Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Grey Shades of Terrorism

Two things are on my mind today. Both rehash ideas that have been tossed around by others but today I need to say my piece.
The first is a beef about CNN. At my day job I spend my breaks in the staff room. It is a relatively pleasant rest spot even with the TV on. In fact, I like watching it. I haven’t owed a TV for over thirty years. Sure I will watch it when I visit my father but other than that I am still lost in a time warp of Gilligan’s Island reruns. That is, until I started this part-time job.
I take a liberal approach to whatever happens to be on—I never change the channel; just open my mind to what the nation, or at least a lot of folk, are watching. It’s been entertaining and sometimes even illuminating … but most of the time its utter crazy making. Who knew that people still jumped up and down in a frenzy on The Price is Right, albeit for Drew Carey and not Bob Barker; that Dr. Phil has developed quite the messianic complex—he actually delivers his summaries from a pulpit like structure—and that storage locker auction sites are considered exciting viewing?
Then again, there is a bizarre continuity in this that somehow reassures me. Haven’t we as a society always liked and expected TV to be simple with carefully boxed up and/or scripted emotions? What bothers me about some aspects of TV, however, is its need to attract viewers with extremism. The most blatant example being CNN.
Recently CNN has been frequently on the tube due to the Boston Marathon bombing. And although it certainly was a horrific tragedy, CNN made it worse by repeatedly showing the same images. Over the course of a half hour, I watched identical footage of the first exploding bomb at least twenty times. To the naïve eye it would appear that Boston was under siege and experiencing continuous attacks. This carried on throughout the week.  Even the commentary seemed to fortify this conclusion.   Reporters and newscasters asked sensational questions or dropped cliffhanging ones just before the commercial break. It was akin to thirty years ago when the TV viewing public was constantly asked: Who shot JR?
In the shades of grey that is our life, CNN breeds it own kind of terrorism. And, like its fellow terrorists who deal in misguided interpretations of religion or politics, it comes down to greed. The powers that be behind both the newscasters and the bombers don’t care about people; they care only about their own desires for power and money.
The second thing on my mind is the realization that even after years of feminist focussed readings and classes, consciousness raising workshops and political discussions quoting Chomsky, Klein and Berger… I still view a magazine advert, billboard or a TV commercial and almost (and I stress the word almost) be persuaded that if I do “x”, buy “y” or eat “z” I will be happier, safer and prettier.
If this can still happen to me, how much more vulnerable is the naïve twelve year old?
Terrorism comes in all forms.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Do Not Call Me a Girl

Caution: this is a bit of a rant.  That said, I do have a legitimate suggestion at the end so bear with me.
Am I the only woman out there who hates being called a girl? I need to ask this because at times I feel very alone in this desire to have the world call me a woman. I am not talking about what individual women want to call themselves. That decision is a personal choice and I respect that. I am talking instead about what others, especially men, presume to call me.
Just yesterday my male osteopath said: “Good girl” when I told him I stretched regularly. I felt like a dog or, at best, an immature being who needed an adult to tell her she was doing good. I told him to not do that but we were already deep into the session and my mouth was not working very well. My protests probably sounded like grunts. I had not the energy not the will to pursue it but if he does it again he will hear these words: Do not call me a girl.
Last month at my day job, a twenty year old young man wished me and two other women, all three of us at least twice his age, a goodnight. He said: G’night girls. I responded back: G’night boy. He did a double take; he hasn’t done it again.
I am 51 years old. I have crow’s feet around my eyes, grey in my hair, and the skin around my inner elbows looks like crepe paper. I have earned these age marks; I am not ashamed of them—they mark my passage into physical maturity. My emotional maturity is not so visible to those that don’t know me and perhaps even to some that do but that is beside the point. I know me.
I have worked damned hard at getting to know who I am, what I want and what I am going to do about it. I have not been a “girl” for over thirty years. I don’t want to be a girl. Girl, as does boy, implies immaturity in all stages of development. And that is the way it should be. Girls and boys are immature, they are undeveloped— they are still growing in all facets of their life. It is a biological truth. And, while I am always changing and yes, growing in terms of my understandings, relationships and internal processes, I am not a girl. 
If I act immature, I deserve to be called on it. But to have strangers call me a girl reinforces the implicit hierarchy in our society that states females, no matter what age they may be, are somehow less than, not quite up to par, or needing guidance.
Am I taking this too seriously?
Try it out. Next time someone, especially a man, calls you a girl think about what he is really saying.  Think about exchanging the favour: see how subtly degrading it sounds when you refer to him a boy. And then do something about it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Ten Faves

