Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors: My Working Theology

I recently discovered Roger Ebert's blog and greatly enjoy his wide-ranging thoughtful take on things, including occasional, quite casual ruminations about the nature of God. I appreciate that he shows us how he thinks, that as he moves through the world and through time he considers what he encounters in a multi-dimensional way and isn't afraid to share his observations. In one of his recent posts, he wrote (I’m taking the liberty to lift these lines out of context):
... the presence or absence of God. What difference does it make? If there were God, would there be more good in the world? If there were not a God, more evil? What we believe is sometimes more important than what we can see.... If God is omnipotent, he must hear not only our prayers but our most fleeting thoughts... A vast engine of fate and genetics, coincidence and desire, propels us helplessly in a direction we choose to think is ours. The clock ticks until something breaks or some eternal force does something to us. Then we die, and the piece is over.
I was nominally raised a Catholic. My parents sent the children to church Sunday mornings while they themselves stayed home. This disconnect only reinforced my intellectual skepticism. But I was always extremely drawn to nature. Once when I was very little I stood in the doorway on a fine, early spring morning. “Thank you God for this beautiful day,” I am reported to have said, words on occasion I repeat today.

In my youth I described myself as an agnostic and didn’t have a well formed notion of God. My views became clarified a number of years ago when I happened to hear Norman Mailer discussing his theological beliefs in a television interview. Mailer compared God to an old, tired General who though greatly weakened, valiantly perseveres, trying to keep from losing the War.

This made sense to me. God is up against a powerful countervailing force, namely, Evil. (Though I tend to eschew overly simplified binary views such as this.) If God was once omnipotent then He no longer is. This is the key, for me, to understanding why there is so much wanton suffering in the world. It is not, as I now understand it, that God is cruel and indifferent to allow for so much destruction, cruelty, and pain. When people rhetorically ask, "How could God have let this happen?," I believe that it is that God does not have the power to stop it.

I recently watched the miniseries The Lost Room. My attention wandered, but I greatly admire the premise, that a collection of mundane objects acquire special powers in and of themselves, or in combination with other objects. The objects are seemingly ordinary, a key, a comb, an ashtray, a bus ticket, and the like.

I think of God in connection with this imaginative metaphor. Again, God is not omnipotent, otherwise He could simply say Evil be gone, and Good would prevail. Rather, in the War between Good and Evil, General God has been granted the power to instill in each human a divine spark, a special power if you will. Each of us has it, but it is only a potential. For us to join God's side we have to figure out what that special talent or spark is and to abide by it, try to nurture it, be true to it. God needs all kinds. We don't know when our special little (or big) role may come to pass, what role we have in the world, in the universe. Some of us may play a more individual role - for example, an artist or poet expressing the Truth bravely. Others' sparks and talents only come to fruition in key combination with others, such as on a team in which each individual has a unique contribution to make to the whole. Or like a combination lock that requires that the individual numbers align just right in order to open it. Or like building blocks, or an alphabet. The English alphabet contains twenty-six letters. Each letter is unique, but doesn't acquire meaning until combined with others to form a word – savory vowels encased by consonant dumplings to form a tasty word. A single word, in turn, takes on further meaning in combination with other words, in a sentence, a paragraph, a poem, an essay, a novel.

The side of Evil doesn’t want all kinds. It wants monoculture. It seeks to flatten the individual, the creative power that is in each one of us, the unique God-given spark that, activated, aids God's side. Evil doesn’t want the strengths and talents of individual human beings to flower and to be expressed. In fact it would prefer that we simply do as we are told, keep quiet, and behave in lockstep. Evil prefers an uneducated, uninformed, and thoroughly confused public. Evil abhors Nature. It generates and favors art that projects the messages it wants to reinforce, that strengthens its grip and reinforces its hegemony.

It is in part due to my personal sense of theology, that I become alarmed at what I see in our culture.

I’m not religious in a formal sense. I suppose my beliefs could be categorized as gnostic. I am increasingly drawn to the spiritual, and I have an ever-deepening sense that the dots that signify our individual roles add up to a large pattern.

I don’t like where our culture is headed. Our nation was founded on principles that I believe were on "General God’s" side. The colonies overthrew the oppressive forces of the British empire. Things have changed. Or more accurately, Plus ca change plus c’est meme, that is, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” I feel as though it’s 1773 all over again, and the forces of empire once again have the upper hand. They lost in 1776 but never left, which is why, for example, slavery wasn’t eradicated til nearly 100 years later – we didn’t form “the perfect union” right off the bat.

In the last 50 years the forces of greed have gained strength. They are relentless, will stop at nothing, and threaten to overwhelm.

If you see something, say something. I’m trying. Glasses, teacup, lamplight, pen. Here you go.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Five of Cups

I'm starting to see the Five of Cups in different places these days. The card resonates with me. I first started contemplating it a month ago at a writing workshop. I saved it to a desktop folder into which I gather images relating to my blog. The other day I opened it, these two images aligned, and I connected them. They reflect each other, a pair.

I cropped the photo so as to highlight the similarities and to play up the "cups" (not sure what those objects are exactly) to the left of her, and to her right. The young woman is in a desolate area. Though not pictured I understand that there is a body of water nearby (a strait, a sound, or a sea) and if there isn't a bridge there now there used to be one, of sorts.

