mary’zine #74: July 2015

July 27, 2015

my gay Friday

Friday, June 26, 2015. What an amazing few days in America. The Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act came down on Thursday. That was enough good news to hold me for awhile. But when I logged on to Facebook Friday morning I saw that SCOTUS had declared same-sex marriage the law of the land. I could hardly take it in. The Internet exploded with rainbows, cheers, and celebratory videos. The first couple to get married under the new world order were two elderly men. A crowd was watching. The civil servant who performed the ceremony asked the “I do” questions and finished with “as vested in me by the Constitution of the United States,” and a raucous cheer went up. In a world of so many disappointments, these spine-tingling moments are a rare treat. I wasn’t celebrating the cause of marriage for myself, because always a bridesmaid, etc., but for me it was about feeling like a proper citizen, finally, of the country of my birth.

It so happened that I hadn’t slept the night before. I play fast and loose with the biological realities of sleep. I can usually make up for a sleepless night with a long winter’s nap during the day, but on this day I was too excited. I did finally catch 3 hours in the afternoon, and from then it was on. I was on Facebook for the rest of the day and all night, trying in vain to keep up with the many postings and videos and all-rainbows-all-the-time. It would have been nice to take part in the celebrations in a friendly crowd, but Facebook proved to be a wonderful source of contact with friends and strangers. My friends Mary and Sharon kept checking in with me and sharing stories, sharing my delight and relief. They’re both straight, but as Mary said at one point, “We’re all gay today.” My emotions were all over the place: the joy of seeing lovers in happy tears… crowds outside the Supreme Court and San Francisco’s City Hall in cheers… the Schadenfreude of watching blustering clergymen claim we were all going to hell… the shock of the most extreme reactions, such as, oh, let me pick one: that we should all be executed because Holy Bible. Without Facebook, it would have been a lonely day, since all of my gay friends live far away. P e-mailed from Oregon that she was glad she didn’t have to move to Canada. But mostly, the cheers and camaraderie came from the vast Interwebs. I don’t think I left my desk between 7 pm and 7 am, long past the time when my body was saying “Enough!” I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in two days, and by 3 pm on Saturday I was still too excited to settle down and became quite giddy.

***

Neither SCOTUS decision affects me directly: I have health insurance thanks to Medicare and the University of California, and I have no intention of ever getting married. But this landmark vote is bigger than marriage. Were we citizens before this? Sort of. We paid taxes, we voted; for all intents and purposes, it seemed, we were equal in the eyes of the law. But not really. Why, in my day… it very nearly came to pass that gay teachers and others working with children could be fired or never hired to begin with. Thanks, Phyllis Schlafly! How do you like us now, Anita Bryant? (Seems they’re both still alive; but no angry fists in the air, how come?)

It’s striking that the rhetoric of the homophobes back in the 1970s was on a par with the rhetoric now… although I don’t remember anyone promising to set themselves ablaze in protest of any pro-gay turn of events. So the fanatics are still peddling the same old lies and prejudices, most of them Bible based, but what changed was the will of the people. “The people” are not ideologues. What changes the outlook of a regular person is not the Bible thumper thundering on her TV screen but the gradual realization that gay people are not a different species, or confined to urban centers, or men dressed like women and vice-versa, but their sisters, brothers, children, friends, and a few hardy (or outed) celebrities. It was a revolution, truly. Or, OK, an evolution of slowly dawning understanding that there are gay people in all walks of life and in most if not all families.

To this day, the right-wing fanatics are trying every argument to refute the decision, to claim that the Supremes are “activist judges,” that the new order is anti-Bible and (a new wrinkle) an attack on “religious freedom.” The Bible people have not given up their constant drumming of the message: “God’s law” [as inexpertly interpreted by them] should be the law of the land; unelected judges (i.e., SCOTUS) have no authority in these matters. Even Antonin Scalia tried this argument, causing me to wonder, “So who elected you?” Funny, but all the would-be Joans of Arc suddenly shied away from the flames of martyrdom. That one preacher who promised to immolate himself if the decision went the way it did had an about-face and claimed that he had only said he might, or he would, or maybe he would if the 10,000 ministers he claimed to have in his pocket would join him. It was the classic “end of the world” prediction that has to be awkwardly explained away when the sun still rises the next day. The funniest threat was the bold claim that the “Christians” would move to Canada. A Facebook friend of mine wondered “Who will tell them?” … that same-sex marriage has been the law there for 10 years.

It’s good to know that the sanctimonious religious right don’t always get their way. One of the naysayers I came across online raved that he always “voted the Bible,” so I responded, “You can vote on the Bible? Where do I sign up?”

