"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Irish Village Christmas

I haven't read this novel yet, but I love the cover:
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
Irish - Canadian professor and novelist

Last year around this time a literary friend and neighbor wrote from Ireland to share this poem for the season, observing that Patrick Kavanagh "is a generally wonderful poet and not as well recognized in the States as he should be." Now is the perfect time to rectify that literary gap with Kavanagh's Christmas reverie, reminiscent of Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen" and Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales (Firetrucks, Christmas Cakes, Ghost Stories). All three writers capture the magic of Christmas night through the hopeful vision of a six - year - old. As Kavanagh says, "I was six Christmases of age":

A Christmas Childhood
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 - 67)
Irish poet and novelist

My own Irish Christmas story is not one of childhood, but goes back to another magical time in 1989, when Gerry and I visited the university town of Maynooth where he had lived for nine years before coming to the U.S. I had never been to Ireland before, and Gerry had not been back since his relocation to Indiana, over two years previously. Gerry likes to tell the old joke that whenever a plane lands in Ireland, things are so backward and behind the times that the pilot advises the passengers to set their watches back a couple of decades -- or even centuries, Brigadoon style. Haha. For me, however, this turned out to be a good thing, not regressive but nostalgic, just like the movies. You know, that cinematic nostalgia for a time that has never actually been.

We had driven straight from the Dublin airport in our rental car, parked at the curb on Main Street (yes, just like in America), and the moment Gerry stepped out of the car, someone dragging a Christmas tree down the sidewalk (purchased moments before from the local lot), called out "Hey, Gerry me lad" (or something like that; not that I know how to write -- or speak! -- with an Irish accent, but you get the idea)! It was exactly like a scene from any all - American Christmas movie that you might care to name.

We had shared our plans with only one family -- the friends with whom we were staying; so it's not as if the entire campus was expecting us, yet several other people came right over to greet us or waved and called out as they passed by. I could hardly believe it! Was it a set - up? We went in the pub -- The Roost, where Gerry had been a regular -- for some cheese sandwiches, and it was the same thing all over again: "Oh, have a seat here mate." Truly it was as if Gerry had never been away. You would have thought the last time he'd been there was maybe for lunch the day before. I couldn't help thinking of Cheers: everybody knew his name; they were glad we came! For one brief shining moment, the hazy scene on a glittery Christmas card came to life before my eyes, so quaint and true and unforgettable.

Happy Irish Christmas!
[See also Dublin & Dubliners]

Maynooth University in Wintertime

The Roost in Summertime

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, January 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cool Girl


“Los derechos de la mujer" / "The Rights of Women"
two slightly different versions
both by Colombian artist Debora Arango (1907 – 2005)
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, Colombia

If you happened to read Gone Girl a couple of years ago when it was all the rage, then you know all about "Cool Girl," right?
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

~ by Gillian Flynn
Or you can go with the one - sentence version
from the 1983 movie Terms of Endearment:
"You're my sweet - assed gal."

"Cool Girl" is a descendant of "sweet - assed gal" and a product of "raunch culture" as defined in 2005 by Ariel Levy. In Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Levy summarizes a constellation of troubling insights garnered from numerous interviews:
This new raunch culture didn't mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We'd earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

When I asked female viewers and readers what they got out of raunch culture, I heard similar things about empowering miniskirts and feminist strippers, and so on, but I also heard something else. They wanted to be "one of the guys"; they hoped to be experienced "like a man." Going to strip clubs or talking about porn stars was a way of showing themselves and the men around them that they weren't "prissy little women" or "girly-girls." Besides, they told me, it was all in fun, all tongue-in-cheek, and for me to regard this bacchanal as problematic would be old-school and uncool.

I tried to get with the program, but I could never make the argument add up in my head. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star -- a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place -- going to render us sexually liberated?

. . . "Raunchy" and "liberated" are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world . . . reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go.
(3 - 5)
Way back before reading Gone Girl or Female Chauvinist Pigs, I vented to a friend:

I've been obsessing all day after my unfortunate experience last night of watching the supposedly humorous British discussion show Eight out of Ten Cats, all male except for one woman on the panel, and Rachel Riely as mathematician / co - host. I hope it's not a favorite of yours. If so, forgive me as I rant about the embarrassing sex objectification, such as the opening joke that Riley is the reason that all men out in TV land have to watch the show with a pillow on their lap. I blushed in shame, but the men in my family -- and Rachel herself! -- just laughed right along with all the other male chauvinist pigs. Can you believe? I tried to point out that this kind of humor (such as the tasteless Churchill joke that I discussed last month) gives women in the audience three choices
1. be one of the guys, guffaw guffaw

2. assume that you too are a sex object, valued for your ability to give men hard - ons

3. know that you are in some other sub - category of women who are no longer -- or have never been -- considered sexually desirable -- so no worries, right?
I said to them that for any self - respecting woman, these are three equally uncomfortable choices, but they disagreed.

