Sunday, January 29, 2012

Roget and Kierkegaard: Keep Moving Forward

"Continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" Philippians 2:12
**Van Gogh's "At the Threshold of Eternity"
"If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to outcome, he should never begin." Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
"Keep Moving Forward" is the theme of Disney's animated feature Meet the Robinsons.  In this narrative, we meet Lewis the Orphan, a kid who is discovering, like most orphans do, that life sucks.  He's brilliant and adorable, yet, Little Lewis can't seem to get adopted.  After years of rejection from prospective parents, Lewis considers locating his birth mother (because that always turns out well).  Fortunately for Our Orphan, his future son fucks up his own life, travels back in time, picks up his dad, and embarks on an adventure which teaches young Lewis that his prospects are bright, indeed.  We're talking a Millionaire with a Nobel Prize kind of awesome.  After glimpsing his fabulous destiny, Lewis abandons the idea of finding his birth mother and Keeps Moving Forward toward fame, fortune, and a new family to boot.  So sanitized, so sweet, so bogus.  But what of the motto: Keep Moving Forward?   Can a Suck-tacular Existence transform into Fairy Tale?  If we, the Lewises of the World, simply abandon the past will our Disney dreams come true?  My Answer: Not really but freedom of choice, to act or not, is our only means of salvation and at least one historical example suggests hanging in with a miserable existence might earn you a door prize.
Peter Roget pretending to be sane.
Lewis Exhibit A: Peter Mark Roget, a Lewis if I've seen one, was a pitiable old Creeper.  Though Roget gained material successes as doctor, lecturer, and inventor, his personal life was hellish.  Old Pete's grandmother was mentally unstable, mommy dearest was "nearly psychotic" and both his sister and daughter suffered from severe mental breakdowns.  If that wasn't enough to make our Lewis go round the twist, consider that both his father and wife died young, and his uncle slit his own throat while standing in Pete's presence.  That's fucked up.  Thus, its unsurprising that all of this death and insanity affected our sweet Lewis and, with time, Peter became a crazy person among psychos.  (It sounds rather familiar doesn't it my Lewises?)  His contemporaries described Our Man Pete as "humorless," "judgmental," and wee bit paranoid.  As pressure and grief mounted, Roget attempted to stave off mental collapse with obsessive compulsive habits which revolved around organization and cleanliness.  The latter being a bit problem for a man living in London during the 19th century which had no clean water or toilets.  So what exactly did old Pete do to calm his mind and distract himself from the stench?  Well, from his early childhood onward, in times of trouble or boredom, Petey sat around making lists of words and phrases along with their definitions.  For Three Score Years, this Odd Pastime did nothing but mark old Pete as: "mad as a hatter".  But when he retired at the age of 61, with no pressing matters left to consume his days, Roget decided: "Hell!  Why not making one all encompassing list of words?"  So he did.  Twelve years later, in 1852, at the age of 73, Peter published that giant list of words as a book called: Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.  Sounds familiar right?  Pete's Thesaurus was an instant success and to keep himself busy he continued updating his Master List of Mega-Cool Words until his death at the age of 90 in 1869.  
Bruno Amadio's "The Crying Boy"
Personally, I find little comfort and much distress in our Lewis Exhibit A.  If Pete's story is the best a Lewis can do then maybe we should just check out early.  Alright, sure, he had his Thesaurus and that's awesome and all <Insert Sarcasm Here>, but, his personal relationships, everything I'd consider of worth, ended in destruction.  Was there at least a couple of good years in there?  A few sane months before he lost his grip on reality and just settled into list making?  Dear Saint George, Patron Saint of Snarky Comebacks and Matters of the Heart, keep me from morphing into a Grumpy Germaphobic-List-Making Wacko.  Stay the transformation.  I want the cure.  Give me the cure!  Is that all there is for the Orphans?: Lewises of the World someday the paranoid and obsessive habits you develop as a means of preserving the last shreds of your sanity might turn into a something of worth in your old age?  My Answer: Maybe not.  There might be a Plan B and discovering it requires Fear and Trembling. 
Fear and Trembling: Crazy Expressed
"Dispute not with her; she's a lunatic" William Shakespeare, Richard III
"Plum puffs can't minister to a mind diseased and a world that's crumbling to pieces" L.M. Montgomery
Rembrandt's "Abraham's Sacrifice"
Exhibit B: Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and TremblingA Lewis, perhaps more than other individuals, looks to his past as a cipher for his future.  Yet, following this cipher too closely, in my humble opinion, strips a Lewis of his ability to take action.  The past suggests Orphans should stand very still and never give their hearts away.  But what does that have to do with Kierkegaard or Trembling you ask?  Well, hang with me a moment.  In a religious and philosophical treatise, Kierkegaard asks by what process individuals work through anxiety to create their own salvation.  To find this answer, he turns to Genesis and the Story of Abraham and Isaac.  At this point in the Pentateuch, God has given Abraham a son by his barren and aged wife Sarah.  Abraham in turn, bends to Sarah's will and casts his own First Born Son Ishmael, the child of Sarah's handmaiden, into the wilderness.  Thus, only Isaac is Abraham's hope and legacy.  Isaac is the child that Abraham and his wife dreamed of for so long but never had.  In the midst of his euphoria, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only Child as an offering.  Abraham now has a choice: Obey the God who gave him the Son in his old age or Disobey and risk God's wrath.  With a heavy heart, Abraham obeys and in the moment before He slaughters his Only Child, God stays his hands.  It was the Faith God wanted not the Sacrifice.  After considering the deep anxiety and heartbreaking sorrow Abraham must have experienced as he raised a knife to slaughter his Little Lamb, Kierkegaard concludes that its not the emotion but "infinite resignation" that exemplifies great faith.  In other words, its not denying the end results or stifling one's heart, but choosing to act in full knowledge of the cost.  Soren calls this resignation a "leap of faith".  For Kierkegaard, man's freedom lies in that right to act.  Choose God or Choose Man.  Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.   In this treatise, Soren is making a theological argument, yet, it seems to me, that this metaphor can be taken a step farther: The salvation in our personal lives comes from the right to act.  Its not freedom from Fear and Trembling but the Freedom to Act despite the Our Knowledge of the Past and Terror of the Future.  Herein lies the Salvation for an Orphan.

