Greater than a story: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimer McBride

lesser-bohemians

When many hear the world “Ireland,” thoughts of many  rise with tedious predictability: border, violence, sexual repression, drunks.  Eimear McBride’s new novel, The Lesser Bohemians at once engages and shatters these stereotypes.

McBride uses the modernist style to bring the reader inside the self of her main character, Eily, as the 18-year-old woman crosses her own borders: from childhood to independence; from Ireland to England; from innocence to experience; from loneliness to love.  Her language  and insight are at times obscure but more often breathtaking, bracing and brilliant.  The reader experiences the world of Eily from inside herself, almost as if the reader has become a dissociated personality of the character.   McBride captures the essential nature of being young, unschooled, and protected but venturing into a wider world filled with the beauty of unknown art and literature, the challenges of education, and the hazards of sexual innocence.   Eily asks herself, when she visits an art gallery “Seek to feel but think instead and wonder if that’s wrong I’m a God’s fair innocent after all when it comes to galleries too.”; and the reader is immediately returned to one’s own initiations.  Eily in the initial stage of the novel is searching for her identity:”  Why am I. Why am I not. Where’s even the way to could? I’m not lost. Or not lost much. Lonely. It is that and I don’t know what to do.” As she moves through her first months at a London Drama School she acknowledges: “tried by the weight of all I don’t know.”

As she moves through that first year away from Ireland and engages in a relationship with a man whose name is not revealed until well into the novel, a famous actor, more than twice her age, constricting his life, nonetheless, to an untidy bedsit, Eily confronts her own demons: “Thy will be done. Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin.”  Her sexual initiation begins from a place of fear and shame” To spite myself, for him,  To hurt myself. I open my thighs saying Lads, do anything. Nothing matters and it is nothing…Shame fuses to silence letting the night maraud.While like watching TV, I watch. , killing bit by bit the useless hope of not being this girl I was. Am. She is…” And yet, Eily continues the journey of transformation from a shy Irish girl of the 1990’s (“Ireland is what it is. Sealed in itself, like me…”) into a woman who enjoys and even needs sensual and sexual fulfillment:  “Strange to my skin, him kissing somewhere else. Stranger to be on the outside, recreating its taste…”  Another achievement of McBride in this novel is to write with ferocious clarity about Eily’s emerging sexuality and her pleasure.

McBride moves to a more conventional narrative style, without losing the poetic cadence that appears natural to her, as the novel explores the love story itself. Perhaps, McBride is allowing her prose style to reflect  how Eily has moved from her lonely confusion and sense of isolation into  the satisfactions and pathos of an actual relationship which must exist or fail to exist on more levels than the purely physical or sensual.  Eily is permitted to articulate her own wisdom, “the opposite of love is despair” while retaining her haunting perception.  This transition of narrative style creates a less thrilling engagement of the reader but does not diminish the work.  Instead, McBride has creatively employed narrative technique to amplify the characters experience.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Notwithstanding, McBride’s novel remains, to date, my reading highlight of the year.

The Mystery of “Crime Porn”

fingerprint-255904_1280

Getting through it, catholic school felt alternately like suffocating in quicksand, routing the lurking ambush of a terror squad , or  expanding with sudden joy as when a hurricane approaching is preceded by brief but glorious sunlight and tranquility.

Experiencing life, I often credited that education for the rewards gained from the love of literature  acquired despite the cautious offerings but likely because of the scholarly approach and the appreciation of excellence:  pleasure in the written word, even more in the spoken; solace in time of sorrow; refreshment in time of leisure.  Taking my children to the now almost quaint institution of a bookshop in their adolescence, I could command attention, almost impress, with my deep knowledge of literature and experience of the classics.  What had been forbidden during school days, Lawrence, Woolf, Joyce,  Lessing, later  transformed into the emotional and intellectual affluence and security of  a well-read life.

Alas, one with its quirky rules….

“If one starts something, one must certainly finish…”   And I struggled to finish every book I read until  past my mid-century mark!  Imagine discovering new freedom after 50!

“Read at least one ‘classic’ every summer……”  Feeling, forever young!

And “some books are less worthy than others!”  Yes, the shame of reading trash!  Whole genres…. Like the Mystery novel!

Until about five years ago, the mystery novel, like  its film, dramatic or television adaptation was, for me, a lesser thing, not even a guilty pleasure!    Dorothy Sayres?  Patricia Highsmith? Serious fiction?  Surely, not.

