My public face is reasonably apolitical. I intend for my art and writing to inspire a brighter, more beautiful, and more hopeful world. I do my best, most times, to let it just be that. I think that there’s so much in the way of politics already that I don’t feel a need to bombard you with more. Afterall, as they say – if you aren’t outraged already, then you aren’t paying attention. And it’s never been my intention to outrage you all the more.
But here’s the thing: in recent days, the beast of racism, of sexism, of xenophobia has reared its head in this country in ways that I thought unimaginable. And it is all in the name of economics and politics. Those things ultimately – on their own, are not political. To call them “political” is to do a disservice to the humans who are affected by these attitudes every day. They are issues of hate and division and fear. While those are the tools of politics, they are not politics not in and of themselves.
I want to tell you: there is no place for that here. I have no patience for racism, sexism, misogyny, or homophobia or anything else that is hateful and divisive. They will not find any fertile ground to plant themselves upon.
I will listen. I will try to understand where it comes from. How we got here. But it goes no further than that. There is no coddling. No time for apologists. No second-guessing. No compromise. No quarter given for hate.
Many people who don;t experience these things directly, when presented with it by those who do, begin their next sentence with “yeah, but….”
So let’s just stop right there and discuss that part first because it is very important.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other such attitudes, are like weapons. They are used to hurt, subjugate, and make those who wield them feel powerful. However, if you are not the person for whom the weapon was designed to hurt, then you probably won’t ever completely understand its impact.
For example, if you are a man then you aren’t going to feel that sexism spear when it hits you. Maybe a woman is telling you about how she experiences it in the world – maybe how sick she feels right now that a prime example of a misogynist has been elected into the highest public office of the US. Or maybe she is with a group of other women and they are all expressing dismay at various examples of sexism that each has experienced. Maybe you start to feel defensive. You want to say it’s not all like that. The same story goes for race or anything else designed to subjugate and exclude that you yourself don’t experience.
“Yeah, but…,” you begin…
Just stop. Here’s the thing: as a weapon, the weapon is not designed to hurt you. If you are white, racism is not designed to hurt you. If you are a male, then you won’t feel the brunt of the spear of sexism as it impacts the women around you. And so on. No matter how much you examine that weapon – looking for the trap, the part that draws blood, the part that injures, you won’t really feel it. You do not have the apparatus – your skin color, your gender, or whatever – by which to experience it.
But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply wasn’t designed for you. It is imperative to not let your own experience of it (or lack thereof) invalidate the experience of others.
Instead, just step back, give up whatever you are holding onto that is letting you not hear those who are speaking up – especially if they are telling you that they have been hurt – and instead try to just listen. Really listen.
Right now, in America, an alleged sex offender has been elected for President. Not Bill “I had a consensual blowjob in the White House” Clinton. No, this is a self-admitted misogynist who has multiple allegations against him as well as multiple recorded statements that illustrate it. It’s plain as day. For sexists, for misogynists, his election normalizes attitudes of dominance that women live in fear of every day.
Right now, in America, someone who has made multiple racist comments and, in fact, was fined for excluding blacks from his apartment buildings years ago, has been elected to the highest public office in the country. The same man has the tacit approval of the Ku Klux Klan and continues to appoint to his committee those with outspoken racist attitudes. For racists, this seems to normalize the attitudes of racial domincance that continue to pervade this country in every level of society.
Right now, almost half of the American people who voted have elected someone who is backed by the anti-Gay Christian Right. This same person chose, as his running mate, a man who claims homosexuality can be “cured” and would like to do away with laws protecting the LGBTQ communities. For the homophobic, his ascent to a place of power normalizes and validates the latent or expressed homophobia everywhere.
Right now, America has elected a person who has stoked the fires of xenophobia enough that people are committing countless hate crimes across the country in his name and he has yet to denounce those actions. In fact, he argues that building a giant wall between the US and Mexico is a good idea. He proposes registering all Muslims and banning all others from entry. In doing so he normalizes nationalistic and xenophobic Us vs. Them attitudes (which are largely ‘whites’ vs everyone else) and the hate crimes that lie at the extreme end of those attitudes.
In short, the man who has been elected to be President of the United States is helping to normalize hate, fear, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and more in ways that I never expected to see. Ever. I never expected it would now sit squarely in the chair that is supposed lead this country of the United States forwards.
Yet, here we are.
I have spent the past week, as have many others, disgusted (and depressed) by this stark reality, grieving for all the families now living in deep fear of being torn apart, for all of the women who see a sexual offender now celebrated, for an environment that will soon be trampled (as he proposes to dismantle the EPA and calls Climate Change a hoax)… and so on.
I can barely believe it. And yet I can… Because there’s so many who live in fear of the other, looking out for I, Me, and Mine, influenced by the Mass Media barrage and the decrepit American education system which has decidedly failed them.
So I want to tell you this: my art is for everyone, everywhere, regardless of race or religion or gender or sexuality or anything I might have missed. It is meant only to inspire openness, hope, joy, maybe brighter more vibrant lives for everyone.
