When I was a lit major a few centuries ago, women authors were perennially short shrifted in favor of the men. This old fashioned rhyme poem is my homage to the great women authors, with a bit of karma for the chauvinist male.
Bondage Games With The Great Women Authors
They’re all out to get me, like banshees in heat, I’m trembling in terror, I’m white as a sheet.
Why do they do this- where did I stray? Was it in college, back in the day? I read only male authors, never was I bored- but when it came to the women, they were completely ignored.
Now they’re seeking revenge- my total devastation- and their method of choice- bondage and humiliation!
And so it starts, and so it goes, on a lovely Greek island- I believe it’s called Lesbos.
A poet named Sapho (she’s powerfully built) has me bound and immobile, tied to a stilt. I swing back and forth, in a pendulous sway, then I’m released- because I don’t swing her way.
What’s up next, on my pathway to doom? I’m in a strict patrician woman’s drawing room.
I can’t move a muscle, I’m flat on my tummy- I’m bound and I’m wrapped, like an Egyptian mummy-
as I wiggle and squirm and flop on my belly, into the room walks Mary Shelly. I’m wrapped up so tight- so in a bind-what else to expect from the author of Frankenstein?
I’m feeling faint- a nervous wreck- thank God the electrodes, don’t fit in my neck!
Where am I now- the fog is so thick- it’s cold and bleak and really quite Gothic. Then they appear, and I’m filled with dismay- “Salutations”, they say- “we’re the sisters Bronte!”
“I’m Emily- and you look like Heathcliff, that treacherous squire!” “And I’m Charlotte- don’t raise my Eyre!” “And I’m Ann, the one you never heard of!” And with that, she gives me a terrible shove.
I feel a wave of dread- this isn’t fair-as a rope tightens quickly, my foot in a snare.
“We know you’re acrophobic,” they scream with delight- then they hoist me upward, to an absurd Wuthering Height!
I’m now in the states, and what do you know, from out of the bushes comes Harriet Beecher Stowe. She’s stern- she’s righteous-a devout Abolitionist- in addition to which a wild exhibitionist.
She yanks down her knickers, and I panic and flee- but she catches up and subdues me, oh so easily.
“Naughty boy”, says she, “I’ll fix your wagon”- Then I’m forced to wear diapers in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
I jump through the window, banging my knee, then I limp toward the daylight- am I finally free? But the Fates won’t have it- what more can be wrought? Then I’m tackled from behind by Louisa may Alcott!
She’s strong and she’s strict, a staunch disciplinarian, taking no nonsense from a chauvinist contrarian. I try to break loose, but to my chagrin, I’m completely restrained -by an army of Little Women!
I’m stripped and spread eagled, and staked to the ground- resistance is futile- I’m hopelessly bound. I try to be brave, this too will pass- then the entire assembly, surrounds me en masse.
There’s Sylvia Plath, in all of her wrath, and Erica Jong, in a fish net sarong. I’m scolded soundly, by Joyce Carol Oates, “Why you didn’t even read our Cliff Notes!”
And Emily Dickinson, no longer reclusive, she’s decked out in leather, and is oh so abusive. “Did you make an effort”, she says, “To even glance at my compendium?” Then she answers for me with a kick to my pudendium. There’s even Agatha Cristie, looking so rough (I’d never have guessed, she’d be into this stuff!)
“Enough is enough- I’ll read all of you-cover to cover!!”
They listen intently, as they circle and hover- will they consider my pleas, and placating offers?
I’m finally exposed, to the great women authors!
In recent times, I hear with greater frequency people asking how did we become a divided country? The question, perhaps, should not be how did we become divided, but were we ever united.
The division was never so overt as during the Civil War. The North and the South were at loggerheads, slavery being the primary issue. The war was horrific; the carnage unimaginable. A war between the states. This was a time when borderlines were not apparent to most citizens. Families and clans were often spaced between warring states. In most wars, the enemy is clearly defined- the “Other” can be identified with little difficulty. In our civil war, the enemy was us.
After four years of brutal fighting, the Confederate States, under their army’s leadership of General Robert E Lee, agreed to surrender. But the Civil War did not truly end with Lee signing the surrender documents at Appommatox in 1865. The Confederacy was broken, but it’s spirit lived on. It thrived under the banner of States’ Rights, and many of the horrors of slavery resurfaced in the form of Jim Crow laws, chain gangs and lynchings. The hatred for Blacks and the Northern aggressors who forced radical change in the old South never dissipated. And when the sons and daughters of the Confederacy migrated North and West, they took their hatred with them; the hatred is in their bones.
