Sunday, November 9, 2014

the magic chair

Ok.  I got a new chair.  I've tried a whole bunch of chairs through the years.  I was looking for the magic chair.

The first chair that applied for the position the tzaddik got for me at Clars auction as a surprise. He knew I was looking. He decided to act. It was about 200 years old. Intricately hand-carved, and it had an embroidered seat. Nobody would sit in it. They were all afraid.  But it was great to look at.  So Vladdie, our black kitty, took it upon himself to inaugurate it as kitties do. It lasted a number of years, and then it went back to Clars. Nobody appreciated it there, either.

The second chair was the Mormon chair. Hand carved, austere, and just plain awesome quarter sawn oak. Carved by a Mormon farmer in Utah about 100 years ago. I had dreamt this chair. And the next day it appeared to me in the flesh at the Alameda Flea Market, and so of course I had to bring it home. Nobody would sit in this chair either. I moved it from spot to spot for years. Until eventually it went off to auction as well. I miss it. Nice to look at.

The third chair was a bright orange Scandinavian Designs jobbie that was one of those trick chairs. It was comfortable as hell in the store, but when you got it home it crippled your lower back. So the solution, of course, was to order the matching ottoman, thinking that feet up might do the job. Uh. No.

I complained about the third chair to a good friend.  I had forgotten that I'd given her my dad's 'grading chair'—a cushy chaise that he never got to use because Mrs Tzaddik had stolen it from him because it was a thing of beauty.  She never sat in it either.  It was there to be looked at.  My friend, who was sitting in said bright orange back-breaker while I was complaining about it, said she liked it just fine, in fact quite a bit better than my dad's grading chair. I proposed we trade.

Why the bad colors in chairs? Floor models. Half price. You should see the couches. Purple. Now faded, so they embarrass my daughter less. She still thinks I should get rid of them. But hey, the dogs like 'em.

So the fourth chair to apply for the position for comfotable-chair-in-the-living-room was the tzaddik's pristine cushy Italian green chaise, same as my own old grading chair that sits across the living room. Also from Scandinavian Designs (a winner but they don't make it anymore). I now had two grading chairs virtually side by side, and they battled it out for the territory. The dogs preferred my old grading chair and had beaten it down pretty well. It was a glory of a broken in chair.  I had gotten it many years before as a present to myself for getting tenure. Or full professor.  Or something like that. But they duked it out and the Tzaddik's grading chair won.  It was a shock to me.  My beloved old grading chair had to go.

Luckily, I had a former student who was participating in our Beit Malkhut Study Group. Now in a PhD program. And she has claimed, (though I think she's being both sweet and sardonic and kind, and doesn't mean it at all) that she wants to grow up to be me. So. What better person to appreciate my old grading chair? After all, her own papers (generally turned in late or very late, but very well worth the read) were read and graded in that very chair. She accepted the wonderful old grading chair with all the pomp it deserved. And put it in storage along with her daughter's furniture.

We have ascertained that I am not good at this.

I sat down (low kitchen stool) to really analyze  my chair history. I had tried chairs based on beauty alone (as I'd been raised to do). As if chairs (and everything else) were only about aesthetics. I had purchased chairs because they were so hideous they were affordable. I had tried chairs because they were gifts and you couldn't turn them away. Because they were used. Because cats had already dug into them, so nothing to worry about them. Because they reminded me of someone I loved. Hm. Beauty and comfort didn't go hand in hand. And now my spine was making its own demands.

So. What are we up to, fifth chair. Now, in the Middle East, the number five has great protective value. Against the evil eye. For good health. You know the word 'hamsa' and maybe you wear a little hamsa that looks like a hand (five fingers) around your neck or on a keychain. Or have one up as an amulet about your desk.  At any rate, I now realize we had reached the fifth chair.

The magic chair.

I decided to go for the real deal. It had to be beautiful. It had to be new. The color had to be decent. And it had to be comfortable. And Stickley was having a sale. The tzaddik and the Mrs Tzaddik would be pleased in their graves. I think.

So I tried the fifth chair, my new Stickley recliner. A piece of absolute beauty. And I'm not going to admit that it takes some adjustment and compromise to be truly comfortable. But it's good enough. I mean, my god, it's a Stickley. And it's not from the flea market. A miracle.

So. I sat in it. I brought a tall glass of water with me to keep me put (I'm supposed to drink a ton of water. Ugh). I did not bring my iPhone or iPad. It was just me and the Stickley and the glass of water. All alone. Nobody home.

