Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa's Alter Egos

One of the charms of any feast day that lasts over the centuries is its intermingling with other mythologies.  When you feel too sorry for Santa Klaus and all his work on christmas eve, you can rest easy.  he has dozens of comrades, some well known, some less so.  time and space allow me to touch only on a few here, but they are a few i'm very fond of.

One, though his identity has been appropriated by Santa claus over the years, is the German Kris Kringle.   but chris was originally  a far worthier saint than our jolly red giant, or even than the good Dutch bishop sinter klaas who comes by ship from spain to the netherlands.  Kris kringle translates to Christ Child; the boy we worship is himself the giver of gifts to the rest of us.  which makes sense, when you remember that in christian mythology the reason the boy was  born was to give us the greatest gift of all--his life, in redemption for our sins.

the gift givers have never been an all-boys' club.  in the cold Scandinavian countries, it is Saint Lucia who brings light to us, quite literally--she wears a crown of lit candles as she makes her rounds.  two interesting, obviously interconnected female givers , are the russian babushka and the northern italian bafana, though bafana seems to be the older of the two.  in each case, she was approached by the three kings taking a shelter break from their star-following, and offered them hospitality.  in turn, they suggested shes come with them to meet the new child- king of the world.  but she was too busy with her housework, and decided to wait. by the time she was ready, they were long gone and the star had disappeared.  so every year, she travels the world with gifts for the christ-child, and, failing to find him, gives the gifts to other children.

i like the idea of the woman punished for taking housework too seriously and who gets a marvelous fling around the world once a year.  but more, i like the idea that different peoples from different countries and backgrounds have Incorporated the idea that children deserve gifts and special treatment once a year at least.  and that these ideas began long before consumerism took them over, out of a notion of pure love for a pure, poor child.  if the world survives its frantic rush to self destruction, i hope these gift givers survive with it.  we will need all the comfort and joy possible.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Necessary Sadness in Christmas

Christmas, as we  know, is infamous for escalating the level of depression among americans.  it heightens loneliness, despair, and fear with its insistence that we all be jolly and love our neighbors and chuckle like a 1940s film santa.  it excludes non-christians, throwing them a hanukkah bone and ignoring that hanukkah is a minor jewish holiday, not the year's biggest one.  it tortures parents without the wherewithal to buy their kids the goodies advertised since october, all, as is the nature of advertising, promising a degree of fulfillment once imaged only in tales of the heavenly afterlife.  it even promises snow on christmas day, a rarely met promise but a pretty one.

these are the negative christmas sadnesses.  the further we can get from them, the better off we who are christmas lovers will be. but there is another side to christmas sadness that we need to embrace, without which our happiness is, at best, a little shallow.  the feeling, and the rejection of it, are strikingly present in a popular song from 1944, which first appeared in a pleasantly fluffy film called Meet Me in Saint Louis.  Judy Garland plays a turn-of-the-20th-century teenager in love with the boy next store.  all is well  until her father gets a better job, far away, and the family must move from its beloved home and friends, and from garland's beau.  and it's almost christmas.   so she sings, with all the garland wistfulness, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  In this version, she gamely tells us that 'next year all our troubles will be out of sight," and that 'someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow,' and that 'until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."  Unfortunately, singers like frank sinatra and later barbra streisand got hold of the song and merried it up.  in these later versions, from now on our troubles will be out of sight, through the years we all will be together, and there will be no more muddling through, just hanging stars on the highest boughs.  anything negative just gets pushed aside like  broken glass ornament.

but we need the sadness of christmas, as well as its joy; indeed, the absence of the former taints the latter.  some other popular songs admit this: 'i'll have a blue christmas without you' [which my mother played frequently in the early 1970s when my brother was in vietnam]; 'i'll be home for christmas,' which sounds very happy until the last line, 'if only in my dreams.'  then there is the 20th century folk hymn, 'i wonder as i wander...why jesus the savior was born for to die.'  and that cracks it.  the exalted central myth of christmas is the story of death mingled with life.  that gorgeous babe in the manger exists solely for the purpose of dying, horribly, 33 years later.  and we, celebrating that birth, are equally mortal. we are surrounded by the void of our beloved dead, our absent loved ones, our unmet dreams, and our own ultimate mortality.  

dickens knew this.  those who read a christmas carol and see only a treacly happy story miss the point. the happiness is there, all right. but so is the loss--all of it. marley makes that clear when he shows scrooge the suffering poor and the ghosts trying, too late, to help them.  we cannot but know that tiny tim's survival comes out only through one man's personal conversion combined with a conveniently curable illness.  scrooge had destroyed many lives along the way to his conversion, not least of all his own.  [watch the quick-changing expressions on the face of alistair sim in the greatest film version of the book, and see decades of loss mingle with current joy.]

the secret to a full christmas lies in embracing the whole of the season, of the day.  as  dickens says in one of his essays, we must invite our beloved dead to join us, in the hope if not the faith that we will one day be reunited with them. we must sigh for our losses. and we must do the grand work of creating happiness, enough to carry us through the cold winter to come:  the winter we will likely survive but possibly die from; the happiness we hold through chill fingers as it tries to escape us; the joy of that noble mother who dared to rejoice in her child's birth and death.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The BLack Piet Controversy

i wish i had an easy answer here .my love for all things dutch and my moral compass seem to be in some sort of collision, added to which is that the racism of 'schwartze piet' is very different from the racism that imbues american culture. the new  york times article on the subject does a large disservice by implying that the origin of piet's blackness is believed in nederland to be the dust covering chimney sweeps.  it's less innocent than that and at the same time less ghastly than our racism. [this doesn't let the dutch off the hook, by the way.  the main difference between their slavery and ours is that we dragged our slaves home from africa, while the western european slaveowners stayed on their conquered land and maintained slavery there. the dutch were especially cruel to escaped slaves who were captured, and, victims themselves of the spanish inquisition, meted out tortures the pope would have found impressive.]

but black piet isn't a descendant of those slaves. he is, rather, a moor.  their santa claus is much truer to his origin than our coca-cola boy.  he's sinterklaas, as in saint nicholas, a genuine [though thin, ascetic looking] bishop who lived in the middle ages.  his kindness to the poor evidently transformed after his death into the giving of presents to good children.  in once-Spanish-colonized nederland, he remains spanish, and comes over on a ship to holland. schwartze piet is his servant, not slave, and dresses in an approximation of the medieval moors, just as sinterklaas  dresses in an approximation [bright red, however] of a medieval bishop's garb.  piet is definitely black, and definitely inferior to santa--but no more than any worker for  a good but demanding boss would be. over the years, piet has been cloned, so in the children's books i use to practice my dutch, there are often a bunch of piets, each with control over his own department.  and though they will give coal rather than goodies to bad kids, they give nuts and fruits and nice presents to the good ones on st. Nickolaus day, dec.5.

as a political figure, then black piet is less a figure of racism than a reflection of the cycle of war, invasion, imperialism, colonization, and its nasty accouterments.  the moors invade spain; the spanish invade the netherlands, the netherlands invade africa and the new world, and round and round it goes. maybe it's nice that the spanish inquisitors gets turned into a kindly saint who gives gifts to children, while the moors who invaded spain hang around to help the spanish guy out.  but i'm an american, and the sight of the comic little black figure can only make me cringe.  it will be interesting when i go back to nederland next month to talk to my friends there.  what does that african figure mean to them? how much is it a necessary part of their culture?  and does it matter that the good saint figure comes from the land that colonized the dutch?  what would be left of their Christmas mythology if parts of it were changed; what happens to their reputation as the west's most tolerant nation if they aren't changed?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"two cheers" for thanksgiving...

family and friends and good food....wonderful things. but like so much of history--american and otherwise--there is the sad and terrible side.  so i ask us all to remember, as we celebrate the joys of the day, that it is built on a lie about european settlers and natives feasting together and sharing everything. our ancestors [literal and mythical] committed genocide against the native peoples.  ugly word, ugly fact. however we may have redeemed the 'thanksgiving' story by how we have lived it among ourselves, we have an obligation to remember the history. and with that, i do wish you all a happy thanksgiving in the present.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting-aling-aling

let me start this by saying i am in no way an expert on death and dying.  i am not a doctor, or a medical writer, or even an amateur who has read a lot.  perhaps more important, i do not have as of yet any major life threatening diseases.  i have two chronic conditions, asthma and depression, either of which can be fatal, but also, with decent medical  care, can be controlled with medications and to some extent life-style  choices.  i want to emphasize this because i have strong feelings of what i would want to do facing a fatal illness, and that i am  fully aware of the huge gap between what-i-would-do-if and what-i-will-do-now that i have this condition.  however, more important than how accurate i am in self-predicting is that i am [a] glad that more options are being publicized and [b] sad that others are ignored.

Dr. susan love recently posted on facebook a terrific new york times article about doctors with fatal illnesses choosing to end cure-aimed or life-prolonging treatment when their illnesses have reached a clear point of no return.  instead these doctors opt for palliative care that leaves them in good enough shape to live at home with their families and to do the things they want as long as they can.  in place of a possible few weeks longer  spent physically but painfully alive in the wake of  further chemo, radiation, or surgery,  they have chosen quality over quantity.  the article lamented that this option is not more publicized and that the medical profession in general does little to promote it, or even to suggest it to patients as a possibility.

what concerns me, though, is the given that the only options mentioned are the conventional, die-in-hospital-tied-to-tubes-and-miserable or die- at-home-surrounded-by-loved-ones.  there are at least two other possibilities that i would like to see get more press.

does everyone want to be surrounded by loved ones when they are in the last stages of disease, and to be with these loved ones at the moment of death?  maybe. probably more would than wouldn't, given the choice.  but what i think now that i want is to be somewhere far from anyone i know, being treated palliatively by paid strangers to whom i owe no debt of love and who owe me no emotion beyond
friendly, professional compassion.  i want books and a television, a computer if i'm able to write, and solitude.  maybe a nice volunteer to  occasionally share opinions on the tv shows i watch.  mortality is a humbling enough experience; i don't need to be more humbled by the survival of healthy, hovering loved ones. if i'm alone in feeling like that, it doesn't matter if this possibility gets attention. but i doubt that i am--i'm not so original as all that.  nor do i think it's a particularly better way to be.  but it's one way to be.

the other concern is that i think the options of suicide, assisted or not, needs to be addressed. i know it is addressed in articles as a separate topic, but i'd like to see it discussed anywhere alternatives to extended medical treatment are discussed.  that its illegality needs be abandoned is to me a given.  but the stigma needs also to go.  i don't think it's crazy or wrong to want to die, and to effect that death oneself, at a certain point of pain, decay, helplessness.  'who's life is it anyway?' is a very legitimate question.  i don't want to die like my mother did, of an illness that paralyzed her so totally that she couldn't finally let us know if she needed to scratch an itch.  in her more mobile times, she tried, feebly, to smother herself by putting a pillow over her face.  she had no strength to make it hold, even if she'd been allowed to  continue. had she wished to kill herself earlier? we had no way of knowing.  i want the choice of suicide, if i have a progressive and paralyzing disease like she did, and i want the knowledge of  how to do it, with or without medical assistance.

i would hope, as would many of us, that all this would become moot to me-- that like my grandfather, who was a fairly healthy 80-something when  as he was he reaching up to get what he wanted at a department store, had a sudden, instantly fatal heart attack.  like woody allen, i don't want to be there when i die. if that causes some confusion in the transition to the next life, i'll deal with it. immortality must have its resources. meanwhile, if fate decides otherwise, i want a range of workable alternatives, from the right to cling to every last minute of life with every medical treatment possible, to palliative care, at home or alone, to suicide, and to whatever other possibilities  might exist.  in the unwinnable battle against death, let me fall on my own painless sword.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


''This is an excerpt from a blog posted on facebook. The blog is id’d only as Research & HE blog roll, and the article is a take on how various scholarly modes might play out the old  ‘’how many….does it take to change a lightbulb’’ joke:  probably of interest chiefly to people caught up in academia and its language, and old enough to remember lightbulb jokes.

"… postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ and its phalogocentric privileging  of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. .."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

I seem to say this often, but it so often bears saying.  I think we should respect the fact that soldiers go to war with the propaganda of chauvinism in their minds.  they are told that they are doing something wonderful for US citizens, regardless of the moral justification for whatever war they are fighting. Once in the war, they kill and they often get killed. they watch their comrades die. they live lives of fear and drudgery and horror. and they come home often with terrible physical and emotional wounds the rest of us can barely imagine.

for those who believe the propaganda, i feel sorrow and respect. for those who go so they can get better education, and/or support their families, and/or offer their children better lives than they have had, i also feel sorrow. i do not feel thankful--at least not towards veterans of any recent war.  world war 2, yes.  korea, vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, no.  i am sad that they have been used as cannon fodder for the rich and powerful in the US, but i am not grateful.

what i do feel that we owe them is far from what they get all too often--help, consistent, steady medical and emotional help for the aftereffects of what has been done to them.  that there are homeless vets, unemployed vets, suicidal vets, vets living in misery and confusion because of the wars they've fought: this is a national disgrace. instead of easy flagwaving and more propaganda, our government should offer as much healing as is possible for the permanently scarred men and women among this much-heralded and little-helped population. for that, at least, i would be thankful.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Facebook and My Castle Dwellers

when i first got onto facebook, it was for one major reason: i wanted to be in touch with, or at least know what was happening, with as many as possible of the students i'd had at emerson college's semester abroad program, in which i've taught the spring semester for the last quarter century.  although my 'freinds' now include many non-students,  that vast and lovely crew has remained core for my facebook experience.  recently kim. a 1986 student, posted a challenge to all her facebook buddies: explain why you have stayed with one particular facebook friend over time.  instead of choosing one person, i picked all my castle kids.  [that's right: we live together in a 17th century dutch castle].  i got a great response to the post, so i decided  to pretty it up and post it here.

 teaching at the castle has had its ups and downs, so many ups i barely remember the downs. to live among your students, to in some way share their lives--it would be hard to explain what that has meant, and continues to mean, to me. it's actually the decision to get onto facebook was inspired by a very sad event. a few years ago, a castle kid, whom i didn't know well but liked immensely, died of leukemia. the kind of grief i felt was hard to place. i was neither relative nor friend, and i didn't feel the loss of this special young man on that level. but i did grieve, and there was no one to share that with. i wanted to know that from now on, i would have a place to turn if something like that would ever happen again. it has happened again, i'm sorry to say, two years ago--another bright, talented young man died, unexpectedly.  this time his fellow students were there, and i could post my own sadness at  his loss
yet the 'kids' have been so much more. i love knowing what they've been doing. i love when they graduate, and get jobs they like, and marry, and have kids [tough tony from my second term turned beaming daddy, so proud of his kids his smile seems to break out of the confines of his pictures when he posts photos of his family;  patty, who spent so much of her time at the castle pounding the piano, and who is now an international pianist/performer], with their happy and sad news. in some cases, i've gotten to know them on a whole different level than i did at the castle.  i enjoy the teaching that i do at home, and i do keep up with some of those students as well.  but the intimacy of the castle creates a special bond among what the director likes to call her 'castle dwellers,' and that intimacy includes faculty and staff. i have been so very lucky.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

TV and Me--Final Episode (For Now)

Briefly, three current shows and why i like them:

NCIS--Like the other two I'll discuss, this is implicitly right wing:  a bunch of heroes who work for the CIA are unlikely to be liberals.  But it's terrific entertainment.  I have wondered why I've found it so, given the rah-rah-america undertones, few women, and only one person of color, who is the head of the department but far from the lead character. i could argue that one of the key characters, abbie,  is female, brilliant, and refreshingly odd. but that would be only partially honest. there was, until the actor's recent resignation, another brilliant female character--ziva, who was annoyingly beautiful but cool.  [and yes, i was one of those people who had to see the episode about  ziva's departure and her near-romance with tony culminating in a passionate kiss.] The plots are unavoidably repetitive: at least half of the TVGuide blurbs begin with "a marine is found dead in...'' But the action always works, because, i think, it's a terrific acting ensemble.  And it has among the cast the terrific, aging [also a relelif to me] david mccallum as the chief medical officer, briskly efficient but deeply compassionate: he always gently talks to the corpses he is dissecting, and these monologues are one of the show's highlights.

the spinoff of NCIS, NCIS LA, has a good cast, though not as fine a cast as its parent show.  but it has something that  the former show doesn't--linda hunt. hunt is one of the few female actors who succeeded in hollywood without being conventionally beautiful--or even pretty.  She was amazing in the 1982  film, The Year of Living Dangerously,  in which she played, believably and stunningly, a chinese-australian  male dwarf.  A tiny woman and now an elderly one, she sparkles as the head of the agency, and is a constant presence, radiating a strength that easily surpasses the talents of the rest of the cast.  the show itself is fun, but i watch it chiefly to see her.

finally, there's my butterscotch sundae, the show i indulge in with no nutrients, but pure pleasure--the summer show covert affairs. like drop dead diva, it was divided into two sections--half of which played in the summer, half in fall. since affairs started later in the fall than ddd, i get to enjoy it for a few more weeks.  it's another cia show, this time occupied by undercover [hence the 'covert'; the 'affairs' is pure sexual come-on] agents. the hero is annie walker, young-and-beautiful, and able to successfully flee from or pursue baddies--usually rogue agents from other countries--in stilleto heels and tight dresses.  she can also jump from the shore into a boat moored nearby in a single leap without scratching an ankle [although to be fair, she did this in low-heeled boots].

 so okay, verisimilitude isn't its strong point. in fact the second most important character [competing with annie in importance, if you take the fan mail seriously] is her handler, auggie, who was blinded in iraq and is almost as much a super-hero as annie. through 3 seasons he was also her best buddy, and anyone who doubted they would become lovers wasn't paying attention from day one.  last summer's season ended with their first kiss; this season began with them as a couple, with a flashback to their first night of sex, complete with the ubiquitous tv satin blanket covering him to the waist and her to just above her breasts.  i always think these blankets are specially made to be 5 inches higher on one side than the other.  and while the scene was appropriately sexy, the camera did a lot more moving around than the lovers.

but they have been an absolutely endearing couple, with as much tenderness as sexiness always in view, even at their most angst-ridden.  and honesty compels me to admit that this is what i watch it for. i love the action sequences, and the plotting the cia agents --and yes, they're all gorgeous--get involved in. this season has been a bit darker than the earlier ones, with annie, auggie, and the crowd in their different way out to defeat super-villain henry wilcox, until recently a higher-up in the cia.  this separates our lovebirds, as annie 'goes rogue' in her pursuit of wilcox and her determination to disband his evil empire.  i do like when we see bad apples in the cia.  annie follows henry's trail to geneva, disguised with dyed but not cut hair--no scissors will shear those sex locks!--and at one point actually tortures to death one of his henchmen, whom she has tied to a chair.  the scene should be appalling, but the writers set it up with a strain of gallows humor: the henchman receives each of annie's vicious blows with an appropriate scream, then blandly critiques her performance. since we see lots of blood and body goo, she's clearly doing a fairly good job, and one does wonder what his complaint is. when she sets out to use electric torture, sticking both of his legs into pails of water, a lamp gets knocked over into the water, and the obnoxious torturee is dead before she can get the info she needs from him.

still, none of this is why i watch. i watch for the pure romantic perfection of annie and auggie.  they are a gorgeous fantasy of tortured but true love.  what straight woman wouldn't want an auggie? what straight man woildn't want an annie?  but then, what decent perosn wouldd want to interfere with their terrific symmetry?  the show's fan mail is loaded with fierce demands to keep them together, or to separate them and pair annie up with a seasoned israeli rogue agent who often appears on the show.  these fans, as far as i can see, are as passionate as the ddd fans but without the friendly banter of the latter.  maybe it's the cia influence: these fans are out to kill.  but  how can i criticize them?--i'm one of them. break up a&a, and i'll do worse than kill. i'll remove one aging spinster from their viewers.  that'll show them.  jump on those boats without me, annie walker!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Installment in the Adventures of India Footlock

It was on the afternoon of the Vandellen’s Annual Charity Event that we learned about the time India Footlock had been bitten by a fish.  The Event was as dreary as such events tend to be: you presented your invitation, paid for long in advance, to a butlerish sort of man and entered a large room that had once been a ballroom, and began to approach a huge table that held pots of sour coffee and soggy sandwiches.  Then you carried, precariously, your paper cup and paper plate and drifted about looking for a place to sit.  We had long since learned that to get a spot with enough chairs together to seat those of our group we knew were coming we had to arrive early; by now we had, by unspoken agreement,  always included an extra chair for when India joined us. We knew that she would show up, and that sooner or later she would meander toward us and, if seating were available, join us.
         She showed up fairly soon, looking with mild distaste at her plateful of lettuce and pale salmon as she carefully lowered herself into her chair. “I was bitten by one of these long ago,” she said, “and haven’t trusted them since.”
         With anyone else, we would have assumed a metaphoric meaning: the speaker had gotten ill from eating spoiled lettuce, or too much salmon, that sort of thing.  With India, such an assumption was questionable.  After a moment’s hesitation and a near sigh, Riply took the lead.  “You mean,” he asked cautiously, “a salmon bit you?’’
         “Yes,” she replied.  “Of course, I was fairly young at the time.”  We all nodded, and she continued.  “It was in one of the foster homes, where the people were very nice, and tried to make sure we all had educational experiences.  So one Sunday, they took us all out to a fish hatchery.  Have you ever been to a fish hatchery? No?  I wouldn’t recommend it.  They’re very boring—at least this one was; I’ve never been to one since.  Just these square pools full of baby fish, who don’t do much but swim around in circles, poor things, and then there’s one real little lake with examples of what the fish look like when they grow up, which isn’t much more interesting than the baby pools.  I had eaten  tuna salad earlier in the day, and some must have remained on my fingers. Anyway my fingers felt greasy and I stuck them into the water.  I was daydreaming about something; you do tend to daydream when they’re making you watch baby fish all day.  And one of the grownup fish must have thought I was a tuna.  Silly, wasn’t it?  Tuna are awfully big; a little salmon couldn’t eat one, now could it? But whatever the reason, the wretched thing dug its teeth into my finger; it felt like a knife cutting and I screamed and yanked my hand up, with the nasty salmon attached to it, and the teeth pulling the wound further open with the weight of the fish, which fell onto the ground.  I was bleeding  and I was and scared of getting rabies, because those shots, you know, are very painful but if you don’t get them you die.  So I started, quite sensibly, to scream, which brought the other foster children, lost no doubt in their own daydreams, to attention.  They ignored me, all but one little boy, who glared at me and pointed to the flapping fish at my foot. 
         “If you leave it there it will drown,” he yelled at me, and pushed the creature back into the water with his foot.  Someone eventually found me a band-aid, and I never did get rabies, so I guess that was alright.  But I’ve never trusted the ghastly creatures since.” She popped the salad into her mouth, winced, washed it down with coffee, and winced again.  Then she smiled at us and walked on to another group of people, stopping at the table on the way to grab a fresh sandwich.  Prunella watched her, and then looked at us.  “You don’t suppose she ever got bitten by a chicken, do you?” she asked.

Monday, October 28, 2013

TV and Me

Good news for lovers of Drop Dead Diva: Lifetime network has already renewed it for a sixth season.  Last year at this time, nobody knew if it would be renewed or not.  Lifetime hemmed and hawed and finally announced that it was being canceled.

fans, myself included, were furious.  they had kept us, and the actors, writers, and everyone involved with the show waiting far too long. fans were also concerned that the actors were contract bound and thus couldn't look for new longterm work. so we wrote letters, petitions, and emails by the hundreds--and Lifetime changed its mind.  this  year, apparently, they didn't want to wait for the onslaught.

DDD is among the shows created by an interesting new programming device that the 2nd-tier cable channels have been using in the past few years--new programming for summer only. (this  year, however, that too has been tweaked: a few of the summer shows, DDD included, did half the shows in the summer and held the rest for the fall.  i'm not sure of the reasoning, but it's great to see my favorite shows through the early fall.)  DDD's fifth season ends next week.  it's been an up and down season, but overall a good one.i think the writers fail in consistency too often: a 'good' character suddenly turns nasty, or deserts his pregnant lover, etc, not in a way that shows complexity or nuance but simply in a way s/he wouldn't act. tonight's episode was one of the better ones, with Deb's mother being arrested for soliciting sex.  She is innocent of that; in her loneliness, and the bizarre effects of a recent surgery, she picks up a  lot of guys in bars.  What is great here is that we are not asked to condemn her promiscuity, but to accept it, in a world in which a woman over 40 is considered past her sell-by date. I love it when the show takes on social issues [over the years, it has won several awards from gay and  lesbian organizations).  yet  its major message--the sexiness of jane, who is fat--is diluted by the fact that everyone else in her law firm is model-thin.  again, this is inconsistent dramatically and in terms of its own theme.  still, given what we have on tv in general, it's a superior show.

next sunday is its last episode till the summer, but i'm not as bereft as i might be. a small but one hopes growing station is airing reruns of another of my favorites that, sadly, was cancelled and stayed canceled, leverage.  since i've missed a lot of episodes over the years, i'm glad for the chance to catch up; reruns are fine too.  leverage is an interesting show: sort of mission impossible meets robin hood meets m*a*s*h meets low-key marxism.   here a group of five ex-criminals turns its talents toward helping those exploited by the rich and the powerful. it begins each episode by announcing this, explaining that 'we give them [the underdogs] leverage.' thus it has been an implicit critique of the US economic policies that area knocking down more and more middle- and working-class citizens.  at the same time, it is always funny.  technically each of the characters has a different skill.  nate is the brains behind the whole thing, and working for him are a tough martial arts expert, eliot; a failed actress who can fake accents and characters of all sorts for their con jobs, sophie; an expert computer hacker , hardigan; and a cat burglar, parker.  in fact, everyone takes on some degree of 'acting' in their often convoluted and multi-faceted cons; all have intellects suitable to the work they do;  eliot is a splendid cook who can take on that role when they are undermining crooked restaurant owners; and geek hardisan can fight nearly as well as eliot if he needs to.

i have my favorites among these characters: parker, with her terrible social skills--the result of a dickensian childhood of crime and little parenting--can be funny and sometimes touching, and loves her work.  she frequently joins their meetings hanging upside down from the ceiling.  and hardison is witty, clever and fun in, as he gleefully admits, a geeky way. slowly throughout the seasons, these two have become close to each other, and ultimately lovers.  this has its downside, though.  granted, romance is a low priority on the show: still, nate and sophie have a vague, tentative relationship, and we do see them in  bed occasionally.  while the vibes emanate between parker and hardison, we never see a kiss or, as far as i can tell, a hand-holding.  i can only guess that this is to please any racist viewers around: parker is pale blonde, hardison dark black.  the intensity of their feelings for each other will sometimes be evident in an episode--most outstandingly one in which hardison has been buried alive, and the group is desperately trying to find him among hundreds of graves.  parker contacts him by their omnipresent hidden listening devises, and she fiercely talks to him, keeping him from giving up hope, keeping her own emotions in check yet clear to the viewer, until she does the impossible and finds him.  his gratitude, her relief, are clear: yet nary a clinch.   even when they move in together and tell the rest of the crew that they've done so, they sound and act like roommate chums rather than lovers.  it has been a disappointment in an otherwise gutsy show.

okay, we've covered my sundays, and as always i've written a long piece.  covert affairs will wait for another day, as will ncis:la. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Two Susans

had a lovely lunch today with susan love, who wrote DR. SUSAN LOVE'S BREAST BOOK with me as her co-author, and her wife and daughter. We've been in touch sporadically over the years, but the last time i saw her in person was, i think, about 20 years ago. she has recently had leukemia, and her bone marrow transplant has had great results. i had known of susan before i actually met her through one of her patients who was a dear friend of mine and died in 1991. before her death, susan shapiro founded the women's community cancer project. when i got home, in the mail was a form letter from the project, announcing its closing. saddening. but it lasted all these years and helped change the face of how cancer affects women on many levels, and the importance of researching environmental factors. so ending my day with thoughts of my two susans and their magnificent fights against cancer....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

TV's Recent Gems and Near-Gems

you lose some, you win some.  for a few weeks, my sunday evenings were two hours of pure television bliss. from 8 to 9 there was PBS's exquisite mini-series, Last Tango in Halifax Lord, what a refreshing show! the plot sounds pure Hallmark: 2 elederly widowed people who were in school together 50  years earlier meet again when alan's young grandchild persuades him to look for celia on facebook.  they meet again, each admits that they were in love with the other back then, and have remained so ever since, and decide, after an hour of wonderful conversation, to get married.  their middle aged children are appalled, then supportive.

but this was far indeed from a hallmark movie. the two, played magnificently by derek jacoby and ann reid haven't a trace of adorable codger about them.  they are adults who are in their  late 70s, and have grown and lived over the years.  their daughters too are complex adults, both with troubled lives that their parents can't change. at first hostile to each other, they become fast, supportive friends.  Alan's daughter Gillian is a widow with a strong libido; celia's daughter caroline is recently divorced fro her philandering husband and is having an affair with a female colleague in the university where both work. neither is at all discomfited with her new friend's sex life, nor is alan.  celia, in other ways a strong liberal, is rigidly opposed to her daughter's relationship with a woman, nor can she handle the idea that caroline had enjoyed her marital sex life before she kicked her husband out for his infidelity. needless to say, the series treats both the daughters' sexual lives without a hint of exploitation.  nor are we expected to react with distaste to the openly sexual nature of the elderly couple's relationship.  sex, like all the realities of life, lives gently in this homey, comfortable world.

all of this  makes celia's obstinate fury to caroline's lover startling, as it is to alan, and in fact nearly destroys his love for her.  his liberalism, even more than hers, is core deep, and probably a lot closer to left than liberal.  it's also matter of fact, a core-deep humanity that opposes people hurting each other.   for celia, the realization that she has injured not only her beloved daughter but also the man she is in love with, shakes her enough to make her confront her own bigotry and approach caroline's lover with a heartfelt apology.   yep, a happy ending, with not a smidgen of saccharine. for the fans of the show, there's an equally happy ending: a second season of the series will be shown next summer.

TV is rarely this good with elderly characters, and in america, at least, on the rare occasions when it is, the show seldom succeeds. {I  don't know how this plays out in England, except that the BBC also had a hit that pbs aired in the early 1990s--a broad, hilarious sitcom called Waiting for God, which was set in a retirement home run by a money hungry jerk named harvey baines [or, as residents Diana and Tom refer to him ''the idiot baines'']. Diana fights baines and all he stands for with militant wit and anger; she had s pent her life as a photojournalist, covering wars and politics.  Tom is a gentle soul, given to playing with people's perception of him as demented.  he lives a rich fantasy life, closing his eyes and becoming a john wayne character, or james bond, or whatever hero of whatever fantasy he has crafted. when pulled away from his escape world, he cheerfully apologizes for being preoccupied and explains that he has been busy making passionalte love with veronica lake.  these two characters are opposite versions of resistance, and their attacks on the idiot baines and all he stands for are marvelous funny, in the face of a literally morbid world, in which people are sent to age into death. like alan and celia, they become lovers, and they don't marry only because diana is opposed to the institution of marriage. so they live in sin happily as long the gods allow.

the US has had its elderly heroes, though the one that always gets touted, Murder She Wrote, is really about a middle-aged character.  Judging Amy [about which i'll write another time] was one of those grandly progressive tv shows that flourished for some reason in the early 21st century, and though Amy was as youthfully beautiful as you could hope for,  one of the two crucial barely secondary characters was her mother, played by tyne daly, one of our truly fine actors.  maxine, in her 60s, is bolder and less rule-bound than her daughter, a social worker fighting passionately for the rights of the throwaway children her jobs connects her to. widowed, she falls in love with a man her age, played by richard crenna.  there are a couple of fairly explicit bedroom scenes with the two,  in one of which maxine leans over him, pulling the pins out of her bunned hair, so that it falls sensually over his face.  again, no cute codger there.  [more about amy and the brief golden age of the early 2000's on a later post.]

recently we did less well with nbc's  harry's law,' with Kathy Bates, in which an aging female lawyer named Henrietta fights the good fight--interestingly, from a conservative perspective.  the show lasted barely two seasons.

this post started out with the topic of my sunday night tv shows, but it's already too long. so another time for drop dead diva, which ends its current season in two weeks, leaving me not totally bereft since a small cable station, wbin, is airing reruns of the too-soon-canceled leverage.  that too will appear with DDD and probably the puffy spy show covert affairs, which has oddly become my favorite just-for-entertainment show in recent months. stay tuned....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hooray for Me!!

As most of you know, i've taken up writing 'flash fiction' these past few months.  Not sure why; they just started coming into my mind,  and seemed happy there.  Along with the 'series' ones, like the   India Footlock group [which has so far underwhelmed both my blog and facebook readers} are severally self-sustained short-short stories.  The most recent one i wrote for a specific publication that wasn't accepting any new stories except for christmas themed ones. i figured that gave me a chance so i wrote a story, based on the rag-doll Jesus i've written poems about in the past.  the publication promptly rejected it, alas, but i trudged onward [you can tell the depression had ended because i haven't done much trudging for a couple of years], and just as promptly as the first online mag rejected it, the second accepted it.  the publication is called Linguistic Erosion, and appears daily.  "The Jesus Ragdoll" will be published on the first page, on Christmas day.

The cynic in my soul reminds me that I've published books, for heaven's sake, and articles galore, at least in the old days.  but it's been a long while between bylines, and as i said, i'm new at flash fiction. so i'm feeling a mild version of what i felt over 50 years ago when my first poem was published in a small poetry mag.

i will remind you closer to the time so you can prepare to spend about 2 minutes of the christmas season reading a brilliant bit of flash fiction.  [and of course will publish here my yearly xmas card poem, but it won't be a poem this time: i guess i'm hooked on flash fiction...]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In 14 hundred ninety two...

Honesty prevents me from wishing you all a happy Columbus day.  but i wish you a day away from work, and the prayer that in 100 years or so from now, our descendants will being taking off to celebrate a happy End of Colonialism Day.  so in case we don't all make it to that day, that's what i wish you now:


Saturday, October 12, 2013


this is the latest complete India Footlock tale. i have been hesitant to put it here b/c the 2 friends who read it didn't get it, so it may just be weird.  but i haven't posted here much lately, so i thought i'd see if anyone else got it, liked it, hated it, or whatever

‘Speaking of such things,’ Gloria remarked one afternoon, when we had not in fact been speaking of such things at all, and hadn’t been for several weeks [she had, like all of us, picked up India’s habit of non sequiter, which consisted of suddenly hearkening back to a conversation from weeks or month ago], ‘what do people think of the notion that each of our lives exists simultaneously on several different planes that don’t know about each other?  Like a kaleidoscope where each possible combination of stones already exists when we see the one that seems to come up alone?”

India nodded.’ So that each possible thing that might happen to you in a given instant actually is happening in its own realm.’

Uh-huh,’ Gloria nodded.  ‘Only it’s much more complicated than that, because most things that happen to you happen between you others—like the eight of us sitting here. And so that each possibility that could exist for every one of us exists on planes that are both individual and collective.  Like, reimer here has dozens of possibilities, but in some of them he’s with us, and others not. and each of us too has dozens of possibilities, some of which include the others.’’

‘well, in at least one of these possibilities, I’m getting dizzy,’ muttered Joel.

‘she’s quite right, you know,’  India said firmly. "The possibilities are endless, and quite intriguing.  And when you think further than in some of our other-planes, we are different ages or races or temperament, because each possibility for each person carries a separate history.  For instance,’ she turned to me, I assume because I was sitting next to her. ‘On one plane, you and I could be young lovers, gently touching each other for the first time.’

I gulped, and joel snickered. much as we all loved India, her place in our hearts was as a more genteel and subversive version of Auntie Mame, not as a hot young woman.  And yet, even as I thought this, a vision shimmered through a scrim of not-quite-fantasy, and there was a young, thin, fragile india, dressed in an opaque negligee, her arms around my neck and her small, firm breasts pressing into my chest, as I trembled in my first, awkward caress, while outside, india’s voice continued in its usual neutrally cheery tone.  ‘’of course, we could as easily be a pair of hungry rats tearing each other to pieces over a scraggly bit of some long-rotting animal corpse.’’

‘eieuw,’ said Gloria, and joel laughed: ‘india, I never knew you were a romantic!’ the others, myself among them, rushed to change the subject.  Yet the feeling that remained with me the rest of the day was neither of our lightly but caringly bonded group nor the ghoulish brutality of the starving rats.  It was a slight and contented erotic tenderness to a girl I’d never seen but somehow had known well, and I wondered what was happening between those lovers who might have been india and me and who I knew I’d never see again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Whole Week Un-depressed

i can't believe it!  thank the gods for Abilify!  after 2 years, what a relief!

Friday, October 4, 2013

happy birthday keith

today would have been my kid brother's 66th birthday; he died at 33.  it still hurts not be able to tease him about his balding, or being a grandfather, or any of the other signs of old age.  i still miss him.

and, in the sometimes dreary life-goes-on motif-- today is the 3rd day in a row in which, though hardly happy, i'm not actively depressed.  keith would be happy for that.....

Friday, September 27, 2013

O, Lucky Me!

my local supermarket is bringing back that irritating 'benefit' of the 1950s--stamps you are given with a certain amount of money spent, stamps which will go, as i recall, either to one specific item or to one of a series of items.  Anyway, Shaw's is giving customers stamps toward some sort of dinnerware set. i have yet to accept a single stamp; it's too complicated and my dishes are ancient melmac which never breaks so why do i need a perky new set?

at the same supermarket, you can also buy your monthly transit set, something i do use, so today i dropped by to get my october pass.  as i was about to recycle my receipt,  i glanced at the bottom of it.

surrounded by asterisk stars was a lovely announcement, which read as follows:

You have earned    0
Racheal Ray Dinnerware Stamps

 i wonder when i'll have time to redeem them, and exactly what i'll get for that many?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reflecting on my Reflection

interesting experience tonight about part of the way my depression works. as most of my friends, cyber and otherwise know, i've  been in the midst of a nasty depression for around 2 years.  its severity ranges from feeling almost not awful to feeling deadly awful--and always, always sleepy [though it hasn't helped my insomnia go away]. anyway tonight i was waiting for the elevator to the T [subway or metro to you non-boston types], feeling pretty much down but okay, and watching the glass door to see when the elevator came.  you know how sometimes if you see your reflection when you're not thinking about it, there can be the tiniest fraction of a second when you see it not as you but someone else in front of you? well, that happened, and although feeling utterly homely and dowdy is pretty much a constant these days, the woman in the glass struck me as someone strong, attractive, and definitely with an air of 'style' that was her own and quite striking.

when i realized 'she' was myself and kept on watching her, she kept that air; it amused and pleased me that, totally polyestered as i was, i thought i looked great,  and grandly self confident.  this is an alien feeling these days: actually the idea that i looked attractive and strong has been alien for decades.  at the same time, i felt the core of the depression deeply; when it's bad it always feels like a very thick long gray pipe going from the top of my head to the bottom of my torso.  but here, it felt like my soul had divided itself, each part highlighting the other.  the proud ego pulled me ahead, and at one point i actually smiled. but the smile itself called attention to the stubborn, hateful gray pipe.  they didn't clash with each other; each claimed its place and stayed there.  then i got to my destination and my work took over.  i taught my class a bit over-intensely, and got way off topic, but in what i think, and my students clearly thought, was a useful way.

back to the T, and the pipe in my chest was announcing itself pretty clearly and pushing fear toward my heart and skin. the striking woman with the odd but effective style had morphed back into a tired and defeated frump.

but i'm interested in that early moment at the window.  depression is always very physical for me, but this time it physicality seemed divorced, briefly, from my other feelings.  does anyone reading this experience depression this way?  As i am tapering off one antidepressant to try another, i'm curious about the dynamics of the condition.  how much is an illness, helped by medication, and  how much a pure product of mind or soul?  i suppose pragmatically it hardly matters.  the antidepressant i'd taken for decades had helped it stay away, but its effect wore off;  the new ones did their best to take up the slack, but gave up pretty quickly.  now, bachelor number 3, it's your turn.  it would be nice to spend an entire day not envying the dead.

but i do wonder if the incongruously elegant lady in the elevator door was trying to tell me something.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NCIS and the departure of Ziva the Diva

NICS is one of those steady, reliable, and somehow, in spite of all the decomposed bodies cluttering our screen, comfortable TV shows, and when a major figure leaves, it's a shock.  So, since we know Cote de Pablo, as the beautiful, brilliant Israeli-born agent  Ziva is leaving the show, the big question for the upcoming early season is, what happens to Ziva?  They really can't kill her off: both her predecessor in the agency and the agency's female boss have both been murdered over the years: the show relies on a lot of repetition, but that would be serious overkill.  The producers are promising that there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among the audience:  a 'heart-wrenching farewell' that will create 'a moment in TV history.'  My theory has been that she will return to Israel to fight the good fight there,  in the wake of her father's murder.  that would make sense, but would hardly be as monumental as the PR sounds.  Further, it wouldn't be a great resolution to the seven-year coy courtship between Ziva and Tony.

My guess, then, is death--not by murder but by nature.  Ziva will present with an incurable illness, and go back home to die. That would indeed be heart-wrenching, and provide a chance for some fine acting, not only for de Pablo but for Michael Wetherly as the clownish Tony, whose attraction towards Ziva has grown from sexist silliness to real love over the years.

But this guess depends much on the reasons for de Pablo's departure, about which both she and the network have remained determinedly silent.  If there were any chance she might return to the show, after, say, a year or two of trying to break into film,  they would surely dump Ziva in a recyclable fashion.  Death by illness would represent a moment of truthfulness in a show that, elegantly as it's done, is basic cops-and-robbers.   It would add potential interest for the rest of the cast, having to play out an unexpected form of grief.  and would certainly provide interest in the character of Tony, who has already matured a bit in the past few seasons, and whose frat-boy affect would have to change in the midst of shattering loss.  Should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Pretty Purple Farmhouse....

okay, every industry has its abbreviated language: i teach 'euro lit' and my colleague teaches 'poly sci'; we all question the availability of 'wyfi' without blinking. so why should anyone's abbreviations sound funny?  except when my lovely therapist, knowing i'm in a bad slump in my depression, kindly puts in calls to her psychopharmacology colleagues so i can get more effective meds. "so if you get a call from psychopharm,' she tells my machine,  'that's what it'll be about.'' and indeed she has managed to get me an appointment for tomorrow morning. but of course it's my ear that takes in her phone message, so tomorrow i go to........psycho-farm! the image has me giggling almost out of my depression.  of course, my mind could pick up orwellian implications, but thankfully it doesn't, and tomorrow i shall frolic with the lambs and goats and sweet-faced cows, and watch the does eat oats and mares eat oats and little lambs eat maybe there's hope after all..............

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Friend's Memory of the March 50 Years Ago

An  eloquent piece by my old friend Elliot Linzer about his part in the original MLK march on Washington [posted with his  permission]

March on Washington, Fifty Years Later

For many weeks I have been thinking about what I wanted to write today. After seeing much the coverage in the media of both the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and of last Saturday's March, I think that the less I say now the better. You have all been reading and seeing too many words and too many photographs.
As most of you know, I served as a volunteer on the national staff of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, under Bayard Rustin, during the summer of 1963. I spent every day for six weeks working in the national office. At one point, a few years ago, I thought that I may be the last survivor of the national staff of the March. Fortunately, I am not.
It is no surprise to see that almost all the media is saying that this is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream Speech,” ignoring the complete political and organizational context of that speech and that event. Rep. John Lewis is the only one of the speakers at the podium that day still living. While I see frequent references to Lewis being pressured to change the text of his speech, most of these accounts exaggerate the changes he made and extent of the of the differences. Lewis made two minimal changes to his speech and the leadership of the civil rights coalition sponsoring the March were largely unified behind him. I should know: I was the person who ran the mimeograph machine printing up Lewis's speech several days before the March. I was one of the first people to read it.
While Lewis's picture is seen often now, and his name appears in almost all the current accounts of the March, I have not seen other names that I had expected to see, specifically A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. I knew Rustin from the War Resisters League and Liberation magazine for about two years before the March. Others on the March staff, including, Rachelle Horowitz, Tom Kahn, Penn Kemble, Peter Graham, I knew from the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). Norman and Velma Hill I knew from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
The Hills, Horowitz and Eleanor Holmes Norton (who I did not know before the March) are very much still alive. Have you seen any interviews with them recently? I certainly have not. This is especially odd in view of Norton now being the District of Columbia's nonvoting representative in Congress.

