South Park Self

once had raged a sea that raged no more

This is an absolutely fascinating article which talks about the current decline in sexual activity among young people globally. It's a thoughtful and reflective analysis, rife with stats which are very telling: increase in the average age at which young people first have sex, decline in teen pregnancies, decline in dating and marriage rates. The anecdotal reports of attitudes are also interesting - a sort of general malaise, with respondents, rather than being wildly angst-ridden about not getting laid, merely delivering a resounding "meh". The general feelings seems to be that sex, and sexual relationships, are hard work, and possibly not really worth it, and who has time anyway?

This fascinates me, if for no other reason than for over a decade now I've been teaching a segment on virtual sexuality within a third-year course on the history of the erotic, and despite consistently positive student comments about the course, have watched sign-ups drop to under half of the levels they were at when the course was first offered. I don't know if South African youth follow the same trends they do in the West and Japan, but I suspect they may, at least among the educated middle classes I see in the university context. I think it's a complex set of pressures which is giving rise to the decline, and I would imagine that general anxiety levels under our current terrible geo-political ramifications are probably co-equal causes with the rise of more abstract forms of online sex expression, porn and fanfic among them.

And the prevalence of virtual sex-substitutes is not, I think, a harbinger of doom: if nothing else, it suggests that virtual connection or virtual eroticisim can be sufficiently "real" and satisfying to the participant that they engender a reduced need to seek them out in the flesh. (I can testify to this myself. I have been single for over a decade now, and it's a comfortable state in which friends, internet interactions and fanfic embed me sufficiently in society and culture and a notional erotic that I'm not lonely, I feel connected and I really don't want or need to change anything).

More than that, though, I see this decline as having the potential to be weirdly positive, because the "meh" of relationship reactions outlined in the article must, I think, quite heavily implicate shifting gender norms and the rise of a more enlightened feminism among women. It's a sign of cultural growth, actually, for large swathes of heterosexual women to have reached the conclusion that no relationship is actually a hell of a lot better than a bad relationship. And a bad relationship is very likely to be one with one of the large swathe of male partners who have not contrived to rise above the misogynistic conditioning of their culture in order to offer something like equality of emotional labour. (The article's description of horrendous male expectations of sex learned from porn was chilling). The article mentions at one point that dating and sexual activity levels among lesbians don't, in fact, seem to have dropped in any equal sense, which seems significant.

I mean, I can see the whole post-Freudian landscape having quite healthily undermined bad relationships across the board simply because modern psychology encourages us to seek individual happiness without requiring us, as previous generations were required, to subsume our own needs to the cultural expectation of the relationship. But the fact remains that that kind of emotional self-sacrifice has always, always been more heavily demanded of women. It's almost inevitable, that relationships will decline in the face of women's realisation that by culturally accepted definitions relationships are so often bad and unfair, and particularly unfair to women. We have the tools to realise this now, and we're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it no more. Participation is, at least, something more within our control than actual male behaviour; female cultural capital has risen enough for awareness, and for women to make the decision to abdicate involvement, even if it is not yet high enough to actually change the game.

There is, of course, another level entirely on which a decline in sexual activity in young people feels potentially apocalyptic; if not Bowie's drive-in Saturday future from my subject line, it feels as though we might, in fact, be drifting into Tepper's version in Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Leaving aside genetic manipulation by benevolent-if-marginal Elder Races, a disinclination to procreate makes sense when current evidence suggests that the biosphere may not survive to support our children; our overpopulated and rapaciously destructive culture may be self-sabotaging in sheer self-defence.

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South Park Self

now, now the lights go out - there's no reason

Life feels a bit apocalyptic at the moment, I will probably be having more of those dreams. While it's pleasantly damp and cool in Cape Town and water restrictions have been relaxed a bit, the equal and opposite reaction has been Eskom running out of power - again - and implementing load shedding - again - without warning - again. I mean, they publish it on their website, which no-one ever reads until the lights go out, or at least once the lights have come on again after going out. And they randomly switch between Level 1 and Level 2 - also without warning - which is particularly rife with complication given that the WhatsApp group for my street is prone to excitably and incoherently giving each other conflicting information about which zone we're actually in, which when read off against shifting load shedding statuses can completely obscure all logic and sense for days at a time. Honestly, my immediate environment could probably be serviceably choreographed as French farce right now. I try to plot when the lights are going to die, which they reliably don't when I expect it and do when I'm not expecting it, at which point I sigh, grab a torch and/or the gas stove for tea-making purposes, and hope to hell that the fanfic up on my Ipad at this precise moment is at least one of those 80-000 word epics which will keep me going for a bit.

