I’ve been sick with pneumonia for, oh, the last week or so? I’m not sure–I’ve been laying in bed staring at the ceiling for so long that I’ve lost track. Being so bored makes me thankful for all the amazing media that captured my mind and heart this year, and since I can blog from bed, I decided to list my top picks here.
In no particular order:
You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine. Weird, sick, wonderful, dizzyingly surreal. When I was a lot younger, I was kind of obsessed with Fight Club (I know, I know)–not so much for its subject matter, but because it captured the stumbling, crackling, confused, frantic cadence that my own mind had at that point. You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine does exactly that except for my relationship to my body, the way I view my own image, the way that image propagates into the world–the strange splitting and reintegration and splitting cycle of looking at myself. You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine is about hunger, in a way I’ve seen no other work be about hunger before. I really liked Slate’s review of it:
Kleeman describes things like the sensation of deliberately swallowing a wad of human hair. She describes the odor of “wet, aggregate femininity” produced by too many beauty products smelled all at once, an odor “like a person but not like any person in particular.” She describes wandering into the bathroom to “see if there was anything going on with my face.” You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is one of the best books I’ve read about what it feels like to have a body: the mystery of its unseen innards, the ongoing project of its appearance, the meaty fact of its movement through the world. Specifically, it’s a book about having a female body, although this goes largely undiscussed. - Slate
The Argonauts. I think I read The Argonauts twice in the first two days that I owned it. The second time I reread it at 3AM, lit by the light of my cellphone, underlining at least one line in pen on every page. At 4AM I realized every line I’d marked up spoke to some hidden shame or desire about me, which was great… except that I was due to lend it to someone the next day. Nothing like leaving your revealing underlines strewn like dirty underwear all over.
But that’s the thing about Maggie Nelson–she doesn’t speak in platitudes, but she manages to clarify and distill all these delicate tensions and rumbling, wordless desires in just a line or two. The last book I held onto this closely–moving with it, reading it every year or so–was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, one of the classic pieces of Stoic philosophy. I kept that book by my side for probably about five or six years. It’s funny to me because, form-wise, the books are kinda similar–short, disconnected paragraphs mulling on life. But Aurelius was for a time when I was hardened and only fortifying myself more. Nelson is for now, when I’ve been cracked open like an egg, insides gooey. Or maybe a geode, insides sparkling.
Relational Aesthetics. Okay, so I have some mega eyerolls for relational aesthetics, and I’m not the only one. For those who don’t know the concept, relational aesthetics is an artform that is primarily about using an art object to create social bonds between the observers/participants, rather than just a bond between the individual observer and the art object. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s piece where he organized a dinner in a collector’s home is one of the better known examples. The general idea sounds lovely, until you start to wonder whether experimenting with social relations in the safe and class-delineated space of a gallery is radical at all. Quoting the RCRC:
It’s not that experiments in forms and models of sociability are not needed today – they certainly are. But to be politically relevant and effective, such experiments need to be grounded in (or at least actively linked to) social movements and struggles. (And there is no social progress without contestation and struggle: this for us is a basic materialist truth that makes any blanket refusal of “conflict” problematic.) As a gallery-based game, relational practices are cut off by an institutional divide from those who could use them. - A Very Short Critique of Relational Aesthetics
So why is it on my list? Because as I read this, all I could do was shake my head in astonishment that no game design program I’ve ever been involved with has ever even mentioned relational aesthetics. (The closest I can recall is Katherine Cross’s excellent piece on Yoko Ono and game design, published this year.) Games has this weird habit of isolating itself from other art forms, to the point where it’s so resistant to learn from other forms of critique applied to other forms of critique that we just keep reinventing the wheel. And yet here is a realm of art that bleeds so well into so much game design that we don’t take advantage of! To me, Relational Aesthetics is meaningful in that it lays out a methodology and a set of criteria and prompts for creating games that spark new relationships between people, which is–as you can see from everything I do–my favorite thing.
God Rest Ye Merry. This is a postmortem of one of the most elaborate, dizzying, and incredible live action roleplaying games I’ve ever heard of. (And I read a lot about LARPs.)
One of the things I love about LARPs is that they are so clearly an act of love. There’s such an incredible level of care and attention put into an event that’s more ethereal than any play or show, even interactive theater like Sleep No More. I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of game design, theater, and ritual design (in my personal Sliding Doors, I’m working for Punchdrunk and/or Disney and/or a coven), and this design document delivers.
My Body Is A Book Of Rules. I shotgunned this and her other book, Starvation Mode, over 12 hours up in a cabin in the woods, and spent the next 12 hours wandering around in a daze. Washuta bounces between essays, letters, scripts, reviews, quizzes, histories of her ancestors, and more with a dizzying speed that echoes her race to oblivion, which feels familiar, comfortable, and uneasy. And yet Washuta manages to steer away from the romanticization that one commonly sees in these types of stories, that I drank up a decade ago. I liked this interview response that she gave to Bitch Media:
You write, “Giving up the insanity hurts, feels like giving up…” In that process of letting go, with all its complexities like medications, what did you find filled in those cracks?
