Monthly Archives: April 2009

Men’s Stories

Last night I went to a performance in Berkeley put on by a group called the Men’s Story Project. Like most good ideas, the MSP’s is pretty simple: Patriarchy is as harmful to men as it is to women, and, in the course of its operation squeezes out voices that don’t fit. The way these voices are silenced is part and parcel of how heterosexism, racism, gender bias etc. silence the voices of gay people, non-white people, women, etc. So a part of those liberation movements is that men liberate themselves from restrictive ideas of masculinity, and get in dialogue with each other and with others about their unspoken truths.

The MSP aims to gather these voices together and give them a place to be heard. So far they’ve made a short film, produced several public events and even put together a training manual so new groups can be started in various locales. And put together this event in Berkeley where sixteen men presented their stories in spoken work, performance art, dance and monologue on issues including overcoming a life of violence, surviving testicular cancer, struggling with how being gay or disabled fits with being a “black man”, and fear of peeing in public.

I can hardly tell you how moved I was by this.

As a child who was soft-spoken, sensitive and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life, I never felt like I belonged with the other boys. Plenty of them felt the same way and made sure I got the message through exclusion, taunting and bullying. Years of being lost in the woods of drugs, alcohol and sexual and romantic obsession were all ways of trying to bridge this gap internally, but it still never quite felt “right”. To this day I have zero interest in sports, no mechanical aptitude and otherwise frequently feel alienated from my own internalized idea of being a “real man”. Despite being straight, I prefer the company of women and gay men and am as likely as not to identify with their concerns socially and politically.

To see a group of men onstage exploring there own experiences of mismatch and struggle with the traditional idea of masculinity was tremendously affirming. It underscored for me the right and need to define what being a man is on my own terms. Making space for the creation and affirmation of one’s own identity is what freedom movements are all about after all, and men (even straight ones (even white ones)) are as in need of it as anyone else. At least I am!

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Man has invented his doom…

Those of you who know me well know that I am a follower of the prophet Bob Dylan. He, of course, hates to be thought of in those terms, and I can entirely see his point vis-à-vis never intending that status for himself or wanting others to see him that way. As any devotee of the Old Testament can tell you, though, prophets are always reluctant. The initial response to the prophetic call (cf. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) can be summarized as, “Whoa, hey, wait a minute, I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

The marker of prophethood is really more the quality of the revelation that demands to be expressed through the prophet rather than the prophet’s giving assent to bear that message. In that sense, I will go ahead and consider Dylan a prophet, and will proceed to cite one of the passages from his 1983 song “License to Kill”:

Man has invented his doom,The first step was touching the moon.

I always found this refrain to be particularly evocative. It brings to mind a consistent theme in classical apocalyptic literature, that a fundamental rearrangement in human affairs is at hand, and that it is augured in by signs in the heavens. It also features one of the motifs of post-modern apocalypticism, that our own technological overreaching is responsible for the setting the final sequence of events in motion.

This is more or less what I think is already occurring: between advances in computers, human-machine interactions and genetic engineering, the seeds are being laid for the creation of a post-human state that will fundamentally change our existence as we know it. Before the end of the century, we will give birth to (or become (or both, simultaneously)) a new species that will exceed us. Our “doom”, if not necessarily in the sense of destruction, then in the sense of “destined end”. And new beginning…

So, inspired by Dylan and in honor of the recent end of Battlestar Galactica, which itself explored this idea of the consequences of a technological apotheosis and riffed off of Dylan, I’d like to share some links I’ve collected from the first quarter of this year that perhaps show our future, even now, taking form:

Brain-computer interface for gaming http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/09/08/Futureofgaming/index.html

Quantum releportation over 1 meter distance http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090122141137.htm

Breakthrough makes human cloning more likely http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/02/human-clones-ap.html

FDA approves first drugs from genetically altered animals http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090206/ap_on_he_me/gene_drug_altered_animals

Contact lens TV http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null/121134

Picture overview of robot developments http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/03/robots.html#photo26

Man sees with bionic eye http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7919645.stm

Quick charging batteries could revolutionize world http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/12/mits-quick-charging-batteries-could-revolutionize-the-world-ma/

Brain Scans Can Read Minds http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090313/sc_livescience/brainscanscanreadmemories

Sugar-coated nanoparticles find hidden tumors http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/03/30/nanoparticles-cancer.html

Robot scientists can think for themselves http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090402/sc_nm/us_science_robots

April Writing News

Hard to believe that the year is now 25% over! As a constant generator of internalized time-pressure, this of course fills me with a vague sense of unease about my progress year-to-date. Fortunately, I have these monthly updates, so I can now replace that vague feeling with a very concrete unease about exactly where I am, and share it with all of you!

Film- I’m now fully into the swing of producing the short film that I’ve written, “Three Conversations About No Thing”, for Scary Cow, the independent film-making co-op that I’m part of. It’s looking to be about twenty minutes, and the crew and I just completed the first week of filming, and will shoot more next week. Then follows several weeks of post-production, and a screening at the Victoria Theatre on June 7th. I’m super-excited about the great director, crew and actors working on it, and looking forward to seeing the final, which you can bet I’ll be pushing tickets for on all of you when the time comes.

Publication- My pledge to submit something somewhere every week in 2009 is still in pretty good shape, minus a week here and there. Acceptance and rejection rates are tied at 10% each, with 80% “the sound of one hand clapping”. I currently seem to be on hiatus with the online culture magazine The Rumpus, but if they come back begging me for more and I deign to accept, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I continue to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read my March 4th discovery of my identity here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/03/04/quisp-like-me-the-queer-identified-straight-person/

Performance- Okay, okay, see, work and movie-making both got crazy in March. So I didn’t end up reading anywhere. I’ll get back to it this month, I promise! Let’s say the last Friday of the month, April 24th, at the Café International open mic (Haight & Fillmore)? I’ll see you there…

Novel- I’m taking the plunge and submitting the manuscript of my novel, Out In The Neon Night, to a freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. She’s going to help me evaluate its readiness to be submitted to agents and publishers, and possibly also target a select list of them. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on my blog here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- Speaking of my blog, see my desperate excuse making in the “Performance” section above. I may not have posted much there is the past month, but what I have you can find here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/

I’ll get back in touch with you at the beginning of May, at which point the year will be 1/3 over. Egads!