Tag Archives: tradition

Thought smorgasbord

It’s Friday night. Earlier things felt a little grim. Maybe because I spent my time at work playing stupid online quizzes instead of taking in works of art. Because hey, all I had to do was sit back, finish a movie, listen to music, and voila: the feeling went away. And now it’s midnight and everything’s peachy and beautiful. And I’m going to sneeze. Achoo. There. I sneezed. Sneezes are funny. Some people I have known go “A-too” in a squeakily adorable way. I go, “Aschplsm!” or some comparable noise and eject mucus at some ridiculous speed from my nose. And as we all know, there’s that old tradition: a sneeze is your soul trying to escape. Which is a scary thought. Hence the “Gesundheit!” and “God bless you!” I have fun saying “Bless you!” to people with whom I would not otherwise normally converse, and hearing them go, “Thank you,” in response. It’s a pleasant, socially acceptable interaction. Ain’t just that grand. I’m going to toss out a guess that the tradition (accompanying belief) maybe comes from medieval Europe, because they tended to come up with crazy traditions like that. After some brief research (typing “sneeze soul escape” into Google; ain’t the Internet also grand?), I have found that, as suspected, Cecil Adams (the self-declared “World’s Smartest Human”) has the answer – or at least, an answer. He doesn’t get too specific on the escaping-soul thing. But as I suspected, there is a link between the Black Death and “bless you.” But still, with the idea of the soul escaping – which, as the article hints at, may be in my mind largely because of the Simpsons – that just strikes me as weird. Why would your soul attempt to escape? What magical forces are holding it back, which can be thwarted with something as casual and frequent as a single sneeze? Also, if you read to the end of the article, you’ll see more examples of what I was discussing the other day, stupid traditions.

Those stupid traditions reminded me of back when I was in elementary school. We were trying to come up with rhymes to act as superstitions. And I think… some of them involved finding a penny on the ground. And it was like, “If it’s on heads…”, oh, probably “you’ll soon be dead.” And I recall saying, “If it’s on tails, you’ll be eaten by a whale.” Meaning two things: 1) at age 8 or so, I had poor poetic abilities and 2) those two rhymes, put together, make kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. Which I think I realized, even at that young age. The conclusion? The superstitions little kids come up with can be dumb. And who ever forgets “step on a crack, make your brother’s break your mother’s back”? Jesus Christ, that must’ve led hundreds, thousands of kids into years of therapy and struggling with OCD! I guess the main issue is whether the kid’s the kind who takes everything to heart, takes it all dead serious (i.e., little me) or the kind who shrugs everything off and just goes on with his/her cute little 3rd grade life. I don’t remember too much of my early life, but sometimes I do look back and smile at disbelief.

And OK, I was pondering this the other day: next year, my old high school will welcome the class of 2014. This means they were born around 1996-97. I.e., they experienced birth around the same time I was coming up with dumb new superstitions for myself. (Pssst – for a great account of childhood OCD, read Alison Bechdel‘s Fun Home. I just turned in a paper about it [“Sexual Shame and Identity in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home“] this morning as part of my writing portfolio. Great, engrossing graphic novel.) Um, where was I? Oh, right, the fact that the gap is steadily increasing between my age and the age of those who are very young. Time passes in strange ways. And it passes quickly. Though sometimes too slowly (for example, this fucking month). I once heard a quote, maybe apocryphal, but amusing enough: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” Attributed, of course, to Albert Einstein. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with the physics kind of relativity, but it nicely sums up the more personal, day-to-day type: time flies when you’re having fun (also, “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.” That was my quote in the yearbook my senior year of high school; I kid you not). And time slows to a crawl when you’re suffering. Or bored. Or glancing at the clock every few minutes during your two-hour class hoping to get out so you can go eat and then relax. To give a completely hypothetical example. So, what’s my point here? Am I just repeating a commonly known, intuitively obvious fact? For the most part, yes. But… I don’t know. Perception of time is a strange and interesting thing. I wouldn’t mind getting sealed into a John Lilly-style isolation tank someday to see how fast or slow time seems to pass, just so long as I didn’t regress into a feral monkey-thing like in Altered States. That was a pretty disappointing movie. I’m willing to give Ken Russell another chance or two – and Tommy, at least, did have fittingly astounding visuals – but still. Where was I? Oh, yeah, time. According to David Bowie, it “flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor,” which are certainly fun lyrics, but don’t really offer me any clues. (Bowie also observes that it “may change [him], but [he] can’t trace [it]”.) Call me ridiculous – go on, do it! – but I have enjoyed substituting quoted words with other words in brackets since, oh, 11th grade or so. When I realized that I could do it, when I put 2 and 2 together and realized that just like all the quotes with bracketed words I’d read in books, I too could bracket words in quotes – I felt like a whole new world of writing was opening up to me. And I still get a childish thrill out of doing it, the same thrill that maybe someone would get from being able to supervise a controlled demolition, or sit in the president’s chair, or some other nonsensical comparison. Maybe it’s because it feels like a professional writer sort of thing. I’m not sure. But even now, even probably in my Fun Home essay, it’s as fun as, oh, 1/2 barrels of monkeys. Maybe 2/3 barrels if it’s a particularly masterful brackets-in-quotes example?

So the moral of the story is, I learned in quiz bowl a week or two ago that a certain group of Native American supposedly comprehended time differently than we do, and this was taken as evidence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a complicated (and largely discredited) linguistics theory I both don’t want to and can’t explain, because I don’t really understand it. I think I first learned of Sapir-Whorf on the Wikipedia page about Newspeak from 1984. And I think I’ve related it to a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein that hung above the English section of my old high school: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” I guess I have always found this interesting – how language can affect, well, what we talk about, and how we talk about it. Like with reclaiming words, something I recently suggested doing with “lover.” I refer to Ashley as “lover” all the fucking time. But generally it’s seen as “someone who fucks someone else.” Hence, even though “love” is right there in the word, the two of us are doubted when we use “lover” with regard to our relationship. I remember once I had an experience where I was walking randomly along a sidewalk in Excelsior, Minnesota, when a car drove by and I heard three simultaneous insults. For your benefit, I later drew a little comic about it.

An incident

I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly hurt by insults yelled from a moving vehicle. And when those insults have been homophobic, I practically perk up with pride. A tear comes to my eye. “Some ignorant redneck just called me a homo!” I cry in glee. “God, I must be doing something right!” And when the insults are racist, and even directed at races of which I am not visibly a member? Same reaction. What I guess just confuses me is the idea of these moronic teenagers driving around Minnesotan suburbs (after all, I had an almost identical experience while walking to our apartment in Mound) screaming homophobic and racist slurs out of car windows. It’s just a “What the fuck?” moment. Kind of like just now, when I heard some guy yelling insults at a girl, who was also yelling, before I heard slamming of doors, loud crashes, and angry, running footsteps. All this in a dormitory where hundreds of students live, at 1 in the morning. Come to think of it, I have a lot of “what the fuck?” moments. It just puzzles me to no end, trying to figure out how it is that people think some things are acceptable. (Of course, when you get into the serial killer or war crimes area… Hannah Arendt can figure that out if she wants, because I just fucking give up.)

Since I’ve mentioned my old high school a couple times, you know what pissed me off to no end a couple years ago? That moronic ritual where teenagers get the dumbfuck idea in their heads to throw toilet paper all over someone’s lawn. Yeah, you motherfuckers, that’s a real good plan. And then fight violently with other people who are also throwing toilet paper. Um, is there something wrong with me? That I can’t see how that’s so fun? Why, pardon me, I guess I was never educated in the divine pleasures of wrecking shit and making obnoxious messes. Yes, I’m overreacting, and yes, this was a couple years ago, but moronic little fuckers are still driving around, eager to throw toilet paper and call people “fucking fags.” As time goes by, I’m getting more and more curious about somehow getting involved in education or mentoring or something to prevent very small children from becoming very stupid, slightly larger children. It’s just depressing to imagine. I also want to get them to watch movies that don’t suck. Because it’s also depressing to imagine kids growing up without ever hearing the words “Asa nisi masa,” and thinking that “Rosebud” is a sled instead of a clitoris. (Long story.)

