Just a few minutes ago, I was struck by the tendency of certain classes of people to not see other classes of people. I’m pretty sure it’s subconscious. I spent the first thirteen or so years of my life in a fairly egalitarian environment, pretty solidly lower middle class. No one where I lived had servants of any kind, (There was one family, but they were exceptions in several ways and moved to a ritzier town when I was still quite young.) nor did anyone hold jobs that would normally be considered serving positions. We were neither/nor. The whole experience of the very wealthy and the people who serve them didn’t exist in my life. There’s something about that relationship that has always felt uncomfortable to me. I don’t want to be on either end. To the wealthy, I’m probably one of those horribly gauche people who doesn’t know how to behave with servants.

I remember when I first arrived at college there was a student there from South Africa. At this point in my life I had never traveled abroad  and I had very few friends who were not also Americans. This was long before the internet and I really didn’t know much about the rest of the world. This was several years before divestment from South Africa would become a major cause. A couple of months later a boyfriend would give me the novel Too Late the Phalarope. It took me some pages to even begin to understand the plot because I didn’t know that apartheid existed. Soon afterwards, “Master Harold and the Boys” would be a big hit on Broadway and I would go to see it. Yet at that very moment, those two things were still in the future and when I met the student from South Africa the only thing I knew about the country was its location on a map.

She commented to me that she was surprised to see how poor the United States was. We were so much poorer than she had expected. As someone with comparatively little understanding about how the rest of the world perceived us, I must say I was highly surprised by this statement. I’m not a particularly jingoistic person, but still I was under the impression that the U.S. was comparatively wealthy in relation to the rest of the world. If she had seen us as no wealthier than South Africa, I don’t think I would have been surprised, but I was very puzzled to hear that we appeared “poor.” I asked what about us appeared so poor. She said there were no servants. “Everyone in South Africa has servants,” she said.

I didn’t mean to insult her or to be smart. I was feeling genuinely puzzled and my answer was one of confusion. “Everyone?” I said.

“Yes! Everyone!” She was quite emphatic on that point.

“Even the servants have servants?”

I was just naively trying to make sense of her statement. She got visibly angry and scowled, walked away and never spoke to me again, which was noticeable because the college only had eight hundred students.

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of that incident when someone says “everyone” but does not mean “everyone” but only “the people I see.”

Today, on the Atlantic Monthly’s website, an article mentions a picture of the Boulevard du Temple by Louis Daguerre. The article is about people who appear in the background of photos.

The oldest known photograph with a person in it is the exact kind of photo I’m talking about. The picture was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, and it shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris.

Given the context, my eye is immediately drawn to a portion on the photo where I see the silhouettes of two figures. One appears to be shining the other man’s shoe. Then I read:

The street is lined with lamps and trees, and in the middle of the frame is a tiny figure. A man getting his shoe shined, who likely had no idea his image was being captured at all. (In fact, Boulevard du Temple is and was a busy street. When Daguerre took the photo, there were carts and people streaming up and down the street and sidewalks, but only this one man shows up because the photograph had to be taken over the course of 10 minutes. Only the man standing still shows up after such a long exposure.)

“only this one”

I first, I doubt myself and I think perhaps no one else sees two figures. I follow the link to the Wikimedia page. I still see two figures, but they’re blurry and I still doubt myself. I do a little search to see what other people see. From the Wikipedia page on Louis Daguerre:

“Boulevard du Temple”, taken by Daguerre in 1838 in Paris, includes the earliest known candid photograph of a person. The image shows a street, but because of the over ten-minute exposure time the moving traffic does not appear. At the lower left, however, a man apparently having his boots polished, and the bootblack polishing them, were motionless enough for their images to be captured.

“a man apparently having his boots polished, and the bootblack polishing them”

Yes, two people. Then I remembered that for some people “everyone” does not include the serving classes. I’m feeling a little ungenerous for jumping to conclusions about the writer, but I can’t quite help think there’s an inability to see certain classes of people going on here.

Now that the holiday is over, I’m back to reading Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. It’s really fascinating. I was only barely old enough to be aware of these events, so it’s sort of like being reminded of a dream you’d forgotten. The names are familiar and sometimes I even have vague faces or images associated with them, but often the details are new. You really get the sense of how idealism can go off the rails. Unfortunately, the very people who probably should read it probably won’t. I can get excited about political stuff, but there’s something in my nature that makes me pull back and ask questions before acting on my impulses. I had a friend and when we would talk late at night, it seemed we were in broad agreement on many political things, but when she started throwing bricks I distanced myself from her and her radical friends. Violent action just always stops me in my tracks.

