Friday, December 31, 2010

What We Lose

My pets are old--one ancient and one a senior citizen.

Mephisto (cat, 20 yrs. old) had a stroke and is blind and deaf. The other senses are fine--he can smell us when we come in and will scream to signal. He can feel and purrs loudly when we hold him in our laps--which he always wants to do as it is his only sensation. The stroke though has left him wandering in circles and he bumps into things, so he is not feeling space the way that he should as a cat.

Guinness (dog, 13 yrs. old) is deaf in both ears. The ear canal has been removed from one, and the other is so blocked that it too will require removal. He does not wake when we call to him (he never came) but we use hand signals which seem to actually work better, but you must touch him first to get his attention. We have to be careful to touch him gently if coming up on him as he startles.

We have always suspected that his vision and smell were not what they should be, as he would often jump upon encountering things outside, but his hearing was acute. Of course, now he does not go mad when the doorbell rings, or sirens go by outside or Mephisto screams in the night and he sleeps longer, undisturbed.

As a human these losses would be felt acutely as they came (as they are for some of my older relatives). We would know all that we had lost and would never have again. That would add to our sense of loss.

I wonder, do they know what they have lost? Does Mephisto remember seeing and stalking outside? Does Guinness miss when he could hear us call? Did they suffer their own grief upon losing these senses, or feel just a temporary confusion and then readjustment? Do they wish their youth and health back? They are both so thin now for a variety of reasons. Are they aware? Do they see and hear in their dreams? Or, as scientists tell us, are their memories so short that this silence, this darkness seems to be all that has ever been?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saving a poem here so that I don't lose it

Just a little autumn haiku.

A leaf drifted past
my window. Sadly it speaks
of Autumn's coming

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Not all dying words are true and this blessing is no less real for being shorn of its ground.

Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?

He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it.

When you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

I love David Mitchell, the British author (as opposed to David Mitchell, the British comedian) of Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, Number 9 Dream, Black Swan Green and now this, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Like Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks, Mitchell seems to write one "normal" or linear narrative in between the time and mind bending ones (someone is attempting to film Cloud Atlas. I think this is a very, very bad idea). That said, this is a good book, but not his best, which is rather like saying that The Magnificent Ambersons isn't Citizen Kane.

This is, to a certain extent (which looking back over my blog is a phrase I use too much), a historical romance set at the very end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th on an artificial trading island off the coast of Nagasaki. Mitchell lived in Japan for many years and is very familiar with the culture.

It is both a love story and a historical story--describing pretty factually as far as I have researched a true incident that took place in 1808. An English ship attempted to take the Dutch trading post by force and open Nagasaki to English trade. This was in part because the Dutch trading empire was in taters--the famous Dutch East India company had gone bankrupt, and Holland itself was occupied by Napoleon's army. The British ship failed, the lone Dutch port staggered on until Holland recovered and Japan was only finally opened by force when Perry sailed in in the 1850's.

That said, it is better when it is a love story. There is also a side line story which kept reminding me of The Name of the Rose, although they are not really similar, except that they both take place in Abbeys where some terrible things are going on.

Mitchell is a master at placing the person in time. The first section is a slow day-to-day of life in the tiny port (something like the size of a football field, as far as I can gauge, fan shaped with three warehouses, a main residence, lesser residences and an infirmary, perhaps 20 people all told, counting slaves) through the eyes of a young honest clerk, Jacob. Jacob falls in love with the slightly disfigured daughter of a Samurai doctor who is studying with the port's Doctor. Dutch studies became a staple of Nagasaki for many years. Whether she returns his love is a matter of conjecture throughout the book, so it is tragic, unrequited love, which sets in motion a variety of other things. The second half concerns Miss Aibagawa after her father dies and she is forced to retire to an Abbey despite or because of her skill as a mid-wife. The third part is about the British attempt. And in the last 5 pages we learn about the rest of Jacob's life--some thirty years back in Holland.

It is something of a let down, and that is unfortunate. Had it remained more of a character study I would actually think it better. Perhaps the last thirty years only take five pages, because the real part of Jacob's life is in those few years at the port of Nagasaki. Like the moment in Joyce's The Dubliners when the protagonist realizes that his wife is still in love with her dead young man.

No culture comes out unscathed. The lone American is a beastly captain who knows the way to deal with the "slave problem." It is one of Mitchell's few heavy handed missteps that EVERY time the American captain speaks of the lesser races and bringing civilization he does something particularly disgusting like pick his nose, fart or belch or examine the contents of his teeth. The Dutch are corrupt, the English arrogant, and the Japanese willfully blind--treasuring their sacred isolated culture over all else (detailed brilliantly in Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures about the Perry landing.) Locked into their code of honor which requires suicide to appease petty crimes. It was a pivotal time in the history of Japan, as the western inventions, such as the gun rendered Samurai little more than civil servants, but still required them to maintain a status that they could not afford, and prohibited the rise of the merchant class who had the money.

But it is in the private stories of the lower orders that we really learn about this time--of the press ganging that brought most of them out, of orphanages out of Dickens and abusive relatives. Of the promise of wealth in the east Indies that most of them will never see, instead spending the rest of their lives half a world away from all they know. No wonder then that they are so cruel and so incapable of empathy for anyone else.

"Act, implores the Ghost of Future Regret, I shan't give you another
chance...Damned fool, groans the Demon of Present Regret. What have you
done?"

"Creation unfolds around us, despite us, and through us, at the speed of
days and nights, and we like to call it 'love'"

Friday, July 23, 2010

James Baldwin quotes | Quotations at Dictionary.com

James Baldwin quotes Quotations at Dictionary.com

Extra! Extra! Loann Agrees With Sarah Palin (sort of)

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but I don't hate the word refudiate or Palin for creating it. And, she is right, Shakespeare added a plethora of new words and phrases to the English language, or at least solidified them from the spoken of the time to what we know and accept today. Any language is a moving, growing thing. A river that is different from second to second and possibly no more so than English which has become the closest thing to a global language (for no particularly good reason other than Imperialism and the British navy). Sometime ago now, I read The Story of English and wrote a little about it--meant to write more and somehow didn't. To a certain extent, Shakespeare defined English. James Joyce gleefully broke it.

So what makes them geniuses and Palin an idiot? Well, there is the fact that their writing is lyric and lasting. That they make sense (even Joyce if you are as learned as he--which I'm not) while Palin is famously incoherent in other ways. She is also a hypocrite--whinging about press attacks while happily jumping on band wagons to bash her opponents--but that's political and I don't mean this to be. Liberals forgave President Obama for saying he had been to 57 states on the campaign trail but the right waived their arms above their heads and spouted all kinds of conspiracy theories. So, perhaps we should give Sarah a little slack on this one.

