Friday, April 14, 2006

woe-illumed rabbit holes

there's a lot swirling around in here. let's say it began yesterday morning when i was riding the bus and i had a thought about motherhood. real motherhood, and possibly my first real thought about motherhood as creation. i simply thought what if i am on my deathbed and i find myself regretting that i've left nothing behind? assuming i never produce anything real and lasting in the way of art, and assuming i never end up going through with the "easiest" creation of another life, will i sit at the threshhold between here and something else and find myself feeling remorse at having left nothing behind to remember me by? i know this is a common fear and a common reason people choose to have children. i'm not sure it is a concern of mine now in the common way, i am just wondering how it would feel to get to the point of no return and realize something you never knew you wanted has been left undone.

it continued when, last night, i went out for drinks and meaningful conversation with two older women. amazing, smart, accomplished, childless and currently single older women. conversations such as this always leave me feeling affirmed and fearful of my future. [an aside: have you ever had those moments where you feel like some sort of deep transformation was supposed to have taken place but the routines of your life sink in before anything seems to change?] during the conversation, i blurted out how i needed always in my life to have at least one arena where i was able to hold onto my ideals and my romantic allusions or i would resort to heavy substance abuse. they pushed my martini glass away from me. i laughed but i think i was speaking the truth. when every ounce of my innocence or faith is squelched, i think something bad may happen. innocence and faith are thoughtfully vague and interchangeable words.

by stealing the image directly above i have justified the consumption of my first born child.
all of the images in today's blog post were arrived at by image-searching on the word "unadulterated". i've been chewing on that word since i used it in a poem yesterday.
SYLLABICATION: a·dul·ter·ate
TRANSITIVE VERB:Inflected forms: a·dul·ter·at·ed, a·duter·at·ing, a·dul·ter·ates
To make impure by adding extraneous, improper, or inferior ingredients.
ADJECTIVE:Spurious; adulterated. 2. Adulterous.
ETYMOLOGY: Latin adulterre, adultert-, to pollute
i suppose this all means i don't want to entirely grow up. i was also very adult as a young child. now i'm thinking about all my life being about meeting somewhere in the middle, and this rings some bell in my head. a bell that is tied to a string which seemingly, in my mind, has a ribbon of text re-minding me of Alice in Wonderland. so off to google i have gone, and here's what i've found:
"Food: Food is the used in this novel as a metaphor for growth. Carroll is literalizing the old notion that food helps you grow big and strong, that food is the path to adulthood. Ironically, Carroll is also pointing out that growing up is only half the way to adulthood. Alice can control her size and therefore her position as an adult with the food provided by the Caterpillar, but it isn't until the Cheshire Cat shows her the dangers of adulthood that she is able to be truly adult. Food can make you big in Wonderland (as in life) but only mercy and experience can make you wise.

Red: Red is the symbol of adulthood (literally it can be taken to refer to menstrual blood, and thus fertility and vigor). The Queen and Alice are on opposite sides of this color, Alice just growing into her adulthood, the Queen just growing past it. It is over this place, this wise middle ground, that the novel fights. Red is, hopefully, a place (or an age) of balance between rules and mercy, between young and old, between wisdom and nonsense."
there's an article about Alice and Wonderland and the Shroud of Turin that also appeared in my results. it is Easter weekend. happy easter if it is a happy time for you.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

milking (more)

my fingers smell of softly souring milk as i begin this post. only mildly strange as i did take my coffee with cream this morning and i've not had cause to wash my hands since. but fitting and not unpleasant.

as i'm wont to do, i've been thinking about boys and men.

so much so i stumbled today onto a most absurd party idea and have invited some blokes i think i like quite a lot, but not per se in that way, to a sausage fest. yes i called it a Sausage Fest in the invitation, and i referenced Kubla Khan (another thing you may know i am quite wont to do). so i've offered to grill bratwurst for 8 men and ply them with beer. i've asked them to bring a film along that, in their opinion, best encapsulates "the plight of masculinity". discussion is optional. while on some level i see how this appears to be a gang-bang waiting to happen or an exploration of latent homosexuality. it isn't in the least. i think this speaks volumes about the men i have invited and the height of my regard. i won't, however, be nonplussed if nobody decides to attend.

