Picking up a pencil, it seems, in order to write a blog. My life has been dishevel and in arrears since last winter, and things have gotten behind.
What did I want to write about? It was March, the end of Lent, and on Easter weekend there were a number of documentaries on the Holy Land going back to the time of Jesus.
In one notable moment, Jesus was shown rubbing his thumbs over the eyes of a blind man. I liked this Jesus: he was kind of frumpy. His hair made him seem like he could've been a homeless man in any American city. I reflected on the classic image of Jesus in commercial depictions. Vidal Sassoon...was this his stylist?!
I suppose it was from that moment that I formed a different conception of this man's life. Yes, he was in all ways unremarkable, unremarkable except that he healed the sick, made the blind to see and raised the dead to life. A man so unremarkable, in fact, that in the end there were no misgivings about delivering him to the same gruesome execution reserved for thieves and blackguards.
This, then, is the revelation of the Christian faith, now no longer a mystery. How unremarkable we all are until the moment when we can see one another, relieved of dross and cloaked in glory. I further reflected, in avoiding the conventional obsession with the crucifixion, that surely it was the resurrection and not his death that constituted our liberation; but then, what about those of us who have abased ourselves with mayhem and butchery? Alas, being nailed to a cross couldn't be avoided.
Buddhists don't have a gory revelation at the center of their theology, only frightening ones. I think fondly of Mahakhala as the deity who kicks our asses if we somehow upend the Dharma.
So it remains a mystery how we are redeemed from suffering by being made to focus on it. But then, is there any worse destiny than to not be forgiven? Isn't this what hell is made of?
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Recently I had the displeasure of a sojourn in a psychiatric ward, my fourth and first in 20 years. I was left with the dubious ambition of indulging in some current movie fare… Hollywood potboilers. A mix of comedy and action thriller, I was left with some rather depressing thoughts on culture.
The comedy, Observe and Report, was about a disgruntled security guard who subsequently runs amok with a colleague. As I was incarcerated in a locked ward, I was slack jawed at the depiction of a female date being offered Klonopin in addition to her “Nurse please. Four shots of Tequila.” The ultimate fucking scene showed her to be more than half alive, something I know to be impossible. Too, at one point the two men get drunk and do drugs, with one of them shooting smack. Is there still a censorship code for American movie making? And does it still have to do solely with sex?
I forget the name of the B action thriller, but I found the routine, gratuitous and obligatory murders and bomb explosions tedious and painful. As though I still had to be convinced of the popularity of this genre, I stayed put for The Expendables, and all stops pulled cast including Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a minor role. The gun bursts in this one were carried out nonstop for a full 15 minutes, and I am embarrassed to admit that even I was engrossed. A blockbuster, no doubt.
Just as an afterthought, there was also a Pixar feature with an elderly curmudgeon in a starring animated role. Before long he was assailed by an overweight Asian boy scout. I can’t be the only one to notice the continuing depiction of our children as being grossly overweight. I have some thoughts on this too.
Why would we go to the movies to be put into a state of pain? I suppose for the heavy weight action thriller, as with state-of-the-art video games, the faster and less interrupted the violence the better. But why do we put up with it at all? I’m one of those strange, paradoxical antiwar activists who is also mesmerized by war, something more than an action thriller. If reality is not already threatening, do we need to make it so? How many nation states can we demonize, threaten with war and sanctions? How many people, individuals and groups, do we need to Satanize in order to preserve our own comfort zone? I’m free associating here, but there is indeed something Satanic about American culture. The right hand won’t acknowledge the left. We condemn steroids as providing athletes with an unfair edge, but oh do we love the unfair and monstrous results.
Are we really captivated, inspired by the idea of beings of robotic monstrosity, as shown in many of these grade Bs? Is this how we prepare our psyche to deal with ‘the other’, either foreign or native? Everything needs to be killed. I like to think I focus on loftier Hollywood fare, but I found and find the kind of movie making I deliberately exposed myself too in the environment of the Bon Secour psych ward troubling enough to comment upon.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Last summer, while at a day’s retreat at a nude resort in New Jersey, I looked up from reclining on my beach towel and saw, in the look of another guest, the wry look of ridicule that I’d become accustomed to over the course of a lifetime. Over a year previous, a familiar cycle of sexual innuendo had begun, something I had never thought would once again assail me so late in life. The public review of my sex life had begun, with clever, sly references everywhere on the media. But what I’m trying to say in the leading sentence of this blog entry is that I now knew with finality that my public pursuit and persecution had become encoded into the national DNA, a periodic American recreation.
