Showing posts with label Ursula LeGuin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ursula LeGuin. Show all posts

03 August 2017

Learning Experiences 101

by Eve Fisher

Image result for badlands gun range billboard machine gun sioux fallsI've mentioned in previous blogs a guy named Chuck Brennan, who got rich from payday loan stores.  In 2016, we South Dakotans shut those down by voting for a measure on the amount of interest could be charged. We capped it at 36%, but it's not enough(!), so Chuck picked up all his marbles and went home to Vegas.  He also closed a few other businesses he'd started, including Badlands Pawn, but left behind a radio station (KBAD-fm) and the Badlands Gun Range.

The Badlands Gun Range advertises frequently - shoot a Glock! shoot an AR-15!  shoot a Magnum! - and they frequently show women firing away, because we femmes are the latest target audience.  The latest billboard is "Shoot a machine gun!"   Which is fine.  A little adventure.  What the hell.  With, hopefully, an instructor, and they need one.

Because the billboard (would that I could have gotten a stillshot of it) shows this beautiful young slim woman holding a BIG machine gun as if it were a rifle, with the stock up on her shoulder, her face (no wussy safety glasses for her!) down over the sight, cheek right where you'd expect the recoil to be. Now maybe she's an expert, like Charleze Theron's Mad Max stunt double.  On the other hand, I'd say that if she really did fire it from that position, it would take out her shoulder, break her cheekbone (not to mention powder burns all down that side of her face), knock her back into a wall, and spray bullets all around the area in an unpredictable pattern that I would not want to be anywhere near.  But hey, it would be a learning experience.

Life is full of these learning experiences, especially for those who act first and ask questions later.  If at all.

Anthony Scaramucci at SALT Conference 2016 (cropped).jpgTake Anthony Scaramucci.  There are a number of lessons here:
(1) Goombas rarely become White House staff, because while the suit might look sharp, the attitude doesn't.
(2) Don't give an interview to a reporter on the record and toss around "f" bombs and "c" bombs like they're candy.  BTW, unlike most other news outlets, the The New Yorker (originally marketed by Harold Ross as "not edited for the old lady in Dubuque") actually prints those words in full, so that everyone can savor the crude.  Forever.
(3) All politicians and their representatives would do well to remember the scene in "Bull Durham" between Crash Davis and the umpire: Use the "c" word, and "You're outta here!"
(4) Study a little Greek tragedy:  Announcing that you're going to fire everyone is almost always a sign that the Fates are going to take you down.
From the pony-up and take responsibility department:

Image result for facebook pictures of people with booze and gunsThere was an inmate in one of the AVP (Alternatives to Violence) workshops I do, of whom I have spoken before, a convicted felon who was infuriated to be back in the pen on parole violation "just because" he'd posted a picture of himself - with a gun in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other - on Facebook.  I've been using his story (anonymously) in every workshop since, emphasizing the following lessons:
(1) Yes, your parole officer will check all your social media regularly.
(2) No, there is no right to privacy on social media.
(3) When it's your own damn fault, perhaps you should quit complaining about it.  Nobody MADE you put that crap on Facebook...
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." - Mark Twain
Maybe.

Slow learners:

(1) John Wayne Bobbitt, who, after being "bobbittized" and divorced from Lorena, was arrested for beating up his subsequent girlfriend.
(2) Anthony Weiner.
(3) A man I once knew who was paralyzed in a DUI - he was the one drinking - who kept right on drinking.  With a little help from his "friends."  The man with 12 DUIs, who still couldn't see that he had a problem...  The "closet" middle-aged alcoholic (except everyone knew) who couldn't understand why people didn't want to go drinking with them anymore:  "What happened to fun?"
NOTE:  But really, addicts of any kind shouldn't count.  Addiction is addiction, and those of us who have had many more miles of experience than we'd like with them know that every bottom has a basement, complete with trapdoor...
Samuel Parris.jpeg
Samuel Parris
(4) Richard Nixon.  To the end of his days, Richard Nixon never believed and refused to admit he did anything wrong even in his final speech to the country on his way out the door.  I don't know that he ever even grasped the saying that came out of Watergate:  "it's not the crime, but the cover-up".  I do know that he (and many others) never grasped, as Josh Marshall put it, "But only fools believe that. It's always about the crime. The whole point of the cover-up is that a full revelation of the underlying crime is not survivable."
(5) Samuel Parris, pastor of Salem Village during the Salem Witch Trials, who comes across not just as self-righteous, but kind of man who'd quarrel with a goat.  During the witchcraft trials, he submitted complaints, served as a witness and testified against many accused, and kept the court records.  All in good order, of course.  He was shocked when, after the trials came to an ignominious end, his parish sued him and wanted him GONE.  And, eventually, got him GONE.

