Friday, July 30, 2010

sociophobes of the world unite!

I thought I made up the word, but no! It's out there, and apparently so are we. Though I'm not sure it's in the DSM IV. I started reading some of the diagnostics, as well as case histories of folks who consider themselves extreme sociophobes. One in particular caught my eye, first he talked about how easy it is for him to do public speaking, and to lecture at his university, but stepping outside his own door is close to torture.

And that, of course, hit home.

I have no intention of exploring the pathology or etiology of sociophobia (my own or the syndrome itself). I thought it would be a whole lot more uplifting to offer my home-baked solutions for any cringing sociophobe who happens to stumble upon this post when nobody's watching. What follows is in no particular order, although I'll probably start with the more obvious solutions — the ones you've probably already tried.

close your eyes — If you close your eyes they can't see you. Although truth be told, recently I've not had much luck with this one. It worked a whole lot better when I was a kid.

turn it into a virtue — I'm borrowing this from Oliver Sach's recommendation for Tourette's Syndrome, and Gille de la Tourette's Syndrome is a whole lot more conspicuous than sociophobia. His point was that Tourette's is associated with greater facility in the creative arts because the inhibitions are lowered to such a great extent. Thus, go off your (Tourette's) meds to play in that jazz band or you won't be able to jam terribly well. Ditto for sports... For sociophobia, the advantages may not be as glaringly apparent as the up side of Tourette's. But a few examples follow:

call it work — When you have to be in the presence of others outside your own domain, just call it work. If it's work, it's not social, and therefore doesn't count. (Kinda like those tiny pieces of pork in the chow mein at the Chinese Restaurant on Shabbes).

get a Ph.D. in anthropology — This is a subset of the above. In this instance, every human encounter outside your door becomes participant/observation: a fieldwork experience of utmost importance. And in that case, you can:

apply for a grant — To study 'it.' And because this is such a difficult piece of work (if you write it up properly), and if you make your argument compelling, you could live your whole life on soft money researching and publishing your results.

invite people over — You may have already tried this. But we all know it sure beats the alternative: going out. Here, you get credit (bravery points) for holding the event to begin with, and when you can't stand it any longer, you can creep upstairs, shut the door and curl up with a good book about the fall of civilization or one of Tom Brown's survivalist guides. Just make sure no one has thrown their coat on your bed, so they won't come up to retrieve it. If you really train your friends well —(yes, you have friends. They are the most tolerant people on the planet) — they will keep the party going a good long time, clean up downstairs, and sleep over so that you can have a fabulous time at breakfast together the next morning talking about what a great party it was. They know where the linens are. And they know where to sleep ...

belly dance for the very very timid — We started this class in my living room, and it was very successful, until some of the participants tried to get a little too chummy. A little too successful. Thankfully our fabulous instructor was going off to grad school, and so we put this one to bed gracefully. I don't remember a thing from the 'routines' that we were taught, but I'd do it again... Oh wait, we've also had the past 15 years of kabbalah at Beit Malkhut, so never mind. It doesn't have to be belly dance. Maybe this is why quilting bees used to be normative?

neutral ground — If you flee in the middle of the night when you're at a lover's house (or Big Sur, or someplace stranding them), pick a spot that won't make you run. Don't pick your own bed, 'cause when you get the get-me-outta-heres it's terribly awkward. I mean, you don't want to wake them with your mishegass, but you're ready to bite your leg off to get away. Too many times have you ended up on your own guest bed because you were being so polite about it. Don't let this happen to you! Favorite neutral spot: under a waterfall a good long hike away. Terrific spot, and you can't really sleep the whole night there.

go into occultation — I'm serious here. Mystics are rather a lot like anthropologists, able to perceive and enjoy the larger patterns from outside the system. If it's good enough for the Shekhinah, it should be good enough for you. Or think of my 16th century namesake, Mirabai. She escaped her tethered fate by jumping off her dead young husband's funeral pyre, and ran into the forest — all the while warbling songs of newfound freedom. Much of her poetry is about escaping abusive family pressure, and falling into the arms of her mystical lover, Krishna. Which is so much more satisfying. Others, come to mind...

become an ecologist — You open your mouth, and clearly no one is listening.

or a psychoanalyst — This one's great. I mean, the patient pays big bucks to lie on a couch and not look at you. And if you say anything at all, they've missed it 'cause they're so self-absorbed. (Bonus: you no longer need your M.D. under your belt before going through the training). And don't worry about those analyst parties: they're all talking to themselves anyway (or trying to avoid their own analyst at the party). Although, to tell the truth, the best way to handle the analyst parties is to go straight to the library in the house (mansion) and sit down in a comfy reading chair with one of the 24 volumes of Freud's Standard Edition. When that no longer works, head for the garden to 'get away from the cigar smoke.' Keep switching between garden and library, until you've put in your time. Warning: hard to get away with your usual torturous twenty minute obligation with this one.

offer to drive — So that when you run from the event (Cinderella was a famous sociophobe—being better with cats and mice and gourds than say, siblings), at least you've got the keys and you're in your own carriage. Having stranded my closest friends and lovers, I must confess this is a tad risky. But it usually works out okay in the end. They meet someone else. Who takes them home. And they have a very very good night. Try not to strand them too far away. Big Sur is definitely too far. Berkeley Hills is probably the most you should try to get away with. (That case was not my fault. It was Rosh Ha-Shanah at the Aquarian Minyan, and I ran like hell when they started doing Pygmie chants. Jesus, what were they thinking?). My good friend and kabbalah partner whom I stranded is a really good sport. He got a marvelous ride back to the City (and brought back my glass slipper as well). He should get a medal for all he's put up with over the years.

When I was a kid, my mom once asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her cheerfully that I wanted to be the keeper of the woods. Have a little cottage in the forest all alone (I was thinking Muir Woods). With a broom to tidy up. She burst into tears and stormed out of the room saying that was the most depressing thing she ever heard. What was she thinking? It still sounds delightful to me (although, curiously, I've never actually lived alone in my entire life). To wit:

surround yourself with people — Especially gregarious ones. Then, no one will notice.

cross the street when you see them coming — This works especially well if you cross before they see you. Because then you can wave heartily and walk a little faster, demonstrating your good intentions and that you're late or trying to catch up to the white rabbit in the waist coat receding in the distance.

If they love you, they'll forgive you.

And why should they love you? Because you're sometimes pretty good one-on-one. And you do care about them (in the abstract) (and especially when they're gone). When they're really gone, you miss them just terribly. Besides, these days people are pretty tolerant of all kinds of psychopathology.

When all else fails ...

