Katrina’s Side

Once a story is released, and its copyright expired, it’s free to be re-interpreted.  Although there are those that deny it, any reading is a form of interpretation.  I’ve been gathering information on Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for some time now, and I’ve just finished reading Alyssa Palumbo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow.  This novel is a feminist retelling from the point of view of the titular Katrina.  In the original she’s an under-developed character.  These days we’d say that Irving didn’t write women well.  In fact, she functions largely as an object in the story, the source of tension between Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane.  Palombo spins a tale from Katrina’s perspective on all this, and thus takes the story in some new directions.

The novel itself reads like a romance, overall.  Katrina really does fall in love with Ichabod, but Brom is unable to let go, and the rivalry becomes deadly.  As the title also implies, Katrina learns witchcraft as the yarn spins out.  From a cultural point of view, this telling is clearly influenced by both the Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow and the Fox Television series by the same name.  Both of them give us the witchery and the idea that Crane would be a romantic catch.  In Irving’s vision, it’s difficult to see Crane as any kind of love interest, but the essence of creative retelling is to make the story fit a different mold.  Katrina’s story is seconded by that of her friend Charlotte Jansen, who, like Katrina, practices white magic.  The witchcraft here isn’t malevolent.  Indeed, it is one of the few ways of expressing female power in this time frame.

A good deal of the tale revolves around solving the mystery of what happened to Ichabod on that fateful Halloween when he asked for Katrina’s hand in marriage.  Sadly, writers have, historically, tended primarily to be only male.  There have been exceptions, even from the very beginning.  The first named writer in history was a woman—Enheduanna—but the circumstances of women’s lives, particularly after the agricultural revolution, came to be relegated to roles where the leisure time for writing, and even the opportunity for education to learn it, were rare.  Early on the modern novel was dominated by female writers.  More recently re-envisioned Sleepy Hollow tales have brought women’s role to the fore, and have taken the narrative in unexpected directions.  This feminist retelling of the classic story demonstrates what could have been, had Katrina received a bit more attention, not just as an object.  This is a lesson still to be learned.


Chilly Ghosts

The names of many Antarctic explorers are more familiar to me than Arctic ones, so John Franklin was a name unknown to me.  A nineteenth-century British explorer, his expedition was lost beginning in 1845 when his appropriately named ships, Erebus and Terror, became icebound.  Franklin was seeking the famed Northwest Passage and given the slow communication of the time, nobody knew for years whether he’d survived or not.  (He hadn’t.)  Shane McCorristine’s The Spectral Arctic: A History of Dreams and Ghosts in Polar Exploration is a fascinating account of the attempts to find Franklin and his ships, often with speculative means.  Franklin’s widow, Jane, was famous in Britain for her constancy and her unwillingness to give up on the search for her husband.  She also consulted clairvoyants and paid attention to noteworthy dreams.

What drew me to this account was the involvement of the supernatural.  Significant dreams and many clairvoyants—all in the Victorian Era—made suggestions and claims about Sir John’s health and survival, as well as his whereabouts.  This was, of course, in the era before anyone reflected on the rightness of the imperial ideology of exploration and exploitation.  (We seem to have a hard time shaking that even today.)  In any case, these unusual, supernatural means of gaining information were often utilized and sometimes even functioned to set the destinations for other ships sent on rescue missions.  The chapters dealing with spectral landscapes of the Arctic are riveting and hard to put down.  Arctic imagination, even for those of us who don’t care for the cold, is powerful.  And we tend to think of it in spiritual terms.  There’s something about the far north.

There are many names involved and there are some places where it’s difficult to keep track of all the characters on a casual read, but overall this study is gripping.  McCorristine, as an academic, can’t tip his hand regarding the authenticity of the phenomena he explores here, but it simply doesn’t let go.  His chapter on women in Arctic discourse is likewise engaging.  Franklin and his crew had died by 1847 but the ships weren’t “discovered” until 2014 and 2016 by Canadian expeditions.  As McCorristine points out, even such political use of resources makes statements about how indigenous people continue to be treated by nations established as colonies.  There is much to say on this point, but the book focuses instead on “polar terror and sublimity” that comes to the surface in supernatural beliefs.  Tying all of this together is an astonishing feat and the results leave much room for wonder.


