Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Universe Spins -- an anthology of my students' poems

Last semester I taught a creative writing class. As part of my students' final grade, they had to submit a writing portfolio that consists of two short stories and five poems. With their permission I selected the best poems from their submission and edited them into an anthology. Finally, after quite some time I finished the anthology and the e-book was published today. You can download The Universe Spins for free at Smashwords.Com in a file format of your liking.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

My First World Problem: Penis Touching Toilet Bowl

Image Source

Seriously, one has to wonder who designs toilet bowls. I'm tempted to come to the conclusion that they are either women who are not designing toilets with male genitalia in mind, or men with extra short penises, or hyper cheap manufacturers (with short penises) that would sacrifice our hygiene for a few centimetres less of toilet space.

There are few things in life that galls me as much as when my penis touches the front of the toilet bowl. And it is not as if I'm sitting on the front edge of the toilet either. I'm sitting properly far back. Neither do I have an unusually large penis—mine is in line with the world average, so I'm sure it can't just be me who is struggling with this most irksome of problems. In fact, a quick online search for “penis touching toilet bowl” showed that this is a very common problem. There is even a Facebook page for: “The awkward moment when your penis touches the toilet bowl.”

What's wrong with this picture?
Image Source

The toilet at my home is okayish, but I still have to push my penis down with one hand otherwise it touches the front of the toilet bowl. Some public restroom toilets are particularly cramp and shallow, so that even with me pushing things down, it still touches the front bowl. Which, keeping in mind that it is a public toilet, is particularly gross. As one guy on a forum said, it is like “a kiss for your dick tip from every other dick tip” that has used that toilet before you. If I'm going to have parts of my body kissing parts of other peoples' body, I'd prefer to know them first and have it happen outside the confines of a gross toilet cubicle. And sometimes, even if you get to push your penis down so that it doesn't touch the front of the bowl, often these public toilets are not deep enough, so what ends up happening is that you dip your tip into the water, which—considering that you are taking a dump—is disgusting. Now I haven't even started to to talk about the occasions you have a semi-hard on, which happens quite often for average healthy guys throughout the day. And since this rant is concerned with penis tips touching the front of the toilet bowl, I will not address the related but fortunately less common disasters of those terribly shallow toilet bowls where your scrotum touches the water's surface on hot summer's days. It is not as refreshing as it sounds.

Can you spot my brother?
Image Source

Back to glans penises and porcelain. Women might think that the solution is to keep your penis outside of the toilet, by simply resting it on a piece of toilet paper on top of the front brim. Unfortunately this doesn't work because you always pee a little when taking a dump, which results in you peeing over your pants and shoes. Alternatively one can hang a piece of toilet paper on the inside of the front of the bowl and let your penis rest against it, but again this isn't ideal as a toilet is always damp and so the toilet paper just gets all mushy and the wetness (and germs?!) from the toilet bowl steeps through onto your manhood, or you get a urine soaked piece of toilet paper wrapped around your glans. One of my brothers' solution to the problem is to climb onto the toilet bowl, and squat on it, which according to science is a healthier position for passing stool that sitting down. Regrettably, this is a balancing act I've never quite mastered and the fear of accidentally slipping of the brim and stepping into the bowl is enough to prevent me from testing my agility on a public thrown.

Image Source

The last time my penis touched the toilet bowl at a public restroom—a week ago—I finished my business in the toilet and then went over to the handbasin and just washed my penis with soap and water. I was frankly too grossed out to walk around the whole day thinking of all the germ-kisses that were planted on my penis tip. Luckily there was nobody else in the public restroom who I could disturb with me washing my junk in the public sink, but a hygienic man's got to do what a hygienic man's got to do. While I'm guilty of this act, the habit of men washing their groins in public restroom basens is not something I hope catches on. Imagine having to stand in line to wash your hands after another guy has just lathered up his penis!

The simple solution, dear toilet makers, is to make toilet bowls adequately long and deep enough to prevent the normal sized and larger sized men from having to endure the irritating problem of their penises touching parts of the toilet bowl. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Diamond Dreams

Image Source

I often wake up with a remnant from the last dream I had that night. It could be an image, or the lyrics of a song, or a last thought. Sometimes this fragment from my dreamworld is so strong that it keeps with me the whole day. If it is a song that I know then it is easy to quickly go on YouTube, listen to it, and find a sense of closure. At times it is not a previously recorded song, and it may cause me to quickly record the melody. I have a handful such melodies saved various places, on my computer or my mobile phone. Sometimes I remember snippets of lyrics or a single poetic line, which, when I think it is good, I compose into a poem. Some of these lines do not always work as poems immediately, so many of them are just lines on document files on my computer where I have many draft poems.

This morning I woke up with a song, but I couldn't remember the melody, only a phrase from the song "hardness of diamonds". My search for a song about the hardness of diamonds came up empty-handed. Only Rihanna's "Diamonds" popped up.

This was definitely not the song I had in my subconscious this morning.

A much more appropriate song that does have links with both the subconscious and diamonds is The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

So here are some random facts about diamonds:

Diamonds are made of carbon -- yes that black stuff when you burn stuff. It becomes all pretty when the carbon has been under intense heat (between 900 and 1300 °C) and extreme pressure (between 45 and 60 kilobars) for a very long time, which results in the formation of these beautiful carbon crystals.

When I was a kid my grandfather showed me and my brother how to do diamond panning, i.e. how to search for diamonds in a brook using a deep tin plate. One scoops up the sand and pebbles in the plate and then use a special circular motion to wash away the sand and spread open the small pebbles and rocks. There are many false alarms, as there are many quarts crystals that look like diamonds. Granddad also showed us how to determine if the crystals we found were diamonds. There is a way you put it on the palm of your hand then look at the refraction of the light through the crystal on your skin. We found some tiny ones, that are not worth anything, mostly because of their lack of clarity. Many diamonds are not fully clear -- they have some dirt in them that looks like smokey smudges. Such diamonds are usually discarded as they cannot be made into the beautiful clear jewels that we usually associate with brilliant diamonds.

Apart from clarity, diamonds are also valued according to its size (carat), colour, and finally the cut.

Why I dreamed about the "hardness" of diamonds, I don't know. The hardness of things are measured in Mohs. The softest minerals are 1 Moh, and diamonds, being the hardest natural substance is measured at 10 Mohs. The word "diamond" comes from the Greek word "adámas", that means unbreakable. The only thing that can scratch a diamond is another diamond.

The video below has some more interesting facts about diamonds:

Sunday, 9 February 2014

"Running Up That Hill"

A song that has always touched me is Kate Bush's single "Running Up That Hill (Deal With God)". The refrain goes:

And if I only could,
Make a deal with God,
And get Him to swap our places,
[I'd] Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
While Bush's own intention is somewhat superficial -- if only a man and a woman could swap places for a while, they would understand each other better -- I have always interpreted the song in a more somber tone, imagining a loved one dying and someone dear to them pleading with God to swap their places. I have experienced that type of "bargaining" with God before, so it is easy for me to imagine a mother wishing to swap places with her child dying of a terminal illness, or a spouse wishing he or she could swap places with his or her dying partner, which is my interpretation of the song.

Honestly, it is not the original version by Kate Bush that I love best, but instead it is the version by Placebo that is the one I listen to most often. They covered the song first in 2003.

Faith and the Muse also did a cover which sounds like a mixture of Kate Bush's original sound and Placebo's sound. The cover by Chromatics seems to take the inspiration from the original rather than from the Placebo version, but it is quite pleasing on the ear.

Similar to Placebo that made the song their own is Tori Amos who also covered the song in a way that is uniquely Tori Amos, mixing it into her own song "God Sometimes You Just Don't Come Through". Definitely worth listening to.

Another cover that has to be mentioned is the one by Theo Bleckmann who does something ethereal with the song, and then mixes into it a charming jazziness before speeding up the percussions so that listener feels like "running up that hill" as well. I love it. I don't have any Bleckmann albums, but I'm guessing I would enjoy listening to more of his stuff.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

"Man Up" -- and some of the harms of patriarchy

A topic I'm quite interested in is the question of "Where have all the good men gone?" -- or rather, what has happened to masculinity?, or what does it mean to be a man in this day and age where men are either hyper-masculinised or emasculated? Having always been very sensitive, emotionally attune, I experienced a great deal of bullying as a child: "boys don't cry", "stop being a sissy", "you have no guts", "man up!" With this in mind, the following spoken-word performance was heartening to see.

I recently finished reading a very thought-provoking book on bisexuality, in which the author list a number of problems with patriarchy, and the burden and harm it does to boys and men. Below is a passage from Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution:

