Lemon Soda, Oranges, and Dirt

I can’t stop thinking about Estha’s abuse scene. I can’t stop. Every time I think about GOST, I think about that scene. It’s like it’s haunting me. And I want to write about it, but I can’t come up with the words. Nothing I can say feels important or necessary. Any words just manifest as tears hiding behind my eyes that can’t escape. So I’m going to talk about what happens directly after instead.

As Estha stands, drinking the rest of his lemon soda, he starts to refer to the hand that was involved in the assault as his “Other Hand”. It’s as though he’s alienated from it. I think this alluding to him possibly starting to disassociate, although I’m not sure. To be honest, a lot of this book’s narration feels disassociated from the actual events, emotionally separated. But I think it’s particularly noticeable here.

Back inside the hairoil darkness, Estha held his Other Hand carefully (upwards, as though he was holding an imagined orange). He slid past the Audience (their legs moving thiswayandthat), past Baby Kochamma, past Rahel (still tilted back), past Ammu (still annoyed). Estha sat down, still holding his sticky orange.

The God of Small Things (pg 100)

The repetitive, blocky nature of this paragraph signals to me Estha feels separated from what is happening. He is moving, and observing the details around him, but he’s not really in control. The reason I think that is because disassociation is very common after trauma, as I believe I have discussed in earlier posts. Disassociation, to me, feels as though you are strapped to a chair inside your brain and things are occurring and you’re seeing everything but you’re no longer in control of your actions. You feel like your body is moving but it’s no longer you because you’re just stuck trying to process everything. Estha is moving and holding his hand up and noticing everything but it’s all very stilted and short. It’s the childish way a young boy might experience world but it seems even more mechanical than other sections.

Here’s the sentence that really stuck with me: “Oh Baron von Trapp, Baron von Trapp, could you love the little fellow with the orange in the smelly auditorium?”

Something has fundamentally changed in Estha. He no longer feels lovable, in comparison to the “clean, white children” in the film. He is dirty now. He has been violated, and spoiled, and ruined, and dirtied up. I think that’s the thing that’s staying with me, is that feeling of being dirty due to factors outside of your control. Estha did nothing wrong, but it doesn’t matter. He’s dirty now and that makes him unlovable. Okay, I wrote something and I feel better. I’m going to try not to think about this anymore.

Sex, Gender, and Orientalism

Typical examples of Orientalism, at least historical examples, seem to have a preoccupation with gender, power, and sex. In the interview with Edward Said, many paintings are shown depicting women in positions of sensual weakness, either being generally exposed or being aggressively handled by men. This idea of women being sexual objects to be used by men carries over into many of the more popular concepts in Orientalism. The concept of the harem, for example, is one where several women are in a sense owned by one central man and are used by him for sex, often existing in addition to the man’s wife or wives.

There is also the concept, popular in times of over conflict between the United States and the Middle East, of the ravaging Middle Eastern man sexually assaulting women and children in battle. This concept is not exclusive to Oriental/Middle Eastern stereotypes, but it goes hand in hand with depictions of Islam in Middle Eastern countries being one with female oppression and assault at its core.

Finally, I want to talk about the concept of Middle Eastern women being commodities not only for Middle Eastern men to consume, but for Western men to consume. Even in children’s films such as Aladdin, the main woman, Jasmine, is shown in clothing that is often associated with belly dancing. Belly dancing itself is largely considered sensual, centered around the movement of the hips. Its typical clothing involves a low-rise skirt and something to cover the chest, with flowing fabric that moves with the dancing. When Googling belly dancing in order to write this, I found YouTube videos with “sexy” and “hot” in the descriptions. I also found some Halloween costumes for children, which I don’t have much to say about as an intellectual point. Just thought it was weird.

