Friday, June 30, 2017

Pain Itself

There are so many things I should write about, but I’m not ready. Despite everything I’ve already disclosed, I remain private, in more than one way.

I told my partner recently that there is something so dark and so terrible deep inside me, so dark and so unhappy, that it’s been inside me for a long time now, but I don’t remember when it first started. It’s not grief, depression, death wish (when I die, it’ll never be because I wanted to), or loneliness, it’s not something people see in me easily or at all. And if they do, they become frightened.

“What is it?” he asked. “Maybe it’s pain itself,” I said.

“Pain itself” sounds simple, plain, gentle. But it lives outside my conscious thoughts, it doesn’t seem to correspond to any triggers or any particular events in my life, and it is deadly.

I know how strong and resilient I am, even if being close to my own death, living with chronic pain, being neglected because of my disability, and watching my lover and husband-to-be die took bits and chunks out of me. I’ve learned fast and I’ve learned well both from those who supported me and those who abandoned or actively hurt me. But this noose deep inside me is blacker and tighter than anything I’ve ever felt or come up against. It doesn’t speak, not ever. It only hurts, and chokes, and slithers, and hurts, and coils, and hurts, and hurts.

There are moments, hours even, when I manage to stop feeling it and forget for a while. I forget when I’m with my friends, when I fall asleep in my partner’s arms, when I feel the world, but I cannot count on this forgetting. It’s not something I can will into existence because the blackness, the irremediable, is too powerful, too powerful in a savage, primeval way, the kind that has no need or regard for language and its sorry words. It doesn’t care about all the tricks human beings have invented to stave off hurting because it doesn’t have to. We must seem so ridiculous to it, in all our futile craftiness.

—We cling to what is gone. Is there anything in this life but grief?
—There’s love. There’s hope… for some. There’s hope that you’ll find something worthy… that your life will lead you to some joy… that, after everything, you can still be surprised.
—Is that enough? Is that enough to live on?

Does this thing live in some other people too? And if it does, how do they live on? 

