Seasonal Expression

The holidays are upon us…yes, it’s already that time again and it is absolutely okay to freak out if you need to. It really does just sneak up on us every single year, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s sheer business and an inability to look beyond our own noses, but I’m not the only one who is fully shocked by the abrupt and surprising onslaught of the time to be merry – everyone is on edge!

I’m actually not a big fan of Christmas. As I’m not particularly religious, the liturgical elements of the holiday, while fascinating, don’t speak to me at all. Likewise, the commodification of the season always leaves me feeling as though we’ve all gone off script and are feverishly winging a holiday. I know there are lots of folks who think Christmas is the greatest of celebrations. They spend hours meticulously wrapping gifts and baking stars and tree-shaped cookies, but that’s nothing for me. Wrapping is one of the many talents that passed me over and whenever I try, I am reminded of the Camus quote, “We have exiled beauty,…” Indeed, Albert. I’m just no good at it, and I prefer to spend my time doing things that I’m at least marginally good at, or that I may be quite terrible at, but which bring me some simple joy. Gift wrapping, tree decorating, and eggnog brewing do not do that for me.

But, I’m no Scrooge! I really enjoy Christmas music. I can’t hear that Last Christmas song enough! I’m also a big fan of the efforts that the shops go to in making their windows look enticing and extra special. Sure, there’s an ulterior motive behind the whole thing, but gosh they look so cool! I’m very visual. A good display speaks for itself really, and I’m only human after all. There are other parts of Christmas that I find enticing, too, for example, I very much appreciate a good feast. Who can possibly say no to a table of yummy seasonal foods, so rich and labored over that you can only binge until you wish you were dead in order to show your appreciation? Certainly not me!

I suppose I’m just considering how much there is that you can really find to like about something which at first glance might not be your thing. It’s about going beyond our immediate comfort zones and trying out new things, or even challenging ourselves to see very old things in a new light. That’s absolutely something that I can get behind.

Whatever you end up doing this holiday season. I hope that you’ll take a look at your tried and tested traditions with new eyes. Giving ourselves time to reevaluate just what we like and dislike about many of the things that we take for granted can be abundantly rewarding; not only in terms of the social factor of interacting with people, but also on a deeply individual level whereby we can examine and begin to redefine. It’s not always a straightforward process admittedly, but an examined life, a life of evaluation and contemplation, even about traditions which we take for granted, is worth it.

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A Winter Survival Kit

I realize that winter won’t begin for about another month, but it certainly already feels like winter here in my part of Western Europe. The days fall dark alarmingly early and the sky seems to hang low and heavy with clouds. Seasonal depression is a very real thing for many people and I can certainly understand why. There’s something natural about facing the wind and rain with a hiss. Still, there are some things that make winter bearable. I’m dedicating this post to my winter survival kit. Despite the fact that there’s nothing on the list which would be much help if one really needed to survive for very long, these are my tips for getting through the season of dark and cold. As for actual survival and other tips on getting through life, I’m sorry, but I can’t be of any help there.

Earl Grey tea:  I actually dislike warm drinks. I try to avoid them as much as possible, which isn’t as easy as one might think. It seems someone is always trying to offer a warm beverage…which is nice, just not my thing. Still, on those drab days when it seems that the chill has somehow driven its way right down into your bones, a cup of Earl Grey will do just the trick. The citrus undertones of this tea really flood the mind with all the good things of summer. I add a few sugar cubes and wait until they’ve totally dissolved before I drink it. Honestly, I have to wait for it to cool as I am just totally averse to drinking hot drinks, but the oil of bergamot does the perfect job of taking me out of the frost and to a sunny place. My compliments to the Earl.

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Miso Soup: Despite the fact that I didn’t grow up with any Japanese influences, something about this Nippon staple hits just the right spot when it’s been raining all day long and there’s no letting up in sight. I’ve been told that the taste is an acquired one, but I really like the earthy undertones and slightly bitter aftertaste. Besides the comforting flavor of miso, it is also pretty high in protein which will help fight against that winter fatigue that sets in when one hasn’t seen the sun in a week. Instant versions are available in most supermarkets and require only a kettle to warm up some water in. It’s a fast, healthy, and yummy lunch, or a cozy pre-dinner teaser.

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Poetry: There’s nothing else to do in the dark besides read and think. Those are perfect conditions for poetry reading! I get the impression that many people no longer read poetry, at least not casually, and it’s rare that I meet someone who has an answer to my, “So, who’s your favorite contemporary poet?” question. Really, really rare. If you ask me, there is no better way to pass the hours of a long howling evening than with a book of poetry. You can likely find a compelling collection at your local library, or better yet, by searching Amazon. By buying the collection rather than just borrowing it, one is both more likely to return to the poems (thereby falling in love with them in new and unexpected ways upon rereading) and to pass them on. What could be better than a great poetry referral? Besides, by buying the collections we support the careers of poets. Yes, there are still poets. Yes, they are still starving. (If you’re looking for a recommendation I can suggest Night Sky with Exit Wounds…because Ocean Vuong is tidal.)

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Zippo Hand Warmer: It maintains the iconic simplicity of the lighter, but it won’t contribute to you getting cancer…although I can’t really guarantee that. This little gadget is inexpensive, cheap, and foolproof. If you’re going to be spending any time walking outside, waiting for trains/buses, attending outdoor sporting games, etc., this gizmo will become your new best friend. It’ll keep your hands from feeling that they’re about to fall off and will generally lift your mood during above mentioned activities because you won’t be enduring the initial stages of frostbite.

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Incense: Smokey! There’s just something about winter that makes me want to smoke…maybe a pipe or something. But, we all know that smoking isn’t really good for us, so I find that burning some incense will appease the need for that familiar wintry, smokey scent. Incense range from very cheap, to quite expensive and it’s worth trying lots of different kinds to find the ones you like best. Also, there are different forms (cones, sticks, powder, etc.) and burners that will suit nearly every preference. A lot of people seem to associate incense with hippies and such, but the headiness of the smoke and the intensity of the smell really fill a space in my mind that is uniquely winter. (Try Karma Scents sticks…though they’re a bit pricey, they’re well worth it.)

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What’s your secret? How do you get through the tough and callous days (and nights) of the winter season? Hide in bed? Netflix until your eyes bleed? I’d love to hear about what you’d put in your survival kit in the comments section. Stay warm!

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Jekyll & Hyde

Recently I was lucky enough to see a production of Jekyll and Hyde the musical. This particular version was neither fantastic nor terrible, and probably worth the ticket price. The acting was quite okay, the singing was a little rough in parts, but overall, as I mentioned, it was a fine enough evening at the theater and I left feeling like I had just had a nice experience. But, that’s not enough for me. I realize that not all theater has to be groundbreaking or evocative; it doesn’t all have to speak to the larger topics of our contemporary 21st century experience, or the perils of a society on the edge (although that would certainly be topical), but I was left wanting more from the experience. It wasn’t the performers that had left me unfulfilled, it wasn’t the musicians, it wasn’t the theater or acoustics, it was the narrative…or rather the lack of narrative.

Most of us have at least a passing idea of what the Jekyll and Hyde story entails and so I’d say that in some ways the writers of this particular adaptation where at an advantage. While I am sure that there are also great challenges to be considered when taking a piece that is so well-known and toying with it to appeal to a mass audience, I’d venture to say that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, despite the (at times) moving music and the meticulous set design, I still believe a good story is central to the theater — or any other storytelling medium for that matter. What I dislike is that we seem to be living through a period of human history whereby narrative is dissected into easy-to- digest emotive-points, and in the case of this musical, strung together with catchy songs which do little to push the story along.

