Pretty Hurts

Song written by Sia, performed by Beyoncé

I've seen a number of reactions to this song, ranging from "ugly hurts more" to "she's brave for putting this out there, because beautiful people are seen as privileged by society and we assume they don't hurt."

It's gotten me thinking a lot, and the song has been running through my head often since I heard the full thing. I think, firstly, both the above responses to the song kind of miss the point.

The first verse (and the video) does deal with some of the things that go along with being perceived as beautiful in our culture, and we do tend to treat women we deem beautiful sort of like dolls - things to put nice clothes on and display for our enjoyment.

However, I think the main focus of this song is not so much on what it's like to be a person that society deems beautiful, but rather on the dysfunctional system that sets up arbitrary ideas of beauty and messes with our perceptions of ourselves.

We have a society that first of all objectifies people, and then places them in categories based on their body types, skin tone/texture, hair, makeup preferences, clothing, jewelry, etc. It sets up arbitrary standards for 'beauty' ("blonder hair, flat chest, TV says bigger is better; south beach, sugar free, Vogue says thinner is better"), and then pairs people off against each other by setting its arbitrary standard up as something to be idolized by everyone.

To assume that this system only hurts people who get labeled as 'ugly' by these arbitrary standards is a mistake, I think. The underlying problem is that it turns people (all people) into objects, and then uses them for its own benefit. Nobody wants to be treated like an object, a tool for someone else's monetary/social gain, and everyone who falls victim to this is damaged by it. It is abuse.

To make matters worse, it has the tendency to pit people against each other, because on the surface, it's easy for people categorized one way to feel inferior, jealous, and slighted by people categorized the other way, and then when they express that, for the people categorized the other way to feel unduly wronged for something they didn't choose. It's easy to get stuck at that level, and to not see the deeper issues of how the underlying system is creating this discord.

The fix for this is not easy, and it can really only be expressed in very general terms that have to be personalized by each person. The fix is to attempt to distance your view of yourself from your culture's view of yourself. Remove yourself from your surroundings, from external expectations, from societal categories, and sit looking only at yourself. Dig around there, explore, discover. Find what you like, what fulfills you, what things you enjoy and do them. Find what you like about yourself (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) and emphasize it, develop it, grow it. As you begin to develop an idea of what the person you will be happy with is, work towards it. 

Try things. Fail. Realize the world doesn't end. Step back and go a different route. Explore. Eat all kinds of things. Kiss people. Get drunk and sing karaoke and completely embarrass yourself. Try creative pursuits, athletic pursuits, intellectual pursuits. Experience life. Be daring enough to treat yourself as if you are beautiful, and expect to be treated that way.

Humans have a great capacity for creating a world they imagine through action. Unfortunately, we more often create a world someone else imagines through inaction. Don't fall victim to that.


The Convenience of Closeness.

As I tend to do, I've thought about a lot of things with relation to our life since we've moved to another part of Portland. We're now living in the only part of Portland that is still really dense mixed residential and commercial (the strict downtown core is still mixed residential and commercial, but not that many people still live there, relatively).

What this means is that, for instance, I took the streetcar home from work the other day, and on my way walking from the streetcar to our apartment, I stopped by three different stores that are all directly on the way to our apartment to get food for dinner, some staple pantry stuff and cold medicine. By foot, it only took me 30 minutes to do all that shopping and get home.

This doesn't apply just to groceries - there is a good kitchen store, a cobbler, hardware store, several dry cleaners, restaurants, two movie theaters, bars, shops all within about 5 minutes by foot - we even got our Christmas Tree two blocks away and walked it home. There is nothing that is necessary for our daily lives that is more than 5-7 minutes away by foot (except my work, a 20 minute bike ride).

Here's what this has made me think about as I have lived this way for about a year and a half now:

I think about time differently. When I can run all the errands I have in a day in 30 minutes by foot, or just easily do them on the route I would normally take from work to home, they are much less of a time-suck on my day. I used to set aside a good part of a weekend day to run errands, now it takes 30 minutes and I can do whatever I want with the rest of my day, or I can often just fit them in on my way home, take an extra 10-15 minutes, and then not worry about them after that.

I'm in less of a hurry. Because I don't spend hours just trying to go between places, I don't worry about time spent traveling. I'm happy to give the things I need to do the time they need, because I know it won't be burdensome on my schedule. I also know, because I'm not worried about traffic, that the things I do will basically always take the exact same amount of time, every time, and I don't have to plan ahead for getting stuck along the way.

Traveling long distances takes energy - even if you're driving, the attentiveness required to drive is draining. Only having short distances to travel has proved an excellent benefit many times - such as this past week when we were both sick with nasty colds and could basically just walk around the block and get cold medicine, and just a few minutes to get food stuff to cook. That was about all the energy we were capable of expending, and we were still able to get done what we needed with that very small reserve.

Living this way helps my own stress levels, helps me have more energy, time and resources for things I want to do, as well as making me less of a public annoyance and threat - because people have a tendency to behave much less humanely when they are stressed and in a hurry, and I'm not exempt from that.

Of course it's a matter of priorities. This type of area may not be the best place to live if you love gardening, for instance, unless you have a lot of money to spend on a house in a place where real-estate is expensive.

But for us, it is exactly what we want out of life - to live in a small, beautiful apartment in a city, and have this kind of daily life - simple and basically self-sufficient, with time and resources to expend on things we love doing, people we love, enjoying life.



