Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Founding Brothers"

-by Joseph Ellis
2000
If you've always been curious to get beneath the mythologies of our founding fathers, this Pulitzer Prize winner is perhaps the most satisfying, well-written tome you'll find. It delves into the beliefs and conflicts of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Burr, illuminating their personal lives only so much as is necessary to understand how they informed this grand ideological experiment we call home. More than a couple of them would be stunned (or in Jefferson's case, perhaps horrified) to find the republic still going, over two centuries later. Jefferson had always been my favorite...and while that's probably still ideologically true, Adams is almost certainly the most impressive and forthright among them. Washington couldn't compete with the rest intellectually, but his integrity alone assured that this experiment would survive beyond a single generation. Is Abigail Adams the most influential american female ever, and deserving of a spot on this list? Almost certainly. Were Franklin's charisma and brilliance overshadowed by a lack of substance? Perhaps, or perhaps not - he's the only founding brother to ever come out emphatically against slavery. The centrist Hamilton and the fascinating Burr never got to put their imprint upon the presidency, but that seemed to be the way the wind was blowing even before they shot at each other with murderous (or perhaps not) intent. The book is a bit Madison-light...but otherwise Ellis offers up a concise, flowing deconstruction of what these men strived and fought for. In a time when we've become the epitome of the kind of bloated, imperialist plutocracy they rose up against, it's nice to be reminded of the genuine idealism that started it all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A2

WOMEN 74
(a follow-up to WOMEN 57 - http://nakedmeadow.blogspot.com/2011/02/blog-post.html)

I kept in happy touch with A and her new family when i moved north. I went back for an extended FL visit three years later, and stayed at their place a good deal. Their child was over two now, and so wonderful - little V cooed like a pigeon. Any memories of my years of being in love with A were out of my consciousness, as i continued to love she and E both as a couple and individually. They talked of getting me to move back. But all was not well - i'd known they'd been having troubles (mostly sexual). It was worse than i knew. One evening i got a call from A, asking me to pick her up. She was in Bonita on foot, having left E and their car. Once i got her, i found out that a lot of the worst behaviors from her horrible romantic past were being enacted anew, most notably physical/emotional violence lubricated by alcohol. I found out they'd even separated a few months back. The next afternoon, when E and V were on the porch and i was inside with her, she told me she'd been thinking about being with me. My spirit suddenly went looping into a space i'd never known. If you'd told me beforehand that a simple handful of words could ever affect me so, i wouldn't have believed you. I felt my being splinter. I'll be eternally glad i was able to respond in an unaffected way (my spirit was in piecemeal tatters for the next few months, living between my love for them and the feelings she had released in me). The next day, she spoke some words that may have been the most resonant of my life. She was talking about massage, asking whether i were still into it. I replied affirmatively. She said that E hated massage, and wished she were rubbing my feet that very moment. Why those words tore me down and left me quivering and alone in the universe, i can't exactly say...but in the months to come, a sentence churned through my spirit over and over, a sentence to her i hadn't been able to finish - "To be the one who gets to rub your feet every night..." I couldn't finish it, my mind wouldn't let me, i couldn't enunciate what i would do to be that person...but i'm sure it was the most profound unfinished sentence of my life. My word choice bothered me, though. Why did it have to be "the one"? In the months and years to come, my mind tried to come up with a solution...perhaps TWO mates for her...she could thrive with two (of course that probably applies to all women, but ridiculously so for A, with her sex drive and paradoxical personality). However, while she'd been saying these massage things, E was right in the room! I'd always been so grateful that he was at peace with my nebulous, quasi-romantic history with her. I knew how rare such acceptance could be. And here she was, blatantly comparing him unfavorably to me, right before his eyes. I cried inside. A had always had a blunt quality, it's one of the things i loved about her most dearly. But her bluntness was sometimes pseudo-intentionally destructive. A few nights later, she was tucking V and i into bed. He was already asleep, and she spoke of sexual desire for me. Such profound inner conflict (in me, but no doubt her too). I also experienced another sensation that was a first in my life - my brain literally scrambling words i was hearing. It happened once in FL, then again later on the phone. A was talking, and my brain just turned her words into a jumbly muck. I could hear the components, but my brain randomized them. Just stunningly bizarre. One of those times, she was talking about how she felt a kind of peace with me she couldn't compare with anyone she'd ever known (or something like that). What she said the other time, my brain fuzzed so well that i can recall no part of it. My reaction to V had been singular too...it was easy to imagine slipping into his life, as a parent figure. Where did THAT come from?? I'd never had a thought like that for any child. I talked with E, commiserating with him and trying to get him to open up. But he couldn't fully do so. A told me he was angry she'd involved me in their problems. There were other moments on that trip...she would share her perceptions on life and living, and once or twice i was just dumbfounded over how some of her views were so like my own wildflower ways. A couple months later, A and V were visiting E's parents in Connecticut, and she invited me. I hopped on a bus. I was determined that, in E's childhood home of all places, i would never do a destructive thing. It was a lovely couple days. A and i had some nice moments, including a freezing, nighttime skinny dip, but neither of us spoke about the things that had passed between us. After my FL visit, i'd sent some e-mails to E and not heard back (but that was typical for him). The worst thing i did in Connecticut was follow her up the stairs one night after she'd gone to bed with V. I stood outside her door. When she'd said goodnight, we stood face to face and had a long few moments of silent soul-sharing. I finally turned around and went back down. A month or so later, i got the sense that she was re-dedicated to E, and sent her my support. I asked for one small favor, on the phone - to let loose my spirit's turmoil, which i'd written down. She listened, and a great load was lifted. The difference between the new feelings she'd stirred in me and the drowning love i'd experienced those years earlier was that, for the first time ever, my spirit rose to a place of possibility where she and i were together...and the beauty of that dream shook my foundations. Dreaming of some improbable three-way marriage, i went back to my lonely life. I knew that her shadow would loom over my spirit (and love life) for a good while.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"The Medicine Man"

