How “Showboating” and “Gaslighting” Makes Everyone Yearn for Dullness


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I’d like to ask my fellow Americans how they’re doing, now that we’ve had President Trump at the wheel for more than an entire year.

Maybe some of you revel in the scandals that seem to come out of Washington DC on a daily basis but I myself find it exhausting.

In fact, I truly believe that the flu this year could only have this kind of effect because people’s resistance has been worn so thin from mental anguish that any little germ may make you keel over.

In all the coverage, that I, too, do watch, I keep hearing two words that seem to be very much in vogue right now and that is

Showboating: “The act of showing off, and or letting your ego roam free after you have done something extremely awesome.” (Urban Dictionary)

and

Gaslighting: “A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity.” (Urban Dictionary)

We’re all victims, or rather objects of daily showboating and gaslighting and our president and Fox News seem particularly adept at it. In Nazi Germany, showboating and gaslighting probably fell under the term “propaganda”, where showboating did a fairly effective job of turning a frustrated painter and sociopath into a nearly-divine and fearless leader and Third Reich emperor, while gaslighting was used to plant false narratives about the Jews and independent press. Trump gaslighted ALL immigrants this past Friday by describing them as murderous snakes and he was showboating this morning when he told this country’s governors that he would have hurried into those Florida classrooms, to protect the children. This from the man who is borderline phobic about stairs and tweets at such a feverish pace these days that I think he’s wetting the bed about Mueller coming after him.

I hunger for the days when I never checked into a White House press conference/spin conference (more gaslighting) or didn’t check for months to see what the Obamas were up to. When things work the way they’re supposed to work, they become blissfully boring, yet now we’ve been thrown into a snake pit with funhouse mirrors and Hannity and Tucker foaming at the mouth.

The silence from the GOP after the 13 indicted Russians has been deafening, the Russian sanctions are non-existent, our midterms may well be compromised by further interference (as NOTHING is done) and the man who steers this ship and shit show seems to choose forever choppier waters.  Worse yet, CPAC, the Conservative Conference where Trump wasn’t welcome two years ago, now hailed him as Il Duce and full on embraced his agenda of hatred, a clear warning sign that Il Trumpo is being normalized in a way that jeopardizes our Constitution and the coming together of this country.

This weekend, I was doing my first phone bank, trying to get the Democratic vote out in Nevada. I got a whole bunch of answering machines but also one or two young people who told me “they’re not interested in politics”.

This just blows me away, but I’m also strangely envious. After 13 months of showboating and gaslighting I want my life and time back. The Beltway shouldn’t be Netflix’s House of Cards— it should bore everyone to tears so we can all get back to our lives and back to loving and respecting one another as we used to.

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I’m So Sad…


So here we are… in the aftermath of yet another school shooting and I must tell you, it has driven me over the edge. I felt frazzled all day yesterday and my anger has not abated.

But don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the parents who are planning funeral arrangements for their children right now in Florida. Once I’m done with this blog I’m going to donate to this page: https://www.gofundme.com/stonemandouglasvictimsfund and I encourage you to do the same.

Americans are generous people and they will give. Sadly, all our government does is take.

The past few months, the whole country has been in a state of frenzy. There is a palpable anger over Russian interference and a corrupt, autocratic President who cannot keep out the Russians. He cannot even console a nation in grief. Rather than speaking from the heart, he reads from a teleprompter with the charisma of a fish. His administration is riddled with scandals, he has introduced kleptocratic tax reform, his budget is a hoax, he’s deporting law-abiding fathers and mothers, is about to deport Dreamers and has unleashed a hatred of the Other (people of color, women, the poor, immigrants), that mentally ill people, like the shooter yesterday, feel emboldened to act upon what was once a latent hatred.

I hardly recognize this country.

I came to this country as an immigrant and had a great deal of admiration for this place. It truly felt like a New World still. The Old World had a dark history which had left sinister scars on my own family history: The Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis for five years and while my family was not Jewish, the stories I grew up with often drove me to tears. Such as the story of my great-uncle who married a fellow artist, a Jewish woman, to keep her out of the camps. She was saved but before getting married, the Nazis mandated she get sterilized. Once the war was over, she found out all of her family had been killed and the desire for children, which may have been all the greater when your family is wiped off the map, was squashed because she had been sterilized against her will. Like we do with dogs and cats because there are too many dogs and cats.

The deportations in this country have started already. Deportations today, camps tomorrow, sterilizations the day after tomorrow.

Democracy dies in darkness.

Part of my family was in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded during WWII. Like the Jews in Europe, they were quickly stripped of their civil rights and ended up in Japanese starvation camps. My great-uncle resisted and was tortured by the Japanese, to die shortly before the war was over.

Resistance today, torture tomorrow?

Democracy dies when no one is looking.

My great-uncle’s wife and three children survived the camps, but as they were evacuated, his two daughters were brutally murdered by Indonesian revolutionaries. Maybe they were collateral damage of Dutch colonialism and exploitation but from a personal angle, the war and its aftermath left a troublesome scar on my family that I have written about in this book.

And America? America, in my limited world view of things, had been the liberator. I know there is every bit of revisionist history about the atomic bombs these days, and whether they were justified, but the Japanese Emperor was not going to stop at anything and if the bombs hadn’t fallen, all those people in (and outside) the camps would have slowly starved to death. Yes, America prevented the death of my great-aunt and her son.

I came to this country in the 1990s so I could leave all that dark history behind me. I came to a country that thrived on immigrants, a country that sent so much Marshall Aid to Europe after the war that, in some ways, America felt like a benevolent Santa Claus. Sure, the burdens of being a world power came with the same overreach and blunders of the imperialists. Vietnam was a mistake, the war in Iraq a travesty but there was still plenty to be proud of — and we were forging ahead, in internet technology, science and innovation.

And now? I’m not so sure…

Last night, I felt a pit in my stomach, and debating gun control with people on social media felt like a total waste of time. I enjoy trolling someone as inept and mentally challenged as 45, and I do report people who preach violence and hatred, but I also see more of America’s dark underbelly. I’m tired of it. And I’m scared.

My sense of powerlessness, the lack of checks and balances, the feeling that 45 and the GOP just serve an oligarchy and will saddle our kids with debt, the fear of a war with North Korea, the daily maligning of the press and FBI, the conspiracy theories of Fox News, the insults and the hatred coming from deranged Oval Office tweets, the stories of deportations– this is a world (minus the tweets) that my grandparents and parents lived in when the Germans and the Japanese invaded and, while opposing the fascist regime, they did way too little in terms of resistance, and finally could not do anything to stem the tide of evil, deportations, killings and general oppression.

The sense of powerlessness and mounting anger peaked yesterday and today when members of the GOP and our President talked about the mental health of the shooter but NOT the PTSD of the victims, and showed, in addition, an utter refusal to even consider reasonable gun proposals that a majority of Americans back, like the ban of assault rifles (80% in favor) and enhanced background checks (90% in favor).

Democracy dies when you won’t even bring a vote to the floor.

The American experiment is failing, folks, and in the words of the woman who was killed in Charlottesville by “some very fine people”, If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

So what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to push back on some of the volunteering I do and use that time to make the blue wave happen. That means phone banks, knocking on doors, getting people to register to vote, drive them to the polls and maybe even run for office myself.

Enough is enough.

And yes… I want to have an answer when my grandchild asks me: “But what did you do about it?”

The GOP, once the party of libertarianism and fiscal responsibility, has lacked the backbone to loudly condemn white supremacy, hate crimes, gun proliferation, wife beaters, Southern judges who date young girls, Russian interference, Trump’s attacks on the press and the FBI, unfair deportations and abuse of ICE, attacks on the Special Counsel, and the daily erosion of our constitutional values and freedoms.

Democracy dies when people stop speaking up. Democracy dies when people stop organizing. It is happening here: a silent coup, orchestrated by a Russian dictator who has the goods on our used car salesman of a President.

If you still stand with Trump, you stand with treason, and if you support the NRA, you have blood on your hands. You simply do not represent what this country is all about.

#Resist

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My February News: I’m Becoming a Vegetarian…


download-1I see that traffic to this blog has slowed to a crawl, so time to put in another blog.

The last few weeks were kind of a wash because of that horrid flu that lots of people have been grappling with. I continued to work and exercise until I could no longer because of an infection in my ear and both eyes filling up with pus, but after an infusion of antibiotics, I’m back in the running, i.e. working, spending time with Henry Miller (see my last blog here) hosting dogs and coaching students.

Last year, I resolved to update you every day, as a way of making myself accountable and trigger an audience, but this year I want to make myself accountable on other fronts, and these concern my overall health.

Over the Christmas Break I was listening to Will who told me about intermittent fasting and the health benefits. I then happened to watch The Science of Fasting on Amazon Prime and I was amazed by what I heard. Mind you, most of the research has been done on mice but findings so far are interesting in terms of cell reparation and the prevention of diseases like cancer and Type 2 Diabetes. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry just wants sick people so they can sell more pills, and with fasting there is nothing you can sell, except for fasting “spas” which were, in fact, featured in The Science of Fasting, but this explains, I hope, why we have heard so little about this.

Intermittent fasting (stop eating at 8 PM, resume eating at noon, but make sure you eat healthy stuff in between) may not have the same effect as going on a fast for say three weeks, but if you exercise daily, which I have resolved to do this year as well, you need some fuel to keep you going.

Speaking of fuel– for years I have been wondering about cutting out meat from my diet. The research is well-established on that front. There are all sorts of reasons why everyone should consider becoming a vegetarian, the most prominent being the environmental one, i.e. we should keep cows from farting if we want to preserve the planet.

Secondly, if you’re a lover of animals, eating them is just not right. The pain and trauma at slaughterhouses is something I no longer want to be a part or the cause of.

Thirdly, meat is bad for you, and possibly gives you cancer.

Fourthly, with all the deregulation that is going on under the Trump administration, I can’t trust our government anymore to ensure quality meat. If controls fall away, it becomes easier to slaughter sick animals or feed animals with animals (mad cow disease, here we come) and that affects our general public health.

As a Dutch person, I simply cannot cut out dairy (yet). I shouldn’t be eating fish either, but for the occasional protein, I may be tempted to eat fish on occasion.

To give credit where credit is due: Will has been an inspiration but then so has Caroline, who became a vegetarian years ago.

Yesterday, I did my first grocery run for the week. Interesting, how we’re all deformed by our habits. Staying away from the meat counter wasn’t that hard, but filling up my cart with veggies and fruits felt different, promising and light.

54018738315__56D90A8C-9906-4BF5-8ED6-09CD0EB8B41B.JPGLast night, Jon and I feasted on a West African tomato peanut soup. It sounds totally weird but it was awesome.

I’m “coming out as a plant eater” in this blog, not because I want to brag but because I want to make myself accountable to you my dear reader, and the world.

Here’s to plants, and lots of them. Just don’t tell me plants have feelings, too…

 

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A New Window, A New Desk, A New Book…?


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In our story book cottage we had a window with diamond shaped glass that had seen and felt too many an earthquake so the glass was popping out of the lead. For a while we fixed this the cracker/white trash way (duct tape) but since this was my study, it became an eye sore as well as the reason for frigid temps. I started calling it my Wuthering Heights because on wet and windy days, I only needed to close my eyes to find myself on the Yorkshire Moors.

Of course the window was not a standard size, as nothing is in this wretched house, so we ordered a new custom-made Marvin window. It cost more than you want to know (and now we have to replace the even more expensive and bigger windows in the bedroom), but the window for my study was installed Sat morning.

For years I had only half the desk you see above because we lost part of the IKEA hardware and they don’t make the friggin’ desk anymore but luckily we found some of it, and Jon just put the desk together, so now I have a new window, a “new” desk and a new study. Is this the harbinger for a new book?

Which brings me to an update on the Henry Miller book. I’m putting the finishing touches to the Henry Miller bibliography and that has in it his novels etc. but lots of essays and little pieces that are spread out over 90 publications or so. I have read one third of it, and mind you, some of these publications are hard to find, but luckily UC Berkeley has a lot of stuff, so as part of my biking regime I include trips to Berkeley, to pick up, drop off books or simply work there. Although… now that I have a nice study, I have a good excuse to work from home, so life is good. I also have lots of dog guests these days so at this point I am quarter kennel, quarter Henry Miller scholar, quarter translator and quarter college essay coach. I guess that’s what people mean by a “portfolio career”. Do I miss a corporate office? Nah. On the contrary, I relish the freedom, and strange to say, Henry Miller has really inspired me to live the life I want to live and not live a life that others want me to live.

In his book The Books in My Life, Henry Miller explains that as he gets older, he puts inspirers above authors (Jesus, Krisnamurti, Lao-tse etc): “Their aim and purpose was to open up life, to make man hungry for life, to exalt life.” Miller became that kind of sage and inspirer in the latter part of his life and he has been helping me setting priorities.

Cheapest life coach I’ve ever had.

All I have to do now is read more and deeper and do the kind of writing that excites me and the world, and who knows… if I stay off social media and let the noise be noise, I may have half a book by the end of this year?

Life is short. Use it well.

 

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Turning Living into an Art


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Now that the holidays are over and Christmas tree corpses are littering our streets (ah, our consumer culture…), I have been wondering about how to improve on the art of living.

Besides my resolution not to be lived by the short-term demands of tech companies, but instead, set my own schedule, stick to riding daily and walking and being in nature, (as well as getting rid of all the clutter inside and outside our home since I think this will also declutter my mind), I realize that mindful living is a form of focus that you need to summon every day in order to reap the benefits.

The Sunday NYT had an interesting article about the app WeCroak, which will send you daily quotes reminding you that you too will be snuffed out, i.e. memento mori reminders like the paintings we used to have in seventeenth century Holland, or as the app described it: Find happiness by contemplating your mortality. To some this may seem morbid, but remember how some people, who have been faced by mortality because of an illness or other life threatening situation, will say that after that, they have become better at seizing the day and truly enjoying life?

When Henry Miller transformed into a sage, his writing started to truly inspire, and fed, in part, the Beats and droves of adolescents who decided to “drop out”. This wasn’t because Miller wanted to be hip or be in synch with his time but because he was perfecting the art of living. For him the turning point came in Paris, when he was in his forties: “I had lost my illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity — about anything and everything — that made me the writer I am. It has never left me.”

Thus at 80, he penned this famous passage, which, if you are a glass half full kinda gal/guy, you might as well hang over your bed:

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on your way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss – under your breath, of course – “Fuck you, Jack! you don’t own me.” If you can whistle up your ass, if you can be turned on by a fetching bottom or a lovely pair of teats, if you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from going sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.

He wrote this in his essay On Turning Eighty, and in it he had some other good advice to savor the art of not only aging gracefully but what goes into living a fulfilling life. Interestingly, some of these wisdoms are now being confirmed by research, such as the importance of friends– who aren’t necessarily echo chambers but who speak the truth.

He also mentioned the sense of wonder, not taking things and yourself too seriously, and trying to live humbly. We cannot convert people who have made up their minds (an oak is an oak, and a pig a pig, Miller said) and there are really only very few people who learn from life or from each other. His line “One can fight evil, but against stupidity one is helpless” I find particularly prescient of our current times. Yet, no matter how depressing the world may get, Miller also said “All we really have is the present, but very few of us ever live it.” And these days, it seems, we don’t read Miller (or any writers anymore) but we need a $1 app like WeCroak to make that nugget of wisdom count…

Some of Miller’s beliefs were already familiar to me as far as Miller’s general outlook on life goes, but there was other stuff I hadn’t read before: his disinterest in competitive sports for instance, stressing that exercise through play is more beneficial than our focus on performance or winning. Nor did Miller believe in health fads or diet: “I want to enjoy my food”. Miller also advocated euthanasia, when euthanasia was much more controversial than it is now: “We were not asked to be born; why should we be refused the privilege of making our exit when things become unbearable?”

In spite of Miller writing that he had had a lifelong disinterest in politics, religion or isms as they tend to get us down, Miller nonetheless (and always) deplored where the world seemed to be headed. In 1972, he missed a general “lack of grandeur, beauty [well, that may have been 1970s fashion and style…], love, compassion and freedom” — again, prescient words…

In closing, Miller said these wise words:

There is nothing wrong with life itself. It is the ocean in which we swim and we either adapt to it or sink to the bottom. But it’s in our power as human beings not to pollute the waters of life, not to destroy the spirit which animates us.

There. We can only save ourselves. But that takes willpower, and well… forget the app.

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The John Muir Spa… Better Yet: We Are Going Home!!!


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Every time I’m thinking that this is my last post for 2017 but this year seems to want to rip open the wound and twist the knife a little while longer. It’s like the party guest that won’t leave, even though you have switched off all the lights and turned down the thermostat.

First an update on Sweet Caroline. We thought she was heading home yesterday and so did she, so her old humor was back, sending me pics of the stool softeners and other hospital regalia. But then came the crashing news.

She had to stay another day.

All her vitals were good, and her pain was gone, so I was mystified by it all. Jon headed over for the day and when I arrived in the afternoon to stay for the night, I realized why: when the nurse suggested they might switch to the oral antibiotic because her poor arm looked like a pin cushion with hives, both doctors vetoed it, indicating IV antibiotics are as good as it gets. I presume they saw so much inflammation in the bowel area that they’re going in with mega bacteria busters, via IV.

This is why they are also holding off on surgery. The next few weeks she’ll be on more antibiotics and they suggested an appendectomy after finishing the Spring semester. We’ll try to find a good internist in Chicago, so that if she even has the slightest symptoms, she gets seen for a CAT scan and what not.

Caroline was still quite down when I walked in the room last night, which is why decided to stay. I told her about one of my favorite authors Flannery O’Connor who struggled with lupus and who was in and out of the hospital. I can’t remember the exact quote from one of her letters but she talked about how lonely the landscape for the sick is. The moment you put on that ugly hospital gown, you seem stripped of your identity, your life, even the landscape outside your hospital room. You become a number, a specimen, get poked and prodded by doctors and form a collection point of vital signs and more numbers. The bland hospital environment adds to this sense of isolation and sensory deprivation.

I don’t want to knock our care at John Muir which is consistently voted one of the best hospitals in the state and country (and how lucky we even are to have insurance and don’t have to join the even bigger lines at a County Hospital) because, as always, I’m blown away by the professionalism and expertise of medical folks in this country, but well, yes, staying overnight in a hospital, any hospital, sucks.

The interrupted sleep, which I remember so well from my own hospitalizations, doesn’t really add to the level of recovery and Caroline’s IV machine had a tendency of beeping on and off. We tried kicking it but that just set off more alarms, which at least made the nurses come faster (I’m being facetious).

Thankfully, I brought my iPad and we had excellent WiFi, so that got me totally hooked on Netflix’s The Crown, which I was binge watching till 3 AM. I resisted this series for a long time because I think Elizabeth II and Philip always have been a bunch of stuffed shirts, but now I’m fascinated. I also want to know: Was Philip really such an emasculated bag of dicks or is it the actor playing him that makes him look so utterly unsympathetic? And by God, I hope the actual Elizabeth finally got the memo that it’s OK for her to retire, and vital, in fact, for Charles must be as emasculated as his dad by now. Good thing he ended up marrying the love of his life to whom he once confessed he wanted to be her tampon. I’m not making this up.

As I was typing this up, the doctor walked in, telling us today is the day to go HOME! To celebrate Caroline ate some cold pizza (which I had brought in last night; sometimes junk food has a purpose to make you feel less sick) and I was ready to get some espresso through an IV myself.

2018? Bring it on!

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Happy New Year!


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Brother and sis

I realize I owe you another update after a concerning Facebook post about Caroline. I appreciate and want to thank everyone who has reached out. After blood tests and an EKG she has been referred to a rheumatologist and cardiologist (Jan 2nd and 3rd) so hopefully we know more by then. She’s worried, I’m worried but I’ve learned from life that pre-emptive worrying makes you miserable, so I’m not going to run ahead of or second guess any possible diagnoses. Our bodies do their thing and sometimes react in ways that are unpredictable, as well as unexplainable, and I think our ER doctor on Christmas Eve was spot on in saying: “I’m concerned but not alarmed.”

Our Christmas was low key and Will gave me above pic, made by his girlfriend, while we were all in Chicago and I LOVE this picture, so I’m sharing it here.

Also, through ROVER, the dog sitting service I’m now a host for, we’ve had an absolute blast with our dog guest THE FONZ, a golden retriever, who should really be a therapy dog. Here are some pics:

I’m telling you: IF ALL PEOPLE WERE GOLDEN RETRIEVERS WE’D HAVE PEACE ON EARTH IN NO TIME…

The Fonz forces me out of the house, so we have been going on walks and, in addition, I’ve been biking which has been very good for the soul. The bike rides have consolidated my resolutions for the New Year.

While in the past, I’ve been contracting for tech companies, jumping in my car whenever there was a contract somewhere, I’m going to be more selective with my clientele to reserve time for the clients who pay the proper rates, but also spend more time on college essay coaching, writing the damn Henry Miller book, and making sure I get my rides in for health and oxygen to the brain. It’s my fantasy to ride parts of California this Summer and/or Fall, so I hope I can manage to sustain the kind of discipline that will facilitate that.

Finally, I think the last year we’ve all been frazzled by social media and the rate at which Twitter manages to enter all our living rooms and minds but I’m beginning to think there’s a very dark side to it that is addictive, and, clearly, it divides us and erodes human interaction. We need to take a step back and dictate our own lives rather than have others dictate ours (Obviously, I use the word “dictate” on purpose here). Put your phone down and give social media a rest.

Moreover, I encourage you all to take a walk in the woods and listen to your deepest and dearest desires. Don’t put them off and live under the illusion that there will be “some day”. As I have said so often: you might as well live– but more important: live NOW.

Now go kick ass in 2018 and hug your family and loved ones. It’s OK to be stingy but never be stingy with love and affection. Any golden retriever can teach you that… Besides… the best things in life are free: savor them!

Peace.

xo

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A Christmas Wish…


 

This has been a strange and stifling year, but the earth keeps spinning on around the sun, and, having come to the midlife point myself, I’m making a serious effort every day to welcome the dawn, bask, if only for a little bit, in the winter sun, savor my meals, love generously, speak the truth, cherish my family and friends, support my kids, reach out to the less fortunate, fight the good fight for justice, truth and freedom, listen to the sound of silence, take care of the elderly, and learn from those who have dedicated their lives to helping others.

The joy of Christmas lies in the joy of giving, but not just at Christmas but giving something every day. We have lost our way in this country and while I don’t want to turn this into a political message, I do believe that Jesus was a socialist at heart and not a capitalist. Greed is never good. Buying things provides a fleeting thrill, while giving gives oxygen to (the) living.

Henry Miller liked the Portuguese proverb that said something to the effect of “If shit becomes valuable, the poor will be born without assholes.”

We are at a crucial juncture in this country and while we can’t change the world overnight, a revolution starts with a change in you. Scale down your ambitions, and be the best possible person you can be to others, and the world will be a better place. Give, love and open your heart to those in need.

When I wrote my book Ontwaken uit de Amerikaanse droom (2004), I interviewed several homeless people. There was a recurring theme there. They understood that people didn’t want to give money. What they didn’t grasp is that people no longer made eye contact with them. “We are America’s invisible– and it hurts… every day,” said a woman with a sleeping baby in her lap. Mary and Joseph had to sleep in a stable to give birth to Jesus. I guess they knew what being invisible meant…

The poor in this country still have assholes, yet it’s the assholes who won’t dignify the presence of the poor with the simple gift of eye contact.

So here’s my Christmas wish for you.

Give, and give generously.

It’s not about the money.

Sometimes it’s as simple as making eye contact or asking that one question: “How can I help you?”

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Extremism in the Defense of Liberty?


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Long before I moved here and barely even knew what America was or stood for, I heard people say: Everything is so extreme in America: Hurricanes that rip out trailers with the people and pets still in it, earthquakes that rattle the West Coast, fires that destroy entire cities and flooding so bad that you’re a fool not to get any flood insurance. We have Death Valley, the hottest and driest spot in the world and we have lakes so big (like Lake Michigan) that any European might think it’s an ocean instead of a lake.

We also have insanely big fridges, big people and for the longest time, we have said bigger is better.

And now, we’re not just big and extreme, but we’re also a little extremist…

I’m not referring to Il Duce, but I’m referring to the #metoo movement.

Like you, I have been baffled with the number of women going on the record and the number of men who got fired. Like overnight.

In spite of an almost militant second wave of feminists who told us to burn our bras and ditch the patriarchy, we somehow allowed ourselves to be touched and groped and kissed and raped. Did feminism actually do something for women at all, if women felt they couldn’t speak out and when they did, they were often not heard, or worse: discredited? Did feminism fail us all? Maybe it did, and maybe this is why we’re now seeing such a pro-women swing of the pendulum where men are accused and fired and… discredited.

I consider myself a feminist but I also love men and I know many men, and this is probably a solid majority, who do not engage with women in what seems like an epidemic whip-out-your-dick-gate. News flash: this doesn’t turn women on, and if you’re doing it in front of a co-worker whose boss or superior you are, you have a perverted sense of yourself and the woman you’re trying to “impress”, intimidate or sway. Besides, most dicks are misshapen Smurfs and when they’re erect, they look like leaning Towers of Pisa without the gift shops and no, women don’t see them as irresistible popsicles. If you do think so, you have watched way too much porn. Mind you, vaginas are, on the basis of mere aesthetics, overrated too and I think fig leaves were there for a legitimate reason.

Suffrage, feminism came about because women wanted equal rights. Women still don’t have equal rights but we’ve come a far way. Hell, I think my daughter is ten times better off than both my grandmothers were in terms of equal rights, but equal rights are important here because if a man is accused, he has the right to apologize but he also has the right to defend himself and be acquitted if the accusation is false or not substantiated. We are throwing some men under the bus, while others stay in power because they deny the allegations, and a man, any man, in the patriarchal universe of things, is as good as his word…

But I’m also worried about backlash—about women not getting hired because they might blab or the kind of man-hating agenda that may be considered an overcompensation or “correction” of women having been oppressed, and I don’t think that’s right. It may even be a little extremist—extremism under the guise of liberty. Also, men may feel under siege too, and that, in itself, can lead to more sexism and a strained relationship between the sexes.

The vilification of men (as well as the sexual drive) is something that I’ve come across time and again in some second-wave feminists… and for them, someone like Henry Miller was the ultimate bad boy and sexist-in-chief. You’d think that, over time, feminists might have changed their tune, if even just a little bit, but I was surprised to find a New York Times Book Review of 2012 by Jeannette Winterson that kicked Henry Miller to the curb once again. In the review, which is not even a review of the Tropic trilogy itself, but a review of Frederick Turner’s book Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer, all the feminist furies are unleashed in a character assassination attempt to paint Henry Miller with the broad brush of woman hater and nothing else.

Almost half a century after Kate Millett’s blistering attack on Tropic of Cancer in Sexual Personae (1970), Winterson really adds nothing to Millett’s venom, or maybe I shouldn’t be so categorical, for while Millett actually engages in some textual analysis, Winterson just condemns Miller as if he were her stalking ex whom she’d like to wash out of her hair once and for all.

She starts with name calling à la El Trumpo (Hopeless Henry, Heroic Henry, Hungry Henry) and makes sure to weaponize Miller’s biographical details to prove he was a scumbag (deadbeat father, abandonment of daughter from of his first marriage) and a “kept” man (financially sustained by June, and then by Anaïs Nin). “Miller,” Winterson writes “was obsessed with masculinity but felt no need to support himself or the women in his life.” Biographically this is inaccurate. Though Miller was penniless for most of his life and mooched off of women, he also mooched off of men, but the moment he had any money, he would spend it generously on his friends, including the women in his life.

And anyway, what does that have to do with the work?

If we are to believe Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway was a liar and a cheat, stealing others’ work (including hers) and impossibly hard to be married to, but does that mean college kids shouldn’t be reading A Farewell to Arms?

Miller’s anti-Semitism gets thrown into the mix as well, even though Miller also spoke warmly about Jews and none of it seems to have been part of his later work. Yes, he was anti-Semitic, just like TS Eliot and Ezra Pound were but Pound’s Cantos and The Waste Land are still part of the canon the last time I checked. Likewise, Twain’s use of the N-word doesn’t disqualify him either from being Middle School fare (and to aggravate matters, I recently read Twain had a strange fetish for little girls… must be a Southern thing?)

But I digress.

My biggest objection to Winterson’s assessment is that she’s a bit of a one-trick/one-issue pony, as she reduces everything to being a women’s issue. There is a complete and utter reluctance to see Miller’s oeuvre holistically. Nor does it occur to her that the sex in his early work may actually have had an aesthetic function. One only has to explore Surrealism, a tradition Miller was clearly influenced by and working in: Surrealists, Gay Louise Balliet writes in Henry Miller and Surrealist Metaphor (1996) lauded the “Freudian Id, i.e. the libido or life’s energy, the center of sex” just as “Henry Miller exalted the sexual, instinctive part of us and felt the purity of sex could transcend and enlighten the individual out of the dark suppressive society” (9). Instead, Winterson calls Miller’s prostitutes “body slaves” whom he likes to get “as cheaply as possible,” in addition to arguing that all the women only enter the narrative as half-witted “piece(s) of tail”.

On the subject of prostitutes, I do want to get the following out of the way. Most feminists condemn prostitution as they see it as a commodification of women, but coming from a place like the Netherlands where prostitution has been tolerated since the seventeenth century because it had a public function and kept the streets safer when the ships rolled in, I strongly feel that the legit prostitutes (take forced prostitution out of it—and when you sell your body for drugs that is, in my book, forced prostitution as well) in Amsterdam have a certain pride in their profession. Many of them may tell you that they’re “social workers” not “sex workers”. In fact, if we were to describe them as mere “sex objects” or “victims”, they might take offense. They made a professional choice, and if they weren’t enjoying a part of it, they wouldn’t be doing it. And they’re adults—and as adults they’re responsible for their our own choices, even though others may see it as “sin”, “demeaning to women” or the commodification of women.

Furthermore, Miller’s description of prostitutes as mere pieces of tail, is a misconception—Miller is down and out with them. They are all the dregs of society, the hapless products of a world in decay, darkness and dirty alleys, and, are as such, the archetypal metaphor of a Spenglerian vision that so many of the modernists embraced. Finally, if women/prostitutes are so one dimensional as Winterson seems to argue, why is it, that in Miller’s first serious piece of fiction (“Mlle Claude”), he portrayed a prostitute with such warmth and romantic tenderness, that we simply cannot make blanket statements about Miller portraying women, or prostitutes, as mere sex kittens or brainless vaginas. To give you a flavor of that story, he ends it with:

When she cuddles up to me—she loves me now more than ever—it seems to me that I’m just a damned microbe that’s wormed its way into her soul. I feel that even if I am living with an angel I ought to make a man out of myself. We ought to get out of this filthy hole and live somewhere in the sunshine, a room with a balcony overlooking a river, birds, flowers, life streaming by, just she and me and nothing else (The Wisdom of the Heart, 150).

However, for Winterson, Miller has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And she takes it a step further, for she ends her review with a damning condemnation of men in general: “The question is,” she cries out in indignation, “Why do men revel in the degradation of women?”

The answer is: many do not. Nor did Miller. But this is the danger if we adopt extremist views to make up, or so it seems, for the oppression of women in the past… which doesn’t take anything away from my belief that the sexual revolution is far from over…

 

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Why I Love My Bike…


This year has been intense. If we aren’t watching the news, we’re on social media and nowadays it seems that every little bit of white space is devoured by noise. This can’t be good for the soul. And it wasn’t good for me.

Now, I have the luxury of working from home which is great if you want to write a book on the side, because when work is slow, I turn to Henry Miller.

Recently, however, I noticed I was becoming more distracted. When work was slow, I’d be on Twitter, or reading the newspaper or doing laundry or taking Teddy for a walk. Basically, I wasn’t getting my Zen time. I was reading but not ruminating and we need to ruminate in order to write.

Henry Miller was a big walker but he also loved riding his bike, and he said this:

After a time, habituated to spending so many hours a day on my bike, I became less and less interested in my friends. My wheel had now become my one and only friend. I could rely on it, which is more than I could say about my buddies. It’s too bad no one ever photographed me with my friend. I would give anything now to know what we looked like.

So I resumed my biking schedule (I used to ride to Berkeley when I was still working there). Now that I have access to the library, I’ll just hop on the bike and ride into Berkeley. It’s a beautiful ride through Tilden Park, with quite a climb onto Grizzly Peak:

What’s great about it is that after ten minutes or so, I really get into a zone and some of my best ideas come during riding my bike. There must be something about the exercise and being in nature that stimulates the brain. Sometimes, when I have a knot mentally, the knot gets undone when riding my bike. And afterwards, I feel so much better. Endorphins for sure…

So for the new year, I’m going to try and keep up this rhythm of riding — even when the weather feels cold and unwelcoming, like this morning. But look at these shots. Here you see Mount Diablo in the distance, from Inspiration Point:

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And here’s the view from the Brazil building this morning:

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Now mind you, I’m riding with my laptop in my backpack so I didn’t want to add to my load by adding a heavy lock (and you need a good one in Berkeley), so I joined BikeLink which gives you access to those bike lockers that you may have seen at Bart stations. It’s great because you can put other stuff in there as well, like your helmet, bike shoes etc. Total charge for five hours? 25 cents! That beats parking fees or getting a ticket (because they ticket like crazy over there).

Best part of all: I got a real nice, new “study”, and an inspirational place to work:

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This is the Morrison Library which feels like an old men’s club (wooden paneling, couches, Christmas tree) and it has always been my favorite part of Doe Memorial Library. Best part of all– coming off my bike and sitting in that room, it did focus the mind and the writing was good. From riding to writing.

We all need more white space, space to think, move our feet and yes, a room of one’s own.

Allow yourself to become very quiet, even if it’s once a day. Better yet, do it in nature and you’d be amazed. And well, it sure beats Twitter…

 

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