My favorite souvenir from Berlin
For me, a wild eyed and passionate type Lewis, this Freedom comes with literal fear and trembling.  My deepest adoration requires action but that action is not of my own volition.  Voicing my fears and my affection is not about courage.   Its about self preservation.  Shadows and deception, with anyone I love, widen the cracks in the armor until I finally reach my threshold for pain and cry out, a slow and steady twisting of my soul and crushing of my heart until I can bear it no longer.  Then, with "infinite resignation" knowing that my love for another person has stripped me of my general ability to transform into a Black Mamba, capable of terrible fury and revenge, my frailty shows itself most plainly.  I stand exposed, quaking, and unable communicate in the way I would like.  At my most devastated, I literally tremble.  My eyes fill with tears and my body shakes.  Normal people don't do that.  My best friend and counterpart, Maggie, doesn't quake in fear.  But for me, even something as simple as sending an email is a problem.  My communication mirrors my emotions.  Not only do I become redundant and explicit but I forget to include verbs, connecting phrases, and my spelling falls apart.  My words cease to forms linear, traceable ideas.  The page is soon splashed with the bright colors of my love, turmoil, fear, and grief.  Such a display is upsetting in and of itself.  It suggests I'm crazy.  Maggie might feel devastated but she would never say so.  If she suggested it at all, it would be after calculation and calm thought.  And I can be that way with most everyone but those I love.   A Black Mamba sits silent and calculating, waiting for her moment to strike, but, with the matters nearest to my heart, I lose my predatory nature.  Instead, I go all Jane Austen: "I can listen no longer in silence.  I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach.  You have pierced my soul.  I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you."   To be the Little Girl in the upper right hand corner calling Math an asshole and throwing onlookers the bird with 99% of the human population, only to devolve into a heartbroken and dramatic Lucy Maude Montgomery character with the 1% I love is beyond irritating.  Why can't I be balanced?  Isn't there a happy medium?  Like untalented Edgar Allen Poe, I am left to shrug and conclude: "I was never really insane except on occasions when my heart was touched." Working out my salvation with Fear and Trembling is horrific, but what other option do Orphans have?  We have one Freedom that of Choice.  Sit silent and let hope die or take the "leap of faith".  My frightened and battered Lewises we must leap forward because we have nothing to hold onto in our past.
Keep Moving Forward
"Life's under not obligation to give us what we expect." Margaret Mitchell 
"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes." L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Anne spelled with an 'e' being offered a plum puff.
 Now, back to Meet the Robinsons. I was pretty rough on it in the beginning wasn't I?  In my defense, such a happy ending in the mind of Lewis is ludicrous.  Why keep moving forward if, at best, we will become Antisocial List Making Creepers?  Well, here is Kierkegaard's answer: "why bother remembering a past that cannot be made into a present?"  Or put more simply: The answers to our future do not lie in our past.  Are you looking for a Fairy Tale Ending my Orphans?  Well, you won't get anything so simplistic or sweet from me.  Listen, my history suggests belief in Fairy Tales is both childish and self destructive so I try to make rules and to keep my distance from the people who hold my heart. But here is the problem: I break the rules.  I stand in fear and trembling.  My Lewises I cannot assure you of my confidence in the future.  When I pray to my Saint George and he tell me: "Whomever is winning at the moment always seems invincible," I reply: "But aren't they, George?"  The Truth is, at the moment, I'm frightened.  Voices around me fall into Two Separate Camps: The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which I am a Lifetime Member, and the Orphans.  The Deadly Vipers call for the Assassination of my Darlings.  My Snake Charmers hiss reproaches and prophecies.  But the Orphans ask me to take a Leap of Faith, let go of Fear, and allow my Inner Lewis to Shine Through the Pain.  With Infinite Resignation, I listen to the Orphans.  Teetering on the edge and knowing that a Leap often ends with Broken Bones and Terrible Scars.  But what else is there?  A Lewis has no freedom but that of action, to stand in Fear and Trembling offering up our souls.  Maybe someday, there will be a Family of Misfits in my Future.  I'd like that.  But, in reality, I'm just hoping for a solid 18 month stretch during the 51 years I plan to roam this Fine Earth in which I find a little shelter from the storm.  That would be enough.  And honestly, I can't claim to be a True Lewis character.  He's far too sane, too calm, too smart.  No, I'm more of a Franny, teaching frogs to sing, and loving a Lewis for refusing to think me crazy.  (See Clip Below)  So my Darling Orphans, Tarry Not, but Move Forward, and remember you "are not alone in this, as Brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand" but "we can't move the mountains for you."** Go forth with Fear and Trembling working out your own salvation.   

*On an slightly different note: Both Biological Warfare Engineers for those Meddling Joes and the Cobra Commandos should use the Code Name: SS.  On the Joes side, SS stands for Sandy Smallpox.  For Cobra, SS is Sarah Syphilis.  Its a Columbian Exchange.

**The link is for Mumford and Son's "Timshel".  In Hebrew, Timshel means "thou mayest" or to have a choice: You Are Not Alone In This

**Vincent Van Gogh completed his "Threshold of Eternity" in May of 1890 just two months before taking his own life.  Click here for the last segment of my favorite Doctor Who episode, entitled "Vincent and the Doctor," which was written by Richard Curtis.  You'd have to know about me to understand why I identify with it: "The Good Things don't always soften the Bad Things but, visa versa, the Bad Things don't necessarily spoil the Good Things or make them unimportant."

Chances by Athlete: "Like the poster of Berlin on my wall"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Call Me Ishmael: Watching the Watchmen

"The Outcast" by Attilio Piccirilli
"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own." ~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

"Once you realize everything is a joke, being a Comedian is the only thing that makes sense."~Alan Moore, The Watchman

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, opens with the words: "Call me Ishmael".  In this narrative, Ishmael is both the narrator and a sailor on the Pequod.  Through his vantage point, we watch Captain Ahab battle with his Great White Whale and destroy his crew.  As we journey along with Ishmael, our narrator remains rather mysterious.  The odyssey begins with Ishmael wandering through Manhattan, pausing before coffin houses and following funerals.  Soon after, he travels to Nantucket and enlists as whaler.   Considering his knowledge on subjects such as art, anatomy, and geology, we might assume Ishmael is well educated, but, he also refers to the Pequod as his Yale and his Harvard.  Perhaps most importantly, Ishmael is the only character to survive Ahab's quest.  This final element speaks to the biblical connotations behind the narrator's name.  In Genesis, Ishmael is the eldest son of Abraham, banished after the birth of his younger brother Isaac, left to die with his mother in the wilderness.  Despite the dire circumstances, God protects Ishmael and makes him a great nation.  Like his namesake, Melville's Ishmael seems banished in the wildness, no home to speak of, surviving by sheer luck. Echoing Genesis, our narrator overcomes the odds and lives to relay his tale. 

No one wants to be an Ahab
So where are we going with this?  Well, in my opinion, people are often divided into Ishmaels, Abrahams, and Ahabs.  Abrahams are the progenitors of Ishmaels, whether by ejaculation or environment.  They father a child, a career, or a friendship only to abandon their Ishmael to the wilderness.  For example, in Alan Moore's Watchmen, our Abraham is Doctor Manhattan, a character who eventually abandons earth itself.  Manhattan is rather selfish and egocentric, not an awful person, but kind of an asshole all the same.  Ahabs, on the other hand, are individuals who fixate on the White Whales of their own destruction.  Though often well-intentioned, once they begin screaming: "To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath on thee" its all over. (Admit it. You're itching to watch Khan's last breathe, aren't you?  Click here)  Unbalanced and sad there is no saving them.  In the Watchmen, Rorschach is obviously our Ahab:

The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown . The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!" and I'll look down and whisper "no".

Castle Gray Skull: It has a TRAP DOOR!
While its a great speech, and one I like to repeat, old Rorschach is obviously fit for straight jacket at this point.  There is no going back to civilian life or even having a nice dinner followed by a little romance for him.  No sirree.  Rorschach, like any Ahab worth his salt, is pursuing his White Whale with undivided purpose.  Perhaps, an Abraham left him in the wildness years ago, but an Ahab has no time to ponder that hurt.  He's busy chasing down his own death.  Finally, there are the Ishmaels.  These are the people for whom existence seems to be mistake and their life a cruel joke.  For me, out of all the characters in Watchmen, I identify most with Laurie, not because she is a female (when I was a kid, I was perpetually upset my parents would not entertain ideas of buying me a Castle Grayskull and I played with cousins Cobra Commandos on a regular basis) but because she is an Ishmael.  

