things to think about

today i am thinking about: (MY VIRTUAL) FARMING COMMUNITY

I just got really into playing Farmville.

I spent the weekend in Carlisle, PA.

Here is what I do in Farmville: I pretend plow my pretend land. I pretend plant pretend seeds. I go to my friends’ pretend farms and help scare away pretend crows and pull pretend weeds. I rescue pretend lost sheep that pretend wander onto my pretend farm. Wheat takes 4 days to grow and earns me pretend money. Strawberries take 4 hours to grow and earn me pretend money. I can grow wheat next to rice and I can grow raspberries next to carrots. I also can have trees, like avocado trees and fig trees and banana trees, and they all live together in pretend farm paradise. I take pretend photos documenting pretend factory farming, just for the hell of it.

Here is what I did in Carlisle, PA (abridged version): I walked around and looked at corn fields. I went to the historical society and learned about Carlisle’s history as a city at the crossroads of much agriculture. But the real deal is I went to the Green Dragon Market, located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in beautiful Ephrata, PA.

So I have all these pretend neighbors on my pretend farm. One of the main Farmville activities seems to be recruiting neighbors for your farm. You do this by harasssing your friends on Facebook who are not yet playing Farmville and by linking up with the people who are. Other activities include giving your friends gifts for their farm, receiving gifts from them, and helping them, as I mentioned. It is all about the community — aside from moments of activity when you are fake plowing or fake harvesting, you really don’t do a lot in Farmville aside from wander around helping your friends and exchanging these gifts. You can buy most of the gifts in the fake market, but if your friends gift them to you you get them for free. That’s great because aside from harvesting your fake crops, the only way to make fake money in Farmville is spending real money to buy it.

The Green Dragon Market in Ephrata was the first time my outside ass had ever been to a market where Mennonites and Amish people — probably mostly Mennonites, but what do I know — were buying and talking with their friends, not just selling food taciturnly to us outsiders at the Philly Market or even the Carlisle market. They were hanging out, buying food, drinking soda, and having a good time. When I say Mennonites I mean more observant Mennonites (does saying it like this mark me as a Jew?), which I am deciding solely on clothes and speaking something other than English. It was the first time I had been in a place where these folks were just hanging out.

In Farmville I wear fake overalls, a fake blue plaid shirt, fake practical short hair. In Farmville I get things done when I need to. The fake animals don’t need much tending and fake milking the fake cows is very routine. Often I have a chance to stand among my waving fields of fake wheat and fake corn, look out on the fake world around me, and think. I can see my friends’ fake farms. The fake weather is always clear in Farmville. No rain, no mud.

This is what the fashion was at the Green Dragon, at least among many folks. The men and boys — I don’t think they play “male assigned at birth” in Ephrata, PA — wore plaid shirts and jeans. The shirts were red or yellow or blue or green or a mix. They wore suspenders — black or white, a few green, and almost all exactly the same kind with clasps and a plastic slider in the back. They wore jeans — not too dark, please, and blue. They wore plain shoes. They all wore hats — straw colored straw or black colored straw. A boy and his father would wear the same kind of hat. The women and girls would cover their hair, or they’d wear the long dress — formal sleeves, full skirt down to the floor — and the dress would be plain, or made with patterned cloth, and maybe they’d have pants on underneath, and they would definitely have some great sneakers. Maybe they would use a bonnet to cover their hair, maybe they’d have the see-through thing. I cannot begin to explain to you what these things mean — it’s very complicated and too subtle for an outsider — I can just report what I saw. There were a lot of rough hands and dirty nails — I checked. I was curious. You should click those links. I was wearing yellow boat shoes. Skinny dark jeans. A white collar shirt. A light pink sweater. A silver Members Only-esque windbreaker. It is kind of fun to so clearly not be from somewhere.