Finally, there are the unbelievably hard lessons that only some people learn, and I do not know if that makes them fortunate or not:

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a wonderful series of sci-fi novellas about the slave worlds of Werel and Yeowe, gathered in her books "Four Ways to Forgiveness" and "The Birthday of the World".

Perhaps my favorite is "Old Music and the Slave Women", from "The Birthday of the World":  In this, the main character (his nickname is "Old Music") a representative from the Ekumen (LeGuin's equivalent of the Federation), is kidnapped, held prisoner / hostage, and casually, brutally tortured by some young bucks of the Werel equivalent of the Confederacy.  A higher-up named Rayaye eventually makes the young bucks stop; Old Music survives; but the experience of absolute powerlessness in the face of gratuitous cruelty does not leave him.  He spends most of his time after that with the slave women, who sort of accept him.
"It did him good to know she trusted him.  He needed someone to trust him, for since the cage he could not trust himself.  With Rayaye he was all right; he could still fence; that wasn't the trouble.  It was when he was alone, thinking, sleeping.  He was alone most of the time.  Something in his mind, deep in him, was injured, broken, had not mended, could not be trusted to bear his weight."
Now contrast that with Psalm 7:8:
"The Lord shall judge the people:  judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.
The first reading is why some of us cannot bear the second.  Corruption, violence and abuse at a certain level, whether early or late in life, are damaging, and the physical is the least of it, the easiest to cure.  The official definition of integrity is "(1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values (incorruptibility); (2) an unimpaired condition (3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided."  People who have lived a nice, normal life can say, casually, "Well, I'd never do that" or "I can't understand how some people can live that way" or "I don't see how someone could ever do a thing like that" or  (from Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath") "Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do."  They know what is right; their integrity is intact.  But integrity can be a luxury in the face of survival.

Viktor Frankl2.jpg
Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl understood this.  Survivor of concentration camps, a noted psychologist and author of the incredible "Man's Search for Meaning," he wrote:
“On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles - whatever one may choose to call them - we know: the best of us did not return.”



And you don't forget.  Once you know that you are capable of doing just about anything to survive, from collaboration to crime, from denial to participation...  well, that changes the dynamic.  At least internally.  Yes, that time is over, and outside all is right with the world.  But what if things change? The movie "A History of Violence" romanticizes it.  Tom Stall, a/k/a Joey Cusack, caught back up in a mobster's life, kills everyone he has to kill and then goes home.  Dramatic, exciting, and very clean and tidy.  For me - the quote from "Old Music and the Slave Women" is much more appropriate.  And this quote, from our own AVP manual:
Image result for alternatives to violence project"It is a cliche that 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'  Like all cliches it has a considerable element of truth.  Nonetheless, one of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all.  This is essential because the negative side of the old cliche is as true as the positive:  'Powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.'  All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their environment.  It is also true that all people have a certain amount of power within them, which can be repressed and alienated but cannot really be destroyed. If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power, they will use what power they have destructively and with violence."  - AVP Basic Manual
Abused children; victims of domestic violence; minorities trying to survive endemic, systemic racism; prisoners; a hell of a lot of refugees (including the Okies in "The Grapes of Wrath"); slaves of every era and every kind...  the powerless are everywhere, but generally invisible and unheard, shut away in their own world.