1930
-directed by Scott Pembroke
What an absolutely fascinating slice of cinema history. Jack Benny's first starring film role, in a movie that is perhaps correctly critiqued for not knowing what it wanted to be. As comedy it falls short, as light drama it's too heavy, as drama it's too supercilious. But still, whether through intention or accident, this movie is an entertaining piece of film history and an enthralling piece of social history. Benny plays the emcee of a traveling medicine show. All the cliches are played out...the women he uses and throws away...the locals who fall for the con game...yet these cliches are often turned on their head, as one abandoned woman catches up with the show and outdoes them in the shakedown game, and they are then further shaken down by a sheriff who spares them from the lynch mob (as long as they let him win beaucoup bucks). Fittingly, in this dark comedy, it's hard to root for anyone...but this comes across as far more honest than other films of the era. The only characters you feel sympathy for are the children of a local abusive merchant. The daughter (Betty Bronson - PETER PAN) falls for Benny, and the movie keeps you guessing right up to the end regarding his intentions toward her. The abusive father, starkly portrayed by E. Alyn Warren (TARZAN THE FEARLESS), intends to marry off his daughter to the local butcher. His affirmation of the butcher's right to rape her, and patricarchal attitude in general, are at the core of what makes this film so compelling. All films are "message" films - they only vary in degrees of subtlety. But this film is a ridiculously frank portrayal of the literalness with which children (and daughters in particular) were considered the property of the father. And it's profoundly progressive in its disapproval of that reality. Adapted from a play by Elliot Lester, it's possible that his filmography was short not because of lack of talent, but because he wasn't offering the cookie-cutter fare the studios were looking for. Fascinating.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

corpse babies in the turtle altar

A friend and i came silently and stealthily to an enormous turtle-shaped, ceremonial bathing pool on a rocky shoreline. The pool was one of the key religious altars of our land, and we were part of a revolution against that horrifically repressive religion. Our goddess was very much like Hera or Athena, and we were prepared for any sacrifice to expose her lies. The sun was rising, and as we stirred the water in the pool, bodies became visible. The water was blood red. We knew if we could dump all trace of these murders into the surf below, the power of the goddess's hold on the people would be broken. We pushed several adult corpses into the waves. We found two infant corpses at the bottom of the pool. We knew we had either killed them, or in some way been directly responsible. We accepted that, and carried them unemotionally to the surf below. We began climbing back up. I suddenly realized that my companion was my dear friend Amanda. A wavy, flowing wig had been concealing her identity. We knew that once we climbed back up, we could be taken by the goddesses's acolytes. If that happened, we would probably die. But no violence could be done to anyone at the altar whose appearance was partially concealed. As my hand topped the highest rock level to pull myself back up, i knew we were temporarily untouchable. I suddenly knew that it was Amanda's intent to make love with me before we faced death. We were dangling vertically from the rock ledge, a precarious position. At first she wanted me to turn face-out, while she wrapped herself around me. Even though one of my hands had been able to encircle a rock outcropping above, i knew that we would probably both fall to our deaths were i to try to hold both of us in that position. I nudged her between me and the rocks, face to face. Even in this perilous position, i could feel myself becoming erect as our white altar garments were pulled away...