Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Doing a Vulnerability Vigil is Like

March 28 Vulnerability Vigil by the Bay St. Bridge. Thank you to Pamela and Keith for participating.
What's it like for me to do a Vulnerability Vigil?

I just spent 7 hours cleaning my chaotic, over-cluttered, kid-shattered, cat-peed house and only making a dent. Do you think I fucking feel like writing a blog post about what it's like to do a Vulnerability Vigil?
(If you read COMPLAINT, haha, sure why not? My life is one big complaint. Resistance, disgust, pessimism, depression, rage, etc. I am stuck and complicit–that's gonna be next month's word–in a culture of invisible brutality and I often struggle to breathe. 
This excellent article about depression, class, and submission to a culture, Good For Nothing, covers many of the issues I also deal with. 
I especially relate to this: "Someone who moves out of the social sphere they are ‘supposed’ to occupy is always in danger of being overcome by feelings of vertigo, panic and horror: '…isolated, cut off, surrounded by hostile space, you are suddenly without connections, without stability, with nothing to hold you upright or in place; a dizzying, sickening unreality takes possession of you; you are threatened by a complete loss of identity, a sense of utter fraudulence; you have no right to be here, now, inhabiting this body, dressed in this way [haha!]; you are a nothing, and ‘nothing’ is quite literally what you feel you are about to become.'" 
I try to limit my external complaints to art/activism but I get to enjoy them non-stop internally in my fried brain. I do the teaching and mother thing with occasional grace. The rest of the time I am in no way suited for polite company. Hence, I am basically a hermit.)
Allow me to continue complaining. I mean it's one thing to have the idea, oh, la di da, I know! I will write about what it's like to do a Vulnerability Vigil! Such a grand idea! While I'm at it, I'll apply for a Canada Council grant, BC Arts Council grant, write to Noam Chomsky, BrenĂ© Brown, and Russell Brand, and figure out how to publish something in an academic journal that doesn't make me vomit. Hey, I should also find an affordable venue in the liberal west coast city of Victoria where I live that will let me hold Human Body Project performances. I am so clever! And when I'm not teaching or prepping or marking, I'm gonna learn about search engine optimization, too! Ya! I'm pumped!

I mention my day of house cleaning so hot on the tail of my glamorous hour at Tyee Rd. and Bay St. and use language that is a tad sarcastic because, like the depressed writer of Good For Nothing, the article I've linked above, I believe my grotty house, stinker kids, and general level of immobility and irritability are pertinent to the question.

I am a 52-year-old mother of two precocious kids under 13. I am older than many of my youngest daughter's friends' grandmothers. Also, my kids are related to me. They are delightful and exhausting.

I am 52. That means I was born in 1961. The 60s. In Calgary. I.e., I don't believe I ever saw a "hippie" until about 1979. I've written and spoken at length about my upbringing, disgust with my culture, etc. I will sum up the previous discussion by saying that growing up when and where I did totally fucked me up in the head. I feel like everything I learned, believed, and bought into was wrong and I doubt I'll ever get past it. (I try not to blame anyone. A culture is a culture. A person's nature is a person's nature. Sometimes the twain do not meet. Perhaps there is a bushman longing for granite countertops and 15-minute scheduling increments with whom I could trade places. Haha. That's kinda painful humour because, first of all, if I could, I would, but I can't. And there's that other little matter of how "my" people totally fucked "those" people.)

So doing a Vulnerability Vigil takes place, for me, in a context of complicated shame, anger, and fatigue. 

I have also discussed at length how I came to create the Human Body Project (intense feelings and urgency to create a new path for humanity in the wake of becoming a mother) and why I started doing Vulnerability Vigils (challenging to find audience for my work; outlet for my rage and grief; hope to create a movement). So, you know, that's why I do it. 

It's not about fucking "thriving" or "joy." Although I do often end up having fun and enjoying myself, which is a nice bonus.