Having a new conception of myself, rather than a sufferer, as a maker and a doer. A person who builds things. Who makes tinctures and broth and medicines for herself. When I see myself as a self-healer, that is a powerful replacement for this romantic notion that I used to have of being crazy. There is so much more than taking the drugs my doctor prescribes, and that’s something I’ve learned in the past couple of years. That fills things in. I don’t miss those days anymore, because it feels more complete now to be in control. - Rewriting the rules with author Elissa Washuta
That paragraph has served as a north star more than once.
For Love Or Money. With just a few weeks left in the year, this snuck into my mailbox and became one of my favorite reads of 2015. Two journalists, one who focuses on sexual politics and one who focuses on labor, discuss the intersection of sex, love, power, work, and what solidarity really means. This might be the piece that most opened my mind in 2015. A choice quote:
When I think of what’s destructive to communities, robs people of their value, it’s not men buying sex. It’s fraudulent foreclosures, cutbacks to WIC and SNAP, closing public schools, jobs that don’t pay enough to keep you out of a homeless shelter. But to look at these as a form of humiliation, degradation, even violence: that would require us to confront not individual lust, but collective greed. - For Love Or Money
Ask Polly: Why Do You Always Tell People to Go to Therapy? This essay broke me apart and put me back together. It is extraordinary and a must-read for anyone who has ever felt like a caged animal inside their own head. Here is a quote:
When you know in your cells that your feelings matter, your world is transformed. But you have to feel that way often. If you’re a smart person, if you’re an anxious or a depressed person, if you’re a control freak, if you’re neurotic, if you were neglected, even if you just feel confused by the modern world, you will revert back to a place where FEELING NOTHING seems like the obvious, right answer. You will relearn this WRONG answer over and over again. I CAN THINK MY WAY OUT OF THIS, you’ll tell yourself, and your thoughts will swim in smaller and smaller circles, and you’ll be exhausted instead of refreshed, more confused instead of calmer. And 20 years later, you’ll wonder why you all of your choices look like they were designed to ensure your unhappiness in retrospect. - Ask Polly: Why Do You Always Tell People to Go to Therapy?
virtual reality nail art is here and it’s insane. Folks who know me know that I’m not particularly femme. Frills, lace, danglies, the feeling of glitter nails, even bright colors all require some sort of Effort from my brain that it is generally not willing to give. When I code–which is the majority of what I do–I have to be dressed as simply and minimally as possible. No rings, no bracelets, no floppy sleeves. I know, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.
So then why was I so obsessed with virtual reality press-on nails, which go against all of this? The interview is just the best fucking thing I’ve ever read (by a fave author of mine, Arabelle Sicardi) and it’s still a Life Goal of mine to work with these folks:
We have a huge following of queer people, actually. We’re Metaverse Makeovers because our whole vision is for all different products, accessories, apps where you can completely make yourself over. You can walk into the club and look one way but you hold your phone over you and you look completely different. We call it crystal camouflage. It’s for feminists and artists who like self expression. Being able to rewrite yourself is very queer! Our spokesperson, Shian, is a genderqueer transwoman. The genesis of Metaverse is our founder Tia and her best friend Shian, working together. Tia says our products are for digital babes with brains. - Metaverse Makeovers
CRYSTAL CAMOUFLAGE, Y’ALL. I fucking adore the idea of tech-assisted signaling that only speaks to people who pay attention to and love the same things you do. These nails, by definition, can’t really be for the entire outside world–they can’t even see most of their features! This is high femme for femmes who appreciate a particular kind of art. It’s a special kind of performativity that is invisible to everyone except for those who are invited. Seriously, Metaverse Makeovers, I’m a great Unity developer if you’re ever looking for one.
Selfie. One of the things I really enjoy about Rachel Syme’s writing is that she takes things that we as a culture are encouraged to laugh at and deride, and finds the humanity and meaning in them that’s been there all along. Syme is the author who most frequently gets me to change my mind about a given topic. She did this with Selfie too, of course.
My opinion of selfies had, for a long time, been uniformly negative: the commodification of our own image for likes and hearts was, I decided, a unanimously terrible thing, a thing that forced us to hide all that was Authentic about ourselves in pursuit of a fleeting sense of acceptance (until someone prettier came along, of course). I didn’t want to trade on manufactured images of myself, and yet internet culture made me feel more and more coerced into doing so to remain relevant.
It’s not that Selfie totally dispelled my fears here. Some of those things still feel relevant to me as a woman with a public persona who makes stuff on the internet. But what Syme does so well is convince us that there’s so much more to selfies than what I originally thought and what I originally feared (those fears which ignore swaths of reasons that people take selfies, and, let’s be honest, are fears that can mask some pearl clutch-y and patronizing behavior). A lovely quote towards the end:
The millions of people who do not fit the mold for what capitalism defines as physical perfection, whose skin or height or gender or personal aesthetic might have kept them out of the hallowed halls of Those Who Get To Be Seen before selfies existed, those who would not have seen themselves in photo albums a decade ago because no one ever wanted to take their picture, those who go their own way. I have seen people of every color and shape and pronoun beloved in their own online lands, the heroes of their own stories. I have watched, off to the side, scrolling through this kaleidoscope of faces, as they rack up likes and admirers and accolades, as they become icons to the exact people they hope to reach. I have seen them find each other and stick together. I have learned entirely new vocabularies for how to look, for where to look. And there is always, always more to learn. - Selfie
I feel like Rachel will appreciate being right after Metaverse Makeovers.
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