It’s not just the theater though as film, journalism, fiction (and sometimes even non-fiction), and even visual art, it seems, have all fallen prey to the glitz of the fast buck. I realize that all movies can’t be elaborate biopics that are heavied down by extensive costuming and set costs, but I just need a bit more than three plot points to keep me intrigued. I like a novella as much as anyone else, maybe even more, but who doesn’t like to sink their teeth into a thick novel rich with pages of description and character development? I guess the answer to that is, unfortunately, most people. It’s tough trying to appeal to a broad audience and I take my hat off to the Broadway theaters and stages across the world that do it so very well for eight shows a week, but it’s just not doing it for me anymore.

Just to be perfectly clear, I am certainly not advocating dilatory art the likes of Wagnerian opera or anything because, while those relics are overly long and drawn out hours beyond what is necessary, they too lack much real narrative. They were, frankly, the musicals of their time…they’ve just hung around for quite a while. I’m looking for a piece of narrative that doesn’t have to rely on sentimentality or sociologically programmed tropes in order to touch the audience where it counts. I know those pieces exist. I know that there are storytellers of all ages out there right now writing those stories, but there is so little mainstream appeal for them, that they are likely to never actually make it to any public forum besides a university course on narrative.

If I’m beginning to sound like a malcontent…it’s because in this particular aspect, I am! I rarely see theater that rouses me, that questions me, interrogates my deeply held convictions. Seldom, does a piece of contemporary film move me outside of the perspective of an average cinema going viewer. Books though, they are my last refuge, a place where narrative is held as paramount and victorious…but even here there are countless examples we all know of that shouldn’t exist, or that are only published because they are attached to a name people might recognize, which in turn might compel the public to buy a book. I get it, it’s business. Theaters need to sell tickets, bookkeepers need to sell books, etc. I just wonder when we’re going to get the whole story, that’s all. I know it’s not easy balancing the Dr. Jekyll’s intellect with Hyde’s need for visceral thrills, but couldn’t we at least try a bit harder? Image result for jekyll and hyde

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Jet Lag

I’ve recently traveled back across the Atlantic from the USA to Europe. While in and of itself this is nothing special, I had expected a bit of jet lag, but nothing like what I’ve gone through this past week. Normally, the first few days after the flight back are a bit trying and it feels like I’ve got an astronaut’s helmet around my head, but then, things usually start getting back to normal. This time though, I still haven’t fully managed to reset my body clock and adjust to the local time. I know this all sounds very much like a first world problem, and I’m really not complaining, but I am surprised that it’s hit me so hard this journey across the pond.

There are apparently tricks one can use in order to avoid jet lag, but I didn’t try any of those and so won’t be able to report on their efficacy. What I can attest to however, is the feeling of being utterly out of touch such as one sees in movies when they want to convey the cinematic version of jet lag. With some low ambient music treated with an echo, a dim metallic hum, and lights that shine cold white through some soulless airport terminal, I could be living a scene from Lost in Translation. Although I’d be thrilled to have the chance to meet Bill Murray, I’m not keen on parroting his performance in that film at all. Still, it feels rather like I’ve assumed his role in another film entirely — Groundhog Day! Each day since returning, has somehow been exactly the same day.

Ultimately, air travel is quite simply the safest and quickest way of crossing the Atlantic. I’m not afraid of flying, but the bigger the plane the better in my opinion. Despite the size of the grand Boeing that carried me safely across the Atlantic twice recently, they have not managed to make the journey any more comfortable for passengers. Seats are still only able to recline mere millimeters, the food is still somehow over-salted and yet thoroughly bland, the staff are still friendly without being accommodating in the slightest. Doesn’t that just make matters worse? Not only is flying biologically traumatic, but the companies who are making us all pay to sit for eight hours with our knees up by our ears, aren’t in the least bit interested in making the passage comfortable for us. Seemingly, the exorbitant price of airline tickets these days ensures only a crash-free flight from A to B (well, most of the time), but nothing else that might lead one to actually enjoy the experience.