Becoming Ishmael

"They pulled a gag on me is what the did!  My whole life's one big, stupid, meaningless..."~Laurie

"Until your mother love a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you that emerged."~Doctor Manhattan

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael is simply the narrator.  We do not see his dreams, desires, and only glimpse his demons, a brooding nature and bouts of depression.  With Laurie, we see an Ishmael who finds herself lost in mother's shadow, unhappy in her relationship, and attempting to accept the knowledge that she is the Comedian's child. For her, everything seems like a "gag" played at her expense and such is case for all Ishmaels.  Their existences are not a list of triumphs, not linear progressions leading toward obvious goals, but rather for them, life is represented by random events and indifferent reactions combining to drive the Ishmaels into the wilderness.  Asking an Ishmael to accept his or her creation is of divine Providence often seems cruel.  Yet the Watchman's Abraham, Doctor Manhattan, suggests Laurie's birth was as miraculous as turning "air into gold". 

My Ishmaels, we are left with the question: Random mistake or divine creation?  Well, in my opinion, if at all possible, try believe the latter, if for no other reason than the idea of the former is rather crippling.  Alright, Harsh Reality Check: You're the consequence of a broken condom but someone else could have been born.  You lucked out.  Here you are.  Huzzah (insert sarcasm)  Ishmaels if you're waiting for me to assure you everything is about to come up roses, well, I can't.  I'm sorry.  In my experience, nothing ever turns out the way you'd hoped and it all hurts like hell.  But listen: You can't dwell on that right now.  Whether you're cast into the wilderness or not, eventually every Ishmael will face his own White Whale.  To be completely honest, you haven't time to sit and ponder Abraham's brutality or indifference. You have got a fucking Orca on your ass and its about to eat you for dinner.*

Hast Thou Seen a White Whale?

"Look here, my life, my mom's life, There nothing there worth avoiding, it all just meaningless."~Laurie

"Laurie, wh-what do you want me to do?"~Dan

"Great White Whale" by Christopher Cuseo
For an Ishmael, a Great White Whale, often takes the form of an inability to gain the intangibles.  For Laurie, it means accepting her parentage, making peace with her crime fighting past, and discovering a lover in an old friend.  I sympathize with the Silk Spectre. In my case, most assume my Whale involves standing on the precipice of graduate school just about to fall into the job market, teetering between a successful existence and abject failure.  In reality, that particular cliff does not scare me.  Like Laurie, my Moby Dick involves the intangibles.  Parts of life that have always eluded me.  Pieces of my heart I can't take back.  Suffocating fears of waking up and finding myself on the floor unable to put things right. 

So, Ishmaels, what do you do when the White Whale starts chomping down your ass?  Because if it hasn't happened yet, its coming.  There's no doubt about that.  No stopping it.  No hiding.  My suggestion: Muster the Rohirrim, choose a battle cry, and ride out to meet your whale.  Personally, when battling my own Moby-Dick I cry: "Spears shall be shaken, swords shall be splintered, a sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises."  Listen, when that wild eyed Whale rams into the side of your boat, in all honesty, you'll probably die just like old Theoden crushed under his own horse or if we stick with the sea metaphor then expect drowning cause its painful as all hell.  But you're Ishmael so what did you expect really?  Pleasant just isn't in the cards.  My frightened Ishmaels: "Ride now.  Ride to ruin and the world's ending."  Just think, we're all gonna die and there's a bit of comfort in that.

Dressing Orphaned Souls: "And just look at the confidence as he leaps up and grabs the bar, beginning his maneuver."

"Hey, these are terrific.  It's like when I was small, mom got me this G.I. Joe with all these neat little spare uniforms...You were really into all that knights-armor fantasy stuff as a kid?" ~Laurie

"Yeah, I guess it figures...y'know, being a crimefighter and everything it was just this adolescent romantic I remember they [the goggles] work pretty good.  No matter how black it got, when
I looked through those goggles...everything was as clear as day."~Dan

When I was a little girl, I owned a Rainbow Brite belt.  I loved that little accessory.  When I needed to be brave, needed to hold my own, or needed to be fabulous, I'd strap it on and face the world, a chubby cheeked, curly haired brat.  To this day, for some reason, I miss that belt.  The way it felt in my hands, the sound of the metal magnets clicking together, and staring at myself in the mirror sure no obstacle was too big for me.  Now the belt is long gone and so is the little girl who wore it.  Gawd she was fearless.  Little Me who fought for the whomever she adored and expressed her affection with wide eyes and no tears.  What was there to fear?  I rather miss her.  She's not coming back.  But sometimes I think if I could only find that old belt and put it on all those intangibles would return as well.

Considering my childhood fantasies, it should come as no surprise that I'm a Nite Owl, not a Doctor Manhattan, girl.  The little insecurities that characterize Dan, not only make him sexy, they make him human.  (He's an Ishmael as well.)  What exactly do I love about Dan?: He's sweet, uncertain, and he needs his Nite Owl costume. (And he makes cool gadgets)  Most everyone, whether they admit or not, needs a disguise, but Ishmaels need them most especially.  Life in the wilderness is tough so we strap on belts, slip on boots, and tie on capes to survive.  Intuition suggests that with the people who care about us, it ought to be easier to let go of our masks and goggles.  But in reality, love makes removing the mask all the more difficult.  In the end, I suppose we each need the hear the assurance: "We've got as long as it takes.  And don't worry, you're doing fine."  Because how do we know?  How can we possibly know we're doing fine?  Isn't there clock?  Aren't we failing yet again?  But don't get me wrong here.  Ishmaels keep in mind that costumes are beneficial.   They serve a purpose. Sure, at some point you'll need to strip down and let another person in but once you do don't toss your disguise aside.  Costumes "make it good", help us "smolder", and realize our "passion"  Sometimes it just takes "coming out of the closet" to discover a person who is "confident" and on "fire".