I know. You thought I was about to say "when all else fails, jump," Or, medicate. But no, I'm not a proponent of either one.

When all else fails, call it a virtue, get that Ph.D. under your belt, get the grant, take notes, publish the whole damned thing (with analysis), don't strand them too far away ... and most of all: laugh. And let them laugh too.

Or call it a commentary on the human condition.

Or... or ... You'll think of something...

So. Sociophobes of the world unite! — but maybe just not in person.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

and everybody hates the jews

The biggest words I ever learned as a kid I learned from Tom Lehrer. Starting around 6th grade I think. Have no idea where I heard his songs — it's not like he was on the radio or anything. But when I discovered that I liked his lyrics a whole lot better than anything emerging in rock-n-roll, (and that my favorite songs on the radio were things like 'Runnin' Bear' and 'Woverton Mountain' and Marty Robbins ballads, I knew too, that I just wasn't a regular kid.

Here's some of the vocab I first became aware of through his songs:

virility — clearly had something to do with something I would never have (or care about).

fertility — the opposite of virility.

sterility — A great word! These words just all sounded so terrific together.

futility — this was the only word in the batch that I was already familiar with.

liability — = kids, apparently.

senility — which rhymed with 'lose your ability' as I recall.

elements — all of them. And that's pretty much the last I ever heard of them.

cyanide — this was the only one I ended up learning a lot about, later. Apricot pits, for example, have enough cyanide in them that they've long been used for camel birth control (a pit being inserted into the cervix to block and kill off the swimmers...).

solicit — which still sounds pretty dumb.

masochism — which still sounds pretty familiar.

tango — which still sounds pretty incomprehensible.

plagiarize — little did I know that of all his terms, this is the one I'd become the most familiar with.

genuflect — turned out to be davvening.

transubstantiation — still very unclear.

vatican — right. I had never heard of the Vatican.

You get the idea...

But the main thing that I got from Tom Lehrer was that refrain that he punched up that echoed in my brain from the first time that I heard it until now:


And what do you do with that? It just hit to the core, and I didn't understand it, and yet the evidence seemed in that he was right... And then there was the Six Day War, and Occupied Territory, and not returning that territory, and Lebanon, and Syria, and Gaza (at the moment) — and the policies of the State of Israel being equated with just plain being Jewish. I mean, even apart from the Holocaust and Inquisition that I'd been raised on.

And Tom Lehrer had said it out loud, clear, concise and simple.

And recently, there was a Facebook stream I was following, that came to exactly the same point: Kill all the Jews, and everything will be just fine after that. Blunt and clear.

Not, "I disagree with Israeli occupation..."

Not, "We must build a Palestinian State..."

No, just "Kill the Jews."

On Facebook.

And what do you do with that? It just hit to the core (again), and I don't understand it (again). And yet it appears to be one of those 'eternal truths' that I was raised with, raised to expect, raised to prepare for (somehow). But Tom Lehrer didn't provide a template for what to do about it, did he?

I picture my dad playing Anu anu ha-Palmach on the record player and us marching around the dining room table, a little army of two.

And what do you do with that?

Go upstairs and sing along with Tom Lehrer. National Brotherhood Week. But the bloody song always ends the same.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

the concealed one, blessed be he

When Malkah, (the shekhinah herself!) was a little girl, the tzaddik used to tell her Bobo Stories at bedtime to calm her to sleep. And this was long before his journeys with Rav Gavriel rescuing artifacts in India.

The Prince and Bobo journeyed through the villages of central India, and through the fields outside the villages, and through the jungles outside the fields. And each night the Prince would encounter another mystery that needed solving, another treasure, another rescued child, a princess about to be burnt alive upon the funeral pyre of her young but very dead new husband. You get the idea. The Prince was tall and linear, with good posture. He was a handsome fellow, young and well-intentioned. Bobo, on the other hand was old, and gray and very very wrinkled. He had little eyes and enormous ears, more beard than he ought, and of course he had that enormous trunk that was the main feature anyone really saw when they looked at him — apart from his sheer size. The Prince discovered the problem, but it was Bobo who uncovered the solution each night. Although Malkah may well have fallen asleep before hearing how the case was solved.

When the tzaddik declared one day that he was off to India for real, Mrs. Tzaddik had a little shit fit of her own but, in truth, was happy to let him go. He was going, he said, to keep an eye on Rav Gavriel, and keep him out of trouble. Mrs. Tzaddik and Malkah had heard this one before. Malkah loved the tales the tzaddik brought home from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and more. Rav Gavriel was always in one kind of trouble or another. The tzaddik managed to get him back safe and sound each journey — with rescued brittle manuscripts and other Judaica galore. A miracle!

This time, it was the aron kodesh itself that they were after. A community on the coast was disappearing fast, and there were only elders left. No young ones to keep the thousand year old community alive. They had written Rav Gavriel begging him to save their ark. This was the mission, so could the tzaddik refuse?

In truth, I think Rav Gavriel made at least half of it up just to lure the holy man off on another misadventure. But I think I'm not an objective observer in this regard.

To Malkah, this adventure conjured up no more and no less than Bobo and the Prince. In her young mind, surely the tzaddik's main goal would be to track down the sleuthing pair in order to get anything done at all. Surely only they could save the Aron Kodesh!

In India, (so the story goes) Rav Gavriel was a real hero. He was adorned with hallowed raiments and a golden turban that set off the pointy black beard upon his chin just right. He looked glorious! He bellowed and pontificated, he commanded and was obeyed — and they just gobbled it all up. The tzaddik stood in the background in his rumpled dark gray (unmatching) jacket and pants, pulled on his wise beard, and patted his big belly, and he kept an eye out. Rav Gavriel was in his element! He was proclaimed a sadhu and accepted the title (if not the role itself) with relish.

The community packed up all their treasures, and with joy in their hearts shipped the whole kit and kaboodle off to America to be saved.

Malkah always did find it strange that her poppa told Bobo stories. I mean, it's not like he told her midrashic stories, right? No lessons from the sages, no Rabbi Akiva as the hero, no Maccabees, no Queen Esther. Just Bobo and the Prince. In India.

I asked Mrs. Tzaddik about the Bobo Stories recently, now that I can't ask the tzaddik himself. She had no idea what I was talking about. But she was pretty clear that it must have been a secret transmission. I mean, what else could it be?

"Bo" she said, "means 'come here,' right?"

But there was really nowhere to go with it. She worked on the letters for a while. Shifted the vowels. Nothing.

"Who is the Prince?" Nothing. And more nothing. The only thing she was sure of was that the tzaddik was no prince.

