I’ve been doing some serious thinking about the world lately.
Can you hear the quiet?
This serious thinking isn’t a new thing for me. This bout of thinking began with the drug induced suicide of a rock star. I’m referring to it as drug induced because we’ll never really know and the fact is that those kinds of drugs can cause those kinds of thoughts, so, I think, in this case, give it the benefit of the doubt. Still though, I couldn’t figure out what it was about it that bothered me so much, I mean, I didn’t know Chris Cornell personally. I realized that it was that it felt like something of a betrayal, not that he owed any of us anything. But it felt like he was fifty-two years old and he had everything, he’d made it through when many of his contemporaries hadn’t, and, how dare he bail out, this icon of my generation. But then, remembering, it was probably the drugs. Then Powers Boothe died, but, he died in his sleep at sixty-eight years old and the general consensus seemed to be, “Good show!” Then a bomb went off at a concert, where kids where watching a former Nickelodeon star turned pop-princess perform, the bomb killed twenty-two people, the youngest victim of the Manchester Attack was eight years old. Then Greg Allman died. Then it was June. This week the President of the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and everyone lost their nut over it. If you’ve not read the agreement or anything about it and you’re interested in having an informed opinion, you should read it, and try to understand what it says and means, that’s my advice on having an opinion, take the time to educate yourself to figure what you actually think about whatever it is. At this point in the proceedings the internet became incredibly noisy.
Can you hear the quiet?
I got to thinking about some things, I’d been thinking about some things anyway.
Everyone is talking. No one is listening. Everyone has an opinion. Despite that, the first thing that I saw when I logged onto facebook was a post that read, “FUCK NO. Not again.” I haven’t read all the details of the latest incident in London. I’d gone out, to get some air, to get some quiet. To think. Despite my having gone out, and despite my sharing my thoughts on any number of things in the last day or so, this latest attack in London still occurred. Despite the multitude of opinions and thoughts offered up by everyone about everything, these things still happened, and they still happen.
Can you hear the quiet?
I know that venting and opinionating and ranting and all of that, can be a great stress reliever. You read this stuff, you hear about it, you’ve got something to say because it’s getting to you or everyone, you’ve been sitting in traffic for too long, or dealing with rude people or you feel helpless and powerless and it seems like the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and enough already! ENOUGH! The internet gets very loud with people saying, in their own ways, “Enough.” I understand that. I do. I’ve been sucked into that storm many times. It can make it tough to hear yourself think.
Are you free?
Are you a free person, a person who enjoys freedom? Is your mind free, have you freed your mind?
What does that even mean?
I was thinking about the Terracotta Warriors, also known as The Terracotta Army. Qin Shi Huang ascended the throne at the age of thirteen and would become the first Emperor of China. The Terracotta Warriors are life-size sculptures depicting his army, his whole army. Each one is different, they were not cast from a single mold. They were buried with him, along with many treasures, in order to protect him in the afterlife. Qin Shi Huang believed that “Yes, you can take it with you” and he believed it, they believed it, so completely that he replicated his entire army in these terracotta statues, more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, cavalry horses, as well as many other figures and statues. The scope of it is truly stunning, completely breathtaking, to contemplate.
My fascination with this subject isn’t new. I happen to have a Terracotta Warrior of my very own. I should name him. I’ll think about that.
What I got to thinking was about how Qin Shi Huang had the full conviction of his beliefs, or, did he have his army replicated you know, just in case? What about Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife, all the treasures sealed in their tombs?
Different people, peoples, believe all different sorts of things.
This got me thinking about the Ganges River. Do you know about the Ganges River? The Ganges River is sacred to Hindus, present day. Hindus believe that having at least their ashes thrown in the Ganges will end the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, allowing them to attain eternal liberation of the soul. Many unburned remains find their way into the Ganges, that is, the recently deceased are regularly, ritually, thrown into the Ganges. It is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. You can read about this, and you would look at it, and you would think that the solution, to begin with, seems simple. But, they believe what they believe, completely. The Most Polluted Rivers In the World.