Ill informed, cheap pretension! –  my view that the mystery novel, or film, play or drama, is a lesser art.  Hawthorne, Green, Poe, Sayers, Tey, DuMaurier, Eco, Black. Surely, these are great writers, indeed.  Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, Maigret, Montalbano, Comissario Brunetti, Wallander, Miss Marple, Miss Fischer:  investigators who delight,indeed.  Alfred Hitchcock, David Finchner, Carrol Reed, Francis Ford Coppolla, mystery genre directors who perfected an art form.

The good mystery engages the intellect in a complex puzzle, commanding attention to the most subtle detail.  Through this conceit, the skilled author lays bare and probes layers of the culture and society surrounding the characters: the physical landscapes, the interiors of the homes, offices and public spaces, the art, music, poetry of the day or of the past which supports the characters; the landscapes of the mind.  The mystery exposes the organization of the society, how it adheres, where it fragments, what it values and what, or whom, it discards.  Through the portrayal of crime, and the consequences of crime, concepts of justice are examined; issues of class, race, religion and gender  probed.  We  observe  equality and inequality, generosity and self-interest.  The mystery scrutinizes human motivation, often exposing the role of history in contemporary identity: the effects of emotional loss and the loss of power; the consequences of addiction, greed and mental illness.  The mystery can introduce the foreign and make it ordinary, whether it be the distant place or the idiosyncratic hobby or passion, such as collecting a rare bird or a stamp with a particular ink.  The mystery feeds the human hunger for an understandable world – where  chaos is tamed, action and consequences are predictable, if  only we go back and see the clues.  The mystery genre answers the quest for restored order, the search for social justice, a belief in connection and control.

Alas, in television, in particular, the mystery has been mutilated.    As one idea  so well presented in Gina Gionfriddo’s play Raptrue, Blister, Burn, television and film mysteries are toxic with sexplotation plots which are, in essence, modern “crime porn” masticated for the masses.  Not just a murder, we confront a plot of serial killers sexually abusing young women or boys, formalistically, securing trophies, eating , burning or mutilating them, or engaging in  some other perversely imagined amalgamation of male-commanding, female-submissive  scenario of  violence, gore and ritual, all available in prime time and cable for download and on the internet, 24 hours a day.  Fine actors, like Kevin Bacon or Viola Davis pollute the images of FBI agents or Law  Professors, indeed of human beings,  as they become these new tv “crime porn” stars (The Following, How to Get Away With Murder)  in dramas which do much more than merely coarsen public discourse: they pollute the national psyche.

The flood of “crime porn” in our theaters and on our screens fulfills none of these basic needs and aims at none of these aspirations.  Nor is the issue whether or not there is evidence to suggest that the violent degradation of women and children and the occasional man on the screen increases real life violence.  For even if this is not true, it is clear that ours is a society that is far too violent, far too toxic, and, certainly,  far too intolerant.  I recall my incredulity upon learning  that the crowds had hungrily  gathered to watch beheadings during the French Revolution.  Could this be the  impulse  which stimulates the greedy  creation and consumption of “crime porn” today?

The devolution of  “crime porn” provides us with no surrounding layers of culture,  (art, literature, music, landscapes) to cushion or surround the crime, to give a meaning, a context for the violence or a significance for the act or the actor.  Typically, in crime porn plots, the darkness of deranged criminal is only slightly less dark than some corrosive thing in the life or past of the detectives; the question of how society coalesces, what it values, how it is generous, is not often asked, much less answered.  Were it to be, the answer  would be as dark and ugly as the depiction of the crime itself.  Crime porn does not make chaos understandable, the unthinkable comprehensible; it does not provide a sense of justice and restored order.  Rather, crime porn seems to reflect our own anxiety that our world is intolerably out of control, craven, degraded, senseless and adrift.

The riddle is that we call this entertainment.  The puzzle is, we permit new, more lavish, star-studded performances every year.  Nationwide, we decry the many dangers of the media – cyber bullying, cyber crime, government surveillance – all while this “entertainment” violence propagates unimpeded.  The perplexity is our passivity.

As at other times in my life, I am grateful for the solidity gained from my classic, if confining and imperfect, education.  A screen can be switched  from images to words or a book picked up, and these, detective fiction included, can still transport to reaches where humanity and justice are examined, explored, considered.

The mystery, it seems, is how our culture, as a whole, can be moved to some place safe from this pandemic of “crime porn”.

