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(Quantum Physics) When you watch the experiment, you change the experiment…

April 26, 2018

In the first episode of Season Three of the dystopian tech hit TV show Black Mirrors, everyone vies for “social points” in order to acquire the necessary social status of “success”.

Through ubiquitous peer-to-peer social monitoring via cell phones everyone is rated on a scale of 1-5 for every interaction they have in their day. Every interaction, every photo you post, every comment you make, everything you do – from your interactions with your family, your customer service person, your co-workers, the random people you see on the street – everything – all of it, judged and rated.

The higher your overall average, the more perks you have access to: plane tickets, better restaurants, better neighborhoods to live in. The opposite also being true – you can be banned from traveling, buying homes, attending concerts, good schools for your kids, etc.

Your rankings are also based on the people you hang out with and their subsequent rankings – for higher ranked people also have more influence in ranking others. The more you can surround yourself with higher-ranked personalities the faster your ranking can go up  (and vice-versa).

Based on the Facebook notion of “likes”, socially aspiring people obsess with getting their averages into the much coveted 4.5 or higher category.

So, everyone lives these fake lives where they never lose self-control and yell at someone (get a bad ranking), are always polite with each other (but you must fake sincerity, for fake politeness could also drop your ranking), you never talk about anything that may negatively impact on your score.

It is a horribly fake world where everyone wears pastels, continuously instagrams their lives, and live totally vacuous existences.

I won’t go into spoiler territory, but you might imagine, in this world, how things could go wrong for someone – and fast.

Like all of the Black Mirror episodes, we watched this thinking how this could easily be a near future obsession.

Little did we know it is already happening. Watch the following…

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/china-social-credit-system-surveillance-cameras/

~~~~~

Welcome to the true beginnings of the hive mentality incarnation.

In case you didn’t realize this was coming, I want to transcribe a few words from the Historian E.H. Carr and his seminal 1961 work “What is History?” Yes, he was talking about this in 1961!

“…The cult of the individual began with the Renaissance, when man, who had hitherto been “conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation”, at length “became a spiritual individual and recognized himself as such”. Later the cult of individualism was connected with the rise of capitalism and of Protestantism, with the beginnings of the industrial revolution, and with doctrines of laissez-faire. The rights of man and the citizen proclaimed by the French revolution were the rights of the individual…rugged individualism was the keynote of human progress…

But what I want to make clear is that the increased individualization which accompanied the rise of the modern world was a normal process of advancing capitalism…The whole process was a social process representing a specific stage in historical development, and cannot be explained in terms of a revolt of individuals against society or an emancipation of individuals from social restraints…

Individualism, in the sense no longer of a great social movement but of false opposition between individual and society, has become today [1961] the slogan of an interested group and, because of its controversial character, a barrier to our understanding of what goes on in the world…

Many signs suggest that, in the western world, this period of history has reached its end: I need not insist here on the rise of what is called mass democracy, or on the gradual replacement of predominately individual by predominately collective forms of economic production and organization…

The ideology generated by this long and fruitful period is still a dominant force in western Europe and English-speaking countries but it is no longer really true.”

~~~~~

Perhaps you are of the type who wonders what would be wrong with a little more social monitoring? Too many people, too often act like selfish assholes. A little carrot-and-stick prodding may go a long way to improving our social interactions.

Sure, and then one day you discover your government is ranking your political views, (or your lack of political views), ranking what you post on your instagram account, ranking how much you read (or, as is the case in China, if you are watching too many video games).

Do you read enough, are you exercising enough, did you built enough personal value widgets today?

No! Too bad. No plane ticket home to visit the folks until you get your ranking up.

Are you ready for your micro-chip yet?

https://www.inverse.com/article/41169-china-facial-recognition-glasses

 

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toxic masculinity – touching the elephant…

April 25, 2018

IImage result for #metoo backlashn the first wave of the #MeToo movement, I sent out the following query letter to a number of magazines – arguing that while women were finally beginning to be heard, men needed to start talking to men about male behavior, and exploring toxic masculinity – I argued that many men would not listen to women’s complaints; that they would not even read some articles written by women – but that they may start to listen to other men calling out their predatory behavior – I cited numerous studies that showed that peer education always works best – I received total rejection on all fronts.

Here was part of that query letter:

“There is no one way to come at the problem of male sexual aggression.

In the Zen parable of attaining wisdom, twenty blind monks are asked to touch the elephant and report what they felt. Each of them describing something different.

You need a team of voices, all walking around the elephant, touching it, relaying what they have learned.

I have been nationally recognized by the Canadian government for the innovative ways I have worked with young men on issues of sexual violence, anger management, and conflict resolution. I have been interviewed numerous times on television and was part of a Global Television documentary on understanding male violence. 

I have written articles for national and city newspapers and magazines (links attached).

I have worked with both the perpetrators of crime and with the victims. I have worked with homeless youth, youth in foster homes, in detention, and with some of the highest achieving youth Canada has to offer. 

