Stuff

 

Two things, one relevant, one not so much.

 

Toby Cowern of Tread Lightly Survival Skills did a a video, and it’s good. If his stuff looks interesting to you, he’s got an Introduction To Sapmi Course coming up in August.

 

I’ve got another book out. Fiction, barely sci-fi. If you purchased “Heinlein’s Finches” on the Kindle, you can refresh your copy and get the first chapter of the new book free and for no money. So far, business as usual.

What’s new and somewhat exciting is that Amazon is launching a competition for the month of May. The winner gets £20k, a publishing contract for a translation, and most likely a very brown nose – way it goes. Chances of me getting there are so slim as to be transparent, but £20k is two years’ take-home for me, so I’m giving it a go.

So essentially this is me asking y’all to have a look at the damn thing (free sample on the Kindle should give you a fair idea of whether you can tolerate it), and if you like it, review it. I’ll spare you saying “please” because if you’d really rather not do it, then I’d rather you didn’t too. Seriously. It’s a long book and it’s going to take up a bunch of your time that I can’t possibly give back.

WARNING: Strong Language, Violence, Sexual Violence.

Life Time.

I’m forever baffled by complaints about social media. Social media fosters narcissism. It engenders jealousy and inferiority complexes by forcing people to compare their own imperfect existence with a curated version of everyone else’s. It strips people of the ability to focus on any one thing by constantly bombarding them with a stream of largely trivial inputs. It replaces a few true, solid, flesh-and-bone friendships with a myriad superficial, often untested connections. It allows antagonistic, louder-than-thou people to drown out rational debates. It dumbs down the national dialogue. It’s just bad, man. Unplug or perish.

I don’t get that – literally. I don’t get it. That’s not my social media experience.

My newsfeed consists of:

  • Posts from space agencies and historical societies, cos I love me some space and medieval stuff.
  • My favourite bands.
  • A few cartoons.
  • Two artists I follow so I can see what they like, which is generally awesome.
  • A doglebrity, cos cute puppies are cute.
  • Utterly trashy punk and nihilist memes.
  • Posts from about 20 of my friends, whom I follow because they post either very little, or very good stuff.

My posts are:

  • Crap I write.
  • Cool shit I think my friends might enjoy.
  • Occasional rants.
  • Terrible jokes.

My friends’ posts on my page are:

  • Trash panda photos/videos, cos they know I love trash pandas.
  • The occasional self-defence video that’s so egregiously bad it’s funny.

And that’s it. No duck faces. No bathroom selfies. No notifications about people’s new cars, new houses, expensive holidays, diamond-studded dildos, etc. No pictures of restaurant meals – though an abundance of pictures of droolworthy home-cooked meals. No horrific photos with a “warning – graphic content” cunningly posted below the image. No flame wars.

This is my online life, and it’s great. It’s so great that it doesn’t even ambush me when I’m busy with the rest of my life. I cut the Gordian Knot of constant interruptions by not having social media apps on my phone. I log in; I have a look around; I’m entertained, educated, and inspired; and then I log off. Sometimes I chat to cool people who’re too far away to visit. When the stars align and two or more of us have the inspiration and the time, I get drawn into evening-long music video posting sessions, and that’s awesome. I got more new music in the last 12 months than in the last 12 years. Sometimes a link may spark a dialogue, and that’s awesome too, because awesome people contribute their knowledge and insights, and we all learn. If nothing else, we learn about each other.

My online life is awesome. In fact, if anything it’s rather more awesome than my ‘real’ life, which seems a giant duh: curating my online life is much easier. All that is required is the ability to push a mouse around, a basic familiarity with functions such as “follow” and “unfollow”, and the determination not to let anyone suck up my time, not to let anyone shit in my brain.

I routinely say this to people, and I get told that I don’t get it. I’m making it sound easy. It’s a different story when you’re bombarded by your racist uncle’s post-election extravaganzas, or your best friend’s passion is protecting abused animals by sharing horrific photos, or everyone you know is getting married and having babies and they just have to chronicle their pregnancy from the pee-stick onward via thrice-daily posts to their 4895 friends. How can you possibly avoid getting drawn into that? How can you avoid it smacking you right in the face?

They’re right. I don’t get it. I don’t get how people can find themselves unable or unwilling to exert the bare minimum level of control over their own time, space, and life. I don’t get the difference between my page and my living room; my page and my house are my space, in which my rules apply. I don’t get the difference between putting up with shoddy behaviours online and in real life. I wouldn’t sit in a cafe and listen to anyone rant racist abuse in my face. I’d get up and fucking walk away from them, because fuck that shit – and in real life walking away from that kind of behavior can put you at risk. I’m sure as fuck not going to put up with it when all I’ve gotta do to make it go away from my personal space is push a button.