what could or should be surprising, but isn't--perhaps because i'm the type of person who searches on the word "nonplussed" when she is writing about sausage fests (go back and follow)--is that while writing this post today somebody i don't know well is simultaneously telling me about his sex life of late which includes recent encounters with a woman he doesn't know well and the routine is that he arrives at her home, simulated breast-feeding occurs for an extended period of time and then mommy has sex with her little boy. i'm not stricken by this story, nor can i hope to explain how this conversation i'm having isn't charged or dirty to me. i'm just struck by the synchronicity of my current thoughts on a metaphorical level and another person's concrete admission. reality is a strange thing. i'm also reflective on how i prompt these stories from other people, men i mean. the stories from women always seem to flow out of our conversations and the depth of our relationship more organically.

during this reflection, i've so far paused on this essay:

Four Loves, No Loves:
The Four Greek Loves in Ulysses

"Amor vincit omnia" writes Virgil in his Odyssey-esque Aeneid -- "Love conquers all." James Joyce remained conscious of his classical heritage during Ulysses' seven-year composition, drawing on sources from Homer to Dante to Thomas Aquinas to Shakespeare, and love was naturally one of his topics. Greek has words for four kinds of love: agape, or spiritual love; storge, or familial love; the love between friends, or philia; and sexual love, the familiar eros.

All four figure in Joyce's massive novel, gamboling about in his tapestry of words, yet all eventually evade the two male protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom: Ulysses proves ultimately to be a love-less work.

Agape -- spiritual love, the charitable love among coreligionists or between Man and God -- seems sure to appear, given Ulysses' protagonists' backgrounds and the host of Christian symbols that flock about them. Yet Stephen Dedalus is torn with doubt in his Catholicism, and we find in the course of the novel that Bloom renounced his Judaism, first to convert to Protestantism with his father and then, conveniently, to convert to Catholicism to marry Molly: both have fallen from their original faith. Within two paragraphs of Ulysses' opening we see a mock Mass -- "Introibo ad altare Dei" (p. 3) -- and hear the lurking Stephen scornfully called a "fearful jesuit" by mocking Mulligan. Stephen is certainly no recipient of agape here! Interestingly, Simon Dedalus identifies Mulligan as Stephen's "fidus Achates" (p. 73), a glancing Virgil image to set Stephen up as "pius Aeneas", "pious Aeneas", Virgil's hero of proper behavior to gods and men. But, as we see, home-stealing, ever-jeering Mulligan is no more "fidus" than whoring, drunken Stephen is "pius".

Stephen Dedalus is a prolix speaker, an engaging theorist and theologian, well versed in ecclesiastical history, particularly in the Church's early heresies. Yet, for all his knowledge and cogent arguments, he shows little inclination for belief. His arguments on Shakespeare's Hamlet are innovative, but he freely and "promptly" (p. 175) admits that he does not believe them -- what, then of equally intricate Catholic doctrine? Is it also only a tissue of lies, good for nothing but entertaining arguments? "You behold in me... a horrible example of free thought." (p. 17) Stephen sees only "the playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly... hangman god... [who] would be bawd and cuckold." (p. 175) Trapped in such cynicism, Stephen feels charitable impulses towards his destitute sister Dilly ("Save her," (p. 200)), but holds back to guard himself instead ("She will drown me with her," (ibid)): again he rejects agape. In the climactic "Circe" scene in the brothel, Stephen becomes a perverted Cardinal Dedalus, attended by the seven "cardinal" sins and wearing a rosary on corks and a corkscrew cross -- distorted faith and agape again.

Leopold Bloom seems more gifted with agape� than his younger companion, but even he seems never to fully realize his charitable impulses. Bloom's mind turns all his philanthropic impulses into practical commercialism. His help to the blind stripling crossing the street (p. 148) is filled with critical examinations ("Stains on his coat. Slobbers his food, I suppose...." etc. (p. 148)) and followed by one of Bloom's pseudophilosophical musings, this time, of course, on blindness. Similarly, the sight of Dilly Dedalus outside Dillon's auctionrooms (p. 124) prompts some pity -- "Good Lord, that poor child's dress is in flitters." -- but no action aside from ruminations on Catholicism and contraception. Even Bloom's early-morning care of Stephen receives rationalization: it is all for "intellectual stimulation," the possibility of making money by writing an article, or opportunities to exploit Stephen's literary and musical talents on Molly's tours. Even Bloom's social agenda, as explained to Stephen over early morning coffee (p. 526), is to "see everyone... having a comfortable tidysized income...." -- with no hint of how to achieve it. Again, we see empty charity, thought without action -- lack of agape.

