Saturday, March 31, 2007
Pardon me for using one of the oldest of cliches, but A Nos Amours is a film one will either love or hate. At worst it will spread fear into the hearts of all of those who have or will eventually have teenage daughters. At best, it will foster a discuss as to the true nature of love and what inspires it. It begs the question: to what extent do our parents influence the nature of whomever we are attracted?
In her first screen role, Sandrine Bonnaire, (Suzanne) plays a nihilistic, sexually active sixteen-year-old who is incapable, it seems, of feeling love or compassion for anyone who truly loves her. She sleeps with a modicum of young men she meets at summer camp, at parties, at coffee bars, and on roadsides. This is likely to blame for her dysfunctional upbringing. Both parents are lower middle class artisans. Her home life is chaotic--fraught with physically and emotionally violent conflict between all family members. Love/hate might typify best the interaction between all family members. A gentle touch is quickly followed by a harsh word or painful backhanded slap.
But above all, Suzanne, seems desperate for love and acceptance from her absentee father who leaves the family early in the action. Her mother, a neurotic basket-case, emotionally overwrought and over-the-top, envies her daughter's beauty and freedom. Any sort of mother-daughter affections are muted and paradoxical, to say the least. Her brother's violent nature barely obscures a incestuous jealousy of whomever Suzanne's latest paramour might be. He is the stereotypical overweight oaf of a man whose jealous nature obscures his own deep insecurities regarding his physical ugliness.
She sleeps with whomever she wishes, but with along the obligatory French flair for stoic pessimism, she feels nothing but contempt for those whom she takes into bed with her. Those who wish to find some sort of deeper meaning in her actions will find themselves greatly disappointed. The film shows us, rather than tells us much of what transgresses. It's up to the audience to determine the exact meaning behind Suzanne's actions.
Clearly, she is bereft of the ability to feel real love for anyone other than her father, who leaves mid-movie, only to return at the film's climatic ending. Any sense of tenderness from a strictly romantic standpoint exists only between father and daughter.
The film has a disjointed, highly chaotic narrative style that will only frustrated those who long for some sense of coherent plot, foreshadowing, and other narrative techniques for which Pialat refuses to include within his film. It has been noted that the film attempts to incorporate the physicality and framing of silent film within the context of the sound medium. It is poetic cinematography, through and through, and like all poems draws no firm conclusions for the audience.
The reviewer finds himself deeply ambivalent as to rating the quality of this film. It will either try one's patience or scares one senseless and potentially both. The ironic nature of this film is that, though twenty-three years old, if prefaces the hook-up culture of which I mentioned a few entries back. That an obscure French art film could pick up on undercurrents of society is either a stroke of genius or the musings of an eccentric, cantankerous old man. As with everything else about this film, the audience must be the final judge.
Friday, March 30, 2007
to confront my
of the grieving process
is it possible
to ludivico away
one reveals them
to no one
and barely to oneself?
The Declaration of Independence assures us that "the pursuit of happiness" is one of the "inalienable rights" of mankind. While the right to its pursuit is, of course, no guarantee of its attainment, yet the philosophy which informed the Declaration, was, on the whole, as hopeful that all men, at least all American men, could attain happiness as it was certain that they had the right to pursue it.
America has been, in fact, both in its own esteem and in the imagination of a considerable portion of Europe, a proof of the validity of this modern hope which reached its zenith in the Enlightenment. The hope was that the earth could be transformed from a place of misery to an abode of happiness and contentment. The philosophy which generated this hope was intent both upon eliminating the natural hazards to comfort, security and contentment; and upon reforming society so that the privileges of life would be shared equitably. The passion for justice, involved in this hope, was of a higher moral order than the ambition to overcome the natural hazards to man’s comfort and security. It is obviously more noble to be concerned with the pains and sorrows which arise from human cruelties and injustices than to seek after physical comfort for oneself.
Nevertheless it is one of the achievements of every civilization, and the particular achievement of modern technical civilization, that it limits the natural handicaps to human happiness progressively and gives human life as much comfort and security as is consistent with the fact that man must die in the end.
I would argue that the premise by which America was founded on was an idealistic notion that many of us on the left have long since discounted. But we cannot afford to throw in the towel and conform to this massive cynicism that has characterized our ideals. As Neibur points out, we cannot escape our own mortality just as we cannot escape our own failings.
But we cannot afford to sacrifice our own independence to those who would have us see things in black and white, petty, Old Testament terms. That flies contrary to to the very notion by which this country was founded, which was itself a LIBERAL notion.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Hatred surely poisons. It leads to revenge and I cannot live my life holding grudges. I must keep going onward. I must move forward into my new self, having shed my previous self and ways of doing things wrongly.
"The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." (Mere Christianity)"
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The political term for such an effort is "preventive war." I
A democracy can not of course, engage in an explicit preventive war. But military leadership can heighten crises to the point where war becomes unavoidable.
The power of such a temptation to a nation, long accustomed to expanding possibilities and only recently subjected to frustration, is enhanced by the spiritual aberrations which arise in a situation of intense enmity. The certainty of the foe's continued intransigence seems to be the only fixed fact in an uncertain future. Nations find it even more difficult than individuals to preserve sanity when confronted with a resolute and unscrupulous foe. Hatred disturbs all residual serenity of spirit and vindictiveness muddles every pool of sanity.
In the present situation even the sanest of our statesmen have found it convenient to conform their policies to the public temper of fear and hatred which the most vulgar of our politicians have generated or exploited. Our foreign policy is thus threatened with a kind of apoplectic rigidity and inflexibility. Constant proof is required that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor. Unfortunately the only persuasive proof seems to be the disavowal of precisely those discriminate judgments which are so necessary for an effective conflict with the evil, which we are supposed to abhor. There is no simple triumph over this spirit of fear and hatred. It is certainly an achievement beyond the resources of a simple idealism.
For naive idealists are always so preoccupied with their own virtues that they have no residual awareness of the common characteristics in all human foibles and frailties and could not bear to be reminded that there is a hidden kinship between the vices of even the most vicious and the virtues of even the most upright.
from teased blonde bangs
reluctant countertop kisses
reject from Dallas
To model designer
your obvious pride
in your own fortitude
all I saw were pictures
of you and he
and in all of them
you were smiling.
the only picture
I can remember in
which you weren't playing
was when you glared
teenage obnoxious condescension
and I knew then
who you would have been
had you been my age
at the time.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Essentially, it breaks down all the societal issues we have discussed on various and sundry other blogs, primarily the ways in which a hyper-sexual society combined with a perverse corruption of first-wave feminism have created massive confusion for young women.
"Hooking-up", as defined by Stepp, is the practice of having some sort of intimate contact with the opposite sex in lieu of anything resembling a romantic relationship. My only criticism of the text is that it focuses narrowly, mostly on upper-middle class young heterosexual females who attend exclusively private schools. She does pull in one example from the black community, to her credit.
And her primary thesis is that today's children are so driven by their parents to succeed; that so many parents micromanage their children's lives that they find themselves utterly without the time, nor the inclination for love. They separate love from sex, or at least try to, and many fail miserably.
Towards the tail end of the book, Stepp discusses what mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, and all of us can do to end this tailspin that young girls (16-20 year old demographic) can do to avoid the confusion that seems to plague them.
I quote directly and add my own insights.
- A guy can make you feel valuable, but it's not the guy that makes you feel valuable, rather it's yourself. You are in charge of your own life and you and only you can make yourself feel as though you have self-worth
- Don't let men have what you've got until you, and they, know who you are.
- Explore your feminine side beyond the black lace bra. Don't be afraid of conventional feminine norms like having the door opened for you.