Yes, it obviously comes through my own cultural lens. It is tied to personal experiences that, in their details, are unique to me. But the archetypes of the human experience know no boundaries. We all cry and love and live and die the same. We are all in it together. This planet. This family.
This is all we’ve got.
I’ve had countless wild experiences. I could ascribe all sorts of stories to those experiences. But only one thing really shines through though as a worthwhile story to believe in. In the end, I’m left only with my breath and my body, my sensations, my experience of the world. And you, too, are left with your own.
In the end, all I can do is be kind to myself and others. Just be good to each other.
That’s it. There’s nothing more.
The only reason I can bring my art to the soaring places it reaches is because of the seeds it starts with. That intention is merely to create beauty, joy, kindness. It is not trying to be something. There is no agenda. I am not here to preach. It comes from one place of joy and beauty and moves onwards and upwards from there, downwards and inwards, to the greatest forms of that seed’s expression. Even the darkness leads to that and comes from that. For me, my art is what it looks like to be alive.
We are jewels reflecting light.
Hate will find no footing here. There is no ground upon which its gnarled roots and twisted forms can take hold. I will listen. I will understand. But there is no place for hate here. Only love.
If you are on the receiving end of these weapons know that I hear you. I see you. I’m with you. I always have been. I always will be. Because there isn’t just you. Just me. There is us. We may be divided by cultural boundaries, linguistic barriers, or any other perceived form of separation. But in the end: I respect your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and together we defend that for each other. There are millions and millions of us creating a space where we can thrive, as best as we can, in the ways that we know how, while trying to cause as little harm to others. We are stronger together than apart with our choir of voices and our multitude of colors.
We are a speck in the history of the universe. But we are no less beautiful for it.
A new law passed by the LA city council prohibits homeless people from owning more belongings than can fit in a 60-gallon trashcan with the lid on, and allows police to summarily confiscate any tents that are still standing on public property during daylight hours.
The law is a response to Los Angeles’s epidemic of homelessness — a rise in homelessness that’s clocked in at 20% of two years.
Of course, homelessness isn’t like smoking, a lifestyle choice that can be disincentivized given enough government arm-twisting. Homelessness is a human rights crisis, brought on, in part, by Bill Clinton’s cruel and vile “welfare reforms” (which were passed by adding “compromises” that allowed state governments to be even crueller, an arrangement that came home to roost when the Tea Party started electing governors who ran on a platform that demonized poor people, and subsequently began to literally starve the poorest people in their states).
From the files of ‘how human beings treat other human beings’. It is easy to see simply the haves and have-nots and believe that the have-nots want to take what you have. Those who believe that the walled garden they live in must not be trampled upon by those who have-not believe also that the only way to protect those walled gardens is to build bigger walls and enact more laws outlawing having-not.
When we look around, it is easy to believe ourselves to be these cultured, well-informed creatures who have ‘civilized’ ourselves to some high degree of class and sophistication. We can look at back-jungle native cultures and say ‘well, those savages didn’t build computers or develop bullet trains or make 3-D IMAX movies!’ or whatever and yet: we can look to those same cultures and see a lack of, well, lack – of homelessness and destitution. There is only destitution when our western world encroaches upon them and takes away their livelihoods, demolishing their world-views. We can look at other cultures and see communities that are supportive one another and would never think of there being holes through which one would fall and, if there are holes, there are safety nets to catch them.
This isn’t colonial nostalgia. This is the understanding that our tunnel vision of “what the world is” is but one perspective amongst many. That perspective has its flaws as much as it has its shining points of brilliance. There are so many other ways of being, other ways of thinking. And when the one way of being simply barrels over others without any compassion then I really think that we are doing it wrong. When the heart closes and we say ‘nope, they can suck it. I earned it on my own and they can too’ then we separate ourselves from a vast interweaving of the world, living selfish little lives. As we contract into ourselves it causes cracks and holes in the fabric between each other, like dried skin, like a parched desert.
Our society is riddled with these holes and cracks and the more one contracts, the more one is led to believe that one is separate from those that fall through those holes if they don’t have the means, by whatever ill-fortune, to support themselves. This is the story we tell ourselves over and over and over again. it is repeated on the news, in the movies, in books. You might have worked hard to get where you are but it was as much luck and privilege as anything else.
I long for a day when our ‘civic leaders’ and those that vote for them can find the compassion to do something for others – for this civil society we supposedly live in and not just do for themselves and the private investment interests they represent.
The same old story: “Why vote? Voting doesn’t make a difference. Politics isn’t real. It’s all smoke and mirrors. An illusion to keep you distracted.” It’s a common story – in one form or another – told by a disproportionately large section of people my age and younger. I’m 38. So that’s a lot of people!
Getting people to believe that ‘politics isn’t real’ is a great way to con a populace into apathy and inaction. Each group, each subsection of the population, seems to have it’s own methods of doing so. It saddens me to watch people slip into sleep like that. Buddhism and Hinduism can use ‘karma’ – we are where we are and our lot in life is just our karma playing out, from the local to the national to the global level. It pacifies people. It keeps them from affecting changes. Christianity offers the carrot of eternal reward in Heaven and that God will judge, not man, so let things go. We all are guilty.
