Sunday, October 31, 2010

key moments in baby dyke awakenings

'Baby dyke' is just another stage of life, isn't it? It's just a question of how long it takes to get there, right?

What comes to mind, strangely enough, is spending time with old women in North Africa, especially after they'd been widowed. These were women who had never had a choice of whether or not to marry — let alone who to marry. The happiest women in the older set that I knew in the 1970s were those women in polygynous marriages. They were just fine, thank you, sharing (the burden) of one husband. Grateful as could be at not being stuck with him (and his mother) alone. The freedom felt by widows was not just palpable, it's visible even in photographs.

And the younger women (we're talking rural sector here) complained that polygyny had been outlawed. And therefore, they'd be stuck with some old geezer doing all the labor for him and his brood. They were not at all grateful for the 'liberation' from polygyny.

Not exactly baby-dykes, I agree. And I know that women are also sorrowful at the loss of a lifetime mate. But what I witnessed were women relieved from the burden of serving men. Content to be an elder themselves, served by their younger generation. And the unhappiest old woman I knew was being forced back into a marriage by her son. Long story. Hishma!

But in our country, and in urban life, surely it shouldn't take until widowhood to discover one's own gynephilia. But sometimes the signs are there and we just plain missed it.

Upon reflection, I think I've had five little moments of awakenings that I just clear somehow missed at the time. Not including obvious baby dyke moments like crushes. Or that feeling when getting strapped into a black leather corset for the very first time.

No, these moments were a bit more nuanced. Just a bit.

In chronological order:

the sonny-boy incident: Fifth or sixth grade. I was running back home after getting a 'pixie' haircut (that's what it was called at the time). Ran across the street without looking. And this man (who almost hit me with his car) hollered out his window, "Watch out, sonny!" And I was mortified. It downright scared the butch right outta me. Oh well. Think of all the years that coulda been different if I had risen to that occasion.

the Electra moment
: The Greek film Electra came out in 1962. I was fourteen. My mom took me to UC Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium to see it. And my jaw dropped. It was the moment that Irene Pappas, in an act of defiance and grief, finds a private corner and cuts off her long tresses, and is shorn, ready for mourning. A truly orgasmic moment in film making. But my own butch moment had already passed (see above), and instead I spent years trying to personify Pappas' Greek anguish. Mostly I practiced the intensity of her eyes. Failing miserably, of course. But I fell in love for the first time without even noticing.

the kd lang/cindy crawford Vanity Fair photo shoot: I was up skiing with family and friends. Staying back one afternoon to grade (yet another) set of exams. I had the whole condo to myself. Took a break in the middle of a set, and picked up some magazine lying around. Flipped it open. And almost fell to the floor. kd lang! I believe the correct contemporary expression would be OMG!

There's more, of course, but why go any further than kd lang?

My point is that there are these moments when we can choose to know ourselves, or choose to not read the signs. Or, I suppose, we can read the signs, and choose to change or not to change. Or we find ourselves waiting for the life cycle to come round and hand us a form of liberation (as older women do in North Africa). Or we never discover who we are or what we want.

And in some cultures or communities it is just plain too dangerous to display this kind of awakening. Too life-threatening. And so we hide. Or suppress. Or repress (which might be be the best option to live with under some circumstances).

And in other cultures or communities it's not too dangerous to awaken. And we find ourselves wide awake, with another new world to explore.

And why think about all this now?

It was a chance email from North Africa that sent my mind back so many decades ago. Thinking about what happened to the girl who dared wear pants, ride a bike, carry money — in a village where these acts were considered aberrant if not obscene for a teenage girl. It was downright cross-dressing. A form of transvestism there. The boys threw rocks at her. Shouted at her terrible insults of gender confusion ... But her father indulged her. She was one of the girls decidedly in favor of polygyny — so as not to be stuck entirely at a man's whim. And then her father did something no other father in the village had done.

He taught her a trade. And got her out of there.

And with this email, I thought of her. And these moments when we discover ourselves. These moments when we choose either to be or not be what it is we really are. And I thought of the courage it takes to not compromise. And I thought of Irene Pappas' defiant, smoldering eyes. And kd lang.

And I still think it's a life cycle thing. To declare ourselves (or not). And it just takes some of us a whole lot longer to get there.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

war stories

We were holding kabbalah study group tonight at Beit Malkhut, and I don't know how it came up. But you know how study groups go — one topic leads to another.

We started with the Kaddish — the Mourner's Prayer — since all of us had something to mourn, and it was time to explore and see what we could ferret out. I was prepared to be thoroughly annoyed. Which is my initial mode in all these inquiries, especially when they have to do with prayer.

I have a problem with prayers.

What bugs me about them is that the melodies completely draw you in, especially when they slip into a minor key or something equally compelling for which I (who know nothing about music) have no language to describe. So there you are sucked in by the beauty of it — and so it works as ritual, and is very powerful, right?

But then you pick at it. What does this really mean?? The Kaddish is in Aramaic, not Hebrew, but it's pretty recognizable for the most part.

My rule in study group is, however, not to assume that we know what something means. Instead, we use our Gesenius Lexicon (which does include the Aramaic) and track down every form of every root until we uncover the mysteries imbedded in the text.

I had very low expectations. But that's what makes it so fun. That's what makes being a Pessimist so rewarding. With such low expectations, the discoveries become minor awe-inspiring miracles.

In English, the translations are sychophantic, repetitive and well, just plain cloying and annoying. There's gotta be more to it than that. Why all the glory, glory glory, going on and on about just how terrific our god is? And what's that got to do with mourning?

Turns out that the Kaddish began to be used for mourning in the 13th century during Crusades and pogroms, as a public affirmation of faith in the face of pogromic annihilation. That is, instead of using the Shma for that purpose. Thus, the Mourner's Kaddish was a public display of adherence to one's faith, and that's why it doesn't say one damned thing that might comfort someone's terrible loss.

The words in English are trite, not just repetitive. But looking them up, a vivid picture emerged. Not one of dying and death and loss, but of a joyous celebration. A wedding, if you will.

And god is the bridegroom. He is adorned with a special turban and set upon a special chair (or throne), and lifted into the air with great exaltation. It's a wedding celebration, joyous, and filled with laughter. Who's the bride? Well, we are. And our recitation binds our union. Our act of unification. And then there's the description of his tumescence (translated as 'might' and 'arising') — it's pretty heady stuff.

In other words, hidden in the Aramaic is an alternate tale that can be uncovered — showing that exultation, showing what form it takes.

Then I checked out Reb Schneerson.

Reb Schneerson says (in an address on the yahrtzeit of Isaac Luria, the Ari), that our remembrance should be filled with joy and laughter, and not be immersed in the sorrow of the day. Which verifies my own deconstruction of the Kaddish puzzle. For, says Reb Schneerson, for on that day, as we honor the Ari, his revelations open to us, and what should we do, but dance and laugh.

Wow, was he right.

He then goes on to say that when we take in this knowledge from those who have died before us, and as we celebrate their yahrtzeit, the revelations sink right into our very nefesh, deeper and deeper and imbed not just into our mind (sechel) but into our physical being. It burrows into our very brains, and creates more convolutions than previously existed.

It expands our cerebral cortex. It expands our brains.

In one fell swoop he goes from mourning, to kaddish to revelation, to increased brain capacity and power. Just like that.

Does the fact that I'm in shock make him wrong?

I mean, what can I say? He's the one who's been proclaimed the mashiach, after all. He's got his science down pat to back him up. Who am I to say he's wrong?

Maybe it was all the talk of Crusades and pogroms. Maybe talk of new knowledge. Dunno.