Familial love, or storge, receives similarly short shrift in Joyce's novel. Stephen describes his parents as "the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath. They clapped and sundered, did the coupler's will" (p. 32) -- hardly a flattering picture. Stephen passes by his cousins' cottage during his walk on the beach, dismissing it and his parents' home as "houses of decay" (p. 33). And even among his first recollections of Paris, Stephen mentions that "Belluomo rises from the bed of his wife's lover's wife" (p. 35), a complicated perversion of normal family structure and relationships which mirrors Stephen's own unhappy thoughts. Throughout Ulysses, Stephen is tormented by the thought of his mother as "beastly dead," in part because he disobeyed her last wishes by not praying at her bedside. At last, amidst Circean revelry and hallucination, Stephen's father calls a foxhunt after his son, and his mother appears to torment him to the Luciferian exclamation "Non serviam!" -- "I shall not serve!" (p. 475)

Bloom, too, undergoes both memories of and hallucinatory reunions with his parents. Bloom's father committed suicide, a grim rejection of the family and of storge, and Bloom's son Rudy died in infancy -- his family has been cut off at both ends. Only wife Molly and daughter Milly remain, but they are both distant: Bloom has not had sex with his wife since Rudy died, and Milly lives away from home, only writing the occasional hurried letter. Bloom's parents reappear, however, to rescold him for a childhood accident (p. 358), and his grandfather Lipoti Virag "chutes rapidly down the chimneyflue" in the brothel to discourse scientifically and pedantically on sex, then to acquire a parrotbeak, turkey wattles, a "glowworm's nose," wings, and more: a horrid and unpredictable sequence. Even Bloom's locked drawers, home of his "Henry Flower" letters and legal documents, prompts unpleasant memories of his father's age and decline. Admittedly, Bloom's son Rudy appears, idealized and presented as he might have been had he lived (p. 497), and seems to link Bloom and Stephen in a father-son relation of sorts -- but Bloom's commercial mind drives out all possibility of storge� or charitable agape.

Philia, or the love between friends, is less common in Ulysses' Ireland than one would hope -- at least for Stephen and Bloom. Bloom is an outsider, and constantly made to feel it, from the newspaper office of "Aeolus" to the pub of "The Cyclops" -- in both places he is excluded, ignored or insulted. Even in "Oxen of the Sun," the narrator asks "with what fitness... has this alien... constituted himself the lord paramount of our internal polity?" (p. 334) when Bloom merely wonders over the medical students' immaturity. Even Bloom's attempts to give philia are met with a cold rebuff, such as Menton's stony coldness when Bloom points out the dinge in his hat (p. 95). And Bloom seems not to be the only one lacking friendly treatment -- Stephen is teased and ridiculed by housemates (Mulligan) and medical students (Lynch puts the boastful poet in his place, asking for "something more, and greatly more, than a capful of light odes" (p. 339), and the others attack Stephen's "perverted transcendentalism" (p. 341)).

Indeed, the world of Ulysses as well as its main characters seem bereft of philia. The intense political discussions in the newspaper office and bar show not so much a love of Ireland as a hatred of England: a love of violent battles and martyrs, hatred and killing. Bloom tries to explain: "Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life.... Love.... I mean the opposite of hatred." (p. 273) But he is mocked and derided by the others in the bar, even to the point of barely escaping from some violent ruffians led by the bigoted Citizen. The men of Ulysses have little agape, and Bloom sees women as scarcely better off: after masturbating on the beach, he muses on them "Picking holes in each other's appearance. You're looking splendid. Sister souls. Showing their teeth at one another. How many have you got left? Wouldn't lend each other a pinch of salt." (p. 302)

