Friday, August 31, 2012

RIP to a Feminist Hero :Shulamith Firestone

for those of us in the 'second wave' of feminism,  shulamith firestone's 1970  'dialectic of sex' was crucial. bringing a deep knowledge of marxism to her feminist analysis, she forced her readers to think, to question, to analyze ideas sometimes terrifying in their intellectual scope. she was a fearless writer and thinker, and like all visionaries she was mocked as much as admired.  her book came out at the same time as the first of actor shirley maclaine's charming memoirs, and i remember vividly the anger i felt at the highly reputable book critic of the NY Times, who thought it would be amusing to compare the two books. maclaine gave a lovely picture of a liberated life that she and her husband lived, raising their daughter in both america and japan, he explained, while firestone gave ponderous theories of collective child care.  he seemed to find nothing ludicrous in comparing the tale of a rich and famous couple with a look at the lives of parents who were lucky if they could both feed and clothe their kids.   it was a bit like comparing garrison keeler to karl marx, but after all, this was just female stuff.  
over the years, more and more feminist analysis was produced, some as good as firestone's, most at least worthy of reading.  and as with all visionary works, some of firestone's visions collided with the specifics of later history.  some didn't.  some of our history has yet to catch up with her thinking.  

she never had a happy life, to my knowledge, and certainly not an easy one.  she died fairly young, at 67,  after bouts with various illnesses.  we were lucky to have her as long as we did.

anyone younger who is interested in feminism and in real feminist theory should read her; all these years later, there are still few among  us with the courage to explore the unknown frontiers of her theory. sad that she's gone, and i hope there is peace after this life and that she has found it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Friends

look at them! look!  cries the invisible child, shrill-voiced, agonized.  the woman is startled. this is not how the invisible child acts. what's wrong? she asks, but her friend just points to the wall. look at them! she repeats.

the woman looks and sees only a dull-brick building with gray windows.  in one of the windows is a thin plant, probably plastic.  the wall reeks of neglect--weeds climb up, vining where they can, passing indifferently over the lowest of the filthy windows.  no sign of people or pets. the building isn't even interesting enough to be ugly, and its degeneration doesn't speak of lives once lived and faded away, of human history abandoned.  the woman can think of no reason to look at it with pain or pleasure or even conscious indifference. finally she asks irritably, what am i supposed to be seeing?

they're separated! they can't even see each other any more!   all the world's sadness moans through the invisible voice--gloom, loneliness, the rack of the world pulling self from self.

and still the woman cannot see. what? what? she keeps asking echoes of the unseen grief.

the plant, whispers the child.  look at the plant!

the woman looks to the one living window. the plant, she now sees, is not plastic; the leaves are simply dulled with neglect. the dirt she cannot see has dried out.  yes, the plant, it seems to be dying, she says tentatively.

of course it's dying, the child cries, anger and anguish blending  jaggedly. they took its soul away!  she points to the twisting leaves below. vaguely the woman remembers the last time she passed this wall.  the weeds were lush, they covered everything, reaching nearly to the roof.  someone had cut them down and now, again ignored, they were tortuously climbing back up.  but they were no longer higher than the windows.

they were friends, the invisible child says sorrowfully, hopelessly.  the weed grew just up to the middle of the window and stayed there, while the others grew higher.  the weed and the plant were together, always together. no one bothered with them, weeds or people.

a worker in overalls walks by, and the woman talks to him.  does he work in this building?  oh no ma'am, he laughs. no one works there, not in all the years i've been here. old wreck of a building, not much left of it..  they'll be tearing it down soon, build a parking lot.

but the plant in the window, who owns it?

nobody. it just stays there. it'll go down with the building. smiles, nods, moves on.

but the weeds? she wants to ask.  what will they do with the weeds? no point; the man has gone and the question is foolish anyway.

oh don't worry about the weeds, the bitter invisible voice hisses. they won't die. people think they kill weeds, but they never really do. you'll see when it's a parking lot--you'll see the weeds sneak back, cracking through the stupid cement. the weeds will come home. but the friends won't be together, ever again.

and she's gone. the woman stands trembling. she watches the no-longer-there building, the blind emptiness around her.  the weeds will come back, they always do, she repeats to herself.  the invisible child will show up again, she always does.  the friends, she prays, will somehow reconfigure.   she leaves the path and walks toward the traffic, the crowds, the fast food chains, the lottery office.  she can't remember why she was on the alley road to begin with. maybe to say goodbye to a drying dying plant she'd never met, to a weed hopelessly climbing. there is a bus stop on the corner; she walks toward it gratefully.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Charismatic Catholic

when i was a catholic high-school kid, circa 1960, one of our religion assignments was to watch Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's weekly 1/2 hour television show.  since i obeyed it, we must have had to write reports or in some way prove our assignment was done.  i remember hating it.  later i recall being told that bishop sheen was charismatic;  recently i've seen a clip of one of the shows, and now i can understand the description.  i certainly didn't perceive any charisma at the time. he was boring, even with those fiery eyes, and he didn't even have any dancers or jugglers like ed sullivan did. ed sullivan i liked.

