Just wrote and published an article for Nectar Product Design on one of their long-time team members, John Duval. I love how it turned out. Check it out!
Just wrote and published an article for Nectar Product Design on one of their long-time team members, John Duval. I love how it turned out. Check it out!
27 min read
[Transcription from an interview with two anonymous members of the BDSM community]
E: (We’re) all into love. People call it falling because there’s a loss of control, it just happens, right? In a BDSM relationship, you -anytime you hit a trigger, anytime you hit anything, you try and discuss all you can beforehand.
E: So you’re intention going in is much different. You’re intention going in is one of a collaborative experience.
E: Not of a taking, not of a giving. It’s a power exchange but it’s a collaborative experience for a best possible outcome for both people. Not everybody in the scene is that way,
E: -but the healthy people are.
C: Well the more experienced people are, too.
The BDSM community is one that has rarely been spoken of in any depth, and it can be considered a marginalized group that suffers from social stigmatization. One of the functions of the community is to keep themselves safe from outsider judgement and persecution, so they keep their events and lifestyle secret. Its structure is founded on the principles of discretion and is based on established boundaries, explicit roles, disciplined techniques, and open sexuality. The acronym for BDSM Bondage and Discipline, Sado-Masochism. However, the ‘D’ and ‘S’ in the middle also represent ‘D/s’ (Dominant/Submissive or Dominance and Submission). The concept of gender and sexuality is fairly fluid within this community, and even identity can completely shift within a ‘scene’. Much of the language is also nonverbal, and there are several symbols that are universally understood within the community.
To gather my research, I had to reach beyond what was available to me in the library and look on the web. Because there hasn’t been a lot of attention given to this particular group, there simply weren’t enough articles to get a holistic look at the community.To begin with, I asked friends about the community and what they knew, which lead me to being introduced to people who were active members within it. In addition to informal interviews which gave me several hours worth of audio, I also took photography of tools/toys and settings, and took notes when audio wasn’t available. They directed me to website groups such as ‘FetLife.com’ (which is similar to facebook, but more private and informative) where the entire content is user-contributed. Besides being a tool for networking and community-building, it also included groups and discussion panels on subjects that were important to the community. I used some of these online discussions as informal data-collection on topics that were missing from my research, such as a group survey with answers to behaviors and language use in ‘AgePlay’. I did attend an actual dungeon (fetish club) in Los Angeles, but my ability to record was highly restricted. For anything I couldn’t find online or in the groups, I asked my interview subjects directly.
In the book "Ouch! -- the Language of Sadomasochism: A Glossary and Linguistic Analysis,” Thomas E. Murray and Thomas R. Murrell write that “on the west coast, S is used as an abbreviation for ‘slave, submissive’ and M is used as an abbreviation for ‘Master’; elsewhere, S stands for ‘sadist’ and M stands for ‘masochist’ ,” which suggests that geography plays a role in agreed upon terminology. Like all speech communities, the language used survives only by frequent use by community members. However, the previous article was written in 1991, and due to increasing access to the internet communities now grow rapidly with online profiles and information sharing, so the language has gained more uniformity in the last few decades. There are different perceptions on how words should be interpreted, and this usually has to do with what stage of enculturation the individual is at, and does not generally reflect the group consensus.
Angel Butts, in “‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered ... I’m Yours’: Calibrating Body Ownership Through the Consensual Mastery/slavery Dynamic,” wrote, “Our [American-English] language is filled with reminders that ownership of another person is not only possible but often desirable.” She references song titles about love that have a possessive or objectifying nature, such as “I Belong To You,”which gives ownership of oneself to another, or “Signed, Sealed, Delivered… I’m Yours,” which objectifies the admirer as a package. American society pays little attention to these small indicators as anything more than playful semantics. In the BDSM world, terminology is used to define a person’s identity as well as their role, which is always representative of a hierarchy of power. This is evidenced by the ever-increasing and creative titles that the community uses to identify their kink or interest as well as their sexual orientation and preferred position of power.
In “Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Margot Weiss interviewed several subjects and wrote that “interviewees identified themselves
in very specific, and relational ways,” giving a detailed list of examples that clearly convey a broad canvas of possible identities and roles.
“pervert, voyeur, master, masochist, bottom, pain slut, switch, dom(me), voyeur, slave, submissive, pony, butch bottom, poly perverse, pain fetishist, leatherman, mistress and daddy.
For those who identified themselves as tops, there were just plain tops, but also service tops, femme tops, switches with top leanings and dominant tops.
Further, these SM orientations are typically modified with sexual orientation (for example, het, dyke, gay, hetero-flexible, bi, genderqueer), relationship style or dynamics (for example, poly[amorous], Masterlslave, TPE [total power exchange], married) and interests (for example, flogging, Japanese rope bondage, canes, pony play).” (Weiss)
Butts discusses in her article “the interplay between body ownership and sexuality” in the Master/slave (M/s) relationship. One of her interview subjects, Mistress Linda, who is a full-time domme, expressed her personal interpretations of D/s and M/s.
“For a long time D/s... Dominance and submission [was my identification]. And then I came to see that it was really Mastery/slavery because it was about Owner/property relationships, and although I used [the terms] “Owner/property,” I didn’t always use “Master/slave.” ... I would have viewed Master/slave as being synonymous with Dominance/submission at one point, but I think they are a little bit different now.”
Mistress Linda expresses her belief that to “own” someone and make them your property, you have to think of ownership differently, as more of a territorialism of a person’s will. It isn’t just possessing someone; it’s having an “authority to control.” She accomplishes this with her slaves by controlling the time they have and even the simple freedoms they enjoy. For example, she told Butts that she would tell her slave that he/she only had a certain amount of time to do a number of tasks, which not only limits the time they might have to do things for themselves, but also reminds them that even intangible things—such as time—are not their own. In addition, she makes them ask permission to go to the bathroom, but will not always grant it; even simple freedoms such as the ability to relieve one’s bowels were under her authority.
The slaves willingly choose this lifestyle, and they can gain a lot from it as individuals. The relationship, even if it is temporary and lasts the duration of a few hours, requires mutual consent, and is entered into in a contract-like way.