Load shedding also, of course, happened on campus bang in the middle of our exam committee frantic period, giving us two and a half key hours in which administrators couldn't upload progression codes. Fortunately the essentially reactionary and analogue checking process involves giant printed board schedules and a pencil and the building has large windows, so some aspects of the whole edifice remained functional. But it's an index to the essential insanity of the season that I am, for once, grateful that my annual rant about how this whole process should be done more accurately and less exhaustingly by computers, has never borne fruit. We'd be completely screwed if it had. As it is, I am at the stage of slurring and noun loss which has forced me to reassure three separate colleagues this week that I'm not actually drunk, promise, just extremely fatigued, but the whole thing has been organised with ruthless efficiency and we are on track for final committees tomorrow.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic whole, it's been particularly surreal to watch the abstract collapse of Tumblr, which has been my fandom and media home, if only in a strictly onlooker capacity, for six or seven years now. The venal and ham-fisted incompetents who contrive to run the site in the teeth of their own unfitness have banned NSFW images, with NSFW being defined in essential heterosexualist, gendered, puritanico-capitalist terms and implemented by an automated algorithm apparently conceived of and executed by actual chimpanzees. They want, of course, to make sure they keep on making money out of the site by selling ads and having the (awful) app in the Apple store. They have shot themselves in the foot with a small tactical nuke, taking out as collateral damage a whole thriving, interconnected and delicate ecosystem of fans, artists, small businesses and social-justice-focused communities who have made Tumblr into a vital living space despite everything the owners (Yahoo) have done to try and sabotage it. Not everyone on Tumblr is into porn or erotica or explicit fanart, but its free expression is a weirdly important thread in the whole ideological identity of the site.

I mean, capitalism is stupid and short-sighted, we know that. It goes for the easy short-term profit in defiance of long-term damage. But what the hell are these idiots even thinking, to alienate their user base like this? They are ejecting, effectively, their actual product. People are making migration plans in droves. (Many of them are coming here to Dreamwidth, which is a silver lining for me because I prefer to blog in this sort of environment and have never quite dared fling myself into the Tumblr stream, it scares me). There is no point in being "safe" for ad sales if the 10 million users have evaporated in shocked distress. Tumblr has its issues, with its community identity as much as with its owners, but its flow and focus and discourse are unique, and they broke it. I am very sad.

(My subject line is New Model Army, because the current state of my personal zeitgeist is tending a bit to the post-punk).

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South Park Self

Things Jyn Has Head-Butted Violently In The Last 24 Hours

1. The glass door to the courtyard. She ran into it head-first at mach fuck last night and bounced off, looking confused. She seems to be embarrassed but unhurt, the worst symptom was a lashing tail for about half an hour. She is not always the most intelligent of cats. I darkly suspect Pandora has been mocking her a lot, or at least a lot more than usual.

2. Me. I am currently spending about 12 hours a day at my desk, because I'm checking board schedules as an inevitable upshot of the inexorable march of time and our entrance into the usual year-end exam committee hell. Jyn likes to climb on the desk and tuck her head under my chin, with her forehead against my shoulder, in the classic Feline Demanding Affection pose (see below). This works a lot better when I'm checking board schedules than it does when I'm videogaming. Right now all she does is stand on the board schedules so I can't see them to annotate, which is more or less an act of charity. At other times of the year the Affectionate Head-Butt lends itself to keyboard fumbles, catastrophic tactical failure, sudden death, and yelling.



3. The camera. This is a terrible blurry selfie because she keeps abandoning the head-under-chin pose in order to headbutt my phone, so I have approximately .03 seconds to try and capture the shot.