I know professors who are some of the leading thinkers in gender studies. I know professors at Dalhousie and Ryerson University who are thought leaders in Social Work. I know sex therapists with 30 years of experience – leaders in their field. 

I have military contacts who study gender issues within the military. I know Executive Directors of Sexual Assault non-profits and the White Ribbon campaign, I have worked with city and provincial government workers assigned to developing policy regarding sexual violence. 

I want to bring together all of these points of view, to comprehensively explore what we know about male sexual violence, to examine best practices, to see where we should go from here.”

Like I said, rejections all around.

~~~~~

Overheard at my local cafe (two men were sitting behind me, at another table):

“The reason I am alone is that I have uncompromising standards when it comes to women. Looks. Beauty. Money. That’s why I am alone. Plus, I love my own company.”

Only to overhear, 5 minutes later, that this man has been stalking his ex – his “perfect” ex as he described her – and he is trying to justify to the other man why he has decided to follow his ex to Los Angeles – even though she moved there to get away from him, and even though, I discover, he is court-ordered not to be within 500 yards of her – he wants to follow her because he wants to show her by this grand gesture just how much he loves her.

The other man is trying to get him to understand how stupid this idea is, that she obviously doesn’t want to be near him, that if he violates the court order he will go to jail.

But all the first man hears is the grand gesture singing in his head – the Romeo and Juliette misunderstanding that has happened – that she will see his gesture for the purity that it is.

“You will go to jail!” the man repeats. “She moved to L.A. to get away from you.”

Afterwards, I tell the Barista (whom we have come to know) what I heard.

She didn’t even blink when she replied “I know that story.”

~~~~~

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/25/what-is-incel-movement-toronto-van-attack-suspect

“incils” are not new…

Back in the 1990’s I was part of a group of professional men who were trying to start a Toronto-wide group for men, to explore issues of male toxicity and how that impacted on our social lives, violence against women, our health, our parenting, our addictions, etc.

Over the first three meetings, we had these men – usually only one or two who would come to the meetings, thinking we were a safe space for men to vent about women and rant about how women were screwing men over.

They had the vociferousness of single-issue obsessives, who could highlight/justify their views by random examples of where and when women had screwed men over – (usually in child-custody cases).

What the rest of us quickly discovered was that there was no reasoning with them – that they had a particular and peculiar pathological mental health problem where they obsessed in their hatred of women.

We also quickly discerned that they were incapable of taking responsibilities for their own actions, could not see the cause and effect of why the courts had restricted their access to their children (violent behavior), could not see that women had their own agency when it came to deciding they wanted to end a toxic relationship and/or get a divorce.

What was also interesting, at the time (and related to my magazine rejections), is that we could get no funding for the project outside of the small support we were getting from the non-profits we each worked for. The City said they did not want to be seen as supporting “men’s groups”, or be perceived as taking money out of important women’s programs to fund a bunch of men.

The political visuals of funding the group was bad, so the initiative soon died.

~~~~~

This summer millions of men will sit together and watch other men kick a ball around with their feet.

It will be a most wonderful thing to witness, this kicking of the ball, unless, of course your team of men who kick a ball around with their feet lose to the other men, who are slightly better at kicking a ball around with their feet, or luckier on that particular day.

Then some of these men will rampage through the streets, starting fights and fires, trying to punch people and the police, generally acting like a hoard of pugilistic assholes.

Men will get drunk watching the kicking of the ball.

They will get into fist fights with other men – who support other ball kicking teams.

Some will even beat their wives, and their children, over the results of this ball kicking game.

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/angry-fans-attack-sporting-lisbon-bas-dost-injured-1.4664338

~~~~~

In the late 1990’s I was contacted by a social worker at a Toronto downtown teen-pregnancy agency to see if I would be interested in starting a “young father’s support group?”

The agency had, for years, focused on the young mothers and all the things they would need to bring their pregnancy to a healthy birth.

No one had ever thought to talk to the young fathers.

To our amazement, when the social worker brought the idea to her Executive Director and Board of Directors it was initially rejected.

Men already hoard all the political/social space in society, she was told. It is the young women who need as much support as the agency could give. Besides, the majority of young men never stick around to be fathers. Why waste the time and money?

It took us a year to convince the agency to try an initial ten-week young fathers’ support group. There were many reporting conditions we had to meet, we needed our ten week plan pre-approved by the Board – there had to be no whiff of male privilege implied in the group. And whatever money that was needed to run the group had to come from my agency, as the teen pregnancy agency would only spend their money on the young women.

Of the twenty or so young mothers being supported at the time in the agency, only 4 fathers came to our first group. By the end of the third week we had 6 dads, and 9 by the tenth and final week.

As with the anger management groups I was doing for young men court-ordered to participate in some anger management therapy, we explored with the young fathers ideas of masculinity, abuse, role models, violence, domestic abuse, fear of failure, and a host of other issues that often brought these tough marginalized young men to tears.

