The Red Moon

A blood red moon
Has spared our bed
But not your rivals

Rufus Wainwright, The Consort

Was Wainwright talking about a period? Because if he was, two things:

  1. Interesting juxtaposition of lust, biology, and political violence
  2. This might be the very first time I ever encountered even an oblique reference to menstruation in popular (well, not that popular, he wasn’t exactly pop) culture

No, I take that back. Gchat with a friend who’s reminding me of Tamora Pierce, a fantasy writer whose heroine Alanna pretends to be her twin brother so she can join the ranks of the knights and he can study magic instead. They’ve been brought up in a conservative environment by their father, so when she hits puberty and wakes up to find everything one giant, blood-stained mess, the results are predictable.

Actually, hang on a second. That might have been the second time I encountered any talk about a period in literature. The first was Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

There’s an important point that I want to make here, about cultures that encourage the consumption of literature in which the main characters are not representative of the consuming culture. Every character in every juvenile piece of writing I created were white males. What does that tell you about the power of storytelling?

We’ll come back to that in a second.

Anyway, I remember Judy Blume fondly because it was also the first time I realized what a period was: that it involved blood. High school biology took care of the science.

The society I grew up in took care of the rest.

The entire concept of a woman’s period can be viewed from two extremes: a) it’s a horrifying mess, and b) it’s a beautiful facet of nature. Neither of those come close to the kind of shame and humiliation that’s inflicted on us implicitly when the subject comes up.

It’s really difficult to explain to a man what it feels like to be in such bad pain that you can barely walk, the kind of pain that can’t be ignored or sometimes even medicated. It’s even more difficult to explain the kind of gut-wrenching horror that comes with knowing that you’ve leaked. On a bus. In public. Through parts of your body that most cultures steadfastly refuse to acknowledge.

Most young women absorb these lessons consciously, because they’re told by their mothers or aunts or friends (I think it’s important to remember that the same women who gave up so much for us were, in many instances, also the women who held us back in a multitude of ways). But we also absorb it subconsciously, through a deafening silence. And that silence is in literature.

I can’t think of a single mainstream novel I’ve read — and most of those were by men, anyway — that approached the concept of young womanhood in all its grim reality.

I read some fantasy recently that I deeply enjoyed, set in a parallel universe. That last fact might have been why the concept was never brought up, but the three main characters, one of whom is a woman, are flying across an ocean in a helium balloon-type thing for weeks, and all I could think of was…

… how did she bleed?

And what about the women on Lost?

My point is not that women are driven solely by their biology, but that there’s a vast undercurrent of that biology, emotion, logistics and code that drives us. Most of the time we, like our male counterparts, function blissfully ignoring the small hormonal volcano residing in our uterus that erupts every four weeks. But when it does, we ask ourselves lots of questions. Do I have enough underwear for emergencies? Do I have enough pads/tampons? Am I going to have to make any difficult decisions today that require me to be on my game, and in that case, do I have enough painkillers? Can I perform the small feats of magic required to slowly sneak aforementioned pad/tampon out of my bag, into my sweater, and to the women’s restroom, without anyone male observing my actions?

None of that features in any plot, ever. Strong female leads breeze through life without the slightest indication that they may be suffering or just annoyed that they’ve run out of pads, or whatever. If it’s brought up, it’s rapidly used as the butt of some joke.

We joke about it too. We call it “our monthly visitor”, or “the time of the month”, and in my mother tongue, we say “she’s not at home”. This last could be literally true; historically, women were banished from the home because they were so unclean while on their period that they could taint anything by their mere touch.

But the thing is, we’ve earned the right to joke about it, because we’ve lived it.

You may have guessed by now that I’m days away from this happy event, usually heralded by the aforementioned hormonal volcano, which produces an emotional rollercoaster. So yes, I’m angry. We all are. We’re also exhausted.

Just once I’d like to read or watch a something really real, something that features a strong woman who needs to actually figure out the logistics to deal with this week-long event. And if more young women were reading literature that gently normalizes that experience, they might grow up with a little less shame.



There goes the nose

I appear to have underestimated the “allergies”. Now I have a head cold.

There are a couple of silver linings to this day.

A while ago a friend I was talking to half-jokingly said I was too formal, thanking him for doing something simple. The funny thing is I’m really not: I’m not being formal or polite or anything, I am genuinely incredibly pleased and grateful when my friends do nice things for me.

Today, for instance, two of them I’d had weekend plans with offered to bring me things — which isn’t a huge gesture in and of itself, but which I hugely appreciated.

And then there’s my room mate of course, who actually did bring soup and make grilled cheese — grilled cheese! — for us.

If I get sappy I can blame it on the DayQuil.

Oh, Spring

You know how I know it’s Spring?

My entire immune system starts attacking me!

Spent most of today sadly blowing my nose at work. I could exaggerate and say that there were snowdrifts of used tissue across every surface, but I’m not that disgusting.

Well, I’m a bit disgusting.

I also discovered that work is now interrupting my side projects. I keep having ideas to do things and then I actually make progress, which is good but adds pressure. This is not a bad thing; I just need more hours in a day.