And me, what do I wake up in the morning for? At this point, I want to have my own pack, those loyal to me, those I can trust. This desire keeps me going, even if my pack will never really know about the noose within me.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Valar Morghulis: A Girl Remembers | Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones 
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Stone Three
“Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes: eyes you’ll shut forever”
Game of Thrones is the world of loyalty, fierceness, betrayal, injustice, good and evil, right and wrong, honor, and men without honor. It is the world of the supposedly old-fashioned values that cuts across our age of relativism. It lays bare the archaic, primitive, Manichean core of our being. It’s the lizard brain, the good-or-bad world of the Kleinian child and whatever.
Because the veneer of the cultural is pierced through easily. It’s a truth that came to me in grieving for my husband-to-be who passed away due to cancer. And we’re back to magical thinking and that stubborn line between right and wrong.
We remember Lady Mormont’s speech, “Your son was butchered at the Red Wedding, Lord Manderly, but you refused the call. You swore allegiance to House Stark, Lord Glover, but in their hour of greatest need, you refused the call. And you, Lord Cerwyn, your father was skinned alive by Ramsay Bolton. Still you refused the call. But House Mormont remembers. The North remembers.”
And we, the viewers, we know that refusing the call in the hour of greatest need was wrong. We know. There’s no arguing, no looking away.
It is precisely this cutting through the thick air of relativism that makes this a singular show to me.
In the universe of political intrigue, Arya emerges as an a-political, affective, moral force. The small sturdy figure, the deadly focused look in her eyes, the strong bones and exceeding agility. “A child-minus,” in a way. I see a darkness in you, and in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes: eyes you’ll shut forever. I want to see lions and lilies in her. What happens at the end of two hundred nineteen lions? What happens at the end of ten thousand or a hundred thousand water lilies? Learning how to become no one makes me think of the old question, Is it possible for me to become so distanced from the world, from myself, such that I don’t hurt so much? And then more questions, Do I embrace the pain instead of building a fortress around me?
How do I survive in the world of injustice without turning into those I despise? How do I survive at all?
Urgency is a moral category.
She’s strong and resilient as hell, but that comes from her ability to wear someone else’s face, to be someone else.
Maybe it means that resilience is something we know so little about. Maybe it’s the other side of the moon, the other side of radical weakness and dissolution. Perhaps it’s an intensity and not a force. Perhaps it’s the work of light.
The fact that resilience has not been studied even though most if not all practitioners are familiar with the phenomenon says a lot about our culture, which still views survivors with suspicion. “it’s because they colluded with the enemy that they didn’t die like the rest. Only the victims are innocent.”
The broken victims. I remember hearing something about the line between the damaged and the broken.
Arya and the pain of horrific violence done to her loved ones. The more pain she has to endure in her quest for vengeance and righteousness. Pain, what we’re biologically wired to avoid. The real kind, the one that undoes you completely.
Physical pain is highly unpredictable and raw as reality. It pits the mind against the body in ways that make the opposition between thought and ideology in most current body theory seem trivial. It offers few resources for resisting ideological constructions of masculinity and femininity, the erotic monopoly of the genitals, the violence of ego, or the power of capital. Pain is not a friend to humanity. It is not a secret resource for political change. It is not a well of delight for the individual.
In a way, Arya’s Catherine Malabou’s figure of the radically splitting trauma: “a figure outside of time, without last wishes.” Pain as indifference to pain. In a way, she’s much more than that, for the bottomless void inside her, the void that makes her so exceedingly malleable, goes hand in hand with what was done to her, with her noble name, her undeniable moral code.
And she emerges as a kind of radiant superhero, way past her biological age, a girl from another world, a servant of death, stubbornly unskilled in the matters of moral indifference.
I would live in ecstasy until it was at last granted to me to no longer see the stars, to no longer see the silk of gray-silver water crossed through and through by a fine strip of sun from my feet to the infinite, in the water, to no to no longer see the magnificence of sun-powder, until it was a last granted to me to stretch myself out in the dust, to rest among the marvelous powders of the earth.
She is the living, breathing undecipherable link between a proper name and a no one.
“It could be said that the force of your personality is linked to the eloquence with which you make yourself visible to others when they’re not there.” There, it comes up again. The force of (or fire?) of my personality.
“Recall Melanie Klein debate with Anna Freud on relative priority of identification or love and unity of the body, and so your capacity to love, and to win the love of others, is in a sense identical with what you’re calling the force of your personality. It’s your ability to communicate to others what you find painful and pleasurable, the two poles between which somatic unification unfolds that enables your personality to survive. Your self-assertion involves a truly sentimental relationship to the world—you need others to do what you want, and be who you are. So your judgments are always based on the kind of affirmation Arendt identified with love: “I want you to be. To be here with me and to help me.”
What does this mean for Arya’s or my character? Perhaps it’s the capacity to become others, thus harboring a tangled veins of negativity at very core of her individuality, that tiny basic fault or a fault line. This negativity can be related to her desire for vengeance (in other words, it is the agony of the initial trauma that sustains her and we hear Jean Amery’s haunting words, “He who is tortured, stays tortured”), in that she wants to make the world whole again, to put back what was broken, and therefore to halt the progress of time which is just the repetition of the traumatic moment of her world’s destruction and to return to a moment when nothing hurt. The irremediable inside her fuels her to adamantly seek reprieve from her suffering and from the weight of the world.
“—What do we say to the God of death?”
— “Not Today.”

“Not today.” It brings me an odd comfort to think about the faith and the ways of the Many-Faced God, the archaic deity quietly and patientlyengulfing all other deities. It is no secret that I am adamantly against any justifications of death, any theodicies, any offers of consolation, but death is an irrefutable fact and there’s something powerful about turning the practice of resisting and deferring the time of your death or the deaths of those we hold near and dear into a way of life. When I was in the hospital earlier this year, I was fighting for my life or rather I felt my body do it, beyond any clear thought or language. I knew that even one misstep would mean my death. I just knew. This is how we’re wired, to defend, to shield, and to fight off, but we’ve started unwittingly affirming and, worse, even mythologizing death. We are no longer water dancers and we don’t treat the true enemy with a sense of precision in every bone of our bodies. Death is not part of the human condition, but resisting it is. Not only physically, viscerally, but in our way of thinking as well. Obviously, sometimes we don’t stand a chance at all. But sometimes we do.