In Farmville I am intimately involved in the production of food. I till the fake land. I pick which fake crops to fake plant. I harvest them. It doesn’t rain in Farmville, and it doesn’t really require a lot of work, but this is still the most involved in food production I have ever been, if you don’t count U-Pick blueberries or ordering delivery. I have been looking at all these real corn fields and even feeling proud of myself: hey! I fake do that too! I fake plant crops and watch over them, even though nothing ever happens in Farmville. I get excited when it’s fake harvest time. It’s pretty real awesome. I’m saving up to buy a bigger farm.

I am curious about what it is like to be a farmer while acknowledging I am never going to be a farmer. There was an auction at the back of one of the shops at the market, and they were auctioning rabbits and chickens and guinea pigs and one turkey. The auction was amazing because it was clearly for the people in the neighborhood — come, sell a rabbit, buy a chicken, hang out, talk shop. Little boys dressed like their dads talking to their friends. Girls dressed like their moms talking to their friends. Everybody eating ice cream and watching the bidding. I wanted to ask how it worked but I figured these people probably didn’t feel like translating for an alien. I wondered if those boys talking would still be talking like that in 20 years from now, or sitting down while their sons talked. I wondered if the girls would still be talking like that 20 years from now, sitting in the barn while their daughters sat out back and laughed about the alien outsider. This way of life has survived and will keep surviving, I imagine, even at the risk of factory farming. Even at the risk of aliens like me wanting to come spectate and eat sticky buns and ask older ladies how things work. As if I am ever going to need to know how to navigate a small animal auction.

I like to think about a world where I actually care about food justice issues and where I am invested in where my food comes from, where I have some relationship to it aside from “reheat” or “stir in some water” or maybe, on a good day, “cut up and stir in a pan with some eggs.” I do not anticipate this world coming soon, maybe never. It was surprising to me how at peace I was with how alien the world of the Green Dragon felt — I knew I would never be there. I am not going to have that kind of relationship with land, and I am not growing up in a community where my parents grew up, and their parents before them, and their parents before them. A lot of my community these days looks like helping other people clean up after fake crows and pull up fake weeds, and I admit that I almost feel good about this. I feel like I need a hermitage and a return to something simpler. I don’t want to romanticize rural living — I am longing for some skyscrapers at this point, I tell you what — but it’s tempting and it’s easy, right? A chicken starts at a dollar five. Eggs are a dollar a dozen, you gotta buy 5 dozen. It’s like Orthodox Judaism — just follow the rules, and you’ll turn out ok. You’ll have people around you who have your back. The rules out here in the rest of the world feel, usually, more complicated — at least for real life face to face transactions.

Double click and bring in the wheat harvest. Double click to help scare off crows. Sometimes it feels a little strange.

today i am thinking about: I QUIT GENDER
August 7, 2009, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I realized today how much I anticipate scorn. I am constantly preparing for someone to bash me — to call me a fag, to call me a dyke, to call me both, to stop me in the street, to yell at me about eating pussy, to yell at me for sucking dick. People who harass me can’t even decide HOW they are going to harass me most of the time. I get more shit for being a faggot than for being a dyke. I wonder what they think when I yell at them in my voice, my voice which definitely sounds female.

I am ready for the fight, you know. I feel like in some ways I want it. I want to have to fight for the right to be myself. I want to actually carry bruises around and I want to throw punches and I want to fight dirty, like a crazy person. I want to fight someone else for the right to be myself. I want it to just happen to me already, like I know it will someday, like I know it has to so many of my friends. I am tired of anticipating violence. I know that’s fucked up but it is how it is.

When I used to present in a femme way, I was dramatic. I took up space, like I do now, but in a different way. Skirts. Lots of curls. Red lips. My breasts and hips have never been pronounced but I looked like a girl, and a hot girl at that. I was loud and I used my hands and I took up space. I got a lot of street harassment then, too, mostly people telling me they liked what they saw. Just as fucked up, right? But the thing was, it felt safer.

Even when people got dirty, it felt safer. In some fucked up way, it was an affirmation. It was an affirmation I was doing it right. It meant I was hot, I was desireable. I was a successful woman. The harassment I get now — “hey faggot, where do I go to suck a dick?” “What is it, a he or a she” — the harassment I get now has everything to do with my failure to conform and be read. Who would want to fuck me now? Who would I want to have sex with? No one has any idea out there in the world, and even if before they were wrong — I was not really looking to sleep with cis men — the idea was that the sex I was having was at least normal.