The young woman isn't me, I didn't take the picture, and don't in fact have anything to do with it, except for having discovered it online and having dated, a million years ago now - 33 to be exact - the man who did take this recent photo (he's now well into his fifties). He's actually in the photo but I've cropped him out.

The young woman reminds me a great deal of me. Whatever his and my relationship once meant to me, I have recently come to understand that I was simply an early prototype of his "type." I've had to rethink my own history.

Anyone would think that I'm obsessed. I'm actually not. I am an older woman looking back at my youth, trying to make sense of it, set the record straight for myself. In the midst of this the Five of Cups image keeps coming up.

I came across a book at the library the other day, a collection of black-and-white photographs claiming to be evidence of ghosts. I leafed through the pages. There was a 19th century photo of a young Englishman, tiny fairy Tinkerbelles swirling around him. There was an Arbus-like photo of an odd-looking bride, grimacing, with what appeared to be an image of a cherub's face in her tightly-clutched bouquet. In another photo a ghostly Virgin Mary hovered in the trees. Darn, what a great book! I should have checked it out.

My mind spotting iterations of the iconic Five of Cups image doesn't prove anything such as that there are ghosts, spirit guides, other dimensions, or anything of the sort. Yet, of the 78 cards in the Tarot deck, why did I happen to pull that particular one? Why not another? Had I pulled a different card, would it have resonated with me so strongly? I tend to think not, or at least, not at this particular time in my life. (In the writing workshop, the other participants seemed to strongly connect with their cards too; much of the writing - our individual responses to the cards - was really very interesting.)

I saw several films at the Columbia Film Festival in Chatham over the weekend, including two that focused on the coming of age of two young women, Fish Tank , and An Education. Sexual initiation in a child-woman's life, as these films brought out, can bring with it unanticipated collateral losses, that is, of bitter acquaintance with the dark side of human nature, emotional pain, and the potential for life-altering, even disastrous consequences.

The theme of sexual initiation with its ambiguities seems to have been a subtheme of the festival. In far darker iterations, it was touched on in, among other films, The Maid. From the state of his bedsheets the maid is keenly observant of the maturing of one of her charges, but seems herself to have severely delimited sexual experience - the result, perhaps, of youthful trauma? In The White Ribbon, sexual betrayal by those whose responsibility as "elders" is to protect the innocent is also touched on, as one of the unrelenting variants of self-serving cruelty. And from what I gather (since I didn't see the closing film) it figures in Precious, the story of a girl's descent into hell is brought about and exacerbated by her father and mother - the very people, one presumes, whose charge is to protect her.


I don't know much about Tarot or, more accurately, don't recall much. Thirty years ago in college, I signed up for an informal winterbreak course taught by a sweet, gay MIT student named Stu. Knowing me, I'm sure I took copious notes - he was very knowledgeable - but they're long since gone. After graduation, while working in an office on a high floor at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, I willingly parted with $20 during a sunfilled break in the plaza. The reading was a disappointment after Stu's informed, nuanced interpretations.

Now I search online for a basic interpretation of the card. The empty cups on the left signify disappointment, the upright cups hope and possibility. The river signifies the flow of time, backwards and forward. The bridge? Something about crossing over. But the bridge is in the far distance, out of reach... The tower? I'm not sure.

I'm an older woman looking back at my youth. The young woman in the photo above seems innocent and happy, as I was too, until I wasn't.

But like the girl-woman in An Education, I managed to scrape myself together, go off to college and acquire an education, and in the long run it was a happy ending for me.

After all, how lucky is it, truly, that I didn't end up with that man?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fellowvoyagers of the Jury

Last Tuesday I was among two hundred fellow citizens who were summoned to appear at the county courthouse for jury duty. Another 200 had been mailed summonses but weren't required to appear. The courtroom, a lightfilled space done in cream and robin’s-egg blue, was packed. We sat in rows like church pews, and were each given a questionnaire, clipboard, and pen. The title of the case was typed at the top of the questionnaire. I was surprised that we were all here for a single case. I had been called for jury duty in Brooklyn a few times and though the juror pool there was several times larger, there were always a number of trials going on at once.

I completed the questionnaire, handed it in, and returned to my book, The Haunting of Hill House. As I sat in the crowded room I thought that the more apposite Shirley Jackson work to have brought along would have been The Lottery, although the people gathered here didn't seem like a restive, bloodthirsty mob as in that story, just a large group of citizens, dutifully and quietly waiting in their seats for whatever proceedings to begin.

I grew restless, put down the book, and looked out the window at the changing leaves in the courthouse square. Eventually there was movement at the front of the room. A door opened and in walked the judge and others, including three men in suits. The judge called everyone to order. The prosecutor introduced himself, as did the defense attorney. He indicated his client, who was now seated - one of the men in suits. He hadn't stood out to me at all. From what I could glimpse from the back of the room, he appeared to be in his early twenties, with an owlish, washed-out look, and an alert, hopeful expression, though I may have imagined that.

The judge announced the charges against the defendant. They were unambiguously and unspeakably serious to the extreme. They involved the rape and sodomy of a child or children, under age eleven.

Hundreds of people were assembled here on account of the defendant. I wondered what he made of that. I would imagine that entering a courtroom packed with people who wouldn't be there except for your actions would make an impression.

A jury of twelve plus two alternates was to be selected. I had a very high number, near 200. We were divided into four groups of roughly 50, with the first group asked to stay for voir dire, the second to return a half hour hence, and the rest excused for a long lunch break. When I returned, the judge cordially thanked and dismissed us, with the brief explanation that the first two groups had been sufficient to pick a jury. I went home.

The trial was to start the day after next. Having partaken in the ritual ceremony of appearing for jury duty, and then though not surprisingly, finding that my services weren't required, I found that my interest in the case had been piqued. I realized that I had formed a desire to observe the trial. I verified that I had the legal right to do so, but it was an unusual thing for me to do and I had to think about my motives. The evidence and testimony were bound to be extremely disturbing, graphic, and difficult, given the nature and severity of the charges. One of the prospective jurors stood up to say that he was acquainted with someone on the witness list - an emergency room nurse. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the powerful case that the prosecution could put on, but (assuming that these weren't false allegations, or a case of mistaken identity) I wondered what credible or mitigating defense could possibly be mounted given such charges.

Thursday morning was cold and grey, with a thin drizzle. I arrived at the courthouse a little late, after ten. I recognized the defense attorney, who was was outside the building talking to a woman and a couple of others, whom I surmised to be the defendant's mother and family. I thought, maybe the trial’s on break already, or hasn't started yet. I passed through the metal detector and went up the marble staircase to the courtroom. It was empty except for a small group of men in conference, who looked up at me. I turned and left, and ran into a court staff member who politely asked, may I help you? I said that I was looking for the trial, and stated the name of the defendant.

"That's finished," she said, without elaborating.

I was surprised. There's no way the trial could have begun and ended in a matter of minutes. I suppose the defendant must have taken a plea. I wanted to ask what happened but held my tongue. I may have had a right to attend the trial, but I doubted I had any additional right to information, barring a formal FOIA request, or reading whatever account might appear in the paper.

I thought, what an extraordinary thing for hundreds of people to be summoned and caused to appear, and then for the trial not to happen. The defendant had exercised his right to request a jury trial. Did he change his mind at the last moment? He must already have been well aware of the might of the state to prosecute and incarcerate him. (The defendant, if I heard the judge correctly, had committed the alleged crimes early in 2008 - was he on retrial? had he won some technical point on appeal? if so, could this have given him false hope?). Was it to make a point to him that a large pool of potential jurors had been assembled? Were we there to scare the bejeezus out of the defendant? Was it only at the point of entering the courtroom to face a silent crowd, out of whom a small number would bear witness to the evidence and ultimately pass judgment, that it was to sink in to him that the outcome, from his standpoint, would be hopeless?

Two hundred people at $40 per day, plus 400 people notified at 44 cents each postage. This case may have been notorious in the county. I had no knowledge of it, perhaps because I don’t regularly read the local paper, but I imagine there would have been a need for a large pool of jurors in order to prevent a tainted jury.

The state had caused hundreds of people to set aside whatever else they might have been doing otherwise that day. Perhaps we had been summoned to convene so as to make an impression on us, that the state wished to dramatize that this is the line, this is precisely the unconscionable level of criminal behavior that is unequivocally intolerable in our society. (I can also imagine a possible political explanation, since it's election season.)

As I had noted on my questionnaire, I had no knowledge of the case and, indeed, still don’t know any of the facts. I speculated about the defendant. The nature of his crimes – horrific. But he may have been easy enough to catch. He was evil, with (to say the least) no respect for boundaries, but my impression was that he was probably rough and uneducated. I imagined that his tactics relied on brute force, and that, crimes committed, he didn’t have the cunning or wherewithal to keep from getting caught. He didn’t have the practiced finesse, charm, look, and manner to develop and pull off a Jekyll-and-Hyde “double life.” As an out-of-control animal he may have been easy enough to identify and to catch, and without financial resources or clout to keep things hushed, to be made a public example of. I think, in contrast, of all the smooth predators out there who manage to conceal their crimes, or to keep things barely under control, or just barely legal, and lead their entire lives living a lie, maintaining a convincing veneer of propriety and rectitude, all the while giving rein to unethical impulses but in a manner carefully controlled to conceal the truth.

I thought also about the Madoff trial & verdict, how ceremonial his judgment day had been. I remember the Manhattan federal courtroom being described in quasi-religious terms, with the golden light of justice pouring through cathedral-like windows onto the assembled crowd of victims and other members of civil society, convened together to see the moment of justice arrive. Madoff, and this country rube – two vampires, sucking the lifeblood out of their victims, each on either end of the social scale. But each case was, in its way, played up to the public in a ritual, theatrical way, monsters made public, while vast nameless legions of all manner of lesser vampires aren’t called to account.

I’m aware of a theory in science that speculates about the moment in history – the year 2037 I believe is the year projected – when it is thought that machines will actually be able to think and will then begin to subsume humans. I sense that some look forward to the so-called “singularity” with (to my mind) misplaced, creepy, breathless anticipation. I believe that this moment has arrived already, in the form of machinelike corporate organisms that have been developed to have a will, mind, and rapacious appetite of their own. These corporate vampires and the people who run them seem to be taking over our society – my America, as I ever experienced and understood it – and it seems that having systematically infiltrated government, they may be beyond the reach of prosecuting, unstoppable.

I think of another twist on the notion of singularity – of humans whose impassive intellects and/or wild-animal drives are wholly untempered by “heart” or humanity. They are soulless machines of sorts, too. Is this what the human species is evolving into, in seeming symbiogenetic synchronicity with soulless machines, and corporations? This co-emergence, the new totalitarian hegemony - is this the “singularity”?

