Late last night I finished work on another collection of poems, “Thelxiepeia.” This group of poems started out with a different title. When I began editing I knew that many of the poems would not make the final cut. They seemed parts of two books jammed together in a way that didn’t fit and so I opted for a cohesive finished selection and a new title. Thelxiepeia, in Greek mythology, is one of the Sirens, creatures whose seductive songs and music lured sailors to crash their ships. Sirens were often represented as being part woman and part bird. How I happened upon this story of Thelxiepeia was that I was watching an old movie called “Xanadu”, in which a muse, Kira, whose real name is Terpsichore, the muse of the dance, emerges from a mural, and falls in love with a mortal. There are fantastic musical numbers, Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, with music by Cliff Richard, The Tubes, and ELO. I’ve mentioned this movie before as it has most everything in it that an adolescent girl in 1981, one seeking some escape from excruciating pain, could require of a movie. I still think it’s a beautiful film, though from a completely different point of view this many years gone now. In watching it again I thought to look up the names of the Nine Muses of Olympus, one of whom is portrayed, though it isn’t a speaking part, by Sandahl Bergman, who is better known for her roles in “Conan the Barbarian”, “All That Jazz”, and “Red Sonja.” This led to looking up the names of the Sirens, and the writing of the poem, “Thelxiepeia.” Thematically overall, the collection has to do with the subject of muses and myths, with the stories we tell ourselves so that we can find a way to tell our stories, and those things that help us along the way in that.
In writing these poems, in watching “Xanadu” whenever it was, these poems were written several years ago, and remembering again that time of my life, I understood again how it is that I became a poetess, a writer, and how much of that, for me, relates to, or has or is entrenched in, films and music in someway. In 1981 I turned thirteen years old. Over the course of exactly one months time, I went from being a normal, healthy kid, to being emaciated and barely able to get out of bed. Five foot eight, at that time, my weight dropped to ninety-six pounds at one point. I couldn’t go to school, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t not sleep, and after months of weeks of grueling visits to doctors, specialists, hospitals, they couldn’t find anything specifically wrong with me that they could diagnose as anything other than Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, since re-diagnosed as an adult as Still’s Disease, which is similar to Lupus. That’s back story, it took a year to recover enough, to be well enough again, to really return to school. Point being that I really couldn’t do much of anything other than watch television during most of that time. I didn’t have the ability to concentrate or focus enough to read books during that time as I was in too much pain, though I’d been an avid reader up to then. Being as I couldn’t really do much of anything else during that time other than watch television, many of the usual restrictions on what I was allowed to watch, were lifted. Nineteen-eighty and eighty-one weren’t bad years for film, though my viewing was limited to whatever cable movie channel it was that we had or whatever was making its “Network Television Premier” and that was usually about a year behind whatever was in the theaters. I’ve spoken before about watching the film “Altered States” and feeling a strange understanding of the transformation of the main character while wondering why in the world anyone would willing put themselves through what he does. ( It’s like “Jaws” in that you find yourself just wanting him to get out of the water.) Along those lines I also watched the other werewolf movies of the day, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Wolfen” and the like. The feeling that I had sometimes was very much that I didn’t want to be that, and that I was nonetheless turning into some inexplicable creature and the world was turning into a strange place that didn’t understand me, anymore than I could understand it.
Most of the time, I couldn’t hold a pen or a pencil, couldn’t do schoolwork, wore Ace bandages and wrist braces and homemade splints. I was in so much pain so constantly, the world slips away when it’s like that, for anyone experiencing anything like that I would guess. The way that everyone else keeps time is meaningless and useless and of no importance. On the better days, I’d wish I was at school, I’d think about all I was missing out on, dances, friends, boyfriends, classes I liked. I couldn’t ride my bicycle or play sports anymore and I’d always been the kid that was outside from sunup until dark, though really it was beyond wallowing. Whatever the future was going to hold for me was forever changed. My mother said, “You know, you could still write. You could try writing poems again.” I’d written poems in grade school, and for school, though I hadn’t considered “writer” or “poetess” as a job option outside of possibly being a journalist, a newswoman. And I thought, “I can’t even hold a pencil.” But she got a couple of small notebooks for me and I remember writing what I still consider to be my first serious poem, titled simply, “Alone”, while I was sitting in bed watching the film, “Private Benjamin.” That movie is a comedy, containing one of my all time favorite movie line exchanges.