Oh, fucking normal. I was shopping with my sweetheart — femme, small but solidly built — and I was wishing for someone, anyone, to come remind me about normal. I am too big for women’s normal sizes. I am, in fact, an XL in men’s sizes, sometimes a L — around my hips but around my shoulders, too. I do not fit in a lot of “normal” sizes, even if I wanted to. Even if I did fit, I probably wouldn’t want to wear it, for some combination of gender and style. I can’t just wear men’s clothes, right — I have to wear some perfect thing, it has to fit right, it has to drape just so, and it has to wink.

Yes, it has to wink. It has to be a little ridiculous. It has to acknowledge how implausible that here I am, sweet babyfaced me, sweet soft skinned me, sweet motherfucking sweet me, in this body I do not understand, this hairy lez fag body so few other people understand either. It has to acknowledge that yes, I take up all this space, and with my sunglasses on you think I’m a boy, and with my sunglasses off you know – think? – know? – think? – that I am a girl. It has to suit my body, it has to look like me, and yet somehow it has to look ridiculous for me. I know it’s ridiculous that I look like I look, even as I sort of want to believe it’s not. I looked different earlier in my life, and I felt ridiculous then too. I got home today and I thought maybe I should shave my head — aside from my payess and top curls — and shave my legs and wear lipstick and eyeliner and motorcycle boots for a while. Just to remind myself this is all ridiculous, it’s all window dressing, it’s all just advertising anyways. Is this all about body hair? Is it all about being fat? Is this honest or just more drag? I told myself I would stop questioning myself but at this point nothing makes sense any more. I don’t even know if it has anything to dow ith me.

I want to believe that this — what I am doing right now — is true. That this is me, or closer to me, or at least I am making progress. I just added all these old Seattle kids on Facebook and one of them had a comment from my mean ex on his wall — and I was overcome. What would he think if he saw me now, with a moustache, with the same chin hairs he said scared him? What would any of them think? Would they even care? Would they dismiss it out of hand? I want somebody to fight with me about this because I want to see how I stand up for myself. I want to earn a bruise or two fighting for myself because that feels like a choice. A choice to say yes, even like this, I am worth it.

I don’t know if I really believe that I am. I don’t know if this is really where I’ll land and I don’t know if I believe this is worth fighting for. If I didn’t have to make a professional go of things, remain stable, remain predictable, I’d probably change things up again, just to see if I liked it or not. Just to see what it’s like to wear a dress again, shave my legs, look like a girl. But the idea I am doing that out of fatigue, out of not being able to take it like this — that makes me ashamed of myself for a hundred reasons. I really don’t know where this is going, and I think I am going to end this for now, unfinished, because the fact of the matter is that it IS unfinished. It is, and I am, just a work in progress.

today i am thinking about: THE WORLD’S LARGEST KALEIDOSCOPE
August 3, 2009, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The World’s Largest Kaleidoscope is in Mount Tremper, New York. It was a project of love built by a German immigrant in the 1920s in his farm’s barn and families used to take their children there to look at the beautiful hand-stained glass kaleidoscope. It stayed like that until the 1990s, when an EVIL CORPORATION bought the farm the kaleidoscope was on. While they maintained the kaleidoscope, they decided it needed an update.

And so came THE ERA OF THE COMPUTER GENERATED KALEIDOSCOPE. Instead of beautiful abstract designs, there was a computer-generated animated history of America — yes, a history of America — with Washington and Lincoln and Rosie the Riveter and Jimi Hendrix and marijuana, all turned into the most ridiculous tacky computer show imaginable. With pictures of eagles kaleidoscoping. And stars and stripes. And the sound of eagles screaming. A 9 minute ridiculopathy of tacky-ass entertainment.