This is where I’m not saying what I think about “science” that goes tripping off to Mars while we’ve got all kinds of problems right here on Earth.
Does me knowing about any of this, Does me getting stressed out about any of these things, does it do any good? Does one more voice added to the din do anything other than raise the level of noise pollution? The other day I took one of those just for fun quizzes about “What’s your purpose in life?” and it said that my purpose is to achieve world peace. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, probably, that isn’t “really” my gig in life, and that the quiz came up with that answer based on information gleaned from my having shared a picture of Sandra Bullock as “Miss Congeniality” with the caption “And world peace.” Isn’t it enough to just take care of our own families, our own jobs, houses, cars, lives? ( Don’t litter.)
Can you hear the quiet?
So there’s this story about this woman, about her whole family, and how they went into the Siberian Wilderness during Stalin’s reign, and how at 71 years old, she has lived in the wilderness all of her life. The world has gone on, but, her lack of knowledge about what has gone on in the world hasn’t prevented her from living, that’s her reality. You can read that here.
Well, you’ve got to be informed. You’ve got to know what’s going on in the world! You’ve got to CARE! How can you can not care!
Are you free? There are a lot of people in the world who don’t pay any attention to any of the societal uproars and they’re just fine, people who never watch the news, they look outside if they want to know what the weather’s like, live their lives disengaged from the din. I think, in some ways, the internet is a kind of a modern Tower of Babel, and certainly, babble. You’ve got all these people from everywhere in the world able to connect and translate, using their computers, everything into one language, whatever their language is, that makes it all one language, able to read about and know, instantaneously in real-time, right now, if there is a high-speed car chase happening on the other coast, three thousand miles away. News of something that affects them not one bit, something that they can do nothing about, but that the knowledge of adds to, perhaps, depending on how they’re wired, their overall stress and anxiety level. The internet takes us out of the reality of where we are in our own actual present, and takes us into the reality of the world, the internet can make it feel like something that happened on the other side of the world, happened across the street. What that does is, as it affects people, it changes the way that people then go out into the world wherever they are. People are taking that stress from those faraway events into their own lives and then regurgitating it back out into the world, perpetuating stress and discord.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s all the bullshit about the Paris Agreement! And some ass-hat celebrity decided to voice another opinion that I don’t agree with!” She said, as she threw her aluminum can into the trash.
Can you hear the quiet?
I’ve made a decision not to watch the news anymore. I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid the infighting that’s going on, whether it’s the Right calling the Left “snowflakes” or the other way around, or just the seemingly endless reposting of “he said this and then…she said this!” it is all fueling the fire, adding to the noise, raising the overall stress level, and exacerbating the strife, except for those who thrive on it and those releasing their own stress ranting, but really, it isn’t doing much of anything else. Is it fake news? On which channel? I’ve made a decision to disengage from the divide and conquer propaganda permeating the world these days. I’m sure I can find something better to do, and be happier doing it.
Also, for anyone who thinks that a person can’t create viable, relevant work or art if they are “out of touch”, disengaged from the noise, and/or so on, I’m just going to say google up famous recluses and you’ll find many a list of some folks who did all right going their own way and thinking for themselves. I’m not saying I’m a recluse, just not interested in the bullshit, nor in the misconception that it is necessary to the creation of viable art.
Many, many, years ago, I lived in the desert. Now, this isn’t about the desert itself, and that is very much part of the point, though the desert, at that time, was the conduit for this experience and learning. The population where I was at, at that time, was about 1,200 people, spread out over a pretty wide area. There was no cable t.v. A few people had satellite dishes and this was back when that meant the huge satellite dish installed at ground level next to the house. You could get bad reception on one or two channels if you had a decent antenna, generally speaking, it wasn’t worth the trouble. During that eighteen months, the only television that I watched was, when it was airing, during the season, a weekly half-hour comedy show, at someone else’s house, and their reception was equally bad. Never watched the news, I don’t recall the television ever really being on. Trying to get a radio station to tune was an equally sketchy endeavor, though sometimes, late at night, I could get KLOS out of Los Angeles to tune in for a couple of hours. I used to borrow my brother’s cassette player, at length, to listen to tapes. We, I, had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world, no idea at all. If they’d dropped the bomb, we would have seen the mushroom cloud, same as everyone else everywhere else who had watched the news every night and spent every day all stressed out about something that they would have ultimately as much control over and foreknowledge of, as someone who hadn’t been paying attention at all.