I curate my online life because the split between online and offline is bogus. There’s just life, a single pot of time whose content is indeterminate. Time you can allocate however you choose, if you choose to choose. So, if something or someone doesn’t entertain me, educate me, or enlighten me, it’s out, because my time is limited. Everyone’s time is.

Inevitable Rollins quote:

no such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time
no such thing as down time
all you got is life time.

Which brings us, as per usual with my rants, to a vaguely self-defency connection.

There are a few prominent self-defence instructors who are fond of teaching people that online life should not be curated. To demand that people moderate their behavior when in your online space, whether in content or tone, is to be against free speech. To exclude anyone from your online life, for any reason, is to live in a bubble or create an echo chamber. To refuse to give space on your platforms to anyone who wants to use them as pulpits for their own crap is to attempt to control the online experience of third parties, and that’s fascist, maaaan.

I look at this kind of thing when I happen upon it – when I happen upon it, not when it happens upon me. This is important. I see it when I decide to ride my mouse to their pages, and see what they post. I do it because I choose to, because it’s important to me to know what’s out there, because sometimes I wanna jump into the fray, because I live in a target-poor environment and I enjoy the occasional scrap. Sometimes I hate myself for getting into all that, because of the time it sucks; sometimes I feel selfish for not wading in more often, because I have a hero complex. The point is that I am aware of those experts’ existence and their opinions, because I am capable of leaving my space and entering theirs. But I sure as fuck don’t want them barging into mine.

I don’t live in a bubble: I live in a house, with doors that shut. I am aware that life outside of my online space is different, in precisely the same way that I’m aware that life outside of my house is different. I don’t see that as a reason to drop my own standards, to compromise my enjoyment of my own life, to allow people in my virtual living room I’d defenestrate in real life. And tell you what: if you can’t defend yourself online, your chances of doing it in real life are minimal. (The only exception I can think of is if your conflict management strategy revolves around use of force, or the threat of force. That works miles better face-to-face.)

I don’t get any of that, personally, but I can totally see those self-defence experts’ point. If you’re trying to groom victims, to surround yourself with people who are constantly emotionally disregulated, people who have a greater chance to see you as one of the few bastions in their otherwise chaotic lives, that’s a way to do it. Tell people that they’re wrong and feeble and evil if they want to exert control over their time and their life. Tell them that they can’t walk away from conflicts. Tell them that they have no right to enforce boundaries – no, tell them that they are evil for thinking that they have a right to have boundaries. Get them used to eating whatever shit anyone drops on their plate. It may not be good self-defence, but it sure is good self-defence marketing. Those people will need you.

Learning

This link came up on my newsfeed, and it’s pretty damn cool, so I thought I’d share it. What’s it got to do with self-defence/whateverthehell this blog is about these days?

I know a veritable fuckton of people who identify with their past mistakes/mishaps. The process roughly seems to go as follows:

  • They Did Something Wrong . They’ll be able to dissect specifically every minute details of how and why it was wrong, because their self-awareness is turned up to max.
  • They got hurt as a result.
  • They now classify themselves as “X Who Does The Wrong Things And Gets Hurt, Because Stupid/Weak/Insert-Insult-Here.”
  • They avoid repetitions of the same instance by self-limiting, often by self-flagellating every time they’re tempted to stray towards whatever it was that led them to Make The Mistake.

Tell them that they’re self-victim-blaming and they’ll laugh in your face. Oddly enough, they would also never consider the merest possibility of applying the same criteria to any other living thing. In fact, they’d probably disembowel anyone who did anything of the kind to anyone they love. But it’s ok when they do it to themselves, because reasons.

I think, but I’m not sure, that they’re the diametric opposite of the “Nothing That Happens To Me Is Ever My Fault, The World Is Just Messed Up” people. Those people refuse to acknowledge the merest possibility of their behaviours having any kind of impact on their experiences. Maybe it’s because they think that they’re so infinitely wonderful that things should work out as they wish, or because they feel so utterly powerless that they can’t conceptualise having an impact on the world. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter, inasmuch as it leads to the same result: they keep walking into the same sharp corners. I personally find them exhausting.

The “I Never Do The Wrong Thing” people never learn because they refuse to consider that they might have something to learn. The “I Do The Wrong Thing” people, on the other hand, never accept that they have learnt. In a way, it amounts to the same. They never let themselves learn because they never file the learning experience away in their own heads. Instead they turn it into a brickbat to smack themselves with to avoid further repetitions of the same issue.

I’ve got no idea where that kind of behaviour comes from. Shitty parenting? A need to feel a greater level of control over their lives? Fear so deep that it’s part of their bones? A need to identify with the person they were Before It Happened? (Hmm. I just thought of this one, and I think I’ve seen it.) I don’t know.