The ideology of this public humiliation goes back decades. The psychopath who was my neighbor on a crime ridden block in the mid ‘70s East Village could not let alone the fact that an otherwise unidentifiable single woman had compromised his standing in the drug-running mob world organizing the lives of the inhabitants on 9th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. The result: I was run out of my home, became first a vagabond, then an outcast, then a mental patient, this over the course of five years. During this time, I was in the grips not only of a sneering public opinion, but of powers and principalities beyond my control. Could I possibly be a prostitute? Try it on for size. Or, to reference a previous blog post, The Gay Octoroon, was I gay or straight? The vector of public humiliation was an attempt to out me, way before bisexuals enjoyed any comfort zone in the gay community, at a time when gay liberation was not more than half a dozen years old, and I no more than in my early 30s.
This time, however, as the all too familiar oblique references began to play out in the work place, I made the determination to step down from my job, put a handle on my torment for the first time with the twin vows that: 1) this time it was my script; and 2) this time I was not going to be destroyed. As the cornerstone of my personal/political philosophy is ‘everything happens for a reason’, and as the end result of having been stalked to a long familiar nude retreat in the nearby Mohonk Preserve, I ran home to research bisexual resources on Facebook. I realized that the first step in my strategy for untying my chains had to be a firm commitment to my sexual orientation, shrugging off any compulsory identity as a monosexual, rejoicing in the both/and rather than the either/or.
I slowly came to an understanding of some of the routine slang: batteries. Yeah, OK, I needed public injury and insult in order to become the life of the party. Yeah, sure, this makes perfect sense as people who are abused, including myself, want for nothing but to retreat and withdraw. Makes for a good party, tho’. Then, sadly, I realized that everything I said and did was instantly committed to public record; the aperture and the microphone imposed an aberrant lifestyle on me, and even now, at the start of the third year of this cycle, I carefully script and edit everything out of my mouth. It’s too painful to speak too freely and expansively since this can only lead to social approbation. Consequent to the realization that I was under unrelenting surveillance, it became a matter of simple determination that I had to “bolt” down everything I’d become committed to in life to prevent it’s being destroyed by ‘fear and malice’.
But I suppose the sum total of all of this, and what made it the Great American Pastime, is that the lights, camera and action of public scrutiny led to the concept of ‘auditions’. In fact, I’d become the all American whore, with my brief sexual adventures in the halcyon days of the lower Manhattan culture of the mid-late ‘70s turning into folklore and legend. I was the eternal Jezebel, born into life to be a lecherous woman, held simultaneously in contempt and in awe and watchfulness till the time of another performance.
I came up to Newburgh and the Mid Hudson Valley now almost 14 years ago to go on yet another venture, becoming a homesteader along the way. I was aghast at how all the apparatus and public expectation of almost 40 years ago were exhumed, taken out of mothballs in a bizarre dislocation of urbanity. I was expected to stop traffic, have lines waiting to see me in public spaces. This painful misunderstanding continues to this day. Once again, I’ve taken refuge in the psychiatric community for understanding and hopefulness, but every time I venture out to do simple errands, I am jarred with the realization that I may never be seen by the world for who I truly am, will always be expected to accept the coin of the realm in bypassing my own interest in forming relationships and instead bowdlerize myself into obligatory sexual encounter.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
I’d forgotten what it was like to listen to David Rothenberg’s Here of a Saturday Morning on WBAI, a radio show I religiously tuned into every weekend while still living in The City. Suddenly, I’d turned the TV off and some of my old habits began floating to the top of my mind.
When I’d first made the determination to tune into FM radio and screen out the static and commercialism of television, I vacillated back and forth between NPR and listener sponsored WBAI, a station taking a more militant stand on matters of social change. The problem seemed to be one of holding my attention, which wandered rather recklessly back and forth between the airwaves and the activities of the nearby fish tank. Many I know keep TV, and perhaps also radio on as an aural backdrop, but I’ve always resisted the thought of doing this. Even now living comfortably with myself involves a process of clearing away the energy of one activity and then moving with peace and intention on to the next. In this context, background noise could only be a distraction.
Maybe what this blog post is about, rather than the choice of media, is making more unconventional and inventive use of leisure time. We’re supposed to mainstream our leisure time, with television as a cornerstone. I do admit I remember how pleasant it once was for me to think of coming downstairs from a nap to the reassurance of a human face, but now I listen to WAMC’s All Things Considered, dismissing Wolf Blitzer and CNN’s Situation Room. All this might seem somewhat severe, except that in the evening I sometimes take in a YouTube or Al Jazeera documentary.
People I know in the City of Newburgh have long since given up TV. One couple watches DVDs, another tunes into Hulu if they get the urge. I suppose my life has taken a more Spartan or stoic turn in this decision of how to structure my leisure time, but it’s taken on advantages in steering me away from the tiresome drone of advertising and into an at least occasional exploration of the Internet. Not so bad, spending an evening delving into all the videos you’ve sequestered away from Facebook and into your YouTube Watch Later folder.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I originally wrote a December post on the Newtown, CT
shooting, including an introductory link from the World Socialist Website; but
when I pressed the preview button on Google, I got a prompt saying it had been published. I subsequently looked at my blog and saw
nothing. As I’ve no idea how to retrieve
anything out of the blogosphere, I’m rewriting my thoughts, subsequently
At a recent gathering at my home at the Winter Solstice,
conversation inevitably turned to our most recent school-shooting tragedy. Someone had read an editorial in that
Friday’s New York Times elaborating
an opinion on Second Amendment rights. I
hadn’t known there was a conversation underway to repeal it.
And what was the reason for this amendment, he wondered, as
he was particularly troubled by the use of the word ‘militia’. I quickly jumped in, sensing an opportunity
to connect my own personal dots on the subject.
The Constitution grants us the right to dissolve our governance if it
improperly serves us, casts us into hopelessness and does not serve our
wellbeing. This undoubtedly was the
reason for the use of that word. How to
assail the existing powers, however duly constituted, without arms?
Later I reflected on the growth of gun culture in the United
States. I’d recently been told by a
colleague at my rehab program that guns are freely available, even placed on
tables for sale at gun shows. Then, in a
180 degree pivot that seems possible only in our culture, I heard in a television
news announcement tonight that areas in some states are publishing information
on the location of privately and legally held firearms, the disclosure of which
was not well received by all.
In evidence that the Civil War still stalks the political
landscape in this country, there is a widespread affinity among some to display
the Confederate flag. Overcoming my
repugnance, I now began to reflect upon the reactionary nature of this. The rebel yell is alive today in the
imagination of some who object to the indifference of American political
life. Into this sometimes also goes
racial prejudice, jealousy in the workplace and a resentment of the openness of
our immigration policies resulting in a concept of armed militias and a
revolutionary resistance, however simplistic.
The missing ingredient in this stew of constitutionally
allowable discontent is, simply, intellect.
The romance of bearing arms seems a reductio ad absurdum for the awesome
undertaking of reconstituting government.
Among this subculture of discontented shooters, who would have the
political imagination to forge a new constitution, a Bill of Rights? I think my biggest single argument with
American culture, besides its obsession with violence, is its discouragement of
intellect. In a clip I saw recently of
the film Lincoln, he is arguing
passionately for the phrase we hold these
truths to be self evident. Why would
he be so emotionally moved by what we take to be a tautology? Could it be because the power of his
leadership lay in his ability to be moved by what is freely available to all,
namely the simple use of logic and common sense?
We are then left with devastating explosions of
murder/suicide. The licentious
availability of firearms coupled with the painful mental and emotional
dislocations of American life from time to time produce monsters. We can’t then just turn around and say the
parents were oblivious, or our mental health system is deficient. We lack wholesomeness in the way we conceive
and think about our own governance.
Cynicism blunts intellect, and we all too frequently think not in
threads of conversation, but in ideologies.
I’m not one to blindly salute authority, but perhaps before we resort to
arms we should rethink our identity as Americans.
Monday, November 12, 2012
I am struck by how symptomatic states often resemble the despair and descent of poetry. Last month I had an extraordinary break with normality and was toppled into hopelessness, placing my hands against the window with only a memory of what it was like to be outside. A horrible summer of self-incarceration came to a conclusion when, too, in a state of rage, I sped my car over a curb and destroyed it. I’d never been in this part of hell before, and was discovered in a dream in a bone-chilling location that I am at a loss to describe. In the current psychiatric rehabilitation program I am engaged with, I was surprised with recollections of my first recovery. Apparently, in something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, there is something called ‘Downward Descent.’ I recalled the strange vertigo of anxiety that was routinely triggered by inappropriate and destructive relationships. Working with a Sullivanian therapist, there was the classic moment of transference where I reached out for her hand, realizing for the first time that it was available. In a dream, a ship in the distance headed towards a beach to rescue me from an entrapment in another ikon of therapeutic relief. In my current flailings about with a Nook, it has occurred to me that I should download En Saison en Enfer. Not infrequently it crosses my mind in more frivolous moments that I should open a travel agency. Receiving etheric instructions to adhere to draconian discipline in purges of valuables, eating habits, social interaction and even suicide constitute a harrowing journey into a complete loneliness also impossible to describe. In the PROS program, sadness is often referred to and the word ‘despair’ omitted. The searing pain in my solar plexus I experienced while in a profound, clinical depression could be referred to as an ache, and the melancholia afflicting Abraham Lincoln was diagnosed as ‘dystemia’, a mild but chronic state of sadness and dysfunction. The extrapolation of mental and emotional states into scientific and systematized terminology is something like the duodecimal system of librarians or the organization of the botanical world. It provides practitioners with an objectivity essential to diagnosis, but that can also divorce them from the suffering of their clients. I often feel, in the process of group sharing, an insight into the conflicts of my peers, helpless, all the while, to help them professionally. It is only when I dip into literature, when writing poetry or reading it, that I can touch on the thin membrane that separates scientific distance from the truth of experience.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
No one wants a slut in their congregation. I’ve been pushed out the door of more than one church due to perceived inhibitions in sexual conduct, consequently judged indecent and unworthy of tolerance. After a lifetime, if you want to consider 27 years a lifetime, I decided instead this past Sunday to purchase and read the Sunday New York Times. My premise for psychological growth has for at least the same interval of time been to identify and let go of, or rid myself of relationships to individuals, communities and institutions that have proven poisonous to my sense of dignity and self-esteem. There are a couple of old saws that are applicable here: looking for love in all the wrong places, and that there is something inherently hypocritical in organized religion. In the desperate sloughs of despond in my journey through life, I’ve resorted to Sunday worship, seeking community and relief from the heap of burning ashes my life had become…and this more than once. I’ve been a congregant in Baptist and United Church of Christ, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and even Unitarian churches; and with the possible exception of the muddied reception I got at Judson Memorial, I’ve been ostracized in one way or the other from all of them. There is a managerial imperative in being installed as a priest. The word of God needs to be shaped in such a way as is appealing to the majority of those who attend services, this, if for no other reason, than to insure financial viability. Secondarily, there need to be identified those who will volunteer their efforts and time in service to the congregation’s, or at least the presiding priest’s agenda. I think I was over doused in the work ethic to the point of being singed. Headlong I hurtled into committee attendance and even committee formation, also organizing forums on social issues, attending training courses on congregational enrichment, and very briefly, filling in for Sunday School. The returns on all this effort remain questionable. I have one true friend, a woman I met at Park Slope United Methodist. A true eccentric, she teaches medieval history at a military academy and as avocations, sings lieder, writes historic novels and quilts. I’ve spent more than a few happy hours with her at her home in Brooklyn. With her playful quirkiness, she existed far enough outside the complications of church social life that I could find some meaning in an association with her. My last attempt at connecting with a church community in Newburgh, one that I’d first been involved with for 10 years, then left, then went back to only to leave again, and then finally thought I had made a firm determination on, proved to me beyond a doubt that I could not navigate the bizarre social conventions leading to visibility as a ‘church lady’.