“A submissive party (typically referred to as a slave or ‘the property’) agrees to serve a dominant party (typically referred to as a Master/Mistress or Owner) for specified periods of time. The contract stands as a written reminder that neither slaves nor Masters are free to exit the relationship at will without risking sanctions from the closely knit lifestyle community.” (Butts)
In “Un Corps Sans Limites : Sadomasochisme Et Auto-appartenance,” Veronique Poutrain calls this community a “l’organisation sociale qui devient un subtil agencement de territoires (a social organization that becomes a subtle agency for territorialism)” and claims that “les corps est le premier et le plus naturel des instruments de l’homme (the body is the first and most natural instrument of man)”, and so it natural to want to claim ownership over it or explore the concept of possession of one’s freedom, desires and actions within the realm of BDSM.
For most people, especially Americans who have such a recent history of slavery, the concept of wanting to be owned is hard to understand. The M/s contract is commonly perceived as the Master having all the control while the slave submits without objection. Butts corrects this misconception by affirming that “traditionally...the submissive participant, or ‘bottom,’ controls the sadomasochistic arena by defining the boundaries within which the work of the dominant participant.” In my own interviews the importance of the submissive was not understated. The dom has no role to play without the consent and willingness of a submissive who allows him/her to have control and power.
For those who choose to submit in such an extreme way, the opportunity to give the heavy burden of responsibility to someone else for them to make decisions is a welcome relief. In an effort to escape from this constant pressure that they face -sometimes as CEO’s of a company or managers of a firm who are responsible for many other people- they find satisfaction in being of service to someone else in their personal life and being told explicitly what to do.
“Many people in the scene enjoy roles opposite to their "real life" roles: the businessman in bondage; feminized, cross-dressed heterosexual men (called "sissy maids"); female dominants with enormous strap-ons; adults in diapers; lesbian women as butch bois” (Weiss).
Even if Mistress Linda’s slaves have high-status jobs in the vanilla world, they are given permission by her to go to work. But while at work, “they’re to focus on doing their work and doing it the best they can, and doing that as a service to me” (Butts). In this way, she has given the responsibility of deciding to be an efficient worker to herself, and taken the burden away from her slaves -who now are doing their jobs in a “service” to her- which grants more meaning and enjoyment to their everyday life., and allows her to have power over him even when not in her presence.
In BDSM the relationship to power is not always about having power, but giving it, as in slave or submissive service. However, some people prefer their power to be taken, and so objectification and degradation serve that purpose. Because all actions and interactions must be consensual, anyone experiencing pain, humiliation or degradation has agreed to what occurs in a scene. In addition, anyone who is objectified is consenting to it. The idea of being objectified or degraded is not commonly viewed in America as an acceptable and desirable thing. During one of our interviews, two of my subjects (referred to as ‘E’, a male-hetero-poly-dom and ‘C’, a female-monogamous-hetero-sub) explained it to me.
E: Now if we, if we’re, if we agree, that- a- and I went to a seminar on humiliation and degradation and this other kind of stuff and one of the things they said that was very interesting that I took to was, was this one lady said “Look. When I’m a footstool, all I gotta worry about is being a footstool and a damn, good footstool.”
E: “So, everything else -I can focus completely on that”. -And I got that. And she said “To be objectified is to release.” And I’d never looked at it that way.
The concept that “to be objectified is to release” is what struck him so powerfully, and it helps continue to shed light on the choice to be a submissive or slave. They describe further what being a footstool is like, and its purpose. Not explained below is the description of a “hard session”, but it typically includes a long period of interaction between the partners -that may involve a beating and pain infliction- to the point where the submissive was in a state of transcendence and receptivity.
C: Being a footstool would be after a long, hard session-
E: -and being of use and being of purpose and being of service without having to think.
C: you have you’re aftercare, but then
C: Literally, you’re dom might take you, into the room with everybody else, but have you kneel and and literally act the footstool
E: -Put your feet on you
C: as he does that. puts his feet on you and just sits back and watches the room
E: and you take the weight and you get that touch
C: You take the weight, but you’re, you’re letting everything wash around, the noises and everything are washing around there. You’re there, but you’re coming back down into yourself. You’re deeply connected to him and everybody knows you’re connected to him.
Being a footstool is one form of service that has a meaning limited to the BDSM community. There are several other terms that are understood symbolically within the language of BDSM but not by vanillas (outsiders who aren’t part of the community). Many of the terms seem to be descriptions of or attributed to submissives or slaves, which further evidences the power over this speech community that the submissive party has. In truth, a lot of the relationship is dictated by the submissive party and they have shown much creativity in contributing to a wide range of scenarios, settings and roles. These desires and limits are discussed without reservation in Master’s meetings. This is where subs and doms gather to address the group and make sure everyone is aware of each other’s boundaries, roles and hard limits so that safety can be assured during the scene.
[‘S’, a hetero-monogamous-dominant and ‘C’, a hetero-monogamous-submissive]
S: -on the ground or on a cushion and seated at the foot of their master
C: Yeah this is old leather stuff
S: and then we do a round table discussion, introducing, you know, you know, I’m Master, this is my submissive you know-
C: -Or you’ll call it sub, they’ll be very descriptive
S: [Exactly], key terminology
C: [The first time I] went is absolutely the most embarrassing thing I ever went through. (pause) Now I understand it. But it’s very hard to have your (pause) sexual preferences and limitations or openness discussed (whispered) out loud in front of everybody.
C: -But they’re stating your limitations, what you like, what’s allowed, and what has to be asked permission for-
C: -in a Master’s meeting.
The meetings are very formal and not everyone will go through this protocol. This is a very ‘Old Leather’ or ‘Old Guard’ tradition and both the doms and the subs put a lot of time and work into their play. Weiss supports that “just because it is ‘play’ does not mean it is not ‘serious.’ Some are nostalgic for the Old Guard Leathermen days when, instead of ‘play,’ SM was considered ‘work.’” Almost every person will, if they are experienced at all, reveal relevant information about themselves before interacting with a play partner. It is important to reveal any medical history relevant to the scene, such as a dislocated shoulder, a weak jaw, high blood pressure or bad circulation. It is also important to address psychological triggers, such as PTSD, claustrophobia, previous experiences of childhood rape, or a fear of clowns. Certain words might be triggers for people, such as the word fag for someone who was humiliated as a child for being effeminate.
The community requires full disclosure between involved participants in order to keep people safe, which would make many uncomfortable and, as referenced above, often initially does. In order to overcome that feeling of vulnerability that full disclosure creates when people talk about and reveal things they would normally never admit to friends, family, or people they’re interested in dating, the community is very egalitarian -equally shares their vulnerable secrets- and highly supportive and accepting -which allows people to explore their fantasies and desires without feeling judged or ostracized. Foucault argues that “It is through sex—in fact, an imaginary point determined by the deployment of sexuality—that each individual has to pass in order to have access to his own intelligibility.. . to the whole of his body.. .to his identity” (Weiss). On the other hand, someone who was called a fag as an insult, as mentioned above, might request to relive the trauma via verbal humiliation and degradation in order to work through their trauma, and that allows for yet another unique, supportive activity that this community offers.
There are several indexical symbols that are uniformly understood. In reference to submissives or slaves, the most common symbol is a collar which, similar to being placed on a domestic animal, represents the collared individual being owned. Now it doesn’t always mean that the collared sub is owned as property; it refers more to a general sign that this sub is ‘not to be touched’ by anyone else except her dom. Slaves are also commonly understood to be the property of one person, unless that person shares the slave with another (with the previous consent of the slave). A flogger, which is typically a leather whip with a firm handle and several tails, is one understood iconic symbol for BDSM or SM. Mini-floggers or handcuffs hung from the rearview mirror or on a keychain or belt, or wearing a collar in public are examples of flagging in which the individual is presenting a subtle and often overlooked message that they either might be interested in the BDSM lifestyle, want to learn more, or are living the lifestyle currently. Flagging generally is a common way to openly invite others to approach the person about the topic of SM.
A fascinating array of indexical symbols can belong to one subgroup within BDSM. For example, in the rough trade -a term used to describe male homosexuals who enjoy ‘rough’ or SM sex- armbands are used at parties to indicate what kind of ‘kink’ the person is into. The armband, when worn on the left, represents that the person is a top or more dominant participant, and when worn on the right indicates someone who is a bottom or who likes to receive or be the one servicing as a submissive. On the back of a business card for ‘Rough Trade,’ a well known Los Angeles sex shop for ‘hardcore’ homosexual male fetishes, I found a coded list for recognizing fetishes at certain types of kink parties. A few examples include:
WORN ON LEFT
WORN ON RIGHT
Heavy SM Top
Heavy SM Bottom
Suck my Pits
Look for Daddy
Fit to be Tied!
In conversation, D/s roles are often revealed. Because being a dom or sub is partially a characteristic personality trait, the nature of the person speaking isn’t simply ‘shut off’ when they aren’t performing a scene. When speaking with each other, a hierarchy is revealed in who can interrupt and ‘hold the floor’ or take command of the conversation. Often, a dom will speak calm and assertively, while some subs will characteristically wait their turn to speak. Many individuals are not so strictly doms or subs, but are considered a switch (someone who can play either role), so they don’t always submit to another person’s opinion. Staci Newmahr, an anthropologist who conducted a brief ethnography on BDSM noticed that social-roles were not always followed, but generally noticed and agreed upon in conversation.
“I witnessed a playful chastisement of non-SM behavior based on one’s SM identity: ‘Hey, stop interrupting me; I thought you were a submissive!’ or ‘That’s not very domly of me, I know’.”
While at the dungeon I noticed a lot of interactions as well that indicated language was part of the foreplay that set up how the two individuals would interact together. The body language of a dom was typically powerful with upright posture and a steady gaze. Submissives had quick, flirtatious movements and might show nervousness by giggling or breaking eye contact. The dom could easily move in and out of close and far proximity to a submissive without losing focus or power over the sub, and no other doms—unless invited—would invade the space of the submissive they were with. The submissives, however, often would get distracted by many things and allowed themselves to be lead towards an object or task that the dom wanted them to focus on. They showed playful or coy behavior and emitted a very ‘agreeable’ personality.
For the most part, subs will avoid FTA (face threatening acts) towards their doms. They will address them as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mistress’ or ‘Master’, and a collared sub will always reply to a command with “Yes, Sir/Mistress”. There are some subs who are brats and act-out towards their doms -like a bratty child might- in order to get a spanking or be punished/reprimanded in some way. They purposefully use FTA to get the attention of their dom by disagreeing with him/her, by mockery, by being catty or childish, but all of it is rather playful and does not actually threaten the dom and instead entices him/her to take action.
When the dom uses FTA, it is always done purposefully and with intention. As degradation was mentioned before, the language involved in humiliating someone verbally has a wide ranging vocabulary that the doms have full agency over contributing to. The sub might inspire the dom to include some of their past traumas—or exclude them—the scene, or the dom might mention obvious imperfections in the sub or slave. These interactions may even involve withholding sex from the slave/sub as part of denying them what they want.
“There is an old story about a masochist who went to visit a sadist.
‘Beat me! Beat me!’ he said.
‘No!’ replied the Sadist.” (Jochnowitz)
The dom might call an overweight submissive a piggy, or may say demasculating things about a male, or call them ‘worthless’ and ‘pathetic’. They use FTA in humiliation as a form of sadomasochistic exchange. The sub/slave, in turn, is also made to serve the dom as if they had extreme authority and hierarchy over them, and will always call them ‘Mistress/Master,’ and may also grovel at their feet, lick their boots, and praise the beauty and skill of the dom.
At the core of BDSM, however, it is a community that is based on understood boundaries and so even if the people play D/s roles while in a scene, they navigate a conversation with respect and turn-taking, as long as respect is given by all involved. In language and in interaction, the importance of equal exchanges are paramount.
C: You’re [a lazy dom…]
E: But I’m a sadist. I love to eschew pain. But I like exquisite, like, twisted, sick, or delicious pain. It has to heal. It has to have some purpose. She just wanted wholesale pain.
E: [So, let me show it this way.]
C: [What can you tell ‘em about] pain.
E: You know people who get high, to run away. And you know people who get high for shamanistic purposes. This is the same thing. All this is is a different kind of high. It’s getting into a trance space, it’s getting into (XXX) I do it purposefully. So, I do it with intention. I do it with love. All she wanted to do was to get beaten and used. She’s like ‘I’m your fuck (XXX)? And humiliation and all that, I get it. It’s not my thing. I can do it very very well, but to me? I want an exchange.
