and theirs with me, but I feel like I have a much better idea of what that means, a much more realistic and mature idea, than I did at 23. Thank goodness I didn’t marry then!

But that is me.

I’m sure the author is perfectly happy as well, and I’m sure many of my married friends are content in their married lives. And I’m so so happy for them! I’m happy they’ve found what works for them! But no one should feel like they can’t do what is right for themselves (including marrying young). And the tone of Shaw’s piece is just so…judgmental. As if young men and women have perfect marrying-ready situations ready to go and should just go with it. Maybe other people are just more effed up than Shaw? I recognize the social pressure issues and societal norms, but maybe a lot of people are better off (read: happier) being single than in shitty relationships. And many relationships are shitty. Definitely not all, but pretty much all of the ones I’ve been in. So I’ve chosen to no longer be in those. And believe me, I’ve looked at my own part. I’ve done my work. And I’m better for it. But that didn’t make any of the relationships less wrong. It didn’t make anything fit. I suppose I should say yet. But my point is, I believe that because of all that, I will ultimately end up having a more fulfilling life and if I do have a lasting relationship, then it will be enhanced by the work I’ve done. The bottom line is, no one has been the right fit. It’s not about being perfect. But there are some standards, particularly regarding someone’s commitment to the relationship. Shaw is lucky (if she’s really as happy as she says). And that’s great for her. I’ve been lucky in many many many ways. Romantic relationships that last has not been one of them. It’s pretty self-absorbed to assume that everyone’s had the opportunities you have had. So, ew. And just, stop being so judgy!!

On Security, Safety and Trust

As promised, I am taking a moment to discuss the issue of safety, security, trust and race/socio-economic class. I think this is sort of an intersection of sorts for a lot of things, and thus, it is very complex and I won’t really be able to address a lot. But the confluence of visiting a foreign “developing” country by myself as a women who is white and able-bodied and the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting, with follow-up writings about white masculinity, definitely got me thinking. I was upset that I didn’t get to plan this trip as being by myself, but once it was, I knew that as long as I trusted my gut and listened, asked questions, etc, I’d be as safe as I normally am. Which is, to say, none of us is ever truly “safe.” Safety is an illusion. What does that mean? What does it mean to be safe? It means you have control over your circumstances. At its core, it means people do not violate you, physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, right? The reality is, we are more vulnerable than we’d like to be. But our awareness of this is particularly heightened when we are in an unusual circumstance, because we look for patterns, and if everything looks “normal,” we don’t worry. Even though something could happen in my everyday life. Someone I trust could violate that trust, and any of those levels. But in a place where we’re not familiar, we don’t have those patterns to fall back on. I was a bit surprised by some of my family/friends’ reactions to my going to DR by myself–they were more worried than I necessarily expected. And I can’t say for certain that it’s because Dominican Republic is a developing country, with a different culture, etc, but I’m sure that plays into it, because we all are more comfortable with what we’re familiar with. The thing is, I am familiar with Dominican culture (some of my best friends are Dominican….jk, but really). I lived in a neighborhood in NYC that was primarily Dominican and I guarantee you far more dangerous than any place I was in DR based on my statistical chance of getting caught in the middle of some kind of drug-related violence, because the area is a massive area for drug trafficking. And yet, while I’m sure some people were somewhat concerned when I lived in that area, they didn’t necessarily know that. Where I live now, I could get hit by a car. Or fall down the stairs, or on the subway tracks. There is no end to the random things that could happen.