I left the courthouse, went back to my car, and decided to stop at a favorite shop of mine, which among its delights offers discounted remnants of fine fabrics. Indulging my true aesthetic taste in home furnishings is usually beyond the bounds of my budget, so it’s been a joy and creative outlet for me to fashion beautiful items for my home, precisely as I like, for a song.

I found a cheerful plaid that I thought could transform our summery rattan settee and chairs into a cozy “lodge” look for winter. I spotted a roll of another fabric as well – flannel printed with a charming idyllic scene of starfilled sky, rustic cabins aglow with lanternlight, and evergreens dusted with snow. The fabric is perfect for a small child’s snuggly bedsheets – a cozy, safe, charming scene, where nothing bad could ever happen - I wanted to enter the image myself. Absurdly I thought of the defendant, and of Madoff. They certainly aren’t sleeping on sheets like this – though budding vampires (tucked to bed in their parents' sheltered retreats) might be. I thought, wow, I would hate to go to prison for any reason, not only to lose all my freedom, but to give up the comfort of bed and soft covers.

I purchased the plaid and headed home. I needed thread. I broke my vow not to ever set foot in the new Greenport Hypermarket 2.0. Normally I get my thread at a little shop in town.

It hunkers like an aircraft carrier at the rear of hundreds of acres of asphalt. As I drove into the lot, I felt as if I was entering onto the grounds of a penitentiary or vast military installation. I believe this brutalist design is intentional. Increasingly there are engineered to be two very divergent realities for Americans. I hover uncertainly somewhere between the two realms.

I stepped through the doors into the dwarfing space. The people (as was the case at Hypermarket 1.0) look damaged or disfigured to me, in some way grotesque. I say this with a sense of compassion, but also of horror. You see poverty here, in every respect, including poverty of spirit. It is all too possible for an American in poverty today to experience virtually nothing but overscale brutalist spaces designed and reserved just for them. Many institutional buildings of recent decades have a similar look. Windowless public school buildings. Juvenile detention centers secured with barbed wire (as I drove past Brookwood the other day, I glimpsed a lone heron at the edge of a gulley or cistern there). Hulking, windowless big box stores. Military installations. Hardened flows of asphalt obliterating the scorched earth. At the east and west horizons, minimized mountains, mute in the distance, rendered irrelevant in the desolated landscape.

A dystopian, totalitarian vision of America has been steadily coming to pass. America today looks and feels very different from the America I grew up in when I came up in the sixties and seventies. The landscape is disfigured. The people look disfigured.

The other day a comment on Salon, written by "fellowvoyager," caught my eye. He wrote that William Torey Harris, U.S. Secretary of Education from 1889-1906, in his book, The Philosophy of Education, opined that “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places,” since in his estimation, “School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.”

I think of Plato’s cave. I haven’t read it in years, but I think of the multitudes who live their entire lives in the dark, never seeing a ray of light or so much as a shadow that would give a hint that there is something beyond the cave.

The Chosen are entitled to beautiful iterations of reality, along with a liberal education. Laboring classes are damned to an alternate reality, along with strictly circumscribed education, in order to keep them in their allotted places. Torey wrote, “Ninety-nine out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”

No Child Left Behind. No Stone Left Unturned. The deliberate destruction of all that is good and simple and lovely and light, of the spark of the divine in human nature. The deliberate destruction of nature. No Tern Left Unstoned.

Hypermarket 2.0 may be phasing out thread. Why would it want people to sew? I purchased a spool of beige, the last one on the rack.

I know how to sew. I made beautiful crafts as a girl, and bought my materials at a corner stationery – an emporium in miniature - that I could walk to from my house. At the shop’s wooden counters I pored over inviting stacks of colored felt, packets of buttons and sequins, laces, ribbons, rainbow displays of thread in spools and embroidery floss too...

I didn’t stick around to check but I would bet that raw crafts materials at Hypermarket 2.0 are ugly and synthetic.

A child can’t walk to Hypermarket 2.0 on his or her way from home or school.

I enjoyed a liberal public education. I sat in lightfilled classrooms and pored over books in handsome libraries and studied at home by lamplight and was taken to museums and on fine days took walks in the woods and I listened to music and to birdsong and I ate delicious good food and read and read and formed a notion of what a fair society should be like and developed a conscience and thought about others and thought about equity, not just efficiency.

And so the other day I went home with my beautiful cotton plaid from the exclusive, rarified shop (where I buy only remnant scraps but am nonetheless always pleasantly treated), and my thread from the dehumanizing hangar. At times I set foot in either realm, but am not of either.

(It was right in the middle of the two extremes, that little corner stationery in the middle-class neighborhood where I grew up. That was a paradise for me. Everyone loved it, commuters grabbing coffee and the paper next door to the train; children like me with a couple of nickels, considering the comprehensive confectionary display; comic books, news weeklies, fashion glossies - all manner of magazines, including off-limits ones with paper wrappers. There was something for everyone in that perfect little shop.)

Nowadays I drive my car from place to place, I take walks, I pull up warm covers at night. I’m not in prison. I’m not at either extreme of a spectrum of vampires. I’m not a vampire at all, I don’t believe.

I’ve seen the shadows, the hints of light, of beauty, of nature, of high ideals, of peace and comfort, of satiety, of joys. I know there’s an alternative, beautiful reality possible.