When I went to the world’s largest kaleidoscope I expected something beautiful and pastoral. A holy piece of history, something beautiful that someone from long ago had created. Instead I found something tacky and plastic in its place, fakey fakey and weird. There was a large glass wheel next to the exit from the kaleidoscope show, from the original barn kaleidoscope. How sick, right? To take down history and replace it with some bizarre computer generated marketing team version of what a kaleidoscope might be good for. I left feeling gross, like someone had ripped down my family tree. Like finding your great-grandparents’ home, only everything is neon plastic from the 1980s. Fake, false, tacky, and gross.

Except guess what, friends.

That isn’t the true story! I MADE THAT STORY UP. TO TELL MYSELF. Miss Sugardish and I were in the Catskills this weekend, making a tour of tourist attractions, and when I saw the world’s largest kaleidoscope listed somewhere, in passing, I knew we had to go. I didn’t do much reading on it, just found the address and concocted a story. FINALLY! A ROMANTIC BEAUTIFUL OBJECT WITH A BEAUTIFUL HISTORY FROM A BEAUTIFUL BRAVE IMMIGRANT.

Only here’s the real truth, courtesy of Roadside America (the best website ever if you love visiting weird things):

The $250,000 Kaleidoscope was designed by ’60s psychedelic artist Isaac Abrams and his son Raphael, opening in 1996. The elder Abrams calls it the “first cathedral of the third millennium.” It is the brainchild of Catskills developer Dean Gitter, a local P.T. Barnum. Visitors walk through the mall to get to the Kaleidoscope, while their senses are assaulted by scented candles and Space Age Bachelor Pad music. The merchandise-to-attraction ratio is high — the trademarked words “World’s Largest KaleidoscopeTM” appear on a plethora of gifts and souvenirs.[…]The show is ten minutes of frenzied fractal imagery, very loosely based on the history of America. We see the faces of Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, Stalin, Marilyn Monroe, Native Americans, kaleidoscopic patterns of American flags. Loud synths and corporate guitar riffs blend one era seamlessly into the next. The presentation finally finds its rhythm with a whirling pattern of marijuana leaves and audio snippets from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.”

It is amazing sometimes the fiction we tell ourselves. I was SO MAD about this! SO MAD. This is what I told my friend Q:

world’s largest kaleidoscope was a SHAM. it was once this amazing obsession project by some guy. then this luxury resort bought the land, including the kaleidoscope, and turned it into NO SHIT a COMPUTER GENERATED KALEIDOSCOPIC HISTORY OF AMERICA SHOW. by which i mean kaleidoscoping pictures of revolutionary war generals and abraham lincoln and POT LEAVES AT THE 1960S WITH JIMI HENDRIX COVER BANDS and oh god it was the most horrifyingly tragic and tacky shit ever. i wanted to watch it 5 more times. i couldn’t stop laughing. they had the original kaleidoscope disc and it was amazing and yet they made it into this shitty computer animation of rosie the riveter and DID I MENTION THE POT LEAVES. it was like going to your great grandparent’s house in the old country and finding out they turned it into an amusement park with rides like THE SHOAH: A ROLLER COASTER and IMMIGRATING TO THE NEW WORLD COTTON CANDY. do you know what i mean?

I am so ready these days for more stories about destruction. I live in New York, a land where it is guaranteed that pretty much everything you love will get ruined for something more marketable. I kind of assume at this point that most cool things are either staged or on the verge of destruction. Of COURSE the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope started off beautiful and individualistic and ended up a marketing trick. The idea that it was always a marketing trick is infinitely harder to digest for some reason — maybe because I feel like a sucker or maybe because it just isn’t that interesting any more. The real story is in the perversion of the beautiful thing.

There’s a real story here, though. The real story is that THIS is the thing that someone thought was marketable. “I know! A large kaleidoscope telling a story about American history!” Someone still sat down and worked this out, and even if that person was not doing it for a romanticized love of art it is still something someone made. Moreover, it is an INCREDIBLY HORRIFYING THING that someone else made and, in fact, felt that it would be a draw.

What do you think they were thinking? Stories, please. Make sure you turn the sound up.