Wallet Narcissism Pt. 2

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Name covered to protect those not-yet-proven-guilty


To add to that last post, a photo affirming the photo affirming me into personhood:

Just like a mugshot but without the height marker. (The card does have my height on it, though.) That silhouette bison makes everything magically legit.

I Keep a Photo of Myself in my Wallet

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States in the country south of me are passing laws requiring photo identification to be presented at the polls. They say this is a reasonable measure to prevent the serious problem of voter fraud. Critics say it targets groups already disadvantaged, has (in some cases, explicitly stated) the core purpose of party gain, and is denying a fundamental right. And I agree with all of those.

A year ago I tried to get a passport. I had the right photos taken and the right form filled out properly, and my birth certificate and other supporting documentation. What I didn’t have, by the standards of the passport office, was valid photo ID. I don’t have, and have never had, a driver’s license. My proof-of-age ID for drinking purposes was being phased out and it was useless for anything but drinking up to January 1 2012. I needed to apply for the province’s replacement of that card, but that application also required valid photo ID.

There was one loophole that saved me, so I filled the application for that card. Proof that I filled that application was enough for the passport office (never actually seeing this ID they demanded!) and I had two valid government-issued photo IDs in the making to be delivered to my mailbox in coming weeks.

Hilarious irony #1: the passport, which came first oddly enough, was sent in parcel form and had to be picked up at the post office…with valid ID. The nice clerk there accepted my booze card.

Hilarious irony #2: in the midst of this setback there was an election. I had my registration card with name and address, but I did not yet have photo ID. Birth certificate, proof of residence, yes, but not a mugshot printed on fancy plastic. I worried about showing up at the polls and being sent back.

But I wasn’t.

The election worker took my card, read it to make sure I was at the right place, and told me where to write and drop my ballot. There was enough evidence that I was myself: the card was given to me in person as election workers confirmed my address and citizenship going door-to-door. The ID experience that preceded this election and the concern I wouldn’t be allowed to vote really got to me, and I felt like an un-person.

In an election nobody should feel like an un-person. It’s bad enough that people think their one vote out of millions is meaningless; it will be far worse if they were told that their very existence in democracy is null because they get by taking the bus. I think the state politicians trying to make this happen should consider my story. I’m left-wing, and I wouldn’t vote for them or their party, but I’m an educated middle class white person. Mine may be a face to the discrimination they actually choose to see.

Sympathy for Eeyore

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My second post in one day. I know, it’s odd. I’m barely posting two a week now.

And that’s partly why I have something to say. Months back I contributed to a Kickstarter project by John Campbell, the artist behind Pictures for Sad Children. It has fallen a couple months behind schedule, for a number of reasons. One of them was that a train exploded outside of his apartment. (Literally.) Another update was posted yesterday that was confusing initially to those who…don’t understand his sense of humour. He wrote that, to be seen as a real “artist”, he faked depression. He said it takes a lot of effort – and it must, given the ambivalently defeated-but-hilarious work he does – to fake it. Or maybe his signature dark sense of humour could only come up with an explanation for lagging behind on something by communicating it with a…dark sense of humour.

Depression is my Catch-22. It is the reason I haven’t strived to reach full potential, the reason my ambition fails to match my capability. What continues to depress me is that I haven’t reached my full potential, and have failed to achieve ambitions or demonstrate capabilities. That’s what makes depression an endless loop. It’s what stops me from, say, making my own web comic, or trying to launch a career out of writing. It’s not just fear of failure or humiliation; it’s internal inertia. It’s not writer’s block or a lack of ideas; it’s paralysis in applying ideas.

As written about earlier today, I was incredibly self-conscious in my formative years because of body image issues. That has made me miserable for most of my life, given that I’ve overweight from the start of grade school. But as I also wrote today, I’m getting over the image part. The paralysis is a different issue. I’m not doing a very good job at getting over that.

That leaves me with moments or periods of no excuse of a reason to feel completely defeated and limp. I’m approaching the 18th anniversary of a monumental experience in my life when a part of me, something I can’t even begin to identify or described, died. Or maybe it’s that some kind of parasite lodged itself in my brain to seize control of my motivation. That last sentence has puns you’re not even aware of, but since I’m about to explain them I apologize and assure you they were not intended.