A lot of my thought on this subject actually I think comes from my learning about statistics and reading things like The Black Swan–recognizing that our brains and emotions were optimized to look for danger in ways that are hardly useful today, because the most dangerous things are things we can’t possibly even be aware of, and therefore things we can’t possibly prevent, no matter what we do. I made a decision while in college that I just wouldn’t live in fear. That it wasn’t worth it. I try to implement that in my daily life, not being anxious, etc, which is in some ways much more difficult, but I think it’s important to take calculated risks, realizing that everything we do has some risk associated with it, and that, as I say, much of that risk is something that we don’t even know about. When Eve Carson was murdered in March, 2008, I realized that you can ask why, but sometimes that doesn’t help, and often there isn’t really an answer. Life if not fair, and horrific things happen all the time. My being paranoid about them, and in a sense, trying to take responsibility for preventing them, will not, in fact, prevent them from happening. And so while I was moving to NYC, I became much more aware of this idea, and recognized how much I didn’t want fear to inform my decisions. For a long time I’ve qualified that by saying, “that doesn’t mean I’m going to be stupid,” but I’ve realized over the years through thinking about, reading about, etc, rape culture and victim-shaming that is often involved in that that I think maintaining that way of thinking is, in a sense, accepting and okaying that. And that for me, doing what the fuck I want is a way to be subversive, both personally and in my culture and society, and that I want to do that, that that is a part of my intent. I will pay attention to my gut in the moment. But I will trust that I can handle any situation I’m in, and that I will create the world I want to live in because I want a world where we can trust each other. I absolutely refuse to fit into the world’s idea of what a woman is. And if someone chooses to violate me? Well, they have chosen to violate me. And no matter what I’m doing, if someone else violates me, whatever that looks like, then I am not at fault. I’m done with shouldn’t this or shouldn’t that because it would put me at risk of being violated in some way. Their choice to commit that violation is their own, I refuse to own it, or take any sort of responsibility for it.

I am not saying that I will do things I have some sort of belief are “dangerous”–precisely not that. I am working to get rid of my sense of danger as anything other than an in-the-moment part of my decision-making process. Because if I feel uncomfortable, then something is affecting me and it makes sense to consider another choice. But when considering the future, or what kind of “risk” I’m putting myself in when I do something that I want to do, I will intend to remove the risk framework about that situation in my decision-making thought process because it is false. It is created, and not real, because in the end, we could be dragged out of our apartment randomly and murdered. There is no safety. And that can be freeing.

Learn from every single being, experience and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.
–Eve Carson

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I cannot believe I’m about to get on a flight back home. I am totally overwhelmed by this trip.

I’m not even sure how to begin processing the experience–I seriously forgot how awesome it is to be fully a part of the Latino time frame. I think that’s the thing I keep coming back to. And I’m not sure if it’s because I am just on vacation, and I totally didn’t check my work email at ALL, but this trip and my time in Mexico, maybe some in Europe, time feels different. You don’t have to do anything. But more than that, I kept thinking yesterday that I will miss being only 80%, at maximum, sure I know what the hell I’m doing.

Yesterday particularly, I just kind of let things unfold and it was scary, insane and beautiful. Heloddys, my host, said we could go visit the Pyramid, which was pretty much the most interesting thing that we discussed doing to me. So we woke up a little late, which was a nice change of pace for me, and he had told me we’d need a 4 wheel drive vehicle, which should’ve been my first clue that what we were doing was a massive adventure, though when I’d asked about he was very nonchalantly like, oh, yeah, it’s super close, easy, we can definitely do that. At least, that’s how I remember it…

Anyway, I thought we were going to pick up the 4 wheel drive vehicle, because I’d understood that we’d be using one that was a friend’s, but instead, we picked up his friend, Jose, who speaks very good English. This was quite helpful. Heloddys was wonderful, but very Dominican, I think, which means I didn’t understand 100% of our conversations because he talks super fast and he, as Natacha says, eats a lot of his “s” endings and middles (for example, instead of “estás,” it sounds like “ehtá,” with the accent on the end so that the “eh” part is hardly heard also).

Anyway, it was nice to have Jose there, also a bit of a crutch. But we started driving, no 4 wheeler in sight, along crazy (to me) mountain roads, again with incredible views. And Jose had his camera, so he was taking video shots of the road and scenery, sometimes from inside the car, sometimes from out the window or on the hood…insane, but kind of awesome. Every once in a while (read: every 20 minutes), we’d stop with a, “Chanoh, un foto,” (this is how Heloddys pronounces my name), and we’d stop, get out, take some photos, then get back in the car. The highways here go through towns quite often, so sometimes this was because something interesting was happening (ie, a pig being slaughtered, to buy strawberries from a vendor on the side of the road), and sometimes it was because the view was just particularly sweet.

I’m not sure why this way of adventuring is so fantastic to me. There’s some kind of feeling of freedom in it. You’re not in a rush, just…doing what feels right in the moment. I also had more photos taken of me than I think ever before in my life. Like. Ever. But also, I’m excited because some of them were fantastic (I don’t have them yet, but will share when I do). It’s also always lovely to listen to music and drive in pretty scenery, with funny/fun/lighthearted people.

So at some point in the drive, Heloddys mentioned that the person we were meeting where we were going was pretty crazy. So…I started to get an idea of what was going on–we picked up his friend so he could shoot stuff for their series they call, “Mi Pais,” which means, “My Country,” that sets awesome driving video of going to a particular interesting place in Dominican Republic to music. Ok, so we picked him up for this, and later, I realized that another friend of theirs was supposed to be there, but hasn’t woken up in time (which explained us stopping by his house; did NOT understand that at the time). And we were on our way to the place where we’d pick up the four wheel drive vehicle, and then we’d go to the pyramid from there. So we get to Constanza, the town where we were picking up the four wheel drive vehicle, and the house of Ricardo, the crazy person who we were meeting. And boy, was this dude crazy. Jose said he’d been waiting his whole life to meet someone like him, and I don’t totally feel the same, but I understand. And here is an example of misogyny here. Ricardo is super jovial and out there. He also has a four wheel drive. And it ended up he would be driving us, and that it was (in addition to the already 2 hour drive we’d done) one or two hours to get to the pyramid, depending on how many times we stopped, which is on top of a mountain. And it was supposedly cold. I had agreed to pay for gas, which was gonna be about $30 US just for this, but I was like, sure. It’s an adventure, right??! I had seriously no idea.

So the misogyny–Ricardo, in his 40s, is one of these guys who is not aware or doesn’t care how his creepy advances come off. I first noticed this when he randomly stopped the car to tell some girls in a community by the side of the road that we wanted to take their picture, because they’re pretty. I know it’s DR, but the way he did it was very…pushy. And I’m not positive they were uncomfortable, but they certainly seemed embarrassed (they were probably 12 or 13). And then, later, he kept wanting me to kiss him, hugging me, and telling me he wanted me to stay with him in his house and marry him, and have his children. Jose seemed pretty aware that I was uncomfortable, and I told him no when he asked if I would kiss him. But still. It was uncomfortable and he definitely was pushing limits. It was obvious that I did not want anything to do with him.

In any event, that was a little undercurrent of the whole trip. But we started out on a normal road, and then that became a crazy dirt road (on which Ricardo was driving probably 30-40mph), and there we literally drove through a river, then up winding, dirt, single-car-width mountain roads that were so bumpy we couldn’t drink the whiskey we had (well, we found a way, but it took forever and Heloddys’ drink at one point completely showered him when we went over a bump). I was honestly scared for my life many multiple times. But I also couldn’t really do anything about it at that point, and I figured if this was how I died, I would actually be okay with that. I wouldn’t prefer it, but it was one of the most insane, hilarious, accidentally delightful experiences I’ve ever had, I think I can safely say. Maybe the most surprising thing for me was how calm I was. I was quite sure there was a relatively high probability that I could die. And yet, I was just calm. We continued the pattern of stopping the car every little bit to take a picture with a vista, a pony, a sign, cabins, etc. Delightful.

We did make it to the top. And there were so many people!! It was a camp site, and then this tiny little pyramid. And there were these massive cauldrons of soups and rice, maybe 200 people just hanging out, all of whom seemed to be quite well-off (I mean, who else spends $30 on gas to risk their life so that they can reach the top of a mountain and see a tiny pyramid??! Rich people). Still, it was cool. We did a photo shoot for a few minutes, ate some if the soup (it’s a Dominican specialty with chicken and veggies), and started heading back down. Again, my life, in the strangely capable-seeming hands of a crazy misogynist. And get us to the ground safely, he did.

Then, we had to get back, and it was already getting dark half way through our drive. I think we drove 10 hours total. Maybe 9. But definitely over 8. To see a pyramid that I was told was 10 minutes away. But, you see, this is how DR is, I think (Mexico also). Things don’t happen the way you plan. Planning is exceptionally futile, unless absolutely necessary (see: getting on a plane on time). But there is something so joyful, fleeting and incredibly savory about living this way, I think. At least to me.

So even after that, Heloddys and I had talked about going out dancing, and he wanted to still go out, I acquiesced because when do I get to go out to a club in La Vega??! Never, that’s when! This is the other thing, related, I suppose. This way of life makes even me, a pretty plan-y person say, fuck it! Let’s go out!! And it’s not that I never feel that way at home, it’s just much rarer, and more dependent on my mood.

So we went out, danced, and went to sleep way too late. Still, I am at the airport, totally on time.

I survived, you guys.

More than that, I thrived. I am thinking a lot about what I want in my life, what is there and what I can create. And maybe nothing changes, because, it’s just a trip. But at the least this was a reminder of how capable I am, and also how how much at least a part of me just adores Latin American/Hispanic culture. And how much more I need to travel.

Much love and greetings, once again, from New York.

Shannon

The Real DR

I was rescued from the horrible resort crazyness by my friend’s friend. We went to another smaller beach for lunch, with this view:

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Then we drove through incredible, breath-taking views on both sides–tropical mountains–seriously. I could not believe how incredible it was to drive through. Just miles of palm trees, falling and rising mountains.

We stopped to get some chicharon, which is cooked/fried pork:

Playing Guitar
Super delicious!

We arrived in La Vega, and it was already night; we went to a house party at a friend of his place, a group of musicians he made a video for and their friends. It was so perfect, like, exactly what I would’ve planned if I could have. Everyone was very nice, they made some ribs and wings, as well as corn on the grill. I got to chat with several different people, and even played some guitar!!

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I very much enjoyed myself. Got to chat a little about my work, and speaking Spanish, etc. Buena gente (good people).

Today, we’re going to the pyramid–built by the dictator Trujillo about 50 years ago. So. Off I go!! More adventures–but better ones :-D. It also appears I may be able to get some music from this trip, which is…brilliant.

The Resort

Have you ever taken a cruise? I bet if you really like drinking, it’s a great experience. But as anyone who’s ever tried to get me to go out knows, I’m not a huge fan in general, but only socially with people I really like and trust. Needless to say, that’s not the case here.

The resort I’m staying at has the feeling I think a cruise would have. It is beautiful. That’s for sure. But it’s also creepy, probably way more so because I was just in the real world yesterday morning. The difference is just striking. And though I feel “safe” in this world, it feels so intentional, not in a good way.

I did get myself a really fantastic massage yesterday, and the beach was beautiful for a few minutes. I suppose if I were here with a bunch of friends, it would be fun to have this contained environment that you know is relatively safe and unlimited alcoholic beverages. I can see that. But it’s totally not what I’m into right now.

Additionally, when I checked in yesterday, they couldn’t guarantee me a room tonight or tomorrow. So, I got in touch with Natacha’s friend, who is on his way to pick me up to go visit La Vega! So I get to see it after all. This has been quite the eventful trip. My body hurts so much! I’ve been way more active than I usually am….or maybe just lately. But that’s been kind of awesome actually.

So, unexpectedly kind of an awesome trip. It’s certainly got me out of the day-to-day grind of things. I’ve recharged a little. But it also makes me want to travel more! Well-timed, since I have Europe to look forward to.

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Love,
Happy Shannon