Jet lag doesn’t just cloud the mind and cause one to sleep at inopportune and inappropriate times, it compels us to recall just how disgustingly absent the people who design these machines are of our well-being. Sure, they are focused on our survival (and that is certainly a good thing), but at those prices I’d like to do a bit more than survive — I’d like to thrive…and maybe get some headphones that will work through the whole flight without any glitches. But, that’s asking too much it would seem. I could always upgrade to first class or business, though the very sound of something called, “Business Class” make my skin crawl. It sounds like part of some crap MBA program and that’s enough to lead me to pass…and there’s the price. There’s even first class, or elite class, or whatever those people who can afford comfort are calling their section in the plane these days…and good for them. I don’t begrudge their success, I just envy their flawless multimedia options and real glass drinking glasses. But, I bet even for all of their plush seating and copious leg room, they still get jet lag! Jet lag, so it seems, is the great aviation equalizer.

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A Meditation on Returning

As you may now Dear Reader, I am an expat. That means I live in a country other than the one that I was born in…and yet, I am not an immigrant. Expats are those who go to other countries for professional reasons, not necessarily looking for opportunity, but who are just working, planning on staying a couple of years, and then usually leaving to either the next post or back home. This week I’ve returned to the United States from Germany where I live for a short visit and I’ve been thinking a lot about the action of returning. How do we see something familiar anew and through the prism of gained life experience? It is a strange and yet extremely fulfilling thing to return and I believe it can offer great insight into how exactly we progress in life.

Whenever I return to the United States, I am first of all reminded of the great scale of things. Where Europe is somewhat scaled down, more concentrated, and immediate, the USA is broad, pregnant with wide open spaces, big unblocked skies and sunshine. Even overcast days are still somehow bright. I can well understand just how impressed many immigrants must have been upon arrival in this country. I am reminded of boundless possibilities, the time that journeys can take, and the distance one has to go to arrive at where one is going. Naturally, I speak of these aspects in both the literal and figurative senses, but it is the more interpretive and implied notions that are paramount in my mind these days.

Although, I’m enjoying my time being back here in my homeland, my mind has already begun to return to the things that I need to do once I get back to Europe…and there are even things that I’ve already started missing there…mostly friends. Isn’t it funny how when we are in one place, our minds often turn to another place and right the other way around? Perhaps our minds are amazed and intrigued by the other side of the coin. Maybe we always need that comparative other, the counterpart, in order to know where we are and what we’re doing and to fully appreciate what exactly we are doing in this very moment. Maybe returning, or at least the prospect of returning, is what keeps us anchored to the moments that we are away.

Needless to say, I’m having a great time so far, and have been able to really enjoy the time here. I am glad to have returned to my home and I look forward to living here again some day in the not too distant future. I’m happy to know that there is some place in the world that I can always return to, that will always offer me an alternative. My life is enriched by the ability to limb the not only the physical space, but also the notion of another place.

Boo! 

Don’t forget that Halloween is just around the corner! I don’t know if you’ve already got a costume planned, but if not, you should really get to it! You don’t want to end up one of those poor souls who has to scrape something together at the last moment. Those tardy unfortunates always end up as something completely mundane, but just covered in fake blood…and while I suppose it’s better than nothing, everyone can see that they didn’t try very hard. Put a little effort into it, the more outlandish the better. One is never too old to make a fool of themselves, and, in my opinion, it’s a good idea to do so every now and again just to remind others (and yourself) that you don’t have to take everything in life so damn seriously!

We recognize play as a valid and integral part of growing up. We encourage children to play as much as possible. I can’t even begin to estimate the multitudes of times that my parents told me to “go play!” But, it seems that when we become adults, we forget just how good it feels to play. Letting one’s guard down and enjoying the frivolity of the human condition can only be a good thing if you ask me. In our busy lives we have to remain focused, goal oriented, and time conscious, and those things certainly all have their time and place and have helped us immeasurably throughout our human journey, but what’s the use in rushing through every moment of your life? I say a person’s got to enjoy life! Play is one way in which we can remind ourselves that all of the labors we entangle ourselves in can give way to joy if we are only willing to make time to forget ourselves sometimes.