I’m a member of a vast jury pool. I’ve seen a lot of evidence, I still remember, and this is what I think.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Perspectives of Alice

My mind has been very unquiet lately, hence the lag in posting. I have so many thoughts running through my head. It's 8am now and I'm going to give myself 30 minutes of typing fast, no editing, to write a post and then I have to run.

I took this photo on Saturday at the Hudson Opera House. There was a gallery talk by the creator of a newly illustrated version of Alice in Wonderland, with dolls. An exhibit of the dolls was on display. I'm sorry I missed the talk.

Just this past week I had been thinking about what if I had a small scale replica of my own house. It could sit on a table, in cross-section, fully furnished, and I could look at my own house, in miniature.

I spend a lot of time in my house, but I don't feel like this image of Alice. Indeed I feel pretty freed up since I have a nice volume of space in my house. I can move from room to room, the ceilings are high, and there are four exposures. Sometimes I feel as though I'm in a wood sailing ship.

If my house were my mind, then it's colorful and it has many rooms.

The times I have felt like this image of Alice - cramped, constrained, trapped, contained - was during years that I was chained to a cubicle on the 19th, 38th, or whatever floor of a Manhattan office building.

Michael Moore was on Charlie Rose yesterday. He said that he will stop making documentaries if things don't change in this country, if there isn't a revolution of sorts. He's tired of swimming upstream, being seemingly the only one showing the rest of us How The Lie Works. He shows us, and it's up to the rest of us to say something about it and change things. He said the only "democracy" part of our democracy is showing up every couple of years to pull levers, pretty meaningless, and otherwise we have little control.

I've felt reticent about blogging the last few days because I actually feel very angry about the vampire I posted about a few days ago. In a way I don't know what to do about the anger. It feels dangerous to express it. I'm supposed to swallow it. In our culture we are admonished always to get past it, move on, it's bad for you to have bad thoughts, all you can control is yourself. Which is true, I don't really disagree with any of those thoughts. But they also have an effect of censoring the self, as though one is supposed to put up with all kinds of really bad stuff, stuff that even if it isn't strictly illegal certainly isn't ethical. The game is rigged to protect the vampires - they run rampant and free, and it's the victims, sacrificial lambs, girls, scapegoats, whistleblowers, truth tellers, and others on the receiving end - they're the ones who have the hard time.

I know I'm totally babbling and rambling here. But if one can't vent in a blog, without being perfectly perfectionist about it - well then where? Some people have been complaining about who won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. Even I can't remember her name right off hand, the Romanian-born German woman writing of life under totalitarianism. In a dictatorship there are official censors and draconian punishments for speaking the truth.

Here we're in a "democracy" and I find it hard to speak the truth. Everything's supposed to have a big smiley-face on it. It tends to shut one up. "Smile," sometimes complete strangers have had the chutzpah to say to me. Well, I don't feel like smiling like an idiotic troll all the time.

Michael Moore is a great documentarian and perhaps there should be a Nobel Prize for that (perhaps it's time for the definition of "literature" to be expanded). But I think that many of us in our culture have lost the ability to express ourselves, to speak, if not Truth to Power, then the Truth about Power.

Moore pointed out that the Right has harnesssed the anger of its base - hence the mob scenes at the congressional "town hall" meetings this summer.

I guess what others of us have to do is keep exposing the soulsucking vampires every chance we get. It's hard though - that self-censorship thing again - they are the system, you're not supposed to buck it.

Sometimes I do feel like this image of Alice, when I think of certain memories. My first-boyfriend vampire lived in house like that; we used to go to his attic. His parents never went up there. They were very Victorian that way, all these secret spaces. They let him do whatever he wanted. I think they did know. I wasn't his first girlfriend.

Everything is fractal in nature, patterns everywhere. Animals in camouflage. Predators, victims. My cat Claire killed 4 mice the other day. I stepped out to hang laundry and suddenly everywhere I stepped was a dead mouse. Total nightmare. Only Claire, my cat - she doesn't have free will. Vampires do.

This post is a mess. But maybe that's a first step in self-expression. Just get it out there, even if it's unpolished and messy and angry and not full of love.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tu Viendras

What with my obsession with vampires, narcissists, wolves in sheep's clothing, and the like, I shouldn't be surprised that on my walk today, I encountered a coyote. Yesterday on the same route, I encountered a small snake in the road. (Earlier that day I'd heard the warriorlike Lara Logan recount on Charlie Rose an Arabic saying, if there's a snake in your garden, sooner or later it'll wind up in your house.) I almost stepped on the snake and am glad I noticed it. It played dead for a few seconds, then coiled and spat. I ran.

Today no snake, but as I followed the road that runs along a creek, I walked past a colonial, painted white with black trim, which I have admired since I first saw it. It is set back a gracious distance from the road, and reminds me of the New England town where I grew up, back when it still looked New Englandy. A wooded grove adjoins the property, and in it I spotted an animal bounding diagonally and at great speed through the stand of trees, narrow trunks planted evenly as tombstones. At first I thought, oh, a rabbit. Kind of big for a rabbit, and kind of fast, but it quickly receded from view so I settled on rabbit. It ran far into the woods, disappearing, and I thought no more about it.