What I think is that maybe, just maybe, some of them may need reminding that one of the coolest things about living organisms is that we learn. We learn by practicing, we learn by making mistakes, sometimes we learn by getting horribly hurt and that sucks very badly indeed. But nobody, ever, has learnt by looking at one single solitary poor result and internalising it as part of their identity. That’s the opposite of learning. That’s forced self crystallization or something. It’s not useful, it’s not pleasant, and it’s not much of a spectator sport.

draw-it-again-5

 

 

 

 

Debriefing the debrief.

Cool-friends-wise, I’m punching way above my weight lately. It’s awesome, although it also kinda makes me feel like I ought to hand out disclaimers when I introduce myself to people.

 

In response to the last blog, Nick, who does pew-pews and more, and is really good at spotting where my language use lets me down, pointed out that:

We don’t unfuck people. If we’re good at what we do, we can give them tools they can use to unfuck themselves.”

You can’t think the physio. Well, you can, but it doesn’t achieve anything. Funny how I’m perfectly good at conveying that concept to others, but struggle to apply it myself. Hmm.

Also, there’s no way in hell I want to be responsible for anyone’s self-defence or lifestyle choices. I am constitutionally incapable of being someone else’s adult-in-charge. I know precisely how much I’ve fucked up, and how much I’m fucking up. But I can totally live with putting down a set of tools for people to pick up or ignore, whatever they feel like doing. Within that mental frame, maybe I can write and teach.

 

Maija, who does swordery and strategy and soup, pointed out two things:

  1. My framing is fuck-awful, and exceptionalist. If anyone else in the whole wide world had an accident and afterwards looked after themselves in order not to get re-injured, I’d call them ‘smart’. When I do it, I call myself  ‘chickenshit’, and that’s on a good day. My inner dialogue can get quite colourful. That’s several shades of fucked up. I object strongly when I see other people doing that kind of thing, but when I do it is different, because my exceptionalism ought to be treated special. Very recursive, very unhelpful.
  2. In self-defence (and life) there are options. Things are only black-and-white if you look at them that way. The opposite of  ‘strong’ may be ‘weak’, but there are plenty of other things one can be instead. Smart is one of them. If I lump everything that is not-strong together and chuck it all in the bin, I’m really missing out.

Realization afterwards: I appreciated deviousness a lot more when I didn’t need it. I’ve always been happy being a Kender (Dragonlance-style). Now that I need this shit, I resent that need and I devalue said shit. Not helpful.

 

Razorbones, who’s good at lifing (and if you don’t think that’s important, then you’re either in a better place than me, or in a very bad place indeed), pointed out that maybe, just maybe, I’ve got things somewhat backwards:

Regarding the end part, might I suggest that now coming to feel that you DO have something to lose is actually a major piece accomplished of unfucking yourself?

So when you say “My third reaction was to wonder why I can unfuck other people, but I haven’t been able to unfuck myself yet.”–that “yet” matters. It means that the process is incomplete. And I can’t really think of a single person, myself included, for whom the process is EVER complete. (But what would be missing from life if there was no area left to grow in?)

But at the same time, you HAVE achieved a significant positive paradigm shift! However good, that doesn’t always feel positive; it’s new territory, and the unfamiliarity can be intense and stressful on the path to becoming at home there. Scared is normal and scared is hard. You’re someone who learns and grows–you might not see a clear path in this territory right now, but you will find your way.

At which point I did the mature, sensible thing: stuck my fingers in my ears, and started going LALALALALA as loudly as I could to drown her out. Don’t you hate it when people throw reality right at your face?

(Note: while there’s nothing inherently wrong with demi-romanticism, if it takes you 42 yrs to start developing the basics of self-love and self-care, you might be taking it a bit too far.)

 

Aside from reinforcing how cool a group of associates I’m managing to string along, this has also made me realise that I kinda wasn’t talking about self-defence training. Or rather, that I didn’t see the issue as starting and ending at the dojo door. For me, these days, self-defence training is a litmus test. I use it to see where my head and body and other relevant bits are at. There are much better litmus tests out there, like this list from Rory, but I find it hard to bullshit myself when someone’s about to punch me into next week. Much as I enjoy good-quality training as a game, it’s never not real to me. If I suck in training, I’m probably sucking in life. If I’m timid in training, I’m probably being timid in life. Whatever’s sucking the joy out of training, etc.

(Note: more and more, I worry that I’m being a poor training partner. That I’m wasting people’s time. I’m less wary of training with strangers in case they hurt me, and more because I don’t want them to miss out on a training opportunity. Rory reckons it’s impostor syndrome. I’m not so sure; I think it’s that I’m really failing to meet my own standards. Which isn’t to say that I’m right; it’s just as likely that my standards are inappropriate. Maija’s suggestions will help there. Less Wolverine, more Antman? I can live with that, I think. Additional superhero suggestions gladly accepted.)