What is up with this preoccupation with Middle Eastern people as either sexual objects or sexual aggressors? As to the sexual objects, I think it has something to do with how India and the Middle East were (and still are) viewed as commodities themselves. Colonialism views the world as full of things to be taken and owned. Often times, those things include people. White, straight men traveled around the world and took everything they possibly could. In a way, portraying these women as scantily-clad, sensual women that were regularly dominated by the men in their countries already made it seem as though they were asking for it. Asking to be dominated, abused, and owned by the white colonialists. For the men, I think it has something to do with similarly justifying the violence and ownership of themselves, their possessions, and their land. When we portray people as savages, less than human, it makes it that much easier to abuse their rights.

Check out this video by Lindsay Ellis if you’re interested in Orientalism and musical theatre; it’s a fascinating breakdown of one of the more obscure, yet fetishized characters from Phantom of the Opera.

“Sonsick” and the Suburban Nightmare

Sonsick is a song off of San Fermin’s self-titled album, released in 2013. It was the first single released. San Fermin is known for being orchestral and for its many musicians, 22 musicians being recorded for this album. This particular song is primarily sung by Holly Laessig, and written by Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

The theme of this song, or perhaps rather the point, is that our society’s obsession with typical suburban life will inevitably lead to people’s lives being unfulfilled. The first, and last, line of the song sets the tone: “I found me a hopeless case and resolved to love”. The speaker has found someone broken that cannot be fixed, and will resign herself to loving them. This is continued into the second half of the verse, with the lines:

I’ll fall for you soon enough, I resolve to love

Now I know it’s just another fuck, cause I’m old enough

These lines demonstrate how the speaker is trying to commit herself to someone she doesn’t love yet. She knows that she doesn’t care about the relationship, but is forcing meaning onto it anyway.

In the second verse, there is a jump in time.

All dressed in my Sunday best when I solve you, love

Maybe find a place where we could rest when we’re old enough

We can have a dog and all the rest, we can live it up

Now she is referring to the audience as “love”, implying that she has succeeded in her commitment. She also switches from “I” to “we”, showing more cohesion in how she views the relationship. However, the third line to me implies something somewhat sinister. She refers to starting a life with her partner as “all the rest”, showing some level of disinterest in that suburban life. The phrase “live it up” is almost sarcastic: this life she is starting is not fun.

Sonsick at the tee-ball games, I absolve you, love

Maybe find a place and think of names when we’re old enough

Make plans and we’ll buy new things, try to fix it up

Here we get another time jump and the title drop: “sonsick”. This is a word San Fermin invents here. To me, it means simultaneously yearning for sons and sick of sons. Our speaker proposes having a child; they will “make plans” and “buy new things”. She doesn’t get specific here, continuing to convey disinterest in what’s happening. They’ll plan for something, they’ll buy things, but it doesn’t matter what. It’s just what you’re supposed to do when you get to a certain age.

We haven’t touched upon the chorus yet, so let’s do that now. The chorus alternates between two different singers, both women. I’ll pull out just a few lines for examination:

And when you think you’re thinking clearly

You’re really tied up and committed

But it’s an awful lot of talk

For a fire that burns too quickly

Her thoughts don’t belong to her. She thinks she’s in control, but she’s being controlled, “tied up and committed”. This life she has ahead of her has been hyped up by society and the media. We are constantly shown examples of traditional romance and suburban family life, as though it is the only option for us. But it might not be the best life for everyone. The “fire that burns too quickly” is almost like the honeymoon phase every relationship goes through. At the start, everything seems perfect, and it seems like this feeling will never end. That’s not true, though. While I can’t find consistent numbers, this phase can last anywhere from three months to two years. In any case, it’s not permanent.

The last line of the song is the same as the first: “I found me a hopeless case and resolved to love”. As the song’s verses each jump forward in time, it is unclear if this line is supposed to be another time jump, or a jump back to the beginning.

This song is all about how the typical suburban relationship, a-house-and-2.5-kids-and-a-dog, isn’t right for everyone. However, the pressure society puts on people to live up to that standard forces people into unhealthy relationships and marriages that wouldn’t otherwise last. This raises children in unhealthy environments, which can often damage their mental health for life. The cycle continues, again and again.