One of the mothers had the great idea that the fathers should bring their babies to group. I could write a book on how that evening went. It is incredibly powerful to see a six month old child touch the tears on their father’s face.

We only ran three groups in total at that agency. The group had created so much buzz that mothers were getting jealous and some of the staff were resentful that the young fathers’ group was getting so much attention.

I know that the program was later resurrected by the social worker I worked with, but she was trying to do it alone – a well-intentioned woman trying to tell young men how to be good fathers…

 

We Go back Where We Came From…

April 21, 2018

One day, in an almost-infinite future, 20 billion years – give or take, physicists speculate that our universe will have spread itself so thin that it will dissolve into nothingness, and it will simply disappear.

The universe spreads and moves and will dissolve like an evaporating pail of spilled water on a hot driveway on a sunny summer afternoon. Our planet is like the dust you see in a ray of sunshine when you are cleaning a bedroom on a bright winter’s day. Like it was never otherwise there.

One day in a much nearer future (one-quarter of the way to the end of our universe) our sun will run out of fuel. It will fizzle and pop, and then be no more. It will be gone.

Now, long before this unhappy event, our sun will run out of hydrogen and will have gone nova, or supernova (whatever it is that stars do when they begin to die). When the hydrogen runs out, the sun will begin to burn its remaining heavier gases. By burning the heavier gases, the sun will begin to expand – like a balloon – and it will continue to expand, and expand, until it swallows first Mercury, then Venus, and then Earth.

Imagine that, if you can!

And long before that happens, long before our third planet from the sun is turned into soup vapor, the sun temperature will have increased by about 20%, and will have already long before burned away all organic life on our little planet.

Earth, long before then, and for millions of years, will look like Mercury. Or Mars.

The ultimate and final extinction.

Whom…I wonder, will write about my God then?

Who will write about yours?

~~~~~

My daughter, one afternoon at her daycare, when she was maybe four or five, just as I was arriving after work to pick her up, just as I was walking toward her in the sandbox where she was playing with some trucks, and little Lego people, just before I will chase her around the playground playing “monster”, just then I overheard a boy who was standing beside her and looking down on her say “my father is stronger than yours” (Hunter was kneeling in the sand and giving each character in her sandbox game a dandelion she had picked from the grass alongside the fence).

He said his father was also richer. (He was.)

“What a little shit!” I think to myself. I immediately thought of all the nasty things I would like to do to this little peckerhead who is taunting my innocent little angel. “What if I just quietly squashed his face into the sand? Would anyone notice?”

But any action against the boy on my part was entirely unnecessary as Hunter’s reply to the boy was straightforward and entirely dismissive: “My daddy likes to climb trees with me. Sometimes he stands there, and I climb up and I jump off a branch and he catches me.”

I could kiss her.

The great human struggle is the battle to discover the truth – discovering the line between our Divine Calling and being Human. For we are – each of us – human and Divine (though rarely at the same time). Being and Becoming. Or, as John O’Donohue once observed, “living between the act of awakening and the act of surrendering”.

Now, three centuries after the glorious birth of the Enlightenment, modernism has been trammeled into dust by war and our growing awareness of our environmental decay. The internet has made us all cynical slaves to our ultimate addictions. We are passive. Defeated. The core principles of the Enlightenment – rationalism, truth, equality – are now openly dismissed by those who believe that blind allegiance to the authority of the surveillance capitalist state and religious dogma will be our only viable exit plan.

We know that we do not know why it is we are still going forward, or why we even get up in the morning, and for what reason, why, and for what purpose, why, and to where we are going, why? We first turned away from God, and have now turned away from our faith in reason and the principles of justice and equality, and we are again groping around in the dark, looking for the safety of again reaching up for our Father’s firm hand, wanting to surrender to a power greater than ours; to be told that it’s okay, we are safe, that it was not our fault, that we didn’t know any better, that it is going to be all right, that even though the Antarctic ice sheet is now melting beyond our control, there was nothing else we could have done.

Nietzsche foretold that we would declare our triumph over God and church and tradition – that in the name of Progress and Enlightenment we would lift anchor and declare our triumph over evil itself – we would seek to take control of our own destiny. But he also knew human nature and that ‘progress’ would be a hollow victory. Without God, who, he wondered, would wipe the blood off of our hands? We would devour ourselves in the name of progress and glory, we would turn our back on reason itself (this mere shadow of a God), and we would then ask for forgiveness, we would rent our clothes at the meaningless of life, and in our despair we would want God to please come back into our lives. Looking again for some kind of miracle (yet never really believing that miracles could ever again happen).

Reason would be the Frankenstein of our own making. It would blindly lead us into the cul-de-sac of sorrow. We would ask God to please come back and fix everything? Because we would be old and afraid; the world torn asunder; because we would be leading lives of quiet desperation. Wondering through the blackened woods, looking to again grasp our father’s hand in the deep recesses of midnight.

“…After all, there are no innocent bystanders. What are we doing here in the first place? The worst sin of man is to be born.” The lament of William Burroughs. The lament of us all. For each of us stands naked and alone before the world. I am me! That is all. I awaken from a dream and the dream is my life. I awaken and I am alone. And I realize that there is no meaning in anything. There is only the beautiful wind and the warm rain on my face; with the concrete under my feet. I stand alone with time. I stand alone in the great void between Being. And Becoming.

Nietzsche was right. Time is running out for us aging baby boomers. Every day ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five. We will soon start dropping off like so-many honey flies trapped against the windowpane in my mother’s barn. And we are only now, just now, realizing, that we still have so much riding on the lies.

