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Tainted Love

September 2, 2012

moving into new apartment; first time living alone at length. same pillows, same books, even some shoes and jackets that have stuck with me since high school. (what can i say — i had good taste, even then. :) houseplants have made it over safely. enjoying the new shower.

i had reservations about getting a place by myself. fears that i might stay cooped up, isolated, cut off, a prisoner to my own shyness. but more than that, i felt somehow wary of the luxury of a studio. was this yet another step toward bourgieness and sellout-dom? first a non-profit co-director job, now this? what’s next: a timeshare in Waikiki? am i turning into the following hilarious yet terrifying caricature?

Making the Non-Profit Transition: A Workshop for Over-30s

Are you tired? No, I mean, really tired? You feel it in your bones, don’t you? In your sinews. It hurts to sit on the floor. No-one you’ve met in the activist milieu has expressed sexual interest in you for years. You’ve worked so very, very hard. Perhaps it’s time you made The Non-Profit Transition.

I mean, you’ve sacrificed so much of your life to this bullshit; why can’t you maybe do something for yourself, as well? Is that so bad? Partnering with Shell just means you’re hustling them for their money. You’re being realistic; your critics are being naive/haters/too young to understand. This workshop is presented in a series of lectures, including:

— Unlike You, I Deserve To Get Paid

— Actually This Politician Is Basically On Our Side

— You’ll Want Health Insurance Too When You’re My Age

— I’m Going To Radicalize This Organization From The Inside

— “Siri, How Do I Sell Out?” Embracing The Technology Fetish

Meeting Time/Location: All lectures are available as “TED Talk” Webinars to be viewed at your convenience on your iPad from the nursery room of your suburban ranch house.

stray neighborhood kitten

worries about inclinations toward selling out have come to visit more and more often these days. worries that boil down to: I Like The Wrong Things.

i date white men. (not by principle, just by ‘chance,’ though i know it’s not so simple.) i have many white friends. (same deal.) i like wine. i listen to Motown. i frequent coffeeshops like this. i seem to be on a path to becoming a professional! (professional at what? unclear.)

politically, i find myself drawn to making strategic alliances with non-profits. not cynical, i’m-shaking-your-hand-but-Fuck-You-is-written-on-my-forehead kind of alliances. but the kind where i actually try to learn from what certain non-profits do well, form trusting relationships, and at the same time be honest (and hopefully persuasive) about my political views on the limitations of non-profits, as much as possible.

non-profits and anti-oppression cultural workers hold things that speak to me, and yet a number of revolutionaries i most admire seem to write off non-profits entirely: approaching them, to borrow a metaphor from Junot Díaz, “as one might hold a baby’s beshatted diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom.”  so i worry that in reality i’m just being naïve, seduced by the old siren song of POC / feminist / queer / disabilities justice / cultural etc. etc. sparkle that will never ever, in my view, lead to the overthrow of capitalism, though i’ll be the first to testify it feels damn good to be surrounded by hella cute powerful brilliant social-justicey people who often fill concrete needs of poor and working-class communities.

if the appeal of Liking The Right Things (whether exclusively Black Love or a hard line against band-aid service work) were merely a matter of superficial “coolness” or fitting in (wearing the right clothes, speaking the right slang), it would be easier to shrug off. i’ve dealt with The Cool before.

but as i observed even then, The Cool (or the desire to Be Something) is sneaky. It practices pseudocopulation: disguising itself as the thing you’re really after.

Ophrys eleonorae and Ophrys lupercalis, a wild hybrid orchid, whose pollinator, a male solitary bee, is engaged here in pseudocopulation. Photograph: Christian Ziegler/Minden Pictures

what is it that i am after?

peeved that i’ve taken a break from petting

effectiveness?

integrity?

authenticity?

holistic integration?

sometimes it feels like i’m trying to scrub off the birthmarks of liberalism.  other times it feels like i need space to be curious and happy about whatever it is that i feel curious and happy about, and trust that i will find ways of steering those interests back into a healthy political direction.