“Aunt Kissy: I hope my coat’s gonna be good enough. I had no idea it was gonna be so chilly.
Harriet Benjamin: It’s November here, Kissy.
Teddy Benjamin: It’s November everywhere, genius.”
But the film is ultimately about Judy Benjamin finding her sense of self, and the strength to be her own person, there was something in that that spoke to me beyond the ribald, raunchy, comedy, because in that place, the funniest thing in the world, isn’t quite so funny. In that place of so much pain, the funniest thing in the world seems illogical, senseless, and idiotic, I guess one way to put it would be like how the food fight in the film “Animal House” (1978), might not make you laugh if you’re not from a first world country where even waste is taken for granted, and what I was looking for were things that were hopeful in some way, or strong, resilient. It also may be that it was during that time that any remaining sense of humor I had, took a sardonic, somewhat self-deprecating, turn. I looked at the poem that I’d scribbled in the little notebook and that was the beginning, and I hope I never forget that moment. Additionally, it’s become evident to me that my brain might be hardwired for rhyme to some degree, and some of that comes from listening to music and song lyrics all my life. ( My father was a musician, both my parents could sing, there was live music in the house for much of my youth.) Eventually I was allowed to use my mother’s electric typewriter sometimes, when my hands were very swollen, as I could often still move my fingers on the keys for a while even if I couldn’t move my wrists or my hands, however much it hurt. I was a writer before that, but after that, I knew that I was, whether I’d claimed it or it had claimed me, and that was that. I’ve since tried not to be a writer a couple of times and that doesn’t ever work out. I used to say that my writing was my “human’s compensation,” like … yeah there’s all of whatever else there is, but then there’s my writing. God willing I’ll be able to keep writing and writing and writing. Human beings are resilient, and strong, courageous.
Finishing this collection of poems, and it isn’t quite as long as some of the others at only fifty-four pages, I could go right into editing another collection of poems but I found that I didn’t want to, I found myself wanting to work on some kind of story again, some fiction. Though really I am taking some time to organize and edit and clear the decks for the end of the year, hopefully do some fun things, spend some time with family. 2017 has gone quickly, hasn’t it? The last several years for me, I’ve realized, have been about finding myself as a writer again, finding my groove with it all, finding balance and self acceptance, allowing myself to be this and to honor it and the gift of it, to appreciate, and accept, and let be, my own muses. “Thelxiepeia”, I think, speaks very much to all of that. I hope to release it sometime next year, in early spring. I’m so grateful for this gift of being able to write, and I do consider it to be a gift. We all find inspiration or ideas in a lot of different things, people, places, it’s important to honor your muse(s), one of mine led me to Thelxiepeia. I’m uncertain in this moment if these poems were a farewell to the girl that I was or an homage, I feel like I can write about her, but I can’t ever again be her. I’m not sad about that, only grateful for having had the chance to be that girl, and to be looking now to the future as this woman. Becoming is ever ongoing.
great song from the film “Xanadu.”
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.
Do other people ever stop telling us what to do? We begin learning the ‘rules’ at birth. Many of those rules are for our own safety and the safety and well-being of others, important, good rules and facts of things that we all need to know to survive. Fire is hot. Brush your teeth. Tie your shoes. Don’t talk to strangers. ( That one about not taking the candy is sooo true, and ‘candy’ can be a metaphor for many things.)
At some point the tone of those rules begins to change, begins to turn into something that has more to do with the opinions of others than it does with any kind of truth, those rules tend to have more to do with what people like to hide under the guise of what they like to call manners, do not have an opinion, do not upset apple carts, do not offend, DO NOT OFFEND.Is it progress when burping and farting in public is considered to be less offensive than having an opinion? And yet, seemingly everyone has an opinion about everything these days. People band together in whatever ways they can to seek affirmation of their opinions, to find those who agree with them, or those who will not openly challenge or argue with them so that they can feel like they’re right, or feel better about themselves, or simply feel safe. People seek those who agree with them because those are the people they can relax around. There is a pack mentality to humans, groups and cliques rarely function without a ‘leader’ of some type. We like our hierarchy, we like the idea of some kind of seniority, we like to know where we stand, in society, but more immediately with the people around us. We voice our opinions and beliefs sometimes as if to say to those around us ‘Are you safe? Will you accept this about me?’
Sometimes we remain quiet, listening to the opinions of others and learning from those things how they differ from us, and that they might not accept some facet of who we are, or that they might not appreciate some golden nugget of wisdom we have garnered from our own vast experience in the wilderness we call life.
When I was younger, as only the young and naive can truly believe this about themselves, I thought I wanted to change the world and that I could. After some cruel experiences that emotional, metaphorical, bleeding heart -can’t we all just get along- thing crept in and I thought If people could only SEE…I thought I might one day write something so profound that they ( the proverbial ‘they’ whom I sometimes reference) would suddenly realize the folly of their cruelty or whatever it was I thought they were suffering from that caused others to behave the way they did. Realizing finally that everyone is on their own, individual, path to personal revelations, epiphanies, and emotional growth, in their own time. Trying so hard then to change my own ways, only to discover again and again that, we have to survive here, I have to survive here. I.
I didn’t make the world this way, it was like this when I got here and I choose to survive here. That doesn’t mean I advocate contributing to the mess either.
There is no I in team? Pardon me, but there isn’t one in ‘f**k you’ either, and I’ve certainly heard that more than I’d have cared to.
The collective needs the collective. The collective needs WE to survive, lemmings need other lemmings in order to know where to go. I can tell them where to go and how to get there. According to Wikipedia, not that I would rely solely on Wikipedia for cold hard facts of anything, but according to Wikipedia, the metaphorical idea that lemmings commit mass suicide is also incorrect. I wouldn’t know and it doesn’t matter for this discussion, point being that according to someone, somewhere, what we all think about lemmings is wrong too. For the sake of this discourse, lemmings need other lemmings in order to know where to go. The collective needs the collective in order to sustain itself. ‘I’ is a dirty word in our society.
I was not born a ‘we.’ I choose to be a ‘we’ in some situations. I am married and feel very a part of that ‘we.’ Sometimes when we are with our friends then there is a ‘we’ there too and sometimes I enjoy those we’s very much and I am grateful for them. A collective of work, an anthology or written work would be another ‘we’ that I could or would be interested in but that is not the kind of collective I am talking about. ( Do you like it when people try to force their “we” on you?)
I was raised not to upset apple carts but the fact is I upset them all the time somehow simply by being ME. But I cared about other people, I mean I cared about their very souls ( I still care, about humanity in general, obviously, of course, sincerely.) only to find that many of the people whose very souls I cared most about, didn’t give a damn about mine, not at all, not in any way, shape, or form, or not a moment beyond their ability to manipulate me. In my thirties, people were still trying to make me conform to their idea of normal, in all of the subtle ways society does such a thing, sometimes without ever uttering a word aloud. And, not wanting to hurt the people I cared for, or mistakenly thinking that I would, I conformed. What I can say about some of that now is, they have given me a lot to work with.
People will judge others for anything and everything others do, whether or not they’ve mowed the lawn, did they plant the right flowers in their yard, do they work, do they not work, what color they dye their hair, so and so saw so and so still in their bathrobe at three in the afternoon, and we haven’t even gotten to the big issues yet like sex, religion and politics or personal alcohol consumption and drug use. Don’t upset the apple cart, it will ruin your reputation, your career, you won’t have any friends, you will draw too much attention, you can’t sit down to write until you get your chores done, for god’s sake, act like a normal human being. There is at least one bully on every block, one asshole self appointed leader of lemmings, little fish in even smaller ponds look bigger and act bigger than they are. Some of us crudely used to call this TPS or ‘tiny pecker syndrome,’ all those tiny little dogs that bark their heads off. I used to feel sorry for people like that, sorry for the people who bullied and took advantage of me because, after all, I am such a great person myself, the people who would say not to write, little lady, until you get your chores done because we have to keep things here in Stepford running smoothly ( and it is truly stunning how prevalent that attitude remains in some quarters. ) I used to feel sorry for them because they were never stronger than me, not ever and I knew this with utmost certainty, but I felt sorry for them because if they could only SEE.
They have cured me of my naivete, whoa to them. Maybe I was the one who needed to “see” in some way, see my way clear to doing as I please regardless because really, we’re all learning at our own pace and unlikely to convince one another of much of anything that we’re not ready to hear.
But I don’t advocate adding to the mess. What does that mean?
It would seem that people sometimes equate integrity or morality with their idea of ‘normal,’ judging books by their covers and admonishing those who do not fit the mold in some way. Certainly things have progressed in the last fifty years but the fact remains that the idea of the next stop being Willoughby remains so enticing to some that perhaps society, as a collective, has never gotten over it. And in that clinging to an idea of a perfect world, without stress, where the man in ‘The Grey Flannel Suit’ is met at the door by a blissed-out babe in a pencil skirt with restrictive underwear underneath that she is repressed by and just longing for him to set her free of, and the bills are always paid on time, no one ever gets sick, the paper boy never lands the paper in the roses or on the roof, in that clinging to the idea that the modern version of that somehow offers our only chance at true happiness, we miss the beauty of the reality we have, the opportunity to create our own Willoughby and perhaps the path that would lead to that place for ourselves.
Moral integrity has nothing to do with what time of day a person gets out of bed, whether or not the dishes are done before they sit down to write, or whether or not they keep their front lawn short enough to please the neighbors. Some of those things have to do with respect for others, and I advocate that, none of us want to live next door to an eyesore. Respect, however, is a two-way street and I haven’t found many people who choose to live on it. Oh they think they do, but they don’t. Their respect goes about as far as the first difference of opinion, or their ‘hurt feelings’ which generally have more to do with skewed perceptions than objective understanding of what actually transpired, or what their part in it was. In other words, very few people look at themselves first and ask ‘What did I do to that person? What do they think I did? Was I wrong?’ And even fewer people stop to consider what might be going on in the life of the other person, very few stop to think, ‘We’ll he, or she, has usually been pretty great, nice, decent, what could be going on with them that they would act differently? And is that any of my business?’ The truth is that far too many people internalize things and take things personally that probably don’t have anything to do with them. All they know is ‘So and so was mean.’ How many stop to think, ‘Could be his dog just died?’ Or …’Could be the person she was ‘mean’ to, had it coming.’ Anything different from their idea of things makes them uncomfortable. A front yard full of cactus would be an eyesore to some and a money-saving oasis to others. At that point who is infringing on whose rights? And you can pretty much kiss Willoughby and Stepford goodbye.
I don’t advocate contributing to the mess. I don’t advocate chaos. But I’m tired, you know? I’m tired of all of the ‘do it this ways’ and ‘don’t do it that ways’ because most of the time they don’t have any idea what they are talking about when it comes to my life, as a married person, our life. They have found what works for them and have determined to cram it down the throats of those of us who would dare to say, ‘That’s great, good for you! I’m going to do things this other way.’ Their control freak knees knock and they tremble at the thought. I’m tired of being told and sometimes forced to ‘share’ for the so-called common good. Suffice it to say that I think the words ‘for the common good’ should set off alarms in the heads of any free, thinking, person. Not because there’s anything wrong with helping one another, I’m all for voluntarily helping out and hope people want to help each other, but because the truth of the matter is that most of the time, that isn’t what any of that is really about. I wonder sometimes if I was, without my being consciously aware of it, conducting some kind of experiment, to see if they could be taught, while they were possibly attempting to turn me into one of them, attempting to correct me, get me back in line with the lemmings. The freedom of all persons begins with the freedom of the individual and with individual freedoms.
Morality, integrity and respect all begin with SELF. It does not stand to reason that the so-called sacrificing of self can then lead to anything other than what we are seeing in the world now, the deterioration of an intelligent, free, society, and the so-called free persons who live within it.
I can honestly say, with full conviction, that I have tried to do it their way, whoever they have been at any given time, I have tried to do it their way and I have never met with any result even close to resembling success or so-called ‘happiness.’ They were given the benefit of the doubt and their ways were thoroughly exhausted as was I. I am over all hopes of having some profound effect on people, or any youthfully misguided ideas of enlightening the masses with whatever the hell it was I thought I knew, while those things might still occur as a side effect, they are no longer the goal or the purpose. Therein was the ultimate flaw in my thinking, I do not believe in altruism and yet I acted as though who I was and what I did had to serve some purpose greater than myself, than being alive as who I am, we are taught that in order to be valid we must negate ourselves. It is illogical, at best, and a death sentence for the soul and the thinking mind with the body likely soon to follow.
They could not ‘correct’ me and I assure you that this, my writing, who I am, my life, does not have anything to do with them anymore.
And as for Willoughby, to each his or her own.
~ Teri Skultety
(‘A Stop at Willoughby’ is a 1960 Twilight Zone episode by Rod Serling, ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ by Sloan Wilson, 1955. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, 1972)
“The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not “selflessness” or “self-sacrifice,’ but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one’s convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality.” ~ Ayn Rand
Those of us of a certain age may remember the children’s programming of the 1970’s that promoted social and cultural awareness, the idea that we are all different but really, we are all the same.
Shows like ZOOM, The Electric Company, The New Zoo Revue, Villa Alegre, and The Big Blue Marble, presented the idea the world belonged to all of us, it was really a kind of not very subliminal sensitivity training for a new generation. ( Generation X and I’ll get to that in a minute.) From Villa Alegre I learned some Spanish words that can actually be used in public and mixed company, they also promoted the idea of trying foods from different countries. The Electric Company was beyond cool, with stars like Bill Cosby pre-scandalous accusations) and Rita Moreno, teaching all of the ways we say hello, how to get along, how to be decent humans. From Zoom I learned how to get out of a pair of Chinese handcuffs, make a variety of craft projects from things found around the house, and I fully admit to really wanting one of those striped “Zoom” Rugby shirts. I had a pen pal through The Big Blue Marble’s system of connecting children from across the globe, (no, I’ve never tried to locate her again and I remember not knowing what to write to her about because there were already too many things I couldn’t, and thinking that I’d rather just watch the show.) For me, those programs were about a world that I had no other access to, like their adult counterparts of today, travel shows, and combination food and travel shows, they made those faraway places seem more glamorous than they really were, more exotic, and sometimes, nicer. But the message was about the humanity of the things that we have in common, respect and appreciation for other cultures, kind of the idea that sauerkraut or salsa wasn’t so weird and that other kids in other countries did a lot of the same things that kids do here. We didn’t need to be afraid of our differences, we could learn from each other, honor and respect those differences, while still being who we were. What we had in common was being human.
These programs presented a sanitized version of being an American kid, with all the representatives of said American Kiddom so incredibly well-adjusted that it was difficult not to envy them. (Sadly I wasn’t allowed to watch the New Zoo Revue as one of the adults in my life insisted it wasn’t really a children’s show but that everyone on the show was only marginally talented, smoking dope, probably dropping acid, and that adults who dressed up in costume so they could run around with children likely had some kind of agenda, the same was said to me of H.R. Puff n’ Stuff.) In a time when “All in the Family” was the most popular show on television, before it had been revealed the Carrol O’Conner was not really the disgruntled bigot Archie Bunker that he portrayed, something that many Americans, including my sexist-bigoted father, readily believed and supported, and felt deeply betrayed by, as though they’d been sucker punched by Archie Bunker himself, these children’s shows were seen by some as an attempt at the subtle brainwashing of the American child, a “reprogramming.” With catchy tunes, seemingly hip, always even-tempered adults, the most well-informed, well-mannered, children ever seen in public, most of them wearing turtle necks and Garanimals sets, the programs appealed to the good nature in all of us, or at least the possibility of it.
Perhaps there were those with a crystal ball into the future who foresaw the global economy, the Euro, the internet, a world that was expanding and contracting at the same time, perhaps envisioning a utopia that would be nothing less than a daily culture festival where all of us would go from one food booth to another sampling the goods, blissed out on Churros, Gyros and Egg Rolls.
It didn’t work.
While it may have softened the overall tone of our vernacular for a time, eventually there seemed to be what could only be called a backlash, a rebellion against this sing-song mentality of unicorns and rainbows. As a parent in the 1990’s, I witnessed the ushering in of a giant purple dinosaur named Barney and then, the dreaded (socially questioned at the time) Tele Tubbies, who were maligned as being effeminate, while at the same time bands like Nirvana were exploding onto the music scene, and the lean, clean preppy look of the 1980’s was giving way to flannel shirts and hair lengths that hadn’t been seen since the 1970’s.
Some people simply don’t like being told what to do. The very nature of rebellion began to change as the accepted definition of the word “rebellion” became distasteful, because it isn’t rebellion or being rebellious if all you are doing is being who you are. The word they were looking for to describe that was “cool,” but they couldn’t use that word either because it was suddenly uncool, to be cool. A new generation, my generation, was taking its turn at rebellion. Unlike previous uprisings of angst ridden youth, what was mistaken for laziness was really a kind of apathy, ambiguity and uncertainty, something in us that really resented all of the bait they threw at us. ( And the hypocritical bullshit.) Not to mention a little bit of disillusionment that the world was not the great big harmonious melting pot that they had served it up as being during our crucial developmental years.
In the early 1990’s, when I first heard the term “Gen Xer” applied to my generation there was a question attached to it, “When are they going to do something?” They said we didn’t have a cause, we didn’t have a plan, we didn’t have a clue, we didn’t have a voice. I’ve wondered if what they meant was, “When are they going to do something that we’ll agree with to help us rebel against our own parents whom we know we can do it better than, we gave them these all these shows.”
I’ve watched clips of those shows again, on the great nostalgia Wayback Machine that we call youtube, and looking at them now I see the naiveté of those who thought they could change the world by attempting to reprogram the American kids of the 1970’s, as though we would grow up to be ambassadors of good will to all the other children of the world who didn’t have network television, ABC movies of the week, and School House Rock. We would be a product of the so-called liberation from what the Baby Boomers saw as the hypocrisy of their own parents. The backlash against the sing-song we can all get along mentality that was presented to Gen Xers in our youth, has been a growing graphic realism presented in most of our major forms of entertainment and an unwillingness to accept the definitions heaped on us by others.
I, for one, resent the term Gen X-er and always have, could be there are Baby Boomers who feel the same way about being called Baby Boomers. In my opinion the term was born out of laziness, something so-called Gen Xer’s have oft been accused of and perhaps that goes with the territory of being the next generation to come down the pike. They called us Gen Xers because they couldn’t wait any longer for us to identify ourselves. They couldn’t wait to label us. Ironic. It is without a doubt that the “tune in , turn on, and drop out” culture of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, produced the same accusations of laziness and irresponsibility that the Gen Xers have been saddled with, among other things. I don’t consider myself a Gen Xer. Those of us born in the late 1960’s have been lumped in with those born in the early 1980’s, and everyone in between. Those born in the early 80’s were, to state the obvious, not children in the 1970’s, and no offense as that certainly isn’t meant as a slight to them. I am twelve years older than anyone who was born in 1980, a lot happened in those twelve years. In 1981, I was already wearing mascara and earning my first baby-sitting money. What do they know about the Electric Company, Joe Namath, Farrah Faucet, The Frito Bandito, or buying the world a Coke and teaching it to sing? What do they know about being a child sitting on the floor amidst the bell-bottoms, Angel Flights, platform shoes, Jesus sneakers, bongs, and bota bags, and bottles of Almaden, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and beer can pull tops, sand candles, and macrame captured house plants, while the strains of Bee Gees, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, or the Eagles filtered through, or being told to “just crawl under” a layer of pot and cigarette smoke that would make the air quality in L.A. in 1975 look unpolluted? The other day I almost bought a bag of Taco flavored Doritos just because of the nostalgic retro packaging and it occurred to me that Gen Xers were in many ways the first real victims of advertising. We wanted the cereal with the toy inside, the Evil Knievel stunt cycle, the Barbie Townhouse, Malibu Ken, and G.I. Joe, as seen on t.v. Something that adds credence to the brainwashing theory, Here kids, get your parents to buy you this. My generation is the first generation fully raised on television and completely commercialized consumerism. The 1970’s, were made to sell and be sold.