The New Age community offers this: “If you sit and think hard enough you will manifest a reality in which YOU have everything you need. Other people’s problems are simply them not thinking hard enough and manifesting what they need.”
Marx was right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Man creates religion, he said, not the other way around. We create religion to justify our actions. To give us a framework with which to move through the world. If we choose to ignore the political currents of the planet or if we choose to feel powerless in the face of such currents, we can create a religious worldview which supports – even empowers – that sense of powerlessness.
But that doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring a thing doesn’t make it disappear. People are real. As are politics. Desires, needs, goals, greed, and generosity. They exist in as much as everything else exists. We move through the world together.
For the foreseeable future, there will be a Supreme Court. There will be women’s rights. There will also be pesticides and limits or bans or lack thereof. There will be trade agreements and the EPA. And, at some point or another, there will be a law against a thing you believe in. It might limit your dancing. It might restrict your access to birth control. It might strip you of some freedom you thought was undeniably yours. There will always be something.
Walking through the world maintaining an ignorance of any and all things that ‘bring you down’ only serves to further disenfranchise, to further the system as it is. The only way through is to engage. We are all humans having our collective human experience. While our mindsets might be different, the desire to live healthy and happy lives is something we all share.
Things get better. Some get worse. It’s a constant evolution of how we live together on the planet.
We are individual bodies but also a collective body – on local, state, national, and global levels. Like a body, we are always fighting off virus, bacteria, parasites. We have to be ever vigilant and can’t just roll over. There is no cell in my body that says “Fuck it, I’m just gonna sit here LA TI DA TI DA!” They all work together – all of the time. The same with people. We are all in it together, all of the time.
iI, say, one of our limbs is diseased, focusing only on our healthy hand – look how pretty and shiny it is! – doesn’t make the disease go away. In fact, we are more likely to lose the diseased limb. And we are weaker for it. The only way to heal is to engage with the process.
It is our duty to one another to engage this process of creating a healthy and happy environment for the entirety of our bodies – our local body and our broad global collective body. On the local level, we can vote for people who enact laws and ordinances that lead to situations like this:
A Florida City Just Arrested This 90-Year-Old for the Crime of Feeding the Homeless
or we can vote for people who can enact things like this:
Salt Lake City a model for S.F. on homeless solutions
“Salt Lake City has cut its chronic homelessness rate dramatically during the last 10 years by giving homeless people nice, permanent places to live with lots of counseling on-site. Its experience offers valuable lessons.”
This is now. This is what is happening. This is change in one direction or another. We aren’t just one ship with one rudder. We are many ships with many rudders and they change course one at a time. Eventually, when one ship sees that the direction another ship is heading in leads to greater prosperity, it will follow suit, or it will suffer. Such is life. But that doesn’t mean we stop.
Lead and others will follow. Follow and you have no right to complain about where you’ve been led.
Detail: First World Problem Child
“My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.”
– Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (amongst my favorite books)
Some thoughts on a painting. Or – what’s this thing about? So…. here we go…
It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. As long as I’m not fighting back.
My freedom has bought me this corner I can curl up in. You and I: we’ll have our petty arguments about the current NFL quibbletastic paparazzi inflammation score. There’ll be news at 6, intensive investigation at 7, and a debate at 8. We’ll go through it ALL. OVER. AGAIN at 9. Also: don’t forget to be afraid of radiation. Chemtrails. Aliens and meta-beings. Instabeings. Whatever your disease. Isn’t there anyone out there listening? Doesn’t anyone really care? Isn’t someone going to save me from this mental quagmire I’m in? Is there a reason – a real fucking REASON – for whatever the current argument is?
These human constructions and systems and governments and economies and monetary systems and structures – boundaries and borders – beauracracy terrors – we’re making it all up as we go along.
But there I am: that curled up scared ball of flesh just wanting to get OUT of its current imagined boundaries.
No. There I am: the fast car driving cup of coffee in my hand running I’m late – I’m not even late – I am just not stopping to CARE about the person man woman child all their belongings in a grocery cart wanting a bite to eat never having enough to eat I am that too. I am the military machine marching over and carried along upon the backs of millions in pursuit of the Dream – the ever loving ever living I am LIVING IT! dream – EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE OF ME – I am the kitten loving tit sucking cock cunt ass kissing guns blaring new horizon GLARING desire hungry you know what I mean it’s an endless scene – all of it just blaring – come fuck me – I’m tired of waiting just give it to me – the next big thing – I’m enamored by the latest gadget – love these romanticizations of the gritty dirt of the city street – o god I wish I could find something nourishing to eat. I’m the helicopter chop chop chopping overhead keeping it all secure – stay indoors! – I’m on the very top floor the view looks so good from here – shiny crystal glass clinking – want another drink what are you drinking? There’s always another edge to reach! The party never ends! It’s a life long pursuit of the American DREAM and it could be YOURS – life, liberty, and the pursuit… the pursuit… we’ll keep them spinning at the pursuit…
O the pursuit. No new jobs on the horizon. Fear is the best and only thing to be afraid of. As far as the kids know – the kids who feel they have no hope after college yet continue to enroll because what else are they going to do other than amass one endless loan for the banks to collect upon? Seems like a good system to me! To them, this world has never been any different. The government has always been able to precisely pinpoint you and your intentions via every one of your ten thousand communications. Also. don’t forget: endless terrorist war. Also: GMO scares. Also: pesticide chemicals compounding atop disease and distress. What’s there even to celebrate anymore? Have it YOUR way. This way. MY WAY. It’s a me me me world and someone else is after yours – or so the corporate machine would like me to think.
Buy buy buy. Work work work. Content providers do their best to get me to buy. To get me to work. To get me to buy. On and on and on. Go to school. Get a job. Buy a car. Drive to work. Home. Play. Consume. Buy buy buy. Consuuuuuume. And when break time comes, there’s not much thought as to what or where or how just have a cigarette another cup of coffee take some drugs are you feeling ok? Maybe this new antidepressant. Maybe a vacation to Hawaii. The DOW Jones is always plummeting and there’s always someone waiting to bang down my door and take what’s mine – listen in on my calls, know where I’ve been, been talking to, follow all my dots – my pinpoint connections – and connect my unconscious desires to a shiny new product for which someone else more famous will sing about the madness I’m experiencing in a carefully calculated manner to trigger my desire to purchase the next hit single. All and everything is just an ad for an endlessly possible perfect future – and it’ll be obsolete as soon as the next commercial.
O, say can you see this country I love: its cities and mountains and valleys. And its people: its tired hungry lonely scared selfish selfless colorful creative exuberantly ever-lasting just-wanting-to-live people from all over the world. This vast pool – this human organism – this melting pot of flavors melting down into suburban homogeny – wouldn’t it be SO nice if everyone just did what they were told – perfectly coiffed, cataloged, and commoditized to be repackaged and sold to the next developing nation? Ever on the verge of reaching a boiling point – the final explosive fomentation of tension between the what we could be – an easily controlled populace – and what we ARE: human beings… THAT is this country.
See: this country – scared into subservience, wrapped up in credit card debt and trying to take care of the kids – while the military machine defends the corporate machine bleeding us to death for every last dime because it feeds the disease of sociopathic capitalistic greed and we – we are wound so tightly – so tightly around up into ourselves in mazes of bureaucracy and in the end mirrored sociopathy of i me mine – wouldn’t you like to see sex, kittens, shiny things? The next episode of Stupid Things? Don’t you have dreams you’d like to chase – I mean ‘manifest’? Hold this crystal, it’ll cure your cancer. Chant this prayer, it’ll bring you closer to that which is also outside of you. Just go to this church. Sit in this Mosque. At this stupa. This structure. We made up all of it. And, while you’re at it, won’t you give a dollar so we can build another altar to ask for more alms to build more altars to ask for more alms to build more stairs to whichever vision you like – whatever – they’re all endless projections of an endless I.
It’s a trap of our own devising – complicit cogs of the gears of this mental machine of our own separation imaginings – twisting and twining and holding it all in – because we don’t have any room – any fucking room – to breath. Just give me a little space to breathe, man. Just a moment to breathe. I can’t take it anymore.
I want to fucking scream.
This silent empty echoing aching in my bones SCREAM.
I want to let it all out.
I want to know what it is to have a good time for which no one suffered.
I want to know what you mean by this ‘Freedom’.
I have everything. And nothing. And everything. And nothing.
All at the same time.
I’m sorry it had to be like this.
Ugly and hurting. Painful and wanting. I can’t paint a pretty picture when this feeling is eating me – and you – from the inside out – alive.
This elephant in the room is stomping us to death.
And I love you too much to ignore it any longer.
The other day a friend – a 24-yr old woman – asked me what I felt about “gifting circles” – what I knew about them and how it jived with me.
I said I felt that these gifting circles prey on an innate greed* along with an innocence and naiveté in people. They operate under the guise of ‘female empowerment’ or ‘manifesting abundance’ and the ‘law of attraction’ (which is about the most materialistic spiritual belief system out there) and this ‘circle of sisterhood’ where women can share what they are going through, etc. Yet, at its core, there is this offer of an up to $40K ‘dessert’ they will receive when they reach the inner ring/top of the pyramid/head of the table, etc. Having nothing to do with sisterhood, that is the ultimate driving force leading people to join. After all, most women already have a circle of girlfriends to share with.
There’re plenty of buzz words these circles incorporate to give themselves an air of authenticity. The circles and their leaders use terminology found in all sorts of feel-good spiritualisms while shrouding their own deception. To many, it seems grand: you get a circle of women who are willing to listen to your problems and you will get a fat check when you exit. That ‘exit’ of course comes with a sense of ‘achievement’. You have to buy into it but, theoretically, you will find others to join.
In the end, however, it’s a completely unsustainable system. Perhaps the person at the top can walk away with some money but everyone else is shafted. You only have so many friends who won’t second guess your request for $5,000 to join a ‘women’s group’ where you will, in the end, also get to receive $40K.
