The male gaze & Paul Blackburn: The Once-Over

"Persimmon" by Robert Rauschenberg (1964). Taken in the Art Institute of Chicago... by ME!

The "male gaze" is an important concept. However, the phrase often diminishes the sense of power held by the person being gazed at. Beauty and social hierarchy has its privileges, and its nuisances. "The Once-Over" by Paul Blackburn from the late 1950s holds that sense nicely.

"Stirring dull roots with spring rain" alludes to "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot (which I wrote about here), putting Eliot in the role of Blackburn's "preacher". While attending a religious service with T.S. Eliot holds some novel appeal ("Hey, that's T.S. Eliot!" would be my recurring thought), I'm not sure Eliot would hold my heathen attention for more than a few minutes on the topic of religion. Maybe if he talked about his banking instead I'd be rapt for longer.

The Once-Over
By Paul Blackburn

The tanned blonde
                                    in the green print sack

in the center of the subway car
                                                          standing

tho there are seats
                                    has had it from
I           teen-age hood
I           lesbian
I           envious housewife
4          men over fifty
(& myself),     in short
                                    the contents of this half of the car

                                     Our notations are :
long legs, long waists, high breasts (no bra), long
neck, the model slump
                                    the handbag drape & how the skirt
cuts in under a very handsome

                                                      set of cheeks
“stirring dull roots with spring rain”, sayeth the preacher

            Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times

does not know he is being assaulted.

So.
She has us and we have her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn
Over the tunnel and through the bridge
                                    to DeKalb Avenue we go
all very chummy

She stares at the number over the door
                                    and gives no sign
Yet the sign is on her

Fog

April is National Poetry Month, here's a short one to fire up the writing pistons:

Fog
By Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

There's a recording of Carl Sandburg reading the poem. I came across it during a long drive while listening to an anthology of poets reading their own work - part of an effort to make myself smarter by choosing literature over listening to podcasts of comedians talking to other comedians about that one time they did that one thing.

Anyway, the recording is on several videos people have posted on YouTube, but here's an adorable reading that appealingly has images of cats throughout. Including a photo of a cat in the fog!

Christmas Krampus, friend/menace to children/parents

ATTENTION PARENTS: On Christmas Eve, the Krampus, evil companion of Santa, continues his rounds to stuff naughty children into his bag and take them down to Hell. Many of you saying goodnight to your kids may want to say goodbye instead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus

I know MY kids aren't going to Hell. I presume yours are not, either. Please don't ask me how to contact the Krampus to make requests. I don't want to know about it.

Occupy Portland remains a success

Three years ago, Portland police forced the over five-week Occupy Portland camp spread across two parks to finally disperse. Some people chortled, but the effects of Occupy Portland and the Occupy Movement continue to be felt today. Our nation is better for it.

Occupy Portland rally, October 6, 2011, Pioneer Square

On October 6, 2011 the first Occupy Portland rally marched from Waterfront Park down NW Portland, down Broadway, and ended up with several thousand rallying in Pioneer Square. It was a massive demonstration. It then shifted to a group of people occupying one city park, then spreading to the park on the next block, both near City Hall and the Justice Center.

Mayor Sam Adams ignored calls to remove the protestors, and he let them remain in the parks for five weeks. Over time, transients and others needing the food, medicine, and other services at the site began to overtake the Occupy Portland site, it retained the energy of protest and was a symbol of collective action.

The Occupy Movement did not have a single agenda. This confused the media and curmudgeons who wanted to do the typical cutting-of-a-deal to make the pain go away. In this case, the breadth of the Occupy Movement and its lack of hierarchy were virtues. "Main Street, not Wall Street!" "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" People frustrated with a time of record national wealth and profits leading to horribly high poverty rates. Worker productivity doubling over the last 30 years as their earnings stagnated. Corporations attaining the same rights as human beings, yet not being accountable for crimes done to others. There was no single agenda. Masses of people were pissed off, and they wanted to come together, not feel alone in their anger, and to scare the shit out of those in power.

And they did scare the shit out of the people in power. In early 2011, it would have been impossible to imagine the media covering the effort to raise the minimum wage with anything but contempt. Yet, here we now are with cities raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and a national conversation about doing just that. (There's a case that to keep up with 1968 dollars the minimum wage should be $22/hour, but progress is welcome.)

Occupy Portland camp, November 2011

The Occupy Movement dispersed, but did not lose energy. That fast food workers are now talking about earning a livable wage, and are not completely laughed at by corporate media, is directly attributable to the Occupy Movement. People are now challenging bad education policies, dictated by the wealthy, with increasing ease and power. A lot of the people challenging the status quo gained experience in collective action, living the power of the people, from watching or participating in the Occupy Movement.