When Autumn Starts

Some books catch my attention and I’m not sure why.  Knowing myself, the title When Autumn Leaves, invoking my favorite time of year with its intriguing syntax, probably did it.  I’m always on the lookout for books that capture the spirit of autumn.  Although she’s quite well known as a lyricist, Amy S. Foster’s name wasn’t familiar to me.  The cover looked autumnal and I knew it was about witches.  It came out quite a few years ago, so my recollection of why I’d marked it then had faded by the time I finally got to it.  The title is a play on both autumn and leaves.  The main character of the ensemble cast is Autumn and knowing that changes leaves from those on a tree to a verb of action.  I’ll try not to put any spoilers here since there’s plenty to say without giving away the ending.

Autumn is a good witch.  Well, the book doesn’t out and say so directly.  Being magical realism there’s some room for interpretation.  She’s the matriarch of Avening, an island city off the west coast.  Those drawn to Avening tend to have some kind of magical powers, whether or not they know of them.  The story unveils the various women coming to be aware of their special talents, but generally they’re unsure what to do with or about them.  Autumn is the one to help them.  She’s been in Avening as long as anyone can remember, but, as the novel opens, she learns it’s her time to leave (thus the title).

Before she can go, however, Autumn has to select a replacement.  This is what introduces us to the various characters in the story.  We hear of the magical powers of some of the thirteen in quite a bit of detail, and others more incidentally.  Many of them don’t know they have these powers.  They know there’s something special about Avening and that they were drawn there, but they don’t know why.  So it’s a tale of female discovery.  Some of the vignettes are difficult to read, dealing with serious subjects, but they reflect realities in women’s lives.  It’s not really an autumnal story, spinning as it does through the wheel of the year, beginning with the winter solstice and ending up at Samhain.  It doesn’t dwell on Halloween, however.  It’s much more a character-driven story.  It creates a wondering image of Avening and what might happen if women were in charge.  And in that respect it’s very compelling indeed.


Halloween Mothers

There’s an irony in seeing Samhain returning back to Ireland as Halloween.  One movie that ties its Celtic roots in particularly well with the denizens of the Otherworld is You Are Not My Mother.  Written and directed by Kate Dolan, it’s an intensely creepy film set in Dublin as Halloween approaches.  A dysfunctional family of grandmother Rita, mother Angela, and daughter Charlotte have a family history of changelings.  As the tension grows in the family the viewer, and Char, must decide whether to believe her mother or her grandmother.  Particularly disturbing are the actions of Char’s classmates as they bully and threaten her in truly horrific ways.  All of this happens as Halloween nears and adds to the uncertainty.

I really don’t want to give too much away as this is a movie well worth watching.  It satisfies an October itch.  It’s also a fine example of both “elevated” horror and folk horror.  Although filmed in Dublin, the landscape—particularly the river, plays an important role in the story.  The film even helps us out by having a museum tour explain what liminal spaces are and although much of the action takes place indoors, these outdoor places are essential.  There’s an awareness of landscape and what it implies regarding the Otherworld.  As with much intelligent horror, there’s little bloodshed but plenty of tension.  And the moody atmosphere of overcast Irish skies makes it possible almost to feel the chill in the air.

The families shown in the movie are working class, which adds to their emotional resonance.  Houses are lived in and not spic-n-span.  Work provides enough to get by but not much else.  In a strange way, having the Otherworld break through in such circumstances isn’t all that unusual.  Here is something to anticipate, to look forward to.  Something that might lift you out of the mundane workaday life.  Folklore began long ago and served a similar function, I suspect.  Surviving is difficult work.  Even the tradeoff in modern times of giving most of our waking time to our jobs is a reflection of this.  It’s not difficult to believe that there’s something a bit more stimulating, if dangerous, out there.  Something we want to avoid but that we can’t help but be fascinated by when we encounter it.  Horror offered by women directors is often thoughtful in that way.  You Are Not My Mother will help to set the mood for Halloween, as it’s done in the old country.  In its own way, it’s a changeling.