The Back to School Aisle in the Grocery Store

back toschoolSliding from the fancy roadster with the light-colored leather seats, I  dash into the shop, careless of the time of day and season of the year.

Like a panther lurking,  feelings gnaw, snap sharply with strong teeth, the pain spreads quickly from my heart  to each unsuspecting nerve within my body.

I enjoy again your tiny hand, so gentle, soft and trusting within mine;  fingernails, not quite clean, ice cream stains still tracing  near happiness.

Your lively eyes, wide with wonder, perceive the judgment  you must make tonight for times of  rain and snow, through golden days of autumn til the springtime gives you release again to summer.

Which color shall you choose, the rainbow of spring or the child’s bold primary colors? No prince or princess engages you. But shall you choose some other player to consort with  at meals?  Or, shall some mix or shape, and stain and form, instead,  foster your gentle and precocious imaginings?

With intensity,  you deliberate; like a diplomat  commencing  peace negotiations.  I honor your  bravery and intelligence:  the belief, still living, in a perfect choice.

Again,  the softness of  your hand disarms me.  More  exquisite, smooth and tender  in my memory, no doubt, than ever truly known. And the sweetness of your scent, unwashed after a full day of summer play: chlorine and french fries, sand and dirt,  sweat and river water.  Lingering, the smell of morning toothpaste and jelly from the sandwich that I made; your friends at play, their evening soap, and your brother’s brand new sneakers. And the dog.  All of you trotting just behind her  late this afternoon.

Rather,  a physical blow to the powerful tear of memory.

(Is this just the in-between time?  The days when you have gone into the world and we are all adventuring? Will other days inhabit time with other life and visions?)

Satisfaction and fulfilment.  Clarity: my existence has a meaning when your existence is such perfection.  Perhaps, not truly generosity. Perhaps only covetous love celebrates dispensing someone else’s need…

Tears,behind the eyes, closed throat perceive the absence of the little hand.

Clatter of a shopping cart and the moment fades.

The store chills.  Evening recedes.  I  purchase and resume my solitary journey home.

 

 http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

Somewhere on a Mountaintop….

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASomewhere on a mountaintop …. dawning caresses awareness; the nearly flawless skin about her eyes lurches;   her silken limbs emerge – brocade and silks, so softly set aside.

On the terrace, the chill has not absconded.  She lifts her shawl, steps out to the abundant morning; beyond, sierra silhouetted against the breaking day, blue enveloping.

The breeze is piquant with juniper, pine ,musk, and sage, and the trace of dew lingering. Collecting into a cloud of steam, above the translucent coffee pot, morning air  steeps her soul with satisfaction, and with a twinge of sadness: her eye contains the image of migrant men in the open truck far down below on the rocky road ascending to a farm somewhere out of view.

****

Somewhere on a mountaintop….she accompanies her flock to accept the day as it arrives upon the chilled and rocky slope above her whitewashed cottage on the hillside so distant now and barely seen.

Stillness, then the silence snapped by the crack of  sheepdogs barking, the sharp calls echo through the hills, the herd replying. A melody of hooves and brays and barks and bleats and birds and morning.

She settles in a meadow for her meal, the thermos steaming. Her swollen hands,red and knobbed and rough, grasp the teacup clumsily, and are warmed.  Sunshine gathers strength as does the smile that lingers behind flagging eyes that surveil the rock and  field and sky and perceive majesty.

 ****

Somewhere on a mountaintop….  she  no longer knows if it is night or  it is day.

 

Cacophony. Dissonance. Tumult. Noise. Horror, Wails. Moans. Groans. Torment. And worst: Silence.

 Her eyes, unsighted  now, are parched; tears remain her burden. Fouled air. Ruthless heat. Implacable hunger. These cower in the face of fear. Pulverized sand and dirt cling to her skin, climb down her throat. Her thoughts emerge from blackness to watch again helplessly as he is stolen from her life ,his own extinguished. 

Words amass and seem to mean something about survival …

 

 http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

Freedom’s Price? Corporate Freedom of Religious Expression Trumps A Woman’s Right of Choice

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.

Sojourner Truth

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (Pensees) 1670

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx

 

Western Art, Song and Literature  elevate religious thought and feeling, canon and belief throughout centuries.  Women burning as witches, brother slaying brother, specifics of the creed determine lives.  Families fleeing intolerance and persecution, cultures reproduce in unlikely spaces across the world. The United States proclaims a refuge for the persecuted: Puritan, Quaker, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Anglican. All voices may rise in free worship; the atheist song as well. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion.  Until today.