~~~~~

One day, now long ago, when my little girl was about two or maybe just a little less than two-and-a-half, back when we still tracked her age in months, we were playing with her dolls on the floor of her bedroom. She thought she had “discovered” where babies came from and so we were playing a game she called “Mommy”. In this game she would take a much smaller doll and place it under the dress of a larger doll. And then she would pull it out from under that dress – as if by magic! – and the baby would be “born!”. And Hunter would then of course take the newborn baby in her arms and be the little baby’s “mommy”. Hunter would act just like her own mother. Just like the universal mother. She would rock her little baby girl in her arms, cooing and fondling over her, feeding and clothing and nursing her, and she would place her baby amongst her assortment of little teddy bears and she would tell them all simple magical stories that were big, and full of wonder. There were thrills and rescues and evil tricks and heroes of all types: the awesome dragon protector, the beautiful princess, the loving mother, the towering father, the magic wizard!

“Daddy” she said while searching through her bag for a dress for her new baby. “How do babies get in mommy’s tummy?”

“You buy the seeds at the baby store” I say, smiling at her. “And mommy eats them. And then she stands outside so that the sun can shine in her ear and the seed grows and a baby pops out of her side.”

“They do not!” she said with a frown. “Mommy said I came out of where she pees.”

“She did?! Really?! Did you not come out of her bellybutton? How strange!”

“Daddee…you’re silly. Where do babies come from?”

“Daddy has a seed”, I tell her, “and it joins mommy’s seed and it makes a baby”.

“Oh” was all she said as she went on to explain this to her own baby girl.

I watched her for a moment before asking “What was it like when you were born? Do you remember?”

“It was cold and bright”, she said. “I didn’t like it.”

“Really!? You remember?”

“I didn’t like it.”

Where did you come from”, I asked?

“From mommy’s tummy”, she said.

“I know that, silly. I mean, where did you come from before that?”

“The other side.”

“What other side?” I asked in amazement.

“I don’t know,” she said distractedly, placing her newly-found dress over her baby’s head. “The other side before I was here.”

I thought about this for a moment – “the other side, before I was here” – and then I asked the next logical question – “I wonder what happens when we die?”

“We go back where we came from” she said matter-of-factly as she re-arranged the disheveled hair on her doll’s head while looking around for some play diapers.

She still remembered (at the time) being born into the cold, and the bright, and that she didn’t like it. And that we go back to where we came from. Back to the other side.

Being. And becoming.

The act of awakening.

And surrendering.

 

Diamonds – Camille Guthrie

April 19, 2018

Image result for camille guthrieA big shout out to Camille Guthrie’s poem Diamonds – published in the Boston Review. Love this!