Very few of the articles I've seen lately mention any of the original demands of the March, especially the economic demands. Do you remember what the very first demand was? It was for a minimum wage of $2 per hour. The March on Washington really was for jobs and freedom, not just for procedural rights. While the right to vote was certainly important, and an end to discrimination in public accommodations and education was important, they were subservient to the demands for economic equality. All the civil rights leadership agreed on that.
I started this with “the less I say now the better,” so I'll stop now.
I'm looking forward to seeing your comments.

Elliot Linzer

Elliot Linzer commented on a link you shared.  ---a p.s. from elliot....
Elliot wrote: "I am happy to make a correction to what I wrote. Eleanor Holmes Norton was interviewed several times, including on MSNBC. Rachelle Horowitz was on a CNN documentary, and I think that Norman Hill was interviewed somewhere, at least that's what I've been told. The reference to the $2 minimum wage demand in 1963 was repeated in a story on NY1 (local Time-Warner all news cable channel) not about the March, but one on the one-day strike of fast food workers, demanding a $15/ hour wage. Two dollars in 1963 is the equivalent of $15 dollars today. I felt some satisfaction seeing that story."

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Covert Affairs, or Simply Confusion ?

Covert Affairs is one of my favorite TV shows to watch.  One of the summer cable shows, it's not especially great and has no deep messages, but it's a fun spy show with compelling characters fighting evil in several exotic foreign locales.  its chief protagonist is glamorous Annie, whose spike heels are taller than she is but who nonetheless can karate kick the hell out of bad guy in flat male shoes. the second most important character (and  to me a somewhat more interesting one) is   Auggie, a handsome, blind tech genius who has had a flirtatious relationship with Annie since the show's beginning, culminating finally in last season's obligatory but well done Hot Kiss.  Fans have been waiting for this season's follow-through all year, and it first, it looked pretty good.  One nice minute-or-so of them being sexy in bed (or rather the camera sinuously moving around them while they snuggled lustfully with each other) and the rest, their adventures caught up in spy-stuff that hits closer to home than they have expected.  I have enjoyed how their affection has played out in tender smiles, hand-holding, arm-caresses, focusing less on their affair than on the dangers to it from hyper villain Henry, out to avenge his son's death and to generally cause chaos to the free world.  fan mail has been fun to read, with the ranges of opinion all over the place.  A&A a good couple, or a chemistry-challenged mistake?  Too much Henry; too little Henry? the usual fan fun.

but this past Tuesday's episode has me pissed. various secrets of various characters have emerged, including Auggie's long-dead spy-wife who is still a spy but no longer dead.  (No, Auggie didn't know she was alive.) This causes some strain between the new couple, but nothing that overwhelming, until  they are sitting together, wondering where their relationship is going, and suddenly, because they never have time to talk about it (spy life being as chaotic as it is), they decide to break up.

Say what?  Auggie bemoans that this time issue means they'll never be a normal couple.  Now each of them has had numerous serious affairs over the years: she with another CIA spy and a Russian spy; he with 2 spies and a Peace Core worker in one of the most dangerous spots in the world.  And both our heroes have both been guided by an older married spy couple whose relationship, though tumultuous, has survived.  So has Auggie been expecting that he and Annie would turn into Ozzie and Harriet? The breakup was well acted, each of them in obvious pain.  but you do wonder why one of them doesn't stop and say, ''umm, what is this about again?'' With all the build-up and hype for the past two seasons, if this couple breaks up, it would require something huge to make any sense at all, and that something hasn't emerged.

My hope is that the breakup turns out to be an elaborate hoax to convince Henry to trust Annie and then be caught finally by the good guys.  If not, and A&A are no longer together, i am going to break up with both of them, and find me a more reliable spy couple.  Pity "Burn Notice" is going off the air--it was never one of my favorites, but their tormented lovers stayed together/apart in their various ways for awhile.  and NCIS Los Angeles has no interesting couples, but it does have the magnificent Linda Hunt at its core.  Yeah, for Linda Hunt, i might be willing to give up on love in the spy world....

Sunday, August 4, 2013

great line on a great show

i've been watching the entire 'judging amy' show, 4 seasons, and coming to the end. maxine is going through a heavy depression. when her son asks an elderly friend what's happening, the friend shrugs and says 'she's reached that point.'

what point? asks the son.

'the point when the pain of the past meets the fear of the future.'

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Babbling so You Know I'm Alive

not much to say; summer class half done already.  going better than i thought i would, but what i'm using requires more technology, and half of every class ends up being setting up the computer [from the media lab] with help from the students. finally got into a great room with everything i need there. learned that everything i put on the thumb thing earlier this summer is pretty much useless, except i was able to transfer it to a dvd, which won't work on the dvd player which only likes already bought dvd's, but found out i can play the dvd's on the computer if it's a mac, so that helps sort of....

only one, maybe 2 classes in fall, meaning at most 1/2 this summer work, and by then i'll have the nasty new class under my belt a bit. played a whole film in the new class on thursday--'ma vie en rose' which the class seemed to like and i like and what a relief.  anyway that's why i'm not here and why i'm likely to be again soon.

for the class i bought on sale all 4 seasons of the early century  'judging amy,' and have treated myself to an episode a day when there isn't much else on i like to watch. what a treat--what an amazing show that was! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

TV COMMENT--Has No TV Character Heard of Abortion?

i've written about this before, a year or so ago i think.  but it gets to me more and more.  lately i've been watching the 1999-2004 show judging amy, which i bought on sale b/c i wanted one incredible episode for my class, and now use for my personal nighttime tv.  amy, about which i'll post copiously at some point, was one of that odd spate of daringly progressive tv shows that popped up in that era and then vanished, and i'm awed again by how strong so much of it is.

tonight i watched the episode in which amy's sister-in-law is pregnant, and learns that the fetus may have serious deformities.  when her husband talks to a doctor-cousin, the doc says there are many options, and reminds peter that the fetus is only 6 weeks old. then he says it again. peter is horrified, but does mention it to his wife.

what bothers me, a lot, is not that the wife refuses to consider it: this is totally consistent with her character.  it bothers me that they talk only of 'terminating the pregnancy.'  presumably 'abortion' remains a four-letter word in tv land.

but at least the concept came up. now drop dead diva has a pregnant character, whose pregnancy was announced last year.  this is character who is heavily career driven,  very sophisticated, and very cynical. as it turns out, having her pregnant was a good choice: the actor herself was already pregnant. but there was never a mention that she--the character, not the actor--might consider abortion and then decide against it.

now, on covert affairs, another high-powered career woman is pregnant [i think i read that the actor herself is here too].  but as soon as she finds out she's pregnant, she's totally glowing and smiling. here too there seems to be no moment when she wonders if she wants a baby.

i don't watch every show on tv, so i may well be missing something--but i don't see, anywhere, in descriptions of any tv show, a suggestion that part of the plot might involve abortion or the consideration of it.  as the country continues its rightward trajectory, and abortion rights are in more jeopardy than ever since roe v. wade, i find this very scary--and sinister.  when the concept of 'choice' itself, let alone the choice to abort, is totally absent, we're given de facto lies.  one right wing congressman recently made a joke about women having to return to the coat hanger abortions of old. he may get his jollies imagining women tearing apart their uteri, getting horrible infections, and often dying; a lot of us don't find that funny. if the right wing manages to destroy the fragile, incomplete, but at least somewhat protective roe v. wade decision, women will indeed once more turn to the illegal abortions and self-abortions they were forced to before the 1970s.