Costumes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I believe that dressing up as Frankenstein’s monster or Count Dracula allows us to do away with the facade of tightly controlled organization that so many of us project in our daily lives. Professionalism and public presence is important, don’t get me wrong, but letting down those walls occasionally in order to let in their opposites might allow us to better balance the dualities of our lives. We are all so many different intersectional identities, mom, teacher, best friend, care giver, bro, police officer, church choir singer, etc., and all of those identities offer us a great sense of accomplishment, belonging, and purpose, but I posit that painting yourself head to toe green and gluing bolts onto your temples can do the same. Halloween is an annual opportunity to play another role, one that is nearly free of responsibility, that is concerned only with fun and celebrating the dark, unknown, and often frightening parts of our lives, by making fun of the darkness, we quell our fear of it.

So you’d better get to it if you haven’t already started! I’d love to hear about what you’ve decided to dress up as in the comments section! Furthermore, if you’re not the costume type, that’s okay! You can still have fun by going out in your plain clothes, just be aware that everyone around you is having fun playing, so try and partake of that spirit of play. If you’re not going out at all, well, that’s okay too! Stay in and get yourself a big bunch of candy and wait for the door-bell to ring and as you open the door, arms full of sugary goodies, remember to greet those goblins and gools awaiting you with the same sense of fun and carefree silliness that has brought them to your door. Enjoy that moment between you and the monsters together and maybe try and remember that it’s not just kids who can play; it’s not just kids who can find simple joys.

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There Is So Much

This is going to be a short one…because really, there is so little that I can say which will be able to encompass the sense of grandeur that I am currently feeling. There is no particular reason why I’m feeling especially in awe of anything tonight, but as I sat down to write, I was overcome by just how much there is in the world. It struck me, quite suddenly, that there is literally something everywhere that has a story, a history, a means by which it came into being, and behind all of those things is a person. While we clearly have the capacity for causing havoc, we humans can also do great things and things beyond things even. Despite our shortcomings, I still find us a generally loveable bunch.

I have a treasured book by museum director Niel MacGregor titled, A History of the World in 100 Objects. In my opinion, what makes this stocky collection so brilliant is that it’s just as visually appealing as it is wonderfully written. MacGregor does a fantastic job of giving us a guide through some of the British Museum‘s most telling treasures. Within the included selections, we are told a story through the provenance and lives of, what might at first glance appear, disparate objects. Far-flung and meticulously collected objects such as a bird shaped pestle from Papua New Guinea, a coin with the head of Alexander the Great from 305 B.C. from Turkey, the homoerotic Warren Cup from near Jerusalem, and a feather helmet from Hawaii from the 18th century all weave the story of human material culture from way back when. History is just filled with things, each of them swollen ripe with the lives of our ancestors.

It’s easy enough to take the things we are surrounded by for granted. A toaster is after all just a toaster — but is it? A mailbox seems boring enough until we recount the relatively short history of postal systems in the world, and when we consider that for most of postal history, it’s all been delivered by foot. It seems to be nothing new that humans have been telling stories, and sending them out into the world for others to enjoy. As the world grows ever more connected, and we are brought closer together by another miracle thing called the internet, which by now has it’s own mythology and heroic figures attached to it, I hope that we will still take a few moments every now and again to just look around and realize that everything, even the most mundane of objects around us,  was just an idea that someone had at one point or another.

There is an abundance of potential just waiting to help us bring or ideas to fruition. We are inventors more than we are adventurous discoverers. We are the ones who are capable of so much creative potential that we have created other things to distract us from creating. Everything has a story. Everything is someone’s idea. We’ll be alright.

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Gun Crazy

This one hurts. I am livid about the gun-related tragedies that continue to unfold on a regular basis in the USA and I find that this particular issue troubles me to such an intense degree that involving myself in it only leaves me angry, frustrated, and ashamed of my fellow citizens. But, I simply cannot be quiet. Again, the nation has endured a tragedy which has become so commonplace in the United States that fatigue has set in and many people are happy to simply look the other way. Many people, I am sure, feel that there is nothing that they can do. Yet, that is exactly what those who are profiting from the continual slaughter of innocent Americans want. Placid acceptance that their product is ubiquitous with all that is American is just what those who manufacture, sell, and trade guns designed for the sole purpose of killing humans want. Groups like the NRA seek to prop up their own agenda, for their own means, for their own profit margins…and if we have to die in order for that to happen, then that’s that! We are the only industrialized nation in the world where this happens…over and over. We have the most guns per capita of any country on earth. We have a second amendment which grants us the right to bear arms. Well, one of the definitions of the verb, to bear, is to endure (an ordeal or difficulty) — I, for one, am tired of bearing arms.

I have heard both well-founded and poorly constructed arguments as to why gun control is unnecessary. Some say that it would be ineffective and that those set on harming others would find a way to get the guns. My response is – how do you know? We cannot draw that conclusion until we have tried it. You can be sure that if weapons manufacturers found that they no longer made profits in the United States (don’t forget dear reader, those illegal arms, were manufactured and purchased at some point), they would move on to another market and there just  might be fewer possibilities to illegally get one’s hands on weapons designed for war. Why are we now perpetually at war with each other? Maybe gun control won’t work…but there is some evidence from around the world that it just might. Another argument those who insist on possessing these arms spout out is that they don’t want the government being the only ones with weapons in the country. To that I always point out that; first, we are a representative republic with power invested in democratically elected officials and institutions (for the moment), and therefore, we are the government–that’s the whole idea! Second, I ask them where the endgame for that logic leads? Should civilians have access to nuclear weapons? Most sane people agree that civilians should not be able to purchase nuclear grade weapons…that’s control, that’s regulation. Who draws that line?

Some would argue that the second amendment draws that line, and promises us the right to bear arms…but it doesn’t specify which kind of arms. So, why not nuclear arms? The truth is, we accept controls on most of the rights afforded to us by the constitution for the good of public safety. Afterall, the first amendment guarantees us freedom of speech. Yet, most people would agree that shouting FIRE! in a crowded cinema and causing an ensuing stampede is, and should remain, illegal on grounds of endangerment. I just can’t, for the life of me, understand why we cannot extend that very same reasoning to the gun control debate in the USA.

I’m tired of people calling for prayer to solve an issue that is within our own power to solve. Delegating this gaping national mistake to a metaphysical power outside of us only allows us to persuade ourselves that we are powerless to change, that we needn’t feel ashamed of ourselves for permitting college students, concert goers, and first graders to be murdered again and again. These prayers are not working…or maybe they already have. Maybe we’ve already got exactly what it takes to make sure that this never happens again. Maybe it is well within our own power to end this national tragedy…and we do nothing! Evidence proves that after a mass shooting such as the one in Las Vegas gun purchases increase in the country. That means that every time our innocent citizens die full of bullets, we reward the weapons industry by fattening their pockets. It is insanity! I refuse to submit my rational mind to insanity! NEVER!

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You Better THINK (‘Bout What You’re Trying To Do To Me!)

There is seemingly nothing of actual importance to deal with in the United States of America these days, not the great swathes of the country demolished by hurricanes, not the ever increasingly erratic president who creates African countries and publicly calls anyone he perceives as fodder (which is apparently everyone) names, not the painful racial division and ongoing racial discord within the country – none of that seems especially poignant. However, according to my Facebook feed and the ongoing news media cycle, one cannot escape the meaningless feud that the president and “conservatives” have decided to engage in surrounding the issue of standing for the national anthem during sporting events. Seriously, the level of outrage and indignant chest pounding over this non-issue is baffling! I just can’t quite comprehend why this is an issue so worthy of the entire nation’s attention!