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South Park Self

there will be blood

I spent Sunday morning moderating an Honours paper for another university, which was entertaining, because it was a course on comics. Apparently any other institution in this country is more liberal than my Cherished Institution on the subject of what constitutes Literature Worthy Of Study. The bastards. Nice little course, except for the trifling problem that about 80% of the chosen texts were Alan Moore, Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, thus establishing comics as something exclusively written by white men. No women. No black authors. And an extremely dodgy tendency to examine works by Moore as "feminist" writing, which is an assumption rife with sufficient flaws actually to leave me speechless. The course somewhat foolishly illustrated its feminist theory section with Saga of the Swamp Thing #40, which is all full of equations between menstruation and werewolves and female anger, written in an essentially facile manner that purports to critique but really doesn't examine the terms of its own assumptions about biological essentialism and female abjection, and thus ends up perpetrating them. Bleah. I was sharply reminded how much and how profoundly I actually dislike Alan Moore.

On the upside, I slightly pinch-hitted the moderation, their originally assigned moderator did a disappear at the last minute, and I turned it around in three days, which led yesterday to the unexpected arrival of flowers and chocolate from the grateful course convenor. I feel appreciated. And have been consuming Lindt all day while cheerfully ignoring any ironic resonances with chocolate as a culturally accepted remedy for menstrual suffering.

It's all a bit entwined, in fact, because a routine gynae check-up yesterday has revealed that, yet again, my uterine lining is doing weirdnesses and needs to be examined and possibly restrained, so I'm in hospital yet again next week for a minor op. My uninterrupted streak of One Minor Op Per Year continues apace. Probably I shouldn't spark these things by reading Alan Moore versions of female biology. At least the bumps on my fingers aren't regenerating. Yet, she says darkly. I may yet mutate into actual Swamp Thing.

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South Park Self

a slow voice on a wave of phase

Oo, er. The Strange Case of Starship Iris is an extremely good sf podcast to which I have not been listening, but the transcripts of which I have been devouring illegally at work. It's funny and acute and political, something like a more enlightened Firefly with aliens and actual diversity. Recommended. I will probably listen to the actual podcast this weekend, while madly sewing new curtains because Jyn ate mine. (She tries to climb through the light cotton privacy half-curtains I have on the front window, they're in shreds). Podcasts or radio shows while sewing are a Good Thing, TM. Last sewing binge it was Cabin Pressure. Also recommended.

I am illegally devouring podcast transcripts at work because work is very quiet: exams are over, and the last-minute rush of students frantically signing up late for summer term courses has died down. As it bloody should, summer term has been running for four days already. I am very tired, as is traditional for this time of year, and managing to do orientation prep only in a desultory, intermittent and procrastinatory sort of fashion.

Exam committee season, the annual trigger of my annual rant about the flawed and time-consuming stupidities of manual board schedule checking, hits next week. The committees have all been scheduled and members hunted down by me personally, which has seen an above-average incidence of academics reeling, writhing and fainting in coils in an effort to dodge the duty, but I have been inexorable and implacable. It is a continual amazement to me the degree of passive-aggressive chill I am capable of infusing into a two-word email salutation of "Dear colleagues" when it's the fourth re-send and they still aren't answering. It's all in the punctuation.

All I need to do now is survive checking three board schedules in a row, which is one worse than the two I did last year, and shows an inexorable creep in my workload from the one which has hitherto been standard, but at least it's contenting my obsessive-compulsive need for quality control. That's three committees I know will be done properly, two of them because I chair them, and the third because I can browbeat the chair into consistency.

And then I shall go on leave for three weeks. Heh. A student informed me yesterday that I was seen as "the mother of the faculty". Five thousand teenagers to raise is a bit much, is all I can say. I need my vacation. (My subject line is Bowie's "Starman", because descriptive, and let the children lose it, and also I rather wish an alien spaceship would arrive and take me away from all this).

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South Park Self

a thousand words

I appear to be nesting. I had another outbreak of internet art acquisition, and upon arrival of the spoils carted them off to the nice framer man (he's a closet sf geek and gets terribly excited about some of my artwork choices) and had them properly framed. (And may I add, ye gods and little fishes, international customs duty has skyrocketed this year. The two Dappermouth prints cost more to import than they did to buy and ship). My home is now Decorated, or at any rate more decorated than it used to be (it was always pretty decorated, I am incapable of resisting good internet art when I stumble over it, and also have an almost inexhaustible supply of fangirly enthusiasm for highly representable media. Apparently one of the upshots of loving things very hard when you love them, is art.)

