Sunday, March 3, 2013

Be A Man

Be a man.

I've been told this, mostly at moments of perceived weakness. Not often, and when much younger than I am now, but often enough to remember clearly.

I still don't know what it means—to be a man.

The more I think about gender, in general and my own, I keep scratching my head trying to understand  what should be the easy-to-see, normal, normative, default status of "male."

Women stare.

Far more often than not, they avert their eyes.

Men's eyes tend to linger—penetrating insight into a difference between the two.

But gay men?  Eyelock must ensue?

What do people see when they look at me?
Patriarchy and misogyny exist and have tremendous force in creating our world.

Male-imposed, capitulated to by women, jointly created?

All of the above.

When women stare, they might make a glance at "what you're packin' inside that denim," to quote Ke$ha, a personal hero of mine, in one of her odes of feminist empowerment—or at abs or pecs, "t-shirt tight."

But more often they check in by checking out my face—they want to look into my eyes and, I imagine, to have me, to have anyone, look back into theirs.

But return a look, no less a stare, and down goes her glance.

Mysterious inexplicable sculpture.
Ani sings "self-preservation is a fulltime occupation," that "they'll stop at nothing when they know what you're worth:" so "you know I don't avert my eyes anymore in a man's world."

Few listen, from what I've seen.

We tend to be tits-and-ass focussed, at least when it comes to embodied values. Sports, illustrated, for instance, by the Swimsuit Edition.

If, to return to Ke$ha, power arises with "Daisy dukes showing off my ass / and when I walk past give the boys whiplash," then where does responsibility fall?

Why do blonde hair hair and blue eyes and broad shoulders attract so much attention?  What eternal desire can we not meet, must we keep seeking over and again at our own peril?

So many questions, and a paucity of good answers amidst the proliferation of gender studies.  

To be a man. To be strong? To take charge, to control?

I must need to re-read Fanny Hill—you should take a look if you've never done so before.

Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Killed My Mother

Arnold Street, Lincoln, RI c. 1994
I killed my mother.

I let her die when others would have done more to let her live.

How could I?

She didn't know her name.  She didn't know my name.  She didn't know she should eat, or even what it meant to eat.  She screamed hysterically whenever anyone tried to put food in her mouth.

So I let her die.

My mother had advanced-stage Alzheimer's disease, though she was young - just 63 years old.  

"Her body is so strong," said the nun-like nursing coordinating at the home where she received care.

I said I didn't care.

No feeding tube, no electroshock therapy to "calm her nerves."

Let her die.

My mother was literally paralysed by fear, paranoid, delusional, incomprehensible: cowering in her bed, crying, whimpering, unable to sit still or escape convulsive pain.

"It's all in her mind," said one doctor.

What mind, I asked?

I demanded hospice and morphine.  LET HER DIE.

"But she has more than six months to live," I was told.  Not eligible for hospice care.

Could she ever find peace?
What, I asked?  

She barely has six days to live, she won't eat.

Finally I called state agencies, I threatened to sue the nun-like nurse and her home.  Finally, they relented, they released her to a new facility.

The new doctor understood.  No more anti-psychotic medication that didn't work, that actually made it worse.  No more "rehabilitative" therapies.  Just opiates and the occasional moments of peace that they brought.

She would get up in the middle of the night and scream.  

More morphine, I said.

I refuse to let her suffer.

More morphine.

As expected, her breathing became more shallow over the period of a few days.  

Fluid began to collect in her lungs: she began to aspirate.

Slowly, finally, with furtive, miserable, squirming resignation, my mother died.

I only wonder why I waited so long.

i killed my mother i let her die what 


I like to believe in heaven and that my mother is there now.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Got your Goat?

The goat-screeching remix of Taylor Swift's Trouble makes me smile.


Then to see the many subsequent goat-enhanced videos — Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer = favorite — I can't help but blush.

What's going on?

Edward Albee has a good idea.

His excellent play, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? presents unsettling questions of love and infidelity, human and bestial sexual appetites and more.

Since Swift's song offers and ode to breaking up...

Do we need to know something more about the goading-goat creator?  Or Swift?

All quite fascinating.

Plus good reason for more people to read or see Albee's play, well worth your time.

Trouble, trouble, trouble...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back to the Future

History triumphed at the Oscars.  From Argo to Lincoln, Anna K and Les Mis, this year's blockbusters shared a way-back-when patina that lent an extra gravitas to their theatrical brilliance.

Less brilliantly, Seth MacFarlane's appallingly minsogynst performance, complete with an ode to cleavage and jokes about domestic violence, reminded us of history's darker underbelly.  (When you get scolded by Denny Crane, you know it's really, really bad.)

Hollywood often looks to Great Men and Great Moments for great drama. At their best, historical films can broaden our understanding of and appreciation for the past—far more so than the abysmal textbooks and memorize-to-death approaches of standard high school social studies courses.

I can't imagine the Civil War without Ken Burns and for better and worse, my memory of the Civil Rights era will be forever shaped by The Help.

War wins disproportionate cinematic attention, pre-designed for suspense and special effects: Hurt Locker, Band of Brothers, Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning Vietnam—you could fill a page without even trying.

This year's Zero Dark Thirty made history as much as any film ever has, with a powerful ideological gaze back upon 9/11 and the global response to twenty-first century terrorism.

Argo, a bit tamer, got the highest honor, announced from the White House in a coup of Oscar-night performances.  (Even descending from the Star Trekked heavens, William Shatner can't come close to competing with Michelle Obama.)