Compromised, contained, categorized, freedom of Religion, certainly.  Legal minds splitting threads of legal thought.  Fine, fine filaments. Today,  the Supreme Court  severed the strand.

A circle of owners, a private family business,  Hobby Lobby sells bric a brac, becomes wildly successful.  The family establishes a trust, then forms a ‘closely held corporation’.  Corporate law creates a shield for  individual family members.  The corporate form protects against legal liability. It bestows abundant tax benefits to the family. The  corporation donates generously, strategically to social and election campaigns, pursues  political objectives.  Hobby Lobby, one of Forbes 150 top US  closely held corporations, spends fortunes to create a political agenda.

 Hobby Lobby need not account for how it spends  money:  a corporation can be a  “person” under US law.

And, Hobby Lobby, need not be consistent in belief and behavior.

Hobby Lobby, the corporation, unfettered, free, invests workers money wisely, even into funds of other corporations which are makers of medicines and devices for birth control.(These companies’ business violates Hobby Lobby’s ethical code.  But the fund makes a profit.)  No worker sues to divest this course.  Corporate freedom of investment remains unencumbered.

 Hobby Lobby denies  female workers  access to health care options which include contraceptive care.   Corporate owners announce that their personal moral and religious beliefs oppose reproductive planning health care. They oppose this care even if used to treat a strictly medical condition. The owners assert their corporation has the same religious views.  They assert the right for free exercise of religion by their family corporation.

The Corporation is victorious once again.

The Supreme Court will not require closely held corporations to direct money into undifferentiated funds which finance a variety of health benefits under comprehensive health plans, including reproductive care. Not when the Corporation asserts that the provision of reproductive care violates a sincerely held religious value. Never mind that many workers  have different but equally important and as sincerely held religious beliefs.  Never mind that these workers financially depend on the job for health care and insurance. Do not consider that any worker whose values are offended can opt out of the insurance program or the reproductive benefits.  Why these factors do not matter is not clear.  Corporate free exercise of religion, apparently, trumps all.

Before today, a worker at Hobby Lobby who wanted access to reproductive health care whether for contraception or medical reasons had insurance coverage to obtain it.   Now, no matter the individual worker’s belief system,  she has no reproductive health care insurance coverage whether it is for family planning or it is medically necessary.

What other corporate ethical codes will trump a worker’s own?  Hobby Lobby, and countless other corporate consciences, could contrive religious exemptions to many legal mandates.  Many heard before, will they find favor if raised anew?   “It’s against my religious beliefs to allow…” blood transfusions; antidepressants; vaccinations; anesthesia; gelatin covered, pig derived or animal tested medicine!   “My religion precludes me from…”  employing women, paying minimum wages; employing integrated races; employing integrated religions, employing homosexuals, providing professional services to persons not of my religion, not of my race, not of my sexual orientation.

But, is it again about the woman, the worker, the working woman’s womb?  Is it  coincidence that the challenge which reached the court concerned women’s health?  Should we overlook that this challenge  implicates contraception?

Byzantine though the anti-birth control politicians seem, they are relentless.  A fully realized woman, empowered, employed, sexually fulfilled, a mother, healthy,  and above all happy with this life, affronts grotesque puritan values.  Values which mock us around the modern world.  Values so rooted at home we do not feel the constriction.

The sun is shining bright in Philadelphia,  merely 90 miles away from that decision.  Still, no greater darkness has manifest in the life of women from the law, in decades.

   

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

Down the yellow brick road after almost forty years

cropped-6-13-14.jpgIt does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but

the little it takes is long in coming.

Flannery O’Connor

Some  days, green times of the early seventies filter through my memory and energize me with a subtle hopefulness.  It was after all, and as they say, a time of innocence.

For over a hundred years our voices had been unwelcome, our presence banned.   None of our ideas were thought to ennoble this  pleasant urban space. Now, the breath of change, crisp and fresh,  gave life to new friendship all around the campus.  

Willowy, long-haired women in denim skirts which reached the ground or those  in peasant garb or  the ones with shaggy hair dressed in traditional worker blues picnicked in the sun.  Books buttressing shoulders or balancing long sheets of ink filled paper, they sidelined sandwiches half-eaten, collected  yogurt cups on the felt-like lawn.  Miniskirts and mustaches  passed, silent or sneering, either way unnoticed as the gathered women vowed to meet again for dinner on Wednesday night to share, then, a more personal conversation.