Stinging Days

It doesn’t take much to encourage wasps.  Even after a few unseasonably cold weeks in autumn, one warm day will bring them back, poking along the siding looking for a nesting place.  My most recent stinging incident occurred in October.  It’s fitting, then, I suppose, that to try to keep awake late one October weekend afternoon that I watched The Wasp Woman.  These creature features were what I grew up with, and this was a Roger Corman brief film from 1959.  In fact, it was so brief that eleven minutes had to be added to make it a stand-alone television release.  It was originally part of a theatrical double feature.  Finding out about added time explained why Dr. Zinthrop’s accent changed from the first eleven minutes to the rest of the film.

Women have the same right as men to be made into monsters, of course, but there’s a poignancy to this storyline.  Janice Starlin is the owner of a cosmetics company but profits have been declining since she’s showing signs of aging.  Her customers want a younger looking woman providing their beauty products.  As is to be expected for a movie from the fifties, it’s a pretty sexist storyline.  Still, through the plodding plot the viewer can’t help but to feel for Ms. Starlin.  So when Zinthrop shows up with an extract made from wasp royal jelly (a secretion that actually comes from honey bees) that reverses aging who can blame her for trying it?  Of course it turns her into a giant wasp woman.

These kinds of mad scientist movies with their inevitable results perhaps injected a sense of caution into those of us who grew up watching them.  They weren’t great works of art, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have something to say.  What I heard, watching this one, was that women exploited for beauty products suffer from natural aging processes.  And any formula that reverses aging come with its own set of problems.  The only other scary part of the film was when employees have to get to the upper floors to prevent Starlin from killing people, they have to wait for the elevator.  Their sense of frustration, although funny, is nevertheless a reality of working in a high-rise.  These movies from the late fifties seem to me to be a cry for help.  The sexist, button-down, white shirt world isn’t all it’s advertised as being.  Mad scientists are needed to help us cope.  Or at least stay awake on a sleepy October weekend afternoon.


Like Sheep

Since horror grew up in the late 1960s, religion has become a favorite theme in the genre.  Although religion had been in horror from the beginning, Rosemary’s Baby marked a definite sea change.  More and more religion has been moving from a subsidiary theme to the main vehicle of horror.  Małgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a case in point.  “Shepherd” is the leader of a separatist religion that consists only of women.  The premise itself is creepy enough, but it becomes clear that Shepherd—the group literally has a flock of sheep—physically abuses the women.  They are divided into two groups: sisters and wives.  When unexplained things happen, Shepherd gives prophetic pronouncements.  His followers are expected to accept everything he says on blind faith.  Many religions do this by proclaiming faith against evidence a virtue.

One thing that I’ve emphasized in various presentations I’ve done is that Christianity, and perhaps all religions, work because believers are great followers.  While Shepherd uses biblical-sounding language, there are no Bibles in the film.  There are recognizably Christian themes, but the doctrine isn’t familiar.  Part of the reason, obviously, is that Christianity has a negative view of sex and Shepherd treats his flock as his harem.  The women follow because he “rescued” them from worse situations and their communal life is better.  Only it’s not.  When a woman director stands behind such a film, there’s clearly a message being sent about male privilege.  Any system set up with male superiority will lead to abuse.  When Shepherd’s enclave in the woods is discovered, they must move.  He instructs the women that they are going to find Eden.

Throughout, the movie is more creepy than scary in the traditional sense.  There are no jump-startles, but the situation makes you sense that something’s not right.  The women, acclimated to this lifestyle, many of them for years, know no other way of being or even where to go.  They have no vehicles.  Forced to move, they walk—Shepherd carries nothing while the women backpack out supplies.  Once Eden, on the shore of a lake, is reached, Shepherd baptizes the sisters and drowns the wives so the younger women can take their place.  You get the sense throughout that this movie is a parable.  Men like to take the privilege of determining women’s fates without understanding women’s needs.  This new kind of horror is insightful and symbolic.  There is no final girl when women band together.  The Other Lamb deserves wider exposure than it’s had.  It’s a good example of what religion can do to those who simply follow.