But out came one of my war stories, that I'd not told in quite a long time, and deserves its hearing right now, right here. A great story, really.

But by now it's late, and my eyes are closing of their own volition, and my head is threatening to crash down upon the keyboard without permission, and I can't possibly give the tale its due. And it just started raining, and got suddenly cold.

And so, I'll save it maybe for shabbes, and for the moment say goodnight. And savor the revelations we discovered in the kaddish. And that Reb Schneerson just maybe, maybe might be right.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

yahrtzeit for the tzaddik

Do I still get to cry?

The first year ends, and I've been living the dying over and over. Actually, it all started two years ago with her. And I just couldn't get over it, and then, wham — the tzaddik is ill, the tzaddik is terminal, the tzaddik is gone.

I think it's time to pack up the tears, and see what I can do about the black circles under my eyes.

Narayan Singh Khalsa (aka Michael Lincoln) says that everything important about us is written on our faces. That someone astute can just look at us and know what we've done and what we've been through. And then he would tell us. Okay, it was always in his cryptic symbology, but once you got used to his languaging, he really did make sense.

But I never believed him. Until now.

I hit the wrong key on my keyboard last week and punched up the PhotoBooth thingy which I didn't know was there. So that led to a couple hours of wasted time playing with the function, only to discover that Narayan had been right all along.

Look at those eyes!


Grief so embedded that I don't know how to undo it at all. A graven image of grief. The rest of the body speaks the same language, of course. But I can't stand going any further than the eyes. That's scary enough for the present.

So, I'm wondering. If I focus on changing this picture of the self, will the grief go away?

If I can find a 'happy-thought' —

If I can make the body not hurt —

If this, if that ... go to the gym, hike more miles each day... maybe become a vegetarian... then the face will change again, right? The body too?

But the grief doesn't go away, does it? The pit in my stomach? The emptiness carved deep inside me?

I've heard that expression, "you look like you've aged 10 years..." and now I know what it looks like.

Okay, so this is my self-indulgent thought on this yahrtzeit of my father's. Interesting that I'm not spending the time praising him, talking about how much I miss him, about his brilliance, his protection, his wisdom, his goodness. Pining. Moaning.

The tzaddik. The tzaddik is gone. He's not even in my dreams, anymore.

No, this is me talking about me, instead.

No, this is the old, chin up, shoulders back, stiff-upper-lip, suck it in, suck it up, get a hold of yourself, stop the crap, stop the whining, stop, STOP, STOP!!

Yahrtzeit. One year. The first year. The first visit to the cemetery. Deal with a stone, a plaque. Move my sister to rest with my dad. Get organized. Take care of business.

Say goodbye.


Maybe not.

I keep wondering if it's time to remember the living. To remember that I'm living. And not just in a nightmare of dealing with the aftermath.

No more self-indulgence.

This is what ritual was invented for. This is why we have something called Yahrtzeit. Why we light candles at prescribed times. Why we say Kaddish. Why saying Kaddish helps. Why hard-liner atheists have a rougher time of it than people who are calmed by ritual. Not that ritual has anything necessarily to do with belief. But they do seem to go hand in hand often enough.

What might be a good atheist ritual to ease the pain of loss? Surely there's some rational way of letting go the grief. And I'm not talking meds, here. Nor shrinks of any denomination. No. This is not pathology. It's just the life cycle.

Maybe what helps most is to turn my head eastward. To Brooklyn, of all places. To watching my kids thrive. So, okay kids, I'm facing your direction, more than I've done all year. I'm not placing this at your feet exactly, I just want you to help me laugh. I don't need grandchildren (god forbid). Just a little laughter.

Oh. And it's not all on you.

I've got work to do. Time to get back at it. My work. Not just everybody else's.

Okay bootstraps, this is me pulling, pulling hard...

Answer to question at top of page: Enough is enough. And I'll check in with a mirror a year from now and see what I've written upon my own face.

Monday, October 18, 2010

misunderstanding pessimism: a manifesto of sorts

The NYT has run a number of articles lately on optimism and pessimism, including one entitled, "Is your Dog an Optimist or a Pessimist." Which was an incredibly depressing article. Another, which ran today (but disappeared before I could find it again) spent a lot of time explaining why optimists live longer. Go figure.

Actually, what the article said is that optimists take better care of themselves. In the expectation of longevity, they eat better, sleep better — and don't head for the chocolate when things get rough. They're less likely to have high blood pressure or to die from heart disease or diabetes.

Seems to me that having diabetes in itself would be the big bummer. Maybe we have a cause / effect disjuncture here. Maybe the pessimists have simply experienced the pain first hand — or been raised on it. Maybe pessimists were raised on what "they" did to "our" people? Inquisitions. Holocausts. Colonialisms of one kind or another. Genocides.

But for those we have Viktor Frankel, don't we? And I won't let the optimists claim him. While it is true that finding meaning in one's suffering can make it more bearable, this surely, is not the same as optimism. It means, I think, that activating our intellect — analysis of one kind or another — engages us more than it helps us 'endure.' Existential therapies focus on the big four: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.

But does contemplating these make us pessimists or philosophers?

I have a personal grudge against optimism. I admit it. My problem is that optimists use words like 'faith' and 'hope' more often than is empirically warranted. It seems to me that 'faith' and 'hope' are seriously fluffy categories. I know this sounds a bit grumpy, but hear me out.

I think about it as the five faiths:

Faith in others.

Faith in self.

Faith in society.

Faith in the planet.

Faith in the universe.

Faith in others: In this regard, there is an expectation that others will step up to the plate, unasked or even unexpected, and 'do the right thing.' What this 'right thing' is, however, is some fantasy in the individual's mind. It's the guess-what-I'm-thinking bit. The just-take-care-of-me bit. The read-my-mind bit. I've fallen into this trap myself. Assumed that others understood what I thought was obvious. But no. What we really need here is a little less faith in others, and a lot more clear communication with them instead.

Faith in self: Another sloppy category. This one is better handled with preparation. And doing one's homework. With paying attention. With diligence. Research. Elbow-grease. Self-reliance. Yes, sounds grumpy again, doesn't it. But diligence is actually fun, and so is research. The difference between having faith that one will have a good birthing experience, for example, and actually preparing for childbirth — well, it's obvious which one has the greater survival value for both mother and child. Faith has nothing useful to offer here.

Faith in society: Currently out of fashion, whether on the left or the right. On the other hand, ambulances and fire trucks still show up on the scene. Public schools still exist to some extent. Maybe what's needed here is a little less faith in society and a lot more taxes to pay for services we expect society to provide. I'll throw in here (though you probably heartily disagree) a universal draft, for citizens of all genders, all levels of physical capacity. There's nothing like a draft to make us think long and hard about what is really worth fighting for.

Faith in the planet: (aka faith that the ecology will work itself out): This was James Lovelock's big mistake, was it not? In The Gaia Hypothesis, he postulated that the earth was a self-managerial system that kept itself in equilibrium. He described an intricate system of checks and balances, only to discover thereafter that it didn't work. He subsequently wrote The Revenge of Gaia, as if the planet had changed its mind. He claims we've reached the tipping point past which we'd better take action. The planet can no longer return itself to equilibrium. This book, which feels hastily written because according to Lovelock we no longer have much time — posits one necessary solution. But Lovelock's solution is so distasteful, that his book, well, it's just not doing that well, is it? People still want the warm and fuzzy solutions. Sorry — not warm. That, after all, is the problem.

Faith in the universe: In which we meet the god-conundrum. I'll leave this one to the likes of Dennet and Dawkins. Suffice it to say that those immersed in 'faith in the universe' are not the ones who spend their nocturnal insomnial hours looking up websites called things like "how the world will die" — nor are they up in the middle of the night doing the research to figure it out. Nor are they writing the articles. And meaninglessness is not a category that keeps optimists up at night, enthralled and energized.

They're the ones sleeping like babies.

In our house, that's only Vlad, our kitty. The dogs, after all, maintain a vigilance worthy of our admiration, not our psychological profiling.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

missing her as I do — new orleans revisited

Maybe I don't have any right to miss her as I do. Maybe the missing is reserved for what people conventionally call 'family.' For kin related by blood or marriage. And I am neither. She is 'family' in that other sense. The sense of what we call family.

My home was her home. Her home wasn't home to her.

She escaped as often as she could. She'd be in Moscow. In Tuva. In Brussels, when she had to be. She was here. She was there. She just wasn't home at home. Although, to be sure, I'm glad I got to be with her in Stockholm and see what her life was like there. People loved her there as well. And she had — and has — family. And love. Lots and lots of love.

So why am I thinking about her now? After all, it's not her Yahrtzeit until May. Until Memorial Day. She died on Memorial Day (on a US calendar, anyway), which makes the mourning process feel large, really large — as if the country itself takes up the mourning cry... I never thought much about Memorial Day until I got that phone call that she was gone.

The American Anthropological Association Meetings will be held in New Orleans this year. Our panel will focus on Trance. We've got two papers on North Africa — Hager's on the Zar cults in Egypt, and mine on accusations of faking it in Tunisia. We've got Jeff on Christianized Laotian refugees. Tina on contradance trance. And Jennifer on Sulawesi trance now for television audiences. It's gonna be a wonderful panel. With one exception.

She won't be there. The queen of trance and structural categories. Researcher extraordinaire. Indefatigable writer, editor. Not a thrilling teacher, if truth be told. But most of all, beloved.

The thing about conferences is that it forms some strange sort of bonds. Where you only see the people you love at the height of their form, and in a spectacular setting not your own. Altered time, altered space. And presenting the apex of your research at that moment. A high, of sorts, which is more than an academic high. It's a high of ideas, and the confluence of ideas. Of resonance to discover your own research dovetails with another's. Comparing notes. Deciding to present together the next year, to further the research to the next stage. To see what happens. To build momentum. To go from high to high: the meeting of more than minds.

Last time, in New Orleans, we were together. The theme of the meetings was '100 Years of Anthropology.' It was 2002. I presented on Mouloud Mammeri, Algerian anthropologist, and founder of the modern Amazigh Movement in North Africa. Did anybody care besides me? Does anyone ever really care? I'm not sure.

But she cared.

And we played. This was pre-Katrina New Orleans. Pre-Deepwater Horizon oil spill. New Orleans both playful and serious. We spent a lot of time in churches, as I recall. We were cleansed. We were healed. We were cleansed and healed. She was in her element, that's for sure. I, for sure, was not. I don't do church.

But then we visited John T. Martin. Four of us, I think, together. The Anthropology of Consciousness meets the Druidic Voodoo Priest. And the rapport was magnetic.

He stared into our eyes as he spoke. It wasn't about the transmission of charisma. It was about thirst. He was thirsty for this meeting of the minds. His readings were spontaneous and on target. But so were hers. Ours. The snakes were all upstairs, I remember, except for Jolie, the albino. It wasn't how I had remembered it from my last trip to New Orleans — right after the Voodoo Queen had died. When the snakes (who refused to be photographed, but appeared only as shining light) were still downstairs.

Now John kept them upstairs. Eugene, especially. Although Jolie still came downstairs. A barometer for who may and may not enter a more sacred and less public space. I keep a remembrance of them — pieces of the skins they've shed — inside a special wooden jar, set upon a special place. I don't call it an altar to Dhamballa. I don't have to.

I wanted him to speak at our next conference. He wanted travel funds for all the snakes as well. It wasn't like he was going to leave them for anyone else to attend. It wasn't like they'd leave him on his own.

There was a rapport, a resonance, an electricity among us all. Those trite words "I-can't-explain-it" are apt, but also inappropriate. It's my job, is it not, to be able to explain it?

No, it was my job to investigate further. I promised to call, when he asked me to call. I looked him straight in the eye and made the promise.

And every day from then till now, I have thought of calling. Every single day. I've thought of him.

But I don't make phone calls.

He probably knew it. I hope he knew it. I'm a flake. Just terrible at keeping contact. Bad, bad, bad. What else can I say?

But now. We're going back to New Orleans. I wonder what he's suffered. I wonder whether he's alive. I wonder what happened in all those intervening years in which each and every day I thought about calling.

Because I miss her as I do, I will go back and find him, if I can. I won't do it for him, or for me. I will do it for her. On her behalf. Because she is the one who follows through.

I know I have a message for him. I'm not sure what that will be. Just to say she's gone? Just to say I'm sorry? Just to cry out how much I miss her? Not sure.

All I'm sure of, is I won't call.

I want to look him in the eye, face to face and mind to mind, and have him tell me why I'm there.

And what I can do to make amends.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

suffer the little children—or something like that

The phrase just came to me tonight after a not-good phone call. And I realize that I have no idea what this phrase means. It has a bibley sound to it, but I wasn't familiar with it at all. It was a fragment, must be a fragment of something much larger. I wanted to know — so I turned to the Internet.

And I came upon a blog devoted to caring for infants in Malawi villages. Orphans gathered in an orphanage village called Mzuzu SOS. Children malnourished and alone no longer.

And I came upon a four part expose from 1968 of Pennhurst State School for Mentally Retarded Children. And there were kids in straightjackets, and kids with their hands or feet bound to the bars of their cribs. And children sitting cross-legged on the floor rocking back and forth with rhythmic repetition. And the children, said the narrator, happy to have something positive to say, "are no longer sterilized." Wow.

And I found a movie trailer of the same name that was unwatchable, and I couldn't hit delete fast enough for my own health and safety. And this film was apparently based upon a Stephen King short story of the same name, which was called in one description, "a delicious fright."

And I found a Stephen King disclaimer, stating that 'Suffer the Little Children' had, and I quote, "no redeeming social merit whatever" (King, 1993:801).

And I found a book on the murder of eleven year old Melissa Moody by her uncle, somewhere near Boswell, Oklahoma. And the point being made was that abuse in one generation raises the next generation of abusers. Details provided.

And I found The Smiths lyrics, of the same name, which sounded an awful lot like the case I'd just been reading.

And yes, I found Jesus.

And yes, I've always wanted to say that, if only on the page, or screen or whatever, just for fun to see what it feels like. But in saying it here — I mean it quite literally. I literally found Jesus. Or Jesus' words, anyway.

Which is really finding Matthew, I believe, not Jesus, right? And Mark. And Luke.

The key quote appears to be:

Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

Which, to my neophyte ears sounds a lot like someone proselytizing young vulnerables and not wanting to be restrained. You know, something Jim Jones would have said. And meant it.

But the website I found this on explained to me that this meant that Jesus loved children.

Ok, fine.

By the time I had spent more Search Function time than I should have on this little puzzle, I reflected on the phone call I had just received.

It wasn't about abuse.

It wasn't about malnourished, orphaned village babies.

It wasn't about psycho-killers.

It wasn't about social merit or the lack thereof.

And it wasn't a Stephen King horror show.

And my not-good phone call gained a 'suffer-the-little-children' context. And I realized that my kids are really alright. And that everyone suffers. And that our children suffer, even without the trauma-drama. And that maybe this phone call wasn't about suffering at all, but about life. And a moment that will pass.

Not earth-shattering.

Not horrifying.

Just a glitch in the matrix, and one that might possibly open new doors. And that maybe (just maybe) this moment is a turning point. And the turn may well lead to a much finer vista than the one being left behind. Or something like that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

gratuitous misogyny: the soylent network poets society

Soylent Green came out when? This is something I can know instantly, isn't it? 1973, as it turns out. And people reduce the film to those four words:

Soylent Green is people.

But that was never the appalling thing about Soylent Green. That was just good recycling. With the benefits way outweighing the costs. I never had a problem with that part. So much for the punchline. The pollution depicted in the film was brilliant. You could reach for your inhaler just watching the screen, it was that bad.

But the worst thing by far depicted in Soylent Green was exactly the same thing that I saw depicted tonight at the movies watching David Fincher's The Social Network.

Don't get me wrong. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is perfect. Jesse Eisenberg gives exactly the performance he's hired to give — he's got the broody/despicable/pathetic guy down pat. With the casting of Eisenberg, the real Mark Zuckerberg doesn't stand a chance in the sympathy department, does he?

From my point of view, Soylent Green, The Social Network, oh, and Dead Poets Society — and a whole lot of other other-people's-favorite films — are all the same horror show.

School boy movies have even more in common. The smart-boy thing. The wannabe envy. The struggle to make it into the inner circle. To be accepted. The privileged oppressing the less privileged. The underprivileged/socially inept/ethnic guy breaking through the barriers that keep him oppressed.

Oh, and the reward of getting laid.

This latter appears to be the primary function that women play in these films: a repository for sperm. Though I'm not even sure if the smart-boys care whether their aim (or timing) is particularly accurate. And they're certainly not out to please anyone but themselves.

What makes all these movies unbearable isn't the precious dialogue or depiction of boy-brilliant angst (with an occasional milli-second of male sensitivity thrown in, though not, I should add, in The Social Network).

No, what makes them unwatchable is the women-as-furniture thing.

Gratuitous misogyny.

Soylent Green was explicit in this. Women were depicted quite literally as furniture that come with the apartment you (male) rent. In 1973 when the film came out, this was something no one seemed to even notice — it was so ubiquitous not only in film, but in our daily lives. Ms. magazine first appeared on the stands in 1972 and just the title attempted to convey the idea of women not being any man's property. Clearly the Soylent Green 'future' hadn't gotten the message yet.

But neither has The Social Network.

I'm not mad at the film, per se. I think what enrages me is that the depiction of women in this film may well be correct. That these young men with the big ideas still perceive women as perks and playthings, no different than say, drugs, alcohol, loud music and dark clubs with flashing lights. Slithery women populate The Social Network just as they populated Dead Poets, Soylent Green and god knows how many other movies. We should make a list. Or maybe not. It's too depressing.

Granted, The Social Network provides a sole female voice protesting the treatment of women. But it is drowned out by every other female voice in the film just fine with bimboification. With not being the brilliant innovator but the door prize.

I remember seeing Dead Poets with a group of friends when it came out in 1989. And over dinner afterward, they raved about it, how great, how sensitive, how well played... And I sat there grumpy, seething and enraged — that sole voice at the table that couldn't stand the film for what it did to women. They hadn't noticed.

Well, the movies haven't changed much, have they?


or 1989,

or 2010.

I'm still watching the same bloody scene played out again and again — with reviewers clearly not watching the same movie that I'm watching. Not seeing the same thing that I'm seeing.

But nowadays, when I go to the movies, I'm sitting next to someone who not only sees the pattern, but also feels the outrage.

In other words, these days, I'm sitting next to a woman.

And she's a filmmaker.

So watch out...

Friday, October 8, 2010

zipping through the life cycle — a sufi parable

Nothing like your firstborn's wedding to put the reality principle front and center, life cycle-wise. Ten seconds ago I was giving birth. Ten seconds from now I'll be under a pile of dirt, or small particles blowing in the wind. Pop! We appear. Poof! We're gone. This, says Tylor (that would be Sir Edward) is why human folk invented religion. We can handle the pop! a tad better than we can handle the poof! We won't accept exiting the stage... It's not just an American thing.

