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Impotency in this long list of associations is what I have taken to capture a whole range of emotions. feelings and sensations that I have experienced and continue to endure when confronted with a particular kind of stuff that makes me feel powerless, arrested, inadequate, guilty, incompetent, worthless, angry, shocked, horrified, fearful, paralysed, useless, ineffective, small, invisible, untrue, unreal, and/or, simply a piece of shit. While undoubtedly the entire list below (and these are just a few on top of my head) has also driven me to action and transformation, they all continue to be my weakness and the dominant sources of my pain and suffering.

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Impotency, the histories of violence that made me before I could make myself

Impotency. the whitewashing of histories of violence to disable the knowing of what made me

Impotency, the norms that have dictated I fall outside the normal

Impotency, the struggle to fit in, to belong

Impotency, the racialized, gendered, ableist and sexualized distance between who you want to be and who you are

Impotency is the classroom

Impotency is speaking in class

Impotency is Language

Impotency is football

Impotency is being called a Faggot

Impotency is being bullied

Impotency is having no friends

Impotency is being home alone

Impotency is desiring to be White

Impotency is not being White

Impotency, the culture that hates women that forced me to kill my femininity

Impotency is the contradictions of my masculinity

Impotency is Silence

Impotency is violence and conditional love

Impotency is fear

Impotency is divorce

Impotency is being ashamed of your mother

Impotency is your mother being ashamed of you

Impotency is being ashamed of yourself

Impotency is Cancer

Impotency is living with death

Impotency is diosito mio, cura a mi mamita

Impotency is the coffin

Impotency is God

Impotency is Colonialism & Western White Supremacy

Impotency is my father

Impotency is the Holocaust

Impotency is being different but not knowing why

Impotency: taboos 

Impotency is masturbation

Impotency is porn

Impotency is sex

Impotency is unfulfilled desires

Impotency, my former lovers

Impotency is Gaza 2008

Impotency is Palestine

Impotency is Nabi Saleh

Impotency is Mustafa Tamimi

Impotency is the checkpoint

Impotency is being stopped and searched

Impotency is witnessing someone else being stopped and searched

Impotency is police violence

Impotency, the uncountable number of security cameras invading our streets

Impotency is my body

Impotency is getting a complement

Impotency is giving a complement

Impotency is looking into the mirror, the estrangement…

Impotency: the lies I have told myself to be less me and more someone else

Impotency, not being who you want me to be

Impotency, wanting to be who I think you´d want me to be

Impotency, the inability to make you happy

Impotency, the inability to give you what you need and deserve

Impotency is not daring to say I Love you

Impotency is not daring to say I am Sorry

Impotency is Facebook

Impotency is unanswered emails

Impotency are the thirty open tabs on my computer screen

Impotency is smoking yet another cigarette

Impotency is McDonalds

Impotency is Academia

Impotency is postmodern language

Impotency is Foucault

Impotency is Judith Butler

Impotency is white heterosexual cis men

Impotency is heteronormativity

Impotency is sleeping next to you

Impotency is not daring to touch you, hold you

Impotency is the past and the ¨what if´s…¨

Impotency is your absence

Impotency is discovering the truth

Impotency is learning the truth about yourself

Impotency is understanding HIStory

Impotency, the Egyptian Revolution

Impotency, the Egyptian Military

Impotency, Arabic

Impotency, Nairobi Slums

Impotency, New Delhi Slums

Impotency, Cairo Slums

Impotency is not belonging

Impotency. thinking, thinking, thinking

Impotency is my brother, my love

Impotency is the capitalist white supremacist imperialist patriarchy

Impotency is rejection

Impotency is to never fully have you

Impotency is looking into your eyes

Impotency is when you look into mine

Impotency is being criticized

Impotency is being yelled at

Impotency is being unable to tell you that you are beautiful, that I care about you, that you are my lifeline, my hero, my strength, my weakness, my love, my hate, my sorrow, my pain, my refuge, my home

Impotency is not kissing you goodnight

Impotency is not overcoming my pride and stubbornness, and tell you. you are right…

Impotency is holding you, trying to let you go

Impotency, meeting eyes with a houseless person

Impotency is Fortress Europe

Impotency is Zwarte Piet

Impotency is Slavery

Impotency is Rishi Chandrikasing

Impotency is Injustice

Impotency is Geert Wilders

Impotency is the Dutch political establishment

Impotency is corporate advertisement

Impotency is mainstream news

Impotency is Orientalism & the Hatred of Muslims

Impotency is the white left

Impotency is activism

Impotency is not daring to admit failure, weakness

Impotency, the Hatred of Women

Impotency is your legal status

Impotency is your bulimia

Impotency is your alcoholism

Impotency is the closet

Impotency is your depression

Impotency is your insecurities

Impotency is your heart-break

Impotency is your pain

Impotency: your tears

Impotency is not being able to tell you with all my heart, god, You deserve so much better!