I also know that none of the realisations matter a fig if I don’t actually do something with them. Getting socked in the face brings that home in a very special way.

Debrief mk 2

Random stuff that came up during the workshops.

 

Is “giving in” to a mugger like “negotiating with terrorists”? Someone raised that. I’d say nope, unless you’re gonna see that mugger again and again. You’re not establishing any kind of ongoing relationship, hopefully, so issues of power imbalance become fairly moot. If it’s a kid at your school stealing your lunch money, that’s a different story. But if you treat every interaction as a power struggle you gotta win, for whatever reasons, that can affect both your arsenal and how you’ll evaluate your results.

 

Gender. There’s currently a push to eliminate the gender bias in discussions about rape and domestic abuse. It’s a good push inasmuch as rape and domestic abuse affect all genders, and treating them like they’re women-only issue is fucking up a lot of people. However, some of the pushing ignores the fact that gender has a huge influence in how the aftermath goes down. If I go up to my friends and tell them that someone tried to take advantage of me while I was drunk at the pub, I have the absolute certainty that their response won’t be “hurr hurr hurr was he hot?!” Guys get that kind of shit all the time. If I trawl the bars for drunken 20 yr olds at closing time, I’m a “cougar” and “empowered” and “sexually liberated”. A man my age doing the same would be a perv and a predator.

I don’t know where I sit on this, but I feel that we can’t eliminate gender from the conversation until it stops being a factor. I can’t see that happening in my lifetime.

Corollary: I was describing to someone how once a Dreaded Ex tried to pick a fight with me in a pub. I didn’t hit him, though I was sorely tempted, but I pushed him* and walked off. I was the first and the only one to go physical, and people were coming up to me to see if I was ok.  That reaction was very surprising to a whole load of people. I was confused by that surprise. But they’re nice people, and they’re genuinely not sexist, so to them it was a shock to find out that the game is that rigged.

*I will forever use the words “just a push” to describe that, even though that’s a massive red flag for abuse.

 

Talking about the risk-reward ratio. You can never lower the reward enough that nobody will see you as a potential target; homeless people mug each other. You can raise the risk enough that a lot of potential attackers will leave you alone, though, because the ratio just doesn’t stack up for them.

Transfer that to sexual assault. You cannot lower your ‘value’ enough to take yourself out of the victim pool. It just can’t be done. You can, however, send out signals that will put off at least some potential attackers.

Transfer that to interactions with a romantic/sexual component. You can never be offputting enough to be left totally alone. You can, however, send out signals that will put off most nice, reasonable, well-meaning people. If you’re sitting on a train with a giant set of headphones reading 2 kg of “Lord of the Rings”, with your head buried in a laptop, asleep*, etc., most people will leave you alone.  If they like you a lot, they might be bummed out at the missed opportunity, but they understand the game enough to realise that very few good relationships start with someone irritating the shit out of someone else. People who don’t understand social mechanisms, who don’t much care about balanced power dynamics, or whose game is extremely short, however, will still bother you. The reward is still there, and they either don’t see or don’t care about the risks.

Reverse it. To someone who doesn’t care about how you feel, who lacks sympathy or empathy, bothering you while you’re busy or creeping the fuck out of you is a non-issue. I’m tempted to treat that lack of consideration as a Sign. I might not know what it’s a Sign of, ’cause my telepathy is still underdeveloped, but I’d have to be very, very interested in someone to ignore it as a potential issue. Ok, so he’s so attracted to me that just he can’t stop himself pestering me; do I want to live with that?

 

Theory: Making yourself a hard target in romantic/sexual settings amounts to pre-sorting for assholes, because only assholes will come near you. This can skew your opinion of humanity at large, make you feel that being a hard target is superimportant, and round and round the spiral goes.

Other theory: I’m full of shit on this one.

 

  • Gatwick airport, 2015. I was settling down to sleep overnight in the terminal, because I had an early flight and I’m poor. This dude first tried to share a bench with me, even though the place was empty, and then literally started a “do you sleep here often” kind of conversation. I’ve seen some clumsy shit in my life, but this was a whole new level of clueless.

Debrief.

I’m just back from a weekend stalking Rory in Scotland + hanging out with some of the coolest people I know, who are very cool indeed. As per usual with this kind of event, lots of stuff has been thrown at my brain which I now need to process + integrate, so you get the dubious benefit of second-handing my brainfarts. In no particular order:

 

If you need to know about time management, ask a time management expert. If you need to know about passion management, ask your friendly neighbourhood astrophysicists. Turns out I was looking at my life balance issues completely the wrong way round. I don’t need to try and crowbar other stuff into my writing; that’d just make me hate whatever the stuff is, and resent myself for interfering with my fun. I need to corral my writing time, and then have a good think about what I want to fill the resulting time gap with.