Walking Home Alone

It is an American-Iranian, female-directed vampire movie.  Shot in black-and-white and entirely in subtitled Persian, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a very unusual and artsy movie.  The film has been described as a “spaghetti western” as well, but that’s a bit more difficult for me to see.  If all these disparate elements seem odd, the director’s background may help explain it.  Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England, but of Iranian heritage.  She moved to the United States as a child and began making movies quite early.  A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is her best-known film to date (I only found out about it by reading a book about horror films that recommended it.)

The title may set certain expectations that will be subverted by the film.  There will be spoilers here, so if you’re likely to see the film you might want to wait to read on.  Who knows?  Maybe spoilers will make you want to see it.  The girl who walks home alone is the vampire.  She’s perfectly safe at night.  The story involves her falling in love with a compassionate young man who’s trying to support his heroin-addicted father.  The movie is quite gritty.  The girl is a conflicted vampire, which happens to be my favorite kind.  She’s never explained.  She simply is.  Her first victim that we see is the drug-dealer and pimp who’s pressuring the young man’s family.  Although they live in poverty, he takes their car in payment.  He’s a nasty piece of work.

The young man, also conflicted, takes over the dead thug’s drug-selling business, but doesn’t take advantage of people.  The vampire is attracted to his virtue.  She also befriends one of the thug’s prostitutes because she’s sad.  Apart from the dead petty crime boss, everyone in Bad City lives in humble circumstances.  The young man finally throws his father out of the house.  The vampire attacks him, leaving him dead.  The young man, in love with the vampire but not knowing she’s a vampire, talks her into leaving with him although he can see she’s implicated in his father’s death.  This is a most unusual film, praised for its feminine outlook.  That’s unusual in both vampire movies and horror, but there’s no reason that it should be rare.  More of an art-house movie than a cineplex blockbuster, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a movie that will leave you wondering.  And that, it seems to me, is a good thing.


October Early

Still feeling that August is the new October, although that particular day happened to reach over ninety degrees, I watched Halloween.  Not the John Carpenter original; I’ve seen that one a few times before.  No, I watched the 2018 version only to learn it’s a retcon.  If you’re like me you’ll wonder what a retcon is.  It’s a portmanteau of “retroactive continuity.”  That’s where a sequel goes back and makes adjustments, or simply ignores, story elements from the original to take the story forward.  I haven’t followed the Halloween franchise.  There are too many movies I want to see that are original, with fresh ideas, to be spending my time trying to find my way through an emerging mythology of a serial killer.  Michael Myers, as horror fans know, inexplicably killed his sister as a child.  As an adult he terrorized Haddonfield, Illinois  one Halloween and Laurie Strode was the final girl.

What drew me to this sequel was that Jamie Lee Curtis was back as Strode, all grown up.  Michael predictably escapes again and goes for an even higher body count in Haddonfield.  Laurie, meanwhile, has gone NRA and booby-trapped her entire house in anticipation of this day.  You can see the draw, I hope.  You kind of want to see how this ends.  The original had Michael’s apparently dead body disappear at the end.  In the retcon he was arrested after that and re-institutionalized.  The thing is, you can never really kill a monster.  Original scenes and scenarios are revisited, and those familiar with the Carpenter story are rewarded by situations that subvert expectations.  Where is he hiding this time?  You always watch the credits roll wondering how “the authorities” don’t realize that a guy shot, stabbed, and incinerated and keeps coming back might be something other than human to be put in an asylum.

I should know better than to watch these kinds of movies when I’m home alone, but I don’t.  So it’s a good thing that I try to piece all these things together.  We have three strong women—three generations of final girls here, and the obligatory basis for a sequel.  (At least two, in fact, bringing the franchise up to thirteen movies.)  Laurie’s granddaughter is among the virginal, non-drinking final-girl prototypes.  Her less Puritan friends are killed off, although her worthless boyfriend survives the night.  You’ve got to love the endless self-references of such situations.  That’s why we keep on coming back.  We’ve seen it before but we still want more.  Even if it’s only August.