October 25th, 1994 was two days after my sister’s 16th birthday. A cousin of mine was born less than two weeks prior. At seven o’clock that morning, as an act of self-consciousness much smaller than my later body image issues and more in line with society’s ridiculous rejection of basic human anatomy, I was trying to hide my posterior. My mother was crying. I wasn’t crying then, but I’ve been doing so sporadically since. We were walking through an underground tunnel connecting the Children’s Hospital ward attached to the larger Health Sciences Centre. I remember this walk. I remember entering a room. I remember lying on a table. I remember however many hours later waking up to my independently-operating urethra and a cheery nurse holding a bedpan for it.

It was brain surgery, by the way, in case you didn’t make the connection between head references in one paragraph and vague descriptions of an operation experience in the next. The neurosurgeon warned us that I would likely be of low energy and gloomy attitude afterwards – or as he put it, depressed. I was. I was depressed enough to turn down one of the best opportunities of my lifetime to go trick-or-treating as myself with staples on one side of my head. But the depression never went away as the incision healed and the hair grew back. I have been hard on myself for no good reason since.

I get less than 1% of the audience that John Campbell does, have, if lucky, half the skill that he has, and clearly far less drive and motivation given how little I’ve done. But depression comes and goes, and its magnitude rises and falls, and that’s not understood by those who are lucky enough to have control and stability in their energy levels and moods. Conscious control of depression is easier said than done. It takes a lot of strength and yet those who are not afflicted still see any improvement as minimal. Mediation can help some; I don’t want it to help me, but as I need prescriptions for other health issues it so happens that one of them has a mood-lifting side effect. Other elements of a healthy lifestyle are hard to start and maintain when you can barely lift an arm, even if “studies show” that diet and exercise improve depression’s symptoms. Creative expression does too, temporarily, which is why John Campbell et al continue to make comics and art even if it is on a sometimes sporadic basis. Tough love and encouragement from those who don’t understand are perhaps among the least productive treatments. So listen, and understand, and calm down with your outrage if this is affecting someone’s ability to meet your expectations. My head was very heavy after surgery, and although I’m able to prop it up with as much musculoskeletal strength as anyone else, it’s still a greater weight on my shoulders than any external stressor can be.

Consider these things when your knee-jerk to something is a sarcastic “woe is me”.

Static Impressions of Changing People

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Some people hold onto previous incarnations of people they know. We all change over time, and we’ve all had embarrassingly awkward stages of personal development, but things that were drastically different from what they are now can still stick around to haunt us in the form of Other People’s Opinions.

In middle school I owned about five band t-shirts that I was willing to wear, along with a pair of jeans and khaki cargo pants. I was so body-conscious as a teenage girl that I masked it all as a tomboy personality so baggy clothing could hide any rolls of fat that were there, if not actually on my body then in my mind.

This poor fashion sense gradually went away over time – it was no overnight switch, and I’m always looking to improve how I dress. But I’ve reached a far better place with the clothes that I wear, how I coordinate them, and overall how they make me look. I’ve come to better terms with my body without resigning to ugliness, so I feel better presented and hope to look better presented. I have good colour coordinating skills, a vast improvement from nursery school when the teacher called my mother to discuss the terrible matter of my mismatching socks. I don’t dress the same every day with routine accessories, different from the seven necklaces I wore every day in high school, and I even wear dresses and skirts willingly from time to time.

But the opinion of people who decided to settle on their impression of me in earlier years will still think I don’t have a good sense of style. The same goes for how clean I’m able to keep my personal space, my level of interpersonal skills, the issues I care about, and how I like to spend my free time. People change, and sometimes, to be more specific here, people improve.

I think it’s beneficial for growing optimism and better health to have enhanced my appearance as I’ve aged. Getting better at something is encouraging to continue. It helps that I don’t have a nostalgic feeling for how things used to be. It makes it easier to get rid of things I no longer look good in, or never looked good in to begin with.

Reality Coming to Life

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On Saturday I had a picnic with my friend Lindsay. I’ve know Linz for over 10 years, but this was our first picnic together…and the first time we ever saw each other face to face.

We were friends on the internet first. Message boards and chat rooms haven’t always been infested with trolls, and as I’ve written before I had a significant social presence online several years ago. I was the first person from that fallen iTurf civilization Linz had met; she was, excluding those who already lived in my town, my seventh. There have been plenty of encounters among all the others, and more yet to come.

Each and every time, it did not feel awkward. It cured the foreign-city feeling. Conversations were not hard to start, and many of them had already been started.

