Monday, March 16, 2015

American Medecine

    At my last chiropractic appointment, I jumped up out of my waiting room chair to share a sudden thought with the receptionist.  We only bond with or understand one another when we're sick, I explained.  Or, as I've often ruminated, we're eager to help one another die, but don't assist each other in being alive.
     There is no dearth of talk show features on the latest medically identified disease or the narrative of someone's survival of cancer or other life-threatening illness.  In the ultimate symbiosis of life and death, we provided the throwaways of Guantanamo with state-of-the-art technologies in a final sentimental apology for having imprisoned them.  I once worked with a woman with whose relationship I struggled. She did make the effort to visit me in an intensive care unit, but regularly shucked opportunities for simple gestures of social interest.  I have what could possibly be considered a macabre empathy with those who live in extremis, i.e. isolated in prison cells, politically persecuted, stranded in starvation or caught in the snares of war.  I'm unafraid of being perceived as callous at the nausea I feel with the endless parade of bald children who suffer from the side effects of chemotherapy.  They, at least, are from families affluent enough to afford treatment.  I'm unwilling to shove aside my emotional involvement with people tottering on the brink of extinction to reach out in spirit for those who have merely suffered some interruption to their complacency.
     Then there is the other angle.  Of late, I've evolved almost a kind of embarrassment at visiting medical offices.  In the barren landscape of my social life the thought has begun to intrude that in keeping these seemingly endless appointments that they also provide a kind of sociability and good will.  It's too easy to get on board the campaigns of the American Medical Association.  As part of my participation in the local mental health community, I've been subjected to endless moralizations about cigarette smoking.  Besides the fact that I'm more concerned with the financial devastation poor people expose themselves to, I'm impressed with the hypocrisy with the associated issues, including second hand smoke.  I remember a time when a simple opportunity to smoke recreationally in drinking establishments was still inside the law.  What about the kind of moral destitution that leads to addictions?  What kind of even simple gestures have been made to address the desperation of those caught up in the routine demoralization of either poverty or the ennui and alienation of suburban shopping mall culture or the stranded rich? People should be allowed to kill themselves slowly or dramatically, in my never very humble opinion, rather than be subjected to the sentimental swill of moral inculcation.
     Anyway, I'm of the mind these days to excuse myself from the scare tactics of advanced imaging and medical procedures designed to produce evidence that the chances of your life coming to a conclusion are mathematically increased.  What's the point of extended your life if it's not worth living to begin with.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, some of us would gather at the Sheridan Square newstand (when there were still such things) and wait in the early morning hours for the drop off of that week's Village Voice. In those days, apartments would go for under a hundred dollars, sometimes well under, and you could easily pick up a new life where the old one left off.
     Usually a fresh coat of landlord-supplied paint would cover up the fact that you were in some way indigent and living marginally.  Then, as you began to settle in and get your bearings, you would accommodate yourself to the toilet in the hallway and the bathtub in the kitchen.  Life wasn't so bad.  After all, you had your autonomy.  You were free; you didn't need to grovel in the marketplace of money and show yourself off with the results.
     Sometimes the relocation to The Lower East Side, aka East Village, was to meet up with friends and associates already in residence.  Other times, it was to connect to the electrical currents always surging around discoveries in the arts and unending experiments in new ways of living.  It was in the '60s and through my associations at City College that I first discovered the East Village.  My mother had warned me against 'the commies', but I soon found my way to the radicalism of the south campus cafeteria and that was when my life began in earnest.  I eventually found my way to the New York Federation of Anarchists and would journey from my parents in the East '80s to dinners on streets numbered in single digits.  I remember distinctly macrobiotic meals with grain so stalwart that I would have an entirely unexpected bowel movement the next morning.  Also, for the first time, a woman with an eye catching ankle length skirt who did artist's modeling.  Who ever heard of such things.  Too, a copy of the East Village Eye caught my attention, the first ever of the underground press.
     Transitioning through the sixties brought me into the turbulence of the revolutionary antiwar movement and the beginnings of women's liberation.  The East Village became a vortex of a global paroxysm of what could be, rather than the tired remains of what had always been in place.  Now I am a homesteader away from the megalopolis of New York City, with the lingering memory of what has now receded into the past.  The East Village went from the hallucinogenic floral explosion of the sixties into '70s New Wave, leaving in its wake a residue of gentrification and a brief proliferation of galleries in the '80s.  In one of the last visits I made, I was astonished that this excitement had relocated to an outer borough.  Despite geographic dislocations, the diaspora of risk-takers will never spend itself to a conclusion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Further..

I'm reading Mistry's A Fine Balance a second time, and only last night noticed that after a gap of some ten years, I was waiting for certain details to make a reappearance.  To wit, Omprakash's affliction with both head lice and tape worms; and too, the horrible emergency government round-up resulting in forced labor, and the sad denouement where the two main characters become beggars.
     I was saddened by the contrast between the distractions I seem afflicted by in developing a reading habit and the ease and analytical insight I've come to enjoy watching movies.  Every film seems to break down into easy, directorial segments, making my future destiny as a film director believable (ahem).  Anyway, I think all of this constitutes a pleasure zone, i.e. when we have the luxury of sinking into an experience and let it take over.  For after all, the fiction writers enjoy their craft, otherwise why...
     

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rohinton Mistry

I'm unsure how to handle blog posts on anything more frequently than monthly, but I'll try.
     Reading A Fine Balance, and this for the second time, my train of thought heads in the direction of a writer's awareness of what works...and doesn't. Although I must say, all of Mistry's craft has its desired effect.
     The last episode dealt with a political rally.  Endless buses picking up endless shanty town dwellers, if not of their own volition, then with some not-so-gentle coaxing with police batons. As the thousands assemble, the pageantry begins and the hot air balloons dispense their cargo of rose petals, sometimes reaching their destinations of stage and crowds, sometimes missing the mark and providing some local goatherds with an unexpected blessing. What is impressive is the dishevelment and mayhem of the subcontinent of India.  Shocking to the Western reader is that despite the chaos of the struggle for survival, the human prevails.  The routine of emptying one's bowels at the nearest assembly of train tracks is no more than the writer's opportunity to elaborate dialogue, and the sordid search for a place to hang one's hat an opportunity to provide details of the sordid accumulation of debris and trash that a slum dweller simply takes in stride.
     Now what do I do to end a post?  Sudden death?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I'M BACK, AND RECOUPING LOST GROUND

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

AMERICA ON STEROIDS

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

THE GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME



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.