Judith Butler, I am calling you
here in the kitchen where I’m unloading the dishwasher
performing my gender as I’m wont to do
My son yells from upstairs, How do you spell probably?
My daughter plays a game on my phone
caring for little green monster who needs a bath
I need to buy diamonds so her monster can sing
I need a sack of diamonds so I can work part-time
to take care of my kids and still eat when I’m old
performing my old lady tasks
I hope I’m yarn-bombing an embassy somewhere
Better start learning to knit or whatever
Knitting performs femininity, apparently
We need diamonds to afford my house
now that I’m a single mom
Conflict-free ones for a conflict-free life
To perform a single mom’s gender
is to need a chest of gold coins
and my life is easy I am not hungry
not beaten up working three jobs taking night classes
not ill without insurance I have a good job
I’m already leveled up! Got all my privileges
I’m not floating on a raft to escape war
not having sex with soldiers for food
my children are not digging for diamonds
we’re not being exploited in any way
Could Be Worse, that’s a book we love to read
at bedtime, it’s by James Stevenson
It is, my son & I think, the plot to most movies
It is I think the plot to most lives
I’m lucky, I get to teach you, Judith Butler
to students who eat up your words like candyhearts
who return to the arms of their friends
to dye their hair blue & fuck everyone & not shave
and make manifestos & tweet witty protests
who do drugs & sleep late & dance naked
They seem so unafraid ahistorical dreamfull
They stand outside the library smoking cigarettes
as if we’re not going to die!
As if there aren’t books to read!
I have the greatest job in the world!
Could be a lot worse
But I’m lonely in debt there’s no one to love me
I’m feeling sorry for myself & guilty for all my luck
Mutually-contradictory states of mind
that’s what Shakespeare invented, supposedly
Gender, you say, is a performance
continually created through citational repetition
Daily rituals we put on again & then again
as if we were born into a theatrical family
putting on the same play that’s been going on forever
and there’s no way out, so says Foucault
Michel, my turtle-necked darling, I love you
even though you make me feel imprisoned
And docile and subject to self-surveillance
Judith, Michel, I’m calling on you
I think I’m stuck in Hamlet
in the role of Queen Gertrude
but not at all royal I’m from Pittsburgh
because my son lashes out at me
He says I put my job before my kids
If I mention any man’s name
he says, I hate that guy
I asked him if he thought I was pretty
He said, Eh, you’re okay to good
He says he’d rather die than go to school
For his birthday he’d like a BB gun
My daughter spins in the living room to Rhianna
who has a pile of diamonds, probably
This little Ophelia talks to her Legos
and swims with waterwings
She wants to know if music is air
She says my butt jiggles when I walk
Yes, that’s it, I am a single Gertrude
in a little New England hamlet
Yet there are no louche kings to marry
no murderous uncles available round these parts
Yet in the porches of my ear has poured
the poison of the wish for Reliable Love
Marriage’s a prison
Then is the world one
What I really want is someone not a husband
to perform the male gender around my house
I need help stacking wood putting the garden to bed
for the winter I need a man in my bed
It goes way below zero in the winter round here
The garage door is broken I don’t know how to fix it
Better learn to fix stuff or whatever
Like Gertrude, I am the Interpreter of the men around me
as I put snacks into little plastic bags
and so disciplined plan another playdate
I play the Assuager I’m afraid
of being left with nothing for my future
No castle no bolthole on this dirty planet
No extra-small bag of gems
I have unappreciated skills, it’s true
I know how to do a close reading
I know where commas go
I can spot phallologocentrism miles away
in my cat glasses I’m laying it down
Yet I’m really terribly lonely, Judith
less lonely than Ophelia floating downstream
clutching flowers and singing sad songs
I want someone to perform love on me
Any kind of love any kind of role I don’t care
but I want the real thing Real Love
to be a prisoner of Love, the songs say
and to perform all the sex acts, too
I want a long masterful performance of that
with repeat performances
Who’s there?
I am sitting here folding laundry on the couch
performing the pairing of the socks
In anxiety and pleasure, you say
And in the porches of my other ear
Pours the poison of the wish for diamonds
Could be worse
My daughter spins her own tornado
My son builds a house of diamond blocks
I want the curtains to part now
I want to be swept away

Photography – does it still mean anything?

April 19, 2018

_DSC9187If there’s been one, there has been a million stories written about photography, and the meaning of photography, and what does photography mean when, everyday, an estimated 2 billion pictures will be taken around the world.

Does photography mean anything?

Would it be simply repetitive of me to describe walking the dog through these early spring fields, with new grass the colour of virgin avocado?

But how else do we make sense of these times?

DSCF0167

horse trail through pines – the farm

Blue sky, spring buds, watergrass drunk on sunshine and a swollen spring creek. A dozen robins flit about the field.

Running naked in the first stages of an ecstasy high, through a white carpet of forest trilliums, the world awash in liquid yellow forsythias. The dog madly off, his nose gone wild, delir_DSC9449iously awash in wild animal vapour trails.

Do you think that photography can’t do that anymore?

This dog, here for the sheer joy of it, hoping to flush out a playmate, making the most of what otherwise would be routine sentry duty.

Under cotton-white clouds and a sea of ocean blue.

II

How much do I really know about my childhood, when, in the day-to-day sense I remember so little?

I read some journal notes of Guy Davenport’s this morning – I couldn’t tell you at all what I read. I’d have to go back and look.

If I am lucky, someone will one day say something that will jog it from me, and “I’ll be reminded of something Davenport once said.”

If an exclamation mark had wings, it would be this big fat honey bee drunkenly careening amongst our lilac blossoms.

_DSC5328.jpgImagine being small enough to crawl among the lilac blossoms!

To taste them. In this morning sun.

Another bee joins the spring gathering of sustenance. And then a third.

Our cat, perched on the porch rail, drowsing in the sun, watches them bemusedly.

We are on the precipice of a new year, the yard awash in dandelions – perfect little clouds – harmony itself.

III

The photographs, he said, somehow made the people feel important.

The more expensive the photograph the more some people had to have them.

essen.jpgThey had never been to Rwanda, could not find it on a map, nor had they ever talked to a homeless person, nor ever would, but they could buy the experience.

Hang it on their wall.

Shock and impress friends who had come by for some wine.

The photos made them feel special.