in the world of tv fiction, giving us more and more suggestive sexual situations, no one worries anymore about AIDS, women never seem to menstruate, and hot sex [minus, of course, genitals and breasts, always properly covered by the ever-present satin sheets] is apparently so overwhelming that no one considers condoms.  shows which are sometimes brave enough to give us gay marriage, and, occasionally, transgendered characters, balk at the simple realities of unprotected sex, std's, and unwanted pregnancy.  it's a schitzy culture in which women's freedom to act sexually [at least heterosexually]  is honored, but their freedom to choose how to respond when sex results in pregnancy is wholly unaddressed.  i talk a lot in my tv classes about the presence of absence.  in the case of the right to abortion, the absence  looms increasingly ominously.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gender and Language: a Personal Note

the works i've been reading and watching for my new class have been stirring up my mind, as i mentioned here yesterday.  they grab associations with pieces of my own, not very dramatic, childhood, and remind me of what gender expectations and confining language can do to us all.  there is in particular one episode of the 1999-2004 drama Judging Amy, clearly influenced by the splendid film Ma vie en rose. briefly, it's a story of a preadolescent boy convinced he's a girl, who repeatedly gets beaten up in school because of his 'bizarre'  female dress.  the principal wants to kick him out b/c they don't have the resources to keep him constantly guarded.  amy is skeptical at first: can a boy that age be certain he's a transsexual?  finally she decides to take him at his word, and still keep him in school.  gently she asks 'sasha' if she [the pronoun amy now accepts] ever plays pretend.  sure, sasha answers. well, amy suggests, do you think you could pretend to be a boy at school? get your hair cut just a little shorter, and wear boys' clothing.  then when you go home, change clothes and dress like who you really are.  the child agrees.  amy's statement to the court then is revealing.  we don't know if this child will grow up to be transsexual, or gay or straight, or whatever, she says. we do know who she perceives herself to be now, and that needs to be respected.

i remember some protests from others in the women's and gay movements, since it forced comprise on the child.  but in real life, a boy who thinks he's a girl will, as  does this fictional child, face constant physical and verbal attack.  to me what makes this such a profound episode is the adult authority's  acceptance of the child on her own terms.  she is not a boy pretending to be a girl; she is a girl pretending, and only for part of the day, to be a boy.  sasha is right, her attackers are wrong, and, by implication, the world that enforces specific gender expectations on everyone is wrong.

my own experience is hardly as compelling as sasha's, and hasn't been traumatizing, but it is i think an interesting example of how gender assumptions tie us all down.  i had a conversation with friends when i was about 8. we were all talking about what we'd be when we grew up. the other girls were going to be nurses or secretaries, or they didn't care b/c once they were married they wouldn't have to work at all.  i had just seen the film The Big Top, whose heroine was a trapeze artist. so i declared emphatically a twofold ambition--i was going to be a trapeze artist, and i wasn't going to get married and have children. when the grownups heard this they laughed. i think the trapeze artist made them comfortable: i had several outlandish ideas so they were considered cute.

over time, the trapeze artist faded away [making the world a safer place for me and several circus audiences].when i read the cherry ames books i was going to be a nurse like cherry; there was a series about a stewardess, and i was going to be stewardess,  and so forth.  but there was always the tag line: i was never going to get married and have children.

when i tell this story now, in my late 60s, i frame it terms of my lifelong commitment to not getting married and having children. and i often get an amazed response.  how could i know at 8 that i didn't want to get married and have kids?  i didn't know then, they argue; it just happened to work out that way.  maybe. this sort of assertion doesn't lend itself to proof, or disproof. i can only say that what i felt so adamantly at 8 has been consistently what i have felt so adamantly throughout my life. i have never wanted marriage and children. sex, a monogamous, permanent lover, yes. marriage, no.  kids, absolutely no.  there has never been a moment when i have wanted otherwise.  my guess is that that 8 year old girl knew exactly what she wanted, alongside the lovely fantasy of the trapeze artist.  at 27 i got sterilized--which annoyed my then-boyfriend, who thought he should have some say in the matter.   i thought he was being a jerk. i was right, on both counts.  now, at an age when  one tends to reassess successes and failures in one's life, i know without question that the sterilization was one of my successes.

the other childhood memory that the transgender works evoke is from a few years later--i was perhaps 10 or ll, and had just read the girl's classic Little Women.  in this subtly resistant work, i learned two words that deeply affected my life.  Jo, the beloved hero of the book, defined herself as a tomboy.  she played ballgames and climbed trees and ran around the park and hated being a girl.  she also loved, above all else,  reading, and planned to be a writer when she grew up.  oh, how i wanted to be jo! nancy drew and cherry ames faded in the face of jo's glory.  if jo was a tomboy, that was what i was going to be. so i manfully played ballgames and climbed trees.  the ballgames [punch ball, the kids on my block played] were okay for awhile. i wasn't good at it, but i wasn't terrible.  they didn't last that long.  but the tree-climbing, alas, was a huge failure.  i tried; lord, i tried.  i found one tree around the corner that crotched fairly low down into two thick branches, and i was able, bruising my shins and knees, to get up into that crotch, where i would try to read. that's what jo did--read sitting up in a tree.  my parents hated my proud declarations that i was a tomboy.   but it made me proud. i wasn't a little girly girl who worried about mud getting on her pretty white dress. i had an identity.

that identify, of course, was false. but what other word was there? you could be a boy or a girl or a tomboy or a sissy [but no one wanted to be a sissy].  what i hadn't picked up as a gender alternative was the other thing jo called herself, something that really did fit me: a bookworm.  i sort of elided bookworm into tomboy, which worked for jo but not for me.

the tomboy eventually faded into the ether along with the trapeze artist: both were useful symbols of freedom in their time.  but there was another word in Little Women, for grownup women, that i embraced and have maintained all my life.  a woman who didn't get married was a  spinster.  no matter that people told me a spinster was like an old maid, pathetic and unwanted, living in the houses of grudging relatives.  too late! the word came to at first unvarnished, from the pages of a defiant spinster's book.  it was ironic that jo herself didn't get to be a spinster.  alcott's editors forced her to marry jo off, though at least jo was able to pick a nice fatherly man who encouraged her writing.  but by that time we had already heard jo's mother tell her girls that, while marrying the man you  loved was the happiest thing that could happen to a woman, marrying for any other reason--money, fear of being alone, etc.--was the unhappiest, and that many women lived happy and useful lives as spinsters.  in all the books that followed Little Women, alcott gave her readers at least one happy spinster.  Who could not love Nan from Little Men and Jo's Boys?  or the happy band of women artists in An Old Fashioned Girl?  or the elderly, cheerful aunts and the splendid bachelor doctor in Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom?

what would i have doe if my rebellious needs were scarier to the adults around me? Would i have held out so well as a sissy as i did as a faux tomboy?  would i have dated some good catholic schoolboy and married and had kids b/c i had no hint of other possibilities?  i know that the tomboy and the aspiring spinster brought me into the civil rights marcher and anti-war marcher and eventually into the active feminist.  what else might i have been if there had been a larger vocabulary, a larger vision of what people can grow up to be?  what possibilities can we create for the girls and boys who come after us?

so much for not blogging while preparing for my course.  never mind, this tale might work its way into the course.  i'd like to think i can offer my students some confidence for their own possibilities--tomboy, gay-straight-transsexual-bisexual, sissy as a positive word,  whatever.  a student once came to me after a women's studies  class to talk about the discussion that had come up in class about lesbianism.  since that discussion, her sister had come out to their parents, who had berated her bitterly.  'but because of you and the girls who talked about it in class,'' my student said, ' i knew about lesbians and i could support my sister and fight back with our parents.'  one of those moments i look back to in pride: that wannabe tomboy, that real spinster, that fantasy trapeze artist, has changed at least one person's life.  and could i have done it without that earlier determination to move a little outside the framework i was given?