Bloom does eventually imagine a world where he is recognized and loved, in his grand hallucination of "the new Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future" (p. 395), ushering in the "Paradisiacal Era" (p. 397). But it is, after all, a fantasy, little different from his masturbation on the beach. The first act of "the world's greatest reformer" (p. 392), the self-contradictory "emperor-president and king-chairman" (p. 393), is, Caligula-like, to "nominate our faithful charger Copula Felix ["good screw"?] hereditary Grand Vizier," then to repudiate Molly and take to wife "Selene, the splendour of night" (p. 394). There follows the most frenetic string of promises and reforms, a literal attempt to be all things to all people regardless of contradiction, all too clearly summed up in his "free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state" (p. 399). So starved is Bloom for care and affection that he weaves into his falsehoods even a pregnancy for himself, bearing eight successful sons. But so accustomed is he to rejection that his dream comes around to that at last, and he is martyred, burned at the stake.

Last but far from least, Joyce weaves eros, or erotic love, into his tale. As with his dreams of Bloomusalem, Bloom's fantasies of eros are idealized and unfulfilled. He has not had sexual intercourse with his wife Molly for ten years, since the death of their infant son Rudy. He carries on an almost-erotic correspondence with Martha Clifford, but takes pains to keep her at a distance, unresolved and idealized. He masturbates to Gerty MacDowell on the beach when she lets him see her underwear, but that, too, is imperfect eros, not communal but casual, a still-distant, imaginary act more in the imagination than the physical, real world. Like the temperance service in the nearby church with its mere display of the communion, it is mere appearances, not the act itself. Fittingly enough, when Bloom's alter-ego Henry Flower takes shape in the "Circe" episode, he makes love to a severed female head: an unbodied, eros-less relationship.

Erosalso appears in Bloom's fantasies, but always as perversions or prettified past events. Josie Powell (now Mrs. Breen), one of Bloom's early romances, appears in his dreams in the slum street, and chuckles "You were always a favorite with the ladies" (p. 363). But when the Nymph of his bedroom picture interrogates Bloom about his sex life, he complains of his youth that "no girl would when I went girling. Too ugly. They wouldn't play...." (p. 448). Which should we believe? The latter seems more likely. Mrs. Breen implies several romantic encounters with young Bloom, but on the verge of a more informative, definite part of the story ("you asked me if I ever heard or read or knew or came across...." (p. 367)), she fades from Bloom's dream with nothing but a tantalizing series of "yes"'s: the reader is left as unfulfilled as Bloom. In Bloom's imagined trial, his former scullery-maid Mary Driscoll comes to accuse him of "a certain [lewd] suggestion" (p. 376), but again it appears that nothing happened between them. As if to underscore Bloom's separation from eros, when the whore Zoe tries to fondle his testicles she grabs his potato talisman instead, and her request for a "swaggerroot" sends Bloom off onto an anti-smoking diatribe, hardly a fit conversation for a hopeful bed-partner.

Bloom's entire sexual identity seems warped, at least by the standards of Joyce's period. Several ladies of polite society materialize during his imagined trial to accuse him of sending them "improper letters" (p. 381) praising their underwear, offering to mail them erotica, and asking to be horsewhipped. When one of the dream-figures offers to fulfill the final request, Bloom "quails expectantly" (ibid) in eager anticipation -- not of a sexual encounter, but of a pseudo-erotic beating. Similarly, a Circean Bloom-dream metamorphoses the whorehouse madame into masculine Bello and Bloom into a submissive female to be beaten and ridden, and Bloom recalls lounging in bed wearing second-hand womens' undergarments, fantasizing over being ravished. When Bloom at last returns home, Molly complains to herself of her husband "never embracing me except... the wrong end of me... any man thatd kiss a womans bottom Id throw my hat at him" (p. 639), yet that is exactly what Bloom does -- kiss her buttocks, the most anonymous and androgynous part of her body.