The sadder part is the person at the top of that pyramid [scheme] often convinces others that she has ‘manifested’ some kind of ‘abundance’ and that her new clothes, etc are a sign of her newfound spiritual connection when in fact that abundance was simply acquired from the women at the secondary tier. The women in the secondary tier then are led to believe that they too can advance to that top-tier candidacy of great abundance manifestation if they get other to join and that it will, in part, reflect their own spiritual achievements.
Part of the ploy – the brainwashing – is that, when the top person leaves and the others can’t actually come up with any new members, women are guilted into thinking that they weren’t supposed to ‘expect’ anything to begin with when, in fact, that carrot is dangled in front of them the entire time. The only real reason they join is so that they will get that check.
It’s sad to see that this still goes on. It’s existed for, well, as long as there has been the concept of the pyramid. It seems that there will always be one person or group that is looking to exploit another person or group. It doesn’t matter how it’s dressed up – what sort of pretty clothes it wears or cars it drives or the colors of its skin: it’s a pyramid scheme plain and simple. Early on, it was called ‘multi-level marketing’ in that one person invited others to join them, purchase things from them, etc and the invitees were asked to invite others. But even this, while involving a lot of hustling on the member’s part still around a tangible product.
Rather than actual products, the women’s ‘gifting circles’ offer spiritual achievement. It’s better to offer a belief system than a tangible thing because when the person doesn’t get that ‘thing’ then they can be brain-washed into thinking it’s their fault: their own lack of belief, faith, trust, etc. In any case, the people invited then go on to invite others, and so on. Of course, members are instructed to not share it with anyone – it’s quite secretive. Those who are asked to join are told how special it is to be invited. But always remember: any person who asks you to join is just eyeing you for your $5,000 check. Eventually, after some female empowerment and some abundance manifestation, you give your money and then you have to go find more people to join… and eventually YOU will be at the top of the pyramid. Or so they say. In the meantime, the person at the top has left to wherever she has convinced the others that their ‘powers of manifestation’ have allowed them to live grandly.
My friend told me that she always feels uncomfortable about these invitations but when she would speak about her feelings, those who asked her to join would get defensive. I suppose this is a common reaction. No one wants to feel like they are being taken advantage of. No one wants to feel like a mark, a chump. No one wants to feel like they are being scammed, especially when it’s dressed up in such nice, feel-good language. But the truth is: that’s what it is. It’s a scam.
I think it’s noteworthy that almost every woman I know has been invited to and/or is a part of these. And almost every woman I know has turned them down. I feel blessed that I know a lot of women who are strong critical thinkers, who can see through the lies quickly. Those same women have strong support groups of friends and family who don’t require that she give them money and don’t dangle a future payout in front of their faces. The ones who are the critical thinker types either engender a defensiveness in those who have asked them to join or they get shut out of any future invitations and are eyed suspiciously. Rabble rousers! Trouble makers! Boat rockers!
Most importantly, these women who are less likely to be drawn into the gifting circles are all on paths they feel confident in. They are entrepreneurs, students, teachers, professionals. They’ve found something that makes them feel good about the work they do and adds to the quality of their lives and the world at large and don’t have a sense of lack around that. I think it’s a bit of a commentary on the nature of our social structures in general that people don’t feel so good about working for someone else. They don’t want to take pride in that work. They feel it squashes their desire for self-direction and gets in the way of the lifestyle they would prefer to lead. The gifting circles are sort of a parasitical reaction to that lack. Rather than go to school or take the time to get really good at something, there is a preference instead to find ways to siphon money from others while coating it in a coat of sweet sisterhood sharing.
Look, it’s ok. We’ve all been scammed at one point or another. Consider it a lesson in ego. In desire. In understanding greed. And, most importantly, giving a bit more time to that voice that questions, that doubts, that seeks to understand more. If someone ever tries to silence that – then you should question all the more.
I think that, an important thing to maintain in this world of so many ideas for sale all the time is a sort of philosophical skepticism. Question things! If people chide you for questioning, then it’s likely that you are challenging them because they haven’t done much questioning themselves. So question, consider, and dissect – especially someone is asking you for money! Learn, understand, know. Make informed decisions. You will be all the happier for it.
Recently a woman in Guilford, Connecticut was convicted of running just such a gifting circle. Why was she convicted? Because it is fraud, plain and simple and if you do the math, you will see how incredibly unsustainable its structure is.
*Yes, I think that, in humans, there is an innate sense of greed. I think that all of the ‘seven deadly sins’ are parts of the human body/condition. Our choice is whether we feed them or not. But they are always there – sloth, lust, greed, avarice, etc – waiting to be fed.
Many thanks to the women who offered their insights for this. Especially to M and to [Anonymous]. They offered those insights because they care.
The other night Violet and I watched Pacific Rim – the great big blustery Robots vs. Monsters wanna-be epic from Guillermo Del Toro. It was OK and was exactly what it set out to be: giant human powered robots fighting giant alien monster creatures set to the tone of a bombastically epic musical score with a story as watered down as possible to bolster international appeal, peppered with terrible and predictable dialogue and a generally banal plot all couched in pretty awesome special effects. Ok, so there was that. But my critique of the modern cinematic blockbuster can wait for another day.
Because, really, there was something else that was more notable and I wouldn’t have even noticed if Violet hadn’t pointed it out.
See, there were really only two women in the whole movie (tho that is not what is at issue here). One, the Russian woman, never spoke a word, as far as I can remember, and was only ever dressed in a tight uniform with bright red lipstick like some sort of Robotech hooker. Basically her message to the world is that, if you’re a woman then no matter what you better be looking good. More importantly however, was the other woman – Mako – the co-pilot with the main character, Raleigh. There is this part when she’s finally been given the go ahead by the Commander – who has already referred to her as being a strong ‘girl’ (if he were talking to a male actor he’d say ‘man’ not ‘boy’) – to co-pilot the giant robot suit with him. She walks into the cockpit and Raleigh, the lead guy, says ‘You look good.’
As if ‘looking good’ is her goal – her aim. He didn’t say: I’m glad you’re here. Or: I feel better with you as my co-pilot.
Instead, it’s all about her good looks. As if she is there for his eye candy and his romantic interest. And that is exactly what her role is: she is the romantic interest in the movie. In most movies, any lead woman is inherently the romantic interest (and at the very least endures advances from most men in the film) and thus teaches men across the land that women are there for our attraction, our eye candy, and are just waiting to be noticed for their good looks, other skills being secondary and not worthy of the compliment.
Approach people about this there will be naysaying. No! That’s not true! The woman in Pacific Rim had much more of a role than that! But it will be men who will say that. Women on the other hand… they’ll agree. But many will dismiss it out of hand as one more example of the story that’s told.
Women are taught over and over – in ways subtle and not so subtle – that ‘looking good’ is more important than ‘being smart’ or ‘having courage’ or ‘doing awesome shit’. Women are told at a very young age: “you look so pretty. Look how beautiful you are.” Boys on the other hand are more often complemented on how fast they’re growing, asked about what sports they play, and told they’re looking big and strong. Those are the two primary values we give to each gender as a whole.
Look, Pacific Rim is just one more movie in a long long chain of movies with the Action Hero Good Guy, the eye candy woman who is there to tag along, and a monster/villain/evil/plague/etc to fight that, in the end, HE kills/conquers/etc and is the hero and, in Pacific Rim, he is the one who sends her on her way to, presumably, live while he sacrifices himself.
How rare it would be if we watched HER sacrifice herself so HE can live! It never happens! And don’t be fooled into thinking: well, it’s just a movie. It’s just a story. O, it’s just ‘Hollywood.’
Movies, like music, books, pop culture, and the rest of the media machine are like echo chambers of archetypes. They continue to perpetuate certain myths and stories. As action movies turn more and more into special effects grab bags where a city has to get destroyed in order for us to feel any real emotion and a masculine hero has to save the day, we move farther and farther away from a balanced concept of gender and deeper and deeper into the ‘archetypal’ trope of damsel in distress and the hero who has to save the day.
It’s an old tired story but as long as there’s new youngsters waiting eagerly to plop down their money and go for the ride, there’ll always be a new audience to tell it to and fresh new minds to mold into the dominant storyline: Men = #1, Women = #2.
According to Pacific Rim: it’s OK to have a woman as a co-pilot as long as she is ‘looking good’ and doesn’t muck things up with her emotions.
Note: I’d like to thank Violet for her input on this as a lot of these bits and pieces stemmed from a conversation with her. :)
On September 11, 2001, I was living in Burlington, VT – painting, enjoying the coming autumn, etc. I didn’t have a TV (still don’t), never listened to the radio (still don’t) and the internet was just a nice road through the hills – not the information speedway it is today.
I woke up that morning with a desire to paint big red fiery paintings. I had a couple of large pieces of masonite – a 4′ x 4′ square and a 4′ x 2.5′ rectangle – and a few cans of red, yellow, orange, and purple latex paints. So around 8 am, with a cup of coffee, I went at it. One painting I called ‘Phoenix’ and the other ‘Unsquaring the Circle’. A few hours later, I went for a walk downtown and thought it odd how everyone seemed glued to their tvs – in bars and restaurants… there was a strange lull in the air… a strange quiet sense of being stunned. In one fell swoop, one great unsquaring of the the circle, a whole new demon was released. And a whole whole lot changed or at last reared it’s ugly head at last.
There was a lightness that died that day. Things got a little more serious. From economic crashes to ‘terrorism’ to endlessly costly wars to government intrusion – it’s a different world than the one I knew from the 90s and it does it’s best to squelch hope (even when it says that you should have some!) and inculcate fear.
But life goes on. Fear desires fear but life – life desires light. And light begets light. An life without fear, in the seemingly darkest of moments, is the most illuminated life of all.
One might think that one might surmise from the general nature of my work and my posts that I’m not a particularly political minded person. I almost wish that were true. What is true is that I pay attention to the politics. By that, I don’t mean just the ‘political figures’ but ALL of it. In my opinion, it’s all politics. Since man first understood the connection between ego and a sense of power there have been politics. Unfortunately, today there is a deeply rooted connection between money, politics, and power. This quality is a sad thing to watch and yet it is what shapes the most important affronts to our health and well being from an entity outside of our own minds that exists today.