The exchanges are what creates the different relationship roles within the community. An interesting linguistic characteristic of AgePlay (where there are two defined and highly different ages between the pair) is when there is a Daddy (or Mommy) and a Baby-girl/-boy (or ‘Little’). I had to go online to find information on it, but luckily there was an entire forum discussion on the subject of ‘How Littles/Babygirls/boys Speak’ with a prepared questionnaire that people responded to. The consensus within the group was that the voice and body-language changes when someone is being a little (a child older than 4 years old) or a babygirl/babyboy (under 4 years old). It is a form of playful age regression that involves having the Daddy/Mommy care for and protect their partner and interact with them as if they were a helpless, young child or baby. It may involve them putting them to bed, buying them child’s toys and clothing. The daddy is usually a dominant and the babygirl/little is a sub.
One person explained the difference in speech styles between littles and babies as “ little speak seems more like a few words here and there are a bit difficult, but the grasp on most of a language is there… (while the babygirl/boy) doesn't have a full grasp on language yet”. The speech was almost always characterized by forming words in a childlike manner by dropping the fricative in ‘love’ and replacing it with a bilabial ‘lub’, or even losing the ‘l’ and replacing it with a ‘w’ as in ‘I wub yu’ (both voiced this way and written like this in text).
Language includes mis-usage of grammar norms, “I wansta cuddle and has cookies p’ease” and pluralizing things that are singular. The respondents mentioned that their voices took on a higher pitch, a softer tone, and sometimes even incorporated indicators of self-consciousness such as stuttering or mumbling -which didn’t normally happen when speaking outside of the context of the relationship. One respondent mentioned that she and her ‘Daddy’ had codewords for ‘vulgar’ speech, such as “instead of saying something like ‘suck my dick’ we say ‘putting daddies big boy parts in my mouth’ and ‘I have my princess palace and I get tingly and make messes when I feel really good’. (Fetlife.com)”
While there is still much to learn, and this is a very large and varied field, it can be said that the behavior of dominants and submissives within the community are not limited to sexual acts but also can often be present in their friendships and relationships. D/s roles are part of a pre-existing personality type that finds personal ways to express itself in the wide range of fetishes. The language is very creative expressive, as are the range of sexual implements and tools. Some words are directly taken from the original tool. For example, a speculum, sound or Wartenberg wheel all are medical tools that have been adapted to medical play. A crop or a switch were both originally used on horses but are repurposed for pain/pleasure and dominance/submission. The people who have power over the language and behavior within the group are those who are highly involved and experienced. New people (considered white ribbon by some) or vanillas have little to no influence because they haven’t gained respect, and so only those who are active in the scene have any agency over the continual evolution of BDSM language.
The emic perspective is considered far more important by community members, but the etic perspective (portrayed by social media and outsiders) remains simple, limited, and usually negative. Even some academics completely misinterpret the behavior that is seen in BDSM. In an analysis of where the original meanings for sadism and masochism came from, Chris White referenced scholars who viewed sadomasochism as criminal and leading up to murderous and perverse behaviors. “Whipping and submission removed from the context of their meanings and their subtle operation appear only as violence”, White wrote. The ‘other’—in this case, the ‘vanilla’ outsider—is ignorant of the complex nature of BDSM and so will remain in the dark about language, context, and symbols, a fact that at the same time does and does not positively serve the community. If people outside the community knew more about BDSM culture, they might not be so discriminatory. However, if they know about the community, it means the community is no longer so private, safe and secret.
Even with more access to information BDSM due to the web, many will never be adventurous enough to step into a dungeon, and it remains a community that is self-policing and will push out any members who don’t respectfully follow the rules and boundaries that keep everyone safe. So for now, the language and symbols used within BDSM will still remain a mystery to most, and for many members who maintain secrecy, that arrangement is preferred.
Butts, Angel. "“Signed, Sealed, Delivered ... I’m Yours”: Calibrating Body Ownership Through the Consensual Mastery/slavery Dynamic." Sexuality and Culture, 11.2 (2007): 62-76.
Jochnowitz, George. "Ouch! -- the Language of Sadomasochism: A Glossary and Linguistic Analysis by Thomas E. Murray and Thomas R. Murrell." American Speech, 66.1 (1991): 96.
Newmahr, Staci. "Becoming a Sadomasochist: Integrating Self and Other in Ethnographic Analysis." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37.5 (2008): 619-643.
Poutrain, Veronique. "Un Corps Sans Limites : Sadomasochisme Et Auto-appartenance." Cités, n 21.1 (2005): 31-45.
Weiss, Margot D. "Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area."Anthropologica, 48.2 (2006): 229-245.
White, Chris. "(Not) Dying of Shame: Female Sexual Submission in 1890s' Erotica." Critical Survey, 15.3 (2003): 74-91.
‘Daddydoms and Babygirls’ Group. “Baby talk and little speak” Discussion Topic. Fetlife.com
3 min read
Awesome. Another bill from Kaiser with an unexpected cost.
"I thought I paid this upfront..." I think, reflecting that the co-pay that I paid the day of the appointment was steep enough without adding a post-appointment bill.
I keep myself pretty physically healthy with generally good eating. I don't like fast-food, greasy or fried meals (except fried chicken... that's just damn delicious, so I have it now and then). I don't like to drink soda or sugary drinks. I try to cut back on too much dairy, bread, sugar and fatty foods. I focus on protein and greens/veggies more than anything. I do yoga and work out, both strength-building and cardio. I get just enough sun -but not too much- and I sleep enough.
Mental health is harder to manage. Stress is a serious inhibitor of health and body-function. I should meditate more. I should stop and breathe more. I should create a better system for myself.
This one time... the first time ever in my life... I couldn't solve my own life's riddles. I went to a therapist. Big leap of faith for me, and I still can't be certain the therapist really understood what my problems were. After all, if it took this long to go to one, my life's problems are probably not basic issues. My concerns aren't of the norm. My life isn't normal. Never has been. But, I've been able to handle it on my own without outside help.
Luckily, the therapist was... kinda helpful. But you know what? I don't want to pay what they're charging. So I'm not going to go anymore. Yeah. That isn't what you're supposed to do. But screw it.
