Thursday, 19 November 2015

Terrible Love

They wanted to separate us. They have brought us together.
"We don't need to go into work if we're afraid because of the raid" came the message in our intern-WhatsApp-group. I had just woken up and was unclear what the others where talking about. What raid? Where? And why would I not go to work because of a raid? Huh? Turns out they were talking about the raid by police in Saint Denis yesterday, during which the cousin of the alleged mastermind behind Friday's attacks blew herself up and numerous others were apprehended or killed. 

Friday night I had met some friends near the Centre Pompidou for drinks and dinner, and just as we were deciding on pizza or thai food a message came through about there having been attacks at the Stade de France. I didn't even know really that a football game was happening, so I thought it might just be soccer violence. The others whipped out their phones as well and as the news began getting progressively worse and the sirens of police vans increased we all decided to head home. Once there, I spent the rest of the evening with the couple I am staying at, all glued to the TV and watching as the death toll went steadily up. Friends kept messaging if everything was ok, that they'd just heard the news. When the death toll reached 80 people and the siege in the Bataclan was still ongoing, I decided to go to bed, that this could only get worse.

Change. Love. 
The next morning I woke to dozens of messages and Facebook asking me if I was safe. It was strange to find out that we had been to one of the restaurants, Le Petit Cambodge, a few weeks ago because it features on a Buzzfeed list of places to eat at in Paris. Or that at 19 I had been to the Bataclan to see TV on the Radio, or that friends couldn't get home because the whole area had been cordoned off.

I packed my bag and walked to work, thinking that the thesis waits for no terrorists. The Marais, usually brimming on the weekends, was empty, the city deserted. Somehow, after unusually sunny November weeks winter had come in this night of terror. At a pedestrian crossing a siren could be heard approaching and for a split-second the man next to me and I looked at one another, a moment of dread in thinking "what has happened now?".

Fight hatred with this thing we call love. 
Even at work somehow I could get nothing done, sifting through report after report on what had happened. A friend was at the office as well, recounting how he'd been in the 11th and how they'd remained in a restaurant until the early hours of the morning, telling morbid joked to pass the time. People were posting #PrayForParis and changing their FB photo to the Tricolore whilst others were critiquing that the Beirut bombings had been ignored and that the whole attack was because of an extreme belief in one religion. On Instagram, "430 million interactions–that’s posts, likes and comments–were created in these first 24 hours, with people in more than 200 countries participating".

Saturday we were supposed to go to a concert, now cancelled, so we gathered at a friend's place, ate together and drank wine while discussing the events. Somehow after tragedy strikes one needs others to make sense of how this could happen, after 9/11, after Charlie Hebdo, after increases in security. Who was behind all of it? And what was the aim?

The Other is your friend.
Sunday marked the beginning of a certain defiance in the city of being told to remain indoors, of being afraid of when the next attack might come. The sun was shining and everyone was out, walking on the banks of the Seine, talking and laughing. For the past week, I have seen the same spirit in the roads of the city: people in cafés, people in restaurants; a father explaining during an interview to his young son that they might have guns but that we have flowers, and that flowers will always be stronger; graffiti stating that this event has brought us closer together; and an article by Andrew Street following the words of Vonnegut in stating "if we fight each other, we create fresh hells for ourselves. The enemy can only win if we do the fighting for them. We're a whole lot smarter than that. God damn it, we've got to be kind".

On Monday, the office had a general meeting to discuss the weekend's events and ask if anyone wanted to say anything. It was odd and awkward, thinking that anyone would want to talk about their feelings in front of 30 colleagues. Instead, people stood in office doors and huddled over lunch, explaining where they were on Friday and whether they knew of anyone who had gotten hurt. Some were saying that the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year felt markedly different, because one could easily say "That has nothing to do with us, that is not our fight". But now, it was an attack on society itself and the values it guards most closely. It was an attack on the freedom to go have a beer after work on Friday or see the prostitution exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay or enjoying a night of head-banging with your friends. This time everyone was affected because it was a terror that goes against our very way of life.

Perhaps because of this life goes on. People are opposing statements against this being "the fault of the refugees" or "the muslims" or other hateful thoughts that creep in and make you not see the other as human and equal and as having the same rights as you. People seem to be wanting to be kind, because despite the governments bombing ISIS and the media whipping itself into a frenzy, there is no way other than trying, at the very least, to be kind.

The silence of pain is at times stronger than the cry of hatred. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Built to roam

There was a birthday party at a beach with me not very keen on being there, me very keen on just saying a quick hello and then cycling home to a night spent in front of the TV. But somehow intentions changed and four of us ended up going out and dancing until the sun came up again. Hungover and tired I saw your FB message, and from there on for nearly half a year I was in the throes of a different kind of catfishing.

Catfishing normally implies meeting someone online and then forming an intense, co-dependent relationship with them. When the one then tries to see or speak to the other IRL, their illusion starts showing its first cracks as the other will always find some excuse for not being available. The body and its speaker don't manage to be in the same place at the same time, thus making it hard for the catfishee to continue the relationship. In most cases, the catfishee then finds out that the catfish is not who they said they were, and that they faked their profile for some reason, but that in essence it is the same person, just not. Then the catfishee is very disappointed and the relationship does not continue.