 

Corollary: People miss out so much by not looking at what goes into making people functional experts. Someone who’s a genius at mathematics and takes care of him/herself and has a wonderful social and home life is a lot more than an expert in their subject matter. Being a genius requires talent and dedication; being a functional genius requires a myriad life skills and the inner strength to apply them.

I can and will tap experts for info on their field of study, particularly if they’re good at explaining things to laypeople, but I’m infinitely more interesting in learning how they’re managing the rest of their lives. The same applies to experts in all fields, including self-defence. Most people just want the techniques and the war stories. I don’t get it.

 

When thinking about stress, I think in terms of fear/anxiety. It never occurred to me that anger could be a cause or a result of stress. In fact, anger is one of my go-to emotion when I try to avoid feeling fearful or overwhelmed. That’s messed up, and it’s probably messed me up in the past, and I wanna cut that shit out.

 

A lady came up to me in a takeaway shop. I thought I’d recognised her face, but I couldn’t recognise any other part of her for the simple reason that she was unrecognisable. Turns out that she’d attended Rory’s seminar last year, when I said some stuff. That had spurred her to make a lot of changes and she wanted to say thank you. My first reaction was, as per usual, “oh shit oh shit I affected another human there may be ripples what did I do time to panic now.” My second reaction was to be super stoked about it, because she looked damn amazing (lady, if you’re reading this, you seriously do). My third reaction was to wonder why I can unfuck other people, but I haven’t been able to unfuck myself yet.

Thinking about it during the drive home, it could be that maybe it’s because the other people do the work.

 

Corollary: if someone does or say something that makes things better for you, fucking tell them. Chances are that they don’t know, because they’re not telepathic and very few people ever come back with success stories. They just go off to have awesome lives, which is great; but given that in this particular field we’re constantly dealing with awful stories, something cheerful can really make a difference.

 

My back didn’t hurt. Not a bit. After 4 yrs of oscillating between being very uncomfortable and severely incapacitated, I’m now relatively ok (aches and scars don’t count; they’re the price of having an interesting life). And this is the first time I went into a self-defence seminar afraid of getting hurt. That changed everything, and it sucked. People who have played with me before noticed the difference, even though they’ve known me since the back accident. I’m worse now than I was when I was struggling to put my shoes on. The only drill that made me feel like me was the baby drill: I just put the baby down and proceeded to lay into the guy who was rolling with me, because in that setting I didn’t matter. That’s important.

I’ve never particularly felt that I had anything to lose, in training or in life. In real life in particular, I’ve always gone into sticky situations knowing that I was probably going to lose, and determined to do as much damage as I could on the way down. I don’t have a problem with any of that, but in a very real sense, that’s not self-defence. There’s nothing defensive about that attitude. If self-defence happens, it’s just a handy side-effect. Now my headspace has changed. I’m tussling with people who’re not even interested in hurting me, and I’m scared, and I have no idea how to manage that. (I also have no idea how to manage my resulting opinion of myself, but that’s another story.)

I kinda feel that I ought to go up to everyone I’ve spoken about self-defence with in the past and apologise, because I had no idea what I was talking about. Mostly I feel like killing this fucking thing, because it’s not me and it’s hobbling me and I hate it. Only the latter statement is a load of nonsense. Either way, this is something I have to deal with.

Not better.

One of my current bugbears is watching people treat certain progressions/scales/spectra as if more or higher meant better. That ain’t always the case. For instance:

 

Personality tests, particularly the Myers–Briggs test. The damn thing is supposed to help people identify their strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps even develop a wee bit of empathy for people who’re wired differently.  A preponderance of people treat it as if a high score was a win. It’s not. Having very strong personality traits can give you superpowers inasmuch as you may be able to see and do things that most other people can’t. It can also make you severely dysfunctional. Myers–Briggs arranges traits on a continuum; if you pull it all to one end, you’re likely missing out on whatever is at the other end.

 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The lower part of the pyramid is “more important” inasmuch as you can’t go without. If you are about to die of starvation, hypothermia, suffocation, etc., your future as an experimental kazoo player is likely to be negatively affected. Knowing what you need to survive, how to get it in emergencies, and what people may be willing to do if their survival is at risk are damn important. Obsessing about the lower levels when they are not a current concern, however, is a tad silly. When you add a sprinkling of spite for those people who appear solely devoted to the higher levels, you’re dangerously close to going full potato. Even cavemen painted. Subsistence farmers make spectacular art and crafts, when they can. For the love of all that is holy, do your research, do your prepping, make sure you’re reasonably ready, and then go out to play. There’s a lovely world out there.