Before a Vulnerability Vigil, I will often collapse, sometimes for days. I don't have a woman-cave in my house and I am challenged setting boundaries with my spirited children (in my own head it's possible that I might sometimes describe them as high maintenance and demanding). I am also severely challenged by the ADD juggling modernity requires. And I'm also a pure and simple idiot at asking for what I need (partly because I'm not sure it even exists; I refer you to my previous blog post and my hope that humanity might one day realize that none of us has made it until all of us have).

Collapsing is, I think, my being's way of recharging. It sucks though, because it feels like sickness and depression and anything resembling normal functioning is very difficult.

Right before I show up to a Vulnerability Vigil, I feel like puking. 

That was my 28th vigil and I've done even more performances. My experience is they don't get easier.

I am a big fucking baby (and complainer) and I am afraid of conflict. Haha. As if I'm not COMPLIANT. I am always going against my training and epigenetic make-up that cause me to be compliant. I worry a little about arrest, but more about cops and what they represent. I don't want to be rude or disrespectful! I really don't. I am a born and trained conformist who can't find anything to conform to.

I worry about my children's friends' parents seeing me. I worry about my neighbours seeing me. I worry about meany-bums. I worry about people thinking I'm crazy. I feel crazy. 

Then there's my body. Did I mention that I'm 52? I guess when I'm 60 I'll think I looked good. I started the Human Body Project eight years ago and that woman I was then, whom I thought was rather flabby and aged, now looks quite fetching. Let's just say the flab and agedness continue apace. Plus hairiness.

Then there's the whole being naked thing. I feel shame. Not because it makes any sense at all. It does not. Unless you count the millennia of training my people have sustained. So I do.

I have thought about addressing the sex-positive movement in a blog post (you know, after I'm done convincing Noam, BrenĂ© and Russell to join me in a vigil). Gist would be, glad that works for you. Doesn't work for me. (This article, Why "Sex-Positive" Feminism Is Negative For Methough the writer and I have had different experiences, says a lot about how I feel on the subject.) I'm not even naked-positive. 

So, I show up at a place. Fortunately, my husband usually comes with me. This last time Dave wasn't there but Keith Jenkins, a lovely man who really lives life as a peaceful being, came with me. He joined me holding the sign, as he has many times.

I find it difficult to speak to whomever I'm with until we get going. I am metaphorically shitting my pants and speech is difficult.

Getting undressed is tricky. I am conscious of not feeling sexy and my not perfectly sanitary underwear. I try to find a place to be discreet. I hate it when I forget a bag to put the clothes in. They get rained on a lot. 

It's always fucking cold. But my armpits are always sweaty.

The February vigil this year was particularly nasty (see photo). We couldn't last the full hour. During the time we were out there freezing, I started singing and dancing. I often do sing and dance a little bit but this time I was so cold I did it the whole time. I was jumping and squatting and full on doing my own version of a tribal dance. It felt good. 

I may not be naked positive but, like skinny dipping, being naked outside feels good on my skin. I like having air on my vagina. Even frigid air. We have affinities, of course, but I don't consider myself a nudist. I get where they're coming from though. Bare skin is freeing. 

We're undressed and trying to get in place and hold the sign in front of us awkwardly at first.

The sign is big and unwieldy, weirdly heavy. I seem to mostly use words that are eight or more letters. Honestly, I would just write FUCK every month because that would be easier and really sum it up for me, but I see how it might not be gentle. Holding it for an hour is difficult. My fingers get cramped and my arms and shoulders sag. 

I always think about the placement of the sign, where we will stand, how it will photograph or be seen. I am annoyed when it blows around or someone isn't holding it taut. 

I am always annoyed, period, by the compromise of the sign. As an artist, I want people to be jarred. (I have thought, for instance, about creating naked rape or murder victim scenes every month that people come upon.) But at the same time–
ASIDE: I have yelled at my kids now three or four times to leave me alone while writing this, plus been interrupted to get juice and granola and abandoned them to "brush" their own teeth–

I don't like the idea of getting in people's faces. It feels unkind. The sign is there to shield our nudity because for many people public nudity is so affronting. It's a compromise and a gesture of gentleness and I keep making that decision because it feels right but it still annoys me.