All we learned was that there was not another living person on Earth who had ever heard the adventures of Bobo and the Prince. This was a transmission to Malkah alone and to no one else in the world. She was struck with awe at receiving such a gift. After all, anyone could study midrash, right?

So it was hers to figure it out.

And there it was, before her eyes. That her old rumpled poppa the tzaddik had in this way taught her the secrets of shape-shifting. Had given her lessons, night after night, year after year, in the art of concealment.

It was not until the Shekhinah had long disappeared from the world and was fully ensconced inside her own practiced occultation that she remembered Bobo himself. His largeness, his big belly, his long proboscis, his deeply wrinkled dark gray skin. And there was the tzaddik, mystery solved.

For if you've studied your phonology, you know that in the places of their travels, the voiceless sound is transformed to voiced. Mrs. Tzaddik was on the right track after all. In those lands, the letter /p/ is replaced by /b/. It took half a century to remember!

So the silence of the tzaddik was heard there loud and clear. Every word he had not uttered. The trickster and shape-shifter journeyed side by side. The unvoiced teachings of my poppa.

And if you've studied your Indology, Gajthar and Ganesh you'll remember. He's still adorned there with fragrant flowers. There is no silence like my father's.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

drug of choice: bsg

I'm not sure who it was who hooked me on BSG. Maybe I stumbled on it myself? Pretty unlikely. Maybe it was a colleague of mine who was raving about the visions... Trouble was, one shot of BSG and I was hooked. And while I've always maintained that I've tried every drug in existence, the truth is a) this was somehow different, and b) I'd certainly never gotten hooked on anything before.

I don't believe this particular addiction will rot my brain. The problem, of course, was the withdrawal.

And trying to find a methadone cure that might wean me off of BSG, there was only one reasonable substitute, and it only worked for a few months and it won't be available again until next January. And I'm afraid that the withdrawal substitutes currently available might indeed rot my brain — and I know I'm not alone in this concern.

And I think we should all get together and just sue SyFy for their sadistic withholding of the Caprica fix until January, 2011.

When the BSG Finale was about to air, I did something I'd never done before: I ordered satellite TV for the first time in my life. There was no way I was going to be able to wait the six months or so that it would take before the last season came out on DVD. And suddenly, I was watching TV. That's the horror of it. I became a viewer of nothing worth watching.

That is, all the other junk that happened on TV apart from BSG. And I kept saying I'd get rid of the satellite TV once BSG was over, but well, they were already filming Caprica and I thought I should give that a shot, right? In the meantime, brain rot.

And then we got a hit of the Caprica pilot, and had to wait even longer for the season to begin. And then it was only about half a season, anyway, and more waiting ... and I got sucked into even more brain jelly shows.

The problem is, I'm a vision junkie. And these other shows have no vision. The fix is ephemeral. I can't remember anything of significance even an hour later. They just leave me hungry for substance. BSG never failed (or rarely failed) to offer up that larger history forcing you to struggle with the really large questions, and forcing you to face the fact that the larger questions are always worth examining.

And that throughout these cycles of history, humans (or whatever) will continue to make the same mistakes, frequently in the same ways. And that we will continue to struggle with the notion of a higher purpose, and that we will want that higher purpose to exist, and want it to offer us a rationale for our poor choices. We'll struggle with technology not being the panacea we hoped it would be, and our disappointment that saviors are filled with self interest (when you meet them up close). BSG reminds us that religious movements thrive in times of social distortion. That no one is purely good or purely evil. That we'll keep making poor choices. That we keep wanting more visions ... Keep expecting saviors to bail us out...

Mostly, I think, what I was hooked on even with Caprica, was that magnifying mirror held up showing the mistakes we're making right now that we still don't want to acknowledge. Blackheads on the collective face of society, more easily visible under the magnification. And a show that proves you can't really solve the larger mystery in one episode, one season, one year, or even in one series.

Caprica promised to look at the roots of our malaise and force us to really see it. And I think Caprica does deliver. Or it would, or it might, if SyFy would just give it half a chance and show the bloody season already and let us junkies have our little fix.

Instead, we get the rest of television: Shows that resolve satisfactorily every unsolved 'case' in less than an hour — and the case isn't large enough to consume us, anyway. Isn't large enough to care about. Where's that larger vision? Where's the mirror held up showing us the consequences of our actions? I hate to admit this, but Caprica does an even better job at this than BSG. Or it would, if they'd just run the damned show and stop jerking us around dribbling it out in such small doses. To be fair, I probably just don't understand how TV programming actually works. Still, I contemplate ripping out the satellite dish, but know that I'm now too hooked on even all the other crap out there to go cold turkey. Recommendations for a cure are welcome.

The closest I've come to an antidote is called 'real life.'

And it's filled with nightmare oil spills, and unresolved devastation from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf Coast. Natural disasters, or the wrath of the One True God, or man's inescapable hubris, (depending on your point of view). The antidote entails waking up out of the comfortable apocalypse of BSG and facing all the signs of the one before us.

Yah, I know, much less fun. But it's worth a shot. Until we can fall back into the dreamscape of the BSG universe. I mean, if BSG and Caprica really are a better drug of choice, they should teach us something — teach us that we're part of the story — and that it's up to us to play our parts inside that vision.

And that no matter how we act in the so-called real world, that even the smallest of our own actions is more profound or consequential than any that appear so magnified in front of us upon the plasma screen.

At least till January, anyway.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

the soylent solution

Was watching Tom Brokaw's repeat 'special' called "Boomer$" tonight, and maybe Rh is right not to bother watching news media.

First of all,'boomer' is such an ugly word — and Brokaw's cute dollar sign at the end does not help make it a term of endearment. I think the term is designed for us (or you) to despise it. 'Post-war generation' seems more apt to me. Although, I always thought 'Children of the '60s' was what it felt like (not children in the '60s, but of the '60s). Which maybe fits the claim that we spent our youth playing at being children. M always said he was reborn in the '60s (in Berkeley of course), and that works too. Point is, we identify with the era of the'60s more than we identify with being part of a population explosion that went on for a couple of decades.

Brokaw's show manages to blame the 74 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 for all the ills and recklessness of American (and perhaps global) society. Blaming especially the optimism he claims this generation has had. An optimism that, he says, led us to have high expectations of our own limitless opportunities, unable to think of the consequences of our own actions, irresponsible, irrepressible, frivolous, self-indulgent consumerist morons. Except for Tom Hanks, whom he appears to reprieve for his appreciation of Brokaw's favorite generation ("The Greatest Generation") who fought WWII. He makes it sound like Woodstock produced nothing more than mud and trash — as if (except for Ritchie Havens) nothing much really happened there. He shows us mini-mansions, and icons of the early high tech years implying that the 'boomer' generation alone is responsible for the financial meltdown, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, moral decay — you name it, it's our fault. And the fault of optimism.

Optimism, Brokaw says, meant that this generation did not prepare itself for the possibility that they might not get the next raise, that they might actually get laid off, that they might not ever get another job again. And when disaster struck, they used their credit cards to tide them over — thus increasing the national debt. Just the image of the name of his program — Boomer$ — reduces an entire generation (if that's really what we are) to nothing more than that dollar sign at the end. Somewhere along the line it's people like Brokaw who stopped calling us citizens and started calling us consumers. And post 9/11 that was turned into some kind of (temporary) virtue as we were told to go out and spend, like that was our job... Consume, we were told. We'll nail you for it later.

To balance things out, Brokaw covers the everyman heroes of Vietnam, four of the kids who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement, and a few seconds of the Women's Rights Movement. His critique culminates with his evaluation that we boomer optimists have been left not just unremarkable, but "unrealized" — by this he means to say that because all is not well in the world, and we are not all thriving and enlightened, that as a generation we have failed. (And here I always thought it was only the Buddha who was fully "realized").

And here's where his view of my generation missed the mark.

Ours is not a generation of optimists. We were not raised in a vacuum of privilege: We were raised on the tales (and results) of our grandparents' experience of the Depression. We were raised with the emerging details of the horrors of the Holocaust poured into us. We were raised with American responsibility for the use and abuse of nuclear 'solutions', raised with the McCarthy period, with the fear of impending global nuclear disaster, the assassinations of those we thought would make a difference. We were raised with the KKK burning crosses on our lawns or the lawns of our neighbors or loved ones. We were raised with Nixon and Watergate... Optimists? How could we be optimists? Has he ever listened to our music? The words, I mean. Believe me, we're no optimists.

The one thing being part of a post-war baby boom did give us was numbers. Just that, nothing more. And nothing less, either. For numbers led us to not feel like self-indulgent individualists. Having a generation, having those numbers, meant that when we had an opinion, we could express it collectively. Brokaw missed the mark when he skimmed over Martin Luther King, Jr. finding only the kids willing to go out into the streets and protest, while their parents declined to put themselves forward. That's the real story of my generation: We went out into the streets. Together. We took collective action.

Brokaw's Boomer$ ends with a projection fit to scare the shit out of every American not of the Boomer body. The most egregious acts of the post-war generation are those we are about to commit. Retirement, with the distinct possibility of longevity. Blame us for the future decline of the American Empire. Gotta blame someone, since that decline is inevitable. Might as well be Boomer$.

Having been raised on the Holocaust (and being a devout and life-long pessimist), I know an impending disaster when I see one. Eric Hoffer told us long ago that the easiest way to unite a divided populace is by instilling in them a hatred of a common enemy. My generation treated that conceptually. We united for or against principles — not segments of the population.

When one population, and one alone becomes the focal point of all that is wrong in a society, it's time to be sure you've got your passport in hand. And strangely enough, a growing number of my generation are getting out now while they still can.

After Brokaw, the Soylent Solution seems downright imminent. Not the Soylent-Green-is-People Solution. Americans (of any generation) aren't fit enough to eat. No, it's the other Soylent Green Solution. Instead of Assisted Living Facilities for us as we age, no, Brokaw helps set the stage for that other solution, the Holocaust solution that I was raised to expect again one day, Soylent Green's 'Assisted' Suicide Facilities, maybe at least with the Pastoral Symphony option still available? In holographic splendor maybe. And we're collectivists, remember? If you're gonna do it, make it a Woodstock moment.

Charlton Heston: "I know, I know. When you were young, people were better."

Edward G. Robinson: "Aw, nuts. People were always rotten. But the world was beautiful."

So much for optimism.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

the tzaddik and the vavlings

A tzaddik walks into a bar, and ...

I really want to start that way, only the Tzaddik didn't pick up the vav in a bar. The tzaddik has only been in a bar once in his life and that was when he was stranded (with a vavling, actually) in the middle of nowhere and the third game of the World Series was just starting and they couldn't make it home.

No, actually the tzaddik was minding his own business, just walking up the garden path, when he saw the lovely vav sleeping on the stone bench under the redwood tree, and surrounded by luscious ferns. What a vision! He walked up to the lad and leaned over him. The tzaddik tugged at his long beard a bit and examined the find. Jeans and a white t-shirt, though I'm not sure the tzaddik knew about 'jeans.' Long bronze curls upon his head. No keppeleh. Dirty bare feet, with a pair of tanakhim sitting carefully placed under the stone bench. The tanakhim put the tzaddik at ease (not just a lost sheep but a lost potential shepherd), and so he shook the boy's shoulder gently.

The vav awoke. Not startled at all, but as if he were maybe inside still his dream.

"Is this paradise?" he asked in English.

For what he saw was a real live tzaddik bending over him, surrounded by filtered light threading its way through the redwoods. The smell of the ferns and the nearby roses heady on his mind.

The tzaddik took the vavling home, of course. Made him to wash. Fed him. Mrs. Tzaddik took to him as well; he was a pretty boy. She would trap him with a cup of tea and hold him hostage with her higher intellect. But the vav had eyes (and ears) for the tzaddik only, and the tzaddik put him to work.

The function of the vav is to uphold the yud. The yud is the head, the king, inspiration, alchemical fire, the learned one. You can often see him wearing a crown upon the page. The vav is the heart and the spine — a connector — upholding the head as best he can. The vav (at his best) stands tall, but he knows his place. Alchemical air, he's got lots of ideas, but he just can't manifest. And here he was trying to do his job (uphold the tzaddik, his yud) but the upper hei maintained her relentless seduction. She was not subtle. He turned away.

This tzaddik was a lamed-vavnik, to tell the truth — one of the 36 concealed ones who roam this earth at any one time in times of trouble. This isn't just my opinion. People have come up to me and whispered it in my ear. Of course the vavlings would be drawn. How could they not? Max Weber would call it something else, of course. Charisma, he would say. That 'uncanny personal power to persuade' — but that sounds so terribly social science.

The tzaddik put the vavling to work. At first it was to paint the fence around the garden. And then it was the stairs themselves. And when the boy's mind had settled, he set him to selling the Encyclopedia Judaica to members of the tribe. With the boy's natural charm and humor, he soon lost most of his hippy curls and tattered clothes and now wore fine button up white linen peasant shirts tucked into better pairs of jeans. The sidelocks he kept.

The vavling began studying Torah and Talmud. He became captivated by the law.

Soon there were other vavlings drawn to the tzaddik, each with his own talent and capacity. They formed a corporation together, and called it Gan Eden. And so, from that small primordial garden, they set out to grow a paradise together.

All the tzaddik ever wanted was to watch the vavlings thrive. His face lit up in their presence. He did not touch them, despite the rumors. No, he merely reveled in their company. And they were loyal to him until the day he was laid to rest. The vavs did not transmute into yuds themselves. Funny, that. They did not become the tzaddik, nor did they internalize him, nor emulate him. No, they merely saw him. They could see the concealed one!

Not once in my life did the tzaddik ever look at me the way that he beheld his vavlings. What he gave to me was something else entirely. And that is the gift the lamed-vavnik brings: to give each what is his due, each his attention, each her protection. I did not need to be awakened like the tzaddik's first vavling in the garden. I was raised to this garden. I am the gardener. I need no awakening.

The vavs, they saw the tzaddik. They saw the lamed-vavnik. The concealed one, blessed be he. But they never saw the man himself. That was left to me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

check list for the living

When a good friend checked herself into a posh home for unencumbered elders ... I stopped seeing her. This, despite that she now resided 60 miles closer than she had before. This despite my longstanding secret desire that she move those 60 miles closer.

It took me over a year to visit her in the palace of the still-living. Maybe longer. It was one village I knew I'd never blend in with. For one, I don't speak the language. For two, well, there's everything else. The resident elders have 'drinks' in each others' apartments and then descend to the wood-paneled dining room below (or was it mirrored, or was it both?). Each apartment has a nominal kitchen, but all meals are provided in the Dining Hall below, and the meals are elegant, refined, healthful, and tasteful (in both senses). Jackets are required for men, at least for dinner.

The apartments have call buttons throughout in case of emergency; they have maid service, and linens are provided. I'm not sure if they do all the laundry for you or just provide the linens and towels. There's a pool, a gym (with trainers), rides to and from the opera, the Fromm Institute, wherever. There are high level lectures, a library, holiday celebrations, expeditions. And they let in a certain percentage of Jews. I'm not sure if they've got an actual policy on this. As I said, while this place would make a fascinating study, I'm not the person to do it.

The one visit I did make completely freaked me out. So much for objectivity. So it's also possible I've gotten a lot wrong. But this is how I remember it. I was, however, given the grand tour. There's an infirmary. More than one, I think. Short term and long term. And meds are provided. Doctors. Nurses. All your terminal needs are attended to.

It's a gamble to move in, really. You pay up front for your apartment as well as a monthly — but you won't be selling your apartment when you're gone. It gets reabsorbed into the body (as they put it in Invasion of the Body Snatchers). (I, clearly, am 'not of the body').

The residents don't seem to die, they disappear (another reminder of the Body Snatchers).

"Nobody," my friend told me, "ever speaks of death."

What they say instead, is that an apartment is available.

Residents disappear into the infirmary, and sometimes return for a while. My friend refers to herself and her fellow residents as 'inmates.' and these inmates are all on death row. Although the dates for execution remain indeterminate.

I'm not quite sure why this place scares the shit out of me. It's not just that it seems out of place, belonging more on the Upper East Side. Although a place on the Upper East Side would feel more authentic than this. It's not the tall columns, the sculptures, and flower arrangements. Not just that the place makes me feel like a peasant whose taken a wrong turn and still has mud on her boots. It's not just that 'drink' is not my choice of drug, and it's certainly not that they're 'old' since I do qualify age-wise to be incarcerated in this Death Palace.

It's not just that I can't make conversation to save my life, or the goyische formality and upper crust posture. Or the lack of diversity, including economic...

Where's my anthropological sense of adventure? Where's my enthusiasm to visit my friend? Where's my sense of humor? The place is really hilarious.

Remember Dylan's 'he not busy being born is busy dying'?

It was an anthem. We loved it, repeated it. Had contempt for all those busy dying. The inmates in the Death Palace have already taken care of their 'busy dying' and now are very busy living. Painting, writing, learning, hiking, traveling. With Veblenian vigor. They are, for the most part, pre-terminal. Or at least they start out that way. They've uncluttered their lives, as well as their belongings. They've made room for, well, the pleasure of pleasure.

So how come I can't stand the place?

I think I'm still immersed in the clutter of a messy introspective life. And still immersed in the time consuming lot of 'busy dying' — of sorting out paperwork, of getting things in order (and not just for me). I've spent, I now realize, exactly one year busy living with the dying. One year since my dad's diagnosis. My mom's incapacity. Being consumed with advance directives, hospice, hospitals, and residential treatment centers. Falls in the night. Emergency calls, caregivers, fear of the phone ringing. Paying the bills, paying the taxes, paying the lawyers. Documentation. Documents. Grave diggers. Visitors. Stuff. Distribution of stuff. Recovery. Relapse...

For me, death and dying is a bewildering, messy affair.

But for the inmates at the Death Palace, it's all neat and tidy, squeaky clean and, well, just plain invisible. Just another apartment on the market. Know anyone interested?

Monday, July 12, 2010

death in paradise

We hike in paradise on a daily basis. Slog though the sand on the cliffs overlooking the shore — and the sand gets deeper every year. Though every other year or so a truck comes by and tries to clear the trail some. The sand returns, carried by the wind. Someday, I'll be slogging through the drifts, Woman-in-the-Dunes style. Just one step after another, getting nowhere at all. On good breezy days the hang-gliders set up at the head of the cliff and soar overhead in colorful array. Some of them tempt the cliff side. Some of them tempt the ocean itself. Paradise.

Today someone died in paradise. His heart just stopped beating, and that was it. But there were at least five Walkers around, each trying CPR, each trying to revive him.

The dogs were running wild. Everything felt completely disrupted. Even the wind felt suddenly at a loss for words. One of the pups stood near us, afraid to go nearer the effort to save a life. It was as if all the rules had changed. All the Walkers had lost their focus, their authority, their hold on the pups. Dogs were running everywhere. Into the wind, into the parking lot — but not this time over the cliff.

When it was clear that he could not be revived, there was shock.

"We don't really know how to give CPR to a dog," J said. "We should know, but we don't."

The Dog Walkers handle eight to twelve dogs each, every single day except on weekends (when the Owners might step out for a walk in paradise). The Walkers roam the hills, widen the trails, pick up the masses of shit (usually), find each other's strays, They know all the regulars by name. They give treats, and rub ears, and pat rumps, and break up the occasional spat. But today they were in shock. They couldn't save a life.

I'm thinking about doggie CPR.

I mean, Rosh's mouth is five times larger than my own. So how does that work? Do I believe in trying, or in 'letting nature take its course'? Which is the more responsible course?

I've thought about dying here in paradise every single day for the past decade or so. There's a spot, a tunnel I go under every day that leads to the edge of the cliff. And as I pass under it, I can picture it collapse with me under it. Nothing personal. Just a lesson in plate tectonics. I always picture Roshi knowing exactly which direction to run to not be there when it happens. But still I walk here. I take that turn. Woman in the Dunes. Every day. With dog.

But here's the thing. This is paradise, after all. This is us, unleashed in paradise. It sure beats any other place or way to go.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

drowning at the grotto (rethought)

I wanted the Grotto to look like a grotto: old, womb-like, a bit dank, prehistoric even. I expected it to be mildly tubercular. I pictured the San Francisco Grotto Writers' Collective in a dilapidated old Victorian sitting in a downtown alleyway in dire need of a paint job — but no, none of that. The Collective encompassed the entire 2nd floor of a steel and glass building at the corner of 2nd and Bryant, with an attempt at a row of plants in the entryway downstairs just inside the black iron gate out front. There were buzzers to get buzzed in, and once inside, a large cheerful 'Grotto' sign in script.

The second floor did seem to have a bit of the 'cave' feel. Inside, the writers' offices were, for the most part, as far from the downtown office mentality as possible. My favorites were the two closets that are rented out as writers' offices — caves indeed — and only $20/month. Picture a closet. A small closet. With a shelf as a desk, and a chair, and nothing else but yellow stickies all over the walls. Stickies so close, given the closet dimensions, that all you have to do is turn your head from side to side, and your whole storyboard is right there surrounding you. Now that's a writer's grotto!

What was I doing there? Took an all day Short Story Writing Workshop. My first (and likely last) writing workshop ever. We talked about all the normal things — writing prompts, narrators, characters, dialogue, exposition, plot, story, arc, setting, and even writer's block and marketing. There seemed to be a lot of rules to writing stories.

What did I learn? I learned that there was too much glass and steel for me and downtown vibe. I learned that I don't understand the rules of story writing. I learned that taking a workshop feels like a cooking class (or how I imagine one, anyway). It feels like cheating. Or (like everything else) like a good start for little anthropological study of writing groups.

I learned that I don't care whether dialogue subtly conveys the exposition, and that I don't care if a story arc follows the trajectory of a satisfying sexual encounter (even if that makes a story 'natural' or downright 'biological'), and I learned that I think it's sad to be motivated by the expectation of acceptance letters and the acceptance of rejection letters.

When it comes to writing, I think it's a lot more fun just to write a tale because it wants to be written. And to tell it the way it wants to be told.

I want a 'narrator' to be thoroughly untrustworthy if she feels like it, or out for himself, for his own pleasure if that's what he wants. My model here is Jean Genet in say, Our Lady of the Flowers. Where you know that he's writing in his prison cell and that they did let him write. And we're caught up in his story — and then suddenly he stops — and tells us that the piece he's just written and that we've just read has gotten him off. And because of his pleasure, he'll tell that bit again. He gets off again. And what do we get? As we read, we cannot escape our narrator's pleasure, our narrator's prison cell, our narrator's incarceration, confinement, and his ability to write himself an escape right out of his cell. We're not just in his story, we're escaping his cell with him.

I want 'characters' to go ahead and live their own lives without hope of 'redemption,' let alone resolution. I don't think they should have to try to satisfy a 'reader.' Again, Genet is a good model. His characters don't want to stay who they are. They dress up. They are impersonators of other characters trapped in the same story. There's The Maids, for example, which when performed, the maids are played by men playing women playing maids, playing their own mistress. And they're not going to get a nice, neat resolution. Genet doesn't give a shit if this troubles his reader. The reader who gets it, who gets off on it, is really the only reader he needs. And that reader is Genet himself. It was Sartre, after all, who got Genet his audience.

I don't think a story should have to care too much about clarity of 'setting.' Think Kafka or Durrenmatt. Or even Genet again (but I don't want to overdo it here with Genet). They're writing from inside some pretty terrible expressionist landscapes. We don't really need to see them; we can feel them. That's enough. And is there anything at all wrong with sticking in an extra alleyway between say, Bryant and Harrison streets? Must it be either fictional or geographical accuracy? Surely there's room for a little alleyway between? Somebody quick go tell JK Rowling that she can't squeeze Diagon Alley into the heart of London.

Then there's the 'arc,' that nice satisfying arc. I think of North African folk tales. No happily ever after or perfect little story arc there. No, our protagonist learns that life is tough, and just gets tougher and that she can or can't endure it. Or that the prince is the real villain. Or that the villain is really your uncle. Or that your uncle is about to be your father-in-law. Or that your father-in-law is really a sorcerer ... who takes the form of a prince... Or that there is no transformation, no reward, no escape, you're just trapped — get used to it. It's probably a good thing to know.

I learned that I can't just make stuff up. My own 'characters' all exist already, and at least somebody knows them. They've been walking through our consciousnesses for millennia. Avram and Sarai and Hager and the whole dysfunctional mischpaha, for example. And when I write them, they are already fully alive, fully formed, simply going where I send them on the page, getting themselves into trouble, just as they always have.

What I've learned is that I'll never be able to write fiction. I'll only ever be able to just tell a tale. Exactly as it happened.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

eating treif

When I was little I used to sleep with two other little girls down the block. In those days, they were called 'colored' and we were called 'jew' — small 'j', said with attitude. It was an adjective. But it was also a verb. Their names were J and J and they were twins, a year older than I. J and I would play under the covers. J, her twin would cry.

One day, J and J came home from Sunday School with the bad news.

"We're going to hell!" she cried. Sister J cried too.

I felt really bad for them. They were going to hell? I mean, I knew that I wasn't. So. Something we were doing was bad for them, but I hadn't a clue exactly what. I think right there I became a little anthropologist, wanting to figure it out.

J went and washed her mouth out with soap — providing herself with her mother's usual punishment. When dad was around, it was the strap — but he was a cook in the Navy, and was close to never home.

The whole world of moral imperatives became something exciting and fun, and worth exploring. I mean, what did it feel like to get your mouth washed out with soap? (The strap sounded interesting too, come to think of it). It all sounded so exotic and quaint.

Their whole house smelled intoxicating, especially weekend mornings. Mrs J made it clear to me that what was sizzling in her skillet was not for me, and eventually I got the idea that she thought that if I ate it, that I'd go to hell too.

I knew that wasn't true.

One morning, J (my J, not crying J) brought me a gift under the covers. One piece of stolen perfectly crisp bacon, right out of the frying pan. The taste was, well, exotic, intoxicating, and downright ineffable (was this my first mystical experience? The salt and fat combo so irresistible to humans?).

And then there was a scream from the kitchen. Of course Mrs J would have counted out the pieces and discovered that one was missing. She hollered at J (my J, it could only have been my J), and then (what a thrill!) she hollered at me.

"Go wash that mouth out with soap!" she commanded, fearing for my soul. I jumped up and complied instantly. What a let down. Boring. And I didn't feel any different. This just reinforced that all these rules, punishments, and eternal hellfire stuff was theirs and not mine.

Fall Semester is coming up, and it looks like the enrollment in my Jewish Mysticism class just isn't going to make it — and the first thing I thought of was this tale of J and J, and the delights of eating treif.


Don't get me wrong; I love this class. I'll miss teaching it this semester. But still, it brought up the treif story first. Most of all, it seems, I'm gonna miss the treif. After all, I can study Jewish Mysticism on my own, right? You might also say that I could really eat treif at any time I want, too, but it just wouldn't taste the same, would it?

Here's what I discovered. Every time I teach a class on Jewish something or other, I seem to eat a meal that includes treif before the class begins. I've apparently been doing this for, well, decades. At first I thought it was funny, a coincidence, or a just plain balancing things out (like making my kids study Arabic if they want to study Hebrew). But now, I'm not so sure.

Cause when I think of treif, I remember J. And when I remember J, I remember her terror at the possibility of going to hell. I remember great irresistible salty smells, broken 'rules' and the letdown of a mouth full of soap bubbles (maybe I hadn't done it right), and then well, I get stuck.

Pork and parsha? Forbidden fruits, so to speak... I mean, what's the connection?

My default for the moment is still the 'balancing things out' explanation, until someone can come up with something more satisfying. That the treif somehow reaffirms my identity as an anthropologist and not, say, as a theologian (god forbid!), not a practitioner, but a rational, analytical being.

Bottom line: for Fall Semester, it looks like no Jewish Mysticism (at the university, anyway) and (an equal sorrow) it looks like ... no treif.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the experiment

Summer session's winding down. I'm going blind reading the term papers. My eyes just can't sit there for hours at a time any more. But these papers are different.

I offered the class the opportunity to try an experiment, for those who were willing. Do their research paper the old fashioned way: Use the library, bookstores, whatever — but print media only. Journal articles made out of real paper. And read them. All the way through. A few took up the challenge. Cheerfully, I might add. It is summer, after all. Oh. And I offered them an extra 10 points, no matter what the result.

The curious thing is how few were willing to try it. I think even for ten extra points it just wasn't worth their effort or time to set foot in the library. Besides, access to the catalog, is, after all online. And you can access it from home. We made an exception in this regard. It's gotten to the point where it's not possible, even in the library, to not go online. And that transition, I think, happened years ago, when I wasn't paying attention.

Here are some of the student observations:

— Relying on the library was very time consuming and stressful.

— It was difficult to pinpoint the specific details without having to read word for word.

— On the internet I can just use key words and obtain instant information.

— I spent several hours skimming through the many works.

But here's the thing. The experiment was clearly flawed. In reading the papers, it still sounded like a lot of the 'information' was download. Only, instead of now quoting sources, the sources were left out entirely. Introductions had 'information' wreaking of Wikipedia notations, platitudes, and biographical backgrounds that journal articles and even introductions to monographs just don't include.

Oops, how could I have forgotten? A similar experiment in another class rewarded me with the following:

— Is it okay if we use comic books and graphic novels?

— I don't really read. It's not required for my major.

— I just open the book and grab a quote and stick it in somewhere, cause they always want quotes.

— This is a joke, right?

One of my own preferred ecstatic states is sitting on the floor of the Bancroft Library stacks — discovering things I hadn't dreamed of looking for. Or finding journals I'd searched three continents for. And there they were at my fingertips. The Revue Africaine, from 1832 – 1943, right there at the Bancroft, when I'd searched Paris, Aix-en-Provence (known for its fantastic archives), and the libraries in Rabat. Those old journals, gone, all gone! And how did I find them? They were on the shelf below the shelf I was looking for. Right here at home, I quite literally stumbled onto treasures.

I mean, what could be better than stumbling on treasure?

Key words?

Sure, I'll give them their extra 10 points anyway. And I learned from the experience. (Again) I realize now that it's really too late to try to turn back the clock this way. A majority of students see 'research' as the accumulation of 'information' (relevant or not), and the analytical component is (for the most part) reduced to just that accumulation of info-statements (relevant or not).

But there are some, some who are somewhat (maybe) like me, who were not only willing to try, but who took real pleasure in it. And whose writing blossomed (god, I really just used that word!) with complexity, such that there are no one-liners to quote — only flowing prose, filled with both analysis and self-discovery. I mean, how cool is that?

No more experiments, however. Surely, I've had enough? I think I've learned my lesson. At least until the next time I forget that I've already lost this battle — at least a couple times already. Maybe more.

But wait, wait — I just read another one. From another experiment that I've been trying over the last year or so.

Work together (what a concept). But write the paper as a conversation about the material, working out the analysis together, bringing each perspective to the conversation. And well, this one really worked. It's not an "I'll write this section, and you write that section" — but a let's-think-together. Out loud. And oh, this one was a delight, just a delight to read.

It was on Dawkins, of course. No platitudes. Some attitude. And getting the biology right.

See me flap my wings and soar...
Oh, and my eyes don't feel so bad anymore.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

the stormy leather god, estrogen, and vietnam

It was a very long time ago, but I just got jolted by it again.

He, the Vet, had walked into my office. There was already a student in there and she overheard him say, "I could have killed you ..."

I think it opened the conversation. But before I knew it, the student had told the Chair, and the Chair had told Campus Police, and the Chief of Police went undercover in my class, day one. A clear misunderstanding. It was a class on Gender and Anthropology. The cop was a pretty good student; raised his hand, took notes, asked interesting questions. I think the whole thing was just a great excuse for the Police Chief to take a class on gender...

The Vet wore army fatigues every day, camo pants, and T-shirts all with references to the war, like "Vietnam, Take One" with a picture of a movie camera filming the horror. Loud noises made him jumpy. He sat by the door, in case he had to run out at any moment. It didn't happen too often. But it did happen.

He had an arsenal. But so, apparently did a lot of other students.

I liked him instantly. We swapped war stories. Only my war was only six days long. And I hadn't killed anybody. All we'd really done was commandeer an empty bomb shelter (with wall-to-wall mattresses), lock ourselves in and fuck like bunnies the last three days. That one became a rabbi. Or a psychologist. Or both. I think both. Point is, it wasn't Vietnam. Far from it.