As promised last week, here are the ten books I would take with me to a deserted island. These books have given me great joy and an understanding of human nature. They continually inspire and help me laugh at my own foibles and, I think, help me to be more compassionate to myself and others. So here goes my list with a short reason why they are my best literary friends. I would love to hear your list, however short or long.
1.       Roget’s International Thesaurus. Not the small one, mind you, but the big three inch thick hard cover tome that has become one of my most absolute treasures. If I am going to be on an island for an indeterminate amount of time with no distractions except for my meandering mind and other people’s words, I will have to write. And, if I write, I need this thesaurus.

2.       An excellent dictionary. I have a fair to middling dictionary—the Concise Oxford— but one day I will splurge and buy a not so concise one. The only problem with this plan is that my current dictionary, due to weight and size, is fairly mobile from my computer to reading chair. Anything heavier and I will just pretending to know the big words. But, if I am going to read and write, I need this book.

The rest are not in chronological order…

3.       Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Although separated into maybe 500 or so poems, this is a grand tale that reads like Shevardnadze’s The Thousand and One Nights. It takes us in “chronological” order from the Creation to the deification of Caesar, includes many of the Graeco-Roman myths, and is filled with humour, tragedy, melodrama and poignant love scenes. It is truly a must read if you are a fan of mythology and a student of human nature. One of my favorites for beautiful passages and incredible pathos is Phaeton. It is the story of the Sun God’s illegitimate son: the latter’s need to prove himself to both his friends and his father; and the father’s need, but inability, to protect his beloved son from his own follies.

4.       Milton’s Paradise Lost. A great story. Milton was not only a genius but provocative, imaginative and quite witty. Take the part where Satan (nee Lucifer) meets his ex-lover, Sin, at the gates of hell and doesn’t recognize her. She cries out: “Hast thou forgot me then, and do I seem now in thine eye so foul, once deemed so fair…” What spurned lover does not know that feeling and isn’t the gates of Hell a suitable place for such a discussion? Then there are the arguments that Adam and Eve employ when they realize the trouble they are in after eating the apple. They are really not so different from ones you would expect around the kitchen table concerning finances or undone chores. And, I must say, I did enjoy reading how it was Eve who finally showed the most integrity while Adam maintained his whining and finger pointing. Plus this is the only tale I know that implies Lucifer’s rebellion and ultimate fall from heaven was the consequences of feeling rejected at “home”. The way Milton writes it I have no doubt that God could have reorganized Heaven a little bit more … diplomatically. I mean, one day all the angels are equal in status and the next they are being told to bow down to God’s one and only son… an angel who used to be your equal.  Talk about favorites! Finally, I just respect Mr. Milton for his perseverance and creative vitality. He was blind when he created this poem. Each night he would be visited by his “muse” and in the morning would dictate his verses to a scribe. Incredible.

5.       The Illiad of Homer. Once again, humour, tragedy and our eternal and, at times, cursed, personality issues make this book as current now as it was over 2000 years ago. While Homer brings to life all the petty jealousies, excessive pride, cowardly behaviour and outrageous impulses that colour our melodramatic lives he does so with such compassion. Favorite scenes: the manipulations Hera uses to outwit Zeus in order to save her beloved Greeks, and the near death fight of Achilles against the river god, Scamander.

6.       Faust: Part One and Two, by Goethe. Okay, I am going to start getting the reputation of a devil worshipper but I have to admit, I loved Goethe’s Mephistopheles. He is funny, even catty, world weary but ever up for a challenge and, I think, while a times an absolute gentleman, would be a most excellent drinking buddy. He negotiates with God to be given someone interesting to seduce.  Most men, he says, are too easy and “boring to torment”. Mephistopheles suggests Faust who “hankers after heaven’s loveliest orbs” and God agrees. If Faust cannot find his way back to righteousness at his final hour, the devil can have him. So, the two part play is about Faust’s long fall to hell through murder, thievery, fraud and whatnot. By the end, I could not abide by Faust. On the other hand, I felt utterly frustrated and not a little sorry for Mephistopheles. To have worked so hard with a pupil so eager … only to be defeated at grave side by rose throwing angels. Alas. Note: I highly recommend having a who’s who to classic mythology nearby for part two.