A few minutes later I saw it again. It had ranged back around, covering a considerable distance, and stood now in the middle of the road, about 30 feet ahead of me. It was just me and it, in a fairly desolate area. It was about the size of a German Shepherd, rather long in form like a bobcat maybe, with an extended flat, bushy tail, and dark eye mask. It looked purposeful, fit, and strong.

We regarded each other for a moment. I decided to address it in a loud voice. Well okay now, well now, well well well. It stood its ground, sizing me up. So I broke into song, that is, a piece of talismanic music from Krysztof Kieslowski's La Double Vie de Veronique. The coyote ran off, though unfortunately in the direction of precisely where I was heading. As I walked towards home, alongside a thicket into which I had seen the coyote disappear, I continued to sing, la-la-la since I don't know the words. A woman poked her head out her front door, perhaps wondering about the caterwauling. I recounted my siting and she asked, Is my dog still in the yard - my dog maybe? I glance to the side of the house where she's pointing. No ma'am, not your dog, an ancient, oblivious setter.

I'm bigger than the coyote, and maybe it understood that I'm of the biped hunter species rather than desirable prey. Or maybe music soothed the savage beast. Whatever it may have thought of my singing, it left me alone.

The experience prompted me to listen to the song again, to replay the opening scene of the film, whose score is composed by Zbigniew Preisner. The song is a ravishing, rapturous piece of music captured in a ravishing, rapturous piece of filmmaking. I had forgotten that the song has lyrics. Someone helpfully posted the original Polish with the youtube video. With aid of my dictionary, I endeavored to translate.

Przyjdziesz w upalny, skwarny dzień
Pod złoty żytni bróg
I legniesz jak liliowy cień
U moich nóg
Twój głos gdy srebrny sierp zadzwoni
Gdy o dojrzały bije ton
Pochylisz ku mnie miodny dzban
Pić będę z twoich dłoni
Przyjdziesz w upalny, skwarny dzień
W dolinę kwiatów, traw i słońca
Tam czekać będę z pieniem pień
Tam staniesz wszystka, piękna, drżąca
Przyjdziesz w upalny, skwarny dzień
Pod złoty żytni bróg
I legniesz jak liliowy cień
U moich nóg

Note: Judging from the line with gendered adjectives (Tam staniesz wszystka, piękna, drżąca), I take this poem to be the reverie of a passionate farmer dreaming of his mistress.

When You Come

You’ll appear in the heat of a scorching day
Beneath the rye, a golden heap
And lie there like a lilac shade
At my feet.
Your voice will ring like a silver scythe
When it strikes in perfected tone
You’ll tip towards me a honeyed jug
I will quaff from your palms.
You’ll approach in the heat of a scorching day
In a vale of flowers, grass and sun
That’s where I’ll wait, among the singing stalks
There you’ll stand complete, beautiful, atremble.
You'll come in the heat of a scorching day
Beneath the rye, a golden heap
And lie there like a lilac shade
At my feet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Music Swells

This song started going through my mind unbidden as I went about my chores this afternoon. I began to remember fragments of the lyrics ("what'll I do with just a photograph...") and realized that my subconscious had selected a perfect theme song for my story (see previous post). Cue it for the end...

I just listened to The McGarrigle Hour version. Ahhhh, so lovely...

(I hope this link works. With dialup, I have trouble with multimedia applications.)

What'll I Do - Kate and Anna McGarrigle

What'll I Do
by Irving Berlin (1923)

Gone is the romance that was so divine.
'tis broken and cannot be mended.
You must go your way,
And I must go mine.
But now that our love dreams have ended...
What'll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What'll I do?
What'll I do?
When I am wondering who
Is kissing you
What'll I do?
What'll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?
When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?
What'll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?
When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ask Me If I Believe In Vampires

On my walk today in the wild, romantic landscape, I wondered how I would react if I were to see, at the far end of a lonely path, in the middle of the woods, at the edge of a ravine, at the top of a leafstrewn hill, or around a corner as I came around obscuring vegetation, a tall, gaunt figure, face shrouded, garbed in a sweeping black cape. I imagined him appearing suddenly as I lift my gaze. He stands motionless, regarding me. He has been waiting. I fair gave myself the creeps I did, imagining this as I briskly took my exercise. My imagination merged images of the hooded figure of Death from Bergman's The Seventh Seal, the cloaked figure of the Five of Cups tarot card, and most especially, the iconic apparition of the attenuated, crepuscular vampire.

On some level I believe that vampires exist, though not in the form of the gothicized vision I just described. Nor do I necessarily believe that vampires are literally dead and that they repast on actual human blood, preferably that of a nubile maiden, that is, a female at the not-yet-grown-up nymph stage when girls are metamorphosing into women, and possess at once childish attributes and a maturing womanly form.

I heard Jude Law on Charlie Rose today, discussing his current stage role as Hamlet. Is Hamlet crazy, or is it that he sees the truth? In this world it seems that most of us aren't meant to see the truth. People who lie, cover up, obfuscate, conceal themselves, use cunning, are predatory - they especially don't want their truth to be revealed, seen, noticed, or understood.

In the last week or two there's been much talk of Roman Polanski and David Letterman. I find it hard to get exercised over Polanski, in particular, given that his transgression occurred so very long ago at a place & time (Hollywood, during the sexual revolution) where mores were decidedly more freewheeling than today. Was his behavior unseemly and illegal? Yes. But I believe that there is a range of extenuating circumstances in that particular case, and being a forgiving sort (perhaps overly so) I am inclined to bestow upon him my own personal executive pardon. David Letterman? Again, I can't get too excited, although I do think that someone in his position should have done better than to hit on staffers. Couldn't he date pretty much whoever he wanted?