- Admit it, the bar scene is for men. You'll never meet anyone decent at a club
- Love won't change you; it will just make you more of who you are. This is what I take potential resonance with, since we seem to teach our young women that love is this life changing (which it is) experience, but we seem to have drifted away from the concept of delayed gratification. Love is not a snap of the fingers; it takes time and work and effort.
- The past is prologue. Let it go. We could all use a dose of that.
- Breaking up is hard to do--but instructive. We seem to have inundated our young girls of a fear of breaking up, realizing that pain within a constructive means is very instructive, rather than destructive.
- Even with a good guy, you'll still need friends. We all need a support network beyond our primary partner.
- Think erotic, rather than pornographic. You don't need to perform a simulated sex act to get a decent man, indeed, that's probably the way to find the worst sort of man for you.
- Sex always has meaning, even when it is "meaningless". That more than anything is what we have desensitized our youth through our sex-pervasive culture, particular in the media.
The first was getting over my head into a job that I could barely handle.
The second was being involved in a church with an interim minister who believed that the best way to handle a crisis was to shuffle things under the rug and favor the one who had given the most money and had the most influence.
I think about how sin builds upon sin. I think about what a human response retaliation is and as I go to court Thursday to fight my harasser, who is still allowed into the church, I guess all I want really is an apology.
I want a heartfelt "I'm sorry for putting you through all of this." I may never obtain it, but that's all I really want.
Monday, March 26, 2007
But if the rights of same-sex couples to marry is truely a civil rights issue, which I believe it is, then one must realize that such changes will not occur nearly as quickly as we'd like them to occur.
If this is anything like African-American Civil Rights, it will be a painstakingly slow, drawn out, highly contentious issue for decades to come. I don't want anyone to give up the fight and be discouraged at the amount of pressue and time it's going to take to change the minds of a lot of people.
The minds of many people are made up already and no amount of wishful thinking will make them see logic through their own prejudices and homophobia. I know that my generation is a much less racist generation than the one which proceeded it and I know that future generations to come will more open minded. Likewise, I see in my own generation, a much more open-minded group of people who are willing to see gay rights as the human rights which they rightly are.
There is something inherent in human nature which makes people resistant to change. That's been true as long as there have been humans roaming the earth. It may take people of my age reaching positions of authority in 20-25 years before we really see any mass change for the better. Otherwise, lots of people have made it clear that they attend to fight against us tooth and nail.
I don't know how you can argue logic with not-logic. We can chat about what ifs all day long but the key is going to be standing firm in what we believe. But inevitable, time is going to be what makes things better.
40 years ago, the city I live in was considered the most segregated city in the nation. Now, you'll find a spirit of racial toleration that many who lived in those times dreamed would never come to pass. I know the very same thing will come to pass with gay marriage and gay rights in general.
My reason in writing this is to let all of you know that this will take much longer than any of us might want to believe. This struggle has just begun, and those who are against gay marriage feel as though they are the Roman Senate perched among the Ruins...the last standard-bearers of Mother, God, home, and apple pie. Though they may be fighting a losing cause, they will not go down easily.
But neither would I take temporary setbacks such as our president's support of a gay rights amendment to the constitution as defeat. Many southern governors refused integration to really be implemented for 10 years...a full decade before their resolve broke and they succomed to what was right and what was decent.
I don't know if outright violence in the streets will arise from this current struggle, but I know that a war of words and of stiffening resolves will continue for a very long time.
Yet again, I say...be not discouraged and angered by those who choose to defy logic and let their prejudices govern their policy. We've got to ride out the storm, however long it might rumble. Progress will be made, but at the pace of a snail...but I know when we look upon the situation of things in 10-15 years that we'll be satisfied with the results.
Some words that Winston Churchill said after the first initial Allied gains were made in World War II seem appropriate...words I know many of you have heard before.
"This is not the end, yet neither is it the beginning. Perhaps it can be said that it is the end of the the beginning."
Sunday, March 25, 2007
every building had
Every sorority house
its own memory
and you were part
of all of them
but this had been
and your memories
had been muted by time
only the good things remained
I'm sure there were bad things
time heals but doesn't change
of closeted gay men
your drinking buddies
in photos you had showed me
the day overcast
beginning of winter
and I remember thinking
why would anyone
want to live in such a
you pointed out
the details of your riotous
the prominent southern
you danced with
he is now deceased
as is the town you once knew
the eternal middle aged
wishing to escape the rat race
but all cities
have their rat races
on the way home
listening to the new albums
I had purchased
while stuck in traffic
some seventy miles away
you deliberately flipped off
a song that reminded me
of my riotous miserable youth.
it was the perfect
symbolism for a union
about to grow sour.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
we had prior dissected
some months before
it had been cold then
the place packed to
the gills with
now it resembles June
and the blonde cutie
who took my payment
did nothing to mute
my somber mood.
I remember how
we both had disdain for
the ghost of conversation
we had before that day
ruined my own personal experience
so I stayed the minimum
still trying to reclaim
the places we once left
though they all still remind
me of you.
Friday, March 23, 2007
it's a common reaction
my very own mother
does the same thing
in love with the romantic
ideal wrought from
Currier and Ives
was much more prosaic
we both celebrated
Christmas for the children
(they would have
of many a parent
i'll never forget
keeping an eye
on the children
skating that week
this role i had
social small talk
a role i felt
as though i'd grown into
and you said
i was like her
at that age.
glue holding together
a gang of youngsters
so i saw them
fulfilling some fantasy
I never was privy to
and for a moment
I wished I were that age again
that age was not
pleasant in reality
had a blonde reached
for me then
would i have
chased her across
the ice rink
blaring seasons greetings?
my dearest one
i did love you
enough that i
chased you through
jagged rips in the surface
I can't believe that he would accuse the Democratic majority of not acting in the best interest in the American people when long ago people have lost faith in this ill-fated occupation and war.
Again, I cannot make it clear how much of a mistake I think it is that we are in the middle of a war we cannot win. And I try to put myself in the mind frame of a President who seems to beholden to a lost cause.
The War in Iraq has nothing to do with the War on Terror. I do not know how much I can emphasize this.
I remember what H.L. Mencken said. I have never met a true believer worth knowing.
Bush is a true believer in this ill-fated endeavor. LBJ famously referred to Vietnam as his "bitch mistress" and it eventually led to his undoing. I wonder if Bush sees this as a cancer on his presidency or if he sees things in terms of this Armageddon like struggle between Christianity and radical Islam. Does he worry that his reputation as a President has taken a severe blow or does he even think in terms of that?
Politics is all about reading between the lines and Bush, as a lame duck, continues to alienate all but his rapidly shrinking base. But then again, he has nothing to lose.
He is stubborn to cling to positions that set him against the grain of popular opinion and but my hope is that his stubborn denial to face reality will render him more and more irrelevant.
The futurists have long predicted that we will live in an era of terrorism from now until 2050. But I do not believe, no matter what the President says, that a surge of troops can do anything positive towards the inevitable struggle in which we in the Western world will find ourselves.
I remember around 11 September, many believed that these were indeed the end times and this was just biblical prophecy becoming fulfilled. Since that point in time, we have lost our patriotic and religious fervor and found ourselves locked into a futile struggle to contain a civil war that we created.
It seems inevitable that we will be in this conflict for the next two years at least and my hope is whomever wins in 2008 will bring common sense back to the table.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
like flaky flirtations
playing hard to get
sometimes with you
sometimes utterly oblivious
to one's very being
but they call out
and you obey.
so where has mine gone?
when I arrived late last night
from a night full of welcome triviality
a night full of intoxicated
90's nostalgia slurred conversation
and formulation of
I've learned not to take
life quite so seriously
as I once did
enjoying the spectacle
and not insisting on
my head was full of lines
beautifully formed lines
references to literary
works appreciated by
the novice as well as
bookended as always
by the utterly devastating
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
In its emptiness
Your dreams were empty.
You bowed at your desk and you wept
Over the story that refused to exist,
As over a prayer
That could not be prayed
To a non-existent God. A dead God
with a terrible voice.
My father, libertarian as always, blames the Democratic majority for keeping gas prices still well over $2.50. And I wonder whether or not high gas prices and the taxes derived from them will force people to give up their hummers and Land Rovers.
Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth, advocated gasoline stay about $3.50 a gallon for some length of time to essentially force people to use more energy efficient means to power their automobiles.
This is one of these times when what works globally does not work locally. Atlanta, where I live, is a city built on the automobile. Efforts are being made to expand badly needed public transportation but reforms are slow and there are some fighting them tooth and nail.
I do not believe war with Iran would serve any purpose. Despite being a mistake, it would necessitate a draft, which no one in America wants. It would potentially precipitate a major war in the Middle East. If Iran does in fact have a nuclear weapon--this weapon, if detonated would pose a major threat to our supposed allies in the Middle East, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE to name three.
Russia has moved closer and closer back towards an iron curtain mentality, and it recognizes that its number one export is crude oil. If we reduced our dependency on Middle Eastern crude, we would have to find someone else to pick up the slack. Second world powers like China and Russia will have to come on board and develop their economies before we can afford to totally pull our interests away from the Middle East.
And my fear rests with the fundamentalists, who believe that a Holy War is imminent and that it is inevitable that the so-called Christian West will fight the Barbarian scourge over Israel. Whether that passage of scripture is even relevant to today's world, self-fulfilling prophecy is a powerful thing and wars could erupt over perception, rather than reality.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
with a deliberately artificial mulatto
doing my best to
embrace the dominant subculture
now suddenly neither
sub nor superior
but certainly cultural
what would you call
this melting pot
except that it is
ceasing to exist
it challenges the myth
conform or escape
a whole new universe of
my own private
called into question
and yet i refuse
to relinquish myself
nor do I seek to
reform the glove
to the hand i
much trial and error.
In the early days of the American Revolution, ideas were conveyed through pamphlets. Thomas Paine's Common Sense spread the ideas of a bunch of Enlightenment era lawyers and philosophers we collectively call our Founding Fathers. I'm not sure whether Paine had fame or genuine fervor on his mind but sometimes the lines blur and he wanted to be read at any rate; nowadays every blogger wants to be read.
Fame or fervor? Sometimes it's difficult to separate the two, but I daresay each of us would be secretly thrilled for our own fifteen minutes (or five, as the case may be) of fame.
It's no different than any writer, despite how he/she might say that he/she writes only for himself/herself. Everyone writes foremost to assuage that obsessive part that clamors for expression and then for an audience, in that order.
In these days, the mainstream media is increasingly beholden to corporate interest and mutes its perspective based on sponsorship. This is the reason blogging sprung up--a feeling of disenfranchisement--that the popular sentiment was being obscured by ads, all of which seemed for a time to display white text on a red background. Take a look at any popular periodical and you'll notice that at least half of it is comprised of advertising.
But I am saying nothing that any blogger wouldn't. I think you'd find the same shared sentiment.
I wish I were wise enough to wonder whether blogging will become the fourth estate. As it is now, internet blogging is wide open but the key is networking. That is something the individual blogger does not have--name recognition. And name recognition comes with advertising. Maybe there is no way to avoid it and maybe it's a necessary evil. I haven't quite made my mind up on the subject.
And I find that the more people I meet, the more variations of the same topics and subjects I find. So clearly there are a lot of us with the same general concepts. I see arguments over semantics, but mostly I find variations on a theme. Occasionally I will find people with individual experiences that really cause me to take a long hard look and thought.
Maybe this is what has been muted over time by the mainstream media, which now has a tendency to think in lockstep and according to its monetary interests. The personality. The soul of the revolutionary.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Late March in Boston. The tail end of the snow season. Three inches fell last week and two inches at least remain on the ground, pushed aside by snow plows—-grimy black and grey with roadside pollution. The snow lingers copiously in shaded corners, underhangs shielded from sunshine.
At this time, the city begin to believe that winter has departed. Clunky, insulated galoshes are set inside closets by the adventurous and the believers in best-case-scenario. Pessimists still sport them. The wet cold. The steady drizzle. Sustained sunlight is months away.
Your hands are long and thin. The passage of years will leave them no less freckled, but twenty times more wrinkled. Your nose is beak-shaped, bird-like—juts out prominently from high cheekbones. Facial structure is bony and pronounced.
You're selfish, she said. This was in the art museum not from from Allston, where she had casually dismissed all the great masters as little more than charlatans.
I ran out. So she pursued me outside and I cried for thirty minutes---blubbering like a baby, presenting her a present. She wasn't going to take me anymore. Instead, she was going to dump me on in the side of the road, somewhere near Brookline. Boston traffic gets to some and she wanted me to ride the T to see her and I knew nothing of public transportation, being just a dumb southern boy from Alabama
I must have walked this same block fifty times over—and more so in my mind. The town square’s denizens no longer wear woolen overcoats and drive horse and buggies. Instead they dress in baggy, hip-hop denim with splatter paint running up and down the pants leg.
If one decides to walk past the homeless people resting uncomfortably on park benches, one will find a memorial to some long forgotten prosperous townsperson. Though some acknowledge his name, most know it only as a landmark. These days, the surname is attached to drug deals and inhales of nicotine—it’s a destination, not a means for solemn reverence.
Civil engineers can’t seem to build enough roadways these days. The nearly empty shopping mall will soon be razed to make way for more asphalt and toll booths.
Your nasally mid-Massachusetts hard As stick out when you tell me I hate this place it’s gone to hell this place really sucks it’s so hard to survive these days.
This was in a shopping mall when the only thing that remained was a jewelery store and a coffee shop. And I was solicited for marijuana outside the building, huddled outside smoking a cigarette. He took my indecision to mean something totally other than what I'd intended---You mean you don't smoke. That's good, man. That's real good.I had just made some cabbie's day. A drive from Worcester back to Boston is over a hundred dollars. She'd just made her quota of the day and I was foolish enough to fork over the money. So we small talked, trying to find where it is I thought I was supposed to be. As it turns out, the cab driver took pity on my fragile frame and directed me towards a hotel for which I I paid too much money.
I remember the beautiful girl who dropped to her knees in front of me, seeing me in my crippled state. And I remember thinking to myself, not everyone in Boston is rude.
But a person told him once, I love the mornings because it always makes me realize that I have lived to see another day.
I drove in this morning to work. I overestimated the time it would take me to get work so I arrived a full hour early. Traffic was light by Atlanta standards and the sun hasn't even risen yet. I'm used to working the 12 pm to 9 pm shift so to say that I am not awake yet would be a great understatement.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I spent the day with a chronic bad girl who attracted choir boys. I don't know what it is about that. Why it is that we're often attracted to the worst sorts of people for us. I could analyze it forever and still not come up with anything more than more questions, but it does make for pleasant conversation with certain people.
But I am getting ahead of myself...
I had bounced to Worcester on fumes. The night before, I'd spent the night on someone's hardwood floor and gotten probably five hours worth of sleep. On his way to work, he dropped me off on the way to the train station. Being new, I had purchased everything except for the pass to take me out to the middle of the state. I had a T pass, I had a bus pass, but I didn't have a train pass.