Art Outbreak 1: replacing the big green owl pic which hangs over my bed. I had this up for several years, and then the little hooky thing on the picture rail had an attack of ennui and allowed itself to slip gracefully onto the fainting couch, causing an enormous splintering 2am crash a foot from my head, and incidentally completely trashing the print with broken glass splinters. Cussedly, I ordered an identical replacement. I have retired the fainting hook and found one of stronger mettle. Or metal. My wol is back, and I hope he stays there.



He is a beautiful, calm, dream-thing in the same dark green as my bedroom decor, and I love him. He's by an amazing California-based artist called Waelad Akedan, who I found on Society6; she does phenomenally rich and dreamy animals with, I think, Indian visual influences. I'm weirdly happy to have paid for this twice.

Art Outbreak 2: further to the dream animals, the moody, atmospheric art of Dappermouth, the Tumblr handle of artist Jenna Barton. I darkly suspect my recent Teen Wolf fixation may have had something to do with the wolf one, but mostly I love these for the way they feel both haunting and haunted.



Omens and Mirage. I meant these for my study, but have ended up putting them in the living room where I see them more often. I love the way the wolf floats, and the cats disintegrate.

Art Outbreak 3: it wouldn't be me if there weren't videogames. These are now in the dining room, they're from something called Pixelnoise Studios, and they aren't joined by the Skyrim and Zelda ones only because I managed to prod my self-control out from under its rock and cuddle it until it co-operated. (These are the images from the shop, my frames are plain glossy black, and frankly look better).



I should add for posterity that I am currently re-playing Andromeda. Unpopular opinion: it's a good game. Slightly more millenial than the darker-edged original trilogy, and prone to the same problem which we run into running LARPs for the current generation, viz. they tend to lack the conviction for proper villainy, but beautifully made and thoroughly enjoyable even trending to the pastel.

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South Park Self

Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do

Last night I dreamed another alien apocalypse, one where undefined aliens had arrived and killed/destroyed/otherwise spirited away the vast majority of people, leaving the cities mostly deserted. Those few of us who were left were surviving by dint of keeping very quiet and pretending we didn't exist, which entailed never switching on any lights, and never going outside in the open - I was holed up in the Evil Landlord's house with a couple of other vague, undefined people, trying to plot a way to get a whole group of us out of the city and up into the mountains. I never saw an alien, they were floating around in the middle distance somewhere, being cryptic and other and possibly robotic, and occasionally making me dive under the bed to hide while they buzzed the courtyard or, for some reason, teleported a live Friesian cow into the bedroom.

On the upside, yay remembering dreams, even given my currently extremely weird sleep patterns. (Only woke up at 5.15 this morning instead of 4.30, bonus). On the probably downside, or maybe slightly side side, that's an odd and revealing constellation of images. Empty cities, vanished people - an introvert's wish fulfilment (and possibly also a pipe dream for anyone who has to navigate Cape Town's current rush hour traffic ungodliness), but also rife with the calm, inevitable isolation and disconnectedness I feel when depressed.

More than that, though, a dream about the absence of people coupled with a distant, unconquerable, arbitrary threat, is a nice distillation of current geo-political wossnames: scrabbling for kinship and support with a lone few while distant, inhuman forces exert terrible power in callous, random ways. That's late capitalism right there, that is. Undue consumption of political reality via the internet could definitely leave you feeling like there are only a handful of people like you out there, ducking away from the powers that be and powerless to stop them.

On the more personal level, it's also an image of keeping your head down, surviving rather than exerting actual agency in your life. The dream never quite allowed me to gather my band of like-minded survivors and leave, after all. I could just about prevent damage by hiding under the bed. Which also neatly encapsulates my work life. I have undertaken another round of orientation/registration out of a possibly misguided loyalty to colleagues whose life will otherwise be hideous if I left, and the work environment is a lot improved in the absence of the late unlamented Demon Boss, but it's still not a bundle of joy. But I'm quietly getting on with it, and so far have avoided further damage. As long as you don't attract the aliens' attention, apparently you're fine.