In sum, my exhausted Ishmaels, we must remember to "let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory," and "look deep down and do believe".  Those Great White Whales which embody our hopes, our hearts, and our fears feel insurmountable.  But, when our circumstances seem the most bleak, when our fears overtake us, and when our hearts are the most confused that is the moment we need need costumes and understanding.  So strap on your Rainbow Brite belts, grab your goggles, pull on your plastic shorts, and repeat your battle cries.  Finally, always remember behind a quiet exterior is someone waiting to smolder.

While the film, Watchmen, sucked, for me, it did forever change Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.  In case you're wondering, the Nite Owl's and Silk Spectre's orgasm comes at 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the song.  Just so you know.

*Fun Fact: In Latin, Orca means "demon from hell".  Oh, so, you think the Romans were being melodramatic?  Here is video of an orca eating a man.  Shamoo doesn't seem so friendly now, does he?  For the record, I've no idea why people dress up like seals and jump in with killer whales or why the general public is shocked when one of these Suicidal Seal Impersonators becomes lunch.  The lady on the left is begging to be  eaten.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

George Orwell: My Patron Saint

In a letter dated October 19th, 1932: "I hope you will let me make love to you again some time, but if you don't it doesn't matter, I shall always be grateful to you for your kindness to me...'  

***Orpheus and Eurydice
The next month: "When we were together, you didn't say whether you were going to let me be your lover again.  Of course you can't if Dennis is in S'wold, but otherwise?  You mustn't if you don't want to but I hope you will."  

Few writers hold up in comparison with the brilliance, wit, and keen intellect of Eric Arthur Blair (i.e., George Orwell), author of 1984, Animal Farm, and Home to Catalonia. In my opinion, there is an Orwell quote for every puzzle, problem and predicament. You're skeptical? Well, then, allow me provide a couple quick examples beginning with this weblog.  Whatever quotes, phrases, pictures, or songs I post provide a direct insight into my heart and mind.  I write when I cannot calm my emotions.  I write to ease the pounding of my heart.  I write to prevent my self-destruction.  When you feel that way, when you produce to stop implosion, you are vulnerable.  Your heart is exposed and you stand at the mercy of others.  So what can Orwell do for me, a Starry Eyed Dynamo Unable to Quell her feelings?  How about this: “For the creative writer possession of the 'truth' is less important than the sincerity of emotion.” That’ll do.  While I’ve no illusions about my writing (though often inspired it is of no worth), its nice to think my insanity is a form of creativity pouring forth. And, its, true enough that my emotions are sincere.  Whether I am creative or not is up for debate but I appreciate the sentiment.  Its a comfort.  Thank you George.

Not yet convinced? Need another example?  Sure you do!  Okay, here it goes: I am a caffeine addicted liberal with multicolored hair, a film fetish, and Protestant beliefs that allow for socialism, evolutionism, and all forms of social justice.  Thus, attending an uber Catholic university and finding myself surrounded by wealthy, Republican Pope Worshipers is equivalent to descending into the Second Circle of Hell.  What is a Gal to do when these followers of His Great Catholic Highness inquire as to whether Satanic powers altered her hair color or assure her that Sarah Palin has “spunk”?  Well, in my opinion, during these times of persecution, you should pray to Saint George, Patron Saint of Witty Comebacks and Snarky Replies.  Saint George will assure you: “One cannot really be a Catholic and a grownup.”  In other words, do not judge one’s Catholic colleagues too harshly, they never matured past the age of twelve.  What can you expect?  When the Popery becomes too much and the Vatican Zealots not only refuse to listen to reason, but also contend your refusal to pledge allegiance to Rome is a sign of immorality remember this: “The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent.”  Catholicism is like Omnianism (See Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods): There is One True Faith my friends. Failing to adhere to its strict doctrines and rules benefits everyone.  You see, Omnians enjoy having a naysayer around.  “It gives them something to aim at.”  So be a "Potato of Defiance" and remember if you die a martyrs death, as Saint George tells us: “Sometimes the first duty of an intelligent man is to restate the obvious.”  You can’t help it if the obvious upsets the Vatican Variety of the Omnians.

Yea, verily, in times of need I pray to Saint George for wisdom and understanding, but, I must confess, I’ve never turned to him concerning matters of the heart.  Georgie is many things but his writing has never tugged at my emotional strings or at least not in an intimate way, until recently that is, when I discovered his four love letters to Eleanor Jacques written between 1931 and 1933. (If you would like to read about the details of George’s love triangle click here)  The quotes at the top of the page are taken from his messages to Eleanor. They move me to tears.  In my estimation, George's sentiments are the most romantic and heart rending professions of affection I've ever read.  Its the honesty and vulnerability that capture me.  He confesses to Eleanor his fears not just of rejection but of being cast from a her sight never to hold her again: "You mustn't [be with me] if you don't want to but I hope you will." For me his words poetically exemplify the insecurity and the cold grip of uncertainty which so often claim ownership over my heart and soul. Not only are his words moving, intimate, and beautiful, but, in my mind, they also cast a new light on another well known Orwell quote: “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem invincible”  For George, Eleanor's significant other, Dennis, must have seemed invincible.  Yet rather than writing to Eleanor and attempting to prove his superiority, he pleads with her in honest vulnerability.  For someone, like myself who finds, that affection strips her of pretense and hence protection, there is nothing more romantic, nothing more scared, and nothing more beautiful than Orwell’s choice.  To boast, to brag, to pretend is easy.  To stand before another person and lay out one’s fears and admiration is terrifying. With this new perspective, I've discovered that pondering an Orwell quote I've never regarded as special makes me ache down deep in my soul. Perhaps its childish but I cherish cloaked references and intimate revelations. For me, witty statements are, often times, ciphers. They require a decoder ring. Handing off that ring means handing off your heart. Although, I do not feel particularly comforted by George's letters, I cannot help but fall rather in love with them. They have forever changed my view of my dearest Saint George.  He is now my Patron Saint of Witty Comebacks and Matters of the Heart. 

*While I’ve no idea why Eleanor chose Dennis over George, I would like to state, for the record, she was mad beyond all belief.  George was awesome. He had a maniacal brain and complex soul. Nothing is sexier or more endearing.

**Just some helpful advice: Boys no matter what Orwell says or Han Solo taught you, its best not to thank a gal that loves you back. At least to my warped mind, it suggests you doubt her sincerity. Also, just to be clear, the proper response to "I love you" is not "I know". Only Indiana Jones gets away with demanding replicant sex or ignoring his love interests for years on end only to be greeted with adoration.

***The Painting Above Tells the Story of Orpheus and Eurydice: According to Greek mythology, Orpheus fell deeply in love with and married a nymph, Eurydice.  So the story goes, they were very happy together until Aristaeus, the god of land and agriculture, became fond of the beautiful Eurydice and began pursuing her.  While fleeing from Aristaeus, Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her legs and claimed her life.  Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept.  On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone with his music (the only individual to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return to earth with him on one condition: Orpheus needed to walk in front of Eurydice and not look back until they both reached the upper world.  In his love and anxiety, Orpheus forgot that both he and his wife needed to be in the upper world before he could see his lover.  When he turned back to look at Eurydice, she vanished before his eyes, this time forever.

****Update: My Patron Saint Has His Own Weblog. To Find out More Click Here.

We're Trying: Little Miss Sunshine

Grandpa: Whoa whoa whoa, back up a minute. D'you know what a loser is? A REAL loser is someone whose so afraid of not winning, they don't even TRY. Now you're trying right?

Olive: Yeah.

Grandpa: Well, then you're not a loser! We're gonna have fun tomorrow, right?

Olive: [smiling] Yeah.

Grandpa: We can tell 'em all to go to hell.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris’ Little Miss Sunshine is one of my all time favorite films.  I’ll admit, most of my friends find its content a little disturbing.  For the past few years, each time I debated this topic, I failed to construct a cogent argument to defend my admiration for the production. Despite my inability to support my position, every time I watch Little Miss Sunshine, I swallow back tears and end the film feeling warm and content.  This is a strange response because the narrative is one of determination and nonconformity being met with pain and loss not happiness. Tonight, however, I finally stumbled upon why Little Miss Sunshine makes me smile. The story brings together a dysfunctional group of misfits: a suicidal academic, a failed entrepreneur, a frazzled housewife, a heroin snorting patriarch, a self-made mute teen, and a tiny, untalented beauty queen.  Simultaneously, they tear at themselves and tear at each other.  Yet, in the midst of all this hurt and confusion, each member of the group works to protect the others. The Super Freak clip below illustrates what I mean.

To me, the Super Freak scene symbolizes how we protect the people we love.  While Olive will lose that beauty contest, she will not lose her self confidence or identity.  Her family will not allow that.  Instead of caving to the judges pressure and pulling Olive off the stage (thereby humiliating her), her uncle, father, and brother fend off the naysayers and dance in solidarity beside her.  In my opinion, that is the definition of love and friendship.  We all fuck up. (I am the Fuck Up Queen)  And when we crash and burn, 95% of the population, including our friends and relations, disappear.  Another 4% stay close by, not to help us, but to offer advice and reprimand for our shortcomings.  You can’t pay those people to go away. But its the moments when we break down, when we fuck up, when we need forgiveness the most, that we find out who we can count on. We find our real family.  It’s that 1% who matter. Those are the people that see you up on that stage making a fool of yourself and rather than clapping politely, they fight off the judges, stand beside you, distract the angry crowd, and dance in solidarity.  In my book, that’s called love and its why Little Miss Sunshine is awesome. Because a real loser is someone who doesn't even try. We're tryin' right?