I am not the grammarian about whom your mother warned you. I admit to playing fast and loose with the English language. I can't spell worth a damn. I never learned to diagram a sentence and don't remember all the rules about punctuation or grammar but go with what seems right in my head at the time. A comma for a pause, etc. I have embarrassingly used irregardless. I mispronounce words that I have only read on the page and I am probably guilty of more malapropisms than I am even aware of (ending with a preposition).

But what is "correct" English anyway. At the time of Shakespeare there were wide divergences in spelling from region to region, probably even from street to street in London. It would be almost 150 years before Johnson would write the first dictionary and many of his sources and usages came from Shakespeare. Some of the finest and most moving sentences in the language flout proper usage of their time--BUT become proper usage because of their power.

There will always be those who pedantically try to stem the tide--akin to standing in sand and trying to stop a slow moving train. You won't get hurt but you won't hurt the train, and you will be pushed backwards. Even the least snobbish of us has something that just sets our teeth on edge in common usage. I cannot stand the New England "draw" for "drawer" especially since I have seen many people here write it as "draw" as in, "My socks are in the top draw of the bureau." I also despise Aks for Ask.

But who am I to say--in 100 years time they may be accepted, if not in place of, at least alongside my preference in the dictionary (Futurama plays with this in one of its earliest episodes):



An Englishman's way of speaking
absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes
some other Englishman despise him.
One common language
I'm afraid we'll never get
--Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady

Whether high or low, someone will be annoyed by the way you speak.

That said, I believe that we should all aspire to speaking accepted conventional English as well as we possibly can, not because its "right" in some absolutest way, but because it opens up more opportunities. Like learning English--although the same is true of us, English speakers, should try to learn other languages.

I also despise the use of "txt spk" in non-text situations. But I continue to use LOL, LMFAO, IMHO and OMG. And thus, these things enter the lexicon. When did email become the verb and not just the noun that one sends? When did it become understood that when one says they have too much spam they are probably not talking about the canned meat immortalized by Monty Python? Who decided that a device for moving a cursor about a windows environment should be called a mouse--why not a potato? At the turn of the last century there was a typewriting machine and the typewriter who used it. At some point the typewriter became the machine and the user a typist.

I certainly prefer the loose conversational style of English to the stilted business or legalese like this fine example that came across my desk for editing the other day:


This is pursuant to a continuing Securities and Exchange Commission approved
program which permits the custodian to no longer retain the physical
certificates in representation of the positions...What renders the certificates
as nontransferable, in this case, is the lack of the transfer agent...It makes
for an efficient maintenance process of these positions by eliminating
statements for accounts holding only these nontransferable assets.
Yer wot?

Which I rewrote as:


This is part of a continuing Securities and Exchange Commission program which
allows the custodian to destroy the physical certificates. Lack of the transfer
agent can make the certificates nontransferable. This makes it easier to process
these positions by eliminating statements...
I probably could have done even better if I'd taken more time. And if I'd managed to understand more fully what was being said (the party of the first part...).

I think what annoys me most is a laziness in speaking. (And I am sure I am as guilty as I am condemning). Cliches last because they are true, but they are so often thrown out as a way of not thinking. Business gobbledygook pains me because it generally means nothing; it is as bland and unchallenging, herd mentalliting as it can be. Holistic and proactive are two words that make me furious and I replace as often as possible (only to have my boss put them back--grrr). Holistic, IMHO, belongs in the realm of homeopathic medicine and proactive in preventative care.

But (there is always another side, isn't there) short-hand common terms, cliches and trite expressions exist to make communication easier, to put us all on the same page (hate that one too--we're all going to the same URL, we all occupy the same point in the space time continuum, we're all friended) so that we can seemingly understand one another quickly. All language is but a short hand, symbols for concrete things to allow us to work with our fellow man. No word is anything in and of itself except for the thing we define by it.

And if you tell anyone that I forgive Sarah Palin, I will refudiate it to the best of my ability.

In For a Penny, in for a Pound--Twilight the Movie

I wasn't going to do it. Oh, how I wasn't going to do it. And I didn't. Not really. I only watched part, and even then I was working on other things. Not focusing. But those are really mea culpas.

I watched part of Twilight last night. It was not quite as bad as I expected. I suppose, if your expectation is 0, then a 1 is an improvement. Kristin Stewart was not quite as annoying as I expected. Robert Pattinson slightly more romantic. Which is to damn with faint praise. It's not a very well put together movie. How is it that this woman directed Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown?

Only two things actually interested me enough to pay attention. One, the fact that when Bella and Edward are in the woods and she says Vampire all mysterious and sexy like, the camera cuts away to the tops of the trees and then breaks and comes back to them lying on their backs. That used to be cinema convention for a sex scene, but, as we all know, Bella and Edward don't have sex until they are properly wed. Is the director inserting something here (no pun intended)? And two, totally trivia. Is the Cullen's house the same one that was used in Ferris Bueller? And were the interiors sets or location. I did like the set up of the baddies which is not part of the book--at least we aren't entirely trapped in Bella's head. (I didn't watch the payoff, so not sure how that set up played out)

Annoyances--why is it so blue? Why does Edward look like someone dumped glitter on him in the sun? Queen of the Damned was a terrible movie, but by God, the vampires glowed in that (probably with actual metal in the make-up or mica). Why is Mr. Cullen's hair color so fake? Why does Edward bounce around in the trees like some demented monkey, and why are the CGIs of his speed and agility so bad? I mean we've come a long way in the CGI department even from the First Hulk movie when he seemed to have no weight. Surely a movie this big could have done better.

Writing....?

Some mornings I wake up and think, "I want to write a story, start that novel, try something on the page." But rather than walk right in to my laptop which I named "Writer" for inspiration, I have to get ready for work, or if home alone and free, like today, there is the dog to be walked, both animals to be fed and medicated. After my own breakfast, perhaps, and, oh, there is a load of laundry to be started. And I should...

If I am so unhappy and underemployed in my current job, then I SHOULD spend every spare moment actively searching for work. Right? But I didn't do it even when happily employed (although sometimes I think that I have never been happily employed--either I liked the work and not the people or liked the people and not the work, and have never until this job liked the money--but that is a topic I've beaten before.)

And I write essays/blog posts. They are so easy for me--they're half written in my head before I even sit down at the keyboard. And sometimes I don't even manage that--once written in my head, the need to write passes.

Perhaps that is the key--I need to write the essays--to get them out of my head, to enjoy the sound of my own voice, to keep my writing skills from rusting away altogether, so that I can do my day job better, and keep my vocabulary sharp. But unfortunately, it's not likely that anyone is going to pay me for my essays. The papers are laying off seasoned essayists and movie and book reviewers are an endangered breed. The editorial or weekly column has been replaced by the blog. Oh, sure there are some who manage to get paid over at Huffington or Salon, but I'm not really in line for those. And some bloggers manage to make money but they write on one topic and I, I am, as always, all over the place. The marketer in me knows that I could market myself better--have better SEO--if I made separate blogs for the different threads, one for book reviews, one for movie reviews and film discussion and one for general rantings like this, but even then there is so much noise on the internet now. Once upon a time it might have been possible to stand out, but now, while there are numerous perfectly terrible writers on the web, there are also many, many very good writers.

But, I don't seem to NEED to write fiction, but I long to. I sometimes need to write poetry, but that is a fool's game even more than writing essays. I am not such an egotist to think that my poetry is so revolutionary that it commands attention and adoration. It is fair to middling. I am not Eliot or Ted Hughes whose talent was so blazing and original that people bowed down to it. And is that even possible now--to stand out from the crowd that much now? And even then I need to write a poem perhaps once every 6 months...hardly enough to call myself a poet.

Perhaps because it seems that all my friends are closet writers, and many are even published, I think that I should. Is it jealousy? Is it another 'should'? A sense that this is what my Amherst English degree was for, since it seems to not be helping me in any other way.

The essays are also easy because they are done--I could edit them, tighten them, would if it mattered at all. But a story--you can work on a story for years before it's done, before it holds together and has a voice and is compelling for anyone but you. I'm all about instant gratification. Even when I manage to walk into my studio I turn to the crafts and sewing first because I can call them done at a certain point. The dress is finished. The necklace done. I am not an artist of paint or materials who will work forever on a sculpture. My pieces need to be practical. A friend suggested that maybe I need to do the crafting in a way that I do not NEED to do the writing. But I think it is mere fear of the time commitment. Not that I enjoy crafting and sewing more than the act of writing, because I don't.

This friend has been religious in the last year in writing the morning 5 pages of brain dump and then the section of a novel. That's what it takes. Everyone says so. At least those who publish consistently, produce consistently. The commitment to treat the writing as a job, not as a flash of lightening. What I should do (again should--I am drowning in shoulds), is to treat the essays as a brain dump, and then turn automatically to the fiction. I certainly waste time--don't clean, don't look for work--in other ways, why not in something more meaningful, more hopeful than the next Hidden Object video game?

I think I am also afraid that I don't have enough ideas for fiction. I only seem to have three stories that I interested in telling. Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman talk of having so many "What ifs" in there heads that they can't get them down fast enough. God, grant me that problem. Or would they come if I only opened the tap?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thoughts on Twilight by Stephenie Meyers

Ok, so I read the damn thing in one night--yeah, I'm weird like that.

It is a page turner, I'll give you that. And yet, when I turned the last page, even with the "preview" of the next novel, I had absolutely no interest in what happened next, because the tension in Twilight (and I presume the sequels) is not whether or not Bella will die, but whether she and Edward will ever consummate their love. And that is the secret of its mad success.

Beyond everything it is a Romance novel that happens to be with young adults some of whom are vampires. If straight (read male) porn is all about seeing the climax, then romance (read female) is all about NOT having the climax. The long, slow building with the end only in the reader's imagination.

I have read that Meyers is inspired by Austen, and while Austen was able to weave a great deal about human nature and even politics and mores of her time into her books, which Meyers absolutely is not, the books are, at the heart, romances and their popular appeal I suspect, has far more to do with that than their literary value in lit.crit. classes. The agonizing denial is the heart of the books. It is Mr. Darcy desperately wanting to touch Lizzy in the rain and denying himself. It is Emma falling at last into Mr. Knightly's arms after he has waited so patiently for her to figure it out. And it is very telling that all other romances (and apparently this one as well) end with a wedding. They don't begin there.

It is relatively obvious why the books should appeal to pre-teen and teenage girls. They can picture themselves as Bella. The chaste kisses that can never go any further leave out the messy details of real sex. And even if they are having real sex, it gives them a place to live out romance and sensuality which is probably lacking in their relationships with real teenage boys. What most girls are looking for is what Amanda Palmer describes "Cause like any girl all she really wants is That fickle little bitch romance...all around the nation The girls are crying and the boys are masturbating." (Shores of California, The Dresden Dolls)

The Moms who like it are a) remembering their own teenage years, identifying with Bella both if they were popular and certainly if they were not and b) looking for romance as well. They may love their husbands, but they are probably well past being "in love" with their husbands--that mad, passionate time when all you want is to be with that person every minute of every day (again, for the girls holding hands and whispering sweet nothings and for the boys, going further). That all you can think of is that person, their smell, their voice, their mere presence is intoxicating. Romance, by ending at the wedding (or death as in Bella's beloved R&J, and I guess in this--the undeath) promises a lifetime of that emotion. We never have to see if Mr. Darcy snores or goes bald or gets fat. Or that Lizzy after having the first child isn't really interested in sex anymore. Edward promises a lifetime of feeling like that--nay, an eternity. He doesn't have morning breath, he exhales perfume (a little odd for someone who is dead). In this the books resemble nothing so much as straight Yaoi (which I'm not going to explain here--go look it up).

And I admit that I am not entirely immune to that feeling. I admit to rewinding (what an archaic term that is now--but what do we say, reversing?) that moment in the rain between Matthew McFayden and Keira Knightly a few times over, or the moment in The Painted Veil when Edward Norton and Naomi Watts finally fall into each others arms in pleasure and pain. I certainly remember when I was a teenager that the moments that caused the sweetest feelings were certainly not the blatant sex scenes in Judith Krantz, or Harold Robbins (which are just plain scary) but the moment in those "literary" romances that expressed the most longing. From The Scarlet Pimpernel, this passage has remained with me always:

Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on the rose-lit garden,
she would have seen that which would have made her own sufferings seem but light
and easy to bear--a strong man, overwhelmed with his own passion and his own
despair. ... the will was powerless. He was but a man madly, blindly,
passionately in love, and as soon as her light footsteps had died away within
the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his
love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the
stone balustrade there, where her tiny hand had rested last.


Dear God, who wouldn't want to be loved, worshipped like that? I read that passage over and over again. The suffering, the passion. That he is also the Scarlet Pimpernel, that daring and brilliant hero and it is his love for her and fear for her safety which make him stand aloof in defiance of his own feelings, is the crux of the romance, just as it is with Edward. The unfortunate effect of this is that we hold that romantic ideal into our grown up life. No one can be so devoted to us all the time, any more than we can be devoted to them all the time. Unless they are a cipher, a non-character existing only for those moments of devotion as it is again with Edward and Bella. I know people who expect that kind of devotion and when they do not find it (as it is impossible) they move on to the next, always disappointed and also, in many ways, cruel.

I suspect that even in the fourth book when the consummation occurs in the human sense, it is discretely off stage. That, like that other popular romance, Gone With the Wind, it probably ends with Edward carrying her off to their bedroom to engage in sex that is pain and awkwardness free. (Feel free to tell me if this isn't so.)

The other tension inducing consummation, that of Edward turning Bella, is probably described in excruciating detail because suffering for our love is so romantic. In fact, the writing style of the book reminds me of nothing so much as any teenage Live Journal that you can find from a quick Google search.

And there is where I loose interest. It is horribly written. Like some bad angst blog (which I hope this one is not) Bella is completely self-absorbed without any real self-knowledge. She is not a fully dimensional character and it's her book! Her narration! In some ways the book would be better if it were in third person. We might have a better sense of reality if someone or an omnipotent narrator were observing. Even Edward is hardly sketched in. He is passion and denial and guilt and that's about it. Everyone else is merely a line or two here or there. I could not stand four whole books of their dithering. The eroticism of his nose and mouth along her jaw wears out with repetition. I skimmed the unpublished and partial Midnight Sun to see if coming from Edward's perspective was any better--it's not. Bella is no more real or deep to him than he is to her. I quite frankly found it hard to believe that he would be interested in her. (And I find Kristen Stewart quite unattractive as well--which I suppose is fitting.) Although if we start down the path of plot points, why do the Vampires bother going to high school at all? They could pass themselves off as home schooled and their frozen ages would be less noticeable.

As Laura Miller in Salon notes:


... Bella is not really the point of the Twilight series; she's more of a
place holder than a character. She is purposely made as featureless and ordinary
as possible in order to render her a vacant, flexible skin into which the reader
can insert herself and thereby vicariously enjoy Edward's chilly charms.

I am intrigued by Meyers own story. A Mormon mother who has admitted Austen as her influence (which is unfair to Austen--as I said before, Austen is full of careful character and societal studies) as well as Orsen Scott Card, which makes more sense to me. Ender's Game appeals at a certain age because one visualizes oneself as the historyless and inner-lifeless Ender. Given that tribute, Midnight Sun makes more sense. Contrast Ender with Joe Hill's (Stephen King's son) Gunpowder sometime.

Likewise, contrast Twilight with any of its "cousins." Buffy and Angel couldn't consummate after the first time for totally different reasons, but Buffy had a vast life outside of Angel (and Angel had a show without her) involving friends, personal grief, conflicts and kicking ass, yeah, don't forget the kicking ass. Buffy was a match for Angel. She was the Slayer after all. Bella is no match for Edward in any way.

And the many comparisons to Harry Potter are (to me) unfounded. As Stephen King said, J.K. Rowling can write. Stephenie Meyers can't write worth a damn. And I know that many would find that rich coming from Stephen King, but both Rowling and King are able to do three things very well:
One--write, wordsmith, put sentences together that are descriptive, varied and with their own distinct voice
Two--write characters with histories that shape their presents and futures in which they change and grow, who are different from the other characters in the book and not just offhandedly superficially different
Three--craft multi-layered plots that leave one breathless with their construction, the early throwaway line or character who becomes vital later, the sense of real danger or at least of real change, the strong climax (no pun intended) and the graceful denouement

Likewise, Meyers is no match even for Anne Rice, her spiritual predecessor (in more ways than one), whom she does not cite as an inspiration, but surely it is Rice's beautiful, powerful, erotic but sexless vampires to whom she owes her own? Rice is an overblown writer, a little overly in love with her own voice (but then, so are Rowling and King) but her plots are far more interesting. I can still recall them more than 20 years later, the desperation at the end of The Vampire Lestat that one would have to wait for Queen of the Damned and then QotD's labyrinthine layers and detailed history of how the Vampires came to be. Her later books failed precisely because they gave way to sex in place of tension (and because she became repetitive.)

Touching briefly on Vampire literature and then I'll close, Vampires are always the other--first as objects of fear and then as objects of both lust, damnation and fear. They have stood in for our fears of the dark, our fears of addiction (both drug induced and human induced) and our fears of homosexuality. They are not going away anytime soon. There are many other Vampire series that are more interesting than this one and better written. Likewise there are many other books in general that touch on the same themes with better result.

Am I sorry that I read it? No, I do not mind the three or four hours of my life that are gone, but I don't regret that I need not watch the movies, or indeed ever worry about this again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Facebook discussion on politics

This was a recent Facebook discussion in which I rambled on so long that I decided to bring it over here to preserve it.

Me: On being in a room full of Republicans/Conservatives...I hate the fact that I can't always articulate answers to their statements or get my valid points across even though I can with people of a similar mindsets. I fear that politeness is misconstrued as agreeing or yielding. L'esprit d'escalier.

Me (in response to some short posts): I agree about parties and that a conservative would feel that, but I was talking specifically about my own ability or inability to come up with answers/facts/arguments on the spot even though I can think of a long list of points later. For example, a woman here rattled off some stats from one of those sourceless things that roam the internet and I was 99% sure that I had checked Snopes and found out it was rubbish but I wasn't quite sure enough to challenge.

A: I read George Lakoff's book Moral Politics a number of years ago and it changed my whole way of thinking about these types of discussions.

Me: It's not that I want to be right or that I think I'm going to change their minds, but I enjoy a good discussion and think that I'm open to seeing other sides esp. coming from a conservative background. What I am afraid of when I don't speak up enough is that it will be thought that I am not passionate about my beliefs or that they are not well thought out.

J: I'm the same way. If only we could stop time, figure out what to say, then push start again.

M: I'm interested in that Lakoff book, too. Intriguing.
And I think agreeing to disagree is often one more way we perpetuate bad behavior - some things you can disagree about (The Steelers vs. the Browns. vs. the Jets) but some things just make people bad human beings (human rights issues, etc.).
Novel - just be careful you don't fall into the trap of wanting to sound like (and argue/debate like) people who get all their news from pundits and wingnut radio wonks.

T: Hey Loann,
Speaking as a conservative and a libertarian, and whatever else you may want to call me, I am all about dialoging with anyone, honestly and calmly, and I don't have all the answers, and I don't like to argue just for the sake of winning an argument. What I don't like is the vicious name calling that comes from both directions. This is not dialogue. We go nowhere this way. I think all the talk and hype and vitriol may start in the political arena, but it ultimately goes beyond politics and ends up dealing with world views and philosophies and beliefs. And that gets ouchy. We all have to be willing to take what we dish out.


Me: Wow, this has provoked more discussion than I expected. Especially since I meant it more as a personal musing on what I perceive as a personal failing.
A--took a glance at the description of Moral Politics (also wandered into a good online quiz moral-politics.com on which I scored slightly left of center and my husband scored way to the left, no shock there) and I definitely agree with the premise. In fact, I wrote something like it when I was in college based on Kuhn's idea of the paradigm shift in science (for which I have been scolded by my scientist friends for taking hard science and using it as a metaphor for sociological behavior)--in essence that it is impossible for people in one paradigm to even discuss issues with someone in another, because they are almost literally in different worlds and even their language is alien. For Kuhn, it was the idea that once Einsteinian physics had developed, it was impossible to continue to speak to a purely Newtonian physicist. And likewise Einstein could not discuss Quantum theory.
I believe that liberals and conservatives (note I don't use parties) live in two different worlds, where words mean different things. Only personal experience will change a person--for example, having a gay relative. That I went from someone who could win an Ayn Rand essay contest at 15 to where I am today has to do with my life experiences and observations. Most financial conservatives, including those at the conference, believe it is because I have never had any wealth to protect.
T--I absolutely agree that senseless name calling is unproductive in any sense, but unfortunately, like stereotyping, humans have a desire to group things as a way to process information and to see patterns so that we are not constantly having to create our perceptions from scratch. Politics are absolutely as complex and as heartfelt as and often tied to one's faith.
M--
I don't think I'm Keith Olbermann or Lewis Black yet (smiley face). But, seriously, one must challenge racists or be complicit.
Here's the example from the Summit...
A man was talking about being on the town council in his New York town and how they didn't get stimulus money to build a civic center while the town next to them received money to restore sidewalks. I personally believe sidewalks are more important than civic centers, but I didn't say that because I don't know the details (did the town want sidewalks in non-traffic areas, etc.). He said that it was because his town is primarily Republican and the next town is primarily Democrat.
I did say, "Shouldn't you, as a Republican refuse stimulus money on principle?" He said that the way he views it, it's his tax money and he should get it back any way he can.
What I wanted to say was that in the Ayn Randian sense, all Republicans/Libertarians/conservatives should refuse stimulus money if they believe that it is a corrupt idea. That Bobbie Jindal (sp.?) is a hypocrite to say that big government programs are bad and then demand major help when things go bad for his state.
But I didn't. I also didn't say that Snopes says that the stimulus money was distributed equally between red states and blue states contrary to an internet trope.

Another example for which I am a little more ashamed was a woman ranting about how her hard-earned money goes to people who don't work and pop out children, etc. I wanted to say that conservatives see only the undeserving poor, while liberals think that saving the deserving poor (having been a deserving poor) is worth the supporting of the undeserving poor. In the same way many (and I should point out that I am generalizing--as above we stereotype, profile and shorthand to break things into manageable bites. Neither liberalism or conservatism, right or left are homogenized and most people hold positions on both of what is perceived of as this side or that) liberals believe that letting some bad people go unpunished by the death penalty is better than killing even one innocent man. Some/many conservatives also hold this view but disagree in others. Instead of speaking up I just slipped away from the conversation.

The funny post-script to this is that the first man came up to me at the end of the summit and said that he admired how I hadn't challenged the woman and made a scene but had quietly removed myself from having to listen and that he had heard from a co-worker that I was capable of a careful and rational discourse wherein I heard and understood the feelings that led to both opinions. I may not agree with conservatives, but I think I understand why you might think what you think, that homosexuality or abortion is a sin if you believe that the Bible says that, that you believe in a strong military and fighting any hint of communism/socialism as my father did because you lived through the cold war, or that you would believe in the death penalty if you or anyone you love was attacked. I cannot even say that such experiences would not change my mind. The old saying--a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.

On the financial side, if I were paying 50% of my income for which I worked hard and dragged myself up by the bootstraps for to support people I perceived as being lazy I might be resentful. The two things I have real trouble understanding are a) being against big-government--isn't that why we have a government? and b) nationalism based on a random function of birth--that being part of the human race should trump country allegiance in the grand scheme of things, although I understand and am proud of accomplishments of the United States and the "American" spirit.

So, in returning to my original point it seems that I am better at defending my positions and stating my strong beliefs without being antagonizing than I thought. Which makes me feel better about myself.

And a final thought regarding sides. I have many friends up here who consider themselves fiscal conservatives and social liberals. That is they believe in smaller government, less handouts and more personal responsibility or some variation thereof, but believe in gay marriage and an end to "Don't ask, don't tell," strong separation of church and state, human rights for all, etc. In truth I rather believe some of that as well. There is a strong trend in this country to equate capitalism with democracy and morality, and socialism with anti-Americanism and degeneracy. An economic system is not in and of itself a governmental system, nor is it a moral system.

And finally, finally, in 100 years universal health care will seem no more socialist than free primary/secondary education for everyone does now, despite the fact that this was viewed as destroying the social order and leading down the path of socialism 100+ years ago, when it was first instituted as many things were that we now take for granted such as regulation.

I hope that my Facebook friends have followed me here and that we can have an interesting and civilized discussion amongst ourselves.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Housekeeping

Is it just me or does everyone think that their house is not clean enough?

I hate housekeeping. I really do. So I avoid it. So my house probably isn't clean enough, but even when I feel that I really clean, I sit down only to look over and see dust on some surface that I missed.

Part of it is not maintaining. Part of it is living in an old house where there are uneven surfaces and cracks and crevices where dust can hide. I have white stairs--well, they were white when I moved in. Even getting down on my hands and knees with a bucket doesn't seem to make a difference. Part of it is having a dog and a cat and the slow detritus of hair and skin that makes up dust--but other people have children AND a dog and a cat and seem to keep up.

Part of it is simply having too much stuff--too many books, too many figurines with tiny nooks and crannies. I can't dust them all every week, let alone take the books out and dust behind them, so the dust remains and contaminates my clean house.

My therapist says that it is the worry that does me in. The comparisons with imaginary Joneses that are more worrisome than a little (or a lot) of dust. That some very horrible and unhappy people live in pristine houses while some very happy people live in dusty chaos.

Don't get me wrong, I'm relatively tidy and organized. I can find almost anything I'm looking for within a few minutes, from old photos to tea lights. In terms of tidy I could have a tidy house for people coming over in less than an hour with my husband's help (as the untidy is mostly his)--except for our shared desk which is an overrun melting pot of scraps of paper, notepads and electronic cables.

But clean? Not really.

I think part of the fear comes with the desire not to be my mother. My mother is one object away from being on that show about Hoarders. How she would hate my publishing that here. Throwing things away is painful to her. I'm a collector, but I can throw away with impunity. I may have clothes from when I was thirteen, but only because they still fit and are in decent shape. If they don't fit and I can't alter or remake them they're gone. Shoes, which I am very hard on due to clumsiness and foot rolling, are gone after a season no matter how much I loved them. But I do remake things and keep things that might be useful--am I in danger?

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

Also watched “Fraility” a disturbing little film about faith and families—don’t know what else to say about it.

And finished “The Family…” Is it paranoid? Conspiracy theorist? It seems well-researched and has certainly taken on great meaning in light of recent events to pundits of the left such as Rachel Maddow whom I respect (and—full disclosure--kind of lust after because I love smart nerds).

According to the book, there is a quiet, not-quite hidden or secret, but shadowy nevertheless, organization, known now as the Family who works behind the scenes of Washington politics and from there the world. In it’s guise of innocent prayer groups it places “influential men in key places” thereby spreading JESUS throughout the world. But theirs is a Jesus unrecognizable to me or to most Christians whether they be holiday Christians or Evangelicals.

Theirs is Jesus unfettered by scipture, focused on the 'global picture' and therefore unconcerned about the tiny players (read you and me, the poor, the victims of dictators) and unhindered it seems by common sense. I didn't realize as I started this, but perhaps that is why I was thinking of World Citizen by Sylvian:
We raise the men
Who run the fascist states
And we sell them arms
So they maintain their place

We turn our backs
On the things they've done
Their human rights record
And the guns they run

Their concern is with "key men" in high places. That is, their belief is that God has "chosen" some men to have power (they must be chosen by God, right? Else why would they have power?) and that those chosen should be prayed over and with to spread Christianity, or rather complete loyalty to Jesus as they avoic the "Christian" label as they find it "off-putting." This is not proselytizing in the traditional sense, this is a new world order.

They take as their inspiration the story of King David, chosen by God despite what we would consider evil and sinful behavior. In fact, Governor Sanford (a member of The Family) referenced King David in his strange, rambling apology for his infidelity and deception of his family and his constituents.

I have always had a problem with the story of King David. Why should this sinful and proud man be so beloved by God. I try to rationalize it as C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist does by saying that an all-powerful God is beyond our comprehension, so his actions cannot be limited by human sensibilities.

But it falls kind of flat. This is one of the cenral tenants of The Family. That these petty sins of minor men are unimportant for the 'great men' who are 'loyal' to God.

This means that they celebrate Hitler, Lenin and Stalin as men who 'got it'--the uniting and leading of men. They befriend and supposedly pray with dictators such as Suharto of Indonesia. The crimes against humanity are nothing compared with power. That's why men like Sanford or John Ensign seem to have so little real remorse and do not resign. After all they have a greater good to do.

But The Family is not limited by party lines. It's members are Democrats as well as Republicans. Independents as well as party-liners. All united by their sense of being chosen. It is Ayn Randism with the face of God. Even Hilary Clinton has participated in The Family's prayer breakfasts although she is not one of the elite.

At its very mildest it is an old boy network providing a ladder for those hoping to rise in politics. The author, Jeff Sharlet, begins his story in one of the family's houses, Ivanwald, with other young men, some Christian some just looking for a leg up.

American Actresses vs. the Brits

Past weekend, watched “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” I had read the novel ages ago, and the screenplay even further back.

Must say that I was disappointed. I found it very flat with the exception of Jeremy Iron’s rformance. I love Irons (Brideshead, of course, and in Reversal of Fortune) but have found him passionate only in this Elizabeth I.

It was amusing to see British actors who went on to bigger and better or at least more amusing roles--Leo McKern, Richard Griffiths, and Penelope Wilton known to Doctor Who fans as Harriet Jones. But I was very disappointed in Meryl Streep. For all her fame in accents, I found hers uneven and unconvincing in this.

Which brings up the question, why, when Hollywood is perfectly willing to cast British actors as Brits (and often as Americans) is it so reluctant to cast British actresses as Brits??? Particularly iconic British roles—like this one or Bridget Jones for example. Australians as Americans thrive in Hollywood, and it does not turn around and cast Americans as Australians—Cate Blanchett gets to play an Australian although Nicole Kidman played a Brit in Australia. If it is name recognition then why did Collin Firth get to be in Bridget Jones?

But then, why ask why—Hollywood has been doing it to Asians forever, from “The Good Earth” to the Chinese as Japanese in the excruciating “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Japanese actresses should actually be glad that they weren’t associated with that travesty.

Oh, and speaking of travesties, Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. Not to mention it remains a touchstone for me of terrible films--as in, at least it wasn't as bad as The Avengers.

Even More on Social Media and Human Behavior

Do you casually put up anything that comes to mind on Facebook/Twitter, Twitter being designed for this, or do you put some thought into provocative, humorous or controversial statements, hoping for comments or re-Tweets?

I prefer Facebook because a) more of my friends are on it, and b) because it invites lengthier and more diverse conversation, sometimes between friends who don’t otherwise know each other from different parts of one’s life, between high school friends, college friends and Boston friends for example. I prefer the conversation. And find myself irrationally unhappy when I don’t get it.

Do you also worry about when to stop commenting? If you have the last word have you been selfish, or so dull that you are conversation ending? If you do not leave the last comment, then have you been rude and abrupt?

If no one comments then are you unpopular, dull or simply lost in the rush. Which leads to my own low-self esteem general question, “Do my friends really like me?”

I find it humorous that posts that where I expect many comments get none, and toss away, random posts especially if concerned with the domestic get multiple responses. I suppose it is commonality. Not having children I tend to refrain from commenting on those posts, and I find it limits my engagement somewhat, to my regret. A friend in blogging once commented that parents have infinite sources for blog posts, while we childless have somewhat less. I could post Guinness’ antics and Mephisto’s foibles, I suppose, but they are rather repetitive.

Do other people worry about such things, or is it just me?

A Musical Hierarchy

Do other people have a music hierarchy? When listening to the radio in the car and you are faced with the choices of two acceptable songs or even two songs in general, what determines which one you stop on?

For instance, for me from this past week, Muse trumps Red Hot Chili Peppers but loses to Death Cab for Cutie, particularly if it’s from the new album of both, but Red Hot Chili Peppers would come before Oasis, for example. Alternative 80’s (Cure, Depeche, Duran (of course), Human League (except for Human—God, I hate that song), etc. wins out much of the time except for really new songs that I adore.

Between “Sometime Around Midnight” by The Airborne Toxic Event and “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons, both songs that just slay me, the later would probably win because it is newer and I haven’t heard it as much.

There are artists who, if they are the only choice, lose to commercials or even to silence. Coldplay, for example, or James Taylor or (shudder) John Mayer. And this isn’t even counting artists that I don’t even know, or simply dislike as a type—country, country lite (Lady Antebellum), most R&B, much top 40.

Though choosy, I am much more egalitarian than my husband. I will nostalgically stop on Hall and Oates (this morning) or Phil Collins, while my husband would probably rather stick his head out the window in on-coming traffic. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of artists that he would listen to that I wouldn’t, at least not any that would be played on the radio. For a short time, for some reason, every time my husband was in the car with me a Jane’s Addiction song would come on—either ‘Been Caught Stealing’ or ‘Jane Says’—and while we both mildly like Jane’s Addiction it grew almost frustrating.

This also leaves aside the question of whether you will sit in the car and listen to a song that you have on MP3 not a foot away, or could go inside and listen to on CD. For the most part I mainly plug in the MP3 but for short trips it seems silly, and how else would I hear new music to sample?

Ah, well, there’s always NPR.

Addendum:
There's a radio show on the alternative station (sort of) in Boston at lunch time called "Left-Over Lunch" that plays 80's and 90's music for an hour. And today on the way back from the mechanic I got to hear:
Age of Consent by New Order (which I don't have on MP3)
Ever Fallen in Love (Buzzcocks--also don't have)
This is Radio Clash (which I do have)

Sweetness!

Also got to hear Interpol's Slow Hands after the hour was up. Which I do have but it proves the above.

English vs. the World

Part of my curiosity about language stems from a book that I’m reading called “The Story of English” from the 80’s BBC series of the same name.

In it, it is postulated that English is uniquely capable of expressing such nuances because it is such a polyglot language—sometimes welcomingly and sometimes hesitantly or even actively resisted—developed from multiple sources and languages and is therefore so vocabulary rich that it is (arguably) unrivaled in its ability to say the same thing in multiple ways and as in my previous post, to say something different with the same words.

According to the book, the OED lists 500,000 words and there are almost a million technical and scientific specific words uncatalogued, with new words being developed every day. And this book dates from the 80’s. As science continues to expand the number is probably higher now.

In contrast, the estimates for German are 185,000 words, and for French, 100,000 including borrowings from English. The French have, of course, attempted to keep their language pure, but have been unable to stem the tide. The Japanese gleefully adopt English words (and Engrish words) to the chagrin of Japanese traditionalists. Or, like the Germans create polysyllabic, tongue twistery portmanteau words to cover new situations. You see, I can create the word ‘tongue-twistery’ for my sentence and know that I will not be considered illiterate by my readers. The verbing of nouns, the commonnizing of trade marks (band aid, Kleenex, etc.) are all marks of English. See my post on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” for more on that trend.

Henry Higgins was perhaps exaggerating when he said in 'My Fair Lady' (words written by the American Alan Jay Lerner):
"The majesty and grandeur of the English language.... It's the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary,
imaginative and musical mixtures of sounds."

Shakespeare alone created multiple and varied words without regard to convention.
"Shakespeare put the vernacular to work and showed those who came after what could be done with it. He filled the universe with words. Accommodation, assassination, dexterously, dislocate, indistinguishable, obscene, pedant, premeditated, reliance and submerged..."--The Story of English.

This is not my post about the book—I’ll do one when I finish the book, but my question remains. Am I, like Higgins nationalistic and selfishly attached to and proud of English because it is in all senses (though not absolutely) my mother tongue? Having dabbled now in three other languages, but hardly scratched their surface (a note for another day—how many cliché’s are in this piece and how many clichés as shown above come from Shakespeare, still resonating despite their overuse because they are fundamentally true and perfectly metaphoric). I want to know how other languages compare. What are their strengths? Their weaknesses.

In another life I would have liked to have been a linguist or a studier of semiotics like Umberto Eco. Etymology fascinates me.

Well, I have rambled on enough and run-on sentenced enough on this topic for today. I await your answers.

Nuances of meaning

This previous post is one of my favorite David Sylvian songs and I was thinking about it's meaning. There are such subtle shadings in English, for example:

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering

Our world is suffering

They can all mean that THE world is suffering, mother earth physically suffering, but it can also mean that all he or she knows is suffering, that all of the world means suffering.

Likewise, in The Cure song, "The End of the World" Robert Smith sings:
‘I couldn't ever love you more’

Meaning I could not love you more than I do. It is impossible for me to love you more.

Later, he sings:
‘It’s not my fault, you couldn’t love me more’

Meaning isn’t it sad that you couldn’t love me more. You were incapable of loving me more, or as much as was needed. Of course, it is possible that she couldn’t love him more because it was impossible for her to love him more.

Also, in The Barenaked Ladies song, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” Steven Page sings:

‘You're the last thing that's on my mind’

Meaning at the beginning of the song, I wasn’t thinking of you.

But by the end (as he is dying—sorry all of these examples are such downers) it means that she is the last thing that he is thinking of as he dies.

So my question for all of my multi-lingual friends is what are the subtleties of other languages that hinge on inflection?

And for everyone, what are some other examples of these dual meanings.

When in doubt, David Sylvian



World Citizen


World Citizen
(Words by David Sylvian)

There goes one baby's life
It's such a small amount
She's un-American
I guess it doesn't count

Six thousand children's lives
Were simply thrown away
Lost without medicine
Inside of thirty days

In the New York harbour
Where the stock's withheld
It was the price we paid
For a safer world

World is suffering
World is suffering
World is suffering
World citizen

In Madhya Pradesh
Where they're building dams
They're displacing native people
From their homes and lands

So they hunger strike
Cos they believe they count
To lose a single life
Is such a small amount

In the name of progress
And democracy
The concepts represented in name only

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

World citizen

And the buildings fall
In a cloud of dust
And we ask ourselves
How could they hate us?
Well, when we live in ignorance and luxury
While our super powers practice
Puppet mastery

We raise the men
Who run the fascist states
And we sell them arms
So they maintain their place

We turn our backs
On the things they done
Their human rights record
And the guns they run

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

My world is suffering
Your world is suffering
Our world is suffering
World citizen

Who'll do away with flags?
Who'll do us proud?
Remove the money from their pockets
Scream dissent out loud?

Cos god ain't on our side
The shoe won't fit
And though they think the war is won
That's not the last of it

Disenfranchised people
Need their voices heard
And if no one stops to listen
Lose their faith in words

And violence rises
When all hope is lost
Who'll embrace the human spirit
And absorb the cost?