In fact, Molly's final thoughts in Ulysses only underscore the lack of eros which has afflicted Bloom throughout the book. She begins to menstruate ("this bloody pest of a thing" (p. 642)) even as she considers trying to re-establish sexual relations, and moves in her thoughts to their tryst on Howth Hill -- the same rendezvous Bloom has recalled so fondly before. Yet, like all too many of the happy occasions in Ulysses, this one is in the past, dead and gone. Indeed, the book ends in Molly's "yes I said yes I will Yes." (p. 644), but the "Yes" is in the past, only another sad comment on Bloom's lack of love. Love is a thing of the past, dreams are sick counterfeits and cheats: agape, storge, philia, eros, the four loves, are forlorn.

emphasis added by me and written by, i think, joseph lockett
it's an honest mistake, made often enough, to think that someone that ponders men and boys as often as i do, and speaks so often what she thinks...well to think that i might hate them. i don't think this is true. i remain hopeful that it isn't, as i keep writing with my milky fingers which while a bit sour still mainly smell sweet. yes I said yes I will Yes.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

boy, oh boy

i wish i could quit articles that reference contemporary films, but gee i suppose these films are supposed to reflect on the times. and, well, i've been reflecting on the times. failure to launch...please check out the forthcoming plog post about sex. yes, sex. so don't read it if you're faint of heart or under the age of 4.

What's Happening to Boys?

Young Women These Days Are Driven -- but Guys Lack Direction

By Leonard Sax
Friday, March 31, 2006; Page A19

The romantic comedy "Failure to Launch," which opened as the No. 1 movie in the nation this month, has substantially exceeded pre-launch predictions, taking in more than $64 million in its first three weeks.

Matthew McConaughey plays a young man who is affable, intelligent, good-looking -- and completely unmotivated. He's still living at home and seems to have no ambitions beyond playing video games, hanging out with his buddies (two young men who are also still living with their parents) and having sex. In desperation, his parents hire a professional motivation consultant, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who pretends to fall in love with McConaughey's character in the hope that a romantic relationship will motivate him to move out of his parents' home and get a life.

The movie has received mixed reviews, though The Post's Stephen Hunter praised it as "the best comedy since I don't know when." But putting aside the movie's artistic merits or lack thereof, I was struck by how well its central idea resonates with what I'm seeing in my office with greater and greater frequency. Justin goes off to college for a year or two, wastes thousands of dollars of his parents' money, then gets bored and comes home to take up residence in his old room, the same bedroom where he lived when he was in high school. Now he's working 16 hours a week at Kinko's or part time at Starbucks.

His parents are pulling their hair out. "For God's sake, Justin, you're 26 years old. You're not in school. You don't have a career. You don't even have a girlfriend. What's the plan? When are you going to get a life?"

"What's the problem?" Justin asks. "I haven't gotten arrested for anything, I haven't asked you guys for money. Why can't you just chill?"

This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You'll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents -- a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?

My friend and colleague Judy Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, has spent many years studying this growing phenomenon. She points out that many young women are living at home nowadays as well. But those young women usually have a definite plan. They're working toward a college degree, or they're saving money to open their own business. And when you come back three or four years later, you'll find that in most cases those young women have achieved their goal, or something like it. They've earned that degree. They've opened their business.

But not the boys. "The girls are driven; the boys have no direction," is the way Kleinfeld summarizes her findings. Kleinfeld is organizing a national Boys Project, with a board composed of leading researchers and writers such as Sandra Stotsky, Michael Thompson and Richard Whitmire, to figure out what's going wrong with boys. The project is only a few weeks old, it has called no news conferences and its Web site ( ) has just been launched.

So far we've just been asking one another the question: What's happening to boys? We've batted around lots of ideas. Maybe the problem has to do with the way the school curriculum has changed. Maybe it has to do with environmental toxins that affect boys differently than girls (not as crazy an idea as it sounds). Maybe it has to do with changes in the workforce, with fewer blue-collar jobs and more emphasis on the service industry. Maybe it's some combination of all of the above, or other factors we haven't yet identified.

In Ayn Rand's humorless apocalyptic novel "Atlas Shrugged," the central characters ask: What would happen if someone turned off the motor that drives the world? We may be living in such a time, a time when the motor that drives the world is running down or stuck in neutral -- but only for boys.

Leonard Sax, a family physician and psychologist in Montgomery County, is the author of "Boys Adrift: What's Really Behind the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys," to be published next year.