I don't know. My thoughts are muddled. I paraphrase a line by Vladimir Nabokov. What happens to Lolitas when they grow up?, Humbert Humbert, embarking on his narrative, rhetorically queries.

I was 16 when I had my first boyfriend. He was 23, graduated from an Ivy League school, and back home for a time. We hit it off, and I hit it off with his parents too. I had quite an education that year, apart from my A.P. classes in high school. The following fall he went off to a distant part of the country for graduate school, easing me out of his life, and that was that. I was devastated. In time I got over it, attended college, graduated, worked at various jobs, and eventually married.

Over 30 years went by. Last year he contacted me to let me know that his mother had recently died, and we struck up a correspondence. We exchanged letters and emails, and he sent me beautiful photographic images of me, and of me and him together, that he had kept in his possession all these years. He wrote that he had never forgotten about me, that thoughts of me had remained an obsession, and that I had always been an ideal for him. I truthfully said that I had had a hard time getting over him at first, but that once I did I had quite forcibly put him out of my mind and had not thought of him much at all.

Rekindling this relationship, now long-distance and epistolary, woke something in me that had been long, long dead or dormant. It was a joy to see these lovely images of myself as a young woman, and to read his ardent words. I was flattered, and it's not inaccurate to say that I went off the deep end. My passions were stirred.

I'll cut to the punch. He once again lost interest while my emotions were at high ebb, adulterously so now. I bitterly and sardonically thought of myself as the Emma Bovary of Hudson. He never bothered to write or say, hey, it was fun getting back in touch but you know, this just isn't working for me. Instead, he continued to string me along, for months. He came back east with his family for a memorial service for his mother, and I hoped that at the very least - despite whatever awkwardness there might be in briefly breaking away from his family - we might meet. "You might consider floating a version of the truth to your wife-, I suggested, "that you would like to meet an old friend for lunch whom you haven't seen in 30 years, and that you'll catch up with her in a few hours." But he couldn't get it up to see me.

Once again, I was devastated. I feel pretty stupid saying so, being 50 and all. Old Enough To Know Better.

We ceased corresponding on New Years - that was my resolution. But I couldn't stop thinking about him. Not so much him as, what had just happened? Why were things so confusing, dead for a while, stirred up, discarded?

A few weeks ago I penned him a note saying that my feelings might not be a crystal brook exactly, but that they had settled, and that whatever all had happened, ultimately I would regard it as a disappointment if we didn't see each other just once, someday, before either of us departs this mortal coil.

I've typed his name into search engines now and again, and recently discovered online a brief account of an extended trip he took as part of a professional team this summer. The writeup was illustrated with a handful of thumbnail photos, each credited individually. The images were largely uninteresting, and he didn't seem to be in any of them. There were a couple of bland shots of members of the team in the field. One included a couple of people at work in the middle distance, seemingly absorbed in their respective tasks. I looked at the image a few times and thought nothing of it. His name was on the photo credit, I assumed he took the picture, and I didn't recognize him among the tiny figures in the landscape.

One day I took another look at the site, reread the piece, and looked at the photos again. The group shot appeared as bland and uninformative as ever. But by a very strange stroke of kismet (I may have accidentally hit something though I'm not aware of it) the image of its own accord spontaneously enlarged on my screen, revealing now a salient, magnified aspect that I had never noticed before. I examined the image closely in all its new detail, and felt a shock of horror.

He appears at the bottom left corner, partially cutoff as if he's in the photo only by chance. He is on all fours, angled away from the camera in a show of vigorous concentration on his work. Standing a few steps away, in direct line of his male gaze (though he isn't at that moment looking up at her), is a young woman (probably of legal age - so no need to go there), who - whatever else - is in exuberant mid-process of transitioning between girlhood and womanhood. Her impish persona fairly radiates female energy. She raptly examines some object in her hands, her hair is in pigtails, her close-fitting sweater and jeans contain her full physique - at once mature curves and baby fat - and she wears jaunty, tight knee-high boots like a girl's galoshes. How'd he find her?, I wonder. The physical resemblance is unmistakeable, her facial profile, body type, the length and color of her hair; as well too, her air of intelligence, innocence, and wonder. She reminds me of me when I was at that age.

I realize once and for all: He Was Never That Into Me. I was never a person for him in my own right. I was a fixation for him, an eroticized ideal, one he never forgot, one that he replicates over and over, every chance he gets. And sneak that he is, he even manages to cryptically, in public fashion, exhibit his current fetishistic object of desire online, hidden in plain sight, "purloined letter" style, further heightening, I imagine, his febrile delectation.

He responded to my letter. I received the envelope on Saturday. My husband, who understandably despises every molecule having anything to do with him, death-marched up the stairs to hand it to me. I knew from his trudge what he must be carrying.

In it he set forth in his even hand that in actuality he had lost all romantic interest in me within the first few weeks of our correspondence, though it went on for months longer. (I haven't gone back to obsessively check, but I surmise that he lost interest the moment he looked at updated photographic images of me that I had mailed to him. No - I hadn't been cryogenically frozen at age 16.)