The Horseman

Washington Irving’s tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” perhaps due to its being the earliest literary American ghost story, has been retold time and again.  When I saw that Christina Henry had a take on it that came out last autumn, I knew I’d be reading it.  I’d read her The Girl in Red late last year, but I couldn’t wait until fall to read this one.  Henry has a way of taking traditional stories and making them relevant.  Horseman is set two generations after Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel, but they all appear in it.  According to Irving’s story—and this is often changed in cinematographic treatments—Brom and Katrina wed.  The narrator of this tale is Ben, who in today’s terms would be considered transgender.  He (his preferred pronoun) is the grandchild of Brom and Katrina.

Henry is a master of magic realism.  There really is something in the woods of Sleepy Hollow and it’s taking children’s heads.  Some influence from Tim Burton’s film version is found here, but the story has its own trajectory and inner logic.  Ben actually sees the monster, but nobody will believe him.  Not until it’s too late.  The one person who does believe is Katrina, Ben’s grandmother.  She, however, wants Ben to act like a girl because he was born female.  She wants him to stay home and learn sewing and cooking.  Ben’s hero, however, is Brom.  He’s a good man, if rowdy.  He married Katrina for love, not wealth.  Ichabod Crane does appear, later in the story, but since how he appears is a spoiler I’ll need to let you read for yourself.

Americans are often raised with the wrong-headed notion of canon as the one way a story goes.  Retelling is as ancient as writing itself.  Homer, Apollodorus, and Ovid were retelling stories.  So were many Bible writers.  People tell one another tall tales.  Washington Irving didn’t invent the Headless Horseman out of whole cloth.  Neither did the people of Tarrytown.  How the story goes is a matter for discussion.  Bet yet, it’s also a matter for retelling.  Henry’s version could be made to fit with Irving’s, but with a bit of prior assumption, some posthumous collaboration.  Hers, however, is a tale for our times.  Just like in Red, the protagonist isn’t conventional, according to conservative sexual standards.  Both are, however, authentic.  And although both may be flawed in various ways, there’s no denying that they’re heroes.


Carter’s Creations

Angela Carter was a novelist whose best known work is her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber.  Often acclaimed as both gothic and feminist, these repurposed folktales and fairytales leave the reader in a thoughtful state.  I have to admit to having not known of Carter or her work until quite recently.  I’d seen a biography about her, but there are so many writers and my time seems always so limited.  Then I saw The Bloody Chamber mentioned on a list of best gothic fiction.  I had to find out what this was all about.  The stories are indeed unlike much of the feminist literature of the seventies.  The stories are focused on women, often young, and how they deal with being treated as the property of men.

The first, and lengthiest story, “The Bloody Chamber,” is a retelling of Bluebeard from the point of view of his last wife.  It’s an extended reflection on feeling owned and boxed in—literally trapped—by men’s economic rules of property.  Carter keeps readers on edge, even if they know the base story.  This isn’t a simple retelling.  Nor is it a lament about the natural, biological unfairness of sexuality.  There’s an ambivalence here, an enjoyment tinged with melancholy that gives the story a gothic sensibility.  The women in the different stories here prefigure more recent Disney heroines that take charge of their circumstances.  And there’s also ambivalence about the setting of the stories.  There are contemporary appurtenances but still castles and baronial mansions.  You’re lost in time.

The collection has some stories, such as beauty and the beast, retold twice and ends with three versions of werewolf stories that play, to an extent, on little red riding hood.  Some were tales with which I had no familiarity.  The effect of the whole is thoughtful contemplation of the human condition.  Much of the world, it seems, has been unduly influenced by a kind of literalism—a story, whether biblical or traditional, is supposed to go like this—that has not only robbed great texts of their depth, but has entrapped human beings in a stone-chiseled certainty.  A self-righteousness, if you will.  Even writing a text in stone doesn’t prevent others from interpreting it, however.  Since none of us have all the answers, we are each interpreters.  There was no historical Bluebeard.  There have, unfortunately, been many men who embody his attitude towards women.  Carter’s genius is to remind us that every story has at least two sides.  And the woman’s side may well be the truer of the two.


July Forth

Independence Day.  What does it mean in a nation on the verge of a fascist takeover?  Supreme Court justices, themselves appointed by crooked but technically legal politics, have just struck down the independence of half the people in this country.  Independence Day for whom?  Originally a celebration of freedom from monarchy, one of our political parties has opted for authoritarianism—the objection to which was the very reason the Revolutionary War was fought.  The colonists wanted religious freedom, but now we find religiously motivated politics driving the bus off the cliff.  If you’re not a white evangelical these rulings are not for you.  Your religious freedom has been compromised by politics.  So we gather in grassy places to watch fireworks.    We celebrate the independence of the wealthy.  Those who can break the law and buy the results they want with lawyers without scruples.

I think of Independence Day from the perspective of our Black siblings.  Freedom to be shot for a traffic stop or to be publicly strangled to death for petty crime.  To be redlined and kept in poverty.  Independence from literal chains only to be shackled in bureaucratic ones.  Being sentenced to prison for things a white can easily afford to pay off.  Independence Day in a nation with over 40 million people in poverty and where just three white men own more than the bottom fifty percent of Americans.  Give them fireworks and firearms and let the bottom half work it out for themselves.  When is the last time a Supreme Court justice had to worry about having enough for both rent and food?  Freedom, those on the top tell us, is not free.  Watch the pretty lights.  Hear the loud booms.

What of American Indians, still awaiting freedom?  What is Independence Day to them?  Kept out of sight and in poverty, we don’t want to be reminded.  No, we only want freedom to get more for the white man.  As a child in the sixties I had some hope that we might be making progress.  Freedom and protest were in the air.  There was at least hope for some justice.  The privileged white leaders now give us a day off work.  The wealth can still flow upward, even if we take a brief hiatus from labor.  Women, Blacks, the poor, American Indians, and many others who make America what it is are nevertheless denied basic freedoms.  This loss of independence at least comes with a light show.  Just watch it and be grateful.


Keeping Your Head

Horror is a gift that keeps on giving.  Not many horror fans are among my regular readers, but I like to keep a finger in the pie nevertheless.  Just earlier this month it was announced that Paramount has hired Lindsey Beers to direct a new big screen Sleepy Hollow.  It’s early days, of course, and the movie hasn’t been titled, let alone filmed.  Beers is just wrapping up a prequel for Pet Sematary (not yet titled) that I’ll be eager to see.  Women horror directors tend to bring refreshing angles to the genre—and why shouldn’t they?  Women writers were crucial in developing the Gothic genre that evolved into horror as we know it.  No matter what the Supreme Court says, they are just as important—probably more—than males.

I’ve been reading quite a lot about Sleepy Hollow over the past several months, which is how I came across the intelligence about this new movie.  It’s nice to know that the Hudson Valley is evergreen.  My visits there have offered brushes with the uncanny, but nothing explicit.  A weekend near the ice caves of Sam’s Point, geocaching in the woods outside Poughkeepsie, a visit to Sleepy Hollow itself to visit Irving’s grave and tip my hat to the Old Dutch Church.  With deep family roots in upstate New York, I’ve always thought it would be a great place to live.  Alas, not on an editor’s salary.  It’s been too long since I’ve given the area a visit.

John Quidor, The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, via Wikimedia Commons

There have been many takes on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  Even in the silent era movies were made of it.  In retrospect, it seems odd that it took so long for Tim Burton to bring it back to the big screen.  There were some television movies, usually with plodding plots to draw the story out to commercial length.  Disney had early on devoted half a feature to it, as if the story couldn’t support its own weight.  For better or worse, that film was probably the first introduction to the tale that many people had—the story itself was written for adults.  Of course, many written kids’ versions have come out since then.  The satirical original was meant for a somewhat sophisticated readership with a sense of humor.  The story lends itself to horror treatments, however, if they’re done well.  It may have been an early viewing of the Disney tale that set me moving in this direction.  I like to think I’ve kept my head over it, however.