Elsewhere, alcohol and drugs were expanding minds.  We adventured  landscapes new and old,  together and separately.  And though it was not always sunshine, it remained mostly green, as we became the star-gazer, the professor, the business woman, the writer, the teacher, and the one who disappeared. Nor can we forget, the lawyer, the one who was made duty bound to make the change for our daughters and their daughters. We thought, then,”if women had the power…” We believed better worlds lay down the yellow brick road. 

Young women dreaming, working hard, studying, achieving, so serious. Perched precariously, preparing for the revolutionary times that were ours to make and to finesse with fine ideas and our own fire.

But it became a summer of sweet content, mainly.

We became a writer and a star-gazer turned corporate traveler, a professor and two lawyers. Life gave  husbands, wives, houses, children, joys, sorrows and to one an early death. With our sisters in the same professions or in book clubs, we met at power lunches, for power walks, power runs for sister candidates.  We got older, looking younger than previous generations, with  expensive lotions, female surgeons and women’s fitness routines. We styled our long hair, recycled peasant dresses, shrunk the denim.

As do our sisters of the same color, class and education, we  live in such comfort our mothers dreamt of for the important and the wealthy. Many  mothers, who showed us more than we will ever comprehend about life, age in “assisted living” placements.  Our generation prides itself on our deep, rich, barrier breaking sensibilities.

 Our urban campus today, a testament: “if you let them in they shall seize it all. ”  Women outnumber men by three to one.  The institute  of learning which channeled  leaders to high places in the city, now feeds nurses to the clinics. No less achieved. More?

But, do the women still picnic on the green, grasping a new world order?  What of women vanished into that summer of content?

Deep hued times and even a new century,  women rise with matured aspirations.  Institutions defiantly departed now greet the daughters nonchalantly. Doctors and lawyers and professors, women are not uncommon.  Justice, equality and power remain absent, but inky notes on picnic papers  are quaint  relics of past hopes and philosophies.

The real revolution was women talking.  Women reaching out to women and listening to what was said.  Wanting to know what the other thought, felt, experienced, understood, expressed.  Certainly, this was a way of understanding self, narcissistic.  But it was also, a way of reaching out into the world.  Power, connection, caring.  

As are  blithe gatherings on the green, the conviviality for a cause vanished quickly in the summer. “Sisterhood” soon  shrouded with a bruising cloth.

We used to say the political is personal, the personal, political.

Some us always listened to each other, perhaps because these were the only sisters whose care we had ever known.  In that circle of understanding, learning, justice, connection, but validation above all.  Naively seeing worldly circles equal, these women headed straight to painful falls.

Some of us, unaware we were so vulnerable.  That attachment to a person and a cause would fray so quickly.  “That isn’t the way I see it, I see it differently.  There are extremists on every issue, in every time.”

Some of us,so easily intoxicated, refusing treatment, in denial our whole life long.  For  some, the drug, meanness,  the silent, silken   sway, enchanting, to see the others fall down in the path.  The bitter taste, but men have drunk this brew through ages, so many blends. We drink with gusto.Our right.  Our turn.

We , the bully, the bureaucrat, the shooter,the soldier,now as well.

” and so it goes,” Secretary Hillary Clinton  may refuse to trash Sarah Palin  just because she is asked to do so. But, Terry Gross will  try to trash  Secretary  Clinton  merely to show she can.

The writer will trash the business executive,traveling around the world.  Not in the open, with the concrete thing, which can be seen and defended. But behind the curtains, to some of the others, some words spoken.  The meaning clear, or not so clear, for the executive must believe she herself  at fault.

The director of the community group will trash the  popular professor.  The professor, too kind, too supportive, or, perhaps, presents another defect.  Is she a stand out member, too assertive, too many ideas?  The emails and memos circulate. There are missed meetings, about which the professor was not called. She will later scramble to trace events, as if she is researching her dissertation: who has been told; what has been said; when did this start; what is happening? Falling into a well of darkness, unsure of the beginning or the end.

Trashing is crazymaking.  Conflict announced as conflict avoidance.  Sudden, the unanticipated cold steel apprehended in the midst of warm conversation.

Is this the old, old pattern from years ago, or a dynamic by a newer catchy name: the bully, the frenemy.

Is this just what we did in school when they said that boys were tough but girls were catty?

Oh, has the world changed at all in forty years?