7.       Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. Anything really by this Russian author would be worth bringing. His depth of understanding and compassion for the human heart, his passionate prose, and knowledge of what drives human behaviour is beyond compare. Okay, I say that too glibly, he has fierce competition with the seven other writers listed here.

8.       Melvilles’ Moby Dick. Okay, there are some absolutely boring passages in this book but they are far outweighed by the magical descriptions of whales. It’s the only book here that I haven’t read at least twice but I know at some point I will. If anything would make you a Green Peace torch bearer, this book will do it.

9.       Jorges Luis Borges Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. While I haven’t read all the stories or essays within this book there are some to which I keep coming back. The funny thing is that regardless of my repetitive readings I am still as mystified and awed as I was when I first read them. His magical surrealism is so real that I find myself lost in the weave of his words without a recognizable reference to find my way out again. My favorite is The Immortal but a close second is The House of Asterion.

10.   Levi Primo’s Survival in Auschwitz. I have written before on this book. So, all I will say is the reason I would take it with me to the island is because it gives me hope and trust in the human spirit. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Conscious Creativity

Have you ever been asked what ten books you would take to a deserted island? I tend to compose answers to this even when not prompted—the joy of musing over well loved treasures is for me, a wellspring of pleasure. (And, in fact, I think I will write about that in my next blog). A more difficult question, however, is what would I take if it could only be one thing, book or otherwise. Well, the singular item that would get me through days of endless solitude and reverberating silence would be my creativity. But then again, that answer is redundant: humans are inherently creative. So a better response would be a “conscious creativity”—one that not only nurtures and supports me but my environment as well.
It is amazing how creative (unconsciously so) we all are. I sometimes get confused by this and silently judge certain people as dull and unimaginative. How wrong can I be? These supposedly “uninteresting” folk are usually the most creative of all. Imagine the infinite (and creative) resources needed to protect oneself from a world that insists on invoking unique and individual responses? Dull, indeed!
I know of a man, for example, who is quite smart, an able teacher, good looking, fit and friendly but boring as all get out. His responses to gentle teases or slightly abstract questions are met with blank stares and/or concrete repartee. He wants to join in—you can almost see his imagination muscles vibrating with an urge to express—but the barriers that keep him from doing so are far too great. How much unconscious creativity is continually expended by this man to keep life’s laughter and lightness at bay?
These barriers against life are generally built up over time. We learn from a young age how to protect ourselves from hurt and unpleasant surprises. Unfortunately, these walls can also end up guarding us against spontaneity and curious exploration. The irony is incredible: the use of creative resources to deny our creative response to life.
I also know of people who proclaim their creative ineptitude while performing wonders in bookkeeping; still others who are absolute geniuses at making others feel comfortable. And then there are the ones who say they have no time to be creative. They must cook, clean, go to work, take care of the kids, fund their retirement and go to the dentist all before they can sit down and BE CREATIVE. All I can say to them is that even though I consider myself a creative person I don’t manifest enough creativity to be able to do what they do and still maintain my sanity.
Creativity knows no bounds: our artistically inventive cells cannot be held back… to do so is to deny our humanness. One could say then that creativity is another way of describing how we do life. The key is whether we are conscious to it.
 The first step to being conscious to our creativity is to pat ourselves on the back and acknowledge how we managed to survive another day. Perhaps we might say: “wow, I put up all these barriers today to stop people from talking to me… how creative”. Or, “look at how I managed to subvert my anger into working vast amounts of overtime … how imaginative”. To be conscious of our creativity is to be honest and open at looking at how we are living our life. How, for example, we artfully arrange it so we don’t have to remember bad things, or deal with unpleasant situations. Imagine how creative a homeless and penniless drug addict is at not only feeding him or herself, however poorly, but at getting a steady supply of drugs. I know that is an extreme example but acknowledging one’s strengths is a good way of getting back on our feet. Once we do that we can start opening our self, if we choose, to consciously using our creativity in more nurturing ways.
Of course, one could also say: how creative, I managed to shoplift from three stores today or hurt several people without them knowing. Creativity, as I said above, knows no bounds. Conscious creativity, on the other hand, does:  it doesn’t hurt or diminish but enhances our humanity and our interconnectedness while helping us feel glad to be alive to experience another day.
How have you been consciously creative today?