Stand with Women

We like to think we’re the most advanced civilization in the world, but we allow the appointment of “justices” who still believe women are inferior to men.  Millions of women who’d been born into the modern world yesterday found themselves thrust back into medievalist thinking that now seems to reign in the Supreme Court.  Even Donald Trump, who is responsible, has expressed his doubts.  When will we acknowledge that women should have the same rights as men?  How long do we have to continue this inane struggle against religious amateurs who believe their reading of Scripture is the only correct one?  I was raised by a woman on her own.  Uneducated, with no practical job skills, she remained religious and very capably reared three sons.  She was far more capable than my father.

Democracy can be gamed, of course.  And the “angry white man” has become America’s new face to the world.  The petulant, selfish male who thinks everyone else is getting the benefits.  Even as Catholic-majority nations are declaring women’s rights, America is stepping backward in the Human Rights Index because certain senators refused to allow voting on legitimate candidates for the supreme court.  How they can go home and face their wives I do not know.  Of course, our laws do not apply to our lawmakers.  As revelations continually show, theirs is a world of “do as I say, not as I do.”  Is it so difficult to say it out loud?  Women are fully human and have an inherent claim to the same rights as men.  But then again, when have those blinded by religion ever seen clearly?

America, do you enjoy seeing your rights stripped away?  Do you enjoy justices who one day decide it’s our right to carry weapons in public and then next to say that women must remain home barefoot and pregnant?  Is this the mentality that now rules the gamed “supreme” court?  I’d like to exegete that word supreme and ask our “justices” just how deeply they’ve studied religion.  And that doesn’t mean just praying over your Bible.  The most difficult courses in the religion-philosophy curriculum are those dealing with ethics.  Days spent wrestling with the subtleties of how reason, law, and religion interact and teasing them apart to look at each with real understanding.  Or do we just vote along party lines like any beast in the herd?  It’s a shock to have been born in the sixties only to now find yourself living in the fifties with all their inherent hypocrisy.  I stand with women, not amateur theology masquerading as justice.


Pure Fear

At work we have the opportunity to say a little about ourselves on a shared document for our teams.  This is a fairly new thing, so people I’ve worked with for years have no reason to look at it.  A couple of new hires, however, have noted that I watch horror movies and this has led to some budding friendships.  Since we’re all remote workers it’s mostly a matter of a line or two in an email about whether I’ve seen this or that film.  One of those recommended was the Hulu original Pure.  It’s actually pretty good.  The idea is a bunch of teenage girls are brought to a retreat center for a purity ball with their fathers.  This kind of thing can get very creepy very fast, given the incestuous overtones for such a thing.  Not only is it a religious event, it’s based on the story of Lilith.

Collier’s Lilith

The pastor preaches his first sermon about Lilith, but the girls from cabin 4 sneak out at night to meet some guys.  (Their presence is explained at the end of the movie.)  That night the girls summon Lilith, whom the minister’s daughter says is a demon.  The summoning works.  Lilith begins to interfere with services as the girls are tempted by the guys who are hanging around.  At the end, Lilith “possesses” Shay (the lead girl) and frees them from being controlled by the men in their lives.  The message is a refreshing one, and Lilith ends of being, well, somewhat as Shay puts it, “One man’s demon is another’s angel.”  

Religion and horror make a good couple.  I’ve never seen a movie that features the story of Lilith before.  The thing is, she’s not the scary part of the movie.  The religious believers, the fathers who try to control their daughters rather than giving them support after listening to them, are.  Parenting is tough, no doubt about that.  None of us are born into life with all the answers.  We quite often find ourselves not knowing for sure what we should do.  I couldn’t imagine being a parent claiming to have the solutions for all problems.  I’m a guy who watches horror for a form of therapy!  What I do think, however, is that we can try to be reasonable, loyal, and supportive.  I learn as much from being a parent as I teach.  The same was true of being a professor.  Humility, along with a willingness to continue learning your entire life is the only way that makes sense to me.  Although not a major studio production, this was one of the scariest movies I’d seen in a long time.


Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.