When asked by the female conductor for my pass, I had a brief bout of fear when I produced not one wrong pass, but a second. She shook her head and then asked me if I had $6 in cash. Fortunately, I did. So then I settled in for an hour and a half on a train.
I remember the boyfriend and boyfriend who lay across each other, one asleep on the other's shoulders. No one batted an eyelid. I found that rather comforting.
So I sat in silence and watched the scenery. It looked for all the world like Robert Frost poetry. The last snowfall of the season still lay upon the rocky soil and the stubby trees. No pines. The south is full of pines and the northeast has a totally different set of foliage. It was foreign to me and thus interesting. So I sped past, thinking my own thoughts.
I arrived at the train station sometime mid morning.
The closest mall was in the process of being torn down to make way for another toll road. Another foreign entity to me. Since I moved to Atlanta, I've learned about GA 400, the one and only toll road in the state but they're all over the north.
So I opened my guitar case and started to play, but I checked with the overseer before I started.
Just so long as you don't open the case for money, he said.
I said, No, that isn't my scene.
So I played my guitar and found that I attracted a bit of an audience, mostly bored people on their way to somewhere else.
I had borrowed the cell phone of the man in charge, and he handed the phone off to me, obviously impressed.
It's for you, he said.
Some twenty minutes later, my friend arrived in a beat up car and we headed out to her place. It was a drab, grey, New England late winter day. Threatening snow, but likely to produce nothing other than rain or dreariness.
She lived in an aging house in the middle of a dirty, industrial city. She shared the house with two roommates, a boyfriend and girlfriend. The place was grimy, and full of mess. Typical bohemian dwellings, and I was immediately met by a ferret who rifled through my belongings.
My friend said, He's just getting to know you.
Had the creature been a human being, I would have equated it to a child with no supervision who acts out to get attention. And behind her back, her roommates mentioned that the ferret had no sense of discipline.
But unlike some right-wing pundits, might accuse me of doing I don't rejoice in any of this. I know, as a student of history, that things have got to get worse, much worse, before they get any better. I wish I could cling to the belief that the darkest hour is only just before the dawn. But my heart is heavy and my prayers go out to a nation that is only being rent asunder.
I wonder how President Bush feels about all of this.
I wonder if you could ask him honestly right now, what would he say? People have compared his presidency to that of Richard Nixon or Warren Harding or even US. Grant.
Harding was a poor judge of character and is quoted as saying
Nixon was a mean son of a bitch whose own inferiority complex and massive ego led to his own undoing.
Grant was probably one of the most honest, yet naive men to hold the office.
He noted, in the middle of his second term,
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Friday, March 16, 2007
Based on the novel that shouldn't have been written either
I called them up and asked to meet the director
To see who would play me and he said
We talked about actors and thought instead
That playing yourself might lend some cred
Just accept that these things are going to happen
Everything is set in motion
It will happen anyway
All the time I'm trying to halt the production
Apparently (long ago) I gave them all my permission
If that's the case let's hammer out the details
Remember I already told them once
I don't do nude scenes or my own stunts
The feature's a failure on all fronts
Just accept that these things are going to happen
Everything is set in motion
It's going to happen anyway
And on and on we argued...
After that the scene was banned
To try and drum up popular demand
Ask the director where I should stand
Just accept that these things are going to happen
Everything is set in motion
It will happen anyway
All revolutionary upheavals have their life cycle: rise, climax, decline, reaction. Some of us know too well that, despite what true believers might say, high fevers of idealism and soaring moods of self-sacrifice cannot be sustained indefinitely, that they lag and burn themselves out, and that disenchantment and self-doubt eventually creep in.
One could expect from extremists at both ends would take over and take common cause against the rational means. Then come those of the last act who recite their traditional lines: that reforms have proceeded too fast, that disorder has come too far, that extremists must be got in hand, and that law and order must be established at all cost.
And my question is--at what point are we? Basking as we are in the dying embers of the radical movement of the radical 1960s, the hedonistic 1970s, the back-to-dyed-in-the-wool 1980s, and the nihilism of the 1990s, to this generation who has yet to define itself other than by its reliance on vapid consumerism, where are we now?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Moved from authentic mediocrity
to genuinely existential
newly minted coinage
I took off
the journey was fierce
the waffle houses frequent
put the wheel
upon the train
stumbling from the path
onto an effigy for entitlement
cardboard poster book condos
slammed up next to yesterday's
Isn't Purgatory full of poverty?
You'd scarcely notice it
It's been beautifully done
It's all congregated in the slum areas
a cult of glittering personalities
egocentric second-rate hustlers
each of them mr. and ms.
nobody from somewhere else.
biding their time
until their number is called
and the conductor
halts the train for
the next stop.
This is true with many artists. Rudyard Kipling is one of my literary heroes, but he was at best, a social Darwinist who thought that anyone not of the white race was naturally inferior.
Ezra Pound supported Mussolini, but inspired one of the greatest works of modern poetry, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.
And his own body of work was none too shabby, either.
Abraham Lincoln did not believe that black people and white people were equal but he did free African slaves from bondage.
I took a class in undergrad where we deconstructed the attitudes of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many works of fiction during the period were neglected out of a desire to not offend.
No one talks about Joel Chandler Harris anymore even though his works of southern literature defined a generation. Tar-baby has become a racial epithet when its practical application, in my humble opinion, was not to stigmatize a race of people but rather to reveal the inherent foolishness of pride and the human condition.
As I mentioned last week in this blog, my own great-great-grandfather, an Alabama native, fought for the North during the Civil War, not because he felt that the cause of Emancipation was just but mostly just because he had no allegiance to wealthy Southern planters with money to own slaves. He was born dirt poor in the northeast Alabama mountains and considered sub-human by the genteel, mint-julip drinkers.
I suspect had he been born into wealthier circumstances probably would have taken the time to buy a few human beings.
And many of us would choose unethical means if it meant securing ourselves in positions of wealth and power. It happens in politics, corporations, and life itself. Yet, one does have to live with oneself at night. We all have crises of the soul and the ultimate fight one faces is with oneself.
Humanity is full of these contradictions. Each of us has our own private flaws and prejudices but the key, as I see it, is to be able to overlook these and see the inherent spark of wisdom and artist genius that all of us are capable of.
My challenge has been to find the inherent goodness within people. It's very easy to locate the jaded, pessimistic parts of those around you.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
At evening’s end
remain when all else
has long passed away
cleverest victory can
circumvent the social hierarchy
Yet, age and experience
trumps youth’s insecurity
the wild card
for social mobility
establish the rules
Rain pisses down
Beading up slowly
Forming one steady trail
On my cheap windbreaker
Fragments of broken glass
Carcasses of insects
Discarded cigarette butts
Crunch beneath my feet
The smell of damp pavement
Sickly sweet brown mud
Caked into my rubber soled shoes
Is that a car approaching?
Or only the wind
Rustling the soggy leaves of gigantic oak trees
Whose branches sway above me?
The low grumbling of an engine
This is not the wind
The truck is cantaloupe orange and weather-beaten
Pockmarked with multicolored scrapes and dents
The windshield cracked
A jagged meandering seam of reflected light
He has obviously been watching me for quite a while
This is why he
Pulls alongside me
Rather than making me
Stroll up to the front passenger door
Which opens wide.
“Come on in!”