And so I’m getting as well-educated in film as I can, to maybe better educate others. Is that a pretentious or egotistical way of thinking? Oh, I’m so sophisticated and intelligent, only I can tell you what to like. But that’s not how it is. At least, I hope it’s not. I’m often terrified of being too ego-driven. I shudder at the thought of it. It’s nice to not hate yourself, but don’t go overboard. Speaking of the ego, did you know there was a Marvel supervillain named Ego, the Living Planet? Guess what it was. Just guess. That reminds me of Krakoa, who I think was a sentient island – and of course one of my favorite superheroes (going by a loose definition of the word), Danny the Street from Doom Patrol. Who was a street. Who could move anywhere on earth where there were streets. Did I mention he was a transvestite, and communicated by rearranging letters in buildings, uh, along himself? Moral of the story? I want to be selfless and learn that I may do good for others. Also, Danny the Stree is awesome. You know who selflessly does good for others? Danny the Street. And speaking of transvestites, transvestitism is awesome. But that’s another blog write there. (To be written shortly after I receive some personal experience in the topic; start the countdown!) I’m sick of gender-specific clothing anyway. It’s frequently just an enabler of gender-biased behavior in the first place. I refuse to be insulted anymore by people mistaking my gender. I keep finding myself comparing mankind to the Eloi and the Morlocks from The Time Machine, but seriously: someday we’ll just be like the Eloi, with male and female all wearing loose, comfy robes. And Yvette Mimieux will probably be involved somehow.

[I ended up titling this blog using a long Swedish word that’s hard to spell. In Norwegian, we use unique funny letters instead of just adding umlauts to everything. But the Swedes are cool. Or the Bergmans (Ingrid and Ingmar) are at least. Whatever.]

Speaking of shedding gender-specific clothes, the other day at body positivity group I was briefly involved in a discussion about nudist colonies. And someone mentioned the idea of a nudist colony where nudity is optional – where, if you feel like it, you can wear just a shirt, or a dress, or just shoes, or whatever! I like that a lot more than dogmatically requiring everyone to be naked as a jaybird (a beautifully quaint phrase) 24/7. It reminds me of that quote I find myself coming back to time and time again, from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936): “Back to nature! Clothes are a blight on civilization! Back to nature!” Even if this was said by a drunken, pants-less man feeding donuts to a horse. That’s not the point. It’s the thought that counts, or some similarly meaningless cliche. My point? Clothes suck. I’m okay with wearing them most of the time, provided I don’t have to put any thought into them or wear anything uncomfortable, but by the time clothes become strictly ritualized, codified, and their codification develops into an industry itself – that’s just scary. Scarier than the dream I had recently where I don’t remember what happened in it, but when I woke up I had to check to make sure my teeth were all there. I really had better not get started on fashion. It’s late and there are movies to watch and a lover to be with.

So I hope I gave you a little food for thought. And after all, “If movies be the food of thought, watch on…”

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Filed under Body, Personal

But it’s always been that way!

So, we got out of class 20 minutes early today, and even if I have the sword-of-Damocles of responsibility hanging over my head (damn writing portfolios), I wanted to write a blog. About what, you may ask? I’m not sure. But it usually comes. And if it doesn’t, I just give up and go home. Except I am home. Or am I? I’ve long been confused about this vague, dubiously meaningful concept of “home.” You know, “There’s no place like home.” Be it ever so humble. Humble abode. A house is not a home? Or, as we learned in my melodrama class, home is the “space of innocence” in which melodramas (like, archetypically, D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East) begin. I randomly just thought of Jules Dassin’s great film noir Thieves’ Highway, which begins with the hero (Richard Conte) coming back from WWII. He finally reenters his home, starts doling out gifts to his parents and girlfriend, when all of a sudden it’s revealed: his father has no legs. This leads back to an incident involving an unscrupulous fruit merchant, motivating the revenge that dominates the rest of the film. But the point is that he comes back home, attempting to “Return to Normalcy” as Warren G. Harding would’ve put it, and finds that something is very much rotten in the state of California.

