Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cross-stitching life

Can you start life over? Can you undo a lifetime of---well, I'll just call it what it was-- brainwashing and make yourself into who you could have been, should have been?

For nearly four years-- well, really five years-- since the October I read 'Dance of the Dissident Daughter' I have been feeling my way along, looking, learning, unraveling, reweaving. It's like one of my cross-stitch stockings. I got to a point and realized that I had made a mistake. The pattern was wrong and it was ugly- lopsided. Wrong. And unfortunately the ugliness had bled into the stockings I had made for my children. (An interesting metaphor that actually says more than I even intended-- ) So it was time to decide what to do with it. Did I hang on to it and live with what I had? Not terribly tempting since it left me in the same place essentially. Did I undo part of it and fix as much as possible? Tempting- it's hard to unravel those little stitches and even fixing it a bit is going to take quite some time... or do I take it all out and start over?? (That is going to be a LOT of work!) OR should I chuck it all out the door and just start over???? Sounds the easiest in many regards but isn't really-- after all I have to pick a new pattern, buy new thread, new cloth,etc.-- and life of course isn't as easy to get clean as an Aida cloth.

But the old had to go. It was untenable to try and salvage most of it and just repair bits. There was simply too much wrong with it.

So, little by little...

here, a really bad part. Undo that.

Ugh! that bit there is completely backwards-- you have to take that out!

And this is completely the wrong color.

Life had been based on what would be-- on there being a life after life that would reward the pain and struggle in this life. Life wasn't based on there being any value in it. The "stocking" had no value in and of itself. It was something to be made because you needed to have something to show for your time on planet earth.

And that is essentially it-- I didn't have anything worth salvaging because it wasn't a life, it was a travail that you went through to get to the other side. My theology would adjust and I'd see my role on the planet differently but essentially it was all for the same purpose- to come to that day and have the Father tell me, "Well, done good and faithful servant." I was always waiting-- eternally waiting--- for??? Maybe to be what we all want to be- (and that for some is not as elusive as it was for me)- accepted as a REAL person- for who I WAS. Who I AM. (...although I had the problem that much of the template that had been used for the pattern of who I was had been tampered with- altered by the force of religion-- really generations of religious background that may even have been imprinted at this point in my DNA and family issues that had never been dealt with. )

So I looked it over, this stocking, and realized that what I was left with was---


and it was going to need to be started over- or at least as close as possible.

and the process of undoing has been long and painful

and is still going on.

But what I have before now me is good-- because I have gotten a good deal undone and I think I have figured out a way to add a new bit of Aida cloth rather than unraveling the whole bit. And what I have so far is good because it is done with my own hand, with my own ideas and my own conception of who I am and what I want. I know I would be a different person had I been raised without the restrictions of religion. I know that I would have made completely different choices had I not believed certain things-- and that is important because it leads me to a better place since now I know that I would have been a better person had the circumstances been different- so there is something to aim for. But also because now I know that much of what IS good about me now had nothing to do with the way I was raised. (in fact to the contrary-- my intelligence was stifled-- after all, outsmarting god or smarty pantsing your way to unbelief was a quick road to hell. Dangerous!...Now there is an effective control technique! After all, if you nurture your intelligence, if you ask too many hard questions or the questions take you to the wrong place- with wrong being doubts about god or even having different beliefs about god- then you will lose your faith which ultimately leads you to destruction -the unspoken ever present scary place... hell!Believers like to pretend that they don't want to scare people into belief in god but that is what their statements always lead them to whether they will admit it or not)

I finished a book called 'Superstition' last week (see earlier post). The author, Robert Park Prof. of Physics at Princeton, goes after superstitions of all kinds but really what he does alongside that is show what it is inside homo sampiens that has led them to accept superstition that is out of sync with reality today (although I think he could have gone further with this point) And he also shows how humanity has evolved and how the ethic of "doing unto others" is really a part of that evolution. (That's one of those things, you know-- this sort of innate, deeply ingrained prejudice that I grew up with- that people who didn't believe in god weren't really good people, that they might try to be good but they were always overcome by their real (corrupt) nature. And as many years as I have worked at undoing that mythology, it still lingers. Always more to unravel.)

So here I am-- standing at the brink of a beginning.

We, Maurice and I, want to travel-- to Key West (some more!)- to Epypt (I really want to see the pyrmids!) -to the ruins of Troy--- Our travel will always be geared around some bits of history we want to smell, touch, feel... We also want to go to Princeton and the east coast to see Fitzgerald's home (After having read 'This side of paradise' the idea of seeing the places he writes about is really intriguing).