Or less sleep. Or more coffee. Or to stop working out altogether, but that’s really not an option.

Or possibly just fewer allergies, blargh.

*make a noise like a foghorn*

Is it really only Wednesday?

Whenever I’m not paying attention to some aspect of my life, it sproings! into action and goes haywire.

Last Friday, it was “losing our place in our apartment complex”.

For reasons unknown, the management has decided to make “necessary upgrades” to the place and gave us notice by means of taping a piece of paper to our door. The piece of paper helpfully did not mention our actual move out date, so when we checked, we were slightly stunned to find that it was less than two months out. That’s about 6 weeks to find a place, move our stuff out, and move our stuff in to the other place.

So much of the weekend and the last several days have been all about scoping out the options online and calling people and driving around randomly to see the places we’re interested in. We’re already walking several tightropes of preference between size, location, condition, price, the management…

We’ll find a place, no doubt. I just resent the dubious legality of this whole things. I also resent being hustled out of somewhere we’ve been faithfully staying at for upwards of two years.

I’ll be sad to go (though I won’t miss the management). This neighborhood is excellent, I love running on the trail behind our place, there are so many good food options nearby, and the groceries stores are practically next door. Also, I could walk to work. I guess that American dream is about to die.

Well, maybe we’ll have more space and nicer neighbors where we move? That’s the goal anyway.


Dystopia, again

And I didn’t even mean to!

First, I finished Snowpiercer. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, we hear Curtis’ origin story. Also, I don’t know what actually happens at the end of the movie. Someone online talked about how it was more than likely that the polar bear was about to come down and inspect the carnage — and possibly eat them — rather than it being a symbol of hope that things could survive.

That’s all very well, but for me watching the movie was like watching a trainwreck. It was deeply interesting, especially given the plot twists and the acting and the sheer horror of carefully planned chaos, but it was just difficult to watch. Kind of like Mad Max in that regard.

And then I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane last night. We decided to see it in a movie theater just because the narrative seemed to demand a wide screen. It’s… I can’t really tell you what it’s about. What seems to happen is that a woman is driven off the side of the road in a horrible accident, hours after she leaves her fiancee, post-tiff. When she wakes up, she’s in a bunker with an IV attached to her arm and a man telling her that he saved her from the attacks — could be Russian, could be nuclear, could be aliens.

Spoiler alert!

Continue reading “Dystopia, again”

Dystopia and the animal instinct

I’m most of the way through Snowpiercer, which I now kind of regret. It’s a grim, revolting, bizarre, cinematographic mishmash of violent Korean mob movie and dystopian American sci-fi bonanza. I really, really wasn’t expecting this.

But, as always, it made me think. Not about the science of the train, because while it’s an entertaining notion it is ultimately absurd, but because of the kind of dystopia that people might be willing to live in.

Sometimes I start arguing with the characters on-screen. You knew this was pointless! Why didn’t you just give up? Why not step out into the snow and never wake up again? 

And yet.

Humanity is desperate, tenacious, programmed, to cling on to life with its fingertips. Not just to cling, either; mourn, joke, reproduce.

After all, anyone alive today who can trace their ancestry to some European lineage knows that they’re here because some stubborn ancestor survived bubonic plague.

Bad Weather Day

At one point today I was sitting at a table after lunch and around it were the following people:

  1. Me: Singaporean South Indian
  2. Russian woman
  3. North Indian man
  4. German man
  5. Turkish man
  6. Spanish man
  7. White American man

For some reason we were all having a conversation about the kinds of dangerously high alcohol-content beverages that are brewed in the backwaters of our homelands (well, not Singapore, obviously). Some indeterminate time earlier I had been having a meandering conversation with No. 6 about appreciation of a culture versus an authentic, “lived experience”.

One of the best things about working with an international team like this is the sudden realization that your colleagues have experienced lots of things, enough that you have a common template for humor and conversation. And when you can’t find the commonalities, there’s a huge opportunity for learning something new.

No. 6 said at one point, “You know, I visited a Hindu temple, and it reminded me of a Spanish Catholic church. It was all vivid colors and intricate carvings of saints and gods staring down at you.”

Never in a million years would I have associated the two (primarily because I haven’t been in a Spanish Catholic church).

Here are some other conversations I had, or overheard:

  1. Listening to whales off one of Hawaii’s islands, and watching them migrate. Addendum: best to make sure you get your paper into the conference that you know is going to happen in Hawaii.
  2. Journalism and science journalism in particular. State of science and the world in general.
  3. Traveling in Europe: floated suggestions of train travel between Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, Madrid, Berlin, etc.
  4. The many, many legal regulations imposed on German breweries.
  5. Idea for a dating app that offers feedback in the form of star ratings. Possibly another app that offers feedback for exes; revised the rating scale from “0 to 5” to “0 to -5”.

I also probably win some sort of award today for traveling on almost every available public transportation method in the Bay: VTA, Caltrain, MUNI, and the ferry.

I didn’t get any work done, but I was reminded very strongly of why I work for this team and for this project. That, more than anything, makes today A Win.