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South Park Self

ravelled sleeves of wossname

Rats, slipped a bit on the posting. I have been particularly tired over the last few weeks, I keep having these weird moments when I climb out of the car after shopping and am suddenly overcome by an all-over bodily lassitude such that I can't imagine where I'll actually find the energy to pick up the grocery bags and walk up the steps. Or I look up from reading Martha Wells on the sofa and realise my eyes aren't focusing properly and my entire person is winding down into that just-pre-sleep drowsy heaviness, and I should probably go to bed, except that it's 8pm, and going to bed that early is ridiculous.

And when I do go to bed, regardless of time or whether I set an alarm (I haven't for nearly six months now), I fall asleep immediately, and sleep deeply for exactly seven and a half hours, and then wake up, entirely unprompted. Often, given how tired I am lately and how early I go to bed, at 4.30 in the bloody morning. It is clearly not enough sleep. I wake up tired. I have always been a 9-hour sleep person, even 10 if I can get it, but my damned declining middle-agedish bod is regressing to teenage angst status and refusing to do what's good for it. It would probably help if I got some exercise, but I'm too tired. Yay circularity.

On the upside: Martha Wells. The Murderbot Diaries. Intelligent, funny, poignant sf and incidentally a beautifully-judged disquisition on the nature of identity, humanity and consciousness. And corporate greed. Highly recommended. (The link is to the Kindle page because that's what was on my desktop, because currently the Kindle is the only thing that stands between me and the pressing need to construct more walls in my house onto which to attach bookshelves).

Work is simultaneously winding down for the end of the semester/exams and winding up into the year-end exam committee process and preparations for the orientation/registration chaos of the start of next year. This may be why I am feeling tired, conflicted, and hideous kinship with those long strings of goopy smoked mozzarella you get when you lift a slice out of my characteristically over-cheesed deep-dish lasagne. I am also entertaining political despair, because, recent House gains notwithstanding, America, and also because several lovely Zim students in a row this week engaged me in impassioned discussion of the current Zimbabwean situation, which is breaking out in rapacious politicians who are, yet again, robbing their citizenry blind via financial fuckwittery, and have the whole thing teetering on the brink of yet another complete economic collapse. You wouldn't think there was enough actual structure left for it to collapse further. As I said to the young man yesterday, you think that at least Zim can't get any worse, and then it does. I don't see how our significant cohort of Zim students are going to pay their fees next year, there's no forex, which is awful for them, but is also going to deliver another blow to my Cherished Institution's slightly stretched finances.

In mitigation, I recommend reading everything David Roth writes on Deadspin in the way of ruthlessly dismembering political fuckwittery, specifically the Trumpian variety. I've just read Toward a working theory of what the fuck Donald Trump is even talking about and This is all Donald Trump has left, both of which are savage, biting, insightful dissections which leave Trump in appropriately raw and quivering lumps. Satisfying. But not, alas, assisting with the exhaustion.

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South Park Self

true and correct

I'm a Commissioner of Oaths in my employment capacity, as a result of the fact that my Cherished Institution requires CoO certification for anyone above a certain payclass. Generally I don't have to do much with my Madly Official Stamps, since, while the institutional Powers That Be do generate a list of available commissioners, they only seem to advertise it in a locked filing cabinet in a basement somewhere behind a sign saying "beware of the leopard", with the net result that few tragically uncertified students actually work out I'm available. However, there's been a slightly odd rush of certification requests in the last few days. Either they've fired the leopard, or something about the approaching end of year brings people out in documentary hives.

The certifications of copy are dead routine, and, as I just said to the nice young man whose certificates I stamped, probably among the easiest things that students could possibly ask me to do. What is more difficult is the commissioning of a document, which is the whole sworn oath thing where I'm attesting that the signature on the document is that of the person in my office who is also the person appearing in the identity document they've given me as proof. Which is a madly ritualistic bit of legal wossname where I actually have to administer an oath, and always makes me feel as though I should be wearing a gown and wig and breaking out the more cumbersome sort of legalistic jargon. (Even though I always, without fail, default to the "truly affirm" version rather than the "so help me God" one, on the grounds that someone else's relationship with God is none of my business, and also that the invocation of a deity doesn't assist the integrity of my participation in the slightest being as how I don't believe in him).

