December 3, 2014


Manufactured Obsolescence
Joanna Ruocco

I am tired of reading stories where a single thought, a woman’s thought, generates a whole system of thoughts.  The woman thinks her thought through and the story is just this thinking through of the thought.  Sometimes there is a little framing material external to the thought.  The woman is sitting at her desk, her desk at home.  She is the kind of woman who sits at a desk at home, a woman without a regular job, an unobligated woman, a woman like me, only I sit at the kitchen table.  I like to eat snacks when I am sitting.  It bothers me to have food where it does not belong, on my desk; however, it does not bother me to have a computer on the kitchen table, or papers, or pens, or a stapler, or scissors, so I sit with these things and also food at the kitchen table.  It bothers me to have coins on a kitchen table, and coins on a desk do not bother me, but I can sit without coins nearby. 
The woman sitting at the desk is writing, or filing bills, or reading the small booklet she found attached to the cap of her moisturizer, and then she begins to think, or else she is sitting thinking, doing nothing, and either way, the material world external to the thought slowly becomes part of the thought, and the woman, thinking, becomes part of the thought, and so do the skin bumps the moisturizer would otherwise relieve with extra-rich emollients.  The skin bumps are part of a system of thought, and the woman no longer needs the moisturizer.  The skin bumps are at the same level of thought as the skin and, therefore, the skin is smooth.  Of course only the woman, thinking at her desk, finds this to be true.  As soon as she leaves her house, her skin is not smooth.  She has bumps, her hair has thinned, her teeth are stained, her figure is not tidy, the clothing she wears emphasizes her displeasing proportions, she smells like her cat and like the scalded milk she feeds to her cat, a musty, souring smell, and this is how she appears to others: awkward, rumpled, stinky.  She can’t appear to herself; that’s not how eyes work.  She can only appear to others.  This is good for the woman: to appear to others and not herself.  It works like this:
Say the woman sees another woman exiting a bungalow across the street.  The bungalow is even less lofty, less imposing than the average bungalow.  It’s a below-average bungalow in every way.  One story, no porch, no dormers.  The woman is pretty sure it’s off plumb.  It is a crooked shack on a patchy dog-pitted quarter lot, but there are no shacks in the woman’s neighborhood, so, no, it is a below-average bungalow.  The woman exiting the bungalow is hard-working and well-groomed.  She doesn’t sit at a desk in her bedroom.  She has bills to pay and a body to maintain.  Her hair is dark.  Her scalp is clean.  She takes care of business, this woman.  No one has given her any breaks in life but she is smart, ambitious, attractive, and willing to put in extra hours.  She makes her own luck.  There she goes, exiting the bungalow, walking fast, no time to waste, even though her footwear is impractical, worse than impractical—constrictive, steeply pitched highly unstable platforms limiting blood flow to the toes and stressing the muscles of the lower back, the sort of footwear that might be confused with an implement of torture if described by an anthropologist unfamiliar with the culture—and she’s eating a handful of almonds as she walks.  This woman can’t appear to herself any more than the first woman can appear to herself.  She strides down the sidewalk and she appears to the other woman, the horse-faced, cat-smelling woman who has exited her adorable Victorian and who now appears to her.  Each is the appearance of woman for the other. 
The woman whose thought generates this story does not have to worry about taking care of her own body.  She does not have to worry about grooming, dieting, exercising, dressing, because she understands that the other woman is the form of her appearance in the world.  She has gotten the better end of the deal.  Her system of thought has subsumed the world, and in that world the other woman presents the toned body that gives her flabby body form.  It isn’t fair.  The woman whose thought generates this story doesn’t do any work.  That’s the class bias of philosophy. 
In this kind of story, that’s a conclusion. That’s the end of the story.  It’s over.  I’m tired.  Okay.
Joanna Ruocco

The temperature that allows you to go about not noticing you are naked is the most perfect temperature and then less perfect are the temperatures that allow you to go about noticing you are naked, sticky or shivery but not instantly heat stricken and dehydrated or frostbitten and hypothermic or even profoundly uncomfortable, and then less perfect than these temperatures are the temperatures that allow you to go about in some kind of covering, a cotton layer or a denim layer or a wool layer, or some combination of these layers, and then less perfect than these temperatures are the temperatures that allow you to go about in highly engineered versions of these coverings, lightweight heat-wicking breathable polymer layers, or insulating heat-trapping chemically-treated semi-permeable but waterproof layers, and unfortunately you can’t just look outside and gauge the perfection of the temperature based on other peoples’ nakedness or level of coverings like you could before legal and ethical and aesthetic systems were developed to regulate peoples’ nakedness, as though nakedness did not vary, historically, with temperature, as though nakedness has nothing to do with temperature and has some sort of meaning in and of itself.
These days nakedness is bad, so even if the temperature is perfect, you will see people with coverings, cotton and denim layers, the kinds of coverings that might once have indicated a slightly imperfect temperature, a dank wind too bracing for bare skin.  However, semi-nakedness is good, so even if the temperature is quite imperfect, significantly flawed, requiring the use of highly engineered coverings—for example, it is a wicked frost-biting temperature—you will see people inadequately covered, people covered by one cotton layer, or a satin layer, or a spandex layer, shaking violently and rubbing their palms on their arms behind the red velvet ropes on the sidewalk outside the nightclub.  These days we can’t rely on people.  We must rely on the internet to tell us the current imperfection of the temperature, and the chances of its perfectibility over the weekend, over 3 additional days, or over 10 days, though the information made available by the internet for temperature during the outer 7 days of the 10 day range is often disparaged because it rarely pertains to specific perceptible manifestations of temperature in that time period and so is really just a placeholder for the idea of temperature in general.  We’ve all learned that temperature is the motions of the particles that constitute matter, and we all assume that matter will continue to exist, not forever perhaps, but for 10 days certainly, and so the idea of temperature in general being around us and in us doesn’t add to our ability to prepare for the future, because it only tells us there is a future and we’re all preparing for that anyway, the idea of it, that is, generally. 
Nonetheless I like to look at all 10 days in the predicted future of temperature that are made available to me on the internet.  Sometimes I look at the 10 days of the predicted future of temperature several times an hour.  I also look at other things.  People are free to be naked inside their houses because houses are private and different legal, ethical, and aesthetic standards apply in the private versus public domain.   If you look through peoples’ windows the peoples’ nakedness or level of covering will let you gauge the perfection of the temperature, but only inside those peoples’ houses, where the temperature is also private and has nothing to do with the temperature outside the houses or inside any other house, however close by.  Knowing how perfect the temperature is inside other peoples’ houses does not tell you how to prepare for anything but entering those peoples’ houses, and legal and ethical regulations are in place to prevent that.  Here’s another thing:  because temperature is the motions of the particles that constitute matter, if you move around vigorously temperature changes and in this way you can adjust the perfection of the temperature, by moving more, or moving less, vigorously. 
Across the street from my house, there is a house and I have observed a girl dancing in her bedroom in the house.  She dances naked and this is her way of adjusting the temperature without using coverings.  I know that if I entered her house I would have to wear coverings or I would have to dance as vigorously as she dances, quite vigorously, bouncing and undulating and shoving the air and also elbowing the air and then pummeling the air.   I want very badly to enter her house but the one time she saw me through her window as I stood looking at her though my window she ducked down and the light in her window went out.  I turned out my light too and stood again at my window but my eyes did not adjust sufficiently to make her out through the darkness between and in our houses.  It is more exciting to adjust temperature with motions instead of coverings and she understands that and so do I but we are forced to make motions separately, each in her private realm, because to each other we are public people, strangers, and the regulations about nakedness and entering apply. 
Sometimes I dance vigorously in the night behind my illuminated window.  I look at her dark window and hope that she will turn her light on and dance vigorously, and I dance so vigorously that the temperature in my house becomes imperfect, so far from perfect that I need to be even more naked than naked to continue the vigor of my motions.  I need to remove the top layer of my nakedness. I need to cut my skin, just the lightweight, tough outer covering, slide off the covering, and keep dancing, pummeling the air, for her, because she is there, watching, in the darkness in her house, dancing in the darkness, to make it perfect.  I begin by cutting vents in my skin, at the armpits, groin, knees, leaving the covering in place, because, cutting, I dance less vigorously. I keep dancing, but I have to sway instead of bounce, cut instead of pummel, and the temperature adjusts so that I no longer need to remove the whole layer; it’s perfect with the perforated layer, that is, until I stop cutting and start dancing, really dancing, vigorously.  Her window is dark, but there is motion behind the glass.  The girl is pressed to the glass, bumping the glass with her hip or her fist.  The girl is gleaming behind the glass.  The window is filled with her, a dark shining.  The window reveals her.  The glass is slick and backed by this quivering.  Like me, the girl needs it, a deeper nakedness.  She needs to open more widely to the private temperature she has perfected, dancing, cutting, watching.  I see the flash of her palms on the pane.  When I am too tired to dance, I twist myself in the curtains.  They spot all over and stick, drying in place like a part of me, a smocked layer of organdy not unlike a sundress, which any girl would be proud to wear outside. 

Joanna Ruocco co-edits Birkensnake, a fiction journal, with Brian Conn.  She is the author of The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press), Man's Companions (Tarpaulin Sky Press), A Compendium of Domestic Incidents (Noemi Press), and Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith: A Diptych (FC2), and DAN (Dorothy). Toni Jones, her more athletic alter ego, recently released her first novel, No Secrets in Spandex, from Crimson Romance. 

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