Everything about this song is beautiful, including the vocals and the instrumentals, so I would highly recommend listening to it if you have the chance.

Beloved and PTSD: It’s Complex

Sethe doesn’t have PTSD. Well, she does, but also she doesn’t. As I said in the title, it’s complex.

Complex PTSD, also known as C-PTSD, is a form of PTSD that differs in how the trauma occurred. PTSD typically occurs after one instance of trauma, like a house fire, an assault, etc. In situations where the trauma occurs over a period of time, the sufferer would most likely have C-PTSD instead. Examples include ongoing abuse, living in a war zone, and of course, slavery.

While PTSD and C-PTSD are similar, they differ in important ways. Additional symptoms of C-PTSD include issues with emotional regulation, distorted perceptions of the perpetrator(s), disassociation, and others.

Let’s examine how we see this play out for Sethe. Sethe has trouble with both blocking out certain memories and reliving them. Her flashbacks are triggered constantly, by many different things. She also has a complicated relationship with her owners; she has a seemingly positive relationship with Mrs. Garner and reflects on her with some level of fondness, despite her perpetuating her trauma. With schoolteacher, he takes on an almost otherworldly level of power, and her attempt to attack who she perceives to be him at the end of the book can be viewed as simultaneously her trying to protect Beloved and Denver and an act of revenge. Seeking revenge, whether through mental fantasy or action, is another symptom of C-PTSD.

C-PTSD is only beginning to be seen as separate from PTSD. But the distinction is important. While all forms of PTSD are difficult to handle and deserving of help, C-PTSD invades the sufferer’s life entirely, often from a young age. It keeps a hold on them forever.

Schrodinger’s Jew: Exit West and Jewish Migration

I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating exactly how Jewish I am. I promise, I am bringing this up for a reason.

I contemplate how Jewish I am because it’s not exactly a clear cut answer, as it it for most people. My mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish, so I would be 50% Jewish, right? Except Judaism traditionally is passed down through the mother’s line. So I’m 0% Jewish. Except that alongside Christmas and Easter, my family celebrates Hanukkah and Passover. My last name is very Jewish; it roughly means “date branch” in Hebrew. The vast majority of my family migrated to the United States long before the Holocaust, but not all. I will never know who those distant relatives were, or if I would have ever gotten the chance to meet them. They would have been so, so distant, but I still wonder.

My family, both sides of it, is frequently obsessed with genealogy. We can trace my mother’s family all the way back to the United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, a fun anecdote I was told as a child is that not only were my ancestors on the Mayflower, my great-great-great-however-many-greats grandfather fell off the Mayflower and had to be rescued. With my father’s side, however, it’s not so easy.

We can trace my father’s family back decently far for a Jewish family. Inevitably though, as many Jewish families do, we end up hitting a dead end: we simply have no idea what country we are actually from. Not only that, those places we would be from have changed throughout the years. Depending on when you look, I could be Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian. With my mother’s side, we know most of my relatives were from Scotland and Ireland. We can trace exactly where they were and where they went. With my father’s side, however, all I know is that I am vaguely Eastern European. That’s it. I have no more information.

Towards the end of Exit West, friction between Saeed and Nadia starts up as to exactly how much they want to stay connected to their homeland. As Nadia becomes more and more separated, Saeed in turn yearns for connection with other Middle Eastern migrants. This friction is a part of their inevitable conclusion, which I won’t say because we’re not supposed to have finished the book yet. Despite their different reactions to migration, however, one thing is clear: their home is not their home anymore, no matter how much they may or may not want it to be.

I never got to choose how much I wanted to connect with my roots. I wear green for St. Patrick’s Day. My parents went and visited the place in Scotland my mother’s family comes from. I even chose a Celtic name for myself. But I don’t get those same things on my father’s side.