 

 

Rory Miller’s levels of violence from “Violence: A Writers Guide.” The progression is: Nice > Manipulative > Assertive > Aggressive > Assaultive > Murderous. In a situation in which escalation is a viable option, those willing and able to reach the higher levels will be better able to cope. Someone aggressive will lose out to someone assaultive, someone nice will lose out to someone manipulative, etc. (Note: social costs & consequences may well be charged later. Nothing’s free.)

This does NOT mean that people who train themselves at the higher levels miraculously absorb the skills and knowledge required to operate at the lower levels. There is a lot of dangerous guff out there promoting the idea that learning to kill and embracing killing as an option will magically make all conflicts go away. I suspect it’s all linked to the magical powers of “empowerment”, but the logic within the argument is often poorly verbalised. What we’re told is: Why should you fear a shouty partner, bullying boss, cheating shopkeeper, etc. when you know that by simply flicking your index finger you can end them?

The answer should be fairly obvious: because ending people is not always the best answer to life’s conflicts. Sometimes it’s a positively bad idea. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a bloody divorce, shooting the shit out of your erstwhile partner may not in fact improve your life. In that situation, you might need legal support and counselling more than you need a gun range. And before anyone decides that I’m being anti-gun, the same applies to flourishing swords, shooting arrows, balancing clubs on your nose, dancing the Macarena, or practicing any other skills that don’t in fact teach you a goddamn thing about conflict resolution.

Even if we take physical force out of the equation, the same issues apply. There are plenty of people out there who can scream their way to “victory” in an argument. Most of us have met some of them online, if not in real life. When asked to conduct themselves in a manner more suited to formal debates, many of them flounder. In fact, many of them flounce ungracefully off into the distance, because they simply cannot operate under those new, unfair, oppressive rules and they know it.

 

Each level of this progression has its own set of skills, attitudes, limitations, and powers. If you wanna develop them up, you’ve gotta practice them. There are no shortcuts.

(Bonus bugbear: just because assertiveness is near the middle, it doesn’t mean that it’s the one-size-fits-all solution to all of life’s conflicts. It can work particularly badly for women, but that’s another story.)

 

 

The triune brain. Depending on what you’re reading, the levels of the triune brain may be labelled as Reptilian, Paleomammalian, and Neomammalian, or more often Lizard, Monkey, and Human.

The latter labelling is designed to trick people into looking down at the “monkey” brain. The damn thing could have just as easily  been called the “wolf” brain; wolves have fascinating social structures. But monkeys are funny and smelly and goofy and less-than-us, while wolves are all epic and shit. Furthermore, the latter labelling is designed to suggest that the Neomammalian brain is where the “real” human stuff happens. That’s quite simply not the case.

The monkey brain is the source of a lot of social conflict and strife. It’s the brain that makes you have those recurring arguments with your cohabitants about which way the toilet papers should go in the holder. But it’s also the brain that lets you know how people feel by reading their expressions automatically and subconsciously; more importantly, it’s the brain that makes you care about how people feel. It makes you care about how you feel. Feelings may not be the best way to decide whether to re-roof a house or carry out a heart transplant, but they’re actually quite damn important in everyday life.

What makes us human is those three brains working together. If you took the monkey brain out of the equation, you wouldn’t get a ‘better’ human: at most you’d get a Vulcan. Being proud of having exterminated or subjugated the monkey brain to the point that it no longer participates in the decisions that affect your life is being proud of being an incomplete human being.

The Calypso effect.

A few weeks back I took an indefinite hiatus from this blog (she writes in the blog she is no longer writing: 10 out of 10 for consistency). There were several reasons for my decision. The main one was a simple issue of headspace management. I would guesstimate that each blog takes me an average of 8 hours spent thinking about an issue. Given the profoundly unjolly nature of the field I fell into, this was taking quite a toll on me.

I also started  a second fiction book, and found myself writing a eulogy to my old life. I was writing about things I love as if they were distant islands I could no longer hope to reach. I wasn’t entirely wrong. It’s not that those islands were unreachable, but that I was paddling in the wrong direction. Spending hours upon hours musing about violence and trauma wasn’t going to get me any closer to the things I love. I could  get lucky and stumble upon those things by accident, but I was doing absolutely nothing to increase my chances. Having realized that, dropping the blog seemed the obvious choice.

This blog is not about me and my poor time management, though. It’s about the ease with which this kind of thing can happen; specifically, the ease with which a need for self-defence can turn into something that closely resembles a passion, but isn’t. This is my personal bias speaking: I think a passion should add to your life. Something that infiltrates your life and takes it over, making it narrower and frankly crappier, seems to me more like an obsession.

