Every so often, one just builds up a surplus of ideas about a number of things, and, odds are, none of those things will come together to form an ideally structured, clearly defined post. So I proudly introduce Head-Cleaning Day, a day for airing all my half-formed thoughts (which are coincidentally the only thoughts I seem to have these days, having used up all of my intelligence on Andrew Jackson, Socio-Economics, Greek Philosophers, and the Elements of Non-Verbal Communication).
Do you remember J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan?
“It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it quite interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers.”
Such is head-cleaning day.
The Good News: the Mormons love the PenguinDust, if only because my wildly inadequate summation of their religion gives them a chuckle. The bad news: they think I’m a dude.
I despise Jane Austen with the red-hot burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. She is trite and unoriginal, her prose is unnecessarily flowery, and her plots sound as though she plagiarized them from a dimestore romance novel. No, actually, I’ll take that a step farther – I think Jane Austen’s books were the original dimestore romance novels, and I’m about as impressed with their literary weight as that of The Cobra and the Concubine.
She begins each sentence as though pursuing a prize in obfuscation. Take as example page 1, paragraph 2, of Pride and Predjudice:
However little known the feelings or view of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
Maybe this just isn’t my cup of tea, maybe there are unplumbed depths I’m missing, but I like my art accessible. The other night I saw a movie called P.S., a random little sleeper with Topher Grace and Laura Linney. Laura, alone and unhappy, works in Columbia’s art school admission department, which is how she meets Topher, who, in an eerie coincidence, shares a name with, looks, sounds, and behaves exactly like Laura’s dead highschool boyfriend. Spoiler alert: no time travel.
Along with a stupid amount of emotional baggage, Laura has been hanging on to an “abstract” painting that the boyfriend painted for her a million years ago, purportedly of a mother and child. At the emotional peak of the movie, Topher gestures to it wildly and says, “Yeah, and you know what? That isn’t a mother and child! That is a kid who kicked over a bucket of paint on a canvas.”
This is how I feel about Jane Austen. That isn’t real art. That’s the pretense of art.
I anticipate that this position will generate a lot of ill will. I find that Jane Austen is inexplicably beloved by many, almost to a level of cult obsession, not unlike the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which, despite its undeniable status as a masterpiece, I could never slog through.
If you’ve never conceptualized an Afro-Caribbean pop version of the Beatles’ ’“Norwegian Wood” played by a third-rate local band on a makeshift stage in the middle of a disused soccer field, I urge you, do not try – for it is highly unpleasant.
Recently we had was what used to be known as “Student-Faculty” (Stu-Fac) Day at my community college. I’m not entirely sure why it is no longer known as Stu-Fac day, all I know is that I saw posters for “Spirit Day,” and was informed that it is essentially the same thing.
“Spirit Day” was hosted on the intramural fields, and featured the college-level equivalences of the bouncy castle, namely an inflatable free-throw basketball unit and inflatable boxing ring (Which was, like all boxing rings, inexplicably square).
There were also representative tables from all of the college’s various clubs, including the College Democrats and the College Republicans, who mirror normal Democrats and Republicans in the sense that the Democrats are stupid and the Republicans are pathetic.
I ask you, just look at these unretouched photographs of actual, no-lie posters made and spread around campus by the College Republicans.
I’m sorry, but these are absolutely terrible signs. I mean, Jesus, that second one can’t even fit the word “Republicans” on one line.
But that’s beside the point.
As I stood in the line for cotton candy in the blistering heat listening to the almost inexcusable music, I began to wonder what cotton candy actually is. It looks like the insulation my attic.
Are we Gods or Sacrifices?
So, today, I saw a an anthill with a giant dead palmetto bug on top of it (which, here in Florida, is code for “huge dead gross cockroach”). The ants were scurrying around it, and I thought of all those movies where the heroes wind up in the middle ages, or some primitive village, and the locals see their clothes and hygiene or whatever and regard them as Gods. Was this the Ants’ God? Did they pray to Him for bounty, that in His mercy someone would drop a snickers bar in their general proximity?
Or was it more sinister? Did they encounter the roach under a tree on a dark night, encircle him, and, whooping their tiny ant war cries (of course, too quiet for humans to hear) bite him to death, then carrying his carcass back to their home as a warning to all the big bad bugs who might threaten them?
Or was it solemn? Did they find him, barely alive, twitching his last twitches, and, speaking an ancient ant prayer over him, carry him to the anthill in praise of their many-feelered Lord, he who oversees Life and Squashed?
My point is that from the outside, something that looks, at first glance, to be a God, might turn out to be a sacrifice to one. Isn’t our President a prime example? To the rest of the world, he must seem our God, our leader, the exemplification of all we are (after all, we voted for him). But at home, he’s an easy scapegoat, the cause of our misery, the man at whom we hurl tomatoes over taxes and foreign policy and the war in Iraq and everything else – partly to avoid our own responsibility. Isn’t he our sacrifice?
Which are you? Do you appear to be one while living the other? Aren’t we all, in some sense?
Down the Rabbit Hole
Let me begin by saying that I know that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is widely accepted to be a larger allegory for the political climate of the 1800s. But, as I’m sure we’ve all told a Freudian at one time or another, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, even the allegorical can be taken at face value.
Late in her journey down the rabbit hole, Alice meets The Duchess, who has an interesting childrearing philosophy:
`Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.’
(In which the cook and the baby joined):–
`Wow! wow! wow!’
While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so, that Alice could hardly hear the words:–
`I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!’
A resident of Wonderland, the duchess is clearly mad. It is taken as a matter of course that the citizens of Wonderland are mad. The Mad Hatter, if nothing else, poses an amusing sort of redundancy. Wonderland specializes in the type of logical fallacy that is sadly all too common in the real world. As was said in the immortal, infinitely quotable movie The Birdcage: “My mother is simply following things to their logical, yet ridiculous conclusion, not unlike Jonathon Swift did when he suggested that the Irish feed their babies to the rich.”
Wonderland’s inhabitants (Wonderlanders? Wonderlandians? Or just Wonderers?) are off by only one hair. Just enough to make you pause. In weaker moments, when one is tired or high (be the high the result drugs or philosophic awakening) (or both) the book makes alarmingly perfect sense, as does its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. (“Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never any jam today?!? That, is like, so deep. That is like, what it’s all about, man. I mean, Jesus, I never get any jam. It’s like, the establishment taking my goddammed jam. And, it’s like, racism, it’s like, yeah, dude, we’ll totally give you the jam of civil rights tomorrow, and affirmative action jam for yesterday, but then they never do. Christ, why didn’t I see it before?!?” Sound of weeping.)
What was my point? Ah, yes, Alice and the Duchess.
Alice, who essentially kidnaps the baby to save it abuse, is seen as the primary voice of reason (albeit a prudish one). These days, though, I feel like I’ve been pushed down the rabbit hole.
An acquaintance told me recently that her mouth would be literally washed out with soap by her mother when she said something inappropriate. I, while surprised that such thing ever actually occurred (I kind of thought it only ever happened in A Christmas Story) was most taken aback by the nonchalance in her tone. To her, it was just a story about growing up. She even chuckled a little, the way I do when I tell the story about kissing a boy named Doug (who, at the age of 6, I thought was the cutest boy in the whole entire world, despite his buck teeth) at a church picnic and being horrifically embarrassed.
But I’m pretty sure the two don’t equate.
I remember being about 12 or 13, and one of my friends revealed, in the same matter-of-fact tone, that her parents had spanked her and even smacked her around a time or two. “Wait,” I said, trying to make sure I’d heard her correctly, “Your parents hit you?” She giggled at me. “Well, DUH,” she issued. “It’s called discipline.”
I don’t understand, maybe because my mom was never like that, never had to be. She didn’t ever lay a hand on us, didn’t believe in it. She was effective in a different way – my mom is almost ridiculously tall. I vividly remember my 5′ 5″ grandmother uncharitably referring to her as “the jolly green giant” when I was very young. When your mother is that tall, all she has to do is stand up as tall as she can, and look down at you. All undesirable behavior immediately ceases.
But I’ve been thinking recently that a mom who just stands there and stares at you is definitely no longer the norm, if it ever was. By the time I turned 16 and my boyfriend revealed that he, too, had been spanked more than once, I didn’t even react with surprise – just a vehement,”Oh, God, you, too?”
When did Alice become the mad one? When did The Duchess publish a self-help book? I don’t have any answers right now. But I’m thinking.