You'll never teach anyone to be responsible if you always let them off the hook for being irresponsible, just because they weren't being maliciously irresponsible.


A Night Out

The other night we went out for dinner with my parents at a fantastic place called Via Tribunali. We had a delicious dinner and desserts, and after we bid my parents farewell at the MAX stop, we decided to make our way over to Pioneer Courthouse Square and see the Christmas Tree.

It just so happened that there was a roasted chestnut stand in the square as well, so we got a little cone full of piping hot chestnuts, sat and ate them watching people in the square, and then walked over to the Pioneer Square mall to do a little Christmas shopping before heading home.

A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out.
It's pretty great to live in a place where you can make spontaneous decisions to do things like this without any preparation - just walk or hop on a train and you're there in literally a few minutes, then just a few minutes again and you're back home.


Hello Again!

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it?

We just moved to a new apartment - not very far away from where we were previously, only a matter of blocks - but still, any moving process is a lot of work.

We've now come out the other side, and have our place mostly in order. It's a studio apartment, approximately 390 sq ft (36 sq m for you non-americans). It might be our favorite apartment to date, in fact.

Aside from that, there's not a lot to say about it, so I'll show you a few photos, how about that?

We like foxy knockers. Gettin' Shit Done. Gettin' Shit Done. Twin loaves. Gettin' Shit Done. Getting set up. Getting set up. Shepherd's Pie and Christmas. Stanley 2013. Home. Details. Our view.


Law vs. Responsibility

I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about the idea of law versus responsibility. In our society, the lines are often very blurred between the two, and we are encouraged to think of them as the same thing - that if you are following the law, you are being responsible. That if you are breaking the law, you are being irresponsible. In fact, that following the law is the definition of being responsible, and that breaking the law is the definition of being irresponsible.

I think that this view of things is, in fact, very harmful. There are several effects it has that cause a lot of problems in society, make us feel justified in harming each other, and provide a lot of power and profit for the people making up the laws.

Firstly, this view is based on the assumption that all the laws were written with the best interest of the least of humanity in mind. This is simply not the case. Many laws were written specifically to put money in certain peoples' pockets. Many of them were made to support a societal paradigm that, in the end, is harmful to society. Many of them were well-intentioned, but poorly written, or weakened by strong opposition or societal conditions that prevented them passing any other way.

Secondly, it causes us to forget our conscience. We have an innate sense of whether what we are doing is harmful or helpful, whether it is responsible on some level, or reckless. However, when we learn the viewpoint of law as responsibility, we come to simply ignore this innate sense, because it's much easier to just follow a set of rules that tells us what we can and can't do. This has the extremely negative effect of making people perfectly comfortable doing things that should repulse them, because someone either made a law that says it's ok, or someone who has the power or influence to set social rules and norms seems to be saying it's ok.

Thirdly, because we are not tuned in to our conscience, but rather simply following the instituted laws or social rules, we become unable to respond, to resist, to critically evaluate what we're doing. Essentially, we become lemmings, and whatever the political and social norms tell us is ok, we go and do, thinking all the while we're being good, responsible humans, when in fact, we could be causing people irreparable damage.

I'm not saying the law has no value, or is all bad. I do believe it is generally a good idea to follow the law, but I also believe it is critical to think about it, evaluate it, and break it sometimes when it would force you to do something you should not do. I think it is critical to be able to separate following the law from being responsible, so that you can see that, while they sometimes overlap, they are not the same thing.

This applies to political, social and religious law. Any system set up to govern behavior. Because, frankly, nobody has it all right, and everyone has ample opportunity for harboring ulterior motives.



Last night we watched approximately 4,620 vaux swifts swirl around the air and then dive into the chimney of the old boiler at Chapman School in NW Portland.

At one point, a hawk came looking for dinner, and the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people sitting on the lawn to watch sat in rapt attention as the hawk dove through the cloud of swifts over and over, only to be chased away by the swarm, harried on all sides. Flying past the outer edges of the cloud of swifts, it would then swing around widely and make another impossibly fast dive through the scattering fray. I've rarely seen a crowd so enthralled at any film, drama or music event I've been to. 

As the hawk was attempting to find dinner for itself, the swifts started, in small groups, swirling down the chimney like a genie being sucked back into its bottle. The remaining large group of swifts continued to fend off the hawk, as if the group were sending escape pods into the chimney.

After about 10 minutes of diving, being chased, retreating, diving again, the hawk finally caught its dinner and retreated.

The remaining swifts continued swirling around the air for some time, continuing to send small groups down into the chimney, and finally larger and larger groups would spiral themselves into the small opening. At last, just as it was almost so dark you could no longer see them, there was only a small cloud left high up in the air that you could just make out against the darkening sky, like the cloud of gnats you see across the room in the summer, lazily buzzing away and seemingly doing nothing in particular.

As the last remaining swifts retreated to their evening rest, the crowd clapped and cheered, as if the actors had just taken their bows, and the curtain had returned to gently brush the stage floor.

We walked home in the cool darkness through the quiet, suburban neighborhood, to arrive back to the almost jarring lights of NW 23rd Ave. On one street corner, a banjo and fiddle playing, and on the opposite corner, a man with a guitar interpreting Prince's Kiss for the massive crowd at Salt and Straw ice cream (how do they always still have a 30 minute line at 9pm?).

Portland has its moments.