Impotency is the uncertainty of tomorrow

Impotency is the pain, the suffering and the trauma whose source, perpetrator and truth have no name, no face–just feeling

Impotency is this, all of this

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Two months ago I left london behind and moved to the harbour city of rotterdam. Waiting to take the room of my brother’s housemate, I decided to settle in a place down his road. When firstly visiting the place for a view, everything went quickly and efficiently. The landlady, a black middle-aged woman, provided me the necessary financial details and spent some time informing me how she kicked out the previous tenant for misbehavior, probably assuming that my young age was an indicator of similar trouble and rebellion. The caution was clear: behave or else! Within five minutes I decided to take the room, not because she was so persuasive (she wasn’t) but because the idea was that this arrangement would be temporary (3 months), so where I lived didn’t really matter. The next day the contract was signed, deposit and rent were paid, cash. Just like that I found a new place that I now share with three other people. One is a young french woman working at mcdonald’s. She moved here because of her partner and turned to the multinational fast food chain for work because no other jobs were available for her. She absolutely hates her work and fantasizes about quitting. The other is a young male student from the Dominican Republic who moved to the netherlands because his mother married a dutch man. The third housemate is a family member of the landlady. I do not know anything about him except that he makes sure that all rules and regulations are abided by all tenants. He is a tall, thin black man that has an obsession with hygiene, cleaning, order and security. One bread crumb, a single hair, one trace of a footprint and he will knock on your door or write an angry note to tell you off. That is him taking matters “lightly.” He is also not afraid of contacting the landlady to inform her of any perceived trespass committed.

This obsession with order and security is not particular to him alone. In fact, while he is certainly a potent agent in reproducing a strict and rigid order, his behavior is also symptomatic of the place that we inhabit. For instance, on the kitchen door a note informs all tenants that everything must remain spotless straight after using any common spaces and appliances. The washing machine also has a notice warning us that we can only use it between 12am and 6am during weekdays and all day on weekends—because it’s cheaper (yes, rent includes bills). The kitchen cupboard stores sparkling white dishes with as decoration the words “dinner plate”,  “breakfast plate”, “soup bowl” and “bowl” engraved according to the shape of the dish. Leaving the kitchen counter clean and spotless is also of high priority. When I once left a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables on the counter due to lack of space this was immediately removed and shoved in “my” shelve. It was clear that any trace of humanity, any sign of life must be ever effaced so as to maintain domestic order because, really, who knows what anarchy can be unleashed when a piece of fruit is allowed to dangle on the kitchen counter?

Basically, much like the omnipresence of security cameras and police forces cruising Orientalized immigrant neighborhoods and hyper-consumerist spaces here in Rotterdam, one is made to feel that your every move is constantly surveiled and controlled by norms, regulations, the gaze of the ‘other’, internal and external security, and lastly by the looming threat of getting kicked out. Tenants, like urban dwellers, are made to feel powerless, tense, paranoid and afraid. The existence of iron locks to secure each bedroom, akin to gated communities, are then also unsurprising. No one is your friend, everyone is a potential threat: keep away and stay vigilant. It’s the symbolic manifestation of pervasive urban anxiety, insecurity, socio-economic inequality, solitude and anonymity that is creeping into those spaces that are supposed to provide us refuge from the wild ‘public’. In this place, the absence of a living room as facilitator of socialization and casual interaction–not too different from today’s privatization of public spaces and the decreasing number of public parks, squares, playgrounds and libraries–reinforces the dominant order of individualist, consumerist and post-identitarian lifestyles. They deter the forging of possible alliances among tenants to join forces against powerful landlords and landladies, allowing instead that the ‘normal’ order of things is simply accepted and thereby reproduced. In this space of anonymity and individualism tenants become easily disposable bodies that come and go while powerful landowners accumulate wealth and set all the rules that we have to abide by.

Just yesterday we received a notification with “new rules” which imposes on all tenants a strict cleaning schedule including weekly inspections. If the space that we inhabit was already not made to feel as “ours”, it certainly is not now.

Living here I am reminded of a conversation I had with someone about anthropologist Marc Auge. He developed the concept of “non-lieux” (non-places) to refer to those spaces in which “no lasting social relations are established” and where there is a “total absence of symbolic ties, and evident social deficits.” According to Auge, if ‘places’ are defined as ‘identitarian’, ‘relational’, and ‘historical’, then a space that cannot be defined as identitarian, relational or historical, is what will define a ‘non-place’. As examples he cites spaces of ‘transit’ that people do not inhabit but through which they temporarily navigate like waiting rooms, airports, public transportation, large hotel chains, supermarkets and highway stops. They generally render the bodies that assemble and meet in these spaces anonymous and alien to one another. While Auge conceptualized place/non-place according to these parametres, he admits that the meaning we confer to ‘places’ and ‘non-places’ are also subjective and vulnerable to change by the very fluidity that brought them about. If we think of the bridges in Paris for example,  we notice that they are certainly transitive spaces and devoid of symbolic or relational ties (depending on the novelty and geography of the bridge) as people travel over them daily. In recent years however, they have been attributed new meanings as people spontaneously adorn fences of bridges with colourful chains, locks, scribbled messages and love notes. These are manifestations of human presence, not of corporations. They are expressions of love and solidarity, not sentiments of neoliberal egocentric narcissism. Bridges have also become, particularly in times of warm weather and austerity, the places where young people spend their weekends drinking, playing music and having fun with friends. Curiously, they also facilitate interactions with strangers, which can lead to unexplored territory. Non-places can thus also become sites of novelty, adventure, (sexual/prohibited?) pleasure and social improvisation. Unlike pubs, more traditionally defined as ‘places’, bridges are more publicly accessible spaces and can offer the possibility of a non-consumerist and unscripted social scene that allows for the relaxation of oppressive social norms and, perhaps more intriguingly, contact and relations across class, gender, sexual, cultural, ethnic, and racialized divides. So if non-places are ‘objectively’ created as spaces of anonymity and transition devoid of symbolic meaning and identity, they can also make room for the new, the stuff that remains undiscovered, possibly in a utopian post-capitalist fashion.

But if Marc Auge sees non-places as those spaces we do not inhabit, I wonder whether the architecture of those spaces meant to provide inhabitance, indeed so-called ‘places’ like apartments or houses, are also changing in their configurations to meet, or reflect, the globalized reality of travel and migration, home and diaspora, fixity and hybridity–or in fact, situations of temporality like mine. In many ways I reside in a non-place but possibly don’t inhabit one. The space of anonymity makes social relations and symbolisms absent despite human presence. It is a space that creates everyday anxieties exactly because of the very anonymity that births the idea of possible encounters with unkown others. If the space marks identity in an any way, it is perhaps solely in the way that it successfully captures the life of ‘non-placeness’ that probably all got us here to begin with.

If non-places like the metro directly confronts us with the banality, alienation and hollowness of urban existence, then the non-place where I live is no different. Like the metro where distance, silence and imagined invisibility are the norm, in the same space that I inhabit the similar practices pervade. In a space of anonymity, it conditions how we relate to each other while also marking our psyches and influencing how we feel about ourselves, thereby simultaneously affecting our relations with the world outside this space. If we get the chance to talk it remains brief and any conversation is bound to be superficial. There is almost a calculated and mutual understanding that these conversations must remain on the surface because establishing anything beyond it is not only a breach of convention, but almost like an unworthy investment of time and energy. The spatial configuration of our non-place, as devoid of identity, relation and symbols, then enforces the absence of social recognition of the self by the other and in turn creates an empty void that evokes sentiments of solitude and possible depression. The fight against this established order has been minimal although certainly present. The french woman for example has repeatedly tried to bring liveliness into the place by baking pancakes or buying sweets and leaving them on the counter together with a charming note inviting us all to freely take some. She even bought a little plant to balance out the angry notes that usually hang on the entrance wall. While her improvised efforts succeeded in establishing a symbolic footprint of social existence into an otherwise anonymous space, they failed to establish those very necessary social relations that keep us afloat.

