Hilarious? Hmmmm, Nope

thylane-loubry-blondeauPeople are always saying this is hilarious, that is hilarious: it’s beginning to really bother me.

Some things are funny, sure, but hilarious suggests such an over-the-top reaction to a thing that might, only might, tickle your funny bone it puts me off.

Plus, not to sound like a grouch here, but I don’t think you get to say “Oh, listen to this, it’s hilarious.”

I mean, the person himself has to decide what’s funny, no? Otherwise it’s just the hard sell. It’s like what advertisers, or the media, do with sex vis-à-vis young people:

They take it away from them, take away what is rightfully theirs to find out about, trick it up and try selling it back to them.

It makes me feel a mite queasy, you know?

Fifty Shades of Who Cares

So why IS this book Fifty Shades of Grey such a best seller? They say that for Victorian men one major draw in visiting ‘Ladies of the Night’ was  to enjoy the feeling of not having to be in control for a while  – so wearying to run an Empire AND bully your wife over the dinner table! –  but I imagine the old Joy of Sex was pretty high on the list too.

Still I don’t find the idea of reading one silly handcuff story after another all that compelling.

I have nothing against handcuffs. I saw the film Bill Durham like everyone else; I remember how rookie Tim Robbins gets to pitching so much better after Susan Sarandon starts tying him by his wrists to the bedposts and reading him poetry – remember?

But still: I’m pretty sure when God gave us sex he was thinking “Here’s a fun thing to do,” not “Here’s a fun thing to watch, or read about – other people doing.

Plus you don’t get a new person with second-hand sex. and new people after all are what it’s all for. 😉

A Poem on Love (and Words)

Who can read this and fail to swoon at the beauty of the imagery?

  Wedding the Locksmith’s Daughter, by Robin Robertson

 The slow-grained slide to embed the blade

of the key is a sheathing,

a gliding on graphite, pushing inside

to find the ribs of the lock.

Sunk home, the true key slots to its matrix;

geared, tight-fitting, they turn

together, shooting the spring lock,

throwing the bolt. Dactyls, iambics-

the clinch of words – the hidden couplings

in the cased machine. A chime of sound

on sound: the way the sung note snibs on meaning

and holds. The lines engage and marry now

like vows, their bells are keeping time;

the church doors close and open underground.


‘Down There’

I just wish that when I was little I had known what boys looked like ‘down there’. My only exposure was statues in the park with fig leaves over the pubic area, which I can tell you seemed far  more disturbing than any actual truth could be. Boys have – what? – parsley growing out of their bodies?

I was ignorant, in short, and stayed ignorant even after that time I was three and our mom’s friend’s three-year-old peed on my leg in the bathroom. It was the arc of gold I noted though and not the delivery system.

In the meantime I was growing up in a houseful of women, where none of the real words were ever used. My sister and I, for example, called breasts ‘lumps’ because we had no other word for them. We certainly had no words for the other parts of our bodies. Our grownups were so highly ‘evolved’ no such words ever passed their lips, which was too bad.

I was in college before I could really ‘see’ the stunning beauty of the body. I think it was Art 100 when we studied Michelangelo’s David.

I listened as the professor walked us through its details, from the earnestly furrowed young brow to the hand holding the slingshot, oddly bigger than the hand of such a youth should be; and the veins in that hand, more prominent than the veins in the hand up by his chin because of course they would be: with gravity; with being held in that downward position, until the moment when he would lift the arm and swing it and at last unleash the stone that would kill a giant.

I read that sentence and see for the first time how in the moment just ‘before’ the stone flies, the sculpted hand with its veins engorged suggests potency in all its manifestations, that ineffable mighty force that keeps us reproducing.

I’m not like the two women who raised me, too shy to use the words even for the parts of our bodies; but I am their child in this way: I can’t bear leering descriptions and/or nicknames for our body parts.

It’s ordained minister Fred Rogers I have always identified with, sweet Mister Rogers with his kindliness and his respect for all the Created world. Here are the lyrics to ‘Everybody’s Fancy’, about the difference between boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies, and here below is the man himself testifying before the U.S. Senate in 1969 about what his show can do for America’s children. The Senator’s reaction is as moving as this good man’s testimony. Take five minutes and see if you don’t feel like weeping for how far we have fallen.

What a good man he was and how we miss him!

God Can’t Be Shocked

Some people criticize John Updike, saying he objectified women, portraying them as mere sex objects and so on.

I never saw it that way, even though I read Rabbit Run the summer of my 13th year and felt my world split open upon reading the sex scenes.

Grownups do this?’ I asked myself stunned. This is what they’re up to when they’re not buttering our toast or rotating the tires on the family car?’

My big sister Nan had tried to clue me in on the particulars of sex; by the time she was ten she had sent away for a thousand pamphlets on the subject.

And certainly her information was better than what the boy down the street said happens after you get married: He said they then take you into a secret room and tie you together by your underpants.

What Updike described was much more specific. And once you got used to reading the actual truth, anything but shocking.

No, he never objectified women, in my book; in my book he only loved and noticed them.

He is the person who singlehandedly opened my eyes to writing.

Three years he is gone now and it has taken me almost that long to read his final collection of short stories, slim as it is. I just didn’t want it to end, knowing there would be no others.

Here’s one thing he said that I love and agree with. He said his theory was that God already knows everything and can not be shocked.

In the same essay he also said,

Only truth is useful. Only truth can be built upon. From a higher, inhuman point of view, only truth, however harsh, is holy. The fabricated truth of poetry and fiction makes a shelter in which I feel safe, sheltered within interlaced plausibility in the image of a real world for which I am not to blame. Out of soiled and restless life, I have refined my books.

