Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pox Blankets and other Cynical Clichés

I spent the night at my Grandparents' cottage home, overlooking a beautiful lake, surrounded by familiar things I never see anymore, feeling thankful that my friend was able to have Thanksgiving with their family after all. I was thankful that my friend didn't have to take me up on my offer to meal and relax with us. I was thankful that my friend didn't have to deal with the awkwardness I had forgotten and, had I remembered, never would have offered as an alternative to the awkwardness of being alone on a holiday. I was thankful that I got to look and feel like a good friend and be rescued from possibly looking and feeling like a horrible friend all in one week.
My father chose not to come, optioning to make himself a martyr to his feelings of failure and stay home. My grandparents were the usual poor hosts, acting like terrible guests with bad manners, demanding attitudes and abrasive habits that wear on their welcome . . . even in their own home.
I was thankful my friend was able to spend their time among their own family and not mine. I wasn't thankful for the meal, the relaxation, the lake or the cottage . . . which made me feel . . . selfish. Selfish in my own way.
It also made me feel the dull bite of my own cynicism.

I, this past couple of months, have been slowly shedding my cynicism, scale-by-scale. I had even started listening to a Christmas C.D. in my car, a little over a week before Thanksgiving. White after Labor Day, I know.
I've been choosing to accept the apparent foolishness of sentimentality over the brittle carcass I had been slowly putting on thicker and thicker under my own skin. Especially, after coming on quickly to Chanukah. I realized that I hadn't lit my Menorah last year, because I had felt so disheartened about my life at home.
I left home because G_d told me to move to Brooklyn. I moved to Brooklyn, without knowing why G_d told me to go. I moved back home, with my sister, knowing it was to bring my family back together. I did what I had to, but seemingly to no avail. I couldn't hold myself responsible for how they received the idea of my move only being a means to their ends. I couldn't be disheartened by what they chose to do with the fact that all five people were back in the same house for the first time in nearly four years. But I did. Last holiday season, I didn't light my Menorah once. My Shamash passed no flame. I said no blessings.
Late this Summer and early this Autumn, my sisters said they were moving to Chicago and my father said he was most likely moving out. I stopped going to worship, pray and commune on Wednesdays, at the place I had adopted as being my church. Wednesday night was my Sunday morning, until a few months ago . . . until I stopped thinking about attending until it was too late, as I walked my dog past the building.
It wasn't until last weekend that I had realized, in the presence of two friends praying over a meal I had cooked them, that I had even stopped praying before I ate.
I'd grown colder to the traditional holidays, recoiling at the sight and sound of anything remotely yule-oriented. I had stopped even telling people when my birthday was, for fear of having it thrown in my face with a smiling "happy birthday". I had stopped worshiping. I had stopped praying. I had stopped having any form of spiritual communion with anyone other than friends who happened to be believers anyway.

I had even forgotten my dreams.
Every one of them.
While discussing my misanthropic tendencies with my mother, after one of her therapy sessions, she asked me about my dreams. I said I had none. I even used G_d as a cop-out, saying I didn't want to get in G_d's way with my own plans and ambitions. The closest thing I had to a dream was buying an R.V. and spending my days as a vagrant citizen of the western hemisphere, staying anywhere just long enough to remain a ghost. My only dream was anonymity. I realize, now that it wasn't mere anonymity, it was a want to be forgotten. I didn't even want a funeral, should I die.

But I don't want that R.V. anymore. I'm praying, again. I'm planning on celebrating my birthday, in 2009, and throwing the first birthday party I've had in sixteen years. I've been listening to Christmas music and thinking about what to give my family and friends for more reasons than an aversion to the shame and guilt of being the only one to not give a gift. I'm looking forward to lighting my menorah. Maybe even rediscovering what it means to have a dream.
I'm also wondering about how I feel about how I felt today, at my grandparents' cottage.
Is it me, or the ghost of who I've been tainting his old haunts with an ectoplasmic bitterness?
The ghost of the boy who started this blog? A blog that I can only hope might contradict its own name before too long, even if it should retain a certain faithfulness to my lack of ever wanting to fully be a part of this society as a whole. A blog I started only a few weeks after I started spending massive amounts of time and conversation with a new and valuable friend. A friend who I don't know whether or not I should attribute these changes in myself to . . . but I can say that I at least appreciate the parallels. They know who they are and I know they'll be reading this, so they don't need to be cheaply named for just anybody to read . . . but they deserve a post, regardless, because I'm not just thankful that they weren't with me and mine, today. I'm thankful they're with their own, because they deserve more than awkward charity.