At the same, it appears that this non-place is us, or rather a reflection of us. It is me because I arrived here with two bags of luggage: my belongings since I left holland 12 years ago when the meanings of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ changed forever and would never remain stable signifiers again. It is me because I have been stripped of those dominant identity markers that keep us rooted and stable; feeling neither dutch nor Ecuadorian, performing neither normative masculinity nor femininity, embodying neither hetero nor homo normative norms, not religious nor devout atheist, not white, but also not brown or black, neither bourgeois nor working class, neither student nor  professional. While (symbolic and material) markers of difference certainly have conditioned me, have shaped me deeply and continue to do so, my distance and alienness from (most of) these markers disallows me to truly engage with and relate to those that do strongly identify with them (and vice-versa). If then, I am devoid of fixed identity/identities, I am also devoid of a linear history because I am ever-changing. If I find it difficult to recognize the conscious self that I was even two years ago, despite tangible and intangible memories reminding me of a life lived in the past, then this causes ruptures with my understood ‘self’ across time and space and troubles those social relations that I have established in the past, but also the present. Consequently, if I am alien to both my past and present self, others become alien to me as well, and vice-versa. I am then the embodiment of the global forces that make and shape a non-place: not identitarian, historical or relational.

Yet at the same time, in many ways I am no different to my housemates whom I do not know: dislocated strangers navigating through a gruesome dutch landscape of whiteness, assembled here in anonymity, all longing for a Home that, at best, can only exist in our imagination. I wonder then if non-placeness is becoming a condition of our time, to embody and to perform, that keeps us in a constant struggle to find Home and make Home but never arriving at its fullest splendor. As we struggle and improvise new possibilities of the Home, however exciting and innovating that can be, feelings of solitude and alienation pervasively remain

After watching toy story 3 the other day, i cant help but recommend it a (re)watch for what is probably one of the most incredible counter-intuitive, anti-normative mainstream movies of our neoliberal age that I have seen in a long time. It presents a story about camaraderie and class solidarity against a male-dominated system of individualism and hierarchical, unequal, hyper-securatized capitalist totalitarianism that further praises strategic and collective violent insurrection over compliance and submission, all while challenging fixed traditional gender and sexual binaries with gender queer performances but also assertive and militant femininities that tear to pieces the stereotype of femininity=passivity/obedience. The film further succeeds in questioning normative understandings of time and rites of passage of child-youth-adult, ending with a certain inbetweenness, perhaps as a reflection of our own desires to remain in that inbetweenness rather than violently removed from one fixed age/time/identity category to another. But maybe i am reading too much in this film, the outcome of too much exposure to postmodern literature at soas. It might possibly also be a projection of my own fear that the academic bubble is bursting soon, and that i too will be violently coerced to shift from one category to another, from master student to well, let’s face it, unemployed, but also from youth to adult, from ‘guy’ to ‘man’, forced to live according to the bourgeois logics of time even if i will try as hard as i possibly can to resist them…

In societies where identity markers are so stubbornly embedded in social interactions, I wrestle with the everyday question of: “where are you from?” Not in the self-victimizing third-culture-kid sense that validates privilege but more in how do I defy this fascist norm that will categorize me regardless of the answer, one worse than the other? Hey I am brown and I am from white country. If it’s not “But you are not white” disguised in “But you don’t look Dutch”, the more pc response will be silence, an intriguing ‘hmmm…’ and the internal burden of “but why is he brown, goddamit!”. The latter I enjoy for I trouble the white man, and refuse to give into his white-supremacist views of national belongings. I thereby also undo the conflation of race and nationality, reclaiming Dutchness for what it normatively is not. I take that as subversion. Of course, the more anarchist me would say fuck you, I don’t believe in the legitimacy of the authority and the power structure and colonial history that this question embodies. But social norms have me imprisoned much like anyone else, and perhaps subtle subversion and transgression is more powerful (and safer) than direct confrontation in these cases.

Then again, it’s possible to point at a deliberate denial and (sub-conscious) self-hatred of my Ecuadorian roots, commonly associated with an inferior and backward ethnicity, culture and civilization. I thereby might be making instead a claim to whiteness (and thus civilization, superiority, etc) that I utterly (should) despise. This is most problematic when, say, I am in Egypt and an immediate, asymmetric power dynamic surfaces as a result. The other possible answer is thus the multi-cultural one that people love: “Dutch-Ecuadorian”. The usual answer “Oh my god, that’s an incredible mix” will follow. Yeah, don’t you love the (neo)colonialism and anti-Semitism that brought that about? Unfortunately, it’s the answer I am most comfortable with as I don’t betray either ethnic, national, power axis, it gets people normatively intrigued (and for the socially awkward, opportunistic me: keeps the conversation going), but yes, it gives me undeserving cool points. But worst, it also does not defy anything, nothing. My claim to whiteness also remains intact, keeping a balance between the civilized and exotic, known and unknown.

The last possible answer I have favored least, which I think really is telling of my own racial-bias, is saying I am simply Ecuadorian. While part of that has to do with conflicting identities and a personal past that has not favored this country in the best light, it is the immediate sense of how my subjectivity changes as I internalize the cultural, ethnic, racial, power inferiority that accompanies this answer, which anguishes me most. Am I then to blame for a racist self-hatred? Or rather am I concealing this identity/belonging/power axis for I don’t want to be put in that position of inferiority and (sexual) objectification produced and constructed by the white colonial man? Should I still want to defy it and say I am brown/Ecuadorian, renounce my claim to whiteness and assume the inferior position, only to retake power later?

If you ever happen to leave the confines of your house, exposure to corporate and public advertisement in the public space is inevitable. You want to escape it, but you can’t. It’s there, wherever you go. Generally static, large and lit, our gaze is ‘naturally’ attracted to these public banners. Of course, media psychologists, have carefully studied this. To think just how much planning and scientific inquiry goes into marketing and advertisement to manipulate the individual’s mind is sickening. But inciting mindless consumerism is one thing, fostering fear through racism is yet another.

A most recent example is the Transport for London’s public campaign warning people against taking “unbooked minicabs.” Although I am not familiar with the phenomenon of unbooked minicabs, it is quite clear that any such campaign has as aim not to protect citizens, but to strangle an emerging informal and autonomous economic sector in times of austerity. How this campaign tackles the issue is interesting.

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One form is public advertisement or “warnings”, predominantly placed on the walls of the London underground. In the first image (above) we can observe the ‘shady’ gaze of a male. Not just any male, of course. The pigment of his skin is of dark complexion, his eyes brown and his eyebrows black. Underneath the image of the gaze, the warning reads: “If your minicab’s not booked, it’s just a stranger’s car”.  The dark male is thereby implicitly linked to the stranger, or better understood as the significant Other.  If generally the stranger, the Other, already evokes feelings of unease, distance and fear (think how from an early age we were taught to “never talk to strangers!”), the dark male — socially stigmatized through racist discourse as menacing, unlawful, and ‘abnormal’–exacerbates these sentiments of distrust, angst and terror even further. The magic is that the advertisers, whether consciously or not, play on the imagined, though deeply ingrained, fear of dark (male) strangers. The artists of this ad thereby strip themselves from any need/responsibility of informing the public of the possible “risks” of taking an unbooked minicab. It is already implied as the power of our imagination does the job for them. If it doesn’t, a more creative extension of the campaign below might give you a clue.

A short clip featured on the Transport for London website and Facebook page, gives us an even more racist representation. The taxi driver/the stranger is represented by the non-white male foreigner, immigrant, Other. The passenger, the eventual victim, is the naive white woman. We don’t know what happens next as the driver locks the doors of the car parked in some isolated area without network, but we can assume it, of course. The dark male stranger has been attributed uncontrollable sexual lust, an association that is not new in the White man’s imagination of its significant other. Indeed, the dark stranger is often eroticized in the sexual fantasies of the white man. The White woman, on the other hand, fragile, naive, and beholder of beauty, is the victim of the story. Neither is this one a new representation. Not only does the white, beautiful and vulnerable woman merit our sympathy, but also our unquestionable protection. Especially from the dark savage! Here again, does the advertisement fail to tell us explicitly what risks are involved in taking these unbooked cabs. Instead it plays with our internalized fears through public displays of racist and gendered representations.

If the advertisement fails to tell us the risks, it most importantly fails to challenge us on why people would engage in ‘unlawful’ activity to begin with. In fact, this is exactly that the advertisement wants to achieve. Hence, the resort to racist representations. Linking race and illegal activity in our imagination does not raise questions, it perpetuates these associations as normal, natural, and the norm on the one hand; and sparks fear and suspicion, on the other.

Silence. The solem melodies of a trumpet and a guitar had left a room of 200 people still. From various corners of a dim-lighted space, snuffles fused the air together with melancholic tunes played out serenely by huffs and finger tips. Minutes into the performance, artist Ibrahim Maalouf lifts his instrument from his mouth and lets his head pend. At that moment, we were no longer strangers, we were no longer individuals disconnected by the cold reality that we had left behind, if only ephemerally. In that instance, we became a collectivity of human animals with aching hearts, patched wounds and scarred cuts, crying together, mourning together, and yet sewed together in a common struggle of survival in a dreary world. At that moment, if only briefly, we were naked, we shared our nakedness, and laid bare our vulnerability freely as the thousands of layers of social repression evaporated into the air and were exchanged for a mutual sensation of a melody so strong, so powerful, so as to lo leave an entire room silent…

I realized then that, whilst happiness might only be true when shared, reality only becomes real when the masks worn and the roles played in our daily lives fail to matter and cease to exist. This is exactly what happened there, then, at that specific moment. It is exactly through the crude unleashing of shared human sorrow and suffering, in this case channelled by entrancing music, that we can break with the socio-political chains of slavery. It brings us to an understanding that whatever we are crying for, whatever it is that is bearing suffering upon us, it is not right, it is not working for us. It requires fixing. When shared, we realize we are not alone, that this is not just my problem, it’s everyone’s. The fixing required thereby extends beyond the individual case, to the larger structure and system we have been socialized into.  When we realize that in order to fix our condition, we need to destruct and erode  our entire political cosmos, we can start thinking about initiating a true revolution.

It is perhaps for this very reason that exposing vulnerability and suffering is stigmatized as a sign of weakness, femininity and personal failure. We thus need to constantly show a face of fake happiness to inform the public that nothing is wrong, and thereby prove that the status quo works. It is suppressed  in our society for fear of what it might uncover: unhappiness, depression and dissatisfaction that are tied to larger structural problems of a system that is failing us. When they are revealed, they are dealt with as individual cases of pathology that require medicalization, not revolution. No wonder then, that the business of pharmaceutical drugs and therapy sessions to “cure” depression, anxiety, and other “psychological disorders” is so incredibly large and profitable.

A Hello! (UK) magazine released earlier in September with Kate Middleton on its cover reveals a few intriguing underlying elements that shape our daily consumption of mass media today.

Most striking, at first glance, is the over-favorable presentation of the Duchess, especially in light of the (melodramatic) scandal over her topless photos that shook the royal family in September.

Whilst the topless photos, and the scandal that followed, represent the “moral degradation” and “obscene” behavior of an anachronistic royal house—which, at best, discredits and delegitimizes its mere existence—the cover of this magazine garrisons exactly the opposite.

This is apparent, firstly, in the subtitles of its cover where “an unforgettable week of triumph and tears” and “she has a very positive aura”, embellish and boost Kate’s (formerly tarnished) public image. This, accompanied by the serene picture, has taken her stature from a morally corrupt, or perhaps even “ordinary” woman to a heroine, a saint, a Virgin Mary—so to speak.

The text sustains this, but the image conveys it directly to the consumer. The veil, with its binary symbolism of oppression, gender inequality and backwardness on the one hand, and female innocence and moral standing on the other, is conveniently and strategically used to transmit the latter.  Unsurprisingly, the white woman wearing a veil can communicate exactly this, meanwhile a woman of color hardly can (see post below).

Again here, topless or nudity represents transgression, as opposed to the veil which conveys purity and integrity.

Lastly, the feature of heroism emerges as she comes from the “east”, which, in its most orientalist understanding, can communicate an exotic adventurist imagery already enmeshed in the consumer’s mind. Her “triumphs” and “tears” tell a story of a courageous and brave woman, perhaps much like her lamented mother-in-law, who is altruistic and caring.

So not only is she heroic, saint-like, but also, at the same time, a very human individual. She cries, the poor girl!