Like they were guides to the Underworld.

Like they were in on a secret.

 

 

Hawks and a hawk’s shadow…

April 16, 2018

 

Image result for falconryI dated a woman in university who was into falconry.

O.K., sure. It’s a thing.

Falconry. We have heard of it. Harry Potter. Excalibur. That sort of thing.

But to actually do it?

But to her, and some of her friends, falconry is the equivalent of entering the scared space of a monastery.

Image result for falconryFalconry is about discipline. Codes of ethics. Tradition.

And then there are the birds!

Magnificent creatures! To look a hawk in the eye, while he sits on your arm, is to look into the eye of God.

As a child growing up on the farm I had thought no more of the hawks I’d see in my day, than I would a robin, or a passing blue jay.

When my daughter was about seven, we happened to be in one of the back fields walking grandma’s dog, and on that particular day, we happened to come around the bend in the forest’s edge just as a hawk went into a dive, and we watched as it swooped down and tore a rabbit out of the long grass and flew away. The rabbit already hanging limp in its claws.

Image result for peregrine falconMy daughter was breathless trying to explain it to grandma. But it was too incredible for her to apprehend and explain without bursting at the seams.

Two days later she woke up in the middle of the night in a total terror.

I was awakened by the sound of her sobbing, calling out to me in the dark. When I went in she said she had had a dream in which she had been the rabbit. And the rabbit had a family, and she had just been out eating grass and then…a new river of tears began to flow.

I had to lie with her for an hour, looking at the stars out the window, talking about life, and the nature of Nature, and Death.

Death is a much darker place for her then when she was younger. She used to say that we “go back to the other side” – the other side where we came from when we were born – we go back there when we die.

She’s seen Harry Potter. She watched as both of her grandfathers passed over.

She is afraid of death in a way she never once was. But then she isn’t two-years-old anymore.  “Passed over.” That what she called it when describing her grandfathers’ deaths. She hasn’t forgotten as much as she thinks she has.

~~~~~

For a thousand generations my mother’s clan fished and hunted and skinned and picked and listened deeply to the secrets that this great boreal forest whispered to them in their dreams. They understood when the loon said rain, when the bees said snow, and when the owl called them home. Endless generations who lived with the whole sky upon their eyes, revolving with the days, sculpted by the wind, a thousand years of memories on the tip of their tongues. I close my eyes and I can still feel the hawk’s eye on my shoulder, her hungry blackwater shadow gliding across the field as she languidly follows me into the back woods on a late summer afternoon. At night I hear coyotes and wolves on the horizons of my dreams.

In the city, the break with my past feels absolute.

Here I can be anything I want to be.

Sometimes I want to shoot myself.

~~~~~

I was sitting on the front steps of a Second Cup at Bloor and University when one of my classmates and some of her friends come by and she decides to sit down next to me, crowding against me, (luxuriously), making space for another, casually asking me what I’m reading.

“Nobokov”, I reply. She hasn’t heard of him. “Good”, I think to myself. But her Iranian friend has. (I will later discover that she has already read everything in her young life. Proust, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Milosz, Kundera.)

“Didn’t he write Lolita”, she asks me sternly, looking at the spot where there is no space between me and her friend.

“He did” I say, “but it was overrated”. A small lie.

It was just after lunch. The sun was shining on my face. The world was swimming in green and blue. I had an uncontrollable urge to go home and take a nap. A good solid nap at that. Not a piddling ten minutes on the couch but rather one that could envelope the entire afternoon. After that maybe get a drink on a patio. Or go for a cycle. Maybe masturbate. After a solid nap anything was possible.

I tell the woman beside me she is made of moon paste and chocolate pudding.

“That’s what I like about you. You are a strange man, but in a good way.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I say to her.

“Did you know she is into falcons?”, her reader friend tells me.

“Really! People still do that?”

“Of course they do.” She looked at me out of the side of her eye like I had shrunk a size.

Later, I tell her that I would have liked her, even if she hadn’t flirted with me.

“Perhaps. But it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

“That’s true”, I say. “But I don’t want things to get weird on us.”

“Eww! That would be gross!”

“Yes, would it ever,” I say, as I watch clouds float by.

She looked at me for a moment before saying anything.

“Sleeping with me makes you wistful, doesn’t it?” she asks me.

“It’s nearly impossible for me to keep track of the passage of time. I have to remind myself that I no longer can boink any hottie from 17 to 50.”

She smiled at me. “I should put this into a play I am working on.”

“It’s been done already. Many times.”

“True. But they’ve been rarely honest.”

“Society would disagree with you. The problem people have with Lolita and such things is that it is too honest.”

“But it’s not honest. It was only from a man’s point of view.”

“Ah,” I say knowingly. “You want the voice of Anais Nin, or Margaret Dumas.” 

Image result for sin selected poems of forugh farrokhzad“Do you know any female Iranian writers? Or do you only have your French fantasies?”