And it comes at us from all fronts – from the health care to the war mongers to the internet freedoms to the agricultural debacles to the religious pandering… it doesn’t seem to end.
I’ll be honest: I can live in my own bubble. It’s not that difficult. I live in California where it’s easy to forget the rest of the wold exists. The weather is beautiful, food is aplenty. I have a rood over my head, a happy marriage. Why should I be concerned? Why should I not just spend my time whiling away the hours painting pictures of my surreally visionary flowers? Because I care.
That said and the reason I started this whole piece of writing, there’s a place a find some of the most focused political writing – writing that mirrors not just my ‘opinion’ but also my sort of cynical raised-eyebrow approach. It’s Rolling Stone.
Ha! Didn’t expect that now did you? Well, Alternet is good and Mother Jones is interesting but they often don’t cut to the chase as quickly as Rolling Stone. While Rolling Stone might get lost in the fluff when it comes to music these days (who wouldn’t – mainstream pop is all autotuned fluff! Imagine if Nirvana has been autotuned!) they have rarely ever failed to have quality political commentary, exposes of political goings-ons, and all sorts of political insights. They are to politics what Playboy was supposedly to interviews.
So, here’s a few recent links to some stuff you should read if you care about the current political climate. You should though: if you’re a woman, the ‘establishment’ is always looking to take away your rights. If you’re not for war, the ‘media’ is always war mongering. If you’re for… well, you get the picture…
Here are a few articles to get you started.
How this country is framing it’s march towards war with Iran (which would be idiocy)
The war on pot that wasn’t supposed to happen (and although I’ll probably lose style points with some, I don’t even smoke pot. I just believe in personal freedoms… and hate seeing people fined and thrown in jail for stupid reasons)
A wonderful story about the truth of the war in Afghanistan (ok, it’s not all that wonderful. A friend told me that her husband who is stationed in Iraq stated that no one is leaving Iraq or Afghanistan – they are just repositioning things for another war)
How the GOP transformed itself to serve the rich (The republican party is a pyramid scheme, as any poor republican that I know would attest to is they would get their heads out of their asses…)
OK. That’s enough for now.
I’ll tell you though: in the end, love is the only thing.The monk in jail will tell you this. Love is the only thing. If you, by the end of your day, find the very direct path of love, of compassionate and wise love, then I would suggest that you get to work.
You see, we exist in this so-called “secular” world. Here we are. Speak up for freedom but, most of all, speak up that each individual on this planet may experience happiness. When I see my fellow man caging another’s potential for happiness, that causes me to ask – WHY? If someone else has created a simple method to, say, send a letter to my congress woman to ask her to keep that person in mind, to pass a bill to defend her or his rights, free him or her from the legislative chains, then I should do so.
In a sense, it’s an agreement that I entered into when I said: “I wish all beings to be happy.” If I can’t click a few buttons on my computer that might just make a difference, what good is that wish?
As a kid growing up in the 80’s there was this beast, interspersed between grammar school doldrums and the Transformers, that simmered half a world away and it was called Communism. It threatened to nuke us all if we didn’t nuke it first. Ronald Reagan gave speeches. We hid under our desks or out in the halls to prepare for possible nuclear war. (Like that’d ever help….) This vague threat loomed in every movie we watched and every cartoon – always as some vaguely caricatured Russian or German speaking in terms of “Comrade” and wearing a hat with earflaps because we all knew it was cold in communist Russia and the Commies had to keep their ears warm.
Like a shot in the dark, in 1990,and just before we all sank into the national teen angst of grunge rock, there – plastered across our TV screens – the Berlin Wall, that one barrier between Us and Them, fell. Or, rather, it was knocked out with pick-axes and shovels and bare hands; the result of diplomacy, politics, and changing tides. From the comfort of my living room, at the age of 14, images of people celebrating a newfound sense of freedom flickered across the television screen. This was momentous for them and, for us, a new vague sense emerged: that something had changed and we were all a little more free and could breathe a bit more peacefully knowing that not so many nuclear warheads were trained on us. I’d grown up wanting my MTV just because that’s what MTV told me I wanted. They grew up wanting their MTV because they couldn’t even turn it on when their parents weren’t home. They weren’t allowed it at all. Now they could scream it out loud if they wanted to. Now they had the freedom to voice their opinions and excel at their dreams, should they choose to. With that freedom of choice, we have far more than we realize.
What most of the world’s citizens desire is this basic sense of freedom: to say what they want, when they want, to dream out loud, to buy the jeans they want to buy (should economic freedoms allow), to listen to the music they want to listen to, and enjoy their lives without a sense of threat. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (without anyone defining what “happiness” ought to be).
20 years later, a new vague threat has emerged (as they do: our minds are always busy creating external threats that mirror our own iniquities). The general populace has been swept up with the Middle East fear. For some, the fear of a black president with a progressive bent is directly related to the Middle East fear. They are afraid he’s Muslim, he’ll kill us all, he’ll impose nasty laws, whatever... But the Middle East: many of these are countries who have lived under 30 or 40 year dictators or some kind of royalty rule that has simply passed from father to son for generations or maybe there’ve been elections but they are so fraught with corruption that they are more like puppet theater than even our own US version of the electoral puppet theater. These are people who have never had a say in government and there are multitudinous restrictions on their freedoms. That said, it’s no surprise that, after a while, the disenchantment and anger comes to a head. While this isn’t the first time that tensions amongst populaces in the Middle East have reached a boiling point, the populace is better educated (many of these countries offer free university schooling), has tools like Facebook and Twitter and, amongst the younger crowds at the very least, are more tolerant of each others differences and stand united in a desire for freedom for everyone and not just a select religion or sect.
The point I’m trying to make here is: it is an innate desire in people t0 desire freedom. They want, at least, to have a sense of general freedom. The uprisings in the news – the bloodiest of which, thus far, is in Libya – are the result of years of oppression that echo the burst of freedom that spread across Hungary, Poland, Germany, and, finally, Russia back in the early 90’s. (Interestingly, Iran and China, while standing with the rest of the world in condemning Kadafi, are quickly squelching the budding fires of dissent that are fomenting in their own countries.) Ultimately, the shift in the Middle East is turning out to be much bloodier and violent than the Eastern European turn 20 years ago but the point is that tides shift and here, again, is a shifting tide.
Here in the good ol’ United States people rant against the government. People rant against health care while taking their Medicaid prescriptions. They rant against environmental laws while savoring their clean air and national parks. They rant against taxes while enjoying their smooth, well-engineered highways. They rant against the fairly elected president. Recently, in Georgia, an elderly man asked his congressman during a Town Hall style meeting “Who is Going to Shoot Obama?”. The congressman, while flustered, moved right along. This elderly man, who is likely on Medicaid, didn’t like Obama’s healthcare program. I’m all for a small government but, unfortunately, humans, while inherently good, can also be inherently greedy and selfish (because they have this belief in the solidity of the Ego). Many of our laws help keep people in check: don’t kill people, don’t steal, don’t dump toxins in the river, etc. Other laws: anti-abortion legislation, the immigration laws of Arizona, etc – these sorts of things impinge upon people’s basic freedoms. Some laws suck and there is power to change them. The thing is: we have the power to do this, however much we cry that we don’t, and we often take for granted, without a shred of gratitude, the beautiful freedoms that we do have.
Some laws are fought down. Some win. We have a history of winning and losing and winning and losing. We have a history of being able to go say what we want, shop at well-stocked grocery stores, fill up our gas tanks, and know that, for the most part, no one will shoot at us or bomb us. No tanks will suddenly come rumbling through our streets. No measles outbreak will tear down our neighbors. The conditions of our lives support the pursuit of our happiness far greater than many because of that basic sense of freedom and basic lack of fear. Far more of the fears that we live with are self-created: economic fears, fear of death, fear of not being loved.
While it’s true that all fear is in the mind and it’s possible to experience mental freedom regardless of whichever regime is in power: it still sucks to be shot at for what you believe whilst living under the eye of a politico who has been in power for 40 some-odd years. It sucks to not be able to follow your dreams, should you choose to. That’s the freedom people desire: the freedom to choose to follow dreams. Many people in the so-called Free World drift away from those dreams but that is their choice. The conditions for realizing the dreams are there: there are ways to start businesses, go to college, travel, be self-propelled, make it happen. It is simply the freedom to choose that most people desire.
I would rather live with working through the little dictator in my head that keeps me from following my dreams than have to live under the thumb of the big dictator ruling my country. I would rather live with working through the basic mental fears – the ones seeded by death and love and desire – than the fear of being shot for disagreeing with my government. Some might call this the middle path: too much intensity and it’s tough to just get down to the basics inside of ourselves. Too much comfort and we never have the impetus to do the inner work.
We are very blessed to have the basic freedoms we’ve been granted. Never shun someone just for wanting those basic freedoms. Maybe you had the freedom to choose what jeans you wore today. You had a hundred different stores you could have gone to and you settled on the pair you are are wearing. Don’t shun someone for not also wanting that freedom. We all know that all sorts of trouble ride on the back of that freedom of choice. Once people have the freedom to sit on the couch with a twelve pack of shitty beer and eat twenty McDonald’s hamburgers, while watching monster trucks crush small cars – well, some will choose that path. Others will grow their food in their gardens. Others will go to school and learn to think. Others will protest injustices. Others will make music. Or paint paintings. Or dance. Or work together to create a better, healthier world. And while we still have to put up a fight sometimes to maintain the right to do any of these things, no one is stopping us from doing so and, as we’ve seen: we win far more than we lose.
I truly hope that all the people pushing for this sense of freedom, for freedoms of election, free speech, freedom of movement, the freedom of choice, can have those dreams realized and live more comfortable lives that allow for deeper growth and higher rewards. All beings want to be happy, free, and awake, and it is the tendency of the human spirit to move towards this light, regardless of oppression. While our own 200-year old democracy has become, in some ways, rather bloated, I look forward to seeing what a fresh start, half a world away, might blossom into.
Many blessings, comrades.back
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