On the TV after another school shooting, another protest.  This time the grandmothers are all marching with colored signs outside the school.  They blame the bullies, they blame the videos and they blame the gun laws.  As I watch them, I cannot hep wonder how they communicate.

The statehouse steps erupt in shouts and angry protest as the car speeds away.  The governor again declares not all citizens have equal rights. At the front, clenched fists are pounding the humid air, relentless.  To the right, a couple embraces, and the woman cries on her partner’s breast.

The small courtroom empties to the lot in the shopping center.  The  man-child marches to his car, the woman-child to hers.  Because he is a soldier, his drunken fists have been forgiven. What will those fists do in three months time in the desert sands of Afghanistan?

…it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Lewis Carroll

       

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

And So The Tears Still Fall…

No shadow is remembered nor an echo recalled of the impassioned campaign the women waged, (year upon year, under purple, white and golden banners) that they be seen and heard and counted:  enjoy enfranchisement alongside men. Ideals propelled them: their voice would jettison poverty, inferiority, powerlessness, within the home and in other spheres for white and black, for wife and spinster.

Marching, publishing, explaining with practiced elocution, they stood in cold and rain, they endured the glass and rocks hurled at their heads, they suffered far too many days of unlawful confinement and vicious jailers’ blows struck in a rage fueled by lack of comprehension.  They yearned for sunlight or the feel of a fresh breeze and writhed with pain and disgust as food forced through their nostrils mixed with their own vomit. They suffered the mantras of their detractors:  “You are not fit to think or speak your mind. You are like an errant child, you who were born for these things alone: to breed and to obey.”

The goal achieved.  The tale forgotten. The marching women’s words erased from our collective memory.

A treasured text from ancient times, feared, revered, misunderstood.  Talking heads on the flickering screen lob phrases: “jihad,” “Quar’an,”  “religious imperialism.”

 On the city street, a young, raven beauty darts before the dark to don again the  hijab she secreted, its heft, its gloom not matched to  her spirit.  She spies her brother in his western dress, and is immobilized; thought quelled; breath quashed. She  ceases to apprehend what is before her.  Her heart  plummtes below ground.  The young man’s eyes lock  hers, then look away, black and beautiful  as her own, burning coldly inside her brain.  The thin young body breathes again, short, fractured, gasping breaths.  The silken hair yields to the cloth as she withdraws into the shadows of the football field now falling into night.

Silken hair spills from the cloth when her body is found days later stabbed twenty-three times.  A father claims it is his right, his duty, to uphold the honor so demeaned by his daughter’s defiance.

After-dinner theater for a highly select group.  The stage: institutional greens, glass and steel.  The script so secret, any miscue, all is chaos and the public show is cancelled.

Out of view, the family arrives, still mourning. They know not what they seek precisely, each or all: vengeance, retribution, finality. Can rage, now after fifteen years, still feed the just and eternal flames of sorrow that scorched the hearts and faces, the eyes that now look on, somewhere, behind the stage, in a quiet room apart. Do those dolorous eyes surveill the set, after all, or do they see again, her face, her wave, her disappearing image  on that last June night of her so cruelly truncated life.

Photographs pose a hardened man, reporters tell a tale of unrepentant evil. He seized a life at random,he dispatched it for no reason.  His state pronounces a right to life, a right to kill.  They have sent him to the place to die.  But his body is recalcitrant and taunts their secret script.  The actors scramble in disarray.  The curtain falls.  Did the man writhe in pain, call out and convulse ?

Reviews are omnipresent: a macabre  performance.

Crimson stream on pearly ground glistens in the cold below the January stars.  Air escapes hissing from the embers still smoldering in the fire pit but the frigid form remains still.  The pistol reflects the light of the blue and white police cars where the woman sobs under blankets.

Inside the stately home, the grey haired detective sits on the leather chair and smells the lemon oil that recently kissed the antique cherry desk.His deep sigh echos on the empty shelves, the papers, arranged in martial rows and columns, announce the imminent seizure of the home by the bankers.

White candles in the night illuminate uncomprehending faces, stricken with loss and fear and rage.

Colored plastic body bags obscure the faces of the students slain on that Freedom’s  Friday.  And so the fabrications begin, the quest to be included in the sorrow, or, surpassing that, to become the tragedy itself. A  ripple,  soon to reach crescendo in a worldwide wave.

So many reach in fatigue, in desperation, with  minds too full, too  severely throbbing to comprehend that no single answer will ever serve to the simple question:  Why.