And I see it today. The forces that propelled Trump into office may have been in part an enthusiasm for a man who paradoxically has, for most of his life, been antipathetic to his supporters’ values. This is the grim reality we must face- the possibility that Trump’s minions are not inspired by a love for him, but indeed by a hatred for us. At first there may have been conscienable outliers; people so disgusted and disenchanted with the status quo that they gravitated to someone who would smash that status quo into a million pieces. But there have been two years to consider and reconsider their choice. If at this point, after being exposed to the hateful pettiness of their man; his contempt for science and institutions; his authoritarianism and his unabashed admiration for other authoritarians, then perhaps we should no longer waste time hoping for some divine union between them and us.
We should focus our energies on solidifying our coalitions, and not changing the hearts and souls of the opposition. We must stand apart, then stand together.
I think of the men and women who marched and died for some small measure of justice; of the struggles and sacrifices of the past. Progress is slow, but regression can move at blinding speed. The rock Sisyphus toiled uphill slipped from his grasp so easily. The gains made for justice have come hard.
We must be forever vigilant- if not, they will take it all away.
As of today (yes, votes are still being counted) 98 women were elected to congress last Tuesday- the vast majority of the non-incumbents progressive Democrats. But for me, far more remarkable – and positive- is their stunning diversity. The majority of the House is now Democratic, and many of the victorious progressive women are newcomers to politics. And the diverse swath is stunning. There are now Muslim women serving alongside members of the LBGTQ community; there are women who are veterans; military pilots; teachers; nurses; attorneys; entrepreneurs and moms- as well as one who is a beacon of diversity (Sharice Davids) who is a young Native American, Gay, mixed martial arts competitor and an attorney to boot. I salute them all. What an incredible mix of experience to add to the gumbo of politics.
But with power comes responsibility. Just a brief peek at history reveals the corrosive and corrupting nature of power. Now the new arrivals will soon have to deal with the odious process of deal making and negotiation. They will partake out of necessity the making of the sausage, and the best of them will learn that attaining part of a goal through compromise is better than coming away empty handed. They will face adversaries who are unencumbered by principle and gifted in the art of treachery. And the best of them will never betray the ideals, strength and temerity required of mothers, pilots, nurses, warriors and teachers.
They will persevere- and for the survival of us all, they must prevail.
I originally wrote this piece several months ago and read it at “Dimestories” in Costa Mesa. Dystopian to be sure, but as time goes by, it becomes sadly more plausible.
It was the third year of the drones.
Winston was still in a state of shock. There were rumors, carefully spoken, of a secret resistance forming, but he was skeptical.
The ruler was initially mocked- a tabloid clown- a narcissistic reality show buffoon. He was entertaining, good for the ratings. It was absurd to think he would go anywhere.
Slowly, the sense of absurdity changed to fear. He understood the ancient hatreds that simmered beneath the fragile veneer of society. The hatred festered, waiting for someone like him. He was their dark messiah, and he gave the haters license and legitimacy. There were far more of them than Winston had imagined; enough of them with their fevered intensity to put their messiah in power with at least a facade of credibility. And then the unravelling began.
The country was renamed New America. Old alliances fell and new ones formed. New America allied with Russia, which had annexed the nations of the old Soviet Union. China and Saudi Arabia joined the alliance as well.
Europe would not go down without a fight- brave Europe- outnumbered and out gunned. The leader of The Free World, Angela Merkel, held fast, against all odds.
The laws and institutions crumbled and the regression was swift and ruthless. The Supreme Court, deemed obsolete, was replaced by a tribunal of Evangelical extremists. The Constitution was suspended, and laws and edicts were based on Old Testament scripture, upon the approval of the oligarchy. Under the “Woman Subservience Restoration Act”, all abortions were illegal. Women died by the thousands as they were driven by desperation to back alley quacks with rusty coat hangers.
All same sex marriages were annulled, and gays were required to undergo conversion therapy. Those who resisted were branded as “Abomination People”, and a movement took hold to allow public stonings.
Conscription to build “The Great Wall” was mandatory for all males between 15 and 65. The purpose now was to keep people in, as millions sought refuge below the southern border.
Water levels rose, causing massive floods and the average Summer temperature was 110 degrees. Believing in “Man Made” climate change was heresy, and the floods and fires were deemed to be the will of God.
The media had early on been branded as the enemy of the people. Now they were gone, except for the official state station whose logo was the head of an immense, ravenous fox.
Health insurance was gone. Only the oligarchy could afford doctors. Social Darwinism and eugenics were encouraged as a means of eliminating the old and weak.