Victoria cops are quite respectful. I've only had one aggro cop and he was a Sergeant at Arms at the legislature (here's the blog post and video). If cops come to talk to us, like this last time, I offer to put my underpants on. (I've been told by lawyer friends they can't arrest us if our genitals are covered). 

They always say it's because kids might walk by (I'm behind a sign and in front of a hedge, but ok). I always feel bad for them. Mostly they don't look like they want to bother us. But I always feel the pressure of that whole authoritarian agents of the state thing. I stopped doing vigils on the legislature lawn, for instance. I'm scared of them.

I got braver this time though and as soon as the car stopped I took pictures of them. Including this great one below.

These kind policefolk held the sign while Keith wrapped his genitals in his belly-dancing shawl.
Her glove cracks me up.
The lady cop asked me to put my shirt on too but I said no. Once the genitalia were under control they left, which is different from the time I inadvertently scheduled a vigil at the Santa Claus parade launching area. We were there much earlier than the parade start time but still, a paddy wagon, ghost car and several police dudes hung about the whole time (see photo). Unnerving to invite so much weaponry. 

We got such a friendly reception from commuters at this last vigil. It was Friday rush hour, a new time, and I've never chosen that location. All kinds of people honked and waved. We usually get a lot of studied indifference or wtf faces.

Some people think I'm brave and, by addressing and taking on my demons, I am. But I also find my demons so pathetic. So a cop takes my name or my butt is flabby or I feel embarrassment and shame. Big fucking deal. But that's what I'm working with. It's such a not big deal and the nub of what's killing us.

A Vulnerability Vigil is an experiential exercise in, among other things, holding paradox.

After we were done, a stunning double rainbow en-semi-circled downtown Victoria as I drove in that direction and I decided to take it as a good sign.

Then Pamela and I went out for a bite. At home, I planned to have a hot bath but my kids kept me busy.


  1. So Tasha, I managed to read halfway through your post and got back to my current two questions that I keep asking people I speak with (maybe I shouldn't ask them but they seem to engage those who hear them): what's your story and what is the control you're willing to let go of?

    Here I am after finishing the other half... It feels like cooperating with madness. I'm curious about what you do. It seems reasonable and crazy; fucked up and fun. I want to encourage you to keep on doing this and also ask you whether it's time to move on to other stuff.

    You remind me of my reading of Generation X. We are so spoiled.

  2. I'm glad the madness and paradox got through. And the desire to let go and the inability to do so. Yup. You got it.

  3. I am a 65 year old male, married 25 years with a 15 year old daughter. I chanced on your YouTube videos today. I am half European, grew up and educated in the USA, live in New Zealand, which resembles BC. Let's talk.
    Diamant is a very Jewish surname. Are you a secular Jew?
    I believe that to indict a woman past her 30th birthday for indecent exposure is gravely patronising. Mature women should be entirely free to set their own boundaries. I also believe that a woman with pubic hair is not truly naked. I have been influenced by the sex positivity of Betty Dodson.
    I do not understand why you are willing to be naked out of doors when the temperature is below 10 C. Being naked alone is a sufficient challenge.
    My wife would not approve of my helping with your Vulnerability Vigils.

    I support a market economy, but wish that the fraction of modern economies made up of closely held family firms were higher. New Zealand is closer to that ideal than the other English speaking countries. I know Chomsky's ideas and have more time for them now that I did last century. I support the Palestinians, and was deeply dismayed by Israel's brutality in Gaza, and by the way many people have rationalised that brutality.
    For a man, I am curiously aware of the body and its vulnerability. I grew up in an American world where every male was circumcised, but that fact was never discussed. Boys were told nothing while growing up. I recall no boyish lewd remarks. The problem was that I had all the factory installed parts; I was intact. But my father went to his grave having told me nothing. My mother did not really open up until after he was dead, by which time I was well into my 40s. I was so ashamed of my nonconforming penis, that I did not lose my virginity until I was 37, to the woman I am now married to. I am active in the international movement to stop the body shaming of the male foreskin. A great many of the people active in this movement are women like yourself, as women are much more attuned to the shaming of the intimate body.