Communicators tangle threads.  “Another mass school shooting  ” Six young students slain, three slashed and stabbed.  Horrible.  Intimate.  Full of  hate.  And personal. Three students gunned down in moments.   Two, pre-meditated killed in a hunt for female flesh.  One random shot. All  young lives extinguished as the young man preened in his sleek black car through the California college beach town with far too many guns, more ammunition, hoarded,  like a nation’ treasure.One suicide. A bullet to the head.

The chain of blame: a bullied child was he.  A bullied child in wonderland, in wealth and privilege, ancient parkland, grandmother’s tales.  His anguished parents questing until the moments  he lay dying,  speeding through the night to rescue others, to interrupt his action.

A lonely man living in the modern electronic world riddled with thoughts of hatred.  Young women  slaughtered in the morning of  joyous lives, blameless, strong, empowered. Their memory untarnished by his disordered mind.  To honor them we must not seize their tragic story. Nor fail to hear his loathing for the Asian, or see the slashing death he wrought on Asian men with whom he shared nothing more than perhaps a skin tone.

Their lives deserve full honor, not least to be remembered.

In light of day, by clear starlight, the tide returns in peace. Each will reach to touch a heart. Many times, we will succeed.


<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif&#8221;

Women,Violence and Education:The Politics of Empathy

Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Women_Working_on_Pillow_Lace_(The_Sewing_School)_-_WGA4672

Only when lions have historians will Hunters cease to be heroes.    African Proverb

 

 

This Spring delivered worldwide tragedies,  collecting western press attention, sometimes obsession, often releasing waves of compassion and support into the international community.

A Malaysian plane disappearing.  A South Korean ferry filled with celebrating teens capsizing. Deadly mudslides and tornadoes in the United States.  Earthquake and fire in Chile.

These much documented events developed as Syria, Central Africa, the Mideast, South Asia, in fact the world, continued to roil in conflict.

US media zealously displayed the emergence of a “new cold war” between the United States and Russia, a monumental clash of personalities: Putin and Obama.

But world media largely ignored the capture of hundreds of young women and girls in Nigeria.  The international press  highlighted the horror almost immediately. Leading United States outlets such as the New York Times and NPR gave consumers brief  note of the tragedy.  But, the “missing schoolgirl crisis” did not become a media event until two weeks of “inadequate response ” by the Nigerian government.

Some suggest the grief-stricken cries of  the parents along with the empowering challenge of  the female education activist, Malala Yousafzai, engaged the Nigerian diaspora triggering world-wide political protests, online campaigns and a twitter hashtag program engaging celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake.

Nicholas Kristof on Sunday called for United States intervention.  The United States Government, on the eve of a  Global Economic Conference scheduled in southern Nigeria, has agreed to offer support along with France and Britain.  Promises for assistance do not suggest immediate results will follow despite the well appreciated powers of the US anti terror machinery. Headlines across the press, television, radio and online media herald United States intervention.  Few understand initial efforts are limited to ten specialists.

One may be justifiably perplexed about how a world power which can locate a well protected target such as bin Laden can be limited in abilities to find young women in difficult terrain.

United States relations with Nigeria are not simple.

Black hats are easily placed on the criminals.  Boko Haram, generally translated as “forbid western education,”  as a  group initially represented protest against a class based society in which the wealthy alone were educated, generally in western capitals.  The educated returned as leaders who, to the founders of Boka Haram’s view,   impoverished and subjugated the population.  There is general agreement that this political mission has been abandoned for a criminal enterprise of murder, rape and greed.

The issue for the media and the US government has been whether or not the Nigerian establishment can justly wear a white hat and be “deserving” of US assistance.  Nigerian ties to “radical” muslim groups, its own repressive policies and history,  and the economic challenges in the country suggest strategic and opportunistic issues for the government.  The sincere may also raise human rights concern.

But the young women remain in danger.

The abductors and torturers of the women and girls are alleged to have connections with international organizations interested in imposing sharia law on populations. The Nigerian government is also alleged to have abused women and girls of the Boko Harman to punish its militants.

Raping, mutilating and enslaving women is a time-honored tradition of war across society. This is a fact which should not be lost as the world finally turns its attention to the plight of these young women.

Of course, education is vital to any society.  Like the water of the natural world, education serves as the basis for any and all development.  Without education of the population, a civilization cannot be sustained.

Fundamentally, however, the abduction and torture, the enslavement and sale of these  young women is not an issue of female education.  It is an issue of violence against women.

We need be watchful of campaigns such as “protect our girls” for the implicit paternalism which has historically generated cultures of violence. We need to  also speak loudly and unequivocally for peace, for a refusal to tolerate sexual or physical violence against women.

This terrible tragedy has caused pain and loss to parents, brothers, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We must be mindful of the personal nature of that pain which surely must be fraught with images of the horrible violence inflicted on the child.

Ironically, in the massively educated west, media and government manipulation of this tragedy seeks to suggest appropriate targets for empathy and political action.

The resulting campaign for educational access for women is certainly vital .

It is difficult to learn to read, however, at the point of a gun.

<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif”

Wadjda

cropped-praying-girl-1.jpgWadjda is an award-winning movie  marketed as the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.  As a western feminist, I consumed available press about the film  and decided to watch it as an act of support for the woman who made it and the story I understood that it told.  My conjured  images of black shrouds in the searing sun suggested that I would be moved and educated by this film.  How surprising, then, is the discovery of delight!

Black forms moving slowly on sunlit streets do in fact inhabit the film.  My western eyes see this without fully comprehending as I am willing to suspend judgement.

Behind the gates and doorways, in the daily action of the real lives of the largely  middle class women and girls we encounter in this movie, all is completely as we know it.  Appliances are modern, gleaming and available for the plentiful food.  Western popular music stimulates the tween girl as she surreptitiously creates bracelets and other “black market items.”  Mother and daughter share intimacies in large airy well-decorated rooms.  Discreet tensions and open conflict overflows from these spaces to the rooftop above where the women still dress in jeans and cool shirts looking down on their world.

Certainly the conservative culture controls female life.   Wadjda  watches her dignified, beautiful mother carefully groom her hair and apply her make-up in the morning before disappearing in a swirl of darkness.  The girl  flares in anger when a taxi driver, clearly economically and educationally disadvantaged and possibly an illegal immigrant, chides the woman like a child for being tardy in getting into his taxi for the three-hour ride through the desert to her employment.  The woman’s friend ultimately rejects this ordeal to find liberating employment in a local hospital.  The dynamics gently explored include the powerlessness of the women , the control of the driver, the ingenuity of the children and the authority of a male even if a mere boy.

Wadjda watches the mother she adores measure her own worth through her father’s eyes in terms of the quality and quanity of  food she prepares.  She struggles to comprehend why this beauty  subverts her own desires for style of dress and hair to please a man so rarely present.  Wadjda is beginning to comprehend  too well that, in her world, biology is destiny.

Contemplating the viewing of this film, I considered that this would indeed be a “foreign” culture.  How startling then to understand the complexity of emotions seen in Wadjda as she endures her conservative, female-dominated religious school.  The insistence of conformity in appearance, down to the shoes which are worn, the  absolute prohibition of any feminine decoration, including nail polish, the suspicion of female friendship, much less love, remain cross-cultural signifiers of  patriarchal social systems and female enforcerment.  Similarly, scenes where students mindlessly recite memorized “beliefs,” use of  shaming and group ostracism as disciplinary tactics and consequent consistent competitive subcultures are also well recognised.

Startling and joyous to feel recognition of the delight of  a child’s physical freedom.  As Wadjda runs down the street, even skips a bit, walks solitary but dreams of riding a bike, the memory of that joy is irrepressible.  When a child is lucky enough to have a full stomach, a secure roof and no present threat of physical harm or illness, exploring the sun -filled day with muscular limbs is a complete pleasure.  Even from my sedentary perch, watching Wadjda, I could recall so many  hours jumping in the sun-drenched Chesapeake waters. I could almost feel again the breeze through my hair on a spring evening as I rode my bike through shaded  streets of row homes or as I explored city spots which I could pretend were dark forests.

Watching Wadjda play with her precocious friend Abdullah, I envisioned my fair-haired daughter racing her friends aside a swimming pool in the summertime.  I remember the tension and  gladness I felt as I watched her small frame dart through other little bodies in pursuit of a soccer ball on a fall day.  I felt contentment that, though grown up, she still chases my puppy down the lane.

Wadjda is not a film which will change the world, if indeed any film can.  It is not a soapbox for any particular ideology.  The movie treats character and culture with respect but not without a critical lens.   For me the movie was a surprise.  It was a reminder that there are universals in life which transcend culture and political or religious systems:  childhood, sunlight, clean and open air, curiosity, hope, movement, friendship and love.