Not one life is taken
In my name
In my name

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

My world is suffering
Your world is suffering
Our world is suffering
World citizen

Monday, May 03, 2010

King Jesus

Robert Graves' King Jesus is a dense, sometimes difficult, thought-provoking and ultimately frustrating novel. Written as a history by one Agabus some 50 years after Jesus' death, it posits several controversial ideas about the life and death of Jesus.

First he discards the virgin birth (let alone the Catholic addition of the Immaculate Conception), suggesting instead that Jesus was the product of a secret marriage between Mary, a temple Ward, (whose own parentage owed more to ancient pagan sexual rites, than to Jewish custom) and a son of Herod, and therefore had the earthly right to be called the King of the Jews. But the historian also makes the argument that Jesus was the Messiah based on many writings of the Jewish prophets. Interestingly, while he dismisses the virgin birth as too mystical, comparing it to Greek and Roman mythology--making Jesus no more than Perseus, fathered by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold (I don't think there's a 21st century meaning there)--he leaves the central miracle of Jesus' life--documenting it, without endorsing it or dismissing it--the resurrection, but more about that later.

What the book primarily does, through Graves' startling knowledge of Greek, Roman and Hebrew history and texts, is to expose how many of those rites and mysteries that the Christians and Jews celebrate have their roots in much older Pagan religions. Most of us know that Christmas was to supplant the celebration of the Winter Solstice, and Easter is drawn from various European traditions of Beltaine, Walpurgis and Eostre, but Graves digs deeper, comparing the rite of communion with the symbolic digestion of the organs in Egyptian mythology among others. The mythology of many religions and cultures feature the sacrifice of a Son or the resurrection of a son into a father.

But what I find most fascinating is that Graves, an atheist, does not dismiss the resurrection, and while he finds practical explanations for Jesus' miracles, the final and ultimate miracle--the point of Christianity itself, he leaves alone.

But perhaps the most interesting/disturbing thing is that his Jesus has come to defeat the feminine in all her guises--not just the ancient cults such as Lilith, but all feminine--only by defeating the feminine can the kingdom of heaven be born on earth. That it was not the apple of knowledge that doomed Adam and Eve, but Eve's insistence on sex and motherhood. He urges his disciples to live with their wives as brother and sister. He takes a bride--Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus--but despite her wishes, he will not consummate the relationship. They are the holy king and queen, but he has not been consumed by her--she is subjugated to him.

Mary Magdalene is seen as a combination of all the derogatory version of her through history--she is not just a prostitute but a Madam, a witch and possessed by demons that Jesus drives out. There is a long passage describing a debate between Jesus and Mary where she describes the Pagan and he re-translates it into Jewish prophesy, eventually bringing her to his side.

Rather than being an overthrower of Jewish law and tradition, Jesus is described as being the surest defender of the law in the tradition of Rabbi Hillel. This too is a contrast with the "Hippie" Jesus who comes to break with all that has gone before.

It is important to note that this book was written in 1946 and that Graves had something of an obsession with the early feminine cults:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Goddess

It is not, to my mind, nearly Graves' best book, lacking the humor and realism of the two Claudian novels or the self-depreciating wit of his autobiographical "Good-bye to All That." Still it shakes up the traditional notions and encourages questioning.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My observation--social media (again)

Facebook is a conversation. Twitter is an exciting but crowded cocktail party of which you catch the pieces of conversations.

Personal stuff again

It has been a good two days. Although it's still crisp/cold for me, the sun is shining and it's still light when I drive home (even better with Daylight Savings coming). I was productive at home and feel energetic about projects for the first time in ages.

But here's the dilemma--I have been here (that sense of a real space again) before. Where I clean and begin projects and feel good and optimistic and the real problems I have seem smaller and beyond my control so I worry less.

And it always ends. Am I mildly bi-polar? Is it possible to be mildly bi-polar? Bi-polar seems so much the diagnosis of the moment that I am wary of using it.

And each time I think, how can I cling to this and make it last and is that even under my control.

Life during Peace

Watched Before Night Falls, always wanted to see it, partially because it garnered so much praise, and partially because I had heard about Johnny Depp's daring performance in it, and I wanted to see that.

But it is Javier Bardem's movie--every second, from the young student with high hopes for Castro's revolution who is quickly disillusioned by the brutal crack downs (just as in Persepolis) for both his writing and his homosexuality. Are all revolutions doomed to betray themselves?

It is a harrowing and beautiful film with Bardem reading Arenas own words in the original language. I cannot now remember how much of the film was in Spanish and how much in English, it flowed so beautifully together.

It made me want to read the writer--what more can a film do for a writer?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Times of War

I recently watched Persepolis, The Reader, and Hotel Rwanda, each in their own way about living through war and the things we do to survive. How much would you do, what would you do, most importantly, what would you do to survive.

Persepolis is the story of a girl/young woman, growing up in the aftermath of the fall of the Shah. At the beginning her liberal parents are full of hope for the new regime, but it is soon clear that the western freedoms enjoyed under the Shah are gone. They fear for their daughter's outspoken protest, and yet, it is at their knee that she has learned to speak up. Our heroine is packed off to Vienna where she gets into the kind of troubles that a young woman alone in a strange city might be prone to--fights with landlords, as she puts them, banal love affairs. Hers is an easy war, even when she returns, until one of her friends is killed running from a mixed (illegal) party. The war is a background to them until it collides with them and they live as if it is a distant thing as much as possible. Persepolis is animated, by the way, in a glorious black and white that echoes the book.



What can be said about Hotel Rawanda, beyond the obvious--this is a heart and gut-wrenching movie of personal bravery in the face of unbelievable odds. Could I be capable of such bravery when it would be so easy to bribe a few people and save my own family? The most telling line:
'You're not even 'ni**ers' you're Africans.' In other words the West has no reason to help you and they're not coming.

The Reader is a harder question if not a harder movie to watch. Boy has affair with older woman that shapes every relationship he has after only to find that she was a Nazi. He has info. that could get her a reduced sentence--that she is illiterate--which she is too ashamed to use in her defence and does not use it during the trial, but then sends her tapes of him reading--as they did when he was her lover--through her incarceration. We share his sympathy with her, and yet we are stuck with and lost with her crimes--that she sent women to their deaths repeatedly, many whom she had read to her. Her final act and his final question leave the watcher, as lost as he is.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spoiled

I am so used to coming into a warm house because of our timers, I had to get under the covers when I came home in the middle of the day.

How I wish for spring/summer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Succeeding in Social Media

To succeed in Social Media be pithy.

Often.

It is not, as the reoccurring joke goes about writing about feeding the cat, it is finding something interesting to say, not unlike a social gathering, like a party, only you don't really have to face people.

This is not particularly pithy, or original and will be swallowed by the great sound of other things.

But at least I'm here again.

Absent, not Dead.