An old acquaintance of mine wrote a piece a few years back about The Calypso Effect in martial arts cross-training, using the story of Odysseus and the nymph Calypso to illustrate a common phenomenon. To cut a looong story short, it’s very easy to get sucked into stuff to the point that we forget why we got into it in the first place. In a martial arts/sporting context, you might join a boxing gym purely to sharpen up your footwork, and enjoy it so much that you lose track of what your original goal was. Years down the line, you turn around and realize that you’re a boxer. You never intended to be; it ‘just happened’. But it just happened because all your time and focus went into that, over a period of time.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Plans may optimize your chances of reaching a certain goal, but unless they include a mechanism for re-evaluating that goal, they can restrict you. It could well be that the distractions you find on your journey are infinitely better for you than the destination you once set. I don’t want the me from yesterday to hobble me today.

That’s not what I did with self-defence, though. I just got so into it that I forgot that SD was only ever meant to be a means to an end. I forgot what I was trying to defend. I invested so much time into it, that I lost chunks of my life through sheer neglect. That’s not self-defence’s fault; it’s on me. But I’m looking around, and, like all recovering addicts, I’m seeing the same kind of behaviour all over the place. I know so many people for whom self-defence is their life. They may deny it, but I’m making a purely quantitative call: that’s where most of their free time and energy go. If that’s a choice they’re making, and if it makes them happy, healthy, and functional, great. The problem is when it’s not a conscious choice, and when it takes more than it gives.

Self-defence is my kind of thing. Both the theory and the practice fit my personality very well. It’s not my only kind of thing, though, and that’s what I remembered when I suddenly wasn’t spending umpteenth hours on it every damn week. All the time that went into it could suddenly go into other stuff. I sat zazen. I cooked. I wrote a metric crapton of fiction. I found some wicked tattoo designs. I got a haircut. I shot my crossbow. I got me a geetar. I dusted my bass. I re-learnt to play a bunch of songs I’d not even thought about in years. I discovered that there were no tabs online for My Little Kookenhaken, so I tabbed that beauty down. I had a good time. Whimsy reigned supreme.

I remembered what I did with my time before self-defence took over the bulk of it. I remembered what used to make me happy, and I remembered that it was important.

I remembered why I got into self-defence; what I was trying to defend. I wanted to be able to keep myself safe enough that I could be myself, do my thang. Self-defence was supposed to be like learning first-aid: you get it down, you prep for it, you put it into practice when the occasion arises, and you refresh your learning regularly because skills are perishable. You don’t live and breathe first-aid all the damn time to the point that you don’t need it, because it takes up so much of your life that your only chance of hurting yourself is repetitive strain injury from rolling up bandages.

I could quote a bunch of blogs from Rory and Kasey about training out of love rather than fear, keeping things in balance, looking after your tethers, and so on. In truth, I read them months ago or years and agreed with them in theory, then totally failed to apply them to my life. The only thing that actually worked was getting smacked in the face hard with a fictional character’s approach to life:

“There’s only really two things about a man that matter: what he wants, and what he’ll do to get it.”

If my stated goals and my efforts are not aligned, then something is plainly awry. It’s a quantitative call, not a moral one. Denying that discrepancy isn’t going to make it any less real.

Guest blog. I borrowed this from Kaja Sadowski of Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly.

I’ve never been able to vocalise this before, and I doubt I could do it any better. Enjoy.

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I’ve seen this image going around again, often accompanied by comments on how expecting women to learn self-defense is unreasonable and ineffective anyway, because men are bigger and stronger than us.

I get the original post’s sentiment. We can’t put the entire onus of preventing sexual assault on the victims (or potential victims), and things will not get better without widespread social change that addresses perpetrators (and potential perpetrators), and the cultural attitudes that make this shit so much more widespread and easy to get away with.

But as we build a better world that is safer for all of us, we need to live in this one. We need to survive day-to-day, and deal with the threats that exist now, and not the reduced ones that may exist decades down the road. And right now, knowing how to defend yourself won’t prevent all rape, but it might prevent yours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. Keeping yourself safe doesn’t put another in danger, and learning self-defense isn’t some betrayal of the sisterhood because another woman may not have access to the same training. If we really want to keep all women safer, then we lobby for cultural, legislative, and legal change on the one hand, and we make sure as many women as possible have access to good self-defense training on the other. There’s no earthly reason to choose between the two.

It’s hard enough for many women to step into a self-defense class. There’s already stigma attached to women fighting, fear of being hurt or – worse – of hurting someone else, and uncertainty about how safe you’ll be in a given school or with a given instructor. I’ve had women show up to my classes that spent a year working up to coming in, because it was that fucking daunting. Let’s not make it even worse by suggesting that wanting to protect yourself undermines the social progress of your entire gender.

