The Business of Life and Death

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It started several years ago, unobtrusively, just annoying little changes.

He’d say, “God, I hate getting older.”

I’d say, “Why?”

He’d say, “Because I can’t see anymore.”

He could still see. But something mysterious was happening, an obstinate and diligent takeover. An internal invasion occurring in slow motion. As his peripheral vision started to fade, an opaque fog crowding the larger part of the world away, he finally relented to having to see a doctor.

At the ophthalmologist’s the diagnosis leap-frogged over the hoped-for “needs stronger glasses” and even “the beginning of glaucoma” to “if it looks like a tumor and acts like a tumor sitting on your pituitary gland and slowly crushing the life out of your optic nerve, then that’s what it probably is.”

Not only was that what it was, but it had probably been growing there for a long time, for God knows how long, twining itself like a weed within the grass, mute, and tip-toeing with glacial speed. 99.9% probability of being benign.

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Regardless, eventually, though, it was heard. It was heard through blighted energy and disassembled sleep. It was heard through piercing migraines. It was heard through encroaching blindness.

A train barreled past us in the dark. We found ourselves racing after it, leaping on. We stumbled, crowded into a corner by minatory appointments and tests, louring specialists and suppositions looming ominously above us. Elizabeth Bathory would have paid good money to coordinate the blood draws; there were so many, her tubs would have been filled until the end of time. The only drawback being that he wasn’t a virgin.

Despite all this it seemed, still, like there was time. Time to wait, time to decide. But the doctor’s sudden “ASAP” propelled us into action. Dates were set, plucked from the air like evasive creatures difficult to capture, netted and locked down.

Meet with surgeon.

Back again to primary doctor the week before.

Electrocardiogram.

More blood taken.

MRI the night before.

Surgery the next day.

It seemed surreal how quickly events had happened, and I experienced a familiar, deep empathy for those who had endured the same whirlwind out of nowhere but for much higher stakes. After all, a 99.9% probability of being benign were pretty good odds; odds many never received.

Waiting was the worst part, trying to while away the time, unable to really focus on anything, just waiting, staring around at others: A family bunched together in the corner, very talkative and cheerful. A young woman whose mother had been taken in earlier. An elderly woman with a walker who talked loudly into a cell phone in a foreign language.

Amazingly, the gigantic plate glass window, similar to those at airports, revealed a perfect day outside. Blue skies, no clouds, bright, piercing light. It had just been raining a few days ago, blustering and cold. I opted to see this as a good sign and sipped at my tepid coffee.

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And it was. In recovery, hours and hours later, he lay in the bed slowly surfacing upwards from unconsciousness. Everything had gone well. The revival sequence played in a repeating loop until they wheeled him down the hall into a room a half hour later.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head,” and nod off.

He wake up and say, “I can see that!” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Can I have some water?” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head…” and begin again. The only anomaly being that he once mentioned South Pacific and a song that he couldn’t stop thinking of.

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The doctor had told me, earlier, that the pituitary had been squeezed thin by the fat ass of the tumor. He thought that, over time, it would probably regain some, if not most, of its shape back. And he didn’t say “fat ass,” of course. But I did.

The tumor may have been slow-growing with a 99.9% probability of being benign, but eventually it had swollen, like a tick, greedily overflowing into all the available real estate. Crushing the pituitary. Impinging on the optic nerve. It existed only for itself, giving nothing back. The havoc it wreaked on the surrounding environment sufficed only to generate anxiety, depression. A sense of helplessness. If I were to label it under those terms, the best name would be the Trump Tumor.

Thank God it was now somewhere in the depths of Cedars Sinai, due to be dissected and examined ad infinitum.

As he nodded off once more, I looked around the room and saw that no members of the large family were back here. The young woman had visited her mom already and left, promising to return tomorrow. The only people remaining were he and I, the nurses, and the elderly lady with the walker who had been talking loudly into her cell phone earlier.

She sat in a chair at the foot of a bed where an elderly man lay quietly. She was crying. Everyone continued about their hospital business, busy, or perhaps professionally giving the woman her space.

The fact that his failing eyesight had already improved within hours of removing the fatuous, self-involved, leaching Trump Tumor was nothing short of amazing. The stuff miracles were made of. I thought it was possible the lady across the room was crying from relief, from repressed stress finally released, but I doubted it. I doubted she was getting a sip of that same miracle concoction tonight, and it didn’t seem fair.

I listened as he disjointedly sang the lyrics from “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” while the woman cried, the electronics beeped, the air hissed, the phones rang and knew that, without a doubt, no, it wasn’t necessarily fair. It just was what it was.

Amidst all this, the tears, the singing, the giant pane of glass revealing the beautiful day, the nurses and volunteers and aides and doctors and orderlies rushed around the hospital, from room to room, floor to floor, scenario to scenario, person to person, immersed, fully and completely, in the business of life and death.

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Inarritu’s The Revenant: And Our Possible Return From Trump

 

Origin of revenant: 1820-30;  French: ghost, noun use of present participle of revenir to return, equivalent to  re- + ven (ir) to come  (Latin venīre); a person who returns as a spirit after death; a person who returns.

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I could talk about Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” solely in terms of its beauty and savagery, due not only to the execution of the film but  also due to the subject matter of a wounded, abandoned figure fighting for survival, almost completely alone, in the epic and unforgiving frontier of 19th century America.

After the first viewing, I would have suggested people bring lots of water (for hydration) and no small amount of patience before they embarked on the journey with Leonardo DiCaprio; it’s a long one, engaging in slow, sweeping shots of panoramic views along with lingering close-ups of the exhausted and recovering DiCaprio as he plays Hugh Glass, the frontiersman who’s steadily trekking after the one who murdered his son and abandoned him in the snowy wild.

But surprisingly, after recently seeing Scorsese’s “Silence”, I would have to reverse that opinion and give none of that advice for “The Revenant.” Although the two films have almost the exact same runtime, well over 2 hours, I felt it acutely during Scorsese’s film whereas time seemed to fly by during Iñárritu’s masterpiece of betrayal, survival, and revenge. Didn’t dislike Scorsese’s exploration of the “hidden Christians” of 17th century Nagasaki, Japan, but as fascinating as the topic is, its ultimate message feels somewhat inconclusive to me.

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For those who wouldn’t mind escaping car chases or explosions or mini skirts or hip pop references and frantic pacing, this movie is a huge relief. Yes, it broaches the topic of racism, which, although many have tried dearly to ignore or minimize it, we can see with renewed eyes today, especially after the recent elections, that to continue to do so will be to our imminent peril. And, yes, a terrible, unforgiving thirst for revenge is the engine which drives this man.

So between his all-consuming rage and ghastly physical suffering, the relentless attacks of the Arikara tribe who are also searching for the chief’s missing daughter, the French hunters who happen to be holding prisoner and raping said daughter, and myriad other randomly violent and demoralizing situations occurring in the story, it may hardly feel like a vacation at all from present-day movies. Why not watch explosions and car chases, right? What’s the difference?

On a side note, according to a Wikipedia article, a Canadian actor was “strongly critical of the movie for portraying French-Canadian voyageurs as murderous rapists.” And according to Allan Greer, the Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America, “generally the American traders had a worse reputation than the Canadians.”[49]

As for reasons why the stress level of this movie is any different from those of action-packed non-period piece films, I would venture the difference to be in the pacing and the overall presentation; the dialogue tends to be formal and thoughtful, lacking quips and “cuteness,” the spectacular cinematography lures you into its imagined interior: you can almost feel the snow, the fire’s warmth. And time spools out slowly between events, giving the viewer the space to recover, imitating, in my opinion, how time was probably experienced anyway back before our technological age: heavier, lengthier somehow, more packed with feeling, patience, even consideration of consequence. Nothing like today.

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Although the Arikara attack on the fur traders early in the film was an uber-realistic, white-knuckle event, in my opinion the bear attack on DiCaprio’s character Glass was the eye-boggling winner as far as effects go. I mean, there’s not many ways in which I can say it really looked real. It really looked like a bear was attacking and almost killing a man.

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But the irony is that the attack scene is what I was thinking about today in relationship not to cinematic artistry (which it was) or special effects mastery (which it was) or the edge-of-the-seat tension that it generated.

Unfortunately, I was thinking of it in relationship to Donald Trump, whom some people in the United States voted for president. The bear attack scene summarizes, for me, the election of Mr. Trump and also forecasts what is to come during his “administration.”

Because Leonardo’s character Glass is mauled not just in one heart-stopping sequence–slashed, thrown about, smashed, sliced open and left for dead—but as he lies on the forest floor writhing and wheezing and bleeding to death, the bear then returns and begins the whole dance all over again. It picks up the already-near-fatally-wounded Leonardo/Glass and punches and punctures and pulverizes him again. Glass is able to jam his knife in at the last minute, killing the bear, but at this point he is so drastically torn asunder, it’s a miracle that there’s any story to even tell after that.

That’s how I relate to recent and unfolding events in U.S. politics. I think it’s just beginning. We’re still going through the first run from the bear, not even the second. It still hasn’t even fully sunk in that a bear has swiped us with its paw, almost casually, but in the process already shattered our collar bone and splintered several ribs. And even in the future when/if we’re able to pull out our weapon and dispatch the out-of-control force that’s destroying everything in its path, we’ll be so ravaged at the end of it that I doubt we’ll even recognize ourselves.

In reality, the real Hugh Glass had not been holding a fiery grudge which drove him forward to seek revenge. In reality, Mr. Glass evidently only wanted his rifle back.

The onus was on the movie version, of course, to stir up a passion beyond the simple desire to recoup a firearm, thus Leonardo/Glass’s half-breed son being murdered and Tom Hardy’s character being somewhat less than honorable, greedy, and impatient for Leonardo/Glass to die. The fabricated passion fits the movie story; it just might be enough to drive a man, against all odds, to seek his own personal justice. And I think the fulfillment of that single-minded goal was ultimately fulfilling and cathartic for the viewing audience.

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As for the rest of us outside of movie land who did not participate in aiding the rise of fascism in the form of a hedonistic, narcissistic, xenophobic hate-mongering multi-millionaire named Donald Trump, I think the passion to galvanize us, to move us forward, is already there and need not be fabricated to punch up the story line.

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Greed, misunderstanding, lack of empathy, betrayal: The makings of a good Hollywood movie. The general state of man. Politics.

The thing we will hopefully have in common with Hugh Glass is that we will become revenants. If we’re lucky we’ll become people who, slit open and cleaved in two, despite the odds, the inexplicable and the incomprehensible, will return. From the dead zone our most recent “elected” leader would have us diving into, head first, without question. Still braying and bellowing from the pain. Because pain is a good wake-up call, a good reminder of what happened. What has happened before. What could easily happen again.

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Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

Re-blogging Mr. Chamberlain’s post about Octavia Butler’s “Kindred.” One of my favorite authors ever, with a rare, uniquely seen perspective when it comes to sci-fi. She passed, in my opinion, too early, and we are bereft of new work from her. But at least we have what we have.

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"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation" “Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

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Marguerite Duras: Love Until Death

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I can’t remember if I saw the movie first or read the book first. But in a rare circumstance, Marguerite Duras’ “The Lover” is riveting in either medium. France’s Goncourt prize winner of 1984 is set in prewar Indochina where Duras was born and grew up. As the affair between a 15-year-old French girl and a 27-year-old Chinese man unfolds, the fluctuating entanglements and fitful treachery of colonialism is unsubtly mirrored by the volatile passions and shifting dynamics of the couple’s forbidden liaison.

This isn’t a typical love story, if it is one at all, unlikely to appeal to those looking for more traditional story lines like Jane Eyre or Layla and Majnun. In fact, it’s very “French,” so if one can steer their thinking in the direction of the sweeping and impassioned philosophies that have delivered statements like this: Beauty always promises, but never gives anything (Simone Well) or Everything has been figured out, except how to live (Sartre), then “The Lover” will probably be well received.

(I don’t know about you, but it would be my dearest wish to figure out how to live.)

Interestingly, the discovery of an undated notebook discovered in 1996 after Duras’ death states that the lover is ugly, his face badly scarred by smallpox. “He was much uglier than your average Annamese,” she wrote, “but his taste in clothes was impeccable.” Here he was no longer Chinese, but Native Vietnamese. She resisted his overtures, although she eventually came to like him. After two years they had sex, once, and she was revolted.

But there’s an apparent evolution of perception, or perhaps it’s only inward-turning sentimentality, when she writes in the novel:

“There wasn’t a breath of wind and the music spread all over the dark boat, like a heavenly injunction whose import was unknown, like an order from God whose meaning was inscrutable. And the girl started up as if to go and kill herself in her turn, throw herself in her turn into the sea, and afterwards, she wept because she thought of the man from Cholon and suddenly she wasn’t sure she hadn’t loved him with a love she hadn’t seen because it had lost itself in the affair like water in the sand and she rediscovered it only now, through this moment of music.”

It’s a long way from smallpox to extricating a powerful, unrealized love from the memory of music as inscrutable as God. The same with the movie version, the representation of the Chinese lover transmuting into a cinematic heartthrob of sorts:

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It’s a special treat to also come across passages such as this:

The air was blue, you could hold it in your hand. Blue. The sky was the continual throbbing of the brilliance of the light. The night lit up everything, all the country on either bank of the river as far as the eye could reach. Every night was different, each one had a name as long as it lasted. Their sound was that of the dogs, the country dogs baying at mystery. They answered on another from village to village, until the time and space of the night were utterly consumed.

The author sometimes seems like that night to me, every part of her different, each part with a name as long as it lasts. According to some, her most passionate love was reserved for herself, the remains doled out grudgingly to whomever remained in her orbit.

Laura Thompson in “The Telegraph”:

I have felt, at one moment, that she is a prose-poet to rival Jean Rhys, in the next that she is precious beyond measure and almost hilariously in love with herself.

Yet somehow this is at the heart of her appeal. Duras is an arrogant writer, with an apparently infinite – and very French – confidence that she will carry the reader along with her, however irritating and repetitive she is being.

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Even more directly and very unflatteringly, Edmund White wrote in the “New York Review of Books” that:

…she was an egomaniac and talked about herself constantly. She loved herself, she quoted herself, she took a childlike delight in reading her own work and seeing her old films, all of which she declared magnificent. When toward the end of her life she ran into Mitterrand in a fish restaurant, she asked him how she had become better known around the world than he had. Very politely, he assured her he never doubted for a moment that her fame would someday eclipse his.

Hers was a life few of us today have lived, I imagine. Raised in Indochina at the tail end of French colonization, her mathematician father passed away, leaving his wife and children in poverty. Before she became a novelist, a playwright, and a filmmaker, a new start in France was later interrupted by the start of WWII. Her first husband, in the French Resistance, was deported. Her lover politely waited until the returned husband divorced her before impregnating her with a son. But before that happened, they all lived together for a time.

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Marguerite had an interesting opinion of men:

You have to be very fond of men. Very, very fond. You have to be very fond of them to love them. Otherwise they’re simply unbearable.

And she had this to say about Jean-Jacques Annaud, the director of the 1992 film version of the novel:

“Because there is a filmmaker who is one of the greatest in the world, whose name is Jean-Jacques Annaud, who took on ‘The Lover.’ He told a story that I didn’t recognize, so I said: ‘Now you’re going home, it’s finished. I don’t want to work with you anymore.’ I was a little nasty.”

I no longer remember the differences between the novel and the movie version; maybe she had reason to be disappointed. Maybe she didn’t. In my mind,  they stand on equal ground. In my mind, she was “a little nasty” to Jean-Jacques Annaud, because the film is as beautiful as Dura writing lines such as her “face laid waste.” The last paragraph of the novel, especially the last line, factually delivered, is every part as unbearably yearning yet restrained as the final scene in the movie where the narrator sits, back to the camera, narrating in an older voice grown husky and hoarse with time:

…Years after the war, after marriages, children, divorces, books, he came to Paris with his wife. He phoned her… She recognized him at once from the voice…His voice suddenly trembled. And with the trembling, suddenly, she heard again the voice of China… And then he told her. Told her that it was as before, that he still loved her, he could never stop loving her, that he’d love her until death.”

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Writer’s Block: Unbound

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Someone once said there was no such thing as writer’s block. You’re just out of ideas. Um….well, I’d call that a block, wouldn’t you? If you’re out of ideas, you’re blocked out of writing. You’re blocked by the fact that your synapses aren’t firing fast enough or in an applicable sequence. You’re not cock blocked, but you’re brain blocked. You’re blocked, plain and simple. From words. From ideas. From sentences. From endings. Beginnings. Writing.

Below is an ode to writer’s block. And also how, sometimes out of left field, inspiration, motivation, ideas, can come from the last place you’d expect.

Weirdly, the form was inspired by the way the “2 Broke Girls” sit-com phrases every single one of their titles, with “And the” before the rest. IE: “And the Wrecking Ball,” “And the Maybe Baby.”

I thought it was odd and refreshing to have strange titles like that, as if commenting on its own ongoing narrative situated from a time before we were even aware of it. And that’s how I see writer’s block: as an ongoing internal narrative, a seemingly endless circling around and around, mindlessly chasing one’s own tail, until the internal chatter abruptly halts or the tail is finally caught.

It does happen eventually. And then the real work can begin.

 

And the writer’s block.

And the writer’s block.

And the writer’s block.

And the broken sleep.

And the empty page.

And the leering page.

And the halting start.

And the partial sentence.

And the wrong direction.

And the delete button.

And the procrastination.

And the scanning email.

And the empty email.

And the new start.

And the new sentence.

And the grating angst.

And the delete button.

And the delete button.

And the empty page.

And the unctuous page.

And the dragging moments.

And the stingy syllables.

And the wretched syntax.

And the stutter and stop.

And the procrastination.

And the procrastination.

And the writer’s groups.

And the logging in.

And the anonymous banter.

And the hour lost.

And the logging out.

And the looming television.

And the why not?

And the search for something.

And the clutching distraction.

And the hope for insight.

And the myriad titles.

And the Xeroxed stories.

And the death of hope.

And the discarded television.

And the crawling seconds.

And the moments bound.

And the idle hours.

And the empty page.

And the empty page.

And the procrastination.

And the wandering eye.

And the favorite book.

And the quiet perusing.

And the beautiful sentence.

And the wall between you

And the beautiful sentence.

And the quiet reading.

And the crawling hours.

And the start and stutter.

And the start and stutter.

And the artless stabbing.

And the graceless attempt.

And the wilting confidence.

And the yawning chasm

And the words inside it

At the ghostly bottom.

And the warm paralysis.

And the death of hope.

And the spouse’s intrusion.

And the hot annoyance.

And hiding annoyance.

And mimicking patience.

And the things he brings.

And the bowl of chips.

And the cranberry juice.

And something he says.

And the spouse’s withdrawal.

And something he said.

And the words unfurling.

And the pop and spark.

And the thing he said.

And the flaring spark.

And the burning spark.

And the thing he said.

And the thing he said.

And the vast intention.

And the chasm splintering

And the words inside it

On the certain bottom.

And the thing he said.

And the spiking spark.

And the tender syllables.

And the waxing rhythm.

And the blazing paragraph.

And the delete forgotten.

And the delete forgotten.

And the email forgotten.

And the TV forgotten.

And the room forgotten.

And the world forgotten.

And the indefinable.

And the definable.

And the bound.

And the unbound.

And the unbound.

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The Brady Bunch: What Fresh Hell?

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What fresh hell is this? Now, on top of everything else, Florence Henderson, Mrs. Brady is gone?

2016 is wapping up damatically, a lot of which we could do without. Ms. Henderson was up there, but you never wanna see Mrs. Brady make the final exit. Who’s next, Greg? Cindy?!

Come on, now, though. How much more can we take? First it’s the harrowing political roller coaster ride–not over yet. One of my favorite blogs,  Idiot Joy Showland, says it all. Starting with a post entitled: “What To Do When You’ve Been Cucked,” an in-depth analysis of present-day politics ends with a moving last paragraph:

There’s always more, no end to the monstrous things crawling out the chasm between sex and politics. The cuck-sayers are all tremendous fans of Donald Trump, despite the fact that, as everyone knows, he’s only running as part of a secret deal with Hillary Clinton, in which the two old friends agreed that Trump would present himself as the most unpalatable candidate possible to make sure that Clinton would, finally, get everything she ever wanted. The two of them share the same dream. Clinton deploying her big prosthetic Donald, long and rubbery, charging to victory on the engorged Donald that she carries between her legs; and Trump, daring to imagine what could happen if he actually won, his eyes rolling as he fantasises about birthing a new, cruel, strange America, hot streams of life and death flowing endlessly from out his broad and fertile cunt.

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Just now, responding to the death of Fidel Castro, Mr. Kriss has this to say (cobbled together from a much larger thought) in “Melancholia after Fidel”:

The world is a poorer place; a sterile promontory. The earth is dried up, its surface drifts away in tiny whirlwinds, and there’s nothing underneath. Every year it shrinks, weaker and worse, stripped away by a thousand chattering stupidities; everywhere the desert is growing and the ice caps melting into the sea, two vast blanknesses gorging themselves on what remains. How could a famished world like this continue to sustain someone like Fidel Castro?….. Wherever there is injustice there will be resistance. But it doesn’t diminish what’s been lost: not one frail nonogenarian in a two-storey house, but the knowledge that we can not only fight but win, that we can not only defeat the reactionaries but build socialism, that we not only have to do something, but that we know how to do it…….. There is much that we’ve lost, but until then we will not let it go. Don’t mourn, melancholise. La lucha sigue.

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Lastly, seemingly insignificant compared to a looming fascist takeover or the end of the line of a beloved and much hated man of the people but enemy to America, we say good-bye to Mrs. Brady, Florence Henderson. Yes, I speak of The Brady Bunch in my novel Day for Night, asking, “Where are the episodes where the kids hang out with the ethnic friend?” Nowhere. Which isn’t 100% on target. Racism was addressed briefly after their neighbors, the Kellys, adopt some ethnically diverse children, and often diverse people would be at get-togethers and parties, but nothing that stood out, and definitely no ethnic friends that we got to see week after week, having adventures with the gang.

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Aside from that, though, Florence Henderson’s death is a sentimental, nostalgic death for some, like me, and if my brother was still alive, for him. Her death may also be highly symbolic of the death of naiveté and innocence, not only for the time it was made in, but for the actual innocence it spun out of thin air, spinning and spinning strands of nothingness into a visible hallucination borne of denial and inflexibility. Because although the world was a simpler place back then, the world of The Brady Bunch didn’t actually exist, except in the minds of those who remembered when it did exist and perhaps wish it still existed. The show was a charming fairy tale that we watched every week–some of us–but that world was actually long gone and what was in its place was flying, without brakes, toward the final conclusion which happened a few weeks ago on November 8th.

Regardless of all those factors, it’s still sad to see Florence, and the idea of Mrs. Brady, go. After reason fled U.S. voters and Castro finally shed the mortal coil. Somehow it all seems connected to me. People’s wants and desires and perceptions of reality and what they want from it and the machinations they’ll go to to get it and how hard it is to let go of old ideas and move on to the new……

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Trump President Elect: Scrape the Black Stuff Off

THE WHITE HOUSE 2017

It happened. Previously when talking about the similarities between a particular Battlestar Galactica episode and this year’s election, I ended with the fact that although I wasn’t enthralled with the democratic offerings, the alternative was unthinkable. And now it appears that it happened. The unthinkable. The unthinkable has happened.

While the world is in shock and nobody quite understands how Trump, this Baltar-like candidate (sans the genius IQ) came to be the president elect, nobody is actually in shock and everybody really does understand how this came to be…right?

Because it started way before Trump came into the picture. It started before Obama was elected and a representative of South Carolina yelled, “You lie!” in the middle of a speech to a joint session of Congress–something which has never happened in the history of Congress…until it happened to a black President. It started before Black Lives Matter.It started before Civil Rights and Martin Luther was assassinated and before segregated armies during World War II where men fought and died the same but one faction was treated well while the other was not.

It started before Japanese American citizens were put in camps. It started before the Chinese worked on rail lines and were treated no better than dogs. It started before Texas (one of several states) was out and out stolen from Mexico. It started before even the kidnapping and slavery of Africans and the genocide of millions of Native Americans.

I want to say that it started with the Constitution, a document suggesting lofty ideals and principles for “all” but in reality was only aimed at “some.” But I think it started even before then. Before the colonists landed in America. Before they had no idea what they were doing, what to expect, how to prepare for “the new world”,  many of them subsequently kept alive due only to the sympathy and generosity of the Native Americans.

It started before the country was founded and with the mindset of those who came here. Those who came here were escaping from something. Those who came here believed they were under siege–their particular beliefs, their principles. Religious persecution. Those who came here wanted to “start over”, begin again.

Years ago, the first Chucky movie came out, wherein the murderous, marauding doll carved a wide swath of violence throughout but, in the end, was destroyed. Good vs. evil. Good wins. But then a little while later, they made another Chucky movie! I was baffled and asked the guy in the video store, “What happened? I thought Chucky died. Didn’t he get burned to death in a fire?”

The video store clerk looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yeah, but they scraped the black stuff off.”

I see the colonists that way. They had a horrible life where they were. Or they thought it was horrible. Considering how they handled things here, one has to wonder if maybe they weren’t just a bunch of self-pitying whiners. They weren’t being treated fairly. They weren’t being listened to. They were being persecuted. So they got to start all over. Move to America. Scrape the black stuff off.

And then what happened? Happily ever after? Let’s all get along? I’ve walked a mile in your moccasins, so I know how it is, brother? Nah.They did to others exactly what they were fleeing from: They didn’t treat others fairly. They didn’t listen. They persecuted everybody.

Native Americans were savages. And let’s not even go into Africans and chattel slavery. Instead of empathy and compassion leading to affinity and inclusiveness, they remained steadfast that their own beliefs and rituals and way of living were the standard for all, no exceptions. They adopted Manifest Destiny as their inner moral compass and followed that, to the exclusion and decimation of everything and everyone else, to the  other side of the country and to the other side of reality, where we are now.

With a beginning like that, trumpeting a mindset that has never really disappeared, a dislike of and inability to assimilate with “others” that has never really disappeared, none of us has the right to be shocked or surprised that Trump is the president elect. To be shocked or surprised is to be in complete denial.

But mostly, complete denial comes with naively and/or self-righteously believing that you can move to “a new world” and start over not by re-framing your perceptions, denouncing oppression in all forms, and adopting an open-mindedness aimed at opening doors instead of slamming them shut. Instead you just scrape the black stuff off, a thin patina left over from your old world and your old life, and simply continue being who you are. With impunity.

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Make America Great Again: Let’s Get Dirty

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A disenfranchised population. An exhausted, disgruntled workforce. Great, yawning chasms that separate the populace’s beliefs and expectations and, in turn, exacerbate division, frustration, anger,  breathing new life into the death of hope.

America today? Yeah. But also the reboot of “Battlestar Galactica” almost a decade ago.

I’m sure others have already tackled this comparison, but since we’ve been re-watching “Battlestar Galactica” for the past couple of weeks, the parallels to what’s going on right now leapt out anew, shining in eye-catching colors made more vivid by time.

Running from 2004 to 2009,  “Battlestar” presented myriad similar concepts which rang true, but the episode of “Dirty Hands” proved to be even more alarmingly prescient than usual. And on the eve of a potentially historic election, the issues faced there are eerily similar to the ones we’re facing today and which will come to at least a partial conclusion—of some kind–next Tuesday.

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By the “Dirty Hands” episode of “Battlestar,” the fleet has been on the run from the Cylons (robots which human beings created and which subsequently turned on them, something that many believe is probably actually going to happen in real life one day) for a couple of years, give or take, piloting through space in search of the mythical “Earth” planet.

A conversation between the Chief of Galactica’s crew of ships and the President reveals the state of affairs of the overworked and long-ignored:

Chief: You realize that most of the workers on that ship have not had a day off since the original attack on our colonies? It’s like slave labor.
Adama: Don’t be absurd.
Chief: The men and women aboard that ship are stuck there.
They can’t leave, they can’t transfer. They have no control over their lives. And the work is hard.
President: We know that. Do they think they’re having a picnic on the algae processing plant or munitions or waste-processing? The fleet is filled with ships with people working under horrific conditions, and nobody’s having a good time.

It’s always the same thing, isn’t it? “The fleet is filled with ships with people working under horrific conditions, and nobody’s having a good time.” Except the President, as she’s stating this, is sitting in a compact yet luxurious office, wearing a nice outfit, and is not only rested and well-fed, but recently had her entire immune system rebooted by the DNA of a hybrid human-Cylon infant which put her cancer in remission.

The same with Adama, who received the best emergency healthcare possible to bring him back from the brink of death after being shot by a sleeper Cylon agent and regularly has cocktails with the President or enjoys lounging comfortably in his private quarters. Adama, whose immediate response to the Chief was, “Don’t be absurd.”

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Yeah, it’s nothing new that those who are “on top” making the “tough” decisions and “running” things get paid better, get better healthcare, get better consideration all around because they’re the ones who are “holding it all together.” They can’t walk around half-starved or dirty or live in squalor because that lack of quality of life doesn’t enhance brain power or the decision-making process very well.

But…the problem lies with an automatic response of, “Don’t be absurd,” to broaching the subject of real problems and real situations. Key among offenders today are the GOP and their followers who must have “Don’t be absurd,” as a ready-made motto to be carved into their tombstones. People are only poor because they don’t try hard enough. There’s no global warming. The 1% pay plenty of taxes. Prisons aren’t a business; they’re just full to bursting because there’s a lot of bad people out there—mostly black and Hispanics. There is NOT a permanent underclass and unreachable upper class. Don’t worry—Donald Trump is a joke; he won’t get the nomination.

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And don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of “ignoring” going on on the other side, like the fact that during the continuing “fight” against terrorism, in the midst of Bin Laden’s capture and demise, drones bombing and killing women and children from an antiseptic distance, our own form of terrorism has been steadily growing and increasing in power—that of the fascist, militaristic police force across the United States.

It’s kinda like the psychiatrist who makes a living trying to fix everyone else’s problems while his or her family languishes at home, emotionally abandoned and neglected. It would be nice if that was all that was happening with our folks back at home, instead of wholesale murder, but this is where we stand.

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Scarier still from “Dirty Hands” is the phenomenon of Gaius Baltar’s almost inconceivable rise in popularity, paralleling now, of course, Donald Trump’s insane roller coaster ride to the Republican nomination.

Gaius, known philanderer and womanizer, self-motivated ex-President,  Cylon sympathizer, and traitor to the last of humanity, finally gets arrested and jailed, only to pen a book entitled, “My Triumphs, My Mistakes,” which begins to circulate throughout the fleet and to pierce the consciousness of the oppressed and disenfranchised with bold chapters like “The Emerging Aristocracy and the Emerging Underclass.”

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Yeah, this is not a new issue in the world, and definitely not in the U.S. But it’s definitely come to a boiling volcanic head in more recent American history.

Leave it to a charming bon vivant like Gaius to trespass over the most egregious of ethical borders on an everyday basis and yet somehow manage to lasso the minds and imaginations of a desperate populace that feels overlooked, forgotten, and taken for granted.

Although I wouldn’t call Donald Trump charming, his straightforward, “I’m not one of them” delivery mirrors the condescending platitudes and high-handed delusions of grandeur of Dr. Baltar in the most deeply disturbing of ways. The only difference between them: Gaius is an out-and-out genius.

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In the end, the President and even Admiral Adama come to see the benefit of listening to the people and eventually take measures to address issues of dead-end, even dangerous jobs, and classism. Basically everyone needed to get their hands dirty once in a while, not just one constant, never-changing segment of society.

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That’s where the episode and the show deviate from real life, though, because we aren’t there yet, and there’s a lot of work to do.  But one last potentially and hopefully prophetic situation: the fact that President of the 12 colonies is a woman. I’m not 100% fond of President Laura Roslin. But nobody’s perfect.

And between our choices, as they stand today outside of “Battlestar” and in the real world, the alternative is more or less unthinkable.

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Unleashed and Howling

 

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It was night, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling.

Much like the intriguing first line of Mike Allen’s “The Button Bin”, mentioned in an earlier post, the first line of Gil Adamson’s “The Outlander” flies out like the dogs she’s speaking of: unleashed and howling.  And then the novel continues in unfaltering prose, painting the life of Mary Boulton, a 19-year-old widow, in alternately joyful and harrowing strokes.

I imagine that’s how life in early 1900s rural Canada would be anyway, but more so for a woman on the run after committing the most egregious crime of murdering her own husband. Joyful and harrowing. The circumstances by themselves are unusual: Mary, suffering from postpartum depression and related psychosis, loses her infant child and comes unhinged after her husband, a rough and uncaring man whom she barely knows, engages adulterously with another woman.  After shooting him in the leg and letting him hemorrhage to death, she sets out on the run from her late husband’s twin brothers who pursue her with a cold and relentless rage across the early frontier wilderness.

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Although this novel came out almost ten years ago, in 2007, it remains one of my favorites due to the sweeping poetic language and unremittingly meaningful images and suppositions.  In the same vein as James Dickey and Mike Allen,  Ms. Adamson is a poet first and a novelist second, and when reading either “Deliverance,” “Unseaming,” or “The Outlander,” the reader will realize that something larger is going on, immersed as one immediately becomes in the politics and labyrinths and myths and rhythms and conundrums of the written word.

As stated by Sarah Sacha Dollacker in BrowseBook Review: Nothing is too minuscule for Adamson’s notice: the mud at the bottom edge of Mary’s hem, the glint in the brothers-in-laws’ animal-like eyes, the color of the sky, the smell of the trees. Each sentence and paragraph is worth the contemplation of any great poem.

So true, so true. Carrie O’Grady had this to say in The Guardian:

Inevitably, there are echoes of Cormac McCarthy. Adamson’s writing is very different – richer, more rueful – but her novel shares that sense of troubled souls rattling around in a vast, hostile landscape, saying little yet feeling much.

I wonder about those days, don’t you? When people didn’t necessarily talk very much while underneath a vast and sumptuous inner life of emotions and unspoken comments thrived, a luxuriant landscape where contemplation and patience and imagination still reigned because computers and cars and iphones and television hadn’t been invented yet.

Also fascinating is the placement of Mary’s character in Frank, Alberta, the location of  the famous landslide, the worst in North American history, where millions of tons of limestone peeled off  the eastern side of Turtle Mountain and slid into the valley, killing 70 to 90 of the inhabitants below. The mountain itself seems symbolic of many things: the uncontrollable whims of the earth being the most transparent, especially during a time when people struggled day-to-day to survive, but the more subtle connections to immense, unknowable emotions, complex and tangled relationships, and even one’s own supposed purpose in being alive are hinted at and murmured over in a constant background subtext.

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Although I wasn’t overly fond of Mary being referred to as “the widow” for the whole novel,  I understand the impetus: women as nameless creatures more or less walking in the shadow of society and certainly in that of men. When Mary starts thinking, for example, of a man she met and connected with on many levels, including physical, it’s to say this:

As helpless as water to the pull of gravity, the window’s heart ran to William Moreland. Pooling there, wasted, unwanted…How foolish it was to let a man in, how terrible his power once you did.

As helpless as she feels, loving someone who abandoned her, she yet can’t deny the feelings, can’t deny the pull, can’t deny being powerless, just as we all are powerless, in the larger scope, loping resolutely in the shadow of the “mountain”…or fate or destiny. In the beginning when she’s still running, she’s cold and lost, on the verge of death. I haven’t often come across an author who can describe near-starvation with such subjective objectivity:

She shivered in her blighted cloth while phantom snow fell and the stars above reeled. …She felt nothing of her body except a complex of inflexible sinew across her back.

I shivered on my couch as the phantom snow fell and the stars reeled in the sky above as I read this book, imagining life back then, wild and frightening and raw, described in turns tenderly and brutally in luxurious language. Mary’s journey, exciting and terrifying, consumes one. In wondering where she’ll end up, you end up there with her. Beautiful and satisfying and well worth reading.

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Black Lives Matter: A Study in Loss

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My mouth was agape as I read an article from Paste Magazine talking about the new TV time travel show “Timeless” :

 “In one of the episode’s best lines, he tells the guard that he hopes he lives a long life so he can see Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson (“or just anybody named Michael”) and other notable African American figures because, ‘Time is not on your side.’”

Yeah, it’s a light article talking about a sci-fi TV show. We can’t expect an in-depth thesis about anything of real substance because in the end, it’s just…entertainment, right?

The black male character has traveled back in time and a racist guard in a jail cell is spewing the usual disrespectful and derogatory rhetoric at him.

But it’s the comeback that irks me.

And it’s the perspective of the article’s author that amazes me, that this person actually considered this one of the “best lines” in the episode. I thought it was one of the most offensive lines in the episode.

I don’t have anything against Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, or Mike Tyson, but they are not a well-rounded choice for the representation of a significantly changed “black future” that the jail guard had ahead of him.

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In my opinion, that line and that perspective constitute in large part not only why movies and television are so lacking in interesting ethnic variety and stories but why we’re also experiencing the on-going tragic issues we have today regarding the ethnic population, often specifically the African-American population, in our country.

Okay. Maybe the character in “Timeless” doesn’t think fast under pressure. He’s an engineer, so he’s not dumb, but maybe that’s all he could come up with on short notice and it was supposed to be light and funny and entertaining. TV. Yay! Time travel. Whoo-hoo! Entertaining.

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But what about this: what if he had said, instead, “I can’t wait until you live to see Gerald A. Lawson and Patricia Bath and George E. Alcon. And why haven’t you heard of Elijah McCoy and Henry Brown? Did you forget that Toussaint Louverture led the successful military revolt in Saint-Domingue that ended slavery in Haiti and that Lewis Latimer improved upon the light bulb by inventing the carbon filament to the extent that it became a common household feature?”

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Now that’s a TV show I could sink my chops into!

But that would be a different TV show, wouldn’t it? And more than likely, a different world. At the very least, a different America.

Speaking of which, by the way…did any of those names ring a bell for you? ‘Cause none of them did for me, except Touissant, vaguely, but I had to look him up again to get the deets. More into that in a minute.

But the fact that 90% of us, if not more, probably don’t know who any of those people are is blatantly symbolic of where things have gone wrong as far as equal-opportunity information and knowledge is concerned.

I realize that our problems can’t be solved by a sci-fi time travel TV show listing some African-American heavy-hitters instead of a couple athletes and an entertainer (as great as they all might have been) but knowledge begins in school, and I don’t recall learning about any of these folks.

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In the same way that some news shows still offer balanced points of view during important discussions which will potentially reach a wide swath of viewers, education must follow suit. And then the rest will follow.

I personally think it’s a shame that the average schoolchild is not armed with the everyday knowledge that their Playstation, Xbox and Wii are based on a business model created by Gerald A. Lawson involving  the first home video-game system that used interchangeable cartridges.

They have no idea that Patricia Bath’s cataract Laserphaco Probe, much more accurate than previous drill-like instruments, has not only helped millions improve their eyesight but even restored vision to people who have been blind for decades.

And how much is taught about George E. Alcorn in middle school textbooks? I would have to do a huge survey to find that out for sure, but I can’t imagine his Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer gets equal time with the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci.

But once that bridge gets crossed where education begins marketing not only African-Americans, but people of other ethnicities, with the same aggressiveness and consistency that  European and Western society in general receive, then the trickle-down will happen into the greater consciousness and continue eventually into pop culture, affording us greater choice in subject matter, characters, and story.

Although movie and TV stories like these are fine for what they are…

The Help

The Color Purple

Precious

12 Years a Slave

Driving Miss Daisy

The Butler

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…I think there’s endless room and interest and material for Henry Brown, the man who invented the modern-day fire-proof safe,  Marc Hannah, creator of 3D Graphics technology, Percy Julian, inventor of the process of synthesis (thus far only a 2007 documentary called “Forgotten Genius” documents his life), Mary Seacole, the contemporary of the endlessly-touted Florence Nightingale,  Norbert Rilleaux,  inventor and engineer. And move over, Oprah: take a look at  Sarah Breedlove who founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company for  hair care products and cosmetics and became the 20th century’s first female millionaire.

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So, yeah, come on. Are you really remaking “Roots”? Seriously?

In that arena, I have to give Will Smith props for trying: “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and “Concussion” are unusual topics and out-of-the-box thinking.  But although he’s improved as an actor with time, I’m not sure he was the best casting choice for those roles.

Stories about interesting ethnic/black people still aren’t considered money makers and often don’t do well. But then why is a movie about a White House butler so interesting? Or maids in the South?

I think these other stories, stories that don’t involve slavery or poverty or struggling to rise above poverty wouldn’t be considered risks that *don’t make money* if the same care and interest and excitement that’s shoveled into reboots of MacArthur and Marie Antoinette and Lincoln and Mozart was similarly shoveled into the personalities that have given blind people their vision back and revolutionized the way Nasa conducts research.

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In the end, that character from “Timeless” was right: time isn’t on our side. But for a different reason, in my opinion. The same old characters and struggles and devices and conclusions are boring and saturated and played out, and we’re all gonna die one day, so let’s do something different.

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There’s an untapped vein of creative wealth waiting to be mined out there, and it’s sad almost to the point of incomprehension that it remains steadfastly and willfully undiscovered, unrevealed, and unused.

My loss. Your loss. Our loss.

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