And, in Portland, people learned that there are people in power who sympathize with their important causes. Mayor Adams could have ejected Occupy Portland immediately, but he did not. A small community formed and ran for more than a month. Other city leaders were not as tolerant. As distressing as the police purge of Occupy Portland was, that it existed so long was a testimony that lives in the memory of many. And in those memories was a lesson in the importance of being brave.

In October 2011, Bank of America on SW Morrison started stationing a full-time security guard to stand in front of the doors, rain or shine, after an Occupy Portland stunt rattled the banker's cages. Bank of America still has a security guard there, three years later. They remain scared about what people will do next. And that's good. And it made Wall Street create an actual job!

I keep hearing "black widdle baby" instead of "black widow, baby".

"Black Widow" seems about 14 minutes long. But only recently did I discover it goes "I'm a black widow, baby." not "I'm a black widdle baby."

It had mystified me slightly why such a slinky, repetitive song was sung from the first person perspective of a little baby, let alone a specific skin color. Most pop songs are about grown-ups, common themes: "You do/did this to me", "I feel this way", "Let's do this thing", on an on. It's about time that another song emerged from a baby's perspective. An odd choice, lazily delivered, but okay. Whatever.

For that matter, why would a baby singing on behalf of herself (assuming this from the female voice), clearly capable of speech, use the phrase "widdle" for "little"? Was it parroting the baby talk the adults engage in around the baby? Maybe (realize I had only spent a dozen or so seconds contemplating the song before changing the station), this baby was mocking the adults around her for being so patronizing?

Finally, I saw a song title on a Top 10 list somewhere, and put together there was a popular song named "Black Widow", and I heard it wrong. After finally listening to it all the way through, to my disappointment it's another boastful song from a grown-up first-person perspective about one's prowess in mating and exacting some degree of emotional satisfaction. *yawn*

The baby hip-hop/dance genre remains woefully unexplored. To my knowledge, the only legitimate entry remains "Dur Dur d'être bébé!" by Jordy, a French novelty song in 1992. Get on this, babies with a story, and stop horsing around!

Dreamed of 'Scarface'

This morning, I woke up after dreaming I was in the final scene of Brian DePalma's 'Scarface' as one of the rival druglord's henchmen in a violent gunfight with coked-up Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino). The garish interior of Montana's mansion was all around. Fountain in the atrium with a generic statue of women holding a globe with "The World Is Yours" in neon. While stressful, I was able to crawl on the floor and avoid Montana's gunfire even though he saw me.

"Say hello to my little friend! Sweet dreams."

I had been up late watching a documentary about Gore Vidal "The United States of Amnesia", which has tidbits of the fallout he had with Christopher Hitchens. I still mourn the passing of both men, and may write something about that later. Vidal's elegiac sighing over the American Empire likely influenced the dream.

Debris flying, curses in English and Spanish all around, I thought as the dream ended: "This is a tacky way to go."

That would be a pretty good exit line. Something to bear in mind 300-400 years from now when I finally pass.

Why I loathe Middle East politics

crusades1.jpg

West has been meddling in Middle East politics and boundaries for 100 years in the modern era, invading over and over since The Crusades. An ongoing disaster that we need to stop.

The problem? I believe it stems from at least three books, written and edited by semi-literate human committees, each claiming magical powers and divine authorship, each ignorant of how anything works (diseases due to sin & demons instead of microorganisms, for instance), each claiming omnipotent wisdom yet making no reference to land beyond the Middle East, and each with competing claims to limited real estate.

Historian and Monty Python member Terry Jones. His documentary "The Crusades" is great.

Historian and Monty Python member Terry Jones. His documentary "The Crusades" is great.

The three man-written magic books from competing religions claim all other religions are invalid. Worse, they claim divine sanction and dismiss the need to observe terrestrial laws. They allow deeply flawed higher primates (us) to think these often made-up rules will assure them eternal reward. "I don't have to listen to you here, on earth, in this mortal realm. My magic book says I will be given perpetual pleasure for hewing to its words rather than considering you and the needs of those you represent (and tells me that you are infidels). And, for fun, some of these stories and claims state that I could probably kill you with divine right. Treaties? Laws? Claptrap! This magic book says I can smash all your toys, smash you, then smile beatifically as I get taken up to heaven in a divine sunbeam. Goodbye, suckers!"

Since 2001, we have spent a trillion dollars on Iraq (four trillion on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) and have made the region less stable. We have spent over a trillion dollars on Homeland Security (even the conservative CATO Institute is skeptical) and yet feel less safe. Bill Maher referred to our country as "The United States of Pants Shitters".

Because of our constant intrusions, the Middle East has a large external foe to fixate on: the West. If we left them alone, they could focus on their internal struggles, and maybe craft solutions. Their countries, let them sort things out.

We had a holy obligation to protect the holy land from non-holy infidels who thought that they were holy. Oh, and we could not determine what constituted "holy" among any of us at any point.

We had a holy obligation to protect the holy land from non-holy infidels who thought that they were holy. Oh, and we could not determine what constituted "holy" among any of us at any point.

If left alone, the Middle East may even more broadly challenge the acts of fundamentalist maniacs, instead of huge numbers harboring and praising fundamentalist maniacs as the bulwark against more Western intrusions and attacks.

As it is now, we get goaded by fundamentalist maniacs time and again, and fall for it. Today, it's ISIS. When we intervene and attack the Middle East, as the U.S. is poised to do against ISIS, terrorist recruitment grows. Osama bin Ladin after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks plainly told the world that he attacked the U.S. expecting us to respond with military attacks, make the Middle East more besieged, which would make his terrorist ranks swell. That is just what happened.

In World War I, the West carved up the Middle East into the hodge-podge of country boundaries that still holds today. We imposed our will onto a region with centuries-long tribal conflicts and cultures we simply did not understand, and possibly felt no interest in understanding. We made this mess. And when we step in with force, the mess usually gets worse.

Let's not shit our pants because a group of maniacs, who want to get a rise out of us, posts videos of beheadings. A few centuries ago, public beheadings were a communal activity in the West. Then we got better. Let's not give fundamentalist maniacs what they want. Let's stop pretending we know the cure for what ails the region and leave these countries alone. Or, at least not bomb them. They may even create magnificent societies not seen in the region since we started attacking them over and over centuries ago.

My 'World According to Garp'

The death of Robin Williams got me to re-read The World According to Garp for the first time in several decades. I saw the movie in a theater (hip parents) at the age of 13, and after watching the movie a few times on home video, I read the book around age 16 or 17.

Back then, I was very dialed in to its dark humor. By that point, I could relate to the sexual elements (#ExplanaBrag) but had to synthesize and speculate what it was like to be in an adult relationship. The last fifth of the book is almost unrelentingly sad. The final line, which Irving said was originally much earlier in the book, then kept getting nudged throughout composition until it finally reached the end: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." My teenage brain, as teenage brains do, may have confused feeling sad with feeling depth.

Back then, when filling out college applications that required an answer to what-book-inspired-you type questions, I cited Garp. These answers were probably embarrassingly shallow. My memory is they focused on the book making me feel like an odd sense of humor and morbid perspective were actually okay. Despite that shallow response, a couple colleges accepted me anyway. I also sent in an epic parody that was a hit in one college's admissions office, with multiple staff people giving compliments when I stopped in.

Even then, into now, I am distracted by a couple things about John Irving's image.

David Bowie endorses reading

My high school Advanced Junior English teacher had a poster of John Irving in wrestling gear (maybe also with protective headgear) in a badass/beefcake photo. I can't find it in online image searches, but it struck me funny: like a fitness campaign for writers with the subtext "Hey, writers! Shake off the burden of consciousness and ennui! You can exercise, too!" Like those "Read" posters featuring celebrities to encourage youngsters to use libraries.

Irving's character, T.S. Garp, is a wrestler and later a wrestling coach. Irving himself plays a wrestling referee in the movie. Later profiles of Irving during and after the campaign for the Garp movie featured a LOT about exercising. "Look at me, I'm a writer who can benchpress! And you other writers who can't or won't? Well, you should [looks writers up and down], consider it."

John Irving and Robin Williams in "The World According to Garp"

I wasn't a writer at that time, but that image and persona projection wants to nag me into exercising more. I did not start exercising because of it.

The book retains its charms over me, perhaps more, now with a few secret writing projects here and there done, fatherhood, life, all making Garp even easier to relate to than it was at the age of 17. The sentences are short and muscular. It's difficult to not think of Irving, who is short and muscular. Jenny Fields, Garp's single mother who becomes a political and feminist icon after her book A Sexual Suspect becomes part of a political movement, seemed less severely funny and more sensible to me reading it as an adult. Should I worry?

I have not read another John Irving book, and probably will not. I like Garp plenty, and cried over the Philadelphia Eagles memorial to Roberta Muldoon near the end, but it takes a lot of effort for me to read a living writer. Why? Haven't pinned that down. And I want to keep reading Garp a singular event. I will continue to read/watch interviews with Irving. And, of course, he's right to endorse exercise for everyone, including (especially) introspective creative types.