People with power often have no idea of how much their integrity is tied to their security, nor how much of their security is based on their power, or even how much power they actually have, because it's so deep-seated, innate, fundamental, habitual, historical, visceral, that it's like the air they breathe: it is the way things are.  They're the norm, the way everyone should be. Until someone threatens that power, or even strips it away.  Then you find out the jungle under the skin.

And that's what AVP is all about:
"If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power, they will use what power they have destructively and with violence.  It is therefore the business of every AVP workshop to affirm the existence and legitimacy of personal power and to give participants the experience of shared power exercised cooperatively, responsibly, and well."
Speaking of interesting lessons, I never thought I'd say this, but, thank you, O. J. Simpson, for taking AVP:
Image result for o j simpson parole hearingDuring his parole hearing, he told the parole board that the Alternatives to Violence course (AVP) he took there has been his most important lesson behind bars, and that he has often mediated conflict among inmates. He stated:  “I took two courses that I guess you guys don’t give too much credit to, it’s called Alternative to Violence. I think it is the most important course anybody in this prison could take because it teaches you how to deal with conflict through conversation.” - (AVP-USA)
Frankly, I thought he was always just another slow learner, but maybe the lesson's been learned.




05 January 2017

Gifted

by Eve Fisher

Necklines plunged further, needing a chemisette to be worn underneath. Sleeves widened at the elbow, while bodices ended at the natural waistline. Skirts widened and were further emphasised by the addition of flounces.
Victorian Ladies, a/k/a Wikipedia
I trust that everyone had a Merry Christmas,  Happy Hanukkah, Silly Little Solstice, a Happy New Year, survived the holidays (this is harder for some than others - come to an Al-Anon meeting over the holidays some time and I'll show you), and were/are/will be gifted with good things.  We had a lovely time, thank you.

Other than the fact that our furnace went bad on Boxing Day, and we had a couple of days of Victorian temperatures in the house (50s and 60s) while waiting for parts to arrive. (BTW, now I understand completely why Victorians wore 37 pounds of clothing.  It wasn't all about modesty.)  We were lucky.  Considering it was 14 degrees outside, with a windchill of minus 5, when this happened, we were VERY lucky. Our plumber showed up by 8 AM, and our furnace, thank God! is fixed!!!  Huzzah!!!!

I did almost no writing over the holidays - too much going on for concentrated work, and when I did sit down at the old computer (or even the old pad and paper), I managed to distract myself really well. But I did get a lot of reading done.  I always get a lot of reading done.  I have a gift for reading.

I am very fortunate.  I started early.  My mother taught me to read when I was three years old.  (She always said she did it because she got sick of reading the same story to me every night before bedtime, and I believe her.)  One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor of the old living room in Alexandria, VA, with an array of word flash cards that my mother made out of plain index cards.  I specifically remember putting the word "couch" on the couch.  I don't know how long it took me to actually learn to read, but I know that by the time I was four, I was reading [simple] fairy tales on my own.  I can't tell you how magical, how full, how rich, how unforgettable it is to read fairy tales at the right age, all by yourself.

Someone once said, they liked books rather than TV, because books had better pictures.  When you start reading young enough, they do.  Then and now.  I can still remember the worlds that those fairy tales created in my mind - so real that I shivered, walking down a snowy lane.  I could smell the mud under the bridge where the troll lived.  The glass mountain with the glass castle on top of it, and the road running around the bottom.  And it only increased over time.  I know the exact gesture that Anna Karenina made as she turned to see Vronsky at the ball; have heard the Constance de Beverley's shriek of despair, walled up in Lindesfarne; have seen the drunken Fortunato bouncing down the stone walls of the tunnel to the wine vault; have shivered slightly as drops of cool water fell upon the sunbather. For me, reading is a multisensory experience.

And I get drunk on words.  Let's put it this way:  when I read John Donne's poetry, I fell in love with a dead man, and cursed my fate that I never, ever, ever got to meet the man who wrote such burning words...  And I've had the same experience with others:  Shakespeare, Tennyson, Chaucer, Cavafy, Gunter Grass, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Laurie Lee, Rostand, Emily Bronte, Dickinson, I fall hard and deep and willing into words.