“guilty pleasures” doesn’t really capture the level of confusion here.  it’s more like “incongruent interests.”  or something similarly unsexy sounding.

do you have incongruent interests?  what do you do with them?  do they make you feel divided, well-rounded, mundane?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Stefan permalink
    September 3, 2012 1:02 am

    I often feel like I have incongruent interests too, but somehow I don’t let them get to me. As a gay man, I feel lots of pressure (mostly self-imposed but who are we kidding really subtle subversive sneaky society? you’re stealth) to be social in certain ways, to be physically active in certain ways, just to fit in a box. Being in the UK and being in the art world, I also feel pressure to be a certain way as well — to drink more, to socialize a certain way (auto-correct is even asking me to convert fully to UK spelling).

    It may seem like stupid little things in comparison to your feeling of dissonance in the integrity of your beliefs across your life, but isn’t life that way? Aren’t we individuals who do funny things that don’t always make sense. Who praise veganism but then make cornbread with bacon? It’s part of being the fascinating humans we are. But the questioning is also beautiful – keeping us all on our toes (silver-nail-polished :P), examining our lives. It isn’t that we should just accept it all and coast, but ask the questions and expose your funny foundations — how boring would it be if we humans were consistent?

    Some thoughts for thought. Wishing you bon courage on the transition to the new apartment
    -S

  2. Lea permalink
    September 3, 2012 6:58 am

    oh Katie, everything you say here hits right in my gut. I miss you so much–can we talk very soon?

  3. September 3, 2012 7:45 am

    love this. love this. love this.
    I don’t have an answer at the moment to your questions, but you’ve got me thinking about this in new ways. thank you.

    I will just put out there part of an ani difranco song (and she’s been accused of selling out multiple times: her sexual identity, having a kid, etc., and she struggles with this stuff a lot, too):

    “So I’m beginning to see some problems
    With the ongoing work of my mind
    And I’ve got myself a new mantra
    It says don’t forget to have a good time
    Don’t let the sellers of stuff power enough to rob you of your grace”
    –Present/Infant

  4. September 3, 2012 11:35 am

    Katie, someday I need to visit the Bay area. We have so much to talk about! Seriously, though, I have spun around the non profit, non-profit industrial complex, activist in financial poverty (which is me currently), no health insurance, wanting a few “nice” things like a good bike, capitalist wage frame circle for years. I can’t stomach a “regular,” capitalist structured job. Sometimes, I end up doing those jobs anyway. The built in limitations of non-profits are designed to keep them from truly busting up systemic inequality. The best non-profits break the rules and risk their “status.” I have lived in a small, one bed room basement apartment for the last five years. Before that, I always lived with other people. I can’t afford to live in my apartment these days, but I am still there because it’s a refuge away from everyone after sometimes long days of service, activism, protesting, writing, and doing whatever I need to do to make ends meet.

    In recent years, I have dated Asian women. Not exclusively, but almost. In the last decade, I have dated almost as many queer women as heterosexual women. I find myself attracted mostly to women of color and white women with dark hair. Anything and anyone stereotypically considered attractive tends to be far off the radar for me.

    I usually eat a very healthy, vegetarian diet. I also eat way too many bagels and tortilla chips. Whenever I get stressed out, I find myself focused mostly on those two foods and lots of cheese. Do I sometimes get tired and stressed out because of my work in the world, or because I’m eating imbalanced and sleeping poorly? A little of both?

    I love to take photographs of beautiful things in nature. I also love to take photographs of crumbling industrial buildings, trash in alleys, anything broken down and falling apart.

    These days, I’m not exactly sure where I am going. Is anyone really? All I know is that my very presence, words, and actions in the world seem to be both calming and disruptive (in a good way I’d like to think) for a lot of folks – both at the same time sometimes.