Indeed, Iran better watch out because the next movie in which it appears might have a lot more bunker-busting, nuclear-weapons-destroying drama than this quite tame story of hostages' escape.

Why all the backwards-looking films?

We have a troublesome future, from cyber warfare to super storms, failed states and needless human suffering—poverty, disease, violence against women and poorly funded or non-existent educational systems.

We combat this future with well-coifed beards and other subtle signs of male power.

Having grown up in the futurist worlds of Terminator and Blade Runner, I've both enjoyed and been profoundly troubled to watch these movies of yesterday become the reality of tomorrow.  Though I think I got a head start from reflecting upon the costs and consequences of these dystopic depictions.

With the Oscars as a reflection of popular culture, we've got our backs to the future. Not a Michael J. Fox-like adventure with the chance to change the fate of human relationships, but a closed-minded, narrow-minded view of the way things were that blinds us to the desperate, trying realities we now and will soon confront.

It's time we turned around.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Killer Bodies

On Valentine's Day, Oscar Pistorius, the famed legless runner, shot and killed his supermodel girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Controversy surrounds Pistorius' status as a killer.  Did he act in self defence?  Or murder out of rage?

In a country troubled by violent crime, Steenkamp's death has become trapped between homeowners' fears about violent robberies and the everyday reality of South African women, who live under threat of violence more severe than almost anywhere else in the world.

Does Pistorius body bear as much responsibility as his mind and emotions?

In his defence, lawyers claim he faced a greater threat as a legless man and thus needed to shoot multiple times through a closed door in order to protect himself.

Many athletes favor supermodel partners: Steenkamp poses for FHM.
Prosecutors stumbled over the discovery of potential stimulants or other body-enhancing products in Pistorius' apartment—could this have been a hormone-induced mania?

If one or both carries any weight, the truth that remains: Steenkamp died in a bloody puddle.

Athletes' violent relationships make regular appearances in the news.  OJ Simpson and Nicole Smith, to provoke a now distant memory, or Tiger Woods' infidelity and car-accident escape from his home.  Boxers, baseball players, football stars, hockey champions -- even mild-mannered runners it now appears.  Or cyclists: Lance Armstrong as delusional, egotistical perpetrator of unreality.

The list goes on and on and on.

Whether as part of the massive doping scandals unfolding before us, or on high school sports fields or elementary school play yards, we must take on the role of harmful, uncontrolled violence in competitive athletics.  

Sports should subsume our animalistic and inhuman rage in a controlled, rule-governed and reasonably safe arena of play.  Off the field, then, we can relax and enjoy one another's company as friends.

Tragically, much of men's off-the-field violence gets directed toward women.  They yell, they grab, they beat and strangle and kill.

Women often direct that violence against themselves (or occasionally, other women -- Tonya Harding?!?)  

Yesterday after leaving the gym, a female friend commented: they lined up for the scale.  Truly -- a line, waiting for the scale, to weigh themselves and stare and self-critically explore every aspect of their body.

Some men eventually devolve into the self-consuming depths of dementia, like hockey player Derek Boogaard, who killed himself in a haze of depression and addiction.  (The New York Time's feature story about his career and death serves as a model of investigative journalism.)  

Endless women live as anorexics or at least burdened by obsessive body image issues and incredibly restrictive eating habits.  For men, Alzheimer's may eventually act like a sort of physical anorexia, slowly eating away at their minds and bodies.

So with all these athletics and teams and workout routines, we learn to scorn those who end up fat and we truly do live with killer bodies.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Apocalypse Now. Save Me!

Why is the same book published over and over again?

Regurgitate knowledge, I call it.

This question arose while speaking with a friend -- much more well read than I will ever be, two or three lifetimes over.

We identified some annoying tropes—I take full responsibility for the editorialising:

• You're wrong!  Everything you think about X or about the world - WRONG.  (Though I've got a clever knew way to explain everything.)  Think Malcolm Gladwell.

You're right!  You just don't know it yet, and you must find your strong, determined inner-self and find truth and happiness and love and great sex and free cable for the rest of your life.

• Why can't we all just get along?  Everything, everybody - so divisive and cantankerous and hostile, yelling shouting heads, why can't it be like before, calm and civil and productive.  (These people appear thrilled to advertise their total ignorance of history, at least of U.S. political history.)

• The sky is falling!  Literally or figuratively, it's the end of the world.  Whether economic collapse, plague, too much immigration, not enough immigration, global warming, cyborgs and terrorists -- doom, doom, doom.  (Occasionally a modest author or two will then continue to explain how they alone possess the solution to one or all of these problems.)

But more seriously -- the last points the way to the One Book that's published today. We've one-upped our Puritan forebears and have dedicated nearly all of our intellectual energy to awaiting the apocalypse. Second coming. End times.  Revelation. However you'ld like to call it.

But unlike those godly Puritans, we want it to be easy. Chips or fries? Sit back and watch it all unfold in 3D surround sound -- simply chosen ones.

There's no easy buck to be made, or solution to discover.  Real problems get solved with real, hard work and sustained thinking, original argumentation, research, newly discovered or newly refined or understood knowledge.  It's messy.  Slow, confusing, often wrong, sometimes worse that the initial problem, but never easily dispatched in a single shiny 265 page monograph that's nothing more than an auto-expanded version of what once appeared as a decent article in the New Yorker.

We await the audience that will buy that!

Until then, I'm going to read fiction.  Awaiting my salvation.