I have a new job-- but my new job is really more than a change in where I am going to be in two weeks. I got this job as a new person, based on my experience and who I am-. When I started the job I currently have at Libaria at Grant M.S., I was hired as a body. The principal could have cared less who I was or if I loved reading, etc. I could have sat in the library here doing nothing and he would have been happy as long as the kids could get a book when they needed it. The new principal is not much better. She really only wants a body. I truly think she thought I would stay here and do what I do for less money- and while the money is not the issue- it does symbolize something in the system I work in. And it symbolizes something for me personally-- for one thing it's me saying to the world, "I have too much experience and give too much to this school to take less than what I have now" and it's me saying to myself, "You have something to offer- give it." It's me saying "I am not just a body. I have value."

"We are all standing at the station. The train is always leaving and the soul checks it's watch and wonders if its his time to go." -Cole, character in Key West, episode: Act of God.

"And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Regiment of the Senses

Speak not of guilt, speak not of responsibility. When the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners; when the senses shiver and shudder, it is only a fool and and an irreverent person that will keep his distance, who will not embrace the good cause, marching towards the conquest of pleasures and passions.

All of morality’s laws – poorly understood and applied – are nil and cannot stand even for a moment, when the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners.

Do not permit any shadowy virtue to hold you back. Do not believe that any obligation binds you. Your duty is to give in, to always give in to Desires, these most perfect creatures of the perfect gods. Your duty is to enlist as a faithful footman, with simplicity of heart, when the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners.

Do not confine yourself at home, misleading yourself with theories of justice, with the preconceptions of reward, held by an imperfect society. Do not say, Such is my toil’s worth and such is my due to savor. Just as life is an inheritance, and you did nothing to earn it as a recompense, so should Sensual Pleasure be. Do not shut yourself at home; but keep the windows open, open wide, so as to hear the first sound of the passing of the soldiers, when the Regiment of the Senses arrives, with music, and with banners.

Do not be deceived by the blasphemers who tell you that the service is dangerous and laborious. The service of sensual pleasure is a constant joy. It does exhaust you, but it exhausts you with inebriations sublime. And finally, when you collapse in the street, even then your fortune is enviable. When your funeral will pass by, the Forms to which your desires gave shape will shower lilacs and white roses upon your coffin, young Olympian Gods will bear you on their shoulders, and you will be buried in the Cemetery of the Ideal, where the mausoleums of poetry gleam conspicuously white.

~~ C.P Cavafy

In the same vein as Frank....

Michael Parenti writes this article: Capitalism’s Self-inflicted Apocalypse

To give you a taste, he concludes with these words,
"In sum, free-market corporate capitalism is by its nature a disaster waiting to happen. Its essence is the transformation of living nature into mountains of commodities and commodities into heaps of dead capital. When left entirely to its own devices, capitalism foists its diseconomies and toxicity upon the general public and upon the natural environment--and eventually begins to devour itself.

The immense inequality in economic power that exists in our capitalist society translates into a formidable inequality of political power, which makes it all the more difficult to impose democratic regulations.

If the paladins of Corporate America want to know what really threatens “our way of life,” it is their way of life, their boundless way of pilfering their own system, destroying the very foundation on which they stand, the very community on which they so lavishly feed"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Arianna Huffington

Reporting on the economy Arianna Huffington writes today,
"1.1 million people received food stamps in November, an increase of 13 percent from a year earlier.

In Arizona, there's been a 100-percent increase in the number of people seeking social services from the state.

In Contra Costa, California, 40,000 families applied for 350 available affordable-housing vouchers.

In San Francisco, food banks report a 30-percent rise in demand for emergency food assistance. In Lehigh Acres, Florida demand is up 75 percent.

If, as it now seems likely, unemployment hits 9 percent, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the number of Americans driven into poverty will rise by 7 to 10 million -- on top of the 37.3 million currently living below the poverty line (and while that number is the latest from the Census Bureau, it's from 2007, before the worst of the downturn).

Making matters worse -- much worse -- is the fact that the growing need is being met by a decrease in government programs and charitable services.

18 states cut their welfare rolls last year.

The number of families receiving government financial assistance is at a 40-year low.

In South Carolina, low-income women under 40 with breast or cervical cancer have had their treatment cut.

In Nevada, the state's largest public hospital has stopped providing outpatient oncology services.

In Arizona, programs to prevent child abuse and lower the number of children in foster care were slashed.

In Florida, home services for poor seniors are on the budget chopping block.

In Utah, 20,000 poor people face being removed from the state's primary care health network."

I don't think it's even necessary to comment, the stats say it all. But I will say, perhaps redundantly, that our government has committed a crime against us. Their policies have benefited the rich and powerful, meanwhile they work like robber barons against the poor. Every safety net has been stripped. It's sad---

see the full article at:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/darkening-clouds-silver-l_b_172339.html3

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Book reviewing might be subtitled "the good, the bad and the ugly"

On the other side of the spectrum from the one that Mr. Crossley-Holland has set forth (below), comes Robert L. Park's...

I have just begun it and am not reading it exclusively but at the beginning of the book he discusses the current movement among religious sects to try and unite science with religion.

In the first few pages (after revealing the mounds of money available to scientists who support and argue for intelligent design) he goes on to address the "Anthropic Principle", the principle which claims that "The fundamental parameters of the universe are such as to permit the creation of observers within it." or as he paraphrases so well... "If things were different, things would not be the way things are."

He addresses more directly a 2001 analysis of the anthropic principle "Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument: a Skeptical View" by Timothy McGrew, Lydia McGrew, and Eric Vestrup. They wrote, "The Principle of Indifference: it is unreasonable to suggest that any one range of values for the constants is more probable a priori than any other similar range." Taking the author's claim on from a slightly different angle than is generally heard, Park brilliantly responds, "If the universe is designed for life, it must be said that it is a shockingly inefficient design. There are vast reaches of the universe in which life as we know it is clearly impossible: gravitational forces would be crushing, or radiation levels are too high for complex molecules to exist, or temperatures would make the formation of stable chemical bonds impossible. Even in our own solar system it seems increasingly likely that Earth is the only outpost of life. The search for life to which we are not related-- exterrestrial life-- is perhaps the greatest quest of science, but so far it has been disappointing. Fine-tuned for life? It would make more sense to ask why God designed a universe so inhospitable to life."

Crossing two pair-a-dice?

Crossing to Paradise
By: Kevin Crossley-Holland

Lengthening his stay at the shores of the middle ages, Crossley-Holland recycles a supporting character from his Arthur Trilogy for his most recent adventures. Conscripted into a local lady’s service, Gatty is rounded up with seven other loosely bound individuals to aid the Lady Gwenyth in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Gatty quickly finds herself in a whorl of excitement from the first moment they set off- getting lost on the dark and dodgy streets of London, rescuing a compatriot when he nearly tumbles to his death and hitting the high seas on the final leg into Jerusalem- all setting Gatty on the adventure of a lifetime.

Crossley-Holland’s humdrum, yet action-packed (really there is almost too much action) adventure is fairly common in the marketplace of children’s books – or perhaps it might be better said to be too common and indistinct from the multitudes of children’s book on the shelves today. The adventure itself may keep a young reader's attention long enough to hit the streets of Jerusalem- and they won’t suffer greatly from the lack of prose but it's not a peanut-butter story. Unfortunately the author has chosen to use his middle England to Jerusalem setting as a backdrop for an introduction to modern Christianity. Third person narrative is used to put forth an ideology as in one particular scene where Gatty is lost in London. The third person narrative chimes in, "God took pity on Gatty" using the omniscient perspective to explain how it was that Gatty suddenly remembered where the group was going to stay. In other spots this same "voice" refers to “Jesus” as though he were a character in the book. In addition to this, the character's faith is often littered with a modern theology that would have been unfamiliar to people of the time. Prayers offered by the characters of the book are answered—an easy way to include a god personage into the story without preaching.

In historical fiction, the author walks a tightrope of reality and make-believe and when an author takes license with the historical realities of the period, they risk losing the story. In this case, the historical inaccuracies by and large seem directly aimed at propagating an ideology as opposed to a lack of research on the part of the author.

As a former member of said religious affiliation, I can testify to the intention of Christian believers to spread the good news in just such a way. It was a widely taught method-- living the gospel rather than preaching it (which sounds inoccuous enough). Unfortunately in LIFE, living out perfection is much more complicated and the technique is generally not a successful method of proselytizing. In fiction it is a much more effective tool because the author can make sure god does the things that Christians believe god does or want him to do. And, as a former Christian, I considered these matters myself in my own writings-- In fact, the author's example may set a standard for just how a christian author can include christianity in as subtle and seemingly harmless way in their writing as possible. By using the third person to include jesus and god in the narrative, a Christian worldview is presupposed. Christians believe that god answers prayer-- a fiction writer can make god answer the prayer. Christians believe that jesus hears their prayers-- a fiction writer can say "jesus heard her prayers." Using this authoritative voice, the author then presents his or her religious ideology without a sermon. Using their imagination, they create the world they want to have, the one where christians have peace that others don't have or have god's guidance in the dark of night or are better than other people are because god changed them.

They, in essence, create their own reality.

Holland’s stories, while not a sampling for a Billy Graham revival, are firmly rooted in Christian theology and utilize a technique for proselytizing that is just as insidious as the 'Left Behind' series. Avoid them!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

That was then, This is now

Last night we were watching our favorite television show, (can you guess?) 'Key West'. For the twenty or thirty-something time we sat and watched Seamus stand in stunned amazement at winning the lottery while babes in skimpy swimsuits jump up and down around him. He jumps in his auto and heads south to the place he's always dreamed of going- Key West, one of the homes of Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. In a moment of symbolic portent, he drives his car to the end of the world and into the water at the end of Highway 1 (Highway 1 does not really end at the ocean's edge but it's great for effect). Not content with the possibility that the car may have survived the attempted drowning, he takes a revolver out of his jacket and shoots his car, assuring himself of his intent to stay.

Seaumus's introduction to the island moves quickly from here. Jo Jo, a Rastafarian immigrant, takes him to the newspaper where Seamus meets Cole, the newspaper editor, and gets his first assignment. Then off to Gumbo's, the end of the world bar and cafe where he finds an enraged barkeep threatening his island tour agent (Gumbo and Jo Jo have a slight disagreement over the girls in the bar). And we meet Savannah, the personification of the sexual soul of the island. Savannah (played with finesse and gentility by Jennifer Tilly) meets Seamus and gives him a taste of what he is really encountering by coming to Key West- it's not just a tropical vacation land, as she says, it's "magic here. There are Angels in the Spray, Wizards in the Palm Trees, and Elves in the Sea Shells..." Later, she meets a client, a young boy whose father has hired her for his defloweration. Her words to him? "Today, you're gonna learn everything you're ever gonna need to know about women. I'm gonna teach you. And when you walk outta here tonight you're gonna have a Ph.D. in me. And your stock is gonna soar. And your self-confidence is gonna go through the roof." In yet another scene she goes to the home of a woman who was injured in a car accident to be the woman's body for her husband. It is positively electric to see her sensuality working it's own magic on the inhabitants of the little island.

I first watched this show in July of 2005 with Maurice. There was a moment that seemed faintly familiar but the newness of the show overshadowed the vague familiarity and I let the moment flutter past, a memory butterfly heading for the next shaft of sunlight. At a later date, however, the moment was so poignant that I nearly caught my breath, recalling a night years earlier (it would have been January, 19 of '93 although I could not have told you the date when the sensation occurred) when I had flipped the channel to the new little station, Fox, to see what they were airing from lack of anything better to watch. Initially I was probably intrigued by the woman sitting in the wheelchair, informing the beautiful raven haired vision that she had been in an accident and she wanted her (Savannah) to be her body. But the scene was so overtly sexual that my own, then suppressed and stifled, sexuality was immediately offended by the implications of what the woman was suggesting.

I do not feel that I can adequately explain to you what I mean by "suppressed". Being raised in a fundamentalist christian home is one thing but there was background that clearly influenced my upbringing-- background that I did not fully understand of at the time and some I just didn't know.

Christianity itself is afraid of sexuality. At all points in the history of the church-- and even earlier among the Jews-- the followers of Yahweh have demonized women and marginalized them almost beyond recognition. The historical background of this is delineated by Sue Monk Kidd in her book Dance of the Dissident Daughter in far more detail than I have time to do here, but suffice it to say that the male-god images in Christianity were a powerful metaphor for the domination of the male in the home, the church and in politics (which was integrally connected to the church). It is not insignificant that the church remains one of the final institutions where women are simply not allowed to hold certain positions of leadership. It is this very connection to the godhead that gives christian men an authority that moves beyond humanity and places any woman in an automatic role of subordination. What little girls quickly learn is that momma has no power, momma is a lesser species and DADDY is like god. When, like in my case, daddy could care less that there is a little girl underfoot and the mother is too young to know anything about raising children- who was still a child herself- the implications to her personage are profound.