I love that last sentence: Out of soiled and restless life I have refined my books. And I understand exactly the part about the shelter his creative writing made for him, remembering a description earlier in this book of the place he loved best as a child: it was the spot on the side porch of his first home where he would upend and then hide under the wicker furniture to become the observer unobserved.

It’s what I wanted to be since my own baby days, only my spot was under the dining room table. Now I lurk in my car or on the park bench, listening to the old men and yelping teens and the women together talking. It’s what I have been since the dawn of the Reagan years when I began writing my column. For all these years I have written every week for the papers and now, here on this blog, I write every day.

Seeing and then telling what you have seen is for me what I think it was for him too: merely a way of saying thanks for it.

Give That Girl an Oscar

I’m really hoping Keira Knightly is named for her role in A Dangerous Method when Oscar nominations are announced today. In this latest David Cronenberg film she plays a raging and distracted mental patient, who, when introduced to a calm empathetic listener sitting in a chair behind her, recovers clarity of mind and goes on to graduate from medical school and become a psychotherapist herself. (OK it’s also true that this calm empathetic listener sleeps with her too, then puts her aside when it suits him, but she expresses her feelings on these events in one blindingly fast three-second gesture that made the audience I was part of gasp with surprise.)

But this is Jung and his onetime mentor Freud we’re dealing with here, in the first decade of the last century when people were just getting the idea that they weren’t in Kansas anymore. Freud had just dropped his bombshell of a theory about the dark impulses involving sex and aggression that lurk just under the surface of our conscious thoughts – and as you can imagine, sex and aggression would rattle the teacups in any polite society back then, in those quiet years before the slaughter of World War I commenced.

I’m wondering now if Freud’s ideas didn’t take hold more easily on account of that war, which killed an entire generation of young men and exposed how thin a veneer ‘civilized’ behavior really is.

The losses from the “war to end all wars” were felt even over here in the States, however slow we were getting into it. It wasn’t just the speakeasies and the bathtub gin that made the Twenties roar, I don’t think. It was also the horror people felt after witnessing the carnage caused by trench warfare: A million casualties in the Battle of the Somme alone! They just wanted to forget it all. They roared too because Freud and his sometime protégé Jung had let this particular genie out of the bottle: no one in polite society had ever before spoken of our so-called baser impulses.
In one of his plays 200 years before, Molière satirized the class of “genteel” people who refused to use the word for ‘legs’ – too coarse! Too vivid! They wouldn’t use the word ‘teeth’ either, calling them instead ‘the furniture of the mouth.’

But Freud and Jung? They kicked all that over. They kicked it into next week as the saying goes.

The woman Keira Knightly plays was a real person named Sabina Spielrein, who suffered humiliation at the hands of her spanking-obsessed father, but then recovered just as she does in the film and contributed greatly to the understanding of our deepest impulses. (My heart squeezed shut when they rolled the credits to reveal that she and her two daughters were shot to death in a barn by SS officers. (They were Jews, as was Freud.))

What I will remember is the image of her so sharply suffering at the beginning as Keira Knightly plays her. She writhes in the arms of the hospital orderlies; extends her already long lower jaw in a simian rictus of agitation. She looks like an animal being tortured. Poor young woman! Poor all women in those days when they called our anger “hysteria” and took away our humanity. Tough century, the 20th; thank God for every Suffragette and Feminist who worked to put things right.

Anyway here’s the trailer under one last picture of our girl:

Whose Body Is This?

When Our Bodies Ourselves first appeared in Boston as a stapled-together pamphlet in 1969 it was hard to find reliable information about birth control. Why? Because thanks to the Crimes against chastity law, the distribution of contraceptives by anyone other than a doctor to anyone other than a married person was illegal, even in the now-progressive state of Massachusetts.

I don’t mean abortion; I mean birth control.

This man, Bill Baird, was arrested at Boston University when after addressing an overflow audience of 2500 he gave a condom and a package of  contraceptive foam to an unmarried undergraduate woman. 

Arrested. Hauled off to jail and held there for months.

This was in 1967.

The law was still unchanged  in the summer of ‘69 when the women of the Boston Women’s Health Collective were writing this pamphlet that would become a book. 250,000 copies of it sold in the first year, mostly thanks to word of mouth.

I was about to enter my senior year in college in the summer of ’69. The summer before that, I had fallen in love with a boy named David. We had told our families that we’d be marrying as soon as I graduated. I was 19-and-a-half. I didn’t know much, but I knew I needed a prescription for the Pill.

But how would I get such a thing? Especially on the serene and cerebral  campus of  my women’s college? Lucky for me that college was Smith College, that drew from every state in the union,  and the roommate I’d had freshman year was from the sunny sane west. A citizen of the world from Aspen Colorado, she knew a lot more than I did.  “Call the Infirmary and tell then you have to see a doctor.” she said. “Say ‘I’m thinking of becoming sexually active and I need protection.’”

But could it BE that easy? Could I just say that to some stranger, just as if I had a right to ask such a thing?  It could and I did. I said what she told me to say and just like that I was protected until the time of my marriage and for half a dozen years afterward, until this David and I welcomed our first baby and thus began upon the joyful chapter of life that brought us three kids of our own and the opportunity to welcome and shelter a five more kids beyond in their teen years.  

Our Bodies Ourselves, now in its 11th printing, is not just about sexual health but about health of every kind. Here are  some of the women who worked on it, as they looked in those heady and complicated early years, this from the forepages of a companion work Ourselves and Our Children. I salute them.