There's an old Sufi tale about a young man praying to God.

"Allah!" he calls out, what is next?" he implores. "I see my youth, but what is to become of me?"

I'm paraphrasing, of course.

There is a rope, not just any rope, but the rope of life. And Allah gives him the next bit, and he examines his next moment. He's older now, with small children of his own. His work is not unexpected. Okay, got it, he thinks. Now I know this moment, but what's the next?

"Allah!" he calls out again. "Take pity on me. I must know what comes next!"

And Allah, the Compassionate, feeds out the next bit of rope. And the man now has labored some years. He's gotten quite good at his trade. His children thrive, perhaps. He cannot see. And so, he asks the Compassionate One once again. And once again, Allah feeds him a bit more of the rope of life.

And now he is mature, at least in the chronological sense, if not in his heart, for he still has not understood the consequences of his own unreasonable demands.

And he pleads with the Almighty for the next, and the next and the next. And Allah the Compassionate, feeds out the rope again and again.

And he reaches at last, the end of the rope and it is frayed, and he himself is ancient and hobbled, and suffering the pain of his very last days.

"More rope!" he calls out to Allah, the Merciful One.

But there is no more rope.

And he finds that he has gone through his rope in the blink of an eye. And used up his life not in living but in seeking the next moment. And his life has passed him by in a flash.

Poof! He is gone.

And I think of this tale all the time. And tell myself, slow down! And for the most part, life is mundane enough to feel slow. And I can spend time in my spot on the rope without moving. And I can see the intricacy of the woven strands that comprise the larger umbilicus that binds me along that supernal time-line. And I use words like 'supernal' and 'bind' and 'umbilicus' to describe my piece of rope. And I attempt to wax lyrical, and fail. Attempt not to move along the trajectory of the rope at all, but stay, stay put right here in this spot. Examine it. Savor it!

And the years pass, and I live them. And they're good. And the body aches a little here and there. It expands more than it contracts. It fatigues a bit faster. It sags, it stoops, it just plain hurts.

And the joy comes in smaller and smaller packets. The smell of the soil. The eyes of a wolf. The purr. The wind. A really good sentence on a paper I have to grade.

And I've slowed time. I've asked for no more rope. I'll hang out right here, thank you very much. This moment — every moment — is this lovely gift.

And the children are little. And I do for them. Because the rope is so short!

And the children are growing. And I do for them. Because the rope is so short!

And the children are grown. And I do for them. Because the rope is so short!

And what does the eldest child go off and do? Ah! He's let out the rope a little bit more. Time has ceased to stop.


The Compassionate One allowed me to savor the rope, and I held on to that lovely spot with all my might. And then the rope is suddenly yanked. All at once. Death of a parent. The caring for another parent. Marriage of a son. Retirement (of sorts). New status. New roles.

A new spot on the rope. And I hang on to savor it.

I think my way is just as wrong as the man who zipped right through the whole of his life in the blink of an eye. For what I want is to stay put at each stage — any stage at all — and just taste it, and smell it. And hold on.

And it doesn't work that way, does it?

So does the rope pass smoothly through our fingers? Or in fits and starts? Or are there many ways to pass through that rope? Or is the image completely wrong? Too linear. Maybe our lives aren't like rope at all. Maybe they're dendritic charts. The roots of trees. Grains of sand upon the shore. Sunrise, sunset. Mythical time that just stands still in mythical space.

I never liked linear imagery much. Maybe just let go the rope, and drift, or float. The Little Prince comes to mind at once. He refuses the rope. He rises in the end. Or does he die? Nonlinear space, nonlinear time.

Tylor said we invented 'souls' this way, in our need to make sense of 'it' all. An animate universe, we never have to exit. No rope. Nothing but eternity ... to savor.