What I was thinking was how quiet and peaceful that time was, in general. I thought, well, yeah, but there weren’t a lot of people out there in the desert. While that’s some of it, that isn’t the kind of quiet I’m talking about. There was an absence of external influence from the media, from popular culture, from society. What you find, also, is that you still manage to hear about the bigger things that go on in the world, through the periphery. It creates a peaceful mind, and a feeling of being very present in one’s surroundings. Is that “out of touch” with reality? Whose reality? I’m free not to watch the news. I’m free to disengage. You, ostensibly, can turn off the television anywhere, disengage from the “noise” wherever you are. I think that’s part of the problem with the world right now, we’re not, as individuals, obligated to take all that in. We’re not obligated to participate in the noise, especially if it does not serve us well. Some people thrive on it all. There’s that aphorism that says to take care of yourself, to nurture and feed your own soul, because what can you give if you haven’t taken care of you? How much more peaceful would the world be, if each person were at peace with themselves? I was thinking about that, at some point isn’t all the… social commentary, just someone else telling me how they think I should live MY life? (How many average people have it together enough that they should be telling anyone else – unasked- what to do or be or how to live?)(Personally, I’ve no use for the continuous spewing and promoting of the vitriol. In fact, I’ve had it with it. I’m going to quietly choose not to engage in it, whilst also dissociating myself from it and those who chose to engage in it because it is a choice. I’m not going to bother telling anyone how to behave, not my job. I’m saying this is what I’m doing. Each of us gets emotional on occasion, we all get defensive from time to time, making a habit of it makes that who you are. What’s that old saying? You never look good trying to make someone else look bad.)
I don’t know, but I can begin with me. If someone drops the bomb, I’m sure I’ll still see the mushroom cloud, same as everyone else. In the meantime, I’ll be happier, and that’s at least one person that I can improve the quality of life for. ( Really, don’t fucking litter.)
About 4 billion people in the world are NOT online and do not have internet access. Current world population estimated at 7.5 billion people. Between 600 million and 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water.
So, I am a poetess
And I knowitess.
April is National Poetry Month. Here is a link to poets.org, if you are interested, you can check that out.
Rarely have I discussed my favorite poets. Some of that is because it has been very personal to me, and some of it is because if you came up to me wanting to talk specific poems, quite honestly, there are a few poems that have stuck with me but I’m not walking around like an encyclopedia, but, I’d try. To that end, though, I will share some of my favorites with you and, perhaps among them you will find something that speaks to you also.
Sara Teasdale was a lyrical poet, given to simple yet eloquent, and elegant, rhyme. Some background- I had been writing poetry for a good ten years before I really started to read any poetry, completely true. I understood rhyme-scheme from the simple poems and nursery rhymes that we all used to learn during the normal course of our youth, also, likely from Dr. Seuss. I also understood it from song lyrics. But, I didn’t read a lot of poetry because I wanted to learn to write like me. I picked up a book of Sara Teasdale’s poetry from the library sometime in the early 1990’s, after reading one of her poems in an anthology. I felt like I had found a poetic soul-sister. Rhyming poetry is sometimes frowned upon because it isn’t an easy thing to do well. Sara Teasdale is wonderful, old-fashioned and romantic though much of it is, her poetry is also filled passion and heartbreak, longing, a depth of understanding of what it is to truly pine for someone. Sara Teasdale was in love with poet Vachel Lindsay, women of her day, however, were often traditionally very practical in their choosing of a husband, forgoing passion for stability, and Teasdale chose to marry a more secure suitor. It is often said, believed, that Sara Teasdale’s suicide, in 1933, was ultimately brought on by this unfulfilled love and longing for Vachel Lindsay, who had taken his own life in 1931. Though I moved on to writing a variety of other verse, Sara Teasdale’s poetry still speaks to me, and she remains a personal touchstone, and one of my favorite poets.
Make no mistake, when it comes to poetry, Anne Sexton is a cold-blooded killer. Listen to some of her readings, they’ll just about curdle your blood. To me, some of what is interesting about Anne Sexton is that coldness, she plummets through the underside of passionless detachment to a hollowness that is devastating. Anne Sexton comprehended nothingness as an emotion, but not only that, she could translate it and put it on the page. What I also found interesting was her re-writing of fairy-tales with the reality of the bitterness of unfulfilled promises, with an anger at the bill of goods they sold her and then failed to deliver on. Given to fits of suicide, often on or around the time of her own birthday, she was cold enough to be somewhat jealous when Sylvia Plath succeeded in dying, and finally managed to end her own life after a lunch in 1974 with long time friend, poet Maxine Kumin. Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Live or Die, in 1967. Anne Sexton was a woman who mapped the abyss with a shuddering fuck.
As previously stated, I love old books. Wandering in bookstore one day, I happened to find a copy of “The Spell of the Yukon,” from 1907, opened it up, read one of the poems, laughed, and his work has been a favorite of mine ever since.
Dorothy Parker is perpetually annoyed, and she’s perpetually annoyed with you because you’ve got a brain, but, apparently you haven’t evolved beyond figuring out ways to use that brain for anything other than being annoying. Dorothy Parker also had a lot of heart, it caused her to drink to excess sometimes so that she might better tolerate all of the stupid. Yes, how very funny, but she was quite seriously, however wittily, sick of people’s nonsense. Her failed romances led to a suicide attempt, or two, but she never succeeded in that and finally gave up on it, and I, for one, think the world better for it. I love the titles of her books, “Enough Rope,” “Sunset Gun,” wonderful wit. She was also something of a humanitarian, she left her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr, believing in his life’s work. I think that was an incredible statement about how she felt about the world, she wasn’t a jokester, she left her money to someone she believed had the integrity to do something good with it. I think that Dorothy Parker is the prime example of the kind of writer, person, that we look at and don’t really see for what’s really going on there, this was a woman who cared deeply and who was in a tremendous amount of pain, but, oh well, she was just darling at it. Who’s really cold, callous, and shallow, in that equation? She left us with a wealth of wonderful writing, and timeless witticism.
Like so many other books, I picked up a translation of Fleurs du Mal in a thrift store. I’ve read nearly all of it but I don’t know that I could tell you one poem in it, though certainly, SPLEEN, comes to mind. It’s dark, its dreary, but it is also quite beautiful.
Some of my favorite books of poetry, some of which I am still in the process of reading.
Happy National Poetry Month!
In the literary world, in terms of public opinion with regard to the writer, it has long at least seemed the case that a man is allowed to write about whatever he wishes to write about and if the writing itself is good or bad he is then judged to be a good or bad writer. It does not matter what his subject matter is, however grim, depressing, grotesque or perverse, he is a writer. Historically, women have not been allowed the same latitude.
When it comes to pushing the envelope, plumbing the depths, or simply having the guts to go there, a woman is too often judged by her choice of subject. Her character then called into question, her state of mind dissected and dragged forth for endless speculation and examination in the arena of public opinion.
In the literary world a woman is not always afforded the same objectivity as a man. No matter what he writes he is assumed to be a writer, she is too often assumed to be whatever she has written.
Some of this may be due to the mythology , the mystery, the romance that is woman. Earth Mother, Goddess, Healer, Siren, Savior, Virgin and Whore, follow her through the mist to places unknown in fear of losing or in hope of saving your mortal soul. That’s a lot of pressure, and yet most of us welcome it on some level or at least accept it, the idea that we, as women, are ethereal at our core because maybe…we are. Maybe women are all-stars and angels fallen to the earth from divine midnights and never-ending rainbows at sunrise. Each woman a unicorn in her own right, deserving of nothing less than awe…and a lot more sleep.