The thought of the Many-Faced God is the thought of painstaking deferral of what will inevitably happen later, the thought of elaborate dancing in order to gain one more minute, one more hour, one more day. It is affirming that even one day is worth fighting for with all your might and developing a skillful, visceral, steadfast ethics in accordance with that. There’s no further cosmology, nothing behind the curtains, since, as Arya puts it, “nothing is just nothing.” We learn to choose one more day over nothing at all and seizing even a small fraction of time from the God of death, in the face of eternal disappearance, is the only worthwhile goal there is. To think that you can defer the moment of death is not to be in denial or existentially obtuse, not by a long shot. It is to recognize the last danger for what it is, to know, to really, really that nothing is just nothing, so as to fight with shining fierceness.

My point is, you will never water-dance like that as long as there are theodicies and the consolation of the afterlife.

The role of women in this show is also interesting to me here. While by no means weak or dispositionally weak (alright, maybe I don’t like Sansa, but that’s another story), they are essentially dependent on who they are with sexually or by marriage. The power they exert is indirect. It is cunning, wisdom, persuasion, and influence that often keep them alive, even though many of the female characters do in fact die at the cruel whim of a male executioner. The luminous Margaery embodies all of those qualities. While there’s an obvious difference between the women of the medieval fantasy world and the women of the present, I myself happen to depend almost completely on others.
I think about what it means to be an attractive disabled woman in a fundamentally ableist society. My views have been altered drastically since I went back to dating in January of 2016. All of a sudden, people started pursuing me, wanting my attention, giving me the kind of courtship I’d wanted for years, before Aaron. All of a sudden, I was seen as seductive and desirable, vibrant and intriguing. All of that, through the wall of the ideology of ability. And yes, every degrading stereotype about the disabled still makes a cut on my body.
I don’t really know what to make of this newly discovered force of my body, my peculiar attraction, my proverbial charms. A heap of twigs, smooth skin, awkward curves, fueled by the untamed fire of the mind. I have become convinced that the construction of ‘normalcy’ is halted with a singular breathing body.
And so I’m making my way in the dark, intuitively, unknowingly.
Tyrion is another type of hero. Despite being of noble blood, his dwarfism makes him inferior in the eyes of others. And inferiority is traced back through most forms of marginalization to the disabled, as Tobin Siebers powerfully argued, thus making us or me specifically the unlikable and unacknowledged last victim, the cipher underlying all exclusion.
“Disability marks the last frontier of unquestioned inferiority because the preference for able-bodiedness makes it extremely difficult to embrace disabled people and to recognize their unnecessary and violent exclusion from society.”
Furthermore, “if disability serves as an unacknowledged symbol of otherness rather than as a feature of everyday life, how might an insistence on its presence and reality change our theories about identity?”
He chose to relate to the world through the cultivation of his intellect and eloquence, the unabashed pursuit of pleasure, and the almost-inevitable cynicism. He used the veneer of the cultural, the veneer shrouding our primal urges in a dimly glistening safety net, brilliantly and for just causes. It was the tactic that elevated him to the great peak of success and the painful and tragic downfall, only to let him continue to his journey later. It works until the needle of the sky pierces you.
—I’m guilty of a far more monstrous crime: I'm guilty of being a dwarf! —You are not on trial for being a dwarf. —Oh, yes I am! I've been on trial for that my entire life!
This is how I, too, have gained acceptance for a while. I’ve been welcomed and still am because of my intellect and my wit. Sometimes I despise myself for doing that, for pretending like I’m disembodied just to get a degree of acceptance, but hey, beats being alone.
Which is to say, being Tyrion is not enough, not for me.

The greatest gift Game of Thrones gave me is whispering the words “not today” when I am devastatingly scared. And that might just be enough.

“I learned how to die a long time ago.”

“A coat of gold, a coat of red
A lion still has claws
And mine are long and sharp, my Lord
As long and sharp as yours”

“Unbowed, unbent, unbroken”

“—If a girl says her name, a man will give her eyes back. 
—A girl has no name.”

“The gods have no mercy, that’s why they're gods.”

“You’ll have three children. Gold will be their crowns. Gold, their shrouds.”

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.”

“Tell me, I want to know. How do you live with yourself? All of us have to believe that we’re decent. How do you tell yourself that you’re decent after everything that you’ve done?”