The difference between meeting someone from message boards and, say, meeting someone from Facebook is that Facebook is about the individual’s profile. You comment on THEIR timeline or THEIR status update, or alternatively they post on yours. Is that really a conversation? Is it really a group conversation? We’re groups of friends, and we started out that way. It’s much easier to bring on the pick-up-where-we-left-off type of socializing when we can reference what others said, to a collective instead of a person.

Not even high school reunions can bring that kind of experience…or so I gather. I don’t miss any lost-contact friends from high school, at least not any more than a post on their Facebook wall can cure.

Digital Archaeology and Assuming the Future Needs Me

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Oh, sorry, I haven’t been writing here. Part of that reason is because I’ve been engrossed in the project of enhancing my photo disorganization process that’s taking up a hefty amount of my time.

You see, when the civilization we know collapses and another one builds itself up to the point that digital archaeology becomes a treasured pursuit and academic discipline, people of the future will be working to match physical remains of our era to digital records on dusty servers that philanthropically funded projects will work to restore. On the internet, in my Dropbox account, a future civilization will find my disorganization audit file. They will eventually be able to match it with the physical archaeological artifact of my vast collection of photo albums, but to know what corresponds to what to make sense of an average Westerner’s life, they will need to decipher a code.

“Decipher” is a term generous to the level of cracking required. Literacy of the Latin alphabet isn’t even required to match the shapes labeled in my file to the letters I’m in the process of writing on the back of all of my photos. Someone may make it their discipline for an entire academic career to build up a wealth of information on my life and the life of those around me from these pictures I took. Like a Pharaoh building his own pyramid, I am slaving over my coffee table in an ergonomically-challenged position with my laptop by my side to label, count, and record where, when, or of whom these photos were taken.

Diaries of commonfolk in history have provided invaluable information about the everyday lifestyles of their times. History is disproportionately informed on the great leaders and glorious wars, on artists and clerics and explorers and gods, but the social history of subjects and plebeians and peasants and serfs is lacking in spite of its 90% share of the people of the past. The 99% protesting on Wall Street are fighting for their due recognition in our own society today. I’m working for my recognition in societies of the futures, at sacrifice of my own time.

Well, in that time I would otherwise be doing something of little immediate value. Adventurous people say to live for today, but how I see my today is as an intrigue of hundreds of years past tomorrow.

Old Philosophy, New Direction

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A few years ago, I was reading a lot of Bertrand Russell’s works on social philosophy. He was a socialist, but one born into established wealth and the luxuries of a pursuit of knowledge at Cambridge, one of the highest regarded institutions in the world. He put an immense amount of work into his studies and writings and teachings, most notably the Principia Mathematica (which I haven’t gotten around to reading), but into his mid-life (relatively speaking) and later years he turned to writing on social issues and took a stance of economic equality that was very different from his personal heritage.

“In Praise of Idleness” was one essay written during that period. It called for, not lazing around as we do today (because there was not yet cable television), but reducing the hours of work put into making a living in the economy and spending other time pursuing higher purposes. It stressed the virtue of community, not products or services provided for pay but connections and care for one’s neighbours and the land. Art and creativity should be as valued as labour, but not for profit and mass marketing as we see today. Automation and mechanization were supposed to ease the burden on a man’s hands and The World of Tomorrow should’ve cut down to 20 hour work weeks and leisure time galore.

That wasn’t just a vision of Russell in this work, but the idealistic projections in the post-war West of what innovation could bring. And yet, despite the capacity of machines to reduce labour in producing our basic necessities we are working as much as ever, except for those who don’t work at all. Those who don’t work come in two very different kinds, and if the mechanical division of labour of the theory of Emile Durkheim were designed more democratically unemployment and poverty could be reduced to nil rather than having the Veblen leisure class and an increasingly Dickensian poor. (Although, to be fair, Charles Dickens’ and the Victorian era didn’t have fast food and Wal-Mart to make the poor obese and hoarding rather than emaciated with barely a single possession.)

Socialism isn’t threatening to freedom and innovation and the accumulation of wealth – it’s leveling. It’s not communism or totalitarianism of any kind, because it respects individual freedoms. In fact, the idealism of the Russellian society goes by the very American values of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. And yet America is perhaps the Western nation furthest from this ideal.

I’d say the point of my writing this is to foster discourse on working towards Russell’s ideal, but that’s merely a small part. Even arguing for a 20 hour work, I must admit, isn’t the biggest part of this post. In minute hypocrisy to the substance of what I write, it’s mostly selfishly trying to show off my individual impressiveness. That’s not very collective, but if we valued art and creativity surely from this a community could be born.