I don't have to commission documents too often, and at least two of the occasions where people have arrived in my office with a commissioning request, I've had to gently decline. Both were fellow staff members, who wanted me to commission a document on behalf of an absent family member, and both of whom, while they didn't say anything explicit, managed to convey by generally huffy body language their annoyed incredulity at the fact that I wouldn't just stamp the damned things already, good grief, despite the inarguable absence not just of the vital personage concerned, but of every sort of verifiable element to which I'm supposed to be attesting.

Lawful Good doesn't work like that. I have a stamp which says I've verified things to my own satisfaction, and a quite clearly written and unequivocal guideline document which lays out exactly what I'm supposed to be verifying, and I'm quite frankly buggered if I'm going to make a mockery of the system by using my powers for anything other than their intended purpose. What the hell, even. How dare you expect it of me.

Dear attempted-falsifying colleagues, in that momentary drawing of lines you tried to implement, where you and I were comrades standing against the giant mechanisms of meaningless bureaucracy, you have badly misunderstood my position in the whole thing. I'm not on your side of the line. I frankly resent that you think I might be, particularly given that both of you are higher ranking in institutional terms than I am, and the whole momentary-comradeship thing elides a power balance that might conceivably be read as pressurising a junior staff member. I get that you are not attempting massive fraud, and this is convenience, and your family member almost certainly is who you say they are, and probably even signed this. But no. It might not matter in the greater scheme of things, but the integrity of my word damned well matters to me. We live in a world where, globally, systems are being systematically screwed by this sort of personal-convenience thinking. This is a tiny meaningless microcosm, but I will have no truck with it. You want my signature, you take the system on board.

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South Park Self

rage against the machine

Blissfully rainy and cold for the last couple of days, my garden is all happy and full of rain-washed leaves. It makes the Skyrim replay less urgent, I don't have quite the same desperate need to deny the globally warmed African temperatures by frolicking through snowy landscapes, but I'm right at the end of two major quest lines I haven't played before, so have had additional reasons to plunge straight back into gaming when I get home.

This is the replay where, in fairly uncharacteristic denial of my usual Lawful Good hard-wiring, I am playing through the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines. Thieves Guild is, obviously, about wholesale nicking stuff, and also restoring a crumbling guild to its former glory days; the Dark Brotherhood is an assassin's guild, with a particularly nasty Daedric godling at the heart of it. (The Daedric lords in Elder Scrolls games are potentially very nasty indeed, and I tend to avoid all but a handful of the nicer ones like the murder-ridden pits of extra-dimensional perversion they are). And part of my vague yen to get all anti-establishment up in here is, I think, because the world in general and my academic corner of it in particular are making me despair of systems in general, and wish to bestow on them a hearty Up Yours, at least in an abstract and virtual sense.

But the other reason I've managed to go beyond my usual point of initial "nope" in these quest lines is, weirdly enough, role-playing, because this time round I'm playing a Khajit. These are the cat-people race of the Elder Scrolls world, humanoid, furry, rather lovely tigerish faces. My current iteration has caracal ears, which are my favourite feline ears of all time. Khajit have good bonuses for thievery and sneaking, but mostly Khajit identity is enabling my non-lawful activity by dint of the fact that Skyrim is beautifully constructed as a parochial, insular little snowfield full of patriotic Nordic types who distrust and exclude outsiders, and random NPC samplings of whom have some choicely racist things to say on the subject of cat-people. You start the game narrowly escaping random execution for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I emerged from the starting sequence in a fine frame of seething indignation towards Nords, the Empire and random discrimination which made it comparatively easy to decide, right, you bastards, you owe me everything you have. Also, you tried to kill me, so I'll kill you right back.

It's surprisingly freeing. I don't think I'll drift in any wholesale way towards this kind of anti-establishment gameplay as a general rule, it's really quite alien to me, but at this particular moment, and given the more dysfunctional kinks of my personality, it's probably weirdly healthy. I am, at base, incredibly bad at anger. I find it very difficult to direct it against the world; I will turn it, nine times out of ten, against myself, into generalised self-loathing. As I burgle yet another snooty Nordic home with vindictive satisfaction, somewhere, without knowing why, my ex-therapist is spontaneously punching the air.

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