For all it matters, I’m a practicing Unitarian Universalist who is an active and passionate member of Unity Temple’s youth group. UUism is neither Christian nor Jewish; indeed, it was chosen by my family because it is a religion where my parents can still exist in the faiths of their childhood while still attending the same church.

I don’t know how Jewish I am. I’m not even sure it’s my decision to make. I’m stuck in a strange limbo between Jew and goy. I’m both and neither at the same time. I’m less Jewish than my Jewish friends, but more Jewish than my friends of other faiths. I’m not not Jewish, but what does that really do for me? At the end of the day, though, it’s not really a question of how Jewish I am. It’s about this sense of home that I don’t get to have. It’s about the fact that I more-or-less get to choose whether I am affected by anti-Semitism. It’s about me playing three-way tug-of-war with religion while not believing in a God. I can see it Saeed and I can see it in Nadia, being pulled every which way, not knowing which direction is right for you, endlessly straining to stay in the middle and always, always failing.

Existentialism Changed My Life. Here’s How it Can Change Yours.

Existentialism has a bad reputation, not helped by the way it is often taught. As a philosophy, it really is best taught through media. I remember zoning out in my 7th grade English classroom, engrossed in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I think I finished the whole play between class periods in a few days. I just couldn’t put it down.

If you’re unfamiliar, Waiting for Godot follows two men, Vladimir and Estragon. They are, as alluded to in the title, waiting for another man named Godot. Spoiler alert: he never arrives. While waiting, they become extremely bored. They encounter other characters, but the main plot of the story is merely the act of waiting. Towards the end of the play, they attempt suicide, but ultimately fail. They decide to go find shelter, but as the curtain closes, they do not move.

This may sound like an incredibly depressing play. But I disagree. If you read the play, you will see that Vladimir and Estragon are not in fact sad whatsoever. Indeed, the play is really a comedy. They laugh, they joke, they love, and they wait.

But that’s not the point of this post. We’re talking about existentialism.

I read Waiting for Godot during one of the darkest points in my life. I was incredibly depressed, and things were only getting worse. I read the play and went on to study more about existentialism and absurdism.

What it led me to realize is that all of the pressure I was feeling from my parents, from school, from my mental illness itself…none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was me, and the fact that I was alive.

That realization changed everything. I was alive! What a miracle! Despite everything, I was alive, and it was beautiful. When I was at my worst, it was just another obstacle in my path. When I was so stressed I was breaking down daily, it was just like a hurricane. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t happening for a reason. It was just happening, and someday it would stop happening, and something else would happen. I had goals, and maybe I would reach them, and maybe I wouldn’t. But it wouldn’t matter either way, because I would be alive, and the life I would be living would be beautiful for the sheer fact that I was alive.

Existentialism isn’t about the fact that nothing matters. It isn’t about death; it’s about life. It’s about how your life is worth living simply because it is yours. Isn’t that beautiful?

Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot like we wait for death, but in the meanwhile, they live, and they are happy.

If It Helps, Count Backward: “Black Box” and Trauma

To me, “Black Box” is not a story about strong women. It is not about gender roles, or sexism. Indeed, it has nothing to do with feminism whatsoever. “Black Box” is about sexual trauma, and the many ways in which it destroys lives.

In the saltwater, our main character is cleansed, but she still doesn’t feel at home in her body. Her body is not hers; it is property of the government, and it exists to fulfill their mission. She floats above herself, conceptualizes herself as a series of tools used to complete a goal.

This dissociation is common among victims of abuse, especially sexual abuse. It’s a coping method. She feels as though she is separate from her body, as though her body is not her own, separating herself from the physical form touched and changed by people in power.

This story is told in sections, presented in black boxes. It separates you from the action, like she is separated from herself. The language itself is very matter-of-fact; it’s emotional without actually expressing much emotion.

And maybe all of this is just my point of view because I know what it’s like to feel like your body is separate from yourself. I know what it’s like to feel as though you are merely piloting your body like a great machine.

What do you think? What is “Black Box” really about?