Anyway, I’m continually struck by various sentences. Here’s one:

“Marxism even explained his wife. She wasn’t a striving harpy; she was just bourgeois.”

It’s not that I’ve been having a streak of bad luck generally, but when it comes to trying to do anything social I feel like something goes wrong every time. This evening, I found myself sitting alone in a diner pushing a bit of chicken salad around my plate trying to fight back tears and only partly succeeding in so far as I didn’t make a total spectacle of myself. I’ve asked myself this several times over the past few years, but how did it ever come to this? I used to be a normal person. Sure, I didn’t have loads of friends, but I wasn’t friendless either.

I know moving around one too many times in a large part of the problem. I’m far from anti-social, but I’m not gregarious enough to make a new set of friends every three to five years, and it gets harder as you get older. I’m just prickly enough and contentious enough that I don’t hit it off with just anyone, or even most people. Still, although it feels like bad luck, there might be a more general societal problem going on. Every once in a while, I see an article about how there’s an epidemic of loneliness. It might be true because I don’t think there’s any especially unique about me. A few months ago, when I was recently returned to New York, I tried searching on the internet for ideas about how to meet people, not sexual or romantic partners, just people. Most of the ideas weren’t appropriate to someone my age, or I might be the oldest person in the room if I went. Other ideas people have suggested, like taking a class, are not inherently bad ideas, but they’re both expensive and time-consuming. I’ve tried them in the past. You might sign up for a class that runs over several weeks. There might be about a dozen or two people in the class most of whom you don’t wind up getting along with well enough to see again after the class is over. At that rate, it could take years to make a friend.

So, I belong to a social club. Every Friday they get together for dinner, or so I thought. They also have other things like trivia night, but I thought dinner might be less threatening. Now, the newsletter comes irregularly. After all, it’s a volunteer operation, so it’s really hard to complain about that. They also have a website and the website seemed to indicate that the Friday night dinners were still a thing. This was the first event I was going to attend since returning to New York. So, I just went to the place they have been meeting for the past several months. There was a phone number in the old newsletter, so I wrote it down just in case.

When I got to the diner, there was no one there. Since the time had been for 5:30 and it was now past 6:00 I figured that it wasn’t because I was too early. I phoned the number and the voice on the other end confirmed the time and the place and said, “I guess it just sort of petered out.”

I’ve been on a really strict diet the past week and hadn’t eaten much today, so I stayed and had dinner anyway, which is how I wound up sitting alone picking at a plate of chicken salad and fighting back tears. It’s a smallish thing to cry over in and of itself, but I’ve been trying to chip away at this loneliness problem for several years now and I’m starting to get discouraged.

I’m some level, I guess it’s just bad luck.

It’s Friday night and I’m sure there are other things to do, but I’m not sure I have the emotional elasticity to try them tonight.

Today, I thought I would try to do something fun to cheer myself up. For a little over a month now, I’ve been looking forward to the opening of a new exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. They were having a members only preview starting at 4:00 today, with a little reception afterwards. Since I moved to New York, I’ve tried to join lots of little things partly in hopes of meeting people. Now, you sort of know that you might not, actually, you probably will not, meet anyone, and by anyone I mean platonic, romantic or otherwise, at any given event. However, you certainly won’t meet anyone sitting at home and if you keep putting yourself out there and you keep going to events, you might actually make a friend or two.

So, this is the first even that’s come up anywhere this year, and I was looking forward to it. At least, I had been looking forward to it until the depression got triggered again a day or two ago. I went to the gym and brought with me a change of clothes into something casual/nice. I didn’t do my full work out because was running late. The women’s locker room at the gym is very nice with big mirrors and lights. In the afternoon, when it’s not crowded, it’s better than my own bathroom. I showered and took my time getting dressed and putting on makeup. I walked over to the Museum and was probably there shortly before five.

I can’t say that I was feeling light-hearted, but I wasn’t aware of being especially depressed. Someone at the gym smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up for some reason I don’t understand, but it made me feel good. Little things can make a huge difference sometimes. So, I went, checked my bag and got my ticket at the reception desk. The exhibit was on the fourth floor and there was a long line for the elevator. They explained that there was a little bottleneck in the exhibition and we’d have to wait. We waited about twenty minutes, maybe a half-an-hour at most. It wasn’t really that long. One of my experiences of depression has been that I can act like a normal person in public as long as there is enough distraction. However, just standing in line left me with my thoughts. I noticed all the people with other people, in couples or in families and I started to feel incredibly lonely. Then I starting crying. I couldn’t help it. I just felt so sad. I had to leave to save myself from embarrassment. So, I never got to see the exhibit or go to the reception.

It’s very difficult when you get to the point that you don’t have the strength to do exactly the things you need to do to feel better.

I’m a nearly fifty-year-old overweight depressed woman who, very literally, can’t get laid and… stop the presses… a good-looking young tv star doesn’t want to fuck me.

I don’t know where to take this. I tried writing a couple of people privately yesterday, but I haven’t gotten any replies. I put a post up on the depression subreddit, but the only reply I got made me feel worse. I know the internet is a rough place for anyone who is not on the top of their social hierarchy.

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m saying, really. I read some of Trevor Noah’s tweets about fat women and they made me feel really bad. Its been about twenty-four hours now and I haven’t been able to shake the bad feeling. Somehow, it’s really making me feel awful. The fact that all these people are defending him makes me feel worse.

I can’t help thinking about what I was saying the other day about stories. One of the things people always say about liberals is that they hate the United States and that they hate most Americans. The Daily Show is generally associated with liberals. Now, they’re going to have a good-looking rich foreigner telling jokes about stupid, fat Americans as the host? Thanks, Daily Show, for making the U.S. even more conservative. Really, I have to ask liberals if they have any fucking sense at all about how they sound to other people?

I’ve never liked the punching up/punching down phrasing because, as I’ve said before, it’s not so clear who is up and who is down. However, one thing is clear, Trevor Noah is “up.” There aren’t too many directions in which he can punch without punching down. He makes fun of atheists. He makes fun of women. He makes fun of gays. He makes fun of Jews. His humor reminds me of the popular good-looking kid in middle school who makes fun of all the freaks, nerds and the kids that can’t afford the latest sneakers.

I don’t know. I’m not going to do anything stupid right now. Although the fact that the last time I got laid the guy was drunk keeps circling around and around my head. Of course, he was a fifty-something overweight guy from England. We actually got together a second time, and I think it was my fault there wasn’t a third. It was probably my turn to text. I’m not good about texting. I was ambivalent about him anyway. So, I’m probably not really that desperate. Still, the joke cut a little too close to home. Yeah, when you’re overweight fewer men are interested in you. Thanks, Trevor. You’re so fucking funny.

I’ve been crying intermittently ever since I read about him. I’m not being the PC police. This isn’t manufactured outrage. It is genuine, and it isn’t outrage. It’s shame, embarrassment, depression, sadness, isolation, loneliness and sexual frustration.

This morning, when I first opened my eyes, I found that I had a heaviness in my chest. I started crying. Not a hard sobbing. Just lying there vaguely aware of tears welling up in my eyes. It’s not secret that I’m under treatment for depression, but this didn’t feel like the depression I’ve been experiencing for the past several years.

I’m pretty sure I’m not racist. I say “pretty sure” rather than “absolutely not” because I’m aware enough to know I’ve grown up in a racist society and we don’t ever entirely transcend our own time and place. However, I do believe that there are no significant biological differences among people of different races. In fact, I believe that the concept of race has no grounding in biology. Therefore, differences in social status and behavior are entirely a product of the environment.

Am I xenophobic? That’s almost laughable since I run the risk of being called a xenophile.

Am I culturally biased? That’s a far more complicated question. To start, I would have to have a firm idea of what constitutes a good society. I am tempted to answer that that would be the society that allows for the greatest degree of human flourishing and the least suffering. However, flourishing is an unsatisfactorily vague term. I don’t think there is any culture that is perfect, which has all the answers. In so far as any culture that is in existence today could be said to be a successful culture, no culture is without any value. That said, I am not a cultural relativist. I terms of particulars, I think some ways of organizing human society are better than others.

I think that there are no gods, spirits, or other immaterial beings, great or small. Therefore, the least human suffering based on the supposed desires of non-existent beings can be said to be an unqualified ill.

Last week, I was very quick to put up a post that said, “Je suis Charlie.” It would turn out that I was on the wrong side of the overall consensus. I had read, or more accurately seen, Charlie Hebdo a handful of times in the past. When I put up that statement, I did not mean that I endorsed everything that had ever been printed in that magazine, nor did I think that was what anyone else mean. I recalled that immediately after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Le Monde published an editorial that said, “Nous sommes tous américains.” I did not take that to mean that the editors of that paper had endorsed everything the United States had ever done or ever would do, or that they were suddenly enamored of every aspect of American culture. I did not feel at the time that “Je suis Charlie” meant that I personally endorsed every cartoon they had ever published. In my mind, I supported their right to speak their mind without fear of violence.

I have mentioned that I have had nightmares in the wake of the assassinations. The day before, I had drawn a cartoon. It seems so long ago now, but you may remember an incident in which a woman tossed a handbag holding a gun in a shopping cart with her two-year old. The child took out the gun and shot his mother. Her father-in-law objected to the characterization of the woman as irresponsible. He said that she had not simply tossed the gun into any old purse but a purse with a special compartment. I did not know what this meant, so I looked it up. It turns out that these purses are designed for easy access. This made the action of the dead woman seem all the more irresponsible to me. So, I drew this:

concealed carry2Yes, there really are models with crosses on them.

The night of the killings of the cartoonists, I went to sleep. I dreamed I was lying in bed. I heard someone at my door trying to get in. However, the chain was on the door and after several attempts the person went away. Then I went downstairs and exited my apartment building. Standing in front of my building was a stocky middle-aged white man in wearing khaki pants and vest and holding a rifle, like someone ready to go on a safari. Somehow, I understood him to be a gun rights activist. As I walked out of my door, he shot me in the chest. I woke up.

Are there such things as universal human rights and is free speech one of them? I won’t accept the word racist, but am I an imperialist for believing that there are and it is? I don’t know anymore, but this much I do know…

I feel lucky to have been born in one of the wealthiest regions of one of the wealthiest countries during an era of widely shared prosperity. I have gone out dancing till dawn, have had lots of good sex with lots of men, I have had plenty of good things to eat, all in all, I think I was damned lucky about when and where I was born. I would not want to have been born into the world the killers would like to create. Am I wrong to feel this way? Am I culturally biased? Maybe, but I do feel this way. No matter how many times people tell me I’m racist, I still feel this way. Am I racist to be glad to have fucked, to be glad to have danced? Is wanting to dance and fuck and draw and paint and sing a reasonable basis for choosing one culture over another?

It is clear that I have never been on the right politically. Within the past week, however, I’ve found myself at odds with people on the left. I feel extremely alone. Politics is not something that can happen alone.

I just feel weary and lonely.

The best way out of this seems to me to be to stop concerning myself with politics. I’ll keep writing if I find something else to write about.

I can remember the first time a teacher said, “I don’t know,” in response to a student’s question. It was a wonderful moment. Suddenly, learning and knowledge was a process. Something we arrive at only with effort and which always exists in a state of flux. While certitude is useful in an argument, it has no place in real knowledge.

Right now, I’m still trying to intellectually process the political assassinations and near massacre that occurred in Paris last week. There are so many threads that go into it, attitudes towards immigrants, racism directed at second and third generation French people, economic stagnation, freedom of speech, whether or not satire should be a form of protected speech, hate speech laws, whether religion should be open to criticism, the low social status of cartooning, the Islamist goal of creating a world-wide caliphate, the encouragement by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries of “lone wolf” attacks in Muslim minority countries, the role of Saudi Arabia in spreading Salafist Islam, the growth of anti-Semitic attacks and I can go on.

It’s been hard to think with all the cacophony. Everyone is yelling and it’s hard to think.

Yet a minute ago, I saw yet another comment warning against “painting all Muslims with the same brush.” I don’t know what corners of the internet other people go to, but I haven’t seen this. I don’t doubt that it happens, but it doesn’t happen in places I frequent.

I don’t believe in collective guilt. Considering people as individuals first and foremost is a core part of liberalism. It should go without saying blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is against liberal beliefs. At the same time, I can’t help noticing that in all this hand wringing about the possible backlash against Muslims, no one seems to be talking about the Jews. Where is all your hand wringing for the increasing anti-Semitic attacks against European Jews?

Saying that we can’t talk about Islamic terrorism because it might create a backlash against Muslims is like saying we can’t talk about the current conservative, hawkish government in Israel and its policies towards settlement, the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of non-Jewish citizens because it might create a backlash against Jews. Of course we talk about it. If someone blames all Jews for the actions of the current Israeli government, they are in the wrong because collective guilt is wrong. We don’t stop the conversation, nor should we.