My office.  And this isn't the only wall covered with books.
When something gives you this much pleasure, you get good at it.  For over fifty years I've read every day, obsessively, compulsively, constantly. When I was a child, I knew that reading was the best thing in life, and there were too many books and too little time.  So I taught myself to read faster - not speed reading, I don't skip (although thanks to graduate school, I do know how to gut a book) - but I can read every word at an accelerated pace.  (My husband says I devour books.)  And I remember what I read. My mind has its own card catalog, dutifully supplying (still) plot and main characters (sometimes minor ones, too), as well as dialog and best scenes from a whole roomful of books.  And I think about a book, while I'm reading and afterwards.  I analyze it.  I synthesize it with other readings.  I'm damn good at reading.  It's probably the thing I'm best at.
BTW, this was one reason I really enjoyed graduate school, because (in history at least) you spend most of your time reading books - a minimum of 1 per class per week - and then writing an analysis to present to the class, as well as reading everyone else's analysis and arguing away about it.  I was in my element at last.  
Scenes from a Marriage DVD cover.jpgAnyway, constant reading as a child inevitably led to wonder about writing my own.  The real breakthrough into writing came when I realized that the Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote the "Little House" books was the same as the Laura Ingalls character in the "Little House" books.  Wow!  Real people actually wrote these! So I started writing.  I wrote very bad poetry on home-made cards for my family, and I wrote short-shorts (now called flash fiction).  I tried writing novels, but as a child I thought that you had to start at the beginning and go straight through until the end, without any changes or editing, and it never occurred to me that people plotted things out.  So I was 24 before I wrote my first novel (a sci-fi/fantasy that has been sitting on my shelf - for very good reasons - for years).  

Before that, I went through a folk-singer / rock star stage and wrote songs.  I wrote my first short story in years because someone bet me I couldn't do it (I won that bet), and then many more short stories that were mostly dull.  Until I had a magic breakthrough about writing dialog watching - I kid you not - Bergman's "Scenes From A Marriage".  I stayed up all night (I was so much younger then) writing dialog which for the first time sounded like dialog and realized...  well, I went off writing plays for a few years.  Came back to writing short stories.  Along with articles, essays, and blog posts.

And here I am.  Good to see all of you, damn glad to be here.

Meanwhile, Constant Reader (thanks, Dorothy Parker!) keeps on reading.  And re-reading.  Speaking of re-reading, I don't see why people don't do more of it.  I mean, if you like going to a certain place for lunch, dinner, picnics, weekends, or vacations, why not keep reading stories / books that do the trick?  If it's a real knock-out, I'll read it a lot more than twice.  By now I've practically memorized the "Little House" books, "Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass", "David Copperfield", "The Left Hand of Darkness", "Death of a Doxy", "The Thin Man", "Pavilion of Women", "The Mask of Apollo", "In This House of Brede", "The Small House at Allington", "Cider With Rosie", "Nemesis", "Death Comes for the Archbishop", "The Round Dozen", and a whole lot more, not to mention a few yards of poetry. Because I want to go to the places those books and stories and poems take me, again and again and again...  Or I'm just in the mood for that voice, like being in the mood for John Coltrane or Leonard Cohen or Apocalyptica, for beef with broccoli or spanakopita or lentil soup.

So, this Christmas, I reread some Dickens, Miss Read's "Christmas Stories", "Hans Brinker & the Silver Skates", and Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales".  BTW, I have "A Child's Christmas in Wales" in the collection "Quite Early One Morning", available here, which includes "How To Be A Poet", the most hilarious send-up of the writing life I have ever read.  Excerpt:
"The Provincial Rush, or the Up-Rimbaud-and-At-Em approach.  This is not wholeheartedly to be recommended as certain qualifications are essential...  this poet must possess a thirst and constitution like that of a salt-eating pony, a hippo's hide, boundless energy, prodigious conceit, no scruples, and - most important of all, this can never be overestimated - a home to go back to in the provinces whenever he breaks down."  [Sound advice for us all...]
Reading, writing, good food, good company, good conversation...  life doesn't get much better than this.  I've found my calling, which makes me a very gifted person indeed.

Happy New Year!