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The Music Man Cometh

I used to be a musician.  Had you asked me if I identified as such before I would have denied it, because I was okay at it (trombone for eight years) but not great, and I couldn’t sight read worth a damn.  But music is in me.  I hear music in my head: notes and songs and melodies and chords for which I have no names. I picked up a guitar last summer with the purpose of teaching myself, but that has been slow going.  I needed something a little more immediate (my fingers are clumsy on strings and the callouses refuse to come) to sate my desire to create.  So I bought this a month in advance of my 34th.   

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It’s a Casio, and its sound is just as cheesy synth as ever, but this one intrigued me because of one feature: it has light up keys.  What’s more, there are about a hundred songs programmed in, and if you want, you can have it tell you which finger presses the next key.  I’m hoping to train some muscle memory into my hands.  I also hope to learn more about scales and chord progressions.  Playing a single note instrument such as the trombone does not lend itself to understanding how notes fit together.  I’ve always regretted this lack of understanding on my part, especially since I am an auditory person and an auditory learner.  I’m going to work one song at a time on this keyboard while teaching myself scales, fingerings, and chords. The first song on the system is Beyond the Sea.  Until I master that, and can play it without the lighted keys, I will not move on to the next.  I think this is a good thing for me.  Playing the song, no matter how poorly, relaxes me. 

I pride myself on having a decent voice.  I’d love to be able to accompany that with some kind of instrument.  It’s never too late to learn.

~Prof. Fearless.

Mass Hysteria

Begin on a handshake and part on a hug
With promises of later embraces.
Two strangers meeting at the foot of gold
Country, at once at ease and anxious both,
A plate of sushi between us, “are you glad
Sashimi?” I think, but do not voice, for puns
Are a social disease — their Latin, paronomasia,
Even sounds it.  We’ve both lived in the East Bay,
Which is itself Pig Latin for beast, but meet
A hundred miles away in this one Starbucks
Town, where Prada pumps are found half-off
And your headscarf glows beatific in light
Half hidden behind scattered clouds that let
Little blue peak through to witness our meet.

Laughter is panacea to broken hearts and wounded
Prides, but does little to blast the mutant cells
Marauding through you, laying waste to your
Womanhood, and salting once fertile ground.
“You can no longer be called Hysterical,”
I point out with grim humor in my voice.
You bark a laugh that is both delighted and sharp.

Medical science, since Hippocrates, has been
To poison, cut, and burn. Once per month
The poison drips through intravenous paths
To wind its way though your tortuous vessels,
To torture you days later with weakness and pain.
Today they cut out a chunk of you.
Tomorrow you burn with the hope of having
Crested this Sisyphean hill, free from this
Malignant boulder weighing you down.

From here on out, your life is a Magic Eight Ball;
The future is hazy, but the direction is clear,
As a lighthouse beckons you, a beacon in the fog,
Warning of rocks, but guiding to a new sense of home.

Mina, Mina, Mighty Moment

There is a scene in the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi that keeps replaying in my head.  It’s the scene near the end of the film, after Dracula has bitten Mina Harker and fed her his blood.  She’s partway through her transformation, and the stalwart paternalists, as played by her husband, Doctor Seward, and Professor Van Helsing, decide that the best thing for her is to lock her in her room.  Somehow Mina escapes, and Jonathan Harker finds her on a shared balcony.  She stands there, resplendent in her silk nighty.  Even across time it’s a beautiful picture.  Mina starts to talk with her husband, and as she does, she starts to touch him, caress him, even nuzzle him a bit. 

Now, as an audience we’re supposed to think, “Aha!  She is a vampire! She wants to suck his blood!”

This idea is reinforced when Van Helsing comes on the scene with his cross.  When Mina sees it, she turns away suddenly and bursts into tears. 

Last October I was showing this movie to my classes, and was struck by a thought.  Mina maybe wanted to suck something, but it wasn’t blood.  The way the scene is played brims with sexual energy.  What we witness in that scene is not a predator stalking her first victim, but a woman awakening to her own sexuality, to her own desires, to her own physical needs.  She’s seducing her husband, and for a time he’s happily, if bemusedly, playing along.  It’s only when Van Helsing holds out a cross to her, not a symbol of holiness meant to strike fear into the undead, but a symbol of her own sense of propriety, of her own “original sin,”  of the fact that she’s supposed to be a good Victorian housewife and not a sexual being in the least.  It’s a reminder that her upbringing and her culture hold what she’s doing in the strongest possible contempt, and that she, as a Victorian woman, is supposed to be better than that, is supposed to sublimate those desires into something better, something brighter, and something more socially acceptable.  (Sublimation is too often used as a vehicle for repression).  Her reaction to seeing the cross, her crying, is not the pain reaction of a vampire, but the shame reaction of a woman programmed to think she’s being bad.

Dracula and vampirism have always been rather unsubtle metaphors for sexuality.  Anne Rice famously took the romance novel formula, removed the sex, and replaced it with biting to great success.  Dracula himself straddles and often crosses the line between seducer of women and rapist, depending the iteration of the story.  But what if, as we do with Mina, we misunderstand Dracula?

There is a line in the beginning of the novel in which Dracula asks Jonathan Harker to help him with his English.  Jonathan says that he believes Dracula’s English is already pretty good.  Dracula says that he wants his English to be perfect, that he wants no man to peg him as an outsider because of the way he speaks.  This tells me that Dracula is a man who feels the ultimate outsider, a monster, who has no place in society. He is a man who is lonely in his mountain castle, and seeks human connection.  He seeks love and belonging.

I bring these two things up because they are the basis for my next writing project.  I shan’t go into too many details right now; needless to say, I am very excited about what I’m working on.  I have, in the past, believed that the things I’m writing have the potential to be good.

This story has the potential to be great.  By great I mean powerful, beautiful, and in a way, terrible.

This is the first time in which I feel art at my fingertips.

And so it shall be.

~Prof. Fearless

Up, Up, and Away!

Those who know me, or who have been wading through all the personal stuff in this blog, know that I am a big fan of comic books.  In an earlier post, I deconstructed my relationship with Spider-Man in brief, highlighting the things about him with which I most identified.

Today I want to talk about Superman.

I was a fan of Superman before I was really clear who Superman was.  I remember seeing Superman and Superman II on television, Superman III and IV in the theaters, and believing that a man could fly.  Christopher Reeve, for the rest of his life, was one of my favorite actors.  He was and always will be Superman to me.  I even remember my first Superman video game for the Atari 2600.  I got it on my third or fourth birthday, which was held at Chuck E. Cheeses.  You had to control Superman through a maze of multiple screens, collecting bad guys and taking them back to jail, all while avoiding floating kryptonite, and occasionally rescuing Lois Lane from the clutches of Lex Luthor (who flew around in a helicopter pack).  Oh, and there was something about repairing a bridge too.  It was an awful game, as were most Superman games to follow, but I absolutely loved it.

For all iterations of Superman (save Lois and Clark, which annoyed me when it first aired) I was a devoted fan. I spent my childhood seeking out phonebooths, dreaming that I could fly like Supes, watching the various cartoon and live-action versions, living, breathing, and loving the big blue Boy Scout. 

In college, my relationship with Superman changed.  It grew, matured, and became something transcendent from the original dreams of a boy who just thought capes were cool and would tie beach towels around his neck and then run around in his Underoos. 

I was always a bit of a ham when I was young, but the bullying and social awkwardness of middle school (exacerbated by my being the fat kid) left me extremely shy by the time I got the high school.  At this time I began identifying with Clark Kent much more than with his Superman alter-ego. 

There’s that term — alter-ego.  It’s actually a bit of a misnomer for what Superman has.

In college I began learning a bit of psychoanalytic theory, mostly Freud, but some Jung as well.  Something that had captured my imagination were the Jungian notions of the Shadow and Persona, the things we hide from the world and the things we show.  I had always felt like no one understood me, that I was hiding much of myself from the world, that I was a poor communicator, and that writing was my only true outlet for the things I kept buried.  I had such deep fears of being socially unacceptable, that I created many masks, or personae, to hide my shadow self behind. About this same time I discovered T.S. Eliot and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which is also about the shadow self and preparing “the face to meet the faces that you meet.”

Then in 2001, a little show called Smallville began airing on the WB, showcasing a young, insecure, sometimes whiny, but ultimately righteous Clark Kent.  For the ten years that this series aired, I watched as Clark put on many masks, only sharing the shadow self with his parents, and eventually, a cadre of trusted friends and partners. 

I had for years made the same mistake that everyone else had made in my estimation of who Clark Kent/Superman truly was.  This is a mistake I see repeated in movies, televisions, cartoons, and even some comic books.  It is why several writers have called Superman the hardest character to write for, when I actually think he is the easiest to write for. We always tend to assume that Superman is the real face and Clark Kent is the mask he wears, but the truth is more complicated

Superman, the strong, steady, loyal, righteous, do-gooding symbol of Truth, Justice, and the American way is a mask.  Clark Kent, the mild-mannered, dorky, clumsy, sometimes oafish reporter is also a mask. We forever use the Freudian term Alter-Ego to describe these two, but really they are Jungian Personae. 