He is not at all what I expected
Greasy, dyed orange hair
Sticking straight up in spikes
Metal tunnels stuck inside the flesh
Of each earlobe
Reminds me of some African tribesman
In the National Geographic
Mom left on the coffee table
For strangers to browse through
Smoking a cigarette held loosely between
The fingers of the right hand
I am silent
Setting my pack down
In the deep, oval floorboards
He does not look at me as he talks
“I’ve always liked big guys”
I sometimes wonder if
Not being bone thin
I am relegated to a
Somehow separate from the ordinary
Something one grows into wanting
Or wants because he is eccentric
I was never picky, either.
He looks at me with piggish eyes
Eyes I knew about early in life
Eyes Father warned me about
Eyes that stare too much and linger too long
This is expected.
“Do you want to listen to music and hang out
or just do the butt thing?”
I am confused, honestly.
No one asks me to “hang out”
Does he expect me to be his friend?
He cranks up hardcore punk
Sings tone deaf to the beat of
Blasting cap drums
Screeching guitar feedback
Vocals that pierce and scream
a postal route
in the bad part of town.
of just one more
the dripping rain
barely any consolation
in a pounce
Do you know
how to get to
Dead for sleep
Yesterday’s Sore feet
Shreds of conversation unfinished
Australian blonde-haired woman
Subway urine stench
Faint blueish smoke haze
Australian blonde-haired women
The joy that sobriety brings
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Your stars---the guards
Of your prison yard, their zodiac. The planets
Muttered their Babylonian power-sprach--
Like a witchdoctor's bones. You were right to fear
How loud the bones might hear
What the bones whispered
Even embedded as they were in the hot body.
Only you had no need to calculate
Degrees for your ascendant disruptor
In Aries. It meant nothing certain--no more
According to the Babylonian book
Than a scarred face. How much deeper
Under the skin could any magician peep?
You only had to look
Into the nearest face of a metaphor
Picked out of your wardrobe or off your plate
Or out of the sun or the moon or the yew tree
To see your father, your mother, or me
Bringing you your whole Fate.
One of the most brilliant people is O’Daniel, who makes constant, highly distracting head bobs up and down.
A rumor surrounds that camp that he was born autistic. In actuality, he prefers to bark at you that he is not actually autistic. Instead he has a a rare form of the disorder that is not technically autism.
In long accustomed fashion, just like your parents told you to… you nod your head up and down and agree with him.
The Evil Queen draws these men into her fold easily. They quickly collapse at the knees and beg for punishment. They are sufficiently trained to follow the plan of the manifesto, and begin taking upper level management jobs within the inner works of the machine.
During the numerous training and promotional videos that we are required to view for a good six hours prior to hiring, we are taught step-by-step how to be a model radical. Having good hygenic practices is considered a plus, as well as a winning smile.
This highly offensive form of new employee orientation was the Wicked Queen’s idea. She had “connections”, she said. To me, “connections” looked a lot like tired old B movie actors talking in monosyllables. They knew they couldn’t act and guiltily spoke their lines as though their earnestness in their own mediocrity could redeem the fact. The spoke as though the person across the camera was threatening their lives, much like those hostages held captive by other competing rival groups, or OCRG.
I wish we had a good digital camera like the Islamic Jihadists. Ours hasn’t been the same since the Christmas Party. This was the first year in five that we haven’t beaten them in the pick-up softball game arranged after the generic summer holiday fireworks show. They’ve got this new guy, with a really gigantic turban, who can pitch like nobody’s business.
It was time for the morning meeting around the campfire. Plans were announced to have a meeting of prayer or silent contemplation or any such higher form that you might hold true to yourself. Extremely over-dramatical gestures were made for the sake of emphasis and it was sagely concurred that this was indeed a safe space where we all are present.
The Pagans amuse me greatly.
They dress much like the garden gnomes one sees in the sides of yards in selected Scandinavian countries. They act like them, as well—theatrical overacting common to Vaudeville and silent movies. Sometimes they scare small children in the daycare that was thoughfully provided this year yet again. This is really just a response to Kathy Ronti who insists taking her whole family with her everywhere. The twins, as they are known, look harmless enough, until they start quoting marxist conflict theory rhetoric verbatim.
They run around and tell us that they have been well informed about matters of contraception and show us how they are skilled in knowing about multiple forms and methods.
The reason the daycare even existed is because of the unfortunate incident this time last year. Everyone’s trying to forget how the boys deliberately started knocking over the artistic rock structures in the river. Building artistic rock structures is a way that we all bond. They are so important to us that they are scheduled three times daily.
there’s an interesting
dichtomy between those of us
who lie to ourselves.
their motives are base.
assume this first,
told me these things
one should not be
like grain proof alcohol.
strong, painful at first.
You’ll develop a tolerance
When I was a boy, the family would visit my grandparents every weekend. They lived in a small textile mill town out in the country. Most Saturdays were spent in the nook of a large oak tree. The bark was scaly and crumbled in your hands as you pulled yourself up to the top. A strange smelling, sappy black residue clung to your hands; it took much scrubbing with soap to make it go away.
My Aunt had a prison romance. He was ugly and hairy and they produced grotesquely obese children.
The mustache man was one of these. He said, open your mouth boy open your mouth. He was instructive. Rodent face. Red flushed cheeks. Gangster smile. Cracker dialect.
Grandfather said, “look at the difference between the red oak and the white oak. The leaves of the red oak are jagged like the red man’s arrow points. The leaves of the white oak are round like the white man’s bullets.”
Don’t play in the well. Don’t taunt the dogs.
Jerome said this. He spray painted his name across the doghouse. He was older than you.
While it is true that such things happen everywhere. It is true that sixteen-year-old girls get married and remarried to the same aimless boy and then pop out two unwanted children in rapid succession. Girls in rodeo clown makeup with light blue cheeks. Orange faces. Girls who don’t know the meaning of “understated”, in life or in artificial pigment. Can’t even spell the word.
Don’t play near the old well.
The top was secured shut with a piece of scrap iron and dusty with red clay. The fire ants ran beneath your feet and invaded rotting crab apples.
Reading crackly old encyclopedias with yellowing pages stuck together with the adhesive of neglect and time and no air conditioning. Forty years old with no color pictures, no entry on sex other than to distinguish between penis and vagina. The Civil War was labeled War Between the States, The. On the mantle was a grey ceramic cup commemorating the centennial of the conflict.
So you sat quietly in what had formerly been your aunt’s bedroom. It was bare except for a brown vinyl covered sofa with stuffing leaking from the divet hole. A quarter sized massive cigarette burn.
Mustache man, you were there. You were the one in the bedroom with the cheap white-washing and the closed-in side door.
You can’t go out the back anymore.
Ruddy-face intoxication open your mouth boy open your mouth.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Jesus of Nazareth put it this way:
"The law of Moses says "If a man gouges out another's eyes, he must pay for it with his own eye. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the one who did it.'
But I say: Don't resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other too! If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat too...Give to those who ask and don't turn away from those who wish to borrow."
"There is a saying, 'Love your friends, and hate your enemies.'
But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too.
If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
In this culture, we are enemy-driven. Sports, politics, wars, corporations, jobs, and even whether or not we choose to eat meat products. All of these things--all of these ways we define ourselves. We define ourselves NOT by what we are, but what we are NOT.
We are not Republicans, we say. We are NOT the opposing team. We are NOT the terrorists or the communists or the Nazis. We are NOT the competition. We are NOT those who drive SUVs and contribute to global warming. And we are NOT those so uncouth as to eat the flesh of another animal.
And when Jesus said, "Love your enemy", he didn't mean---love the fact that you have enemies. I think we may have confused that somehow.
But it is human nature to point at the other. It's how we define ourselves. We point fingers and say, at least we're not THEM. At least we're not how they are.
Even though some of us delight in fights. Even though some of us delight in bashing Ann Coulter. Even though some of us think hockey to be the best sport ever because two men can legally beat each other up. Even though it feels good to display that F the President sticker on your car. Even though you never took off your John Kerry for President sticker in the first place. Even though you pride yourself on recycling and driving that hybrid car. Even though you swear up and down you do all that you can.
Jesus set that bar pretty high. It's a constant fight within ourselves. We are all imperfect. We are all flawed. We are all hypocrites. But we can and must work on ourselves. We cannot change anyone but ourselves. It starts with us.
The answer lies in love, not in hate. The answer lies in tolerance, not in self-righteousness.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round.
It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly colored and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "Hey – don't worry, don't be afraid ever, because this is just a ride."
And we … kill those people.
"Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real."
It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because – it's just a ride.
And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.
The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.
Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride.
Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.
a linear thinker
first i opened the windows
still the smell
second i washed the sheets
still the smell
third i destroyed all evidence
still the smell
fourth i fought the urge of comparison
still the smell
fifth i choked back rage
still the smell
sixth i bargained with my subconscious
still the smell
seventh i reclaimed my identity
still the smell
eighth i came to resolution
the smell sweet
remembering the best
dismissing the worst
same as it ever was
same as it ever was
I've shrank from a 40 inch waist to a 36 inch waist. I haven't been that small since October of 2005. I was a 34 inch waist after my ill-fated trip to Boston in March of that year, nearly two years ago.
It's been a while since I revisited that excursion. I was in grad school then--Spring Break, in a crisis. No jobs. A good thesis, but no jobs. I knew this. I was troubled.
I was not in a good frame of mind and I ended up walking thirteen miles one day, all the way from Allston to Brookline to Southie (remembering not to make eye contact), to the banks of the Charles-- zigzagging back and forth, in some dazed circle. I flagged a cabbie down right before the evening, who took me to Somerville and then to Arlington.
I slept that night on a hard wooden floorboard and then took the train to Worcester.
Friday, March 09, 2007
But it's your heart, not mine, that's scarred.
So when I go home, I'll be happy to go -
You're just somebody that I used to know.
You don't need my help anymore,
It's all now to you, there ain't no before,
Now that you're big enough to run your own show,
You're just somebody that I used to know.
I watched you deal in a dying day,
And throw a living past away,
So you can be sure that you're in control,
You're just somebody that I used to know.
I know you don't think you did me wrong,
And I can't stay this mad for long,
Keeping ahold of what you just let go -
You're just somebody that I used to know
It took me years before I had any sort of clout within the church community. To most, I was this novelty--this kid. I spent close to four years as the only regular attendee under the age of thirty. Of the attendees under thirty, they numbered around five at best. As good UUs, they came as they saw fit, or not at all.
A discussion arose. We must build a new building.
I was opposed to it from the beginning. This was in no small part due to the egos I knew would be involved in the endeavor. I tacitly understood that every benevolent gestures would directly coincide neatly with surnames being attached to alcoves, park benches, and memorial gardens. Three or four families felt as though they owned the church, and they metaphorically stroked their goatees meaningfully as they pondered how to pull it off.
And while it was true that RE space was minimal, I had a certain fondness for the building. It was tiny, but it was ours. Furthermore, it was paid for.
But we needed a building. That became some rallying cry. New building, new building, new building.
And how to pay for this new building?
Naturally, provided enough rationalizations, people get behind a cause. Five minutes of each service were deliberately set aside to show the progress made. It came maddeningly slow. I continued my opposition, but I was merely a minority stockholder in the decision. I had no say. I had no clout. I had not given money nor was able to. And that, my friends, it what it all comes down to.
So when the vote came down, finally, new building passed. The yeas had it in a landslide. To my credit, I was one of four dissenting votes. But it was hollow consolation. I found later that three of the no votes had been cast by members old enough to be my grandparents. As of today, one is dead. Another lives with a sense of inner calm. A third has regrettably passed into senility.
Our long time minister, maternal, beloved, non-confrontational, and blessed with an openly lesbian daughter took the opportunity to leave. She and I had always been close. I took the news hard. But it was clearly her time to leave. Soon it would be mine.
A church that had spent twenty years or more fast asleep was in for a rude awakening. A church whose practices resembled Byzantium rather than Birmingham would find itself called out, probably for the first time in years. And for the first time, we had a minister who not only pointed out the elephant in the room, but held the mirror reflection in front of all who chose to see it.
Among the membership, this was not a popular move, but what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular. We had the minister we needed.
For the first time, visitors were acknowledged in the order of service as well as in the newsletter. For the first time, the circle of lights was not hijacked by narcissistic two-bit activists with their own private axe to grind. For the first time, this country club mentality perpetuated for so long was called into question.
While I wish I could say that these problems were unique only to us, they are unfortunately endemic to all of Unitarian Universalism as a whole. The small churches, particularly, are the worst offenders but all are guilty to some respect.
A handful of bloggers, ministers, and laypeople have identified problems within our faith tradition for years. This will be a tough challenge. A faith based on largely abstract principles and concepts is clearly not going to grow. It will at best remain a zero sum game, losing as much as it gains. It resembles Purgatory more than Heaven or Hell.
And maybe this is all we can expect.
No one can be saved unless they want to be saved. I have learned this the hard way.
Fast forward to July 1998.
By this point in time, I was two months from being a senior in high school.
I had finally worked up the courage to find a girlfriend. We dated, off and on, most of a year. We went to separate high schools. We met at a local coffee shop. Her nickname was arf.
She wrote poetry, average by any stretch of the means, and when she got to a word choice that she couldn't quite place, she wrote arf.
Her mother loved me. Mothers tend to warm up to me quickly. When I think back on it, I think she perceived that I was nice, wholesome, polite, and probably was grateful that that her daughter had found her first boyfriend.
After attending services for two months, I joined. But there were rules to the church. I learned the first one quite quickly.
1. Teenagers didn't attend Sunday Service. Instead, they dove for the downstairs couches and the high school RE room. We had some modicum of structure, but I was never really accepted as one of them. I broke in late. It was as though I were an army brat, transferring in from somewhere else. The High School RE class was a tight-knit bunch of ten questioning souls who simply didn't have room for anyone else. It wasn't personal. It was just the age.
They weren't explicitly rude about it. It's just that they'd known each other for years. They'd risen up through the ranks. They'd been in Coming of Age. They'd taken About Your Sexuality together. They'd made it through those extremely explicit slide shows and were well informed about multiple means of contraception. All good things. But I had not been present for them.
High school RE had some manner of structure, although all it really came down to was a chaotic check-in that took up most of an hour. The hardy volunteers tried to keep us on topic, but we were not on topic. We were concerned about ourselves, which is all very normal. All teenagers are self-absorbed. All teenagers are trying to find their identity. We were all alone together.
I must admit that I don't consider any of the ten members of my RE class more than distant, shadowy figures. They all left after graduating high school, never to return to the fold. No one minded the gap. No one wanted anything to do with church. Of the ten members of the church, I was one of two who actually joined. A girl joined merely to appease her mother, but then resumed a life of college, boys, parties, and Fugazi concerts.
The only person I really remember was the kid who committed suicide. I never knew him well. None of us did. We had a few doses of awkward conversation and shared a taste in music, but I must say that his suicide came as quite a shock.
Every social group has that feature. Every class in school has the kid who overdoses. Every class in school has the girl who gets pregnant. Every class in school has the person who changes his or her name midway through.
He was our token suicide. A sad story I don't particularly feel like relating. I remember being numb at the funeral. I remember smoking cigarettes after the service was over, and seeing the look of scorn on the faces of the older attendants who disliked the smell of charred tobacco.
What could a Unitarian be? Whatever it was, it sounded good to me.
I went downstairs and looked in the encyclopedia (this was before wikipedia) and found a very staid, dry, three paragraph entry on Unitarianism.
On my way out somewhere, I got lost in Mountain Brook. Mountain Brook is the old money part of town. Its residents make an average of $400,000 a year and it's one of the ten richest per capita cities in the entire country. Old money wealth. Exploitive railroad baron wealth. Names like Tutwiler and Bankhead. Newly weds and nearly deads.
It's also the home of Natalie Holloway, the blonde haired, blue-blooded teen who disappeared on her senior trip to Aruba. Her body has yet to be found. I suspect it may never be.
And so I found it--round this absurd bend on Cahaba Road. It was a 1950s era A-Frame. The Unitarian Church of Birmingham.
I would like to assign some sort of mystic significance to this. Some sort of Paul on the road to Damascus. But it was far less dramatic. I walked inside to be confronted with the local eccentric.
His concept of the faith was not strong, but he was certainly interesting.
I came back the next Sunday.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
We left the liberal Methodist church for a variety of reasons.
1. My parents are homophobic, first of all, which is an unfortunate condition brought on by ignorance.
Both of my parents grew up in small town Alabama. My mother, despite being more liberal in many ways than my father, is far more inclined to make homophobic comments.
Though no official reason for our departure was mentioned at the time, I, over time have pieced together the reasons why we left.
My mother took great offense to lesbian couples who, in her mind, had the gall to sit next to each other.
Mother would say things like Lesbians are sick and disgusting. I always wonder what they're thinking about me.
2. That sort of ignorant statement doesn't even merit a response. The correct answer is: nothing.
3. My father's reasons were more prosaic. The preacher, while well-intentioned, was not a convincing speaker. He was not a particularly effective speaker, and although earnest, was not exactly inspiring. In a moment of pure irony, I found out (rather recently) that later he divorced his wife because he admitted he was a homosexual. I admire his courage.
By now, I had grown firmly accustomed to my awkward adolescence. I had horrible acne which scarred both cheeks. My sister, the wild child, experimented with all sort of things much to the horror of my parents. In this period, Mom and my oldest of two younger sisters fought on a constant basis about wardrobe.
M was a punk. She dressed like Jane from American Beauty. She would walk down the stairs and the first word out of my mother's mouth was I don't know why someone so pretty would want to look so ugly.
Both my parents made an informed decision to go back to Jesus. Jesus came in the form of a non-denominational, praise and worship band that had split off from the Southern Baptists. I was 16 now, firmly skeptical of all things and certainly of anything telling me a list of do's and don'ts. I no longer prayed.
Instead I smoked cigarettes with reckless abandon. My God was Nicotine and self-loathing. Nothing the preacher said made much difference to me. It was my Patti Smith period: Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine.
M, however, took to the gospel with a fervor that surprised even me. She read her Bible. She put on the pretense of godly virtue. I couldn't have cared less. Any feelings of love between the two of us had passed years before. We had the true oldest child versus middle child sibling rivalry going on and neither of us would budge an inch. We barely talked and when we did it was in monosyllables. I might as well not have had a sister.
For the first time, I was told that Satan was real. He worked in spirit and could tempt and lead a person astray. I wasn't buying it. I thought to myself Satan is a concept. Satan to me was just an oversimplification of evil. I knew evil. Evil tormented me in the form of rejection from women and lunchroom bullies. Evil were the demons inside my head that told me I was worthless. A loner. A failure with the opposite sex.
Satan was in the form of my high school, which teemed with cliques and egos and insecurity. It was sensory overload, and I hid in neutral corners. My friends were books, musicians, rejects, artists, my guitar, and pornography.
I know now, at the passage of ten years or more, that the non-denominational church was comprised of seekers: Baby boomers with children experimenting with drugs and sex and worse. They didn't know how to control them.
The eternal boomer dilemma--I did it, now my child's doing it, what do I do?
So like many they returned to Jesus. Jesus had answers. Jesus could help them discipline their children. Jesus could cure their daughters' eating disorders. Jesus could solve their son's emotional issues. And if any blame was needed there was always Satan to point a finger towards.
Satan made their children rebel. Satan made the Columbine Kids commit acts of murder. Satan made their children smoke pot and make bad grades and drink while underage. They could absolve themselves of all responsibility and chalk it all up to Satan.
Underneath it all was hypocrisy. I was at that age when the world seemed hypocritical. The world seemed wrong and in constant need of reform.
Wednesday night youth services were comprised of sketches and plays performed to warn us of the evils of drink, intercourse, and of course, drug addiction.
I listened to testimonials of broken people expressing remorse for their actions.
Mostly they were early twenties, bohemian potheads, fresh from bad relationships, and arrests for possession of marijuana. They were nervous and acted the part. They used clumsy psueudonyms for bad boyfriend and girlfriends. They attributed their bad behavior to Satan and their own inherent lack of Godliness.
Meanwhile, I respectfully watched the volunteer actors perform their scripted roles of morality tales.
I paid attention to the spectacle, a part of me wanting to believe. Most of me did not.
And meanwhile, all of these children with eating disorders and substance abuse problems found no solution. They were not ready. They clapped at all the right parts, but at the same time, they made their drug connections. They arranged their hookups. They exchanged high school gossip.
They never took it seriously. This irked me to no end.
Our church was known as the party church. And by that point in time, I didn't party. I didn't drink. I smoked cigarettes. I had no experience with certain substances now legal in The Netherlands.
I was a year away from becoming a Unitarian Universalist. I was one already, but I didn't know it.
(Part IV: Becoming a UU)
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
I was too shy to sing hymns. Some of the words I still remember. Some of the melodies drift back to me in odd moment. I remember the texture of the pages between my fingers.
When Grandmother visisted, she'd chide me Why don't you sing?
I did sing for the doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
And I recited faithfully. I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ our own son our lord...and so on and so forth.
But I never quite wrapped my arms around the Trinity. In Sunday schools and Sermons, we never discussed how it was possible that Jesus Christ who had died for us was manifest in three forms: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
I did not doubt them. I just did not understand.
I attended every service during Holy Week. Mom and Dad and one of my sisters would be at the Palm Sunday service.
But I decided to attend Maundy Thursday. I took the grape juice and wafers gratefully. The regular attendees probably noticed I was the only ten year old there. The next day, Mom dropped me off for Good Friday. I tried to weep. I found I could not cry. Why cry for a concept? I did not see anyone before me bleeding?
It all changed somehow when I was thirteen. I began to question everything. It all became useless. How could God really exist? What came before God? Was this all just a big joke?
I was a teenager now. I thought I knew everything. The world became full of questions I thought I could answer. But unlike my rebellious sister, I clung to my parents. They sheltered me. I told them everything.
I believed in my parents but I did not believe in God anymore, much less anything. I wanted to believe in inherent Goodness of all humanity but I was too withdrawn. What could be good about God? What could be good about anything, much less myself? I stared at my shoe tops. I had always been shy and I had intimate discussions with the minister. He tried to assuage my fears.
I had long discovered girls, but they began to discover me. And I doubted myself. I had no confidence. They seemed to me to be big riddles, unsolvable things. I knew I wanted love.
I was ahead of my time. But I was morbidly shy, hideously introverted.
Calvinism was next. And I was no firm believer.
As irony would have it, I learned much later in life that Halloween is a pagan holiday. So is Easter. So is Christmas. But at age seven I couldn't fathom these things. Instead I found myself annoyed that one less house couldn't be plundered. No more tootsie rolls added to my already brimming over black trash bag full of sweet-tarts, butterscotch, milky ways, and assorted chocolates.
Like most little boys, I took on Halloween as a personal mission, much like a war raid. The object was to get to as many houses as possible before time for bed. I grew up in one of those "You better be in home by eight or else" families.
We owned a bible, sure, but it served its purpose more as a family heirloom than as any real point of focus. My father, a lover of family trees and self-help books, loved to point out my relatives. Some he could remember, some of them he could not.
I can still remember peering over its tattered binding. I remember wondering how old it must have been. One-hundred-years of more is my best guess. The text inscribed was that of the King James, full of untos and yea and begat but we never turned to passages, nor underlined them. Our real focus were the first few dusty, yellowed pages in the extreme front which displayed birth dates and death dates. Never marriages.
Even in my youth, I wondered why.
The Camp Family Bible was brittle and fragile. The binding had once been black, but now had faded considerably. One had to handle every page with ultimate fragility, else the rolling-paper thin pages come off in your hand. My father kept it under lock and key in a safe I was instructed to never open without his explicit permission.
What was most exciting were not the words themselves, but the mementos of people long ago dead and deceased. This fascinated me. I found authentic stationary proclaiming the virtues of some soap product promising to keep facial features white, pure and vibrant. When I was older, I could have dated the stationary somewhere around the middle of the 1920s but to me then it was merely exotic.
As I said, I attended church but I can't say I was a religious boy. I certainly never memorized bible verses. Instead, I spent most Sundays bored stiff. Another sermon full of concepts I could not understand, concepts I barely grasped, and words that although familiar, I had not enough life experience and education to comprehend.
I lay in my mother's lap most Sundays, staring at the rough pine of the sanctuary roof, which was full of criss crossing pine boards.
I knew there was a Heaven. I believed in Heaven. I believed in God as this manifest force up in the sky. What mention there was of hell was set forth in metaphorical terms. We glanced over Revelations and I never heard any mention of Satan. I had no concept of eternal damnation. I did not learn to fear eternal punishment.
But in those days I did pray. The world seemed right and fair. God was in heaven watching me. He was watching me in my little boy suit and clip-on tie. These were before the days of acceptable contemporary worship and everyone was expected to dress up.
The minister wore a black liturgical robe. A choir sang melodies I would later recognize as the Western tradition, but they did not hold my interest. My interest in music lay in radios blaring car trips, cassette tapes, and my mother's LPs.
The instant the choir stood up, I lay across my mother lap, fiddled with the pencils sharpened for the occasion, doodled across the order of service, and promptly zoned out.
Combined together to
Make this tree
Mean something profound
And utterly life-affirming
Must have been that strong trunk.
Those green leaves
And the root structure
Which reminded me of
Must have been the black soil.
The way the wind
Rustles the leaves
The shades it provides
That reminded me of
and varicose veins
Must have been the luscious fruit.
The seed pit patterns
and their numeric significance
That reminded me of
The placebo effect
The lone bullet theory
and the atomic weight of zinc
it's just a tree.
Murmured to me
From this point onward."
Threw my suitcase
All my wordly possessions
Into a fire
In dull greenish-gray of
A novice’s habit
Until I take my vow
I kneel at the altar
and listen to the tape recorder
The nuns of Saint Berillius have taken a vow of silence until such time as the miracle of a young shepherd’s ascent into heaven has been recognized and canonized as such by the Vatican…
My attention drifts
Remembering this morning’s mass
The sight of
Beautiful pale skin
The face of an angel
This cannot be, lord
Her vow be broken
I left home
"All of Tyler's varying and sundry friends was making fun of the way he talked," Shaw says. "I am not a revengeful person, but I couldn't let this behaviorism slip into acceptability. This is not the way America is about."
Shaw and her son are two of a surprising number of Americans who speak a form of nonstandard English that linguists have dubbed "Bushonics," in honor of the dialect's most famous speaker, President George W. Bush. The most striking features of Bushonics -- tangled syntax, mispronunciations, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers and a wanton disregard for subject-verb agreement -- are generally considered to be "bad" or "ungrammatical" by linguists and society at large.
But that attitude may be changing. Bushonics speakers, emboldened by the Bush presidency, are beginning to make their voices heard. Lisa Shaw has formed a support group for local speakers of the dialect and is demanding that her son's school offer "a full-blown up apologism." And a growing number of linguists argue that Bushonics isn't a collection of language "mistakes" but rather a well-formed linguistic system, with its own lexical, phonological and syntactic patterns.
"These people are greatly misunderestimated," says University of Texas linguistics professor James Bundy, himself a Bushonics speaker. "They're not lacking in intelligence facilities by any stretch of the mind. They just have a differing way of speechifying."
It's difficult to say just how many Bushonics speakers there are in America, although professor Bundy claims "their numbers are legionary." Many who speak the dialect are ashamed to utter it in public and will only open up to a group of fellow speakers. One known hotbed of Bushonics is Crawford, the tiny central Texas town near the president's 1,600-acre ranch. Other centers are said to include Austin and Midland, Texas, New Haven, Conn., and Kennebunkport, Maine.
Bushonics is widely spoken in corporate boardrooms, and has long been considered a kind of secret language among members of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. Bushonics speakers have ascended to top jobs at places like the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services. By far the greatest concentration of Bushonics speakers is found in the U.S. military. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig is only the most well known Bushonics speaker to serve with distinction in America's armed forces. Among the military's top brass, the dialect is considered to be the unofficial language of the Pentagon.
Former President George H.W. Bush spoke a somewhat diluted form of the dialect that bears his family's name, which may have influenced his choice for vice president, Dan Quayle, who spoke an Indiana strain of Bushonics.
The impressive list of people who speak the dialect is a frequent topic at Lisa Shaw's weekly gathering of Bushonics speakers. That so many members of their linguistic community have risen to positions of power comes as a comfort to the group, and a source of inspiration.
"We feel a good deal less aloneness, my guess is you would want to call it," Shaw says. "It just goes to show the living proof that expectations rise above that which is expected."
Some linguists still contend, however, that the term "Bushonics" is being used as a crutch to excuse poor grammar and sloppy logic.
"I'm sorry, but these people simply don't know how to talk properly," says Thomas Gayle, a speech professor at Stanford University. Professor Gayle was raised by Bushonic parents, and says he occasionally catches himself lapsing into the dialect.
"When it happens, it can be very misconcerting," Gayle says. "I understand Bushonics. I was one. But under full analyzation, it's really just an excuse to stay stupider."
It's talk like that that angers many Bushonics speakers, who say they're routinely the victims of prejudice.
"The attacks on Bushonics demonstrate a lack of compassion and amount to little more than hate speech," says a prominent Bushonics leader who spoke on the condition that his quote be "cleaned up."
Increasingly, members of the Bushonics community are fighting back. Lisa Shaw's Crawford-based group is pressing the local school board to institute bilingual classes, and to eliminate the study of English grammar altogether. "It's an orientation of being fairness-based," Shaw says. A Bushonics group in New England has embarked on an ambitious project to translate key historical documents into the dialect, beginning with the Bill of Rights. (For instance, the Second Amendment rendered into Bushonics reads: "Guns. They're American, for the regulated militia and the people to bear. Can't take them away for infringement purposes. Not never.")
Bushonics activists say they'll keep fighting as long as there are still children who come home from school crying because their classmates can't understand a word they're saying. Lisa Shaw hopes that every American will heed the words of the nation's No. 1 Bushonics speaker, and vow to be a uniter, not a divider.
"We shouldn't be cutting down the pie smaller," Shaw says with quiet dignity. "We ought to make the pie higher.