It's 8:15, Thanksgiving night, and I might need to be more grateful for what I have, but I'm grateful nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Mouth with Tongues

Nobody has ever been more aware of their own mortality - I think - than a boy born with the name Yehoshuah. A man with a body that some have considered to be more divine than biological, a man who's name means "G_d rescues", interestingly enough was stricken with one of the most human traits in the universe; the understanding that he would one day die and the desire to use actions and words as a way to transmogrify his body from something physical into a pure, insoluble abstraction that would make his short life not only extend through the full figure eight of infinity but also matter the whole way around. Not the meekest aspiration, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
So, given this dude's bleak foreknowledge, is it any wonder that he might try to squeeze the full etymological and cultural values out of every word he spoke, like he was trying to press an olive to fill an entire jar? No. Of course not. He wasn't the first, last or only Rabi to have ever done it. It's called Remez; the art of intentful, biblical inference.
Before the postmodern vogue of political correctness and the conscious effort to say the right thing because the sayer is somehow responsible for how the saying is interpreted, even and especially should that interpretation be a misinterpretation, there were people - mostly Rabis and unwed, teenage mothers - who took strong notice of every way that what they said could be interpreted for more reasons than sociological insecurities and an esoteric sense of political guilt. These Rabis, zealots and reverse carpet baggers talked this way because they wanted any interpretation of what they said to mean something.

Yehoshuah died and became better known as Jesus, but I like to call him by his rightful birth name rather than calling him by a word people gasp or shout when somebody cuts them off and hits their brakes on the expressway. I mean, G_d did kind-of pick the name. But, anyway, before he died and became "The Dashboard Figurine Formerly Known as Yehoshuah" he was still Yehoshuah (Yehoshua) and he said a lot of things to a lot of people, especially if you consider the fact that he was saying a lot of things inside of those things that he said to a lot of people. Yehoshuah employed remez like it was his job or something . . . well, it kind of was, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make, here.

Over time, a lot of what Yehoshuah said has been forgotten. Not because it wasn't written down, but because it's lost its cultural context (which is a damn shame, but now is not the time or place to get nostalgic . . . get it?). When he said "Turn the other cheek, as recorded in Matthew 5:39 and referenced in Luke 6:29, he meant what he said. Yes, of course, a slap isn't going to threaten your life, so take it like a man. No need to get defensive and slap him back - then you might need to actually defend yourself. But he also meant it as a means of empowerment to the downtrodden people he spoke to. A backhanded slap, in the Roman empire, was a means of belittling somebody. If a poor person was in the way of a rich, white Roman, they would get slapped. If a poor person spoke to a rich person without permission, they would get slapped. Like a bitch holding out on their pimp, they would get smacked in the face. The back of the hand was the belittling factor in the slap. You eat with your palm, you caress the skin of your lover with it, you hold your children with it. You don't touch something lower than you with the palm of your hand. So, if you offered the other cheek, it was a subversive way to say, "I dare you to do it again, but if you do it, you're going to have no choice but to acknowledge me as your equal." Trust me, before the end of the Victorian era, that was a big deal.
The phrase "Walk a mile in another man's shoes" is a misstatement of the original "Walk another mile in a man's shoes." which was said by Messianic Rabis, in the early church, because it was a Centurion's right to commandeer any citizen to carry their goods, armor, or whatever else their trained muscles were too weak to carry. The stipulation of this right was that they could use it but not take advantage of it. Apparently, the main provision of this stipulation was that you were only allowed to commandeer a citizen for one mile. If you were caught with a tired citizen who'd been carrying your items longer than that, you would lose your job. The suggestion of walking another mile was a way of saying, "Yeah, the system sucks, but you can kill it with kindness. Get a cop fired and that's one less jerk to make you his slave for 10 blocks."

Enter, now, my offering; free of the arguable semantics of cultural subtext and all that stuff you might not be in the mood to take without an archaeological grain of salt:

Psalm 37:11/Matthew 5:5 - The Meek Will Inherit

In Psalm, G_d meant what he said the way it's traditionally interpreted, in relation to that specific verse (not the beatitudes). David was telling people not to spend their time bemoaning evil people for their success, because the schemes of evil people will slow them down in the end. He was just telling people to be patient.
In Matthew, however, Yehoshuah was talking to people about the gifts people would receive if they were willing to accept the abstract nature of a gift that happened to be metaphysical. But, as always, I think he was talking about some other things, too. Especially, when he borrows from the Psalms' passage about meekness.
Our picture of the meek is a varied image. We see gentleness, kindness and, sometimes, spinelessness. I don't think this is unique to modern times. I think it's pretty universal, historically.
When Yehoshuah said "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." I believe he was saying a couple of different things. The first being obvious; don't be boastful. If you're boastful, people won't want to give you anything. Not only because they probably detest you and your bastard attitude but also because they might think you already have it.
I, however, also feel that he was being a little sarcastic to all the people in the crowd who may have been spending their lives using legalism as an excuse for inaction. Keep in mind that Yehoshuah was a Jewish Rabi and most of his sermons were to and for Jewish audiences. Even when he was going out of his way to speak to Goyim, the fact is inescapable that the man was a celebrity Rabi and surely had a following. One of Yehoshuah's biggest issues with the Hebrew church at the time was the legalism, pride and lack of Maccabeean backbone. I think that, for these people, Yehoshuah was being decidedly sarcastic. He wasn't unknown to have a sarcastic sense of humor. Take into account "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's" passage for example. The guy is hilarious and if you don't get it, I'm sorry. It would take a whole other excruciatingly long blog entry to explain the joke - besides, a joke isn't funny anymore when you have to explain it, anyway.
The meek will have to wait until the world is dead to get anything. Just like a trust fund child waiting for the oncologist to come back with grim results on that blood test, they have to wait until the end to get a damn thing. The apocalypse might not leave them much, but they are promised the gift of a new world after it, in Revelations. So, yeah, bless you for waiting. You have a real gift for patience.
Am I being ridiculous? No.
Maybe not.
I don't know.
You tell me.
I just know that I had a totally irrational fear of success until lately. Even though that fear felt justified, I was still wrong. I was stealing control of my gifts from the god who gave them to me. I was using humility and strange, little, well-meaning excuses to make my inaction and resulting lack of success seem important and perfectly fine. And . . . I'm not telling you to kill, rape or steal here, but nobody put food on the table with meekness. From vegetables to meat, we kill to survive and that's pretty grim. Unless you're waiting for your food to fall off of the branch, but you'll be lucky if the birds, squirrels and other food don't get it first.
Am I saying it's a rat race? No. Am I saying I'm seriously considering Social Darwinism? No. What I'm saying is that I haven't observed a single sin that wasn't a mere perversion of the instincts G_d gave us to survive. When we ate from the tree of knowledge, we didn't become introduced to anything new inside of us, we just figured out that we could use these instincts in destructive ways.
We're all wired for survival because, for some crazy reason I haven't quite figured out, G_d wants us to survive. because (S)He loves us. And sometimes that means trying harder than you want to. Sometimes that means prioritizing your success over your sympathy for somebody's failure. Sometimes that means eliminating a threat to preserve life, even if it seems backwards to do so. Pacifism never got anybody anything except an Oscar and even that took the death of the real-life main character to make it happen. A mother who wouldn't kill for her child is no mother at all and a person who won't make sacrifices for their dreams has forsaken their gifts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Beaumont's Brains Out

"Mother taught us patience; the virtues of restraint"
That's what Mission of Burma told us
That's what Catherine Wheel, Moby and several others felt like saying again.
But they also said it because they felt it failed them. They said it only to say that it wasn't enough.

Yes, Mother did teach us patience. Hopefuly, Father did too.
But they also showed us when they knew to stop. They showed us when it was inapplicable. They showed us when they thought that patience, in one way or another, only would enable us.
Most typically, when we took something for granted.
Almost anybody can remember the first time they kept their mother up.
Not practicing guitar. Not listening to the T.V. too loudly. Not laughing with your friends during a pre-adolescent all-nighter.
When you kept her up by no noise of your own but a lack thereof.
You kept her up because you weren't there at all.
You didn't tell her where you were going, because it just kind of happened and everybody decided to do whatever they did that kept you all out, lost in time, lost in reverie and lost in yourselves.
You didn't call, because of whatever reason you thought it was when you had to explain yourself.
But you know why you didn't call.
You didn't call for the same reason she looked like she'd drank a bottle of gin through her ear canals.
Her eyes may have been puffy and red from crying with worry, but you knew better than to congratulate yourself for your ability to remain important to her even in your absence. You knew she wasn't just sitting there, in the kitchen chair, wearing a bathrobe and holding her knuckles just because she wanted to see you come home safe. She stayed up all those hours because she had something to say.
Maybe it was a lecture.
Maybe she slapped you in the face and shook you by your shoulders, as if she walked in your room and found you sleeping, breathlessly with blue lips and cold toes.
Whether it was words or actions, she told you the same thing your heart screamed the first time you felt neglected; "DON'T TAKE ME FOR GRANTED!"
She suspended her patience and a portion of her grace, because she wasn't going to wait for you to learn to care. Selfishness is too natural. Too primal. Too goddamn easy.