And I looked up. And I saw my living room. I saw the purple couches. The tzaddik's green grading chair. The old brass trays. The overgrown plants. The 'rescued' Moroccan armoire from the Middle Atlas Mountains. And the paintings.

I have two paintings in the living room. One over the purple couch. One over the (fake) fireplace. Over the couch is an 8' wide painting of an enormous red bull, and a person struggling to pull it in a direction it is not willing to go. Everyone I know hates the painting. It used to be kept in the red bull room (essentially, my closet) so it didn't disturb anyone. I'd wake up every morning, look at the painting, and think 'don't do that'  at least for today. Just. Don't. Do. That. And I'd be set for the day. No need of coffee. But no one else seems to 'get' the red bull painting. Some of them remember Red Bull Bob, a long ago student who had painted the red bull for a class project. He went to grad school. And stopped painting.

The other painting is a poster framed by the online poster company, but it does the job. It's La Belle Rafaela, by Tamara de Lempicka. de Lempicka was walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg one afternoon, and noticed that everyone was staring in a certain direction, and so she turned. And there was Rafaela. She approached. And the glorious odalisque painting that emerged shocked even 1920s Paris.

So. I'm sitting in my Stickley both looking, and seeing as if for the first time. The Red Bull that my friends despise. And the de Lempicka they adore. Or at least don't complain about. Two such different paintings. The red bull in bright thick strokes of red and red umber oil paint. The struggling white man (painted quite literally in white) trying to move the enormous red bull. A parable of colonialism and resistance. A domination game the white man will never win. And La Belle Rafaela, stretched out in all her orgasmic glory in tender strokes of evening colors.

And there they are, right there on my living room walls. The agony and the ecstasy. The paintings are perfect together. Neighboring figures emoting in accordance with the choices that they make. Blunt and to the point. Guiding us. Before, I saw them as individual works of art. Now I contemplate them together.

The Stickley. It's a keeper.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

malkah ascends the chariot

Someone called Malkah a mystic the other day. But I don't think so. Just because she romps around with letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet... Just because she's more comfortable in the cosmic... Just because she can't hold a pshat conversation, even about a movie like say Little Shop of Horrors (or a TV series like BSG)... Just because she sees people acting out letters of the Tetragrammaton and taking them on as archetypes... All that and more does not a mystic make.

Malkah once asked her mother, Mrs Tzaddik, what she had wanted for her when she grew up. It was a question Malkah had just never thought to ask before, but now was curious as hell. Ask it now or never. Mrs Tzaddik was not going to be long for this world.

"How could I have wanted anything for you?" Mrs Tzaddik told her, voice raised in operatic frenzy.  "You took drugs in the '60s!"

Ah. And there it was. No achievement was ever going to be good enough for Mrs Tzaddik, was it? Malkah took drugs in the '60s.  And actually, thereafter as well.

Malkah was calm about Mrs Tzaddik's outburst. As she was calm about just about everything. Equanimity was her primary practice.

She said, "Ma, everyone took drugs in the '60s." It was just a fact.

But Mrs Tzaddik was too steamed up in the tragedy of her own disappointment to hear it. And she didn't like facts.

I want to say "what happened in the '60s stays in the '60s" but you and I both know that's just not true. Berkeley in the '60s, and San Francisco in those days engaged a generation to see beyond the veil. And this was not just about pretty colors on the wall, or politics, or what the music really means. Malkah and her generation weren't just lying around reading Carlos Castaneda all day. They were also reading folks like Thomas Kuhn. The '60s were paradigm-shattering.

Now Malkah had been raised on storybook tales of how the Hebrew letters searched desperately for the Queen of Heaven, aka the Sabbath Bride, aka the Shekhinah, who had disappeared from the world. The letters were alive in those books when she was a child. And that didn't change. It was pure animism. She was raised with a living alphabet. Hebrew at her school was in the morning—vibrant, exciting, and alive. English was in the afternoons—dead as a door nail, just making words and nothing more. The English letters didn't run off trying to bring the Shekhinah back to Earth so that the world could be healed. They told baseball scores.

Something much later led her back to the tales of her childhood. The tales her father had told her. She needed to rethink them. Malkah discovered that these were no mere children's stories made up by imaginative children's authors. Instead, they were rooted in baudy ancient stories and serious medieval texts about the birth of God and the emergence of pre-biblical Creations. In other words, they were 'raw data,' and 'primary sources.'