One son said that for the woman to laugh at the joke -- and, even better, to draw a picture of a penis on the chalk board when she was instructed to do so by the uncouth men on the panel -- just shows how confident she is in her sexuality -- not that she has somehow been duped into participating in her own prostitution or that she mistakenly thinks she's making an empowered choice to indulge in a little light - hearted sexism every now and then. On the other hand, a woman (such as myself) who does not find this funny must be lacking confidence in her sexuality.
Ariel Levy refers to this as "the current accepted wisdom that . . . The only alternative to enjoying [raunch culture] is being 'uncomfortable' with and 'embarrassed' about your sexuality. Raunch culture, then, isn't an entertainment option, it's a litmus test of female uptightness." (Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, 40)
The other son insists that his extremely intelligent female peers (Cool Girls?) would find it just as funny as the guys do (can this be true?); and Gerry's response, "What's the harm?" I could almost cry non - stop in total frustration. Hopeless! How could I be such a total failure as a feminist mother of sons? This nasty culture that we live in is just sooooooooo much stronger than I am. These stupid British jokes are not funny! They are harmful! But -- oh no -- I just look like the humorless high - strung mousy midwestern bitch.

Well, maybe I am. Could that be it? It is true that I didn't really care for The Producers when it came to Purdue a few years ago. If our theatre friends would be shocked at my lack of savvy, just don't tell them that I hate this musical, okay? And if it's one of your favs, please forgive me; you know my failings. And don't worry -- I know it has some strong points.

Gerry told me the next day that the couple we went with "enjoyed it very much." Hmmmm. I could believe it of the husband, but not entirely of the wife. I've always had the feeling (from our child - rearing practices, etc.) that she is rather more conservative than I. Would she really enjoy an evening of women being pinched on the butt and leered at and guffawed at? Would she really consider that to be "satire," as some viewers and reviewers suggest. My only question was "satire of what?" Sorry, I couldn't see this as satire; I think it was the real thing (in frat boy manner of Jay Leno). It takes Colbert to provide the satire. If I remember correctly, satire means "poking fun with intent to change," not "poking fun with intent to poke fun" (or as one amazon reviewer wrote, making merry at the expense of women and gays). Ben heard me out as I complained about all the people who are ridiculed in this play -- the young, the old, the fat, and so forth. His response: "Mom, everyone knows about this show -- you just didn't do your homework. Besides, I didn't like the way it made fun of accountants." Okay, I had to laugh! See, I haven't completely lost my sense of humor, just nearly.

I have to keep in mind, however, that although the neighbor we went with may have been more conservative than I, she's also a better PR person (if not a Cool Girl). Her "reset button" (see below*), might allow her to say -- whether she meant it or not -- "Oh ah ha ha, wasn't that delightful?!" with greater ease than I could ever muster. I'm also feeling weird here about my use of the word "conservative." Isn't it actually because I'm more radical (i.e., desiring change at the root) that I find the Austin Powers blow - job humor offensive?
As Levy points out: " . . . If the rise of raunch seems counterintuitive because we hear so much about being in a conservative moment, it actually makes perfect sense when we think about it. Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial. By going to strip clubs and flashing on spring break and ogling our Olympians in "Playboy," [or watching a mathematician draw a giant penis on a chalk board] it's not as though we are embracing something liberal -- this isn't Free Love. Raunch culture isn't about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It's about endlessly reiterating one particular -- and particularly commercial -- shorthand for sexiness." (Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, 29 - 30)
In my experience, it's a conservative audience (both men and women) who still find those sexual stereotypes and allusions funny -- just say "bum" and you've made their day; or tell them British comedian David Jason's repulsive joke that he could "see a woman's point -- but only for a moment as she was getting out of the car" -- meaning that he looked up her dress, get it? Not that he grasped some intellectual point that she was making in conversation. Really? Adult women find this funny? Apparently some do. Others, of course, would have been offended out of prudishness and because of the impropriety. Yes, my distaste stems in part from those same mores, but from something else as well -- from a MS Magazine "No comment" sense of outrage; and from my New Woman's Broken Heart (in manner of Andrea Dworkin). I am well aware that unfortunately my stance of deep anger and profound sadness is often interpreted as merely prudish rather than political. Sometimes I hate living on this sexist planet. How long, oh Goddess?

In conclusion, my perception - affirming friend offered the following: "I hate the show, so no worries, and The Producers as a film was funny because of Mostel and Wilder but sexist in its premise of bilking women who need a fancy man and will pay for it. You're not a failure as a feminist mother -- how do we fight patriarchal culture and the bastion of testosterone? Never forget that the culture impacts us, that we're not simply moving through with clarity, no matter how intelligent or elevated we are spiritually. Why would your family be any different? You're right to have the rant. It's 2013, not 1973. That shit isn't funny anymore. Be the rebel. Speak out. It's not being conservative -- they don't come from a place of equality but of repression. Objectification isn't funny, and choosing it isn't independence."


* "He discovered his reset button early on & there were not many
things that bothered him all the rest of his days just because of that."

-- Brian Andreas, from StoryPeople
("re - set button" = the "oh well" function
Needless to say, mine is often in need of repair!)

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, December 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Don't Look Up My Dress!
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading