Bitches and Assholes, and a Queer

Why I don’t call people Bitches or Assholes

Imagine you have just entered your home. It’s dark inside and you still haven't changed the lightbulb in the hallway. You see something there, not a person or anything obviously threatening, but something. Your mind reels with possibilities as your eyes strain to make sense of the vague form. What is it? Finally you pull out your phone and use it’s light to get a better look. It’s just a chair with a jacket draped over the back, and that’s the last you think of it. 

Take a moment and consider about the mental process you went through in your imagination. In the beginning your mind was open, that form could have been anything and you pushed your eyes and mind to figure out what you were seeing. In the end, once you had given it a label, you stopped thinking about it entirely. We often do the some thing to people. Once we have decided what they are, we stop thinking about them in a dynamic way. 

Labeling a person is a tool for dealing with them thoughtlessly. Worse, some labels are sexist, racist, or otherwise infer judgement on whole groups of people. Calling someone a bitch associates that person with patriarchally motivated preconceptions about women, and calling people assholes does the same for men. Once people have been lumped into these categories we feel free to defame them without a second thought. There are several issues with categorizing people, but I will focus on two. The first is that after labeling a person, we associate them with the actions of every other person to whom we’ve given that label. The second is that labels imply that people are static. In fact we are all dynamic and capable of growth and improvement, as well as the opposite. Labeling someone a hero or great or “the best” does not make them infallible, though it may bring us comfort to hold such a belief.

So next time you’re about to label someone, I challenge you to stop and think about your motivations. I challenge you to come up with an adjective that accurately describes them in the current situation. I’m betting that if you actually take the time to do this you will realize the petty nature of your thoughts and I hope you will turn them toward something constructive. We all have room for improvement.

Our bodies are programed to make snap judgements that in ancient history kept our ancestors alive. In short, if they did something that felt good such as eating something sweet or having sex they craved more of it. Conversely, if something felt bad such as pain, they developed a strong aversion to it. The more they craved sex and food, and the more averse they were to potentially dangerous situations, the more successful they would be at procreating. And eventually you get to present day us. We still have this mind inside us, the fight or flight response. but we also have developed another mind that can control our older minds. 

Consider the following simplified conversation. 

So how was the movie? Good. How was your date last night? Bad. 

We use these oversimplifications to make our lives simpler day to day, but they also prevent us from thinking critically about many situations. The movie was good? Good for whom? The date was bad? Bad because you’ve decided not to see the person again? These simple labels require context to makes sense, but the context is rarely provided. Isn’t it good that you know now not to date that person? And what made the movie bad? Is there another situation in which it would be good? Again, I think we need to work harder to find the best adjectives to describe situations, and to give context along with any judgement.

 

Why I identify as Queer, but prefer no identity at all

First off, I’m a white-skinned male-born that was raised without ever having to go hungry or lacking anything I needed for my education. We were always in debt, but we always had enough. The older I get the richer I feel. I’m telling you all this because I want to talk about identity, and I’m sure my experiences and appearance have shaped the way I think about the subject.

All my life I’ve watched people seeking identity, sometimes desperately. From seeing kids in junior high (middle school) wearing band t-shirts, to tattoos and religious jewelry, I’ve always been a bit baffled by the desire of so many to be included in various groups. I’ve been told by Jewish people to pronounce my name the Hebrew way instead of the way my mother always did. In elementary school we learned about heraldic symbols and were assigned to create our own shield with four images on it. I struggled deeply as other students quickly drew soccer balls, religious symbols, and other elements of their daily lives. But I was hesitant. I did not want to feel trapped in some category, the idea of self identity bothered me deeply. What if tomorrow someone decided they didn’t love soccer anymore, or if their religious views changed? It seemed to me that self identity assumes people are static, and in fact may assist them in remaining so.

Later, the idea of sexual orientation helped me to process these thoughts. Orientation refers to the direction a person is currently pointing. It may have to do with the past, but it does not define the future. We can speak objectively about the past, and describe our experiences, but the future remains wondrously uncertain. Thinking about what I stand to gain from identifying myself with a given orientation, and what I stand to lose made me realize that for me, there was more to lose. Can self identity act as a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy? If I declare myself to be straight enough times will I convince myself that I am, and maybe miss the love of my life? That’s too much for me to risk losing. I can find only two situations in which it the benefits of self identifying with a given sexual orientation are beneficial. The first, and weaker of the two, is to tell your friends what you are interested in so they have a better chance of setting you up with another person. The second and most important reason to identity is when a given group is being treated without justice. I identify as queer because I believe in equality. I believe that any two consenting adults choosing to join in matrimony deserve the same rights and tax benefits as any other two. Until justice and equality has been achieved, I’ll identify with the group being mistreated.

The common conclusion is that labeling people is sometimes necessary but also problematic. People are dynamic. Expect them to grow and change. Separate church and state. Demand marriage equality. And when you catch yourself labeling people and making generalizations about groups, think about your motivations. Learn additional adjectives and develop your ability to describe situations more accurately. Be excellent to each other.

Michelangelo's Bacchus

The first time I saw Michelangelo’s Bacchus at the Bargello it ruined all the other sculpture for me. Everything else appeared so course and crude. Upon my second visit, when approaching the work from the front I was first disappointed, and wondered if indeed the sculpture was still where I had last left it. But as I circled counterclockwise, and over a drove of tourists saw the down-pointed finger that had so struck me last time, I felt a fool for my doubts. In that finger I had previously seen more life and softness of stone than anything in my experience. 

I don't give a fuck who took this photo -Machiavelli

I don't give a fuck who took this photo -Machiavelli

This year, I was able to look past the finger and stepped back to see a greater composition, and project my own meaning onto the work. While one finger points down, the opposite hand counters by raising a chalice of wine (which was removed then restored, unlike his penis which was not restored). I saw the fierceness in Bacchus’ eyes and in the jutting forward of his chin, and interpreted the down-pointed hand as levying much more force than previously. A gesture of ownership over the ground upon which he stands, and a challenge to any mortal (or other artist) that would dare challenge him. After all, he's a fucking god. Schwasted, but still a god. The ecstasy in the eyes and gesture of the faun eating his grapes creates a contrast that makes Bacchus look even more vicious and ready for a fight.

In short, Michelangelo’s Bacchus is a hip-hop superstar. Hard as fuck, tiger-skin bling, and his bitch in ecstasy, he challenges everyone, but at the same time beckons us to follow him to that which is undoubtably lit.  The takeaway is that studying history from afar has sometimes made me feel far from it. This experience with the actual object was a reminder that history is not only something that happened in the past. We are part of it, as it is part of us all.

The Students are Coming!

The days are getting longer but the weeks seem to be getting shorter. In just 10 days I head to Venice to meet with the students and everything here must be ready. We have accomplished a lot on the ceramics side of things including a concrete pad for the wood kiln, getting a concrete ring in place for clay mixing, and making some progress on the ceramics studio itself. We have not taken much time for excursions as we are focusing on the work at hand, but we have made several trips to a brickyard that collects old materials and crushes them to make new bricks. They have a very large pile of assorted bricks they were kind enough to let us dig through a couple times. I love treasure hunting. Also, you could never do this in the states.

There has also been a flurry of acquiring other materials for the wood kiln. After a little research, several phone calls, and a bit of luck we came across a beautiful used brick saw. The price started high but after a few attempts to leave the store, a cup of espresso (they just say café here), and some confusing gesticulations and banter we got a great deal. Previously we would have had to bring bricks to a marble cutter a ways away and pay 50 Euro/hour so this should save time and money in the long run. It will also allow us to make some custom bricks to accommodate the firebox grate and other tricky spots in the kiln.

Somehow Brian and I ended up in central Sienna for a couple of hours and took in the sights with the other tourists. It was a beautiful day and we spent out time walking around as much as we could since we didn’t really have time to get in to the cathedrals or major indoor attractions. Maybe it is the large number of tourists but to me Siena seemed to have a little less character or personality than Florence or Arezzo. The cathedral and giant wall were still quite impressive!

We had gotten a tip on free scraps of colored glass and found the shop in Badessa right down the road from the place that sold us the brick saw. Catarina gave us a tour of La Diana Vetrate d’art and showed us there refuse bin. The mother-daughter shop was restoring old stained glass and creating novel designs as well. She also showed us various fusing experiments she had done. She was so warm and willing to share her time even though it was clear we were not there to buy. Take a look at what they are doing. http://www.ladianavetrate.com/

We also went to buy more cinderblocks for the base of the main chamber but took a detour to visit a guy that sells old brick, stones, and tiles. We ended up negotiating for a pallet of soft brick and some shelves as well. Tom acquired 8 new sets of tiles for his collection so it was a win all around. The also had some beautiful stone sinks but my camera was dead at that point.

There’s much more to say but I’ve got to get back to work!

Ciao a dopo!

Buonasera! (It's afternoon here)

It’s been raining today so we are taking some time to do “inside” tasks such as blogging, documenting Tom’s impressive collection of Italian and Islamic tiles, and designing the logo and web look for the art center. We also did our first loads of laundry and hung them out to dry…right before it started to rain. My left thumb is appreciating the time off since I smashed it pretty well yesterday digging holes for pylons that will support the studio storage shed. 

Yesterday we walked to Chiusdino to take pictures of the property from town and got to visit their weekly market, which was charming. We tasted several types of salami and Tom bought us one made with fennel, or finoccio as it is called here. Brian got some basil to plant in the garden. The market was the most people we have ever seen at once in Chiusdino.

It has been exciting exchanging ideas with Tom for what the art center can be. I look forward to sharing the name we have come up with once it has been finalized. There is actually a group here now taking lessons in painting from a Korean woman. The first real workshop hosted here! Tonight we will attend the biweekly live music and pizza event in Chiusdino (see the poster below). Hopefully we will remember to take some pictures. 

I would also like to give a shout-out to Roberto Raucci, an artist working with post-consumer glass bottles. He had his work for sale at an outdoor market in Campella and speaking with him made me want to get back in the studio, or get enough completed here to make some new work. Google has translated this inspirational quote from his website.

REFUSE is the rejection of everything now that characterizes the post-modern society to retrieve the value and pleasure of waiting time. REFUSE is creative recycling-functional waste of the consumer society to give them a new life, a re-use and a new meaning. REFUSE is a story that does not end, a continuum of matter-life-history.

Photo Credit: Brian Davis