Friday, April 25, 2014

Nation of scofflaws: or, Teacher's petitude redux

Walhydra has been carrying this title around in her head for at least a dozen years, crafting and reciting sentences to herself, adding examples, grumbling. 

At first she was too angry to actually write anything down. Then, for several years, she was too much in grief Now she feels again the temptation to be publicly snarky—followed, of course, by having Goddess put her in her place once again. It's sort of a spiritual S&M ritual.

The obvious place to start looking for examples would be with driving.

Road rage imageWalhydra used to play this game on the way to work each day. She would count the number of “strikes” against her, a strike meaning that she lost her temper and cursed another driver. She always struck out before she ever got downtown.

Over the years she has tried various remedies.

With  speeders, for example, she turns herself into the sort of pokey old coot who used to piss her off so much—staying in the right lane with the cruise control set at the speed limit.  It's actually rather relaxing. Everyone on the road passes her.

The closer you get, the slower I goWith tailgaters, she recalls the advice of the defensive driving course the City requires all employees to take: "Slow down and invite them to pass."

(Walhydra imagines all sorts of questionable nuances for that word "invite.")

Despite these tactics, though, the truth is that Walhydra is too often terrorized by those manic stock car drivers who ride her bumper and race around her on both sides if she happens not to be in the outside lane.

"Are they crazy?!!" she shouts.

Stock car race

Then there are the in-town incidents with people who seem not to know the width and turning radius of their own vehicles. They swoop into oncoming lanes to turn right, to pull into diagonal parking or to pass parked cars.  They back out into oncoming lanes.

And they don’t know what that secret little stick on the steering wheel is for.

When she's honest with herself, Walhydra admits she feels disrespected and resentful over these incidents.

Jerry Mathers 1960She remembers growing up in a June-and-Ward-Cleaver America. Young people were taught to respect their elders, and it was just assumed that people would watch out for each other and practice common civility, rules of the road, etc.

This wasn't a matter of authoritarian imposition of order—contrary to what her peers believed during the "Sixties Revolution." It was simply a social contract, a courteous way of dealing with people in public to ease daily life.

Now it seems like people scoff at or totally ignore the contract.  Or deliberately violate it. Or...maybe...were never even told about or expected to obey it as kids.

Walhydra is constantly feeling offended and unsafe, because she cannot count on anyone to "abide by the code."

"Tomato juice."

"Wha—?"  Walhydra looks around.

Crippled Wolf glances up from the Stephen Jay Gould book he is chewing on.

"Tomato juice. Age five. Kindergarten."

"Oh." Walhydra doesn't really want to go there...but Crippled Wolf was there, too, so she can't very well avoid the issue.  The story was told back in 2006.
Tomato juice.
More exactly, spilled tomato juice. On her favorite flannel shirt. In front of other kindergarten five-year-olds, her first months in public school. Right after her family moved from the only home she had ever known.

They laughed, of course. For whatever reasons, Walhydra experienced it as laughing at her. Her peers had unknowingly introduced her to shame. In her personal mythology, that was the moment when Walhydra became self-conscious—in all the blesséd and cursed senses of that term....

It happens to everyone, of course. That disorienting schism between “I’m unique” and “I’m one of you.” Walhydra figures most of the crimes and sufferings of the human race can be traced to that schism.

What startled her awake, meditating on this, was that she had identified her own particular version of this turn on the path....
In her childhood, Walhydra’s line of defense was to become invincible.
Hermione Grander
She recognized quickly that “those in authority” were teachers. She was an utter failure on the playing field, due partly to non-paralytic polio at age four, and partly to having been shamed by the tomato juice incident....
However, she was gifted with being brilliant, creative and a quick study. The obvious survival strategy was to become a “teacher’s pet.”

This path had the advantage of making her immediately liked and protected by “those in authority.” It had the disadvantage of underscoring the message to her peers: “I’m
not one of you."
"We're not still five, you know," Crippled Wolf said patiently.