Add to this, my parent's sinful start... Having been nabbed by the church in their indiscretion and then having to face the judgment of people who, if truth be told were undoubtedly engaged in far uglier behavior than a youthful moment of passion, and you begin to see why I was a less than welcome presence for a man who was trapped into marriage. (The implications of living life "in community" where you are put in the position of living up to the expectations of the people of the church is yet another topic for another day- but it is appalling to envision the young couple weeping and begging forgiveness from people that had no business being involved in the situation in the first place.)

On top of that, recent revelations revealed that my mother was sexually molested by her brothers. It is obvious that her fear of men and their passions (and possibly her own) helped shape the opinions she spouted in regard to men and marriage to me. Having never dealt with the reality of the molestation, (to this day her relationship with her brothers remains outwardly like anyone else's. In the name of "forgiveness" my mother pretended it never happened and thus exposed other women, including myself, in the family to the same abuses. While understandable considering the fifties were a suppressed age that finally gave way to the "free love" generation, her insistence today that she was noble for forgiving them, is somewhat appalling), she married a man who had been raised by parents who were smothered with fear of sexual sin and had raised a son who was sexually repressed. (I don't know if there are more secrets concerning this particular emphasis. Most likely there was more abuse.) At any rate, there were many prejudices that were passed on to me and I was handed this information without full disclosure-- even into adulthood. (Had I known the background of my mother's abuse, some of the hysteria she imposed on me might have been diminished).

At any rate, all of these influences lent themselves to shaping my identity and I developed a sense of repugnance for my own sexuality.

Unfortunately, sexual urges are not like alcoholism or drug addiction-- they are an appetite that is more akin to the need for nutrition to the body. And it really is with great effort that you subordinate it-- especially to the extent that I controlled it. I was determined that I would not be controlled in any way by sexual urges. And in order to do so, I had to eradicate any visual or even musical stimulation-- even books that were sexually suggestive were taboo with the intent of keeping my "thoughtlife" pure. Sexually suggestive jokes were forbidden and even a friend's sexual disclosures caused a rosiness on my cheeks that exposed my discomfort. I worked very hard to be as pious as a priest in terms of my sexuality. The fact that I even had sex with my X is really evidence of further control by the church-- having been reprimanded at some point that it is a wifely responsibility not to withhold sex, I felt it was a... "necessary evil" so to speak.

It was at this point in my life that I watched the woman speaking to her husband about the passion they had once shared and saw Savannah's hand brush the man's cheek (he was blindfolded). The scene then switched to a darkened room with a black woman hovering around candles humming, working her voodoo.

Voodoo-- demons-- devil--

That was enough.

I changed the station away from the sinful scene, afraid to expose myself to the intensely carnal scene (nothing illicit is actually shown- the implication was enough) and the hint of black magic, I never darkened the doors of the Fox channel on Tuesday at 8 p.m. again.

That was then...

Since that time, having watched the show so many times now, I have gained an understanding of the connection that Savannah has to the island. And in addition to that I have also reconciled myself to myself. I have learned that my own sexuality is not something to be ashamed or afraid of and I can watch that scene with genuine appreciation. In fact it is remarkable to see a woman in such an intensely sexual manner without the usual focus of a cheap slut who is there to titillate and tie viewers to the screen with the tawdriness of it. While it is difficult to understand the nuances for many, Savannah's sexuality is intentionally oppositional to the mainstream T&A we see on television. Her mocking attitude toward the prince and his "staying power" and the speech she gives the "cherry" is a role reversal. Her intention to teach the young man about women is a distinctly different role than the one the prostitute generally plays-- one of sex toy to a man who has no interest in the woman he is with let alone pleasing her! This is a sexuality where the goal is to "know" women and to have them follow the boy around because he treats them well. It's revolutionary-- even 16 years after it was first aired. (After all, sexuality on American television remains very juvenile)

As I watch today I watch the scene with sincere admiration. It is, in fact, one of my favorite scenes. I now understand that my own sensuality is as much a part of who I am as the birthmark on my leg... as much a part of who I am as the course, curly ash-blond hair on top of my head. And celebrating the sexual soul is celebrating life and humanity!

Celebrating me!

This is now!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Quote for the day

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music- the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures... Forget yourself.” ~~Henry Miller


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