“I Dreamt the Snow was Burning” by Antonio Skarmeta

Is that not the best title you’ve ever heard? I’m just totally enchanted by it, even more so now that I know where it comes from: a Chilean folk song. If you’re interested, you can listen to it @http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IStkuzilAQ.  I haven’t been able to find the full lyrics, but the section the title comes from goes:

I dreamed the snow was burning,

I dreamed the fire froze over,

And dreaming impossible things,

I dreamed you were my lover

So it’s not only a beautiful turn of phrase, but also fitting, because ultimately this is a book about impossible dreams.  For Arturo, the closest there is to a main character, that dream is to become a famous footballer and lose his virginity (he manages one out of two, but it isn’t as he’d hoped).  For those around him, and the author himself, the dream in question is a democratic Chile, ruled by and for her people, a place where workers own the means of production and community centers are full of blistering political arguments. The book takes place in the last days of democracy in Chile, before the military seized control in what I’m guessing was the early 70’s based on the football references. (Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Chile beyond the fact that it was briefly democratic before turning fascist under a military dictator who turned the national football stadium into a prison camp/torture center).  The last days of life in Chile, a poet might say; that’s certainly the way it comes across.  At the risk of sounding cheaply sentimental, all these beautiful people, full of hope but hardly naive, arguing over Lenin and Socialism, boisterous as a spring day and believers, every one.  Yet a shadow looms, of course it does, in the form of Arturo’s humiliation in the match of his career, taking place at none other than the previously-mentioned national stadium.  When he makes “contact with the ball, bringing it to earth with a blow of his boot which to many sounded like a corpse being thrown into a grave,” it’s foreshadowing at its most chilling.  So I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the novel ends with the roar of tanks and the spit-fire of machine guns, doors kicked in and new martyrs with slogans half-spoken on their lips, the-people-united-can-never-be-defeated, an awful ruckus of shattering like I’m sure I’ve never heard, and then, in the end, silence.

Come and be my best friend, will you Rebel Girls?

I just watched the new Le Tigre tour documentary, “Who Took the Bomp” and can now say with certainty that yes, those three women really are as cool as I’d suspected, and yes, I really, really would love to hang out with them.  Pretty early on they talk about walking the line between cool and embarassing, not always being sure which side they’re on, and dude, that is where I live. They just sound so down to earth and self-aware and funny in a witty, dry way that makes me all warm and melty inside.  They remind me of the friends who’ve meant the most to me, the times when I’ve been the happiest.  Kathleen Hanna says she tries to be the role model she wanted when she was younger, and all I can say on that is mission accomplished, because she, Johanna and JD are an absolute inspiration.

“Le Tigre was about being vulnerable and openning ourselves up to failure in a beautiful way…I find myself not being afraid of failure because of what Le Tigre has taught me about being messy and how it’s beautiful.”  JD Samson

“Whip Smart” by Melissa Febos

Finishing a book can feel like losing a friend.  This one certainly did, though I didn’t start off expecting it to do so.  Early on I took it as sensationalistic, pornographic popcorn. It is about a professional dominatrix after all, and there was a certain amount of salacious exposition.  Then it started making me really uncomfortable; all that kinky sex with no feeling behind it, shrouded in shame and revulsion.  All those women going through the motions and all those men digging ever-deeper into the taboo, trying to find something that would cut deep enough to bleed.  None of the trust and mutual care that I’ve always seen as the heart of BDSM.  Not even any shared or compatible desires.  In the scenes described, the women who were ostensibly doing the dominating were in actuality no more important than the handcuffs or any of the other props.  It was honestly nauseating and I almost gave up on the book.

I want to emphasize that it wasn’t the kinks that bothered me.  It wasn’t the idea that New York City bankers and stockbrokers have some truly bizarre fantasies and turn-ons.  That was hardly a surprise.  What made me squirm was the lack of emotional involvement, on both sides.  Where I come from mentally, culturally, intellectually and sexually, BDSM play is an emotional interaction as much as a physical one.  It’s about trust and respect and showing care for another person, accepting them with all their quirks and flaws and needs, even if only for the duration of the session (I once read it described as “sugar coating for trust,” an apt description if I’ve ever heard one).  That’s what I like, the give-and-take, the primacy of negotiation, the compassion and empathy required to seek out another person’s empty places and try and fill them as best you can.  It’s not that I think BDSM should only happen in the context of committed romantic relationships.  It’s not even that I have a problem with the idea of exchanging money for BDSM sex; but I do think that it should take place in a context of mutual respect and care.  I guess what it comes down to is that, while I don’t mind the idea of someone being paid to play, I hate the idea that that is the only reason they are doing it.  As for the other side, the person paying to top or be topped, I find the idea of them treating the session like a candy bar purchased from a vending machine abhorent.  At its most simplistic and basic, this is the same problem encountered by service sector employees and consumers in all industries.  It’s the reason a meal cooked by a loved one tastes better than one purchased in a restaurant, why handmade crafts cost more and service sector employees are told by their bosses to smile no matter what.

But people who sell BDSM experiences do something a whole lot more intimate than people who wait tables.  Good BDSM, as I define it, requires vulnerability from all participants, and that’s not going to happen if one person is watching the clock and the other is worried about getting their money’s worth.  And if it’s not good, the next natural question is, is it safe? Maybe, maybe not. Physically it might be, but emotionally? Febos finds that once she quits drugs, once she’s no longer using heroin and/or cocaine to get through her session, they become nearly impossible.  Without a chemical buffer between herself and the emotional barrenness between her clients and herself, the work becomes intolerable.  Upon reading it, I could hardly get over how much sense that makes. Of course being truly present during her sessions was devastating and nearly traumatic.  No wonder she was shooting speed-balls in the employee bathroom.

Eventually, the book turns into a straight addiction/recovery memoir, which at first I was prepared to be bored by (if you’ve read one, you’ve read ’em all), but then…I don’t know, there’s just a truth to it, a clear beauty or a beautiful clarity to the level of insight and self-awareness present.  Febos ability to articulate the minutia, the minute-by-minute changes and tiny but life-changing epiphanies that make up a recovery was a pleasure to read.  Finishing something is always satisfying, but I’m going to miss this one.

Hello world!

After chewing it over for far too long, I’ve finally decided to subject the internet to my musing, meanderings, critiques, compliments, and so on.  I’m not planning on focusing on anything specific, in fact there will be certain topics that have no common denominator except my interest, but hopefully some thematic coherence will become apparent. Like so many things, this blog will be a continual work in progress, and thus feedback and constructive criticism/arguments will always be welcome!

By the way, for years now I’ve reviewed things in my head in terms of David Tennant “oh yes”s.  If you ever watched the new Doctor Who while he was on, you know what I’m talking about.  So that’s gonna be my rating system here too (DTOYs), out of five I’m thinking.