There’s something happening and we don’t know what it is. We’re not going to figure out what it is and how to respond to it by remaining silent. We don’t start every conversation about Israel by saying, “I hope no one blames all Jews.” We don’t start every conversation about racism by saying, “I hope no one blames all whites.” Despite what some people might like, we don’t start every conversation about sexism by saying, “I hope no one blames all men.” So, I am not going to start every conversation about people who kill in the name of Islam by saying, “I hope no one blames all Muslims.”

I found the old dashboard.

Christ, I wish WordPress would stop fucking around with the interface. Have you ever noticed there’s multiple links allowing you to put up a new post and each one takes you to a different format? Oh, well. Now what the hell was it that I was thinking before WordPress pissed me off?

During my preteen and early teenage years I was constantly in search of art classes that had some rigor, ones that were more serious than simply “expressing one’s self.”  Starting from the age of eight, I took painting classes with a wonderful woman who had us painting one still life after another broken up by the occasional landscape in the good weather. I learned good basic habits. She allowed us a limited palette, so we would learn how to mix colors. Eventually, however, I felt that her influence in my style had to be balanced out by other instructors. One year, I signed up for drawing classes at an art center in a town about a half an hour away. Fortunately, I had an indulgent father who was willing to drive me there. One thing that was very exciting for me was the promise of several life drawing sessions with a real, live, nude model. I didn’t wonder if the model would be male or female, young or old, handsome or ugly. I just wanted to be able to draw a figure from life. There was a catch, however. We had to have signed permission from out parents. If any child’s parents objected, there would be no nude model. The parents of one child refused to give permission and, consequently, none of us could draw from a nude model. We drew portraits and still-lifes and clothed figures, but for me it was a great disappointment. Whatever I do, I tend to do in a very serious fashion. I had been painting in oils for several years because that was what I believed serious artists used. I was trying to get, in a piecemeal way, what I imagined a traditional art education might be. Life drawing was an essential item that I still had not had a chance to try.

Around this same time, I enrolled in a summer session at Parson’s School of Design in New York City. There we would have nude models. One of my suitemates  was slightly older, perhaps sixteen. While I was enrolled in their Foundation class, she was taking some photography classes. She asked me to pose for her. I did. That was the first, but far from the last time I posed nude. I would eventually go on to pose for several photographer friends as well as for art classes.

Eventually, I would get my life drawing classes. Not only that, but a great deal of my work has revolved around the human figure. Once day, I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror. The window was to one side and I found myself fascinated by the play of light across my torso, especially across my collar-bone. I painted it. It was an important moment for me because it was the beginning of the development of my own style. At the time, I was purely interested in formal aspects of painting, the color, the composition. The subject, my torso, was at the time beside the point. Eventually, however, the subject matter of my work would become more important. Beyond simply rendering the human figure, I began to explore questions of human experience with a particular interest in sexuality.

A drawing of a woman's torso.

Self-portrait that I did for this post.

Over the years, I got used to the fact that there are many places where I can’t show my work. I often find myself warning people who ask to see it that my work contains graphic imagery, including genitalia. Many people brush off my warnings, seeming slightly offended, saying that they know that nudity isn’t always sexual. Of course, some of the nudity in my paintings is sexual, and then again some is not. Yet plenty of art shows have a straightforward no nudity rule. Needless to say, I think that’s ridiculous.

There was an even that prompted this post, but I’m getting tired and perhaps I’ll address it in the future.

Have you ever read a post and you’re looking for the “sarcasm” or “humor” tag and you can’t find it? Sometimes, there’s an entire blog that is satirical. Usually, I’m pretty good at distinguishing the parody from the thing it’s parodying.  Right now, though, I’m scratching my head. If this isn’t a parody…. I think I’ve now heard it all.

I’ve never had a problem with drinking or drugs and, sometimes, when someone is providing a testimony to how they were saved by Jesus and the story the begins with lying in the gutter, I jokingly think to myself, “Ah, that’s why I haven’t met Jesus. I have been bad enough for him to take an interest in me.” Now, before someone tells me that I’ve misinterpreted these stories, I realize that. It’s just a little humorous thought that flits through my head and I usually keep to myself.

Now, I’ve just read a post in which a woman claims to see evidence for God in the fact that her socks disappear in the washing machine. Folks, I do not have this problem. I believe that I have in my entire life I’ve lost only two or three socks. I have never looked into a pile of mismatched socks and seen the face of god because I have no such pile.

Please help me, is this satire? Am I losing my sense of humor?

Proof that... I'm a slob. Dang, I've really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn't see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you'd be looking at my dirty drawers right now.

Proof that… I’m a slob. Dang, I’ve really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn’t see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you’d be looking at my dirty drawers right now.