And what those tales did was make Durkheim extremely dull. Durkheim, yes. But not Weber. Weber was all about charismatic figures rather than statistics.

Don't get me wrong.  LSD did not make Malkah religious or anything. God forbid. No. It just made her a better academic. It made her take those mystical texts seriously—as treatises on the miracles of grammar, ancient languages, and the formation of words.

Malkah became a better academic. She had fun with the material. And then she got out there and made something of herself. And Mrs Tzaddik was confused. Proud (sometimes), but grudgingly so. You can't possibly do well if you took drugs in the '60s.  Right?

So. On this election day, my vote's for Malkah's-no-mystic. She's just a product of her times. She seeks the whole above the particular. She privileges ancient tales over current events. And she loves the letters of the aleph-bet because they're still opening doors to the mysteries of Creation.

Along with Scientific American.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

malkah's little crush on ba'al

She's not supposed to. He's not part of her tradition.  Except as a traditional enemy, I suppose. He's somebody else's god. And not even the top dog at that. So. I was asked the other day what drew Malkah to Ba'al. And I suppose I should come up with something that makes it all sound reasonable.

Believe it or not, it started with the Tetragrammaton. One night, a very long time ago, Malkah discovered that everyone she cared about seemed to act out one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton.

There were Yud people. They were El people. Frequently bullies in their insistence on (white) male privilege. They had created something (as a head of a pantheon ought) but then they didn't want any more change. "I made it.  Now leave it alone." Creation. Just as I put it there, and not a drop of evolution since. Yud people. Not very attractive.

There were Upper Hei people. As watery as El was fire. These folks just wallow. They gripe and moan, and nothing, just nothing, is ever quite right for them.  They sulk when they're supposed to be incubating.  They take a sabbatical and spend the whole time obsessing about how short it is.  And then they get nothing done.

I should say right now that we all do these things. Sometimes. But El people. Fucking control freaks. And Upper Hei people.  Too many anti-depressants.

And then there's Vav. Upright and slim. And tall, with his head held high. Ambitious Ba'al wanting to make a difference in the world. Baal people are fucking activists. Thwarted by the powers that be at every turn. And shadowed by the loving gaze of Upper Hei —Asherah (Athirat, if you will) at every other turn. Ba'al wants to change the world. He's the original ecologist. An agriculturalist. An inseminator. Of the earth, that is. He makes things fertile, if given half a chance. Not that El will leave him be. And, well, Ba'al's been shtupping the wife, Athirat, so yah, I guess El has kind of a reason to be pissed.

There's no reason to make such a fuss about Ba'al's peccadillos. It's in his nature to spread seed. That's what he's supposed to do. The real deal, though. No Monsanto for him.

I had a student once who burst into tears when I started talking about Ba'al. Really wailing. And shaking too. She was of African origins and was raised to believe that Ba'al was the devil himself. So. Just speaking his name gave her the willies. And hearing something positive about him —like that he was just one of the top four deities in the pre-Abrahamic pantheon of Ugarit— just was too much to bear. I might as well have been talking about Saddam Hussein (more of an El character than a Ba'al one, for sure, but you get the idea). Say something good about the devil and you've got to expect a bit of a rocky response.

In all fairness, I must say Malkah was drawn to Ba'al's sister, Anat, (the lower Hei on the Tetragrammaton)—but she didn't have a crush.  No.  Instead she wanted to be the fierce and loyal lady of the hunt. A natural born killer.  I think Malkah didn't take that part too seriously though.  She saw Anat as just incredibly competent and able to get shit done. She killed. But she didn't kill. Can you hear the difference?

So. Malkah's crush on Ba'al is a bit weird, I suppose, in that she started with YHVH and worked her way backwards in time instead of going along with the program.  Back and back and back until she met Abrahams's contemporaries in the land of Cana'an. And found those top four, El, Asherah, Ba'al, and Anat had all gotten carried over into the Judaic godhead, sight unseen, having a good laugh, maybe, and blithely going about their business in the god department as if they hadn't been slaughtered by the invasion of the monotheists.

So. What's the problem with telling Malkah's secret? I think it's that almost nobody's going to believe it.  But if they do, there's sure to be someone saying she took up with the devil. Or that she's gone all pagan on us. But I'd like to think that she's just gone deeper. Deeper into the history of her own tradition.

She came up for air, and there he was.

I know, I know. Alchemy makes for pretty crappy punchlines.  Either that, or I'm just very bad at it.