This is a common plot device (which has its own trope, Doomed Hometown) that basically feeds on the desire for everything to be good, normal, and how it used to be. When the hero comes back from the war, he expects to find his family just as happy and his hometown just as idyllic as it was when he was little. We certainly get a strong dose of this in that quintessential melodrama Gone with the Wind: what example in American history is as obvious as the Atlantan aristocrats who endure the Civil War only to see their old, beloved plantation and way of life literally burned to the ground by Union soldiers, just as certainly as the stormtroopers burned Uncle Owen’s moisture plantation in Star Wars, or the image that inspired that, the burning of the family house by Indians at the beginning of The Searchers. In these latter two examples, the destruction of the home serves a dual purpose, in that it both motivates revenge (setting in motion the hero’s journey) and makes it so there’s nowhere for the hero to come back to anyway, so he has to seek out the wrongdoers and make them pay.

So, the home. It’s a strange idea. What is home? The place that little bastard E.T. phones? Where the heart is? What the fuck is “the heart,” anyway? Sometimes I just hate tedious little adages like that. “Home is where the heart is.” Well, thank you! That’s so specific and meaningful! It’s not just repeating an old grouping of words with about as much magic power and insight into the human condition as “abracadabra.” I hate it when people just spout bullshit because people have said it before them. I say this over and over again: I can think of few reasons to do something worse than “people have done it before”! You know, committing murder has a long tradition in the human race. Does that make it a real valid course of action? Racism was law in America for 400 years. Does that make it a great way to live your life? In the 16th century, the Catholic Church condemned a heliocentric view of the universe. Is it therefore inappropriate to teach in schools? My point is, tradition can have its good points, but tradition is never good just because it’s tradition.

Another example: Ashley recently told me how at a wedding she attended, they celebrated a tradition where apparently the bride and groom each cut off a piece of the wedding cake and smash it in each other’s faces. And I spent about the next five minutes shaking my head in disbelief, going, “What the fuck is that? Why? Why? Why would you ever consent to doing something that deeply stupid?” So from the sounds of it, there’s a lot of idiotic traditions revolving around marriage. You have to do this, you have to do that. Why? Because people have done it before! And OK, some traditions, if they’re remotely meaningful or cute or whatever, I can appreciate. Doing moronic bullshit just because you’re supposed to is something I despise. I mean, what’s going to happen if you don’t follow all the stupid traditions? Maybe someone will get all upset and confused and go, “No, you have to do the cake-smashing thing, because that’s how it’s always been done! Intelligence be damned!” Maybe they’ll protest along lines that are frighteningly similar to the reasoning used by the village elders in “The Lottery.” Maybe, little did we know, but those stupid traditions were in fact holding together the fabric of the universe, and since you failed to do them, the sky is going to come apart at the seams. But I think it’s worth the risk. Seriously, it’s like people let their ceremonies be guided by a kind of collective OCD.

I think this also connects back to a basic tension underlying a lot of human behavior, beliefs, and also fiction: old vs. new. And not just that; to elaborate, people like novelty. It makes little chemicals fire in the brain and they go, “Oooohhh…” But change is scary, and people also like it when things stay the same. So when you try to suggest something new or different, even if it’s useful and good, they’ll fight back with all they’ve got because it makes them uncomfortable. (After all, “there’s a storm gathering.”) So what do these two ideas mean together? That, I think, human beings are a bunch of fucked-up little monkeys with inherently dysfunctional brains. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But I’m sleepy and have to leave for class in 10 minutes, so pardon me if I cut some corners.

Let’s see, any other thoughts been percolating up in this ol’ head of mine? Well, I did want to write something about Edith Massey, one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders, just because she’s so fucking awesome. I’ve been watching and rewatching a clip from Pink Flamingos for my final project in digital storytelling, and every single time I hear her say how she’s going to eat her eggie-weggies before she goes sleepy, I just crack up (pun apparently intended). Massey is really just one of a kind. Here’s a sample of her unique acting genius:

Apparently in Female Trouble, she dresses like a dominatrix. I’m not overstating it when I say I have to see that movie. Also, I have a copy of Massey singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” with her novelty/punk band, Edie and the Eggs. Words escape me. The world clearly needs more actresses like Massey. (Incidentally, though she died 25 years ago, you can read about her and her band, and listen to her music, here.)

And now I’d best be off to class where we’ll discuss Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters (1983). Enjoy your day.

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Filed under Cinema, Politics