"Well obviously not!" Walhydra grouses, stomping and stretching to get the kinks out of her back. "What's your point?!"

"You're still feel bullied, and you hate it."


"Those are aggressive drivers. Bullies.

"But also the teenagers...even the grade school kids you feel intimidated by. The people who don't watch out for anyone but themselves. The one's who take your seat or talk too loudly on their cell phones or expect you do whatever they want at the library services desk.

"They all seem like bullies."

Walhydra sat down. "And...?"

" don't feel safe. Don't know how to protect yourself. It doesn't feel like anyone's in authority anymore, does it?"

Walhydra frowned. It was never fun to find out that underneath whatever she disliked about other people was something she disliked about herself.

"Well.... There isn't anyone in authority anymore! Everyone does what he wants, regardless of how it affects other people."


"Yes? Is that all you can say? You're just like my fa...."
“It’s not fair,” she hears herself whining. Starting in first grade, she would frequently come home from some round of teasing by peers or unappreciative discipline by adults to voice that complaint to her father, the Lutheran pastor.

“You’re right,” he would reply. “It’s not fair.”

For years—at least thirty, she figures—Walhydra thought this meant he wasn’t a “good Dad,” because he didn’t go and fix it. Then one day she woke up and realized he had just been confirming her observation of reality.
"I listened to him," Crippled Wolf says gently. "You didn't want to."

"Yeah, well.... So what do I do?"

"Keep yelling at them (silently) as bullies, or be the sixty-four year old crone you are."


"Haha! Almost sixty-four. Come on. Let's go get a double waffle cone of double chocolate ice cream."

Walhydra smiles.

Chocolate cone

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus and Mo: eggs2

Jesus and Mo, eggs2

See The Empty Day for my personal take on Jesus' passion.
He is just there. A historical person, demonstrating in the flesh, through the stories about him, all that a human being is capable of doing when in full relationship with God.

What, then, was so powerful for Jesus’ disciples—after their flight and betrayal and denial of him—that they could know him to be alive for them again?

It was the simple, bone-deep realization that they still experienced the kinship with God which Jesus had enabled them to know before his death.

That kinship was not broken, cannot be broken.

“Jesus knows, God knows. Just wake up and follow him again. That’s all we can do.”

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,

Friday, March 07, 2014

The intimate register

Crippled Wolf and Hubby Jim are sitting at Tenbucks on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the dryers at their favorite "aging hippie" run laundromat to finish their cycles.

Field hockey, by Mike ShellAs they watch the people on the plaza outside, a toddler runs away from his dad, laughing gleefully.

“Escaped cultivation,” Crippled Wolf intones.

JimJim laughs.

“Huh?”  A friend sitting with them looks from one to another in puzzlement.

“It’s a long story,” Crippled Wolf explains.

Cytisus scoparius kz1A couple decades ago when they were hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Crippled Wolf and Jim had stumbled on the phrase in the Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers.

They were trying to identify what turned out to be Scotch Broom and discovered that it had been brought to America by gardeners and then…escaped cultivation.

Now, almost anything which manages to get “out of place” might find itself so labeled in their private banter.

Sociolinguists use the term intimate register to refer to the informal language used among family members and close friends.

Technically, the intimate register is the private vocabulary and nonverbal cues exclusive to a pair or group.  However, it can be said to include the whole private lore of those people—whatever allusions, punch lines, etc., have historical reference within their tiny circle.

Crippled Wolf can be grasping for a word, and Jim will say, “…thing.”

Or Jim can start to murmur, "No, I can't forget the evening...," and Crippled Wolf will run away screaming.

Ever single person shares intimate registers with someone: a lover, a co-worker, a group of friends.  It's part of what connects us a social animals, the ability to evoke a whole shared memory—and attendant emotions—with a trivial cue no one outside the intimacy would recognize.

It's not all that different from people privately wincing in their pews when the preacher calls for "Almost Persuaded."

[Haha! Got you, Jim, if you're reading this.]