And wouldn’t you know it? Mike Huckabee claims he’ll “call down fire from heaven”—“if he has to.” I like that bloviating empty threat. First, you have that kind of power, do you? And second, what’s stopping you? Has he even read the Bible lately? One assumes he prefers the New Testament, but in his feeble mind he has conflated the love-loving Jesus of the New with the Old god of fire and brimstone. I’ll bet Jesus didn’t even know what brimstone was. So, Mike, and all the other hate-mongers, wake up and smell the coffee. You are a dying breed, and that is the best news of all.

Ted Cruz had the audacity to proclaim the day of the decision “the worst 24 hours in our nation’s history.” (As Sean Hannity cheerleads, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” High praise!) Worse than Pearl Harbor? 9/11? the wars and assassinations that all but dominated the 20th century? What an odd, unforgivable thing to say.

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***

One of the things that nagged at me on that monumental gay Friday was the thought of the grieving friends and loved ones of the nine people killed in the black church in Charleston 9 days earlier. The funeral of Rev. Pinckney was happening that day. I saw the video of President Obama giving the eulogy and singing “Amazing Grace” with the other black people on the dais (and one very short white woman—or did I imagine her?), and it was so moving. It made me happy to see them there, responding with grace and dignity—and without a whiff of defeat—to a sickening tragedy.

I was disgusted when some Republicans tried to turn that tragedy into an attack on “religious freedom.” As usual, the so-called Christians are trying to make it all about them. They think this is ancient Rome and they are being fed to the lions. So courageous, those martyrs. Forced to bake a cake for people they don’t approve of. It would be farcical if it weren’t so maddening. I have to hand it to them, though. They know how to co-opt a legitimate struggle for civil rights by using the same language to assert their own oppression. They have a sincere belief that homosexuals shouldn’t have the same constitutional protection as righteous gun owners. Since when does disapproval have the same status as religious principle?

To these paranoid, self-aggrandizing, smug “Christians,” who are apparently bored with being the majority religion and want to return to the good old days of persecution, I say: Who asked you? Why does our finally acquiring the civil rights that you have had all along have anything to do with you? Are we taking something away from you? Do you think it’s more exciting to be forced to fight for your so-called principles over a cake than to attend a safe, completely legal church service once a week? We are not vilifying you.

I came across a great word for their impotent fury: “poutrage.”

These wannabe theocrats and arbiters of all that is good and holy paint themselves as the put-upon victims, the humble pilgrims who only want to pray to their god in peace but are prevented from doing so by their disapproval of others having the same freedoms they enjoy. Freedom apparently means something different to them than it does to the rest of us. I say, go back to that special book of yours and read what Jesus had to say. Seems you’ve forgotten what your “faith” is all about.

FfdfP

Police state

July 23, 2015

Not to be an alarmist, but—

What is a police state? I used to think of it as working like it did in Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm: the redefinition of common words (and hence the laws) coming from the top down. But if the police, at the lowest rungs of the authority ladder, get to do what they’ve been doing to (mostly) black people lately, it makes me very, very afraid. Hitler couldn’t have done what he did without the apathy and acquiescence of the German people. And now that we see a video of a mundane traffic stop, where the driver (Sandra Bland)  is upset and made increasingly more upset by the cop’s ridiculous (and mostly illegal) demands, I can just imagine that the response of millions of white Americans is, “She should have done what he told her to do.” Now, think about that. We theoretically have rights. But try to exercise them, and if you piss off a guy with a badge, a gun, and an easily bruised ego, your rights don’t mean shit. And now, if police don’t know the law, you have no 4th amendment rights, sayeth the Supreme Court.

AIDS activists used to say, “Silence = death.” Now it seems that disobedience to the police, for any reason, = death. This is dangerous precedent. Young black men are shot dead because they’re seen to be dangerous. Now a young black woman is dead in police custody because she didn’t abjectly comply with an enraged cop’s phony commands. What will it take for us to stop blaming the victim and stop treating police like judge, jury, and executioner? The Patriot Act is scary enough, because “terrorism” is the buzzword and the excuse for any governmental action. But now this low-level encounter—a traffic stop!— between a citizen and an armed authority also ends in death. So long after slavery, blacks may be “free,” but increasingly they’re treated like criminals for no reason. And the rest of us self-righteously jump on and exclaim, “She or he should have just complied!” As the German pastor Martin Niemöller said, in part, ” … they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Please, stop and think about it, when you hear yourself thinking, “But she wouldn’t get out of the car!” “But he ran!” “But he may have stolen something!” “But he was big for a high schooler!” None of these things warrants the death penalty. Try a little empathy, it goes a long way.

mary’zine #73: June 2015

June 10, 2015

I haven’t been here (before your eyes) in a long time, but I’ve been here (in the ether) all along, my mind swirling—or, not as fluid as that, more like straining, stumbling, stuttering—with so many things I could write about if I were coherent but not feeling coherent in the least.

e x … c a v a t e  good times, come on!

(think Kool and the Gang)

The metaphor I was straining at involved a thing in the real world—the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole in the earth, drilled by Soviet scientists off and on from 1970 to 1994, that goes 7.5 miles down into the earth’s crust. In contrast, the center of the earth is estimated to be nearly 4,000 miles down, so… nice try, boys; close but no cigar. At 7.5 miles they were forced to quit drilling because of unexpectedly high temperatures (356°F) and a nougat-like center (I’m imagining), where the porous and permeable rock behaved “more like a plastic than a solid.” The hole, only 9 inches in diameter, is under this rusted metal cap on the Kola Peninsula of Russia (Fig. 1).

hole

 Fig. 1. Beginning of really deep hole.

So, the strained metaphor was my felt need to excavate the depths of my own crusty shell, hoping to find the deep inner mantle where the past and present coexist, if not collide. (My newspaper horoscope has always used phrases like “fantasy collides with destiny.”) And if past and present are down there, then future must be down there, too—in the sense of a seed, which by definition embodies its destiny: The acorn can only grow into its future self, an oak tree.

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I don’t know about destiny, but I’ve fantasized plenty in my life. I liked some science fiction as a child, but I wasn’t that interested in aliens or distant planets. But Journey to the Center of the Earth resonated with me for some reason. For someone who wasn’t that interested in outer space, I was blown away by the idea that the Verne adventurers encountered sky down there. If only I had known the phrase “blew my mind” back then, I would have had many occasions to use it. I was only 10 years old, but still. Sometimes I think I thought more about infinity and death and other unknowns between the ages of 6 and 10 than I have since. Childhood is deep, which most adults forget. It looks so simple, even primitive. Cry, sleep, shit, eat, you’re like a tiny predictable entity—a clean slate—that hasn’t yet been filled with the detritus from interaction with the outside world. But the inside! The inside is full of feeling and thought, regardless of whether anyone takes you seriously or not. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who had big things on her mind, or maybe it was the extreme encounters I had with death and illness that made me a little philosopher, maybe a wannabe nihilist. Life didn’t look that good to me when my brother was buried under the ground and my father was ensconced in a VA hospital with MS, only to return home so changed that I didn’t recognize him. For the longest time I thought, “What’s next?” Who will die or leave me next? How will I make my way in the world? In high school I was convinced there would be no end to the misery. Every day, every week brought a challenge, sometimes new, sometimes a dreaded repetition. If it wasn’t a single event—an oral book report, a debate, a dentist appointment, a babysitting job, a piano lesson, an unasked-for and oft-rebelled-against hair perm—it was the daily curse of car sickness, pimples, awkward social encounters, acute self-consciousness, fear of being diagnosed with mental illness, and a mortifying awareness of how poor we were. I couldn’t escape any of it. Without a sane adult to explain to you that everyone goes through this kind of thing, it’s only in hindsight that you realize you were not the only one. I remember having a meeting with my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Schmidtke, and not knowing if I was supposed to be talking about the surface—grades, college, etc.—or my fears and anxieties, which were at least 7.5 mental miles down in my psyche. In one of my favorite movies, Ordinary People, I was envious of the kid who had Judd Hirsch to talk to and get a real response from. I didn’t see a real therapist until I was 46, and by that time I had come a long way on my own, through contemplation, observation, and a strong desire to understand.

So, my life has turned out pretty great, and I have the comforting thought that I probably won’t live long enough to see the world get blown up or a neo-Hitler arise from the Far Right. (How far do you think Hitler would have gotten if his party was named the Tee-Party instead of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei? I still regret that our American Partiers did not keep the name “Teabaggers” after they found out what it meant. That would have been so delicious.)

But—where was I?—the past (like the center of our planet) still exists, no matter how deeply it has been buried or “forgotten.” I’m not sure I understand what the subconscious really is and how it works—it’s like being controlled by an invisible government (and the visible one is bad enough). I already “understand” my past in words and pictures, but I expect somehow to be able to embody the whole time-driven story that is me, the equivalent of 7.5 miles down, where it’s really, really hot and more mush than solid. I don’t think I need to go the whole 4,000 mental miles to the center—where, surely, I understand now, there would have to be “sky,” wouldn’t there? because there is so much we can’t see, haven’t examined, haven’t even imagined—right beneath our feet / brain / what-have-you.

For lots of reasons, we prefer to look to our sky—the one that’s above us, readily visible, no drilling required—for the pie or the salvation, the “something bigger than ourselves” whether we call it god or our higher self. Wouldn’t it be great to have an eternal substitute mother or father, someone / something so big and powerful that it would never die, and therefore we would never die? It would be the answer to everything, wouldn’t it? And that’s what we want, the answer to everything. Because who can live on this razor’s edge of life-and-death with nothing to hold on to but a sharp, painful knowledge that it will all end one day. As Woody Allen said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be whole—not a hole filled with a mystery too far down to reach. I want to experience my full potential, not limp along on the fire road just because it’s wide and smooth. But that means going down, down into the deep forest or a series of dark caves or a me-shaped hole in the ground, looking to find the mythical sky or the plastic hot mess, whatever it turns out to be.