In an article for the New Yorker, Amanda Ann Klein considers the catfish by looking at how ambient intimacy fools someone into believing that this online-thing is a real thing. That words on screens are just conversations done differently, that someday a meeting will occur, something will develop beyond its digital origins into reality, and somehow the fairy tale will be complete.

But just as I naively clung to the idea of this real-not-real person, everywhere around me there were people doing the same thing. A friend was involved with someone with whom it was a constant back-and-forth of currents of communication being interrupted by long stretches of absence. Another uses one of the apps to entertain herself, admitting that none of the people she chats to are serious interests and yet becoming annoyed when no messages light up her inbox. We are all idiots not for love but for attention, lulling ourselves with pointless questions about the other's life into a belief that this matters.

Klein's article is more optimistic than my thoughts, stating that in the age of social media we have become used to a different kind of intimacy where we do not see distance as an obstacle, but instead accept "an ever-growing modern form of intimacy: the bodiless, online romance". The world has evolved so much to no longer question a mind-body-screen split, instead accepting the internet as merely another extension of our reality. It is an unusual thing, wanting to trust that what is presented to you on your smartphone is a flesh-and-blood person with valid experiences that you want to hear about. The most resonant part of the article is its last phrase: this shift to finding someone online is simply the continuance of what humans have always looked for - "the attempt and the failure to truly know another person".

Whereas catfishing still implies a relationship of some longevity, Nancy Jo Sales looks at the influence of dating apps and the possible "dating apocalypse" in an article for Vanity Fair , as most millennials use a combination of apps to chat with lists of people where the ultimate aim is to get someone in bed and not to actually get to know them. The apps all run similar algorithms where people can match up with one another by approvingly swiping right, with most men apparently using a combination of apps to find as many women to sleep with as possible. The article argues that the applications creating the illusion of there being an abundance of possible partners available, resulting in users thinking that someone better might always be just a swipe away. Basically people swipe right, meet up, hook up and then forget they ever exchanged bodily fluids.

One man in the article is quoted as considering whether his insatiable habit of sleeping with an ever increasing amount of women is misogynistic, whilst a group of sorority girls discusses how the sex they are having is mostly short, unpleasant and at times even painful. My question then is: if you're not enjoying the experience, why continue? Just as I wouldn't continue to buy chocolate with orange peel in it as I don't like the taste I won't go continuously having bad sex with men who won't remember my name because neither situations would make me feel particularly good. And with there being so many situations beyond my control that could already make a day seem quite shitty, I think being able to control who you sleep with and why should not be something you simply do because everyone is doing it.

Now, more than a year after being reverse-catfished, I found myself again in a digital weird-ship. An interest in the life of an other with an interest in mine, or so I thought. But after a while mysteries that reveal no new ways of solving them become tedious; you realise that despite a child-like trust there is no way of trusting a screen; ultimately, none of this matters because the thing about digital friends is that you can be rid of them simply by turning off your phone.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lively up yourself

Long, dark days, that is what I know November will be. The sun will not set later than 17.00 again until January. I wake in darkness, I go home from work in darkness, and with three weeks left to complete this thesis and wholly embracing what the Fates are spinning, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

Last week I walked home at 21.00 and just managed to get some cheese and pesto for a late dinner. Upon rummaging in my bag in front of my building in search of the keys, an older man came shuffling by, and stopped to inform me that I should be smiling because I am pretty and would surely be married soon. 

This, after reading and writing about patriarchy and sexism and racism all day every day for the past weeks. This, late in the night when I am exhausted. This, where I never asked the old man to give his opinion on my appearance. This, because 'resting bitch face' is not a real thing. This, because if I believed in a God I would ask her to smite the bastard down. 

So fuck your patriarchy. Fuck coming up to me drunkenly at a party willst slurring the words "hey you're pretty want a Parisian lover". Fuck women online receiving rape threats for having an opinion. Fuck thinking that this makes me an angry feminist bitch. 

What I find endlessly frustrating is how people believe in the dichotomies. They believe in that biological differences are why we should be treated unequally. They believe in women taking care of the household and the children while men complete DIY projects and take out the trash and maybe fire up the barbecue. They believe in certain rites and rituals being associated with one gender or the other, but are unwilling to see that gender itself is just a construct that they are maintaining through the ritualisation of everyday gender performances. 

I believe in choice. I believe in earning the same amount of money for doing the same job. I believe in not being judged on the basis of having a penis or a vagina. I believe in my ability to also complete the DIY projects and barbecuing and checking my car's tyre pressure if I wanted to. And I believe in the right of men to prefer cooking and cleaning to fixing cars or drinking beers with male friends whilst complaining that Playboy will no longer feature fully nude women. I believe in no one being bullied online for saying they don't want to be told when to smile. I believe in feminist not equalling misandrist. I believe in equality, and for the life of me cannot understand those that don't.