Being an American child in the 1970’s was a completely unique experience and our rebellion has been a quiet one. As a generation, I wonder if we really don’t seem to have a voice because none of us would assume to speak for anyone else in the group. We are a group of individuals, and besides that, didn’t they tell us that Pepsi was to be the voice ( choice) of a new generation? And would any of us dare to question our parents? People spanked their kids in public in the 1970’s. The Baby Boomers had a very definite idea of how to do things better, or at least differently, from their parents. So massively powerful in their numbers and self-assuredness that their way was and is better, what brave soul from any generation after would dare to rise up and question it in any way? That in and of itself is a very dangerous thing, that we, as a generation, have not been expected to have our own ideas or opinions or to question the authority of the generation of our parents, but that rather we have been expected to carry their torch. The world is a mess? The Baby Boomers have been voting since 1968, the year that I was born. I’m not offering an opinion about that one way or another, simply stating that fact and posing the question as to who really made this mess society is dealing with. (If I were to offer an opinion about it, I’d say the Boomers, overall as a generation, have made one hell of a mess, and we need a couple of generations like The Greatest Generation to fix it. I could also say that I’ve carried with me a fear of reprisal from members of my parents generation for harboring that opinion. However, as I understand it, they didn’t much care for the way their parents did things either.)
For some of my generation, well, it kind of seems like they’d just as soon see it all burn at this point and that’s some message to be sending to the generations that came before us, and to our own kids, that there are those in my generation who have looked at things and decided that it’s all so screwed up, still, after all of these years of Baby Boomers running things, that we might as well throw a match on it.
I don’t share that opinion. I think that it’s all really screwed up but I’ve always been a believer that we can fix things, that we can figure it out, I have faith in humanity. And perhaps it is selfish, but I like the retro packaging on the Doritos. Are they trying to subliminally set us back to obeying their mantras? To not questioning them as though we were still children? And I only recently discovered how much I truly enjoy some things that so-called civilization has to offer, so I’d hate to see it all go bust.
The world was supposed to become a global melting pot of acceptance, no matter what color, no matter what culture, or creed, the preaching was tolerance and acceptance. Then came September 11th and the world seemed to say to the U.S. in a lot of ways, “Welcome to the club.” We remembered that everyone the world over didn’t get cable television in the 80’s and internet access in the 90’s. The Children’s Television Workshop and that little dude who was hankerin’ for a hunk of cheese, never said anything about terrorism. We, as a generation, didn’t have even the preparedness of “stop, drop and cover.” If you lived in California during your school years you might have been treated to an earth quake drill every six months but that was really about it when it came to disaster preparedness training.
I think about that day, watching, on television, as the Twin Towers fell and the surreal quality that took that time over… The Big Blue Marble, perspective, tolerance, acceptance, the strange era of my youth that brought global events into everyone’s living room in color for the first time and how they used to play the U.S. National Anthem every morning at two a.m. before concluding the broadcast day, and what that said in so many ways was that things weren’t perfect here, but that this was still the very best place in the world that one could be, and it we were safer here. I sit in front of this screen now, trying to be thoughtful and choose my words, on a sensitive subject, with intelligence and care, it bothers me as I feel as though I have become in many ways my own thought police, realizing how much the world has changed in the last decade and how far does the average citizen really want to go these days when it comes to upsetting apple carts? Tolerance? Acceptance? Perspective? Compromise?
When did freedom become a word to be whispered?
For me, the programming of my youth created more questions than answers.