The drones were everywhere, blocking the blue of the sky. They surveilled, looking for suspicious behavior.
Winston lowered his head in shame and defeat. If only the rumors of a resistance were true- more than a pipe dream.
There was a flash. A rocket shot from the ground. The first drone went down, followed by others.
It was the opening salvo from The Resistance-
The Rebellion had begun.
As a Baby Boomer, I have developed a deep respect for Millennials. As flawed as Democracy may be, it remains for me the best of all systems for governance. This piece originally ran as a commentary in a local paper, and is especially pertinent now, with the most recent gun carnage against Jews and Blacks. It is a clarion call to Millennials, and to my fellow Boomers to go out and vote next Tuesday.
Baby Boomers. We were so certain of our uniqueness- of our destiny to defy the inevitability of history and change the world.
There were so many of us; we would overwhelm the forces of evil that spawned the senseless Viet Nam War and the brutality of racism. It was as if we were meant to be young at an ordained time in order to meet the tumult of injustice head on and usher a new era of peace and equality. But oh how flawed we were: never trust anyone over 30; dismissing our parents for having a stake in the system and buying into the American Dream- a dream so frail and perhaps illusory. But we fatigued so quickly in pursuit of our ideals.
After Kent State, realizing that the protective womb of the campus ruptured and that they could actually kill us, we receded from the struggle and forged a new strategy- the long game stealth coup- take the system over from within. But oh, how readily we caved- co-opted by our own greed and narcissism, and one day we awoke and found ourselves towing the line as obedient company men and women. But finally, change is in the air.
A new generation is here- the Millennials, and their slightly younger brothers and sisters, the Post Millennials- or, as I like to call them, the young people.
They are an emerging force. I deal with them daily- at the gym, where I am old enough to be their grandfather but am treated like a bro; in the senior center where I volunteer as a driver delivering meals to seniors less mobile than I, and the twenty-something coordinators are endlessly congenial and respectful to all; and the young retail workers who are ceaselessly courteous and patient. Where does all this “fragile as snowflakes and rattled by micro aggressions ” nonsense, of which they are accused, come from? Perhaps from curmudgeonly Boomers who swore they would never become like their parents and never grow old. Yes, never trust anyone over 30 went the Boomer mantra, but it seems all are welcome within the inclusive Millennial tent- all races and creeds, young and old, gay, straight, trans- come one, come all! And I have not even gotten to conscience and guts yet.
After the shooting massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 14 students and three teachers were slaughtered by a sick student with an all too easily obtained assault rifle, the expected and sickeningly redundant response by NRA beholden politicians was issued as if by script- “We extend our prayers and condolences.” The slaughter was characterized as a tragedy, tantamount to a natural disaster, followed by the customary litany of improved school security, screening for red flags raised by potential assailants, arm the teachers, ad nauseam. Everything but, of course, ban assault rifles. In the past after such massacres, the cries and pleas for gun reform would raise a tepid debate, then after a few weeks there would be a return to status quo. Not this time. Those very young people stepped up to the plate without flinching.
We Boomers demanded that the world be changed- now! The young people, wisely narrowed the scope. Spearheaded by the Parkland shooting survivors they coalesced quickly with one demand obvious in its simplicity- the right to go to school without fearing for their lives on a daily basis. High school students, barely beyond childhood, standing up before millions with pride and conviction, speaking with a strength and eloquence forged by trauma that belies there youth. They have seen death at their feet; the blood of their friends spilled around them. They will never be children again.
And they grow in number. They were an army at the “March For Our Lives” rallies. Uncorrupted and unyielding.
Some say we are sliding inexorably toward totalitarianism. I think of the old saw, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” Our young are doing something.
And so, for you fellow Baby Boomers who may be reading this- we’re not dead yet. Don’t let a joint replacement or bypass keep you from reconnecting with your old passion and ideals.
And you Young People? Keep moving forward. Vote; organize. The fight will not be easy; the march may be uphill. You can handle it. Look at what you’ve already done. You are the new vanguard. Finish the job we started. You are young; you are the future; the future belongs to you.
Now go out and take it
October- my favorite month, and, in a sense, place. I have a form of synesthesia in which the months of the year are perceived as twelve separate places. October is the place where Halloween is located, and Horror films become ubiquitous. Horror- my favorite genre, along with Noir. And so, in no particular order, I share with you thirteen of my favorites:
(1) “The Haunting”- This 1963 black and white gem, based on the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting Of Hill House” and directed by Robert Wise, is a masterpiece of evocation and suggestion. Some truly terrorizing moments, and nary a drop of blood spilled.
(2) “The Pit And The Pendulum”- Of all of the Poe stories on which Roger Corman based his films, in my mind this 1961 production is the best. Pre CGI, the dream like image of Castle Medina seen from afar at the movie’s beginning, and the thundering waves crashing against the rocks are indelible in my memory.This film blends elements of Gothic, Surrealism and Expressionism, with unnerving music rivaling anything heard in Psycho- and, of course, there is Vincent Price in his operatic prime.
(3) “The Cat People”- In the Forties Val Lewton, perhaps the most artistic of all producers, partnered with the brilliant director Jacques Tourneur in creating a series of black and white horror films. All are slow paced and noir-like, and the sense of dread ferments at a crawl, until…. As in the “Haunting,” the carnage awaits in the shadows of the viewer’s mind. “The Cat People” is the duo’s nocturnal masterpiece.
(4) “The Innocents”- Another black and white from 1961, this film is based on Henry James’ enigmatic novel “The Turn Of The Screw.” The great debate: is the estate in which Miss Giddens is governess to two very odd children really haunted, or is she a sexually repressed hysteric? You make the call- and don’t miss perhaps the most controversial screen kiss of all time.
(5) “The Wicker Man”- From 1973 and written by the great Anthony Schafer, famous for creating characters who act as dueling ideologues in their dialogue (in this case, the Christian vs the Pagan.) We’re in the month of Samhain- guess which side wins.
(6) “The Exorcist”- I almost don’t need to say anymore. This movie has become archetypal, with ludicrous imitations ad nauseam. Again, less is more, with the big pay off reserved for the end.
(7) “The Ninth Gate’- An almost sinfully underrated horror flick, perhaps due to the director’s moral taint. Filmed in multiple countries, with Johnny Depp and Frank Langella at their best. I’ve actually deluded myself into believing I alone truly understand this movie.
(8) “Rosemary’s Baby”- Another Polanski masterpiece, from 1968 before he became a moral pariah. Based on Ira Levin’s novel. Think evil disguised as mundane. Who knows what your obnoxious neighbors are really up to. Surely Mia Farrow’s best work.
(9) “The Bride Of Frankenstein”- James Whale’s exquisite and superior sequel to his 1933 classic. The image of the electrified bride played to Gothic perfection by Elsa Lanchester is indelibly etched in the collective psyche.
(10) “Dracula”- The 1979 John Badham version starring Frank Langella. The charming count, finally redefined by Langella as a capital R Romantic tragic hero, played to the hilt with Byronesque panache. And that incredible score.
(11)”Curse Of The Demon” – Jacques Tourneur at the end of his horror mastery (1957). A skeptical psychologist (Dana Andrews) investigates Devil worship and curses in Britain. Tourneur’s flare for dreamlike night scenes and understated horror was never any better.
(12) “Freaks”- Tod Browning’s infamous masterpiece. A pre-code black and white, circa 1932, utilizing actors with actual abnormalities (microcephaly, conjoined twins, people born sans limbs etc.) Just short of banned, the film was suppressed for several years. Basically a betrayal and revenge movie, the original ending would be considered horrifically excessive even by today’s standards.
(13) “I Walked With A Zombie”- Another Lewton/Tourneur tour de force effort from 1943. The story is based on Jane Eyre, and displays an elegance unusual even for Tourneur. Many of Tourneur’s films were given tawdry, lurid titles such as this one for marketing reasons. Ironic in that this genius redefined and elevated the entire genre.
When I initially saw the picture in the L.A. Times of Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer squatting behind four baboons as he beamed delightedly at the camera, I thought how wonderful- this man must be a baboon whisperer. An entire family of baboons yet, with a mamma, papa and their offspring, one of whom appeared to be an infant, posing with complete passivity in front of their new Homo Sapien friend. Then I read the story.
Suddenly the image became grotesque and obscene. The passive baboons were posed by Fischer post mortem. He had killed them. Not out of self defense, or for food, but basically, because he could. An entire family of feeling, thinking primates, who are from the same genetic family tree as we, and feel the same emotions as we do. What horror they must have felt the moments before their slaughter. The Times quoted Fischer as saying, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” What bent moral code would allow his behavior?
The baboons were not his trophies- they were his victims. No euphemisms or rationalizations will change that. What he did was murder-plain and simple. I look, but I must close my eyes; the horror- far easier to watch the void.
Please be patient. I am a neophyte. Up until a few weeks ago, I thought a blog was something akin to a slough. Alas, I suspect even the Amish may hold me in contempt. Give me a bit of time to get my sea legs, and then decades of pent up opinions and philosophy will spring forth.