Note: Just a quick recommendation but anyone who enjoys Little Miss Sunshine should also check out Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. (Though Blue Valentine is a more serious in tone and depressing in nature) Fun Quote from that film below: (Indeed, what a luxury, says the academic)
Cindy: I'd like to see you have a job where you didn't have to start drinking at 8 o'clock in the morning.
Dean: No, I have a job that allows me to drink at 8 o'clock in the morning. What a luxury, you know?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Swamp Thing: Humanity or Fear?

“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as a secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh." ~Leonard Cohen

Your Humanity: "Listen, I know how you feel, believe me, I know that things look bad, but, listen, every cloud has a silver lining...a rolling stone gathers no..." ~Alan Moore

When, in 1983, Alan Moore wrote Swamp Thing, he hoped to create a "different" type of horror story compared to anything prior produced by the comic book industry, and he succeeded.  The Saga of The Swamp Thing, Volume I is horrifying while still being a delicate and artful mediation. Moore's horror centers not around monsters but questions of the nature of humanity and the essence of fear. Swamp Thing succeeds in being both accessible and shattering because Moore uses archetypal villains and heroes as a platform to suss out nagging concerns about the human condition.  The reader cannot "other" the Swamp Thing because, despite his form, he shares our plight. He is human.  In this first volume, the effects of fear and preservation one’s humanity are the recurring themes.  What is more human Moore asks his reader?: A bit of vegetation animated by the echoes of a dead man’s consciousness or an able bodied man full of malice and hate?  By the end of his work, the author concludes that humanity is a daily choice.  Making that choice requires individuals to set aside fear, lust, hate, hurt, and rage and allow themselves to feel love, empathy, and compassion.  Yet, that choice, as Moore suggests, is difficult.  The former emotions seem to protect us from harm while the latter ones open us up to horror and devastation.  Such a choice is, in and of its self, horrifying.  Or as Neil Gaiman explains:

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...You give them a piece of you. They didn't ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like 'maybe we should be just friends' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.

I hate it too Neil!  In terms of my general ability to love, I most resemble Faye from Cowboy Bebop.  Whatever part of me could loved quickly and easily, could have loved widely, could have loved without fear, died as a child.  Like Faye, I stare at pictures of myself former self, laughing and waving and say: “I don’t remember her.” Its simpler and safer to shut down. Close off. Stop letting people in. Hearts are funny things. Stupid things with a nasty habit of beating away even after they've shattered. But is it as simple as Gaiman suggests? Just a stupid mistake on a stupid day? We've no control? No choice?  Well, in my opinion, (and I think Moore would agree), its a little more complex.

"Alec, you are not a damn vegetable, for God's sake! You're human Alec. Alec, you're the most loving, the most gentle, the most human man that I've ever met. Don't go." ~Alan Moore

To my mind, the parts of the human existence that matter (loving, hoping, and protecting) are a choice.  Sure we all stumble into love. How or why it happens is unclear. It just does. The choice comes after we've let someone in. It's what happens after we’ve play out our hands and stood broken that matters most. In every relationship, whether that of friends or lovers, at some point in the game, you'll find yourself hurt and confused. Not because the other person intended to crush you, but because we each walk in darkness. We wound not out of malice but out of ignorance. Herein lies our choice and our humanity.  The question we each must face when staring into the abyss, opened up and vulnerable, is: Love or Fear?

The Fear and The Fall 

"She'd lie there, a stillborn scream curdling in her throat, and listening to its soft and liquid wheezing. And, eventually, when the terror outdistanced that reality, she'd open her eyes." ~Alan Moore

"Of course the important thing is to remember not to start screaming. In case you find that you are unable to stop. Try to confront your fears. Try not to run away from them. And if all else fails... Call a friend." Alan Moore

For me at least, once I glance up and realize I'm in the midst of that awful experience called "caring" my emotions run the gamut, beginning with nausea and intense fear and ending with a fall from grace. I stand paralyzed and wheezing, a scream curdling in my throat, until finally the terror outdistances the reality. Then I open my eyes, admit I fell, and call a friend while I sort myself out. So why is caring about people so fucking scary? Not entirely sure, but, in times of doubt, I turn to wiser figures and better authors for answers.  Let's begin with Mr. Fear himself, H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  Well, fair enough.  My imagination does terrible things when I allow it.  Every memory that hurts, every awful possibility, every idea my heart can’t bear to dwell on, every image that makes me ache down deep in my soul fills my brain, wrecks my peace, and fucks me up. Yes, indeed, Mr. Lovecraft the unknown is horrifying.  Yet, if we fear the unknown than why not simply find out the answers to our questions?  Why not ask what is in our hearts and heads?  For this particularly nasty little gem, I talked Eleanor Roosevelt.  She told me: “We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”  Huh, Old Eleanor might have something there.  To be human, to show love and affection, requires a risk.  The idea of investing one’s most tender feelings and expressions of affection into indifference at best and ridicule at worst is paralyzing.  So we sit silent... We hold very still and try not to care and, in this aspect, Gaiman is right. We never mean to fall. We look up in shock and terror when it happens. Dammit! We're leaking love and affection all over the place and no one is handy with a mop to clean up the mess.

The Scars

"Troubled, he sit and sleeps and dreams. It is a dream of someone else, someone who wore flesh and not foliage. A frightened man. A man in a furnace. Alec Holland. He can hear the roar of the explosion, hear the sizzling and burning and popping. He is propelled, a blazing stringless puppet stumbling through the flames like a Catholic martyr. And he screams. And he falls. And wakes." ~Alan Moore

As Moore's quote indicates, even after we've transformed into a new person, even when painful memories are but an echo, we carry our scars with us. We guard those wounds and hide them away for safe keeping. Yet, Kahlil Gibran celebrates those tears in psyches and hearts: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” In my opinion, Gibran is correct. Those fissures we can't seem to patch are the same ones that transform our harsh words into gentle assurances. Despite their beauty, we pretend they don't exist. But such was not always the case.  As the Leonard Cohen quote above suggests, when we are children, we reveal our desires and hurts with no shame.  We point to the bandage on our knees and our favorite pastimes with frank honesty.  No guile.  No secrets.  Yet, life teaches us, or at least taught me, that both our passions and our scars are fragile things because they are connected to our hearts and our souls. In our youth, we show our battle wounds to everyone, proudly displaying the chunk of flesh the playground took out of arms.  But as we age, we dress to protect the chunks taken out of our hearts.  The scars represent both our weaknesses and our strengths, simultaneously our source of solar power and our kryptonite.  Something so precious and painful must guarded, but it cannot be locked away forever.  To be human is to love and to love means to share a part of our existence with others.  

The Redemption

"And, after awhile, I ran...ran to the only person I know who isn't stupid or messed up.  Ran to the rock." ~Alan Moore

Holding onto humanity, I think, means letting go of fear. After the fall, if we're lucky, we begin accepting our fate, running to the rock and hoping we don't trip over it when we get there. Surviving this experience with one's humanity intact requires vulnerability. Rather than being a Dorothy Parker and quipping: “And if my heart be scarred and burned, The safer, I, for all I learned” as if heartache teaches us lesson (I doubt it does), we must become Mark Twain, "discrete in our indiscretions". In my opinion, nothing is more indiscreet and misguided than being honest about my darkest fears and inner dreams. I'm a Faye to about 99% of the human population: personable but calculating and rather selfish. Why the hell would Superman tell anyone where to find Kryptonite? Yet, there is still that pesky 1% of the population to think about. The handful of people whom I cannot let go. It drives me mad. Self sufficiency is so practical, so safe. But the indiscretion happens nonetheless. The best we can hope for, I think, is that we choose wisely when handing off the keys to our personal fortresses.

The Choice

Swamp Thing: "You keep nagging me. Why should I carry you when you keep nagging?"

His Humanity: "Because I'm your humanity. I'm important. I'm what keep you going...Oh, I know I'm a little beaten up and battered but I'm still worth the effort aren't I? After all, without without me there'd be no point in running would there? No point at all."

Like Alec Holland’s consciousness, we have a choice to make: Humanity or Fear.  We either lock up our hearts and abandon our humanity or we live with the scars and move forward.  We run to those we love.  Despite the indiscretion, we let others know where we keep the kryptonite because thats what makes our existence worthwhile.  Connection.  Understanding.  Love.  Its a horrible choice to make. A bit of you belongs to another person for safe keeping.  Horrifying.  I’d rather not love.  Rather stay secure.  Not run around handing others a gun to shoot me with.  Yet my humanity is tied up in my ability to do so.  To let go.  To cry out.  To hold on.

In my mind, Mumford and Son’s' Winter Winds (a personal favorite) embodies our horrifying choice: “The shame that sent off from the God that I once loved was the the same that sent me into your arms.” Now that particular line stirred a bit of debate among my friends (Some of us were not entirely sure we wanted this sweet nothing whispered in our ears), but for me this line refers to a philosophical shift.  Life has stripped the man of his belief in a loving Deity and a kind world, so in the arms of his lover he renews his faith in humanity.  Don’t we all? The refrain: “My head told my heart let love grow, but my heart told my head this time no.  This time no.”  There is your choice.  Can you let something grow when history suggests the end brings pain?  Should you take that risk yet again?  My answer, I suppose is, romantic: Yep! Suck it up and take the plunge.  What is the alternative?  Rely on history and refuse? There is no comfort in that, no hope. Listen to the rest of the song: "But when your strife strikes at your sleep. Remember spring swaps snow for leaves. You'll be happy and wholesome again when the city clears and the sun ascends."  Wait around and see the sun ascend.

“Games that never amount to more than they’re meant will play themselves out.” Falling Slowly

For me, waiting on the sun, means “Falling Slowly” (another favorite), watching my step and choosing as wisely as I can before handing over my stupid heart.  Discrete in my indiscretion.  Passionate in my love but selective in my choice.  Yes, “a scar is what happens when the word made flesh” but sharing those wounds allows them to become something beautiful, something revealed among lovers, something human.  So fall as slowly as you can, but once you've stopped screaming and realized you're already down for the count, suck it up, point your boat home, raise your voice, and sing your melody. Any good historian will tell you, we cannot predict the future with the past. Its too complex. Anyway, where is the fun in that? So we make our choice: Humanity or Fear.  When possible, I’ll choose Humanity.