“Of course I don’t know any Iranian writers. Do you think I’m a European intellectual? Look where we live!”

“We have brains too. And desire. I want to write in that small space where prose becomes poetry. I want to explore the difference between consent and rape.”

“Ha! You and your books! What is consent in a God-fearing nation? What does consent mean when there is only sin and redemption? Only a pervert would sit on those steps discussing sex and philosophy with his female students.”

“They know it’s weird. You saw those teachers walk by class. It’s like we’re doing something wrong when we are just talking to you.”

We fall silent as a young couple pull up and the man perfectly parallel parks his silver PASSAT. He tries to give us a “hello” because he has been caught trying to steal a furtive glance at B’s perfect twenty-two-year-old cleavage, but he is dressed in a shirt and tie and has shiny shoes, and does so uncomfortably. While, with a look of contempt, his immaculately clean wife dismisses the whole scene as quickly as possible.

“What is your passion?” I ask her.

“Intelligence.”

“Your weakness?”

“When it comes wrapped in desire.”

I liked that answer. I knew she was brilliant from the get go. She asked me one day on the way out of class what I thought really sucked in the world.

“You mean, besides the fact we have convinced ourselves we have always been rich? And intelligent? And that we have never been, nor ever would be, religious fanatics? That we are fearful, and helpless, as the alpha-dog predators are again winning the culture war? That to be delayed, or brilliant, you must pay for at your own expense? That only mediocrity is public and free. You mean besides all that usual suckfest stuff we’ve already been discussing in class? What do I think might really suck in the world?”

“Right”, she said. “Something like that.”

Hmm, I thought to myself.

“Okay. Here’s what I really think. I’ll be sitting on the edge of my bed some hellish morning in the depths of February, and I’ll be in that pitiful suicidal state where my brain is screaming “its-still-fucking-dark-out-and-I-can-hear-a-blizzard-screaming-against-the-window-and-I’m-being-asked-to-get-out-of-bed” mood. I’m sitting there looking at the socks on my feet, and I’ll realize right at that very moment – that we are raising our children to be idiots. And I would be forced to ponder the fact that we were succeeding spectacularly.”

“You are a weird man. How about you come see the birds on Saturday?” she says as she smiles and offers her coffee up to a salute, and we toast the impending arrival of summer.

~~~~~

I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
In an embrace which was warm and fiery.
I sinned surrounded by arms
that were hot and avenging and iron.

In that dark and silent seclusion
I looked into his secret-full eyes.
my heart impatiently shook in my breast
In response to the request of his needful eyes.

In that dark and silent seclusion,
I sat dishevelled at his side.
his lips poured passion on my lips,
I escaped from the sorrow of my crazed heart.

I whispered in his ear the tale of love:
I want you, O life of mine,
I want you, O life-giving embrace,
O crazed lover of mine, you.

desire sparked a flame in his eyes;
the red wine danced in the cup.
In the soft bed, my body
drunkenly quivered on his chest.

I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
next to a shaking, stupefied form.
O God, who knows what I did
In that dark and quiet seclusion. 

Forough Farrokhzad

~~~~~

My falconry girlfriend, while she loved the birds, was really in it for the leather and the discipline. Needless to say she was rapacious in bed, and loved to display the kind of cleavage one only sees in graphic novels.

She also liked to name her dogs after Norse Gods, Celtic Goddesses.

At the time she had a pure white Shepherd. Odin.

Post-modernists believe they can save themselves by hiding behind a cloak of irony. It’s no substitute for experience. I know what we had, in that time and place, with the swift powerful obedient birds, and the cleavage.

Pure beams of neutrons. Absorbing everything at three billion times a second.

I don’t know if I’ve recovered from that relationship, or not.

I don’t think I’ll ever really know.

 

 

Sylvia Plath, Marcel Proust, Mad Men, and toxic masculinity…

April 12, 2018

Not knowing anything about Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, I picked it up off the book shelf as a 234 page respite, having just finished the first 1,100 pages of Proust’s 3,400 page Remembrance of Things Past – that highly stylized rambling depiction of French aristocratic boredom and snobbery. Essentially, Waiting for Godot for rich people.

Importantly, to fill in the scene I am about to set, we had also just finally finished watching the seven seasons of Mad Men – that 2007-2015 hit cable TV show set in 1960’s toxic masculine nostalgia for cigarette smoke, whiskey-drenched business lunches billed to the company expense account, and that lost time in New York City when men could treat women like pieces of meat, sex objects, and their own personal office slave – while otherwise completely indifferent to their wishes, desires, career aspirations, or dignity.

I read somewhere that Mad Men is considered by many critics to be possibly the very best television ever made. I’m not sure why this would be, unless style and cinematography account for everything these days.

We watched a show where over seven seasons the plot went nowhere, our protagonist Don Draper remained from the very beginning an alcoholic serial monogamist who almost always preferred the missionary position to any actual thinking.

