Alcohol was just one of a continuum of substances and practices I used to try and fill the daily sense of dis-ease I felt in American culture. In a world of uncertainty, the one thing I felt I had absolute control over was my body. Obsessive compulsive rituals, cutting, smoking, compulsive exercise, food control, sex, relationships, drinking… I could describe myself via any number of behaviors and clinical -ism’s and -ia’s.
But in the end, all these behaviors are symptomatic of something far deeper. I made the mistake of forsaking any personal cultivation of spirit and set myself up for a life of duality–my mind vs. the world. Years of steady outward success masked the private tyrrany of my intellect over my body and spirit and the slew of behaviors I took on to dull the lack produced by the fiction of separate self.
I didn’t trust this idea of a separate, discrete self, so I played with it, producing five different socially-recognized personas. On July 25, 2005, we all wound up lying in the train tracks. And strangers gave us a second chance to live a sober life and rethink identity.
Though I’ve been sober since August 3, 2005, I’m not perfect. Resentments, caffeine, needing to be right, people-pleasing…all of these things can be just as powerful as alcohol in feeding my sense of ego and separation.
- From alcoholism to fundamentalism from anorexia to homophobia, what are the -ism’s and -ia’s that have caused a sense of separation or challenge in your life? How have you worked through them?
- Diagnosis with a condition can lead to treatment and support. The labeling of an -ism or -ia can also become an identity in and of itself. How have you found a balance between naming/managing a condition and being defined by it?
- How do you foster a sense of spirit and spirituality? Is it linked to, or distinct from organized religious traditions?
Share your thoughts and comments in the “-ism’s and -ia’s” blog feed below, and I’ll keep adding mine as well.
Things Girls Do… a decade later
One of my first films THINGS GIRLS DO… seeks to address questions of body dysmorphia and gender. The film was made in a pre-YouTube world, back in 2001. In 2008, I decided to post it on YouTube to see what sort of digital life it might have. This has led to its engagement and circulation within two online communities in particular.
One is a cohort of body-dysmorphic individuals of both genders who simultaneously use YouTube as a site to perpetuate their disorders via “thinspiration” videos and also to seek out help and recovery. This has made me metidate on the fac that digital democracy is in many ways a double-edged sword, capable of forming communities of healing and of more ambivalent, even harmful consequence.
The second is a community of female-to-male transgender individuals, who have expressed that the video’s formal/metaphorical journey resonate with their literal transformations. These men show the possibility of YouTube as a forum for interpersonal support and information sharing. They correspond and post their lives in public view of anyone with access to an Internet browser, simultaneously challenging cultural and YouTube community assumptions about digital identity, questions of embodiment, and the possibilities for ethical and open online conversation and relationship.
I’d love to get your impressions on the film and on the double-edged possibilities for digital democracy.