I remember one year the Vet and I traded outfits. I got to wear his old dress uniform. He borrowed my Stormy Leather for a while. He got me a belly dancer for my birthday once. It was a friendship based on exploring the potential for transformation. And an appreciation of the power of mythology. And on the search for the ritual that might reverse the rage, ease the warrior's pain and make things right again.

So, when I wrote about embodying God, he really has had a lot more experience in this regard — in the other sense of God. The Stormy Leather God.

Here's what he wrote:

"I was God when I was 20 years old. I ripped and I tore. I did decide who lived and who died. 20 year olds should not be God, though I am still being told that others 'would follow me into hell' — no shit, old team mate really said that and it is being taken as a compliment.

"However, for me being God it is not what it is cracked up to be. I was not very good at it — it really fucked me up..."

Right. So I stand corrected.

That's the other kind of God. The one I wasn't talking about. Makes me sound so warm and fuzzy speaking mommie-god, garden-god... But that's not how men embody God, is it?

He found an antidote. Estrogen. Estrogen and belly dance. And years later I got to see her transformation. And what I'd like to say is, in my book, that was God. He Created a Her he could live with. She could calm the rage. And she could dance. And I was jealous.

He could have killed me. But he didn't.

"My cardiologist," he said, "took me off Estrogen because it was beginning to weaken my blood vessels. Unfortunately, the more it diminishes in me, the more I am returning to a creature I do not want to be again, [that kind of] God. So, I finally decided to say screw it... I've been living on borrowed time for years, so if the Estrogen is going to kill me, let it ... at least I will, I hope, return to a place of semi-peace before it or something else takes me down."

So, here's to our warriors, and a remembrance of what war does to them. And how hard they struggle (if they do struggle) to undo all the harm. I salute you, and I salute what you've become. And I honor your bravery when that war is finally done.

And here's to the Estrogen God, the mommie-gods, and yes, the gardeners too. I'll stick to my story, after all. To Herakles, warrior-slave of Omphale, here's to you.

Friday, July 2, 2010

on not wanting a 'conversation with god'

Last night, I had another tetragrammaton moment, where all the elements — the yud, the hei, the vav, and the hei — come together, alchemically bound and perfect in every way. Well, it wasn't that. There were only three of us, and I was the only hei, but never mind that. It's not what I wanted to say; it just made me remember what 'it' is all about.

A friend posted a link the other day to a piece called 'Conversations with God' and it was pithy and clever and delightful and even invoked one of my own personal divine beings, Isaac Asimov, for which I'll give it ten points. (Forget that. I just accidentally slipped into grading-mode)...

And because I had a delightful night, I woke up delighted as well. I also woke up knowing what my problem is with all this talking-to-God stuff. It's not that it's nonsense (I mean, even apart from the whole non-existence of God bit). No, I'm willing to go for metaphor, being in a good-tempered and generous mood at the moment.

I had an epiphany. Not sure if it's major or minor. And I'm not sure it's really anything new exactly, it's just that I understood it in another context.

Conversations with god/God are all about getting answers. We know that. All about trying to live with misfortune, getting comfort, or dealing with the anguish of not-knowing. And so we invent this all-knowing-God so we can ask, and if we're lucky, get some response. A response we can live with. And that asking is not really interesting to me.

Why take all the fun out of discovering things for yourself? Getting answers from an All-Knowing-God is just plain boring. And certainly not as compelling as, say, the scientific method and empiricism. Or just plain playing with possibilities.

But I think that's what 'most people' want: answers. And that's not the most interesting thing about 'God.'

Instead, why not focus on Creation? And Creation is something I know something about. I know, for example, exactly how it feels to grow a living creature from scratch and have it manifest into the physical world. I've done it. And not just twice (a boy and a girl), but over and over again. In my garden.

Which brings me back to the other concern (apart from getting all their questions answered) so many folk worry about when they think about God. Being 'good' enough to qualify to be a resident in some post-mortem garden. You want a garden, grow the damn thing yourself.

Go ahead. Create something.

Being the Gardener is so much more fun than waiting around till you're dead to live in someone else's Paradise (along with billions of others you don't even know). Remember 'heaven on earth'? Well, why not manifest it? Although, to be sure, being the Gardener also entails activating one's sadistic impulses (for 'the greater good' as Gellert Grindelwald would say). Come out of the supernal S/M closet, and go ahead and prune. Weed. Cut those limbs off, and rip those others right out of the Garden. Choose who lives and who dies, and who loses a branch or more.

Don't talk to God—be God. See what it feels like to have that kind of power. And just how judicious you have to be with that power to not risk ruining the Garden as a whole.

Pruning and weeding. Big difference. While pruning looks like a more major big deal, conceptually weeding is the more drastic measure. With weeding, we want that thing entirely out of our Garden. Right down to the roots (if we're being not lazy). Otherwise, the Garden might look like it's thriving, but it's just teeming with discord right under the surface. Pruning, on the other hand, might seem extreme, especially what I call 'radical pruning' but what we're doing is more akin to just plain good grooming. A major haircut, or better yet, having let it all grow, now it's time for a major waxing of the whole body at once. Ouch! But such a yummy good looking pain—that makes us glow afterwards.

The weeds, we know, will come right back. So what does our vigilance and care get us? It gets us the gift of being active in the garden. The gift of paying attention.

The ancient Near Eastern pantheons distinguish between two types of gods, the passive and the active. The passive gods are the Creators, who created the world and the living beings within it, and then lost interest. Like that guy (maybe you know him/maybe you are him), who, once he's come is dead to the world. The Creator gods are exactly thus. And the next generation of deities rebel, destroy them and replace them. They are the active gods, the gods who take interest in the world.

We Mothers know better. If you lose interest, your Creation is lost.

We Gardeners know better. Lose interest, and everything goes feral...

So. Conversation with God? Boring! Or just plain self-serving, and not creative at all. A conversation with God is kind of like a little kid wandering alone at ToysRUs. He's hit not only with sensory overload, but with a bad (and sometimes incurable) case of the gimme-gimmes—selfish, and impulse-driven.

So. My vote's for embodying the gods. Less talk. More action. And a whole lot more fun. Don't knock it till you've tried it. Oh, and PS— great to do in a group. Being part of a pantheon, being one-fourth element of the Tetragrammaton, for example, is even more fun than being a single-parent deity trying to work Creation out all on your own. Oh, and remember the lessons of those ancient Near Eastern Pantheons (from Egypt, to Ugarit, to Mesopotamia...) the passive gods get creamed in the end. Active Gods rule...