The fact that nothing ever changed made much more sense after I discovered that Andrew Weiner, the creator, writer, and producer of Mad Men also worked on the Sopranos, another hit TV show where the protagonist goes nowhere over seven seasons.

Both shows start with fantastic premises – Tony Soprano, a mobster in therapy, Don Draper, a ad exec genius in the early post-war days of consumer capitalism- both men in the middle of a mid-life existential crisis – each of them failing from a total lack of imagination.

Both television series shot out of the gate, garnered huge critical acclaim, had movie level production values, and great casts of characters acted superbly.

Yet, by the end of their respective second seasons both shows were on life support, for you realized that the concepts were bigger than the small-screen writers’ imaginations to sustain them. From here, the shows milked their own forward motion for as long as they could, until finally sputtering to their deaths three or four seasons after they should have been yanked.

~~~~~

We began to realize that the popular trend in television – at least with Mad Men and The Sopranos ( and, come to think of it, in Downton Abbey and The Crown as well) – is for there not to be any particular forward moving story lines. Downton and The Crown were exceptional television for nothing ever really happening. They were staggering feats in nothingness. Valium for the eyes.

By the end of all four shows nothing has progressed really from the first premise; there are no characters left for one to root for – we hated them all! – and we began to suspect that that may ultimately be the point. That very post-modern notion that everyone is flawed and narcissistic, that the world is all bad, so why not be bad and get a slice of it before you die.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are the very best of politicians who play this game. They both openly admit that politics is corrupt, that everyone is corrupt, that everyone plays the game – and only the craftiest Alpha males remain when the day is done. Of course our elections are fixed, they admit, everyone’s elections are fixed. Grow up and see how the real world works.

It is time, they say, to move beyond that naive Enlightenment notion of progress – both as an individual and as a society – the Apple is rotten – there is no freedom, liberty, equality – narcissism and consumption rule the day – rape and pillage have always been the rules – play the game or get out of the way.

~~~~~

Image result for the bell jarEnter stage left Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, that 1963 reality check of what it meant to be a young woman who was smart – scholarship smart – top of her university class smart – ambitious, a lover of poetry and literature, history, travel – who realizes at 20 that all university and New York are grooming her for – who begins to understand that the only thing America knows what to groom a young woman for – is to be some Don Draper’s office assistant and mistress, before she moves on to marriage and motherhood.

When Plath’s young protagonist balks at the thought of such a life of tedium, when she begins to balk at the realization that there are no other options in her otherwise working class reality she is subjected to electro-shock therapy (twice) and a stint in a mental asylum.

Needless to say there are no Sylvia Plath characters in Mad Men. There is Peggy, who is one of the first women to crack the door of access, but by the last season she is ultimately written into the windowless office, an unknown cog in a multinational company, happy that she has a functional (more or less) boyfriend.

Draper’s wife (Betty – Bet’s) slowly goes mad living her perfect sterile suburban life – with booze helping her blur out the dead-end horizon of her future – she finally divorces Draper only to settle for more of the same with someone else and get terminal breast cancer (punishment?). Like the times Mad Men portrays, the female characters are all really just a second thought to the wondering liquor-soaked penis of Don Draper and the aspirations (such as they are) of the other male characters on the show.

~~~~~

Downton Abbey, The Crown, and Mad Men are all scenarios cocooned from the dramatic and dynamic changing society of the Plebes. The outside world never really penetrating their worlds, these changes only rarely examined and in only the most reluctant and conservative reactionary way – leaving us pining for those seemingly benign conservative times when everyone knew their place – the aristocracy was basically good and nurturing towards the masses – where men where forever and always the father figures, the bread winners, the guiding lights of all that was true and principled.

Well, that was the myth at least, the myth that maintained the hierarchy, the myth that maintained the privilege.

Of course this was also true in Proust’s time. For the 1,100 pages I have read so far the women are little more than mothers, or desired lovers to be adulated over – at least for as long as the man remains interested – then he is off to his next mistress, or his man’s club where real business is discussed.

Little is expected of the women in Proust’s world, save being mannequins of the latest fashions, gossipers, or fierce enforcers of social decorum.

How dare Sylvia Plath’s protagonist not wanting the narrow pre-determined life of a woman: secretary, mistress, mother!

For her rebellion of the soul she receives a poorly executed electroshock therapy by a blundering idiot male doctor, follows this up by attempting suicide, fails, and consequently spends time in a mental asylum where more electroshock therapy is applied.

Only then to be released back into the world – quasi-lobotomized, adrift, alone.

What happens to Don Draper? He spends the last half of the final season in a hipster new-age commune in northern California without a care in the world – as if his kids, job, various ex-wives do not exist. And it is here, while in meditation (smirking all the while) where he will discover the most famous of all ad jingles – the song that hints at the changing world economy, the coming glory of globalization, multiculturalism, and the multinational corporation – the 1971 Coca-Cola song “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”