Who is Superman?  I think Smallville‘s Clark Kent is one of the closest representations of the real person, the shadow self, that we’ve seen in most media, although hints of the real guy come out in others. Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s future Superman in Kingdom Come, pardon the pun, comes close.

There is a third self, a third identity, an authentic person behind both masks.  This is the face his parents see.  This is the face that Lois Lane eventually got to see.  But really, this is the reason his fortress in the Arctic wastes is called The Fortress of Solitude, because in a way, it’s only there that Superman can stand naked and vulnerable, can be real, can fart and scratch, can let his hair down, can brood, can laugh obnoxiously, can secretly watch Jersey Shore and not be judged.  It’s where Clark Kent can stop playing at being human and where Superman can actually be human.  What the Smallville series underscored for me, and why it lasted for ten years despite some really poor production values, and several years of shying away from most Superman mythology, is that Clark Kent was raised human.  He thinks and feels and loves and laughs and wants and needs.  He is driven by the same impulses that drive many of us, the need to fit in, to be accepted, to have a home, a community, a family. 

Superman feels disconnected from the world.  That is his shadow self. He longs for that connection. As Superman he must try to be as perfect as possible.  He understands that as the most powerful being in the world, he can easily become an object of fear, something to be rejected.  As Clark Kent, he must distance himself from the Superman persona, while still trying for those same human connections.  We all fear that our naked selves, our shadow selves, our authentic selves, will scare away the world.  In this I see much of myself in Superman.  We both, on occasion, hide behind glasses; we both, on occasion, hide behind virtue. 

Superman is my hero.  He’s not my hero because he can fly, although that is cool.  He’s not my hero because of heat vision or x-ray vision or super strength, speed, breath, or because he looks good in red and blue.  He’s my hero because he is, despite his almost demi-god status, still a man, and a good man at that.  That’s what makes Superman, in my mind, easy to write for.  He is both man and Superman.

 

 

Hear Her Roar

I’ve been thinking a lot about the execrable Rush Limbaugh and his attack on both Sandra Fluke in specific and young women in generic.  Here is a guy who just doesn’t get it.  The problem is, though, that most guys don’t.  One of the arguments rightly being made is the idea that men, specifically rich, white men, should not be making decisions about the health and well-being of women.  That right there is the privilege trifecta, and the naked exercise of that privilege to make decisions about health, not on the merits of health, but on religious, economic, and cultural criteria, is quite frankly sickening.  There is already a large empathy gap in this country, and the attacks from the privileged classes against women’s self-determination, both reproductively and medically, are fueled by that empathy gap.  These men have no idea what it means to be a woman. They have no idea what it means to be poor.  They have no idea what it means to be a poor woman trying to make ends meet, trying to make human connections, trying to maintain her health, and trying to do so in a world that sees her, for the most part, as a breeding factory. 

That said, I don’t know what it’s like either.  I can imagine. In my imagination it’s pretty grim. But even my imagination probably falls so far off the mark as to only give me a ghost of understanding as to the hardships of that situation. 

The thing that really frightens me about these attacks on women’s rights is that there has been a somewhat successful division of women.  Wealthy women who would willingly sacrifice the health and well being of poor women, who have little recourse for health, perpetrated the Susan G. Komen debacle.  Their pet issue of abortion, which is indeed a large issue, trumped the millions who rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health services.  Their privilege made them blind to the suffering they wished to cause.

The cynical side of me sees these recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights and self-determination as a distraction from the economic issues of the time.  I believe that they are, even though a majority of Americans support the use of birth control.  Things like the Blunt amendment seem geared toward shifting the narrative from economic disparity — an issue on which the Republicans will ultimately lose because they’ve backed the wealthy horse — to women’s health as a wedge issue to excite the base and make the middle forget that they’re having trouble putting food on the table.  The problem with this cynicism is that it threatens to dismiss the real threat to women’s rights that these distraction techniques pose, and the fact that getting them to pass and become law of the land would be gravy in the Republican pie. 

I realize that I have no legs to stand on when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.  I would no more tell women what they should do with their bodies than I would tell the Pope how to wear his pointy hat (I swear, it’d look much better at a jaunty angle!)  What I’m hoping to see is that the world, or at least the country, reacts to the rich, white men’s overreach of privilege and naked embrace of patriarchal structures and repudiates them this fall.  Empathy comes when we realize that we are all other to someone and try to understand others as we understand ourselves.

~Prof. Fearless