Society perpetuates these myths, feeds on them and is unintentionally helped along by those women who break the mold in some fashion. Women who do not accept the social status
quo or who do not fit neatly into any known definition of what a woman is or should be, society insists, even in today’s world, that there must be something wrong with such a woman.
Society is also fascinated with the train wreck, a woman coming apart at the seams, clinging to whatever examples of such women that it can find, often using such examples to persecute the whole of womanhood, regardless of the truth of who these women are or were or the value of their work. Society also likes to hold the female train wreck up as warning that sometimes sounds more like a threat, look what happened to HER. Very often the value of a woman’s work in an artistic field is unfortunately increased or decreased by the morbid fascination with whatever her personal issues may or may not be or have been.
Literary history is strewn with examples of so-called poorly behaved men, alcoholics, womanizers, deviants, drug addicts, what have you, and while these facts are readily known, they remain secondary to the work the men have produced. Not only that, men are often forgiven or exonerated for a multitude of crimes and sins if their work is exceptional. What do we expect after all? He is/was a brilliant man. As though genius itself were the perfect excuse. And while we might discuss in whispers the scandalous details of the exploits of the male artist, it is often with a sense of awe and at times, a sense of glorification.
A woman, typically, is afforded no such accommodation. Pardon me but a woman must keep her proverbial shit together at all times.
A woman’s work is often excluded from the canon, from discussion, discredited and or dismissed if her social or personal behavior was or is deemed unsavory in some way. We forgive Sylvia Plath because she is seen as the beautiful, suffering waif who succumbed to mental illness under what we deem a mysterious set of circumstances, when in fact her final days may have been marked but the effects of having been prescribed the wrong medication. Sylvia Plath is the literary equivalent of Marilyn Monroe. We can feel sorry for Sylvia, her husband was unfaithful, and thus her work is allowed to be valued and cherished and continues to outsell many other female poets. That is not to say that her work was not amazing, it was, completely. The work, however, should be the thing.
What about Anne Sexton?
Anne Sexton is something of a taboo subject. When it was all said and done, she didn’t do a good enough job of confining her maladies to herself. Thus her work, which may be the most important work ever produced by a female poet, is mostly only whispered about, is not kept in stock, is not taught or discussed on any level approaching what it deserves. Anne Sexton gets her due, but it is almost grudgingly. Her work was/is undeniably important, “undeniably” being the key word.
If Sexton had written what Plath wrote, you’d hear nothing about Anne Sexton. Which does not mean that Plath’s work was not excellent, it simply means that it would not have been exceptional enough to overcome Anne Sexton’s personal issues and still continue to have been accepted once all of her personal secrets began to emerge. What that means is that Anne Sexton’s work was not merely brilliant, it was phenomenal. It was enough to maintain her place in literary history despite what her problems may have been as a person.
This does not happen in the same way to male writers. When you think William S. Burroughs, Hunter Thompson, Oscar Wilde, their personage is accepted completely as having been part of the package, as part and parcel of whatever “magic” they possessed as writers. Can the argument be made that they were simply so brilliant, that their work was so brilliant, that it didn’t matter what their personal issues were? Maybe. But that maybe does not negate the point and more often than not, men are allowed increased leeway under the guise of he’s an artist, genius, writer.Of course it should not be ignored that these two women in particular, Plath and Sexton, added to the mystique of the female writer and fueled the fires of the double standard because they took their own lives. And though they certainly were not the first writers, male or female, to have chosen to remove themselves from this world, the fact is that these two, more than any others, left those of us who remain with something of a stigmatized legacy of the female poet. Ultimately lending an arguable though not factual modicum of credence to the idea that men are writers and women are what they write. In that regard, Plath and Sexton did us no favors.