Having internalized these patriarchal values, men learn to see themselves in terms of control, power, and domination. However, herein lies the sting: Since men are forced into the role of oppressor, they are expected to constantly be in control of both themselves and their environments. Kaufman writes: “We have to perform and stay in control. We’re supposed to conquer, be on top of things, and call the shots. We have to tough it out, provide, and achieve.” “Paradoxically, men are wounded by the very way we have learned to embody and exercise our power.” Men are expected to express their domination in various ways that end up hurting them. They are expected to be physically capable, strong, and able-bodied. Since early childhood, they are encouraged to engage in sports, be able to fight, be able to lift heavy objects, or otherwise physically manipulate their environments (build things, fix things, etc.). In certain cultures and groups, as they grow up they are also encouraged (or indeed, obligated by law) to become soldiers and to physically “fight for their country,” even to the death. By doing all of these things, men exhibit their ability to dominate their environments by exerting physical control. This expectation hurts the men who do not, or for any reason cannot, par with the standard. They get perceived as weak, or as having deficient masculinities, and therefore as lesser human beings (remember that fitting into the single standard of patriarchy is also the condition for being considered a valuable human). It also hurts the men who do engage in these activities, as the pressure and the intensity required of them often leads to physical injuries, permanent damage, or even death.
Men are expected to be able to provide for the physical needs of their (presumably heteronormative) families, to be the “breadwinner” or the one “putting the food on the table.” They are expected to do this by working hard, making money, and deciding what to do with it. By doing this, men prove their ability, status, and their domination of their families (women and children). They also earn respect for their work, and they control the money and its expenditure. This again hurts men who cannot fit into this standard, as they are perceived as lazy or incapable. The men who do perform this expectation get hurt because it means reducing their lives to working under capitalism, meaning that in most cases they feel alienated from their work and from other people (since they’re left with very little time for their personal lives).
Despite the fact that men are encouraged to provide for the physical needs of women and children, they are also expected to be emotionally distant from them, and from other people in general. As a general rule, men are expected never to act in ways that are nurturing, caring, or tender toward others. In fact, they are expected to never feel these things, want them, or admit to them. Their emotional distance is supposed to back up their controlling status over their families by showing that they are impartial and that emotional needs are insignificant in relation to the material needs that the man is obliged to provide. This hurts the men who do provide emotional support to their families by painting them as overcaring, overemotional, or even as being “pussywhipped” by their wives. It also hurts the men who do embody this expectation because it denies them of emotional intimacy and closeness to other people. In addition to maintaining emotional distance, men are supposed to be emotionally invulnerable and never to feel hurt, scared, or sad. Even if they do feel any of these things, they are expected to internalize them and never to speak of them or express them otherwise (“boys don’t cry,” as the popular saying goes). This expectation is supposed to be an expression of a man’s eternal and enduring strength, his ability to “take anything” without getting hurt or breaking down. Men who do express their emotions or indeed cry are often mocked or ridiculed. They’re considered to have deficient masculinities, or not to be “manly enough.” They are consequently derogated through comparisons to women, using nicknames such as “sissy,” “pussy,” etc. The men who do perform this expectation are hurt by it because they are forced into emotional numbness at best and into internalized negative feelings at worst. These internalized feelings might often lead men to self-destructive behaviors, hurting themselves as well as others since they can find no socially acceptable way to admit and express their emotions.
On par with the perception of men as “purely physical” beings, they are also expected to always want and be ready for sex. In fact, they are taught that not only does their masculinity depend upon it, but also their value as human beings. Sex is also supposed to be the only legitimate way for men to receive intimacy (since emotional intimacy is forbidden to them). The expression of sexual prowess is supposed to support the image of men as those who conquer and dominate women. Popular imagination compares men’s sexual encounters with women to imaginary notches on the belts of their masculinity. Men who do not fulfill this expectation are seen as losers or (god forbid!) as gay. Men who do internalize it learn to view women as objects rather than people, a distancing and alienating notion that might hurt their ability to create emotional intimacy.
[Trigger warning: general discussion of sexual assault and trauma] In addition, and importantly, this hurts men who have been sexually assaulted or raped. They sometime presume that, because they were hurt, then they were somehow “asking for it” or actually “wanting it.” It also leads society to question them and deny their trauma, because, as popular “wisdom” goes, “you can’t rape the willing” (presuming that men must always be willing). [End of trigger] 
Men are also expected never to do anything perceived as feminine. This applies to everything from clothing through body language to behavior, preferences, and beyond. A good example is external appearance: While women have fought—and still are fighting—for their right to wear pants, to not be required to wear makeup or shave their entire bodies, men are still strictly forbidden to wear skirts, jewelry, or makeup, to shave their body hair, or to otherwise “feminize” their appearance. Hell, even men who wear masculine clothes with colors that are too bright, or with the appearance of putting too much effort into it, are policed for their deviation. The complete ban on anything perceived as feminine is meant to secure masculinity’s status as superior and femininity’s status as inferior. (Famously, Iggy Pop said, “I’m not ashamed to dress like a woman because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.”) Men who behave in ways that are perceived as feminine are regarded as “sissies,”“queers,” or “homos,” and undergo various forms of social policing and violence for their gender deviance. Men who act according to this expectation are denied a full spectrum of options for self-expression, creativity, and play, and are forced to limit themselves to a narrow standard of acceptable behavior.
Men are expected to be strictly and always heterosexual. As alluded to above, being gay is one of the most dreaded things that a man might be suspected of, and is often used as a derogatory term for policing men who have deviated from the sacred lines of manhood. That said, as American writer Greta Christina mentions in her blog post “Five Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men ,” once a man actually comes out as gay, this message of “[ D]on’t be even a little bit gay” is replaced with “Well . . . okay.” More than anything, this tells us that men are allowed to be monosexual (however begrudgingly in the case of gay men), but are strictly forbidden from being bisexual. Heterosexuality for men enforces their compliance with dominant masculinity as well as their value as human beings. Monosexuality for gay men secures their masculinity by exhibiting perceived decisiveness and stability. Bisexuality, however, does not fit together with this framework because its perceived instability, confusion, and indecisiveness clash with those values expected of men. It is of little surprise, then, that male bisexuality is constantly erased and denied. 
Eisner, Shiri (2013-07-02). Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. Seal Press. Kindle Edition.