"I lied to you only once," he continued in torpid fashion. "This was when I was making an excuse for not being able to meet you in New York... The reason I gave was legitimate - it would have been awkward because I was doing things with my family every day - but what I concealed was the fact that I was no longer comfortable seeing you at that point."

He added with bland temporization, "I would like to see you again at some point, and perhaps more importantly... I wouldn't want not to see you again sometime."

With that tautology dispensed, he duly withdrew his cadaverous hand and removed to the airless crypt from whence he came.

At this point do I ever want to see him again?


And so, dear Reader, ask me if I believe in vampires.

The answer is yes.

P.S. This post - and all others on my blog - is copyrighted, all rights reserved. It's a timeworn theme, but this iteration is my story.

P.S.2. I'm aware of the forthcoming film, An Education, which treats of a similar theme. I look forward to seeing it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bright Moon

Yesterday I drove east along Route 23, heading to Great Barrington. As I approached the junction at Hillsdale, I descended into a thick fog that seemed almost to penetrate the car. I emerged in a line of taillit cars, and rising before me appeared a single Berkshire hill, the first of the mountains, still wisps of cloud adhering to its dark, rounded shape. For a moment the world was black, grey, and white. It was extremely satisfying to me, or maybe exquisitely frustrating. I wanted to absorb every detail and memorize the sensation of being there, especially the view of the silent mountain and the peaceful, lingering vapor. The atmosphere sharpened my senses, a contrast to the dull ache of sunless pall that's been the usual here.

Last night, back home, it was mild enough to sit outside on the porch. We sat by the illuminated glassed lantern, talking, watching the candle flicker, and listening to the tree frogs sound loudly in rhythm. The traffic on Route 9 was light, an occasional shoom. Suddenly in the darkness I saw my husband tense, brace himself, and draw his breath - then I sensed it too - the sound of brakes applied, pressed, leaned on, and urged, of time standing still, the very air pressure seeming to change, our instant willing that what we feared wouldn't happen, and then boom - the sound we hoped not to hear, the unmistakeable, crumpling impact of cars colliding, a devastating crash, and then at once, silence. And in the minutes that followed, sirens growing louder, but then again, as the evening wore on, silence.

Even now I don't know any details of what happened. I hope the vehicles had airbags and that they all went off, that people emerged shaken, wobbly from a close call - and no worse than that.

We went to bed, the night settled into silence. A bright moon rose in the misty sky, and shone in the windows as we fell asleep.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Halve Maen, and Welcome To It

Will I ever learn? Is there ever an opportunity that I don't of my own accord mess up?

I'm just back from my daily walk, and my inner Paul Giamatti is p.o.'d. I drove to the conservation area, making sure before I left that I had the camera. I parked, gathered myself together, and of the camera thought - nah, I'll leave it in the car. I don't want to take yet another picture of fading asters and goldenrod, or of the river. Besides I'm in a hurry, my husband needs the car. Plus it's distracting to be perpetually aware of the camera in my hand as I walk. And no, I don't feel like putting it in my pocket - I'll know it's there.

I set off at a brisk pace, and eventually turned down the path that leads to an overlook of the river. I could hardly believe my eyes. Right in front of me, silently making its way downstream, was the Half Moon, the replica of Henry Hudson's 1609 sailing ship. Except for the kicking myself part, which was instantaneous, it was magical. It was pure serendipity that the ship should appear precisely at the moment that I should happen to be there to see it. Few people could have witnessed it at that particular point in its journey - nobody but me, some sparrows, and maybe a hawk or a crow. But of those species only I knew what it was. I waved my arm a few times in greeting, but I don't know that anyone on board saw me. Wow, I thought, Henry Hudson sailed up the river 400 years ago, and now here's his ship again going back down, as though all the intervening years never happened. Okay, it's a replica - but still. Damn, it was a beautiful image, it's imprinted on my mind now (yeah, I inwardly glower, as opposed to the camera). The smallish vessel slipped silently through the water, looking naked with its sails furled and masts folded. Against the dun river, the hull's painted hues mirrored the colors of the autumn trees along the banks of the Mimancanituck.

I bungled that opportunity, but when I got home I was gratified to see that something else I had previously messed up was now, in fact, happily salvaged and redeemed. I had seen a pair of shoes at Peebles that I really liked. They were marked down, but I hoped the price would go down further. I kept tabs on the shoes, visiting them a couple of times a week, and my husband joined in my madness and checked in on them for me too. I waited too long. One day - poof - my size was gone. I had missed an online print-coupon for 25 percent off. My bad.

Days passed and the shoes loomed ever larger in my psyche - and I don't typically get fixated on material things. I felt I must have them. On Sunday, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessively trying to find the shoes online. Yes, my pretty, I could have them all right - but at full price, or thereabouts. I went back to Peebles and without real hope asked a clerk if, though the shoes were on clearance and any pairs in my size were likely gone, might it be possible to check if another store might have them? She expressed doubt but was very pleasant, and obligingly keyed in the information. Voila! the shoes were to be had, at the sale price, I could even use the coupon, and there'd only be a $5 charge to have them shipped directly to my home. They arrived today, my beautiful, comfortable shoes, and tucked inside the box was a $5 coupon towards a future Peebles purchase. So that minor misadventure of my own making had a happy ending.

Alas, the rare photo-op of the Half Moon is gone, but here are my new shoes.

Oh wait - my husband has the car, and the camera's still in it!

Thank goodness for google.