 

 

Additional points raised from the resulting discussion:

  1. I don’t believe there are any statistics as to how many assaults are prevented by capable, willing women stepping in to other women’s aid. From anecdotal evidence, it happens. I’ve done it. I’ve seen other women do it. Learning self-defence skills is like learning first-aid in one respect: maybe you’ll need it for yourself or your loved ones, but maybe you’ll end up using it to save a perfect stranger.
  2. A self defense scenario doesn’t always end with a predator sneaking off to assault someone else. It can end with an arrest or investigation which can actively prevent another assault.
  3. It is considered not only acceptable but desirable for parents to educate their young children about “stranger danger”. No suggestion is made that this causes someone else’s kid to be molested or kidnapped. So at which age does this change? Is it for a 12 yr old girl to learn self-defense, but not for a 15 yr old? 16? Where is that line drawn, by whom, and based on what theory?
  4. While any individual learning to defend themselves doesn’t solve any social problems, a critical mass of women and others with the skills and willingness to defend against predators could shift the social balance as well.
  5. Do women’s  responsibility to others always overrides personal concerns, and if so, why?

Caltrop.

I’m hurtling headlong towards the fifth anniversary of my best friend’s death, which was premature and totally avoidable. Some people would class it as self-inflicted, I’m sure, though they’d be advised not to do so in my presence. He’s dead, though, and I’m alive, and that’s not a situation I’m happy with.

It could have very easily gone the other way. When things went to shit for him, I knew he was having issues, because he’d told me. He’d neglected to tell me the extent of the issues, though. Under normal circumstances I would have taken that as a given, because that’s how we roll, and acted accordingly. Unfortunately, those weren’t normal circumstances. At the time, I happened to be rather busy trying not to kill myself due to life happening at me in excessive amounts, so I wasn’t at peak performance. As a result, I completely failed to do anything remotely useful. From one point of  view, I put my oxygen mask on first, which is The Right Thing To Do. Had I not taken care of myself first, we could both be dead, and that wouldn’t have been much of a result. From another point of view, though, I sat there and let my best friend die. That will never be ok with me.

I don’t want that to be ok. I don’t want to get over it. I don’t want to get to a point in my life when I can normalise, justify, rationalise, or in any way accept what I did. I don’t want to be forgiven, and I don’t want to forgive myself. It’s not that I’m a masochist; I just don’t want to live in a world where it’s remotely ok for me to do that kind of thing. So I turned his death into a caltrop, and jammed it in my heart, and every time it doesn’t hurt enough I give it a wiggle and jam it in a little bit harder.

(Ironically, I know exactly what he would say on the subject. I can hear it in his words and in his voice if I shut up long enough to pay attention. And no, he would not be impressed. But I’ve been able to take many a wrong turn despite his good advice before, so at least I’m being consistent. I don’t think he’d expect otherwise, and I know he’d put up with it.)

I’m ok with all of the above; for the now, anyway. It does make me wonder, though, about some of the advice people give people who’re hurting.

One of the most common statements that are thrown around is that in order to get over whatever it is that’s hurting you, you have to accept it. Only then you’ll be able to move the hell on with your life. Whoopty doo. It’s as easy as that. Occasionally someone will insert some bits of Wisdom® to support their assertion. The specific brands of Wisdom® vary, but it matters not a jot, because it’s always used in the same way. Remember that god works everything for good; work through the stages of grief; meditate on form and emptiness; whatever it takes, get your lazy ass over that hurdle, and accept the Thing. Just fucking accept it, and get on with your life.

I have not the least intention to disagree with any of that; I can’t, so I won’t. I think it’s absolutely true that acceptance is an essential part of moving on from things. I think that an important aspect if this issue is too often ignored, though: what exactly it is that we’re asking some people to accept.

Some people go through events that completely change their world, and not for the better. The extent of these changes can vary hugely. Those who’ve only experienced minor versions of these changes may have no idea at all about what it actually means to go through a major one. There’s quite a bit of difference between accepting that “sometimes you may piss off the wrong person, lose a fight you started, and that hurts” and “some parents think it’s ok to rape their children, and the other parent won’t do anything to protect them, and neither will the rest of the family, and if the kids kick up too much of a fuss chances are they’ll get it in the neck for it, and even if they go to the police they may not be allowed to take their rapist to court if the prosecutors believe that they’re too broken to withstand trial.” Yes, they’re both paradigm shifts, but I think it’d be fairly ridiculous to treat them as equivalent. Yet people who’ve only experienced the former often think they’re qualified to push and cajole someone through the latter, sometimes not that gently.

Sometimes people take a long time to get over stuff; sometimes that delay is self-inflicted (as in my case, yeah, I’m aware, thank you), and sometimes it’s just that it takes longer to swallow an elephant than a bug. It’s very easy to talk about acceptance of events that don’t affect us, the import of which has no impact on our lives, and the magnitude of which we can’t even comprehend. But it’s also facile, and privileged, and kinda shitty.