So I’ve told you the metaphor, and you can find out more about the Kola Superdeep Borehole if you’re interested. By the way, they found water down there (H2 and O molecules) and “microfossils” from bacteria billions of years old. So the drilling wasn’t a failure, just full of surprises. Like our own personal depths, I suppose.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late / to open your depths by plunging into them / and drink in the life / that reveals itself quietly there.—Rainier Marie Rilke

Climbing Mt. Etna (a guest contribution)

June 7, 2015

Ed. note: A good friend of mine, who wants to be known only as “friend from California,” is a historian, editor, and enthusiastic traveler. She writes concise and eloquent “travelogues,” complete with many photos, after each of the trips she takes with her husband or her son. Here is her story about climbing Mt. Etna when she and son Jack traveled to Sicily.

I also want to note that she is not responsible for the poor layout. I am not adept at wrestling WordPress formatting into submission.

***

The day my son Jack and I planned to go to Mt. Etna dawned spectacularly. It seemed auspicious.

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We drove south from Taormina toward Catania, then veered off to the road that encircles the mountain. The soil around Etna has been enriched over the centuries by decomposing lava, and the land is a prime agricultural area. For example, the famous Sicilian blood oranges, incredibly juicy and flavorful, are grown here.

There are two routes to get up on the mountain, one on the south side and one on the north side. We were heading for Rifugio Sapienza, a ski resort on the south side. In the summer it’s a gateway to guided hikes. From Rifugio you take a cable car up the mountain.

Rifugio

Rifugio Sapienza (photo from the Internet)  

on the cable car (1 of 1)

View from cable car back toward Rifugio

lone climber (1 of 1)

One hiker shunned the cable car and hiked up the mountain on foot. He looked up at us—wistfully? It’s a long, tough slog he’s undertaken.

The cable car ends at a little rest area, with a café and facilities. Then you pile into minivans to take you farther up the mountain. The road is compacted lava graded by small tractors.

curving track (1 of 1)

Curving track going up the mountain  

   the line up (1 of 1)

Eventually we came to a leveled area where the minivans parked. We all piled out and assembled in a big cluster near the guide. Then we set off in a long file at what was, for me, a pretty brisk pace.

Did I mention that it was cold up there?

It seemed that most of the hikers were sturdy Germans who probably did a lot of hiking in their home country. It also seemed that most of them were younger than me. Or maybe I was just rationalizing why I, age 71, had such a hard time keeping up.

small caldera (1 of 1)

Soon we passed a small caldera, and many people stopped to take pictures, or even explore the thing closer up. I was not among them. I was concentrating on not falling down.

Etna climbers (1 of 1)-2

Closer view of the fumarole with smoke or gas issuing from the vents

strung out (1 of 1)

Pretty soon we were all strung out in a long line. Jack hung back a little because he was busy taking photos. I hung back because I was having difficulty struggling uphill and breathing.

The track we were walking on was pretty narrow, to my way of thinking. I was afraid of slipping off on either side. At one point I slipped on some loose gravel and sat down hard. People came to my aid (“Are you all right?), but luckily I was able to clamber to my feet. I didn’t fall down again the whole rest of the hike.

Bergman (1 of 1)

At one point I looked up and saw a whole line of hikers on a high ridge, silhouetted against the sky.

(Does anyone remember the final image in Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”?)

“Oh no!” I thought, “I’m going to have to go all the way up there too!” In the worst way I wanted to turn around and make my way back to the parked minivans. But pride wouldn’t let me do it. So I slogged on ahead, far behind the pack, until eventually I caught up. And then—praise be!—the whole line was turning and we were circling back to the parking lot. When we got there, I was ecstatic, euphoric! I’d met the mountain, and I had triumphed!    

life on the lava (1 of 1)

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etna summit (1 of 1)

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 19

April 13, 2015

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):Prufrock19

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“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 18

April 7, 2015

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):prufrock18
Next week: A magic lantern show.

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“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 17

March 30, 2015

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):Prufrock17
Next week’s graphic interpretation: Not what was meant at all?

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“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 16

March 23, 2015

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):Prufrock16

Next week: Prufrock tells all?

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“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 15

March 17, 2015

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):Prufrock15
And will it be worth it, after all, to check in next week for another page? You betcha!

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“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot – Page 14

March 9, 2015

editorite:

I love this poem and what Julian Peters is doing with it.

Originally posted on julian peters comics:

The next page of my comics adaptation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (click on image to enlarge):Prufrock14
Next week’s serving: tea, cakes, ices, and a platter of slightly balding head.

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