So what now? Well, I have some amazing and wise friends (partially luck, partially due to the fact they're much older and have "been there, done that").
Here's the problem: too many people don't have that option. And here's where my ideas for self-care are going to originate with me and extend to others.
Yoga, meditation, and creative community. I want it. It isn't here. Elk Grove is a vast and empty land waiting to be cultivated. The potential is here, but it seems like very few are planting seeds and harvesting the crops.
I need to dedicate myself to a very healing yogic practice -with pranayama (meditative breathwork)- and this community doesn't have yoga in the park here. They only have gyms and a Bikram studio.
There aren't really open-mic nights here, either. I want to connect with poets and performers and musicians.
So, it's time to plan some days and be there (for myself, first) and then through that self-dedication, invite others to join.
Yoga in the Park.... Open-Mic Night at a local, mom-and-pop coffee shop....
Self-care, self-motivated, and open to the public.
After all... community makes you stronger. And feeding the community decreases isolation, loneliness, and boredom.
Let's see what happens.
6 min read
This is a fairly conflicting thing to say considering the name of my website/web-blog. If love is who we are, and yet love is not enough, are we not enough?
Hold on. Don't go there. This isn't about quantifying ourselves. We are better than Paul at math, but not as great as Deborah; in that case, we can compare, on some level, our skill. We are skilled at cooking, but our friend Shelby is much better at painting. These aren't comparitive; they simply are individual skills that bring unique and individual things to the relationships we have with others. Love... well, love is so many things.
Love in relationships is shown in how we express ourselves. We may write sonnets for our beloved, but if they have no love for language, it is a gift not well-recieved. Also it is pointless to write a love-song for the deaf.
But "Love conquers all!" Perhaps... or perhaps it is the patience, perserverence and dedication we have to our partners and ourselves to continue to grow as individuals and together. Perhaps it is the ever-evolving skills of communication, the ever-deepening honesty we find in introspection, and even the less-often seen bravery of seeing our partner not as an extension of ourselves but as a unique and individual person that could leave at any moment.
A friend said that fear and love are closely tied emotions. I didn't quite understand her meaning, so she explained that if you aren't afraid of losing someone -if the thought of them not being in your life doesn't bring some form of fear to your heart- then the depth of love you have for them may not be so deep (at least, romantically speaking). After all, do we really care if George who hangs out at the corner bus-stop disappears? Or do we care if someone truly close to us suddenly leaves our life forever?
Maybe fear and love are connected. Maybe they aren't. (Jury's still out on that one). But there is something to be said for taking our partners and loved ones for granted. We assume they will be there, through thick and thin, for "better or worse", because they said so in some promise. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of neglect. Sometimes this neglect becomes the new normal, and that's where I see a lot of couples in a rut, a loveless and passionateless monotony of life. Marriage or civil union becomes a contract that is more about convenience and comfort than actual passion and love. People find their own lives on the side, and sometimes that leads to infidelity; other times it simply leads to complacency and boredom. More common than I think most people would admit, it also leads to having kids to fill the gap. (I can't tell you how many times I've heard mothers imply that having kids ruined their sex life, their sex drive, and any romance. I also can't tell you -because I'd be telling other people's secrets- how many husbands cheat for this very reason).
Is love really all you need? Or do you also need to be able to look at yourself as you grow and age and be able to check in with your partner and see if this relationship is working for both of you? Are you really all that compatible? Do you allow for each of you to find and walk your own path in life, or are the life choices of one of you driving the direction of the relationship?
So, maybe love is not enough. It is a start, though. After that, you have to find a way to honor and love yourself in an honest way. If you are someone who needs certain things in a partner, but your partner cannot provide those things, you must either compromise and open your relationship to meet those needs (with your partner's consent), or you must let go of the relationship because neither of you will truly be happy. If you are needing more from your partner, you need to make those needs heard. If they cannot listen or will not, try seeking a marriage and family therapist to work together on better communication, or realize that being single and honest with yourself is better than being trapped in a relationship where neither of you can find true intimacy through honest communication.
A few thoughts, for anyone struggling with a relationship that has love in it, but for some reason isn't working:
Lastly, I just want to remind you, as much as you think your partner is your whole world... they cannot be everything for you. They may be your friend sometimes, your lover other times, your companion, your support. However, no one person can fill every social need that a person has. There is a good reason humans developed large social groups; we need them. So, go find your larger social group and get at least some of those needs met. Love many in the ways that you can, without breaking the contract of your relationship -and if the contract of your relationship isn't working for you, learn to be honest and loving and communicate. Maybe you can negotiate a new contract, maybe you'll move on and free both of you up to find a more compatible mate.
Whichever way your path goes... GOOD LUCK AND MUCH LOVE TO YOU!
8 min read
My arms bundled with supplies, I've entered a classroom. The air is stale, the walls painted a muted gray; there are no windows. Every door I enter requires a key, or to be buzzed in. A camera tracks my movements every second. They aren't worried about what I will do, unless I do something unsafe or unwise. They worry what will happen to me if the inmates get a bad idea in their head. I know the deputies are watching me; their voices come across the intercom when I have a question or need to get through another door. I've gone through six doors so far to get here. I set my stack of lined paper, folders, spare dictionaries that I snagged from the office, and my see-through bookbag down on the table and open a seventh door, the one to the storage room.
There's no camera in this one. They don't want students going beyond this door; anything could happen and they wouldn't know. I suppose that's why they make me wear a button worn on a lanyard around my neck; it blinks on and off every now and then to show me the batteries work. If I press it, they'll come running and will bring hell with them. They won't get there in time if anyone wanted to hurt me, though. No one could. My protection isn't a camera, it isn't a button, it isn't a door; my only protection is myself.
Respect is a currency that must be paid in kind here. Status is an important thing to understand. My role is to walk between the worlds of the sheriffs, a family in and of itself -even if they aren't all the same and they don't all agree with each other- and that of the inmates who self-group themselves into either racial divisions or a defiant, non-racially based group called the "Others". I am in-between, and so I fall into no categories. I don't get involved in the politics on either side. At least, I shouldn't. I hear what each group says. I listen, and I learn. It would be stupid not to learn what I can. After all, this is now my world too, for five days a week and at least seven hours a day.