First and foremost, I believe it is blatantly clear that the first amendment protects both standing as a sign of reverence during the national anthem and also the opposite – not standing. By choosing to kneel, citizens (whether they happen to be multi-millionaire players or not) are practicing their first amendment rights. Naturally, others have the right to free speech, to disagree, to dissent, to adamantly and spiritedly debate the patriotic merits of such actions, but we must never forget that there is absolutely no law establishing a test of loyalty to our country. Just as we are free to choose where, when, and how we will practice our religions (or not practice them), we are free to decide how we personally interpret our patriotism and roles as citizens. To suggest that another citizen should perform the same rituals and prescribe to the same nationalistic behaviours as I do, is (and I do not say this without fully understanding the implications of my words) pure fascism. Under fascist regimes, the entire populace, either by force or by conviction, subjugate their own personal opinions to the norms of the state, for the glory of the state, because there is nothing other than the state. The citizen is no longer an individual, but rather a simple, nearly meaningless unit within the collective vessel of the state.

For all of the fiery rhetoric that many conservatives spew surrounding their wish to limit the role of government, to uphold the centrality of the individual against the notion of the nation-state, and their often convinced positions against anything which might benefit the collective, they sure do seem to rally around an ideal of patriotic conformity like a plague of locusts. By allowing the president of the United States to publicly, and in the capacity of the office, call someone a “Son of a Bitch” for not subscribing to the same brand of involved citizenship that he feels is standard, we are allowing for the erosion of our standards of individuality; our freedom.

If you, dear reader, think that the current occupant of the office of president of the United States of America cares what another multi-millionaire does at work, then you are, I am sorry to say, too far gone for me to reason with. By calling a player who chooses to fully exercise his first amendment rights differently than others might a, “son of a bitch,” the president insults not only the player, not only the player’s mother whom he has decided is a bitch, but also every American citizen! Though this should not be surprising, and I seriously am amazed at how I can continue to be so unpleasantly surprised by this accursed man, I am shocked at how the American people have not taken him to task over his demand that dissent be punished. Our entire country is built on the idea of dissent! The colonists, in the ultimate act of dissention, chose to act out of their greater sense of freedom, out of a belief that the individual and their conscience is of far greater importance than the whims of a monarch, an established church, or an unjust law or tax, and birthed a nation.

I do not know exactly what the solution to any of this should be. I am a writer, not a constitutional expert or policy wonk, but what I do know for sure, is that I am tired of seeing messages on my feed detailing how the flag (an arbitrary national symbol subject to change),  or the national anthem (which is just a song after all and cannot feed your children or pay your mortgage), are somehow superior expressions of one’s love of nation and people. There is no greater expression of love, in my opinion than freedom, and that includes the freedom to not do what everyone else thinks you should do. Love of nation, in my eyes, is much more colorful than red, white, and blue, and much more nuanced in lyric than anything Francis Scott Key could pen. Indeed, love might just look like a rich man wearing a helmet and bulky padding, on one knee, begging for his fellow citizens to simply THINK!

“People walk around everyday, playing games, taking scores —

Trying to make other people lose their minds.

Well, be careful! You’re gonna’ lose yours!

You better think! Think ’bout what you’re trying to do to me! 

Yeah, think! Let your mind go, let yourself be free! 

Oh, Freedom! Freedom! Yeah, Freedom!

Freedom!”

