Saturday, January 24, 2015

masks, hierarchies of trauma, and fresh air

Some soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made masks to express what their internal experience. These masks are being featured in National Geographic, in their February issue. Some of the masks are also displayed on the website. They're really worth seeing. And I don't think that they are upsetting to see so much as they are humanity-invoking. There are so many internally wounded people all around us (some who are soldiers, some who are not), and these masks remind me to try to be gentle with everyone, because you truly never know who might be suffering greatly. Here is the link to National Geographic's display.

There are two other recommendations I have, both related. The first is to an article in The Atlantic, written by Conor Friedersdorf, whom I find to be incredibly thoughtful on subjects related to gender and sex. This particular article is about a blog comment written by a straight, "nerdy," white professor who wrote, in the comment, unusually honestly about his the sexuality of his adolescence. His comment is an attempt to engage radical feminists on terms that straight white men don't usually engage radical feminists. That comment prompted a series of responses, in well-regarded places like The New Statesmen. Friedersdorf sums up the whole thing, which turns out to be about feminism, all kinds of marginalization, privilege, hierarchies, power, empathy, compassion, and trauma. He then offers his own perspective on how we might collectively move the conversation to even better grounds than they're currently on (and in his view, at least, the dialogue that's been spurred around the internet by the original blog comment has been largely positive dialogue; but he thinks we can do even better). I think it's super worth reading. It's here.

(By the way, the reason that I think that article is related to the soldiers' masks is that it can be easy (for some people, myself included, sometimes) to look at a male, macho-looking former Marine and think of him just in terms of someone who has done and is trained to do violence. Or who is valorized by the American people as one of "our troops" and therefore above reproach. It can be easy to think that he could never understand anything about the suffering of, say, women. Or transgendered people. I think that Friedersdorf's article has some relevant and important things to say about that.)

And finally, related to both of the above, on the NPR show "Fresh Air" this week, the journalist and former soldier, David Morris, was interviewed about a book he recently published about PTSD. He was an embedded journalist in Iraq when the Humvee he was in hit an IED; although he survived, he sustained the traumatic brain injury that is PTSD. (I don't think I realized prior to listening to this interview, that PTSD is classified as a traumatic brain injury.) He then began researching PTSD, which is suffered by survivors of many experiences, including rape, war, and natural disasters. His writing is extraordinary. Here's a few lines: "We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness, the coming annihilation not only of the body and the mind, but also, seemingly, of the world." See what I mean? This is not your average informational guide to PTSD or your average journalism on war. The interview is really worth listening to. Here's the link.

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