Women writers of a particular vein are often robbed of the credit they deserve for their imaginations. One of the hazards of writing in the first person, so-called “confessional” style, is that it is readily assumed that the writer is everything they’ve written or that everything they write is something they’ve actually experienced in life. Not only is this not always the case but moreover, something of an impossibility. When you look at the varying subject matter and the range of emotion expressed by the more prolific writers of poetry, essay and prose, in the confessional style and otherwise, it becomes quite clear the imagination and experience go hand in hand. Confessional style writing is only that, a style of writing. Most writers who write in the confessional style do not do so exclusively.
Intelligent women who blaze trails are too often subject to this kind of microscopic examination, again, society demands it. Don’t hate her because she’s intelligent, beautiful, strong, possesses some kind of integrity ~ instead find something really wrong with her that will negate all that radiance in the first place.
Dorothy Parker wrote volumes of brilliant verse, screen plays, articles, books, was a Civil Rights activist but when a bio pic of her life was made the focus was on the boozy days of the Algonquin Round Table, her failed love affairs and marriages in addition to her failed suicide attempts.
Ayn Rand was a genius, no question. Her work is brilliant in its comprehension of government, social systems, freedom, ethics and morality. Books that she wrote more than fifty years ago remain in print, their subject matter more relevant now than ever, regardless of personal opinions as to the philosophical movement that those works spawned. However,when a biography of her life story was committed to film, the gist of it was that she had an affair while she was married, the tone, one of an attempt to paint her as nothing more than an immoral hypocrite.
Society loves the idea of a train wreck and if they can combine the train wreck and the rebel into one ball of wax, then hallelujah ! Society loves the idea of the troubled artist, the angst ridden, addicted, recovering, passionate, struggling to produce the goods mess of a person who dares to call themselves a writer, artist, actor, musician. Literary history has shown that there is some truth to the stereotype. Society needs it, the romance of the possibility of living ones life passionately, with some seeming measure of abandon, integrity and commitment to self, to the work, to that ethereal within us all, to the art of being human.
The romanticized idea of the artist lifts us out of the confines of the daily drudgery of survival. Hope is pinned on these individuals who seemingly dare to strike out on their own in some way to live their lives as they see fit, exploring the world out there and the world in here on their own terms, who seem to represent individual freedom.
We accept and even expect the idea of the train wreck, of the self-destructive arteest, because there must be a high price to pay for such talent, for such freedom, society has demanded it. It is the equalizer. It’s bullshit. I don’t know what else there is to say about it, it’s bullshit.
When the proper credit is not given for the work the individual has contributed, when our need to comfort ourselves with the notion that these people, because of whatever character flaw they may have, real or perceived, and tell ourselves that they are no more brilliant than the average person, when that need supersedes our ability to acknowledge the truth of their genius, it is a reflection on us, on society, not on these women or any individuals who excel and achieve greatness and are then so maligned.
Where are those individuals now? The free? Where they have always been, in the plain view of a society suffering from rampant arrogance, narcissism and 20/20 hindsight. And they are different now than any who have traveled this way before them, their romance is not only that of reality, but one of honesty with themselves, their romance is that of the possibilities inherent in individual transcendence of the ideas and labels placed on them by others. They are freedom self-contained, personified and from within. The underground renaissance is alive and well, its representatives and their works only to be completely apparent in retrospect, as has always been the way with those who are cutting their own path through the wilderness. We do not see them and know who they are until and unless they emerge.
Do I mean to compare myself to these women writers? Only in general, as a woman writer, only to illustrate the point, because it is something familiar to me personally and something I’ve long noted when any such discussion of these women writers, and others like them who push the boundaries with their work, has ensued, the double standard, the lack of latitude.
It’s been ten years since I wrote this piece. I was thirty-nine then, now I’m forty-nine. Double- standards as applied to artistic freedom, sexuality, speaking my mind, or a variety of other things, still don’t interest me, they never have and they never will. Imagine that. ~ TS, 2018