The class shuffles in, plastic cups of coffee or red, kool-aid looking drinks clutched in their hands. It might seem odd for some of them to seem like they've just awoken, but not here. Even though it's past noon, they rarely sleep during the night, and the daytime and morning are used for sleeping. Some of them have only just woken up. They're coming to study for the GED test. They're coming to better their skills at reading, writing, math. They're coming to escape the monotony of their cells. They're coming to get days off their sentence. They're coming because it is one step closer to freedom.
I pass out books and headsets, paper and pencils. I make sure they can log into their computers and try my best to track what subject they're working on. Science, social studies, English reading, English writing, math. I've got to get a handle on each of them to the point I can answer most -if not all- questions that they throw at me.
"Miz B, I need some help!" I rush to one, and then to another, another, and another. I write out examples on the board. I deflect dumb questions about what my astrological sign is. I courteously respond that I had a nice weekend, "Thank you for asking" when they try and attempt to socialize with me. I rarely sit still for that long.
Before I know it, the class is nearly at an end. I stick my USB drive into my laptop; it's connected to the speakers and the projector. I leave them with a song or a thought or an educational video. It's something to break the monotony of their lives here. It's one of the many tiny reprieves I can give them from staring at the same gray walls, hearing the same conversations, being surrounded by the same type of people day in and day out.
And they surprise me. I play something that has poetic lyrics, and some of them are somber; one of them hides in the back and I can see he is crying. I sneak him tissues. I don't know their lives. Some of them let me know, but they'll never tell me everything; some people never even admit everything to themselves at night, when they're alone in the dark and dreaming.
Four different groups per week. They grow fond of me quickly. I'm quick with an answer or a witty remark. I dish out what I'm given, and they learn to respect me. I treat them like they're students, not criminals. They are allowed to simply be adults, and so many of them take on that role -instead of stepping into the same, demonized role they have been cast in time and time again.
They aren't perfect. They have addictions, both to money and drugs. Many of them are nearly as old or older than I am and have never held a real job. "All I need is a job to get that dope, then I can get back into that game." It's hard to say no, they say. It's hard to live a clean life when you have to start over and start from nothing.
But then they say the money isn't worth it. They heard their family wants them home. They're missing their daughters sixteenth birthday, their son's 21st birthday, their wife giving birth, the passing of their mother, the marriage of their brother... Moments they can't get back are taken from them while they are serving time in jail.
Not all of them come to this conclusion. I suppose we don't all have that much to lose, but when we do... the risks certainly get higher.
"I need to pass this test before I leave." Some say. They please, "You gotta help me. Just sign me up." Some of them aren't ready. Maybe it's the drugs that have eaten away parts of their mind, maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disability. I try with them. I sit with them one on one. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't. They get released into the world and I don't hear from them again.
Less, rather than more, students pass the tests and get a GED. One of my first students to graduate was so young and full of potential. He was bright and charismatic. He wasn't affiliated with a gang. I wish I'd known he had an addiction to meth. I heard later he gave up the shelter and housing and school that he could've gone to; within a few hours of being out, he bailed on his parole officer and left to get high.
But others would succeed, even though it had taken them several trips to the jail to finish what they started. They would go to college and get away from their gang and drugs and create something different. It makes you wonder... How many times do we need to fall down in order to get up and stay standing?
I will say this; teaching at a jail is like being a blind and stubborn optimist. At the same time, it means opening your eyes so wide you can see how cruel, twisted and gritty this world is. It is realizing that the sweetest person can also be someone who can beat a woman within an inch of their life. It is realizing that to survive is to learn how to lie well and to con others. It is believing in the best in your students but also knowing that to expect them all to succeed only to watch them be released, fail, and end up back at the jail is asking for heartbreak. It's learning to not take things personally, to keep the details of your private life private, and yet to be genuine and real at all times.
Freedom is the ability to change the direction of your life. Locked up, behind bars is one form of incarceration. The prison of the mind, of habits that trap you in a destiny that leads you back to prison or worse, are eating away at freedom, also. The thought patterns that lead a person to think that they will always need more because nothing will be enough, nothing will be certain, nothing will be safe... that is a prison, too.
To learn something... anything... different; to learn that you have what it takes to finish what you started as a child, to rewrite the story of you, to accomplish a goal that seemed little and unimportant only to realize it was one of the only things stopping you from changing the perspective you had of yourself and your potential; it isn't much, but it's a start.
7 min read
Centuries later, people have migrated and their skin has adapted to varying degrees of sunlight. We have light skinned and dark skinned, we have thick hair and thin. We have light eyes and dark. Most importantly, we have an even greater variety to choose to categorize. We humans feel the pressure of so many humans trying to take resources and power from us. We must band together... and the easiest way to band together is simply to choose to be amongst those who look most like us. By choosing to make the ones who are already similar to us, we oversimplify the differences amongst our group. If they are different thinkers, we begin to indoctrinate them and change them so they think like us.
Maybe it isn't just skin anymore. Maybe it's a uniform. Maybe it's a series of symbolic tattoos that tell us which gang we are part of.
So where does this feud end? Will it ever? If my own friends who are not gang members, but happen to be queer, or immigrants, or POC (person of color), hate the cops so much because of the stories they grew up on, of fearing the cops, of being harassed by them, then what keeps them from joining a gang that would protect them from harassment? Or what keeps scared white kids, who have been exposed to the misdirected anger and violence of a POC, from deciding all POCs are violent, and what keeps them from joining another gang, or tribe or telling their kids that POCs are hateful and the enemy tribe? After enough altercations with violent and drugged-up criminals, what keeps the mind of a cop from getting jaded? After all, they're being shown the worst, are they not?
The story seems to feed on itself, and this multigenerational feud of tribes keeps going on and on and on....
So let me leave you with these images. See if you can notice the characteristics, the uniforms, the tattoos, the characteristic similarities that define each group. See for yourself if it seems like we have many tribes amongst us....
We always find ways to show what tribe we belong to... don't we.
7 min read
I could write my statements here and back them up with facts, but I rather share my observations and state my own opinions. There are plenty of articles out in the world that, by nature of the type of article needing to be factual, it limited the author's ability to bring their emotion into it. In this series to follow "inc.arcerated" I'll walk the line between what I observe and what I think and feel. You'll have to take both; writing only from emotion is without value, but writing solely on facts is an incomplete accounting.
It's been more than a month since I first stepped into the high-security jail. It prompted my first post and left me strangely optimistic. This last week I spent a full week there; long days at maximum security lockup, and short evenings at minimum security. The difference seemed very stark at first. I admit I had some apprehension about working with high-security inmates, as I wasn't sure how different I'd have to behave around them compared to the guys in minimum security. I'd already been getting into the flow of working with minimum security inmates who were given more freedom and were trusted a bit more. After all, they're trusted with welding tools in welding class, and gasoline, shovels, clippers, and other tools in landscaping.
In comparison, those in high security lock-up weren't allowed outside at all; they lived in sections of a concrete building, with the same walls and strong glass between them and others. They are segregated into different wings and only a few are allowed to help out with certain tasks (those called "trustees" who help get the classroom ready or clean up, for example). The floors were seperated by elevators that are controlled by operators, not buttons the passenger can push. Most of them have the same tired patience; they are waiting, knowing that time might be the only thing they have in abundance. Any chance to fill it with something, any chance to cut their time down by even a little, they will take. They might be there a very, very long time.
In high-security, my students wear orange. Many have several face tattoos; something I noted that many of the low-security inmates do not. I ask about them now and then; almost all of them say they got them when they were young (13, 14 years old) and liked the way they looked at the time. I see them as stories on their skin, but also wonder at how much this appearance has kept them from getting a "normal job" that would've at least given them the choice of different employment. How many have had their choices limited by the appearance they chose as a mere adolescent? Where was their parent or guardian who might have kept them from making those choices before they were an adult?
Some of them look just like any person you'd see walking the street; you wouldn't bat an eye or tense up in fear. They are investment brokers who are in jail for fraud. They are dumb kids who didn't want to pay taxes or parking tickets and had a warrant out for their arrest, got caught and paid their time in jail. They are addicts who are in jail for possession. They are risk-takers who led the police on high-speed chases.
They are fathers, most of them. There are mothers, too, but I only work with the men's side at the moment. My students always ask if I'm a mother; they're always surprised when I say no. In return, I ask them who has children; it's almost always 80% of the room.
All those fathers... away from their children. Or should I say, all those children growing up without fathers. I couldn't tell you if the kid is better off; that depends on the father. Everyone in jail has something to work on. It might be something as simple as learning how to not get caught doing illegal things (i.e.: how to choose income-making jobs that don't land you in jail). Yet, just like most of humanity, it probably has something to do with the choices that led them to be addicts, risk-takers, drug-dealers, sex-offenders, violent gang members, fraudulent bank investors, or just dumb kids looking for money who hold up liquor-stores.
I can't take a side on the issue. Yes, reader, I know it would be easier if I told you how to feel and what to think. I know that we're culturally trained to think the people in jail deserve to be there, and -depending on what you've heard- you'll either believe that jail helps "reform" them, or that the classes and programs are a "waste of tax payer money".
Let me ask you this; if you had no money, no education, and no support from family growing up telling you to stay on the "straight and narrow" path and then supporting you to do so... what road would you take? I bet many of you would say you'd take the high road, nomatter what. Maybe your Jesus or Lord would guide you. Well, there's a lot of Jesus in jail, and even more in the 12-Step Drug Recovery programs -and they still bounce back into jail once they go back home to an environment where those same drugs are easy to get and those nice jobs are near impossible to be hired for.
On the other hand, every human has a choice.
So, in the classroom, I try -though it takes time, so much time, and lots of patience- to see where they're coming from. I try to figure out what they weren't told and not to take for granted that they know there are other options. I try to realize that most of them will end up in the general population again and that I have a chance to help give them ideas about what they could achieve. You wouldn't believe me, reader, but some of them have the most beautiful hearts and minds. Some of them are destined to go back to college, and to do something great, and a few words of encouragement might be the thing that they never really got growing up. You might not believe me, but some of them have learning disabilities that they aren't aware of that has kept them from graduating with a High School Degree, and some of them are panicked about getting out and not being able to change their circumstances.
You might not consider this, reader, but some of them will end up dumped on the streets, kicked out and abandoned by their families because of the mistakes they've made, and all at the age of just 20 years old. Some of them had been kicked out and homeless since the age of 15, and through their industrious nature they made money and a place for themselves before getting into the illegal activities that eventually landed them in jail.
And you might not believe me, reader, if you have never seen my face or smile, if you have never known my real age or demeanor, but even as officers and family and staff tell me to be careful, to tell me to trust know one, and that I am surrounded by con-artists and dangerous men... I am not afraid.
I look forward to it every day. I think about how I might best do right by them, and the second I walk off the compound I begin to worry if I have even begun to help them at all.
And that's the truth as I see it, so far. There's no way to save every person, or change every mind. People will do what they're going to; that's free will. However, when I walk into the classroom I'm hoping to help them learn the skills to pass the exam... but also the skills to open new doors for themselves when they reenter society, and maybe -just maybe- make it a better place.
4 min read
Every night Mary does the same thing.
She begins by checking yesterday's data. She looks for how she can make a change, create better science, better art, better life. But more than anything, she looks to solve a problem.
After clearing a clean space for her work, she begins. She takes the incubation tube, the embryo, the virus, the best disease, and begins splicing in the new DNA. One element of with which she works is the clone of a human child she knew; the other is the disease or the solution. It's never both, at least... Not yet.
With many adjustments, she adjusts the lifespan of the embryo and makes it so that growth happens very fast. So fast, in fact, that the rate of maturation could be compared more to a fly than a human.
After all the steps are done, she sets this incubation tube to grow overnight.
In the morning when the Sun rises, and a new day has begun, a new life has arrived, and she's there to welcome it. She takes it in her arms and gives it all the things that a human child would want or need. Love, food, affection, stimulation, sound, music & arts and stories. She points out the flowers and the ants. She lets it dip it's fingers in paint and soil and lets it taste the sweetness of sugar, the bitter bite of lemon.
The child is healthy and the day has just started and she finds joy in its laughter and even its cries By midday she sees a twinkle in its eyes and she has a twinkle mirrored in hers. Despite her best efforts, hope and faith and a belief in a dream blossoms in her heart. Like a needle pricking a wound that's barely closed, she feels the love and joy as quickly as she remembers her pain, and she holds the sensation of both at bay. Hey mind is medical, academic, analytical; she, caretaker, keeps it together to keep her faith in this idea, this dream that she plants like a seed every night.
And then afternoon comes, and the shadows slowly begin to fall and get longer and stretch their long, dark fingers over the Earth. And the child is not grown in size but it has grown in age, relatively speaking. That's when the reactions start. That's when they almost always being to show.
The child that's no longer a child begins to feel pain and suffering. Its organs begin to fail, one by one. Its cells begin to attack each other. And so Mary takes her child into her arms again, and slowly as the night goes on, the skin gets thinner, more like paper. -and its body starts to get stiffer, more like wood. -and its eyes less translucent, more like murky waters.
And finally its temperature rises like the heat of a fire. At last, its body becomes light as air, and with a rasp breathes its last breath.
Mary chokes back the tears; they don't offer any solace anymore. She sets the corpse aside. Cleared off is a table for examination, and after dressing herself in a Pathologists garb, she cuts open her experiment with a slice from navel to chest. Samples are taken and notes are documented and tests are set aside in files and petri dishes.
And just before bed, she takes out an embryo, a clone; one of many. She sprinkles in the ingredients of life, adds the mistake waiting to be fixed, makes some slices of DNA code that are different from the last 242, and again, tirelessly, tries to rewrite the story.
On the page, the last entry reads:
Grace 2-42: subject reached maturity before symptoms presented. Degeneration not deterred. Experiment marked and logged. Treatment determined as: failure.
3 min read
This is likely the first of many posts to follow.
Yesterday, I met one of the hundreds of thousands people incarcerated in jails across California. It was a brief interview, and only three questions were asked. Time was not something we could spare, and we apologized for taking so much of his time with even these three questions. He joked, and said, "I got nothing but time."
The questions asked were probing, but careful. Tell us about your experience as someone incarcerated. From your perspective, what is it like to have these (educational) classes here? What are the mandatory classes you have to take?
The questions weren't loaded, but the answers came freely from a mind that had had time to contemplate and introspect, from a human being who saw these classes not only as having high value, but also as something that has caused him to self-reflect so tremendously that he not only revealed his understanding of how he arrived here, behind bars, heavy metal doors, and thick glass windows, but also a deeper understanding of his place in this world.
He called the prison experience one of "sensory depravation" and highlighted the lack of mental, physical, visual, auditory and social stimulation. It is easy to get depressed, to "become numb" while inside. The classes, whether it's the (very rare) yoga class, high school education class, life skills classes or classes on addiction and abuse (those two are mandatory), all of them are valued so highly because they offer stimulation. Because of this, they are regarded as privileges and will only be offered to those who, for lack of a better word, behave.
However, beyond this stimulation-in-the-form-of-a-class trade for good-behavior-from-an-inmate, he revealed such insight that I was truly inspired to believe that people can grow, learn, and see themselves and the path they've taken more clearly, perhaps even choosing a new path for when they are released. Most impressively, his self-awareness of his behaviors and choices that led him to incarceration were insightful and mature.
There has long been a saying, revived again and again in different religions, that goes roughly like this: The prison you live in has no bars; it is a prison of the mind, the heart, the soul, and the only jailor there is yourself.
The business of jail, of prisons, of correctional facilities isn't so simple, and it isn't obvious if it is fair or just because it is made up of people, good and bad, greedy and charitable. The same can be said of the inmates, and I'm sure I'll be learning a lot about those dynamics in the years to come... if I end up working with this group of people.
But I think it is fair to say that, at least for the one inmate I spoke to, this system of programs, classes, and 'doing time' has provoked positive change. I have a feeling he isn't the only one that has seen the "prison of the mind" while behind bars. it seems like, for those who are willing, the keys to personal change are available to them.
4 min read
Not in a vain way that excludes reality. Not in a denial way that doesn't allow a healthy perspective or self-reflection. No, LOVE yourself in a way that brings you closer to who you are.
I see it again and again. As a child, we were closer to that joy and endless energy that came with self-love. We didn't know how to criticize and tear ourselves down yet. We didn't ask ourselves "What am I doing?" but looked ahead and asked "What will I do next?" There was a joy for the future! -Not a fear of it. Somehow, we let ourselves forget that. How is it that the older we get, the more we learn about the world, the less certain we are? Yet as a child, we knew far less and were far more certain of how things should be.
I know, I know. As a child, your family/society/culture makes initial decisions for you. They feed/bathe/clothe you and you don't worry about a thing. But is that really it? Or did our questions of the world eventually turn into questions we couldn't answer about ourselves?
Sometimes, you ask even deeper questions:
If you've stumbled upon this page and wondered what in the heck does Love is Who We Are means... this is a good article for you to read.
The pattern of logic follows thusly:
If LOVE IS WHO WE ARE... then WE ARE LOVE.
If we want to know ourselves, and we are love, then KNOWING LOVE IS KNOWING OURSELVES.
To expound upon the idea that the purpose of life (which is unknown) might be to understand the 'human experience', or to "Know Thyself"... and if the only way to know ourselves is to love ourselves... then it goes to reason that our purpose is to love ourselves, in in doing so know ourselvesb and furthermore allow others to fulfill their purpose of knowing the human experience by letting them experience our true nature as expressions of love.
The circle of logic gets a bit cerebral here, but if you let yourself mull that one over, it might just start to make sense to you.
Circle back to when you were a child -and let's assume you had a happy childhood: your heart was full of love, you felt certain of who you were, despite the fact you were emerging in this world all fresh and new. Even through change, you maintained that love -untili you started to lose that love and/or second-guess your own heart.
The simple truth I want to impart is this:
When you choose love (being around those you love, doing something you love, or making something you love) you are closer to an honest version of who you are than when you are doing something you feel apathetic about, or worse, something you hate. So, even if you don't know who you are, here's a way back: little by little, imbue your life with your brand of love. Become more of that love until you feel whole again, and then try to never second-guess that genuine person again.
Remember... LOVE IS WHO WE ARE and we are all love waiting to express itself magnificently!