– Aretha Franklin

Think,” Aretha Now (1968)

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Looking For Something To Read? – Gilbert Adair

Most people have a favorite author, or singer, or performer, or something to that effect. At some point in most people’s lives, they will be lucky enough to stumble upon a piece of poetry, an essay, or a three-minute pop song that really speaks to their condition. This is one of the wonders of art. It connects with myriad people in ways which are often very individual yet simultaneously universal. The joy of seeing your favorite film for the one hundredth time, is a joy that can be shared by anyone who has something that they are drawn to because of its beauty, its honesty, or its revelatory capacity. I believe that is one of the primary functions of art – to remind us that we are human…whatever that means exactly…and I do believe that we are still figuring it out.

My favorite author is Gilbert Adair. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know who he was, and here I really must use the past tense as he died in 2011 of a brain hemorrhage after a stroke which left him blind. It was a thoroughly tragic end for the British writer and film critic who was able to carve out a niche for himself within the already microscopic world of the novella. One wonders how he managed to ever eat, but there are still means for writers to get by; writing film reviews for newspapers, writing and rewriting scripts for Hollywood, etc. Not being terribly celebrated, the Scottish born writer even jumped on the detective novel bandwagon with a series of books that have proven popular enough to still be in print. It is his novels, or rather dashing novellas, that I first discovered and which have sustained my deep fascination with this writer.

The closest many ever came to his work might have been through film as a couple of his books were handed over to the screen. Love and Death on Long Island, a 1997 film based on the novel with the same title doesn’t quite capture the anguished sovereignty of the aged protagonist’s infatuation with the younger b-movie heart-throb that the lean and coy novel is rife with. Love and Death is Adair’s reimagining of Mann’s Death in Venice and I find it just as compelling. Whereas Mann’s masterpiece carries one to the antique grandeur of a turn of the century Venice during a cholera plague, Adair takes us to the quotidian opulence of suburban Long Island – a place I imagine to be just as plagued. The choice of setting hints at Adair’s fascination with America, its shortcomings, and youthful egotism. It can be read within a weekend with ease and I certainly recommend it for anyone who has seen the film, and especially for those who haven’t. We all know it’s worth reading the book first!

Adair’s biggest success came about through a film adaptation of his novel, The Holy Innocents, the tale of an American student who becomes involved in a love triangle with a brother and sister while holed up in their aged parents’ apartment in 1968’s Paris. Of course, the student protests are the backdrop, but all of the action save the last chapter or so, happens either at the cinema or in the apartment. The film was titled, The Dreamers (2003), which is a dreadful name for the story. I’m not sure if that was director Bernardo Bertolucci’s decision, but the renaming was, in my opinion, a big mistake. It captures none of the violence that having done nothing at all, about anything at all, entails and that is so brilliantly played out in the book. I must admit however, as is always the case with this director, the cinematography is brilliant and the script remains loyal to the novella. If you have the time, it’s worth diving into both the book and the film…it’s heady though, and you’ll want to make love and possibly run like a madman through the halls of the Louvre, but isn’t that what art is supposed to make you do anyway?

Finally, the haunting, Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires, is the story of a young Englishman who comes to Paris to teach English in a language school and finds himself smack in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. It is more than a chilling history of an epidemic which has still not drawn to an end, but a story of great psychological depth which could have easily been expanded, but in his mastery, Adair sparingly apportions the story so that we finish the book still hungry. Despite the often morose undertones, the nearly macabre frivolity toward life which plays out in the pages, Adair manages to leave us wanting more. I believe that this book will someday assume its rightful place within queer literature and hopefully within the greater literary context as a whole. This one is not for those who prefer lighter reads, but I can promise you that it is worth it.

The great thing about novellas is that they give one the satisfaction of finishing a whole book, but in half (or even less) the time. You can pop these into your bag and read them on the train, or in the line at the supermarket, or on your lunch break. Adair was just that good. Good enough to make his work feel like a guilty pleasure while concurrently confronting his reader with portrayals of people at their neediest, most visceral, and most compulsive. I sincerely encourage you to give Adair a shot, and I am sure you’ll at least consider him for your new favorites list.

 

 

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