  5. September 4, 2012 2:16 pm

    appreciating everybody’s wonderful comments…been super swamped with moving & work, and don’t have internet set up yet so haven’t been able to carve out time to sit down really thoughtfully and reply. but soon! so thankful to be in conversation with y’all. <3

  6. September 5, 2012 11:37 am

    Mmm. Lately I’ve been asking myself, Why don’t you just journal like a normal person, instead of processing your shit all over the internet? Y’all’s thoughtfulness (and love across distance! Lea I texted u!) reminds me why.

    Stefan, your levity around the funny foundations is precisely the antidote, for me, to the fretting / perfectionistic tendencies. Thank you for bringing it back to the wisdom of absurdity and silly out-of-our-control-ness. Unexpectedly, it brought to mind for me the famous Emma Goldman quote:

    If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

    I’ve never given too much thought to this now-commercialized slogan, but now it strikes me as a koan or riddle that I might want to be with for a while. What is is like to dance and still be a serious revolutionary? What does that look & feel like for me? It’s particularly interesting because dance can be silly and fun and it can also be deeply serious and deep. We can’t automatically box dance into the category of “frivolity.” And yet there’s that quality of irrationality, surrender…things that I’m really unsure how to fit into “scientific socialism” that seems fundamentally rationalist.

    Anyway, before I work myself into another knot :), I’ll say thank you for letting the conformity pressures — British spellcheck and all — flow around you without cramping your style. Super inspiring. <3

    jpjesusss, thank you for sharing that you're feelin it! :) What a great example, with ani difranco. It must be so incredibly hard to maintain integrity and feel able to change, being in the public eye as an artist who has built a kind of autobiography-based career. Thanks for bein so supportive.

    Nathan, yes, we hella need to talk! haha. Maybe I'll make it out to Minnesota sometime. Call it a work trip.

    These days, I’m not exactly sure where I am going. Is anyone really?

    I think right now it is part of my worldview fantasy that successful people set their sights on a destination or goal. North Star. Mountaintop. The North or the mountaintop may not be all it’s cracked up to be once you get there (heh, that’s the way I think of nirvana sometimes), but you gotta get there and find out for yourself. Sometimes I think this is the way I want to move through the world (destination-bound, though present and attentive at every step along the way, and open to surprises), and other times I want to embrace unknowing, destinationlessness, and process much more. Process-focused is kind of how I understand your beautiful description:

    All I know is that my very presence, words, and actions in the world seem to be both calming and disruptive (in a good way I’d like to think) for a lot of folks – both at the same time sometimes.

    Me, indecisive?! LoL, this is absurdly common for me. Perhaps part of the blessing and curse of being able to see the benefits and limitations in many different options.

    In any case, deep bows to your path and much gratitude for sharing your insights with me.

    Ah, after many days of gray gray mornings and completely clear afternoons, now the gods are ghostriding some gorgeous clouds across the sky. Time to go!

    love to y’all,

    katie

  7. September 5, 2012 12:59 pm

    “I think right now it is part of my worldview fantasy that successful people set their sights on a destination or goal. North Star. Mountaintop. The North or the mountaintop may not be all it’s cracked up to be once you get there (heh, that’s the way I think of nirvana sometimes), but you gotta get there and find out for yourself. Sometimes I think this is the way I want to move through the world (destination-bound, though present and attentive at every step along the way, and open to surprises), and other times I want to embrace unknowing, destinationlessness, and process much more.”

    This is one of those paradoxes for me as well. It’s funny. I have often had very, very big visions – mountaintop-feeling visions – and have worked towards them with others in various ways. And I have accomplished a lot in the relative world sense. On the other hand, I have never felt wedded to, and relentlessly driven by, a particular goal/destination/etc. There’s always multiple unfoldings going on. In my mind. In my manifested life. Is this partly because I’m sometimes unfocused and scattered? Probably. But there’s more than that. There’s not knowing. There’s love of process. There’s the fact that everything is a potential “dharma gate.”

    I wonder what it’s like for those people who have a single destination in mind, and go for it totally? How is it when they make it there? What do they do when that thing is accomplished? Even the Buddha, after all those years of hard practice, woke up, and then was like “now what?”

  8. bryan permalink
    September 5, 2012 1:12 pm

    congratulations on your position. as a former and likely future staffer at nonprofit organizations that understand their work as “radical”/”militant”, it can be tremendously difficult to navigate that contradiction as a communist. in that process, i hope you figure out (and please share with us!) ways to become less concerned with “selling out”, and all the internalized/individualized shame that accompanies that feeling, than understanding how to maintain personal boundaries and collective relationships that resist the ways the material conditions of your employment can absorb or set the horizon of your political work. concrete results, infrastructure, relationships with a broad base, and fun/brilliant coworkers can be an incredibly seductive and conservatizing force of gravity. couple that with enough disingenuous yet convincing discussions about gramsci and the ‘war of maneuver’ among colleagues in the NPIC with histories that lend weight to revolutionary credibility, and the fear of losing often tenuous gains made within the NGO left, and before you know it situating yourself among a class of condescending managers starts to make sense – managing the crisis of state capacity and the distribution of the social wage under neoliberalism, and managing revolt through pastoral leadership in a time of crisis for the revolutionary left. rather than fault you for securing a more comfortable wage under those circumstances, i wish you luck figuring out how to exist within and against that situation!

    after hearing too many people use that (dubiously attributed?) emma goldman quote to explain why they can’t be accountable or depended on to get even the most basic work done, i’ve sadly grown to resent it. but at this moment in history, i’d like to think that loving “motown”, “white men” and “coffeeshops” could complicate without necessarily negating the way you might also love revolution and the people who sustain your faith in its possibility and necessity.

  9. September 10, 2012 7:51 am

    Gahhh! I just wrote a whole comment and it got erased. :(
    I just wanted to say thank you and I appreciate your contributions so much! This post really inspired me and I can relate to it a lot. I really value the loving way you write about and are honest about questions that we all ask ourselves internally. I think its so healthy and productive to ask these questions honestly and pose these internal reflections openly, because in the left, we don’t often talk about these things. I think its because there is a lot of shame and black and white thinking. For me, I think being Marxist means you are attempting to think holisitically, materially, and critically. To be critical and “scientific” you need to be able to ask questions, without ego or personal value invested in the outcome or answer. The more we are able to ask questions about ourselves and the way we do things, in a loving and non judgemental way, the more likely we are to come up with answers that are not tied to our egos. Also, I love the loving way you describe coalition with nonprofits! You know what it smacked of, for me? Humility! We could all use some humility in the left. We could all also benefit from learning to see the good in other people we work with, to hope for the best in others, not naively, but realistically. Folks from social justice nonprofits go into that work because they care about communities they serve, why not focus on that rather than our suspicions and fears? Your approach seems honest and SMART. I am so happy we share a political community and I hope you continue to write this brave, honest and humble blog. <3 I would love to discuss more in person.

  10. September 11, 2012 4:26 pm

    hi katie.

    so it’s been a minute since i’ve seen you! i’ve been meaning to reach out to you for sometime now, feeling like i wanted to connect around the questions brought up in this piece. thanks for giving me the opportunity to. first, thank you for always being your honest self in such a public space, without shame or censorship.

    second, i wanted to connect with you on your articulation of incongruent interests. this is something i have been grappling with for awhile now, since i left my parent’s house, since i graduated college, since i came out to myself, since i came out to my community, since i began working in non-profits, since you and i lived together, since i was in a challenging transition at that time, since i decided to take the job i have now, since since since.

    feeling as if our interests are incongruent is an interesting thing. i’ve thought a lot about why and what it means, as well as how to honor my own wholeness and do this thinking with a loving criticalness grounded with an awareness of other people’s experiences. i think it’s important to be aware of how we hold our wholeness, our incongruent interests in our bodies, relationships, language, etc. because they are always wrapped up tightly with things like access and privilege.

    as a person with many, so many complicated identities, including of class privilege and access, i’ve thought a lot about this. for me, i think a lot about accountability– as a person with privilege, who am i accountable to? how do i make decisions and for whom? how do i hold myself accountable while also trusting myself, my heart, & my desire for liberation not just for myself, but for every body? and as is often the case with class privilege, there exists a blurry line of want vs. need. can i trust myself to distiguish between what i want vs. what i need?

    while i believe policing folks for their choices (who one loves, where one works, what one does with their time) is never an radical or revolutionary or even loving act what happens with they / we / others are infringing on the visibility, well-being, access, or self-determination of others through our / their choices? what happens with this infringement is simply assumed? what happens with it is real? (not to place a total separation between the two).

    and i cannot leave out asking the question (also to myself)– incongruent to who? and why? and what is the incongruence about, more deeply for you (and me), and for those whose interests yours are incongruent with? is it about visibilty? being seen? being taken seriously? being loved? and maybe equally if not more important to think about: why are these incongruencies important? why do they exist? what / who do they serve?

    part of having privilege means having choice, and having less risk in a lot of the choices we make. at the same time, our desires are not choices. our desires are integral and necessary parts of our being. so as i continue critically, yet lovingly, being aware of the choices i make in my life, i will hold both of these things true and know that i cannot trust my intentions / hold myself accountable in isolation, but always practice this with others and in loving community.

    this is a conversation i also would like to continue having in person, particularly as folks in non-profits with particular class-backgrounds and that hold certain politics.

    thanks for opening up this dialogue / with love,
    mai

  11. September 12, 2012 2:45 am

    wow. feeling kind of overwhelmed with appreciation here. and very much less alone. thank you nathan, bryan, sycorax, mai. so generous and brilliant.

    first off, i would absolutely love to continue these conversations in person, where possible, and it means so much to me for you to reach out, mai, and you too, sycorax. like, for real.

    also, it’s a great gift to me to get to ‘listen’ to everyone’s reflections and feel how they might bubble together, in the common pot of my mind. i wonder if this crucial point that you raise, mai, about accountability and practicing choice with others in loving community (while at the same time honoring and holding compassionately the desires that arise in us) is in some ways related to what you’re saying, sycorax, about asking nonjudgmental yet real questions of ourselves, without letting ego get wrapped up in it. at least, i personally have often wished for a community or organization that could help hold me accountable in my choices, even as i also try my own best to tell my needs from my wants, as you beautifully put it, mai. undoubtedly i’ll always have blind spots, so in many ways a community seems an important ecosystem for thriving accountability, and for supporting the navigation of reason, ego, and intuition as forces all influencing our decisionmaking.

    and yet, i often feel confused about what kind of community/communities it is wise and helpful for me to be in accountability with, and in what ways. (recognizing that even contemplating that question implies choice and privilege, like you say mai.) often it seems that different communities i’m attracted to, & see value in, have different standards or values for accountability, that aren’t easy for me to figure out how to name/articulate, let alone reconcile in my mind/body/heart/energies-and-work.

    it’s already after 2 o’clock so my tired brain is having trouble coming up with concrete examples, but maybe that’s where tea and talks in person will help. :)

    bryan, thanks for wishing me luck! your examples of the seductive forces within nonprofits — the concrete results, infrastructure, relationships with a broad base, and fun/brilliant coworkers — are so on-point for what i’m grappling with. i would also add mentorship, particularly by older people of color, women, trans folks, disabilities activists. i so badly want to have concrete, useful skills to contribute to the political work i care most about (which will probably always be outside of paid work), and yet there’s definitely the danger of slipping into management roles.

    and i would LOVE to hear more (from you, sometime, and eventually from everyone who’d ever care to share with me) what sustains your faith in the possibility of revolution. :)

    ‘night, friends,

    katie

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