released from the odious obligation by graduation, i never expected i would willingly watch a religion  show again. then a few years ago, as i was channel-surfing, i came across pastor melissa. i watched, mesmerized, and soon became at least semi-addicted to pastor scott. she preached in a mega-church, and she was a fascinating variation on the snippets of mega-church shows i'd caught in previous channel surfs. to begin with, she is a stunningly gorgeous woman. and though she dressed in severe, alsmost nun-like black blouse and skirt-or-pants  outfit,  clerical collar the only exception to the blackness of the outfit, she had beautiful, flowing, waist-length hair.  that anomaly was itself glaring; the other thing i liked was the fact that i never understood what she was talking about.  other preachers on tv harangued about sin and hell, the usual stuff, and i'd had plenty of that with bishop sheen. but pastor scott was pure exegesis: she strode purposefully from  book stand to whiteboard, which was already covered with combinations of greek and roman alphabet words, which she dissected furiously with encirclings and arrows, explaining that while this word has been translated as 'fire,' in the original language it really meant 'heat'--or stuff to that effect.  nothing about birth control or abortion or homosexuality or sins of the flesh.  so nothing for me to get pissed at.  eventually i googled [as one  always does] and she turned out to be quite a character. she had been in the sex industry--hooker or stripper, i don't remember which--and went to church one day, where she heard a sermon from the elderly, brilliant pastor scott, and found salvation.  she and the pastor were eventually married, she studied and became a pastor herself, and at her husband's death took over his ministry.  posts about her were either worshipful ['she saved my soul and i've never had an unhappy day since'] or blisteringly bitter.  her husband had been accused of being a major con artist, and she, it was averred, had followed in his footsteps.

i have no idea which version was the truth, and i realize that for believers that matters a lot. as an unbeliever, however, i found her great fun.  eventually i deserted her--or maybe her show was cancelled--and felt no further desire to pursue televangelism.

recently, however, i have been called back to the tv faith.  there is a local [boston-area] catholic station, and one of its shows is called 'going my way.'  true to the inspiration for its title, it is wholesome enough to make 'leave it to beaver' seem raunchy.  yet its host is a priest i really do find charismatic.  father chris hickey loves what he's doing, and it shows.  he's having fun.  his charm is exactly the reverse of the eloquently melodramatic bishop sheen's. he has a distinct new england accent, and he is genuinely folksy.  not 'gee golly whiz' folksy, but the real thing.  he has a sort of sidekick, father paul rouse, who plays the piano.

and here's the thing. the first bit of the show is always an interview with a priest or nun or active layperson doing some church work in the community. honesty compels me to admit i've never watched this part of the show, but i will. i owe it to father chris. because in the second half, father chris and his guest sing. [hence father paul and the piano].  and what they sing is the upbeat music of the 30s and 40, and probably the 20s. the american songbook.  his voice is pleasant, if not outstanding, and father paul's piano playing is the perfect accompaniment.  sometimes the guest can't really carry a tune.  but the guest always picks up father chris's enthusiasm, and what is lacking in professionalism is made up by the sheer fun they're having.  father chris can carry off a love song with no hint of sensuality but a strong hint of love.  he may be the happiest ham in show biz.    he seems to be totally sincere.  i get the sense of a man who is in love with himself because he's in love with everybody in the world.

i don't know what his theology is, and maybe that's why i manage to avoid the first part of the show.  if he opposes birth control or gay marriage or obama's health plan, i don't want to know it.  all i want is to accept his invitation to 'sing along at home.'  i hope he wouldn't mind knowing he makes a pagan ex-catholic enjoy life just a little bit more.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Willful Hallucinations in the Hearing-Test Room

they sit you in a little peagreen room while a lady in the next room pushes computer commands that make beeps and when you hear a beep you push the button on a little black gizmo they give you. nothing is in the room, no pictures on walls, no calendars, no water cooler.  nothing to look at while you wait for beeps and buttons, except the door. It has a silver dark handle that’s held there by a couple of screwed-in circles on the top and bottom, and so you watch the screwed-in circles and the handle while you listen for beeps. the

bottom circle has screws on each side and a semicircle with little triangles on its edges which make it look like a cat face and i like beep watching  it, it’s more of a kitten face really and i’d like to pet it but i know  beep i should stay in the chair listening for beeps so  just watch the cat face and beep  then see a little mouth mark where she can beep purr from.  i don’t

 like the beep top circle which has no ears and isn’t a cat but a beep bigger creature with a terrible terrible beep beak that reaches down to the kitten’s head and beep i beep beep can’t warn the kitten she doesn’t know the beast will catch her in its beep beak and break her and how beep beep can beep i help her i can’t and there’s the last beep and then the lady in the other room says I can go home now. I want to tell her about the cat and the big beast but I know she won’t believe me, and I don’t believe me. still I yank the beak hard when i go out & hope I’ve injured it and i whisper goodbye to the cat , it’s

 like a hearing version of the eye chart when you read the lowest line, except i don’t hear things when get my eyes examined, which is good because who wants to listen to a cat scream and the sound of the monster-beak biting into its head?