As adults we're taught the world is cruel.
And, from birth, we seem to be taught that the world is unchangeable and unaccountable.
So, as adults, it's easy to call something patience when it isn't because water always chooses the steadiest, easiest and most effortless path. Who cares if the path is downhill? It's nature. It's unchangeable and unaccountable.

But, if you're going to listen to me at all - if you're going to pick one kernel of my point of view to heart in this whole technological life of yours - let it be this:
Sometimes, patience isn't patience at all. Sometimes, it's just a polite lack of self respect. Sometimes, it's the easy way out. Sometimes, it's you taking that evolutionary leap we all call a backbone by it's cervical vertebrae and saying "I'm sorry, pal. You're not on the guest list."

Jesus turned the tables and threw a baby fit at the temple gates.
G_d smote the Egyptians, flooded Mesopotamia, breathed Fire on cities and called people to war.
But, here we are, tranquil pools of primordial, spineless patience.
When our time and effort gets taken for granted by an employer, educator, bank, government office, co-worker, co-habitant or colleage, we keep our inside voice on and tell somebody else.

Fuck that.

Fuck it hard, fuck it sideways, brick on it's tailbone and throw its phone number away.

Am I talking about wrath? No. That's stupid and about as counterproductive as a methadone clinic.
I'm talking about putting your foot down and stopping your enablement of the neglectfulness, selfishness and character demolishing behavior of your brothers and sisters.
Are you the first person your boss calls when he or she fucked up the schedule and need an extra person on Friday night?
Tell them you're not anymore. It won't get you fired. If it does, you're lucky. You're not paid for your supposed puddle of a personality. You're paid for your time and effort because you could be doing a shitload of other things with it.
Do you have a professor who acts like he's the only class you have? Tell him. Go over his head. Probably do both. It is not the curriculum eating you alive. It's a dragon, with a chalkboard and a satanic tendency to refer all question to "the book" or "your notes".
Does your bank have a double standard about mistakes in your account, when it comes to who makes them? Close your checking account. Open a no-minimum savings account with no inactivity fees. They, more than likely, have one. Put five dollars in and never close it - just leave it. The paperwork and records they keep on that five dollars will cost them about as much every week. It might harm your credit, but only slightly. You don't need perfect credit. It only proves you're good at being in debt. It only proves you're a prime candidate to be taken for granted. If that sounds underhanded or passive aggressive, keep in mind that a bank is nothing but a reservoir of calculated risks. Let them calculate the risk they took in you, until you die. They're obligated to. Besides, you might be able to will eight dollars and six cents from that account to one of your grandchildren. Stipulate in your will that they frame it.
Do you have to spend all Tuesday catching up, because the guy two desks down from you had a hangover Monday and didn't do a thing and, now, you're quietly and resentfully burning the candle at both ends so your supervisor won't yell at the whole office for the mid-week progress meeting on Wednesday? Do something about it. He clearly isn't.
Does your roommate always fall asleep on the couch, with his girlfriend, watching Adult Swim, right before your friend comes over for coffee? Do you call your friend and ask him if he wants to meet up somewhere closer to his place, so he doesn't have to drive so far? Don't pretend to be accommodating to your buddy just because you're afraid to tell your roommate that you actually exist and don't enjoy paying rent for an apartment you can never have guests in.

In Jackie Brown, Beaumont Livingston takes for granted that his employer is understanding towards criminals, just because he is employed for criminal purposes. He goes to jail. He gets bailed-out of jail. He gets a shotgun seat in the trunk of his boss' car. Ordell Robbie, Beaumont's employer, takes for granted that Louis Gara is trustworthy and competant because they're friends. The problem is, Louis just got out of jail. He can't be that compentant. The other problem is that Louis has sex with Ordell's girlfriend, Melanie ralston. Melanie takes for granted that she can do whatever she wants and men will still want her around because she's a quick and easy lay. She pisses Louis off and he shoots her. Ordell shoots Louis. Mark Dargus and Ray Nicolette assume nothing can get by them because they're elite, trained members of the ATF's police force. Ordell takes for granted that he's too intimidating for an old man to kill. Jackie and Max get away with everything they needed and wanted, because everybody took everything for granted, but they didn't.

Am I saying you should only look out for number one? No.
I'm saying that, cops aside, the only people in Jackie Brown that didn't get lead poisoning by the end of the movie were people who took everything into consideration. They weren't unbelievably sly. They weren't superhumanly capable. Shit, they were old, bored and not the products of a lifetime of shrewd decsisions. But they didn't take anything for granted.

Are you going to let the people who effect your life continue to take things for granted? Are you going to continue to show them patience? Are you going to patiently put up with their self-centered attitude? Or are you going to slap them in the face and shake their shoulders before somebody shoots them in the face or upper torso?