So why has Crippled Wolf become so fixated on the intimate register recently?

Anticipatory grief.

Another day, a different evening.

Crippled Wolf and Jim are at their favorite sushi cafe, sharing a moment of "baby madness" as a couple sit down next to them with their eleven-week-old infant and the daddy gets all mushy—as new daddies tend to do.

In the midst of enjoying the moment, watching Jim grin and googoo at the kid, Crippled Wolf feels a spike in his heart.

"This won't always be here," he thinks.  "He won't always be here...or I won't."

And then what will happen to the intimate register?

It will be like the death of a sun, a solar system, a galaxy.

Such cold and emptiness.

It takes a moment for Crippled Wolf to get back into the present moment.

He's getting better at this. So much practice from escorting first his mother and then his father to their deaths.

But how does one practice losing the other half of one's heart?  

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Baby madness is that momentary "Awwww....I wanna baaabie" feeling one getsjust before the kid bawls and cures you of it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Crippled Wolf's inspiration

Over the past year, Crippled Wolf has been reclaiming Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan in AmericaBack when he was a wannabe hippie back in the late 60s and early 70s, Crippled Wolf thought of Dylan as the radical leader of "the Revolution"—mainly because that's what the media kept saying.

However, from Sean Wilentz's excellent recent book, Bob Dylan in America, he has learned that Dylan himself hated and rejected that role.  In fact, until the mid-1980s, Dylan went to great lengths to "destroy" his own career.

So that the media and the fans would stop following him. So that they would stop asking him "What do the young generation want?"  So that he could get back to what he had always considered his true role: not as a minstrel for "the Revolution" by as a lover and re-inventor of the great traditions of American folk and blues.

Here's what Dylan wrote himself in his beautiful 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Volume One,  describing his youthful years in Minneapolis:
The Gregory Corso poem "Bomb" was more to the point and touched the spirit of the times better—a wasted world and totally mechanized—a lot of hustle and bustle—a lot of shelves to clean, boxes to stack. I wasn't going to pin my hopes on that. Creatively you couldn't do much with it.
I had already landed in a parallel universe, anyway, with more archaic principles and values; one where actions and virtues were old style and judgmental things came falling out on their heads. A culture of outlaw women, super thugs, demon lovers and gospel truths...streets and valleys, rich peaty swamps, with landowners and oilmen, Stagger Lee, Pretty Pollys and John Henrys—an invisible world that towered overhead with walls of gleaming corridors. It was all there and it was clear—ideal and God-fearing—but you had to go  find it....
Folk music was a reality of a more brilliant dimension. It exceeded all human understanding, and if it called out to you, you could disappear and be be sucked into it. I felt right at home in this mythical realm made up not with individuals so much as archetypes,...each rugged soul filled with natural knowing and inner wisdom. Each demanding a degree of respect.... Folk music was all I needed to exist.
Trouble was, there wasn't enough of it. It was out of date, had no proper connection to the actualities, the trends of the time. it was a huge story but hard to come across. (235-36)
  Earlier in Chronicles, Dylan explained how he went about re-inventing folk music:
What I usually did was start out with something, some kind of line written in stone and turn it with another line—make it add up to something else than it originally did. (228)
Currently, Crippled Wolf is listening to one album over and over, Oh, Mercy, Dylan's brilliant "come back" album from1989.

Here's Crippled Wolf's current favorite, a musically gorgeous song with shades of the late Lou Reed in its sound and delivery, yet with all the wryly ironic twists of Dylan's masterful poetry.

Oh Mercy, by Bob Dylan
Most of the Time

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path, I can read the signs
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

Most of the time
It’s well understood
Most of the time
I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up, I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive, I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

Most of the time
My head is on straight
Most of the time
I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ’til it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time

Most of the time
She ain’t even in my mind
I wouldn’t know her if I saw her
She’s that far behind
Most of the time
I can’t even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was with her

Most of the time
I’m halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it went
I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time


And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow