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.


Sexist Instructions

The thing about cars is there’s so much that can go wrong.  And when it does it’s costly to fix it.  Yet, even when working from home, we need them.  We have two, both quite old in car years.  One is approaching twenty.  We bought it new—the first time we’d ever been able to achieve such a feat.  This was one of the new Beetles and it has had never-ending electronic issues.  Warning lights come on that seem to be a malfunction of the warning lights—if you ever wanted an existential situation that’s one right there.  How do you know if there’s something wrong with your engine or is it just something wrong with the warning light?  A worrisome one came on just as winter was settling in and we didn’t need to drive it much before inspection time and we let it sit a little too long.

The battery, naturally, died.  We have an old, seldom used battery jump-starter, which, in the cold of the garage, also died.  We’ve been trying to find time on the weekend when both my wife and I are free (rare) so that I can drive it a ways to try to recharge the battery, but with someone home who can rescue me if I get stuck.  So it was we came to buy a new jump-starter.  These new ones are the size of a cell phone on steroids—much smaller than the old kind.  Ours came from China, I’m guessing, and the instructions are sexist.  They imply that women can use this because it’s easy.  Part of the description reads “It can be used more than 30 times, giving you peace of mind, no matter where you are, if the battery runs out, you can start it without looking for women who are not smart at night in an empty parking lot, such as a college campus or forget you.”  I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the writer had a past he’s trying to deal with.

I was indeed once left stranded because of a dead car battery.  It’s a story I’m saving for my autobiography, if I ever write one, but let me assure you all the people responsible for that abandonment were men.  Men with a car that wouldn’t start while I sat in the middle of nowhere in the dark.  (This was before cell phones.)  I didn’t want to buy a sexist device.  Both men and women have batteries die and I’m always a little scared to jump-start a car.  At least now we can get the Beetle rolling again and drive toward a future where women are rightfully seen as equal to men.  And I hope that instruction writer has found some help, perhaps with therapy.


Thinking, Critically

A woman—I don’t know her name—photobombed a Russian newscast with a sign telling the Russian people that they’re being lied to.  Detained by police, her whereabouts are unknown.  I admire that woman.  She may pay with her life  in her effort to encourage what is dear to every teacher everywhere: critical thinking.  Many of the world’s problems are the result of the dearth of critical thinking.  There’s no other way to explain the election of Trump and his main squeeze Vlad.  Thick as thieves, the saying goes.  I recently gave a talk to a small group about publishing.  One of the points I was making is that critical thinking is essential in getting to the truth.  Compare sources, use reason, and never trust a snake-oil salesman.

People vote with their feelings rather than with their rational faculties.  Trump openly admires Hitler, as Putin does Stalin.  These should be signs of warning to those who think critically.  The Second World War wasn’t even a century ago and we’ve apparently forgotten all the lessons it should’ve taught us.  In high school we were shown examples of propaganda and told how to avoid it. Now we see it and can’t recognize it at all. Critical thinking is often frowned upon in modern society.  Being comfortable with the status quo is perhaps valued higher than social justice and the necessary work to get us to where it might happen.  It’s easier to hate than to think.  It’s easier to follow than to question what you’re following.  Education teaches us survival skills, and among them are the ability to think through a situation.  Authoritarianism is seldom—I’m tempted to say “never”—the way to a good result.

Perhaps the saddest irony of all is that those who run outlets like Fox News (and its Russian equivalents) are thinking critically of ways to get followers not to.  Realizing that critical thinking will lead to a more fair and equitable world, they decide to keep their positions of privilege by discouraging their followers from engaging with the basic comparison of sources and weighing of facts.  Instead, promoting “alternative facts” and emotionally outraged rhetoric, they are able to stir up crowds to try to take over the government.  Conspiracy theories are easier to believe if you don’t know how to check facts for yourself.  And the internet has made us all experts on everything.  Russia’s narrative about the war is far from the reality on the ground.  Objective observers have seen what is really happening.  One heroic woman in Russia said enough is enough.  In all likelihood nobody in the world will ever see her again.


In War’s Domain

Good for absolutely nothing, to borrow the wisdom of Edwin Starr, war has again marred Europe.  We could see it coming from afar because people keep electing autocrats and strong men always want to fight one another.  There should be international laws banning their election, but instead innocent people die because one man has to prove he’s bigger than another.  The evils of the Trump years will be with us for decades.  There’s nothing Christian about waging war.  Seems that some folks have forgotten their Sunday School.  Wasn’t the selfless, self-sacrificing carpenter from Nazareth known as the “prince of peace?”  Of course, Ukraine became Christian long before Russia did.  What deep-seated insecurity such “world leaders” have!

While not wanting to be drawn into open conflict yet again, the world has pretty much all sided with Ukraine.  It has the misfortune of being nestled next to a weary nation with a dictator who despises the west.  Who pulls down his pants and shows off his missiles when anyone starts to open their mouth.  Who isolates himself and his people in the name of self-aggrandizement.  We came close to that over here.  So close that it still makes me shiver.  We feel for the people of Ukraine.  They did nothing to provoke attack, and they probably knew other world leaders would keep their distance.  Putin, like Stalin, wants a USSR.  An empire to put the evil west in check.  Hadn’t we left that kind of thinking behind?  Hadn’t we grown up after World War Two?  Strong men learn nothing from history.  They look at it and see only a mirror reflecting only themselves.

Hitler annexed Poland.  Russia, which has more land than it knows what to do with, doesn’t need Ukraine to be part of it.  The good people of Russia are protesting, just like the women brave enough to march on Washington to protest the fascism America embraced for four years.  I’ve put off writing about this because it’s so difficult to do without dissolving into tears.  Beware of either bare-chested or chest-thumping politicians worldwide!  It’s time to end the era of the alpha male.  We need mothers to nurse us back to health.  They call it “Mother Russia” but what mother acts this way?  The women aren’t impressed, Vlad—they’re in the streets bravely protesting.  It’s International Women’s Day.  Let’s honor women. It’s time to let the women lead.  It’s time to put war behind us forever.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

Others’ Weeping

I was first introduced, consciously at least, to la llorona via the movie, The Curse of la Llorona.  The film is part of The Conjuring universe, but just barely.  It was clear from the movie that the weeping woman (la llorona) wasn’t invented for the film.  I’ve never lived in, or even spent much time in, the southwest.  Even less in Latin American countries.  In my rather strange career path, the best source of such things to penetrate my own experience tended to be my students.  (Those who think professors do all the teaching have the equation backward.)  Since becoming more isolated as an editor, my interactions are often someone approaching me with an idea mostly formed, often fully formed, and few of them have to do with ghosts or folklore.  That’s why I found Domino Renee Perez’s book There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture such a treasure.

As an Anglo reader endowed of white privilege, it’s important to read books where I’m clearly the outsider.  Being a kind of historian, I was curious about the origins of the tale.  As a person living in the modern world I was also interested by its reception history.  This book contains many, many examples of the latter.  It will demand that the outsider reader accept unfamiliar names and cultural conventions.  It will, in some ways, force you to stand “south of the border” and face the suffering our nation has caused and continues to cause in the name of white supremacy and its adjunct, capitalism.  There are other ways to be in this world, but when money gets involved all bets are off.

There’s much to discuss in a packed book like this, but one aspect, near the end, caught my attention.  Briefly, if you don’t know the story, la llorona is a woman betrayed by her husband.  She drowns their two children and is condemned to wander the riverbanks for eternity crying as she searches for them.  Interestingly Perez makes the connection with Rachel in the Bible.  I’ve read the Good Book many times and yet I seem to have missed Matthew’s use of Jeremiah’s interpretation of Rachel’s story.  Joseph was kidnapped and sold to slavery by his brothers but Genesis focuses on the grief of Jacob.  Rachel doesn’t live to be reunited with her lost son like Jacob does.  Perez makes the point that the stories are quite different, but it showed me once again how much I have yet to learn.  We need to pay attention to those who experience life differently.


Sects and Violence

Important books often suffer because of poor distribution.  There are really only five publishers in English (“the big five”) that can reliably get their books into commercial bookstores.  I was reminded of this when reading the very important book Sex and Religion: Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, by Dag Øistein Endsjø.  The book is virtually unknown here in the States for a number of reasons.  It was originally written in Norwegian.  The author isn’t a household name.  The publisher who bought English rights is British.  It’s not comfortably priced.  None of this, however, gainsays its importance.  This book has much to teach us about hypocrisy and how religions codify prejudices, and, despite rhetoric, still value women less than they value men.  Religion is intimately connected to sex.  As I’ve written before, no religion ignores it completely.

Endsjø offers here a reasoned, logical, and religiously expert analysis of several aspects of human (and to a degree, animal) sexuality.  Contrary to much monotheistic teaching, sex is often treated as a good thing—within limits—in world religions.  Of course, that allows monotheists to step in and claim all others are pagans and debased, a tactic as old as the Good Book itself.  Religions’ real enemy, it seems, is education.  We should be open to compare what others believe—the wisdom their elders have passed down, just like the disciples.  And we should be honest about the fact that we change the rules to suit our situation.  One of the starkest examples of this Endsjø points out is that the Bible is much more stridently against divorce (which evangelicals now freely use) than homosexuality.  But guess which is the political issue?

Religions change, no matter what any true believer says.  We adapt to all kinds of new situations and new information, except when it comes to sexual behaviors we don’t like.  Even though most religions prohibit murder, the punishment for sexual offenses is frequently more stringent.  In other words, as Endsjø points out, religions care less for human life than for their own sexual prejudices.  The fact is just about all monotheistic religions have a male god and favor males over  the other half of the human race.  It even seems likely that Muslim over-reactions to homosexuality arose from copying evangelical Christians in the west.  This is an important book and if religious leaders of all stripes read and comprehend it, we would find ourselves in a much more human, and humane, world.


Read Red

Fairy tales can be pretty gnarly.  I recently picked up a new translation of Grimm but I haven’t read it yet.  For some time I’d been aware of Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red.  As soon as I discovered it I wanted to read it.  The BISAC code says it’s science fiction but I’d call it horror.  More than that, I’d say it is the most tense book I’ve read in years.  Henry knows how to keep readers on edge.  Yes, it’s a take off from Little Red Riding Hood, but in a way that I wasn’t anticipating.  Red is a strong, believable protagonist who finds herself in a pandemic-ravaged world (imagined before Covid-19) where she has to get to her isolated grandmother’s house.  Everything between will surprise, scare, and stun.

The writing carries you along.  A government with secrets, the ever-present threat of roving groups of bandits and militias who are always on the lookout for girls, and the uncertainty of how this will all end make for a powerful tale of what people are capable of.  And not necessarily for good.  Making Red “disabled,” and black, Henry has given us a protagonist we need.  And it’s always a delight when a character finds that watching horror movies has been good training for a world where order has broken down into a Trumpian anarchy.  Scary and witty, the story has so much to like it’s difficult to know where to start beyond the recommendation to read it.

Those who analyze literature sometimes say that the great story-lines have already been taken and that the best modern writers can do is to adapt them.  There may be an element of truth to that, but even if there isn’t the clever retelling of old tales can be quite enjoyable.  This isn’t so much a retelling as a reimagining.  It’s also a poignant reminder that when things start to break down—or even in the status quo—women are put at risk.  Men too quickly resort to guns and violence.  As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Red is capable of surviving in this world, even when at a disadvantage.  There’s also no overcoming of the military.  It’s too well established and too heavily armed.  Red’s run-ins with them allow her to impress those who assume white male superiority.  In that way this is a parable within a fairy tale in a modern guise.  I’ll be reading more of Christina Henry’s books.


Devils and Witches

If you’re a regular reader (thank you!) you know that I’m currently under contract to write the Devil’s Advocates series volume on The Wicker Man.  As an editor myself I’m aware that academic series, often unlike fictional series books, tend to vary quite a bit from one another.  I want to try to get my submission close to the goal, however, so I’ve been reading volumes by other authors.  You may also know that The Wicker Man is part of an “unholy trinity” of early British folk-horror, with the other films being Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw.  Of the three my least favorite is Witchfinder General, so I’ve put off reading the particular volume on that film by Ian Cooper.  That has nothing to say about the author, but rather a lot to say about the base film.

The book is quite good.  Cooper is clearly aware of the controversy surrounding the movie and he points out some of the difficulties with it as well as what it does well.  His treatment is quite insightful.  The movie is violent and it’s an representation of the historical violence we thought we outgrew.  Matthew Hopkins was an historical “witch hunter” who was, in reality a serial killer,  mostly of women.  Fearing witches, while getting paid to find them, he was responsible for over 200 deaths.  As Cooper makes clear, the film lingers a bit too long on the abject nature of many of the tortures, not allowing us to look away.  For this reason many critics found the film distasteful.  I personally found it hard to watch.  Education isn’t always easy.

There’s quite a bit of film history in the book.  Cooper does a great job placing the movie in its cinematic context.  Like The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General is sometimes said not to be a horror film.  Indeed, there’s nothing supernatural about it.  Still, it fits the bill for many of those in-between movies that cross over into horror.  In this case it’s due to the violence.  For me, monsters are preferable to human monstrosity.  They’re easier to walk away from.  Although the witch hunts ended centuries ago, violence against women has remained.  Whether it’s legislative or physical or economic, women deserve better treatment than they’re offered by the male establishment.  Movies, and books about movies, like this one may be difficult to watch/read, but they carry important reminders that power continues to corrupt and it must be challenged and changed when it reverts to the mentality of Matthew Hopkins.  His spiritual kin, unfortunately, continue to thrive. 


Listening to History

One thing fascists around the world are attempting to do is rewrite history.  Inevitably white, they want to paint themselves as good and superior.  Actual history, however, shows just how destructive and cruel “civilization” has been, particularly to original inhabitants of colonized nations.  Over the past several months I’ve been reading about indigenous peoples.  We’ve been led to believe they were unfortunately wiped out, that they no longer really exist, or that our governments treat them fairly to make up for past injustices.  Such myths must be dispelled and we need to hear from those who’ve lived their experiences.  Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Nugi Garimara, or Doris Pilkington, is the record of one such remarkable experience.  Although made into a film in Australia, it’s a story with which I was unfamiliar.

Garimara is the daughter of an indigenous aboriginal woman who experienced life under the “civilizing” of West Australia.  Molly, the author’s mother, and two of her sisters—Daisy and Gracie—were separated from their family at the ages of 14, 11, and 8, respectively.  They were sent 1600 kilometers—very nearly 1000 miles—away to a school that was run as if the government believed Jane Eyre was an instruction manual.  Although they knew that runaways, who were always caught, were shaved, whipped, and put in an on-campus jail on bread and water, Molly decided to escape with her sisters.  Over nine weeks they managed to avoid the trackers and walk the 1000 miles home.  This all took place in 1931.  Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is an engrossing book that should be widely read.

Many questions remain.  Since the story is written from the memories of an aging Molly, there are gaps.  After making it home Gracie was “captured” and sent back to the school.  Molly was eventually tracked down and also returned, but she again escaped and followed the same route back home.  The authorities, implacable, believed that whites knew the best way to handle indigenous peoples, calling the department responsible “the Protector of Aborigines.”  We need to listen to the voices of those whose land was stolen.  We need to ask them how to make current circumstances more just and fair.  Yes, the indigenous lifestyle clashes with capitalism.  We’re becoming aware that their lifestyles tends to be healthier and more fulfilling, and yet we persist.  We are, it seems, living through the slow crumble of the capitalistic system.  When it all comes down we would be wise to learn from those who know alternative ways of being in the world and can find their way home in hopeless circumstances.


New Monster

The Babadook is a horror film about loneliness.  Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it has an arthouse cinema feel to it.  I missed it when it came out in 2014—it didn’t receive major billing and publicity in the United States—but it gained critical acclaim as intelligent horror.  It follows the small family of Amelia and her son Samuel, who has special needs.  I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers here because I think you should see it if you haven’t already.  Amelia’s husband died in a car crash taking her to the hospital to have their first child.  That haunting tragedy drives the film.  And when you throw a monster called the Babadook into the mix, loneliness and sleeplessness make the dark something to fear again.

With wonderful acting, the story of childhood monsters highlights the continuing plight of single mothers.  How are you supposed to survive when you have a child that requires constant supervision and yet you need to make ends meet?  And if sleeplessness begins to distort your sense of reality all kinds of things seem possible.  

Hollywood hasn’t been a friendly place for female directors.  This film was shot in Australia.  I’m not sure that sexual parity is better there, but this movie is a great example of what can happen when a woman shows what horror means to her.  Not too many horror movies have female directors, yet.  It seems to me that women have many things to fear and have much to show us about what horror can be.  It seems to me that loneliness, although often part of horror, isn’t often the focus.  We would rather look away than to see it because it’s too painful.  Horror compels us to look at what we’d rather not see.

Aside from all of this, the film gives us a new monster.  The Babadook was invented for this film and although we don’t have to worry about whether it’s real or not, the issues it brings to the fore certainly are.  There is darkness inside people.  Even those of us who try to do what is right struggle against it.  Often it takes quite a lot even to admit as much.  This movie lets the dark out and finds a new narrative path through which it might flow.  Although a box office success—earning more than it cost—The Babadook is still little known.  It should be discussed more because intelligent horror has some important lessons to teach us.


Druid Redux

I know I’ve talked about this book before.  I had cause to learn about the Druids again, and Peter Berresford Ellis’ book was handy.  I’m pretty sure I have Stuart Piggot’s book somewhere, but I haven’t seen it since the move, so I turned to Ellis again.  The first time I read him I was commuting and couldn’t take notes.  (My specialized form of research has its limitations.)  This time it took several days’ more reading, and doing so with more active engagement.  One thing that really stood out to me this time was the Indo-European connection.  Druids, according to Ellis, were essentially Brahmins—the intellectual class in a stratified society.  Having derived from a common ancestor, the two societies diverged with Brahmins surviving in India and Druids going extinct with the somewhat genocidal treatment of various other groups against the Celts.

Druids were egalitarian as far as the sexes went.  This is one of those examples where Christianity’s masculinist orientation furthered a trend that led to women being treated as inferior.  Evidence points to early female Druids, and even female political leadership among the Celts.  As the male godhead took over the remaining influence of women eventually evaporated.  The Druids, you see, were extremely focused on learning the truth.  Their pre-Christian judicial system was oriented toward fairness and finding out what really happened.  In other words, ethically they required no conversion.  That was a matter of theology, and theology often brings its own set of issues.  

The Romans, who’d had a long and protracted war against the Celts, drove them to the fringes of their empire.  Britain (and Brittany in France) were far enough removed from the base of power in Rome that the Celts survived in the edges of the islands: Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Ireland.  As a distinctive culture, Celts have been in fashion for some time now, but that’s a new development, historically speaking.  Ellis’ book explores this angle quite a bit since understanding the Celts is essential to comprehending who the Druids were.  The lack of native written accounts (Druids forbade writing their wisdom, passing it on by memorization over the centuries) hampers our ability to have a coherent history.  Ellis, however, seems to have reconstructed well.  Modern Druid revivals necessarily contain speculative elements, and historically the Druids wouldn’t have been perfect either—nobody is.  They do seem to have had a reasonable and just society for the most part, something we’ve managed to lose, along with much of their wisdom.


The Price of Monotheism

Before Christianity (I’m not convinced by Marija Gimbutas’ matriarchy hypothesis, as much as I like it) many cultures recognized mother goddesses.  No disrespect to Gimbutas, but our knowledge of early culture, particularly pre-literate varieties, is sketchy.  There is evidence and we build cases, but we only see part of the picture.  One thing we clearly see is they venerated women.  Early people recognized the divine power in females.  Women gave life and nurture in an otherwise hard and uncertain world.  The earliest art, as far as we can reconstruct, is representation of women.  While we can’t know it, it’s reasonably inferred that such artworks are goddesses.  We do know that by the time the earliest religions appear in writing goddesses were as fully present as gods.  The two “halves” (at the risk of being accused of being a binaryist) of the human experience were fundamental.

Patriarchy casts a ominous hue over the monotheistic enterprise.  In a world where only one deity reigns, it must be thought of as gendered.  This is the human condition, right Xenophanes?  While it didn’t take monotheism to move society in that direction—that seems to be the fault of testosterone—over time male gods dominated.  We’ve been stuck in that world ever since.  I was reminded of this while reading about Danu, the Celtic “earth goddess.”  Danu gave her name to the Danube River, in the Celtic homeland.  She was venerated as the mother of the gods and the mother, in a sense, of us all. 

The point is that Danu wasn’t unique.  Many cultures had similar figures.  Although monotheism didn’t start the decline of mother goddesses, it pretty much spelled their end.  Human religious imagination can only go so far, and gods will always reflect what we think about ourselves.  Monotheistic religions all present themselves as revealed, which is to say they seem to be aware that logic regarding their claims breaks down at some point and then they can invoke the mystery of limited human minds in a landscape with divine knowledge which the cognoscenti claim they alone possess.  Over time these religions inevitably become masculine in orientation.  They may declare their god sexless, but males will always benefit from the legislation.  Claims about the goddess will be branded heresy and offensive to the sexless male true god.  Analysts of religion, generally male, used to claim that, of course monotheism is superior.  This system must be protected with laws and theology.  Others secretly know there is a better way, equally revealed.


Witches of September

I’ve never read any John Updike before.  I understand that his novels foreground religion, which I didn’t realize.  I have watched The Witches of Eastwick, in movie form, a time or two.  In fact, I wrote a bit about the film in one of my books.  This got me curious to read the novel and I found a copy at a used book sale up in Ithaca some months back.  Now that September’s here, it seemed like an opportunity to see what the original story had to say about witches.  There is a problem, of course, in having watched the movie first.  Not only does it tell you which actors the characters should look like, but it also predisposes your orientation to what will happen.  In this case up that will mislead you.

The movie centers on Jack Nicholson’s Darryl Van Horne—like most Nicholson movies, his character takes over—whereas the novel is definitely centered on the three witches, Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie.  They don’t fall into the background, but neither do they always work in concert.  The movie tells, in other words, a very different story.  Updike’s literary treatment focuses on female characters and the mischief they cause.  Nor is it entirely clear that Van Horne is demonic, as in the movie.  A church features prominently in both versions, amusingly Unitarian in the novel, with Van Horne not upstaging the sermon but giving an invited one himself.  No fear of sacred places here.

The wrath of the witches isn’t directed toward Van Horne either.  A character left out of the film, who marries Van Horne and whose brother is his real target of affection, is hexed and killed by the witches instead.  In many ways this could be construed as a kind of gentle horror story, although it’s never marketed that way.  I kept waiting for certain scenes in the movie to be narrated, as it were, in the flesh.  This led to the revelation that these scenes were invented for the cinematic version.  Both novels and movies are stories.  When shown on the big screen, we expect them to be adapted.  My personal preference is for the film to present the same story.  It can’t always be done, of course.  In this case the movie left some questions open that I hoped the novel would answer.  Since the stories are so different, the questions remain.  I have a feeling I’ll read more Updike down the road, but I’ll avoid watching the movie first.


Which Wednesday

I’m not superstitious but it’s still pretty dusky when I go for my constitutional on cloudy days.  I was walking along thinking about Cernunnos, the way one does, when a black cat darted out of the underbrush and across my path.  My thoughts turned to witches.  Then a large toad jumped out in front of me in the half-light.  Perhaps it was because I picked up a booklet about witches recently, but this felt very uncanny to me.  There’s a place where the woods close in on both sides of the path.  The sun wasn’t yet up, and the clouds meant it wouldn’t have much mattered anyway.  When the bird calls stopped I began thinking about turning around and going home.  Nobody else was out this morning and although I don’t mind starting my day with the weird, I was thinking “not on a Wednesday.”

A thick mist lay over part of the path and I realized just how uncomfortable we tend to be when we can’t see clearly.  Despite that, and the black cat and the toad, I’ve never really been afraid of witches.  I guess I try to please people too much to think that someone might want to harm me supernaturally (at least among those who know me).  I recently found a booklet on witches—one of those strange impulse buys after being mostly house-bound for the better part of a year-and-a-half—that perhaps prompted my thinking this morning.  Although it seems to be most interested in earth-centered religions, it has an article about Salem.  Despite the more modern embrace of witchcraft in Salem, historically it had to do with human fear and hatred, a combination that is scary indeed when applied by those who are superstitious.

Cernunnos is a Celtic god generally portrayed with deer antlers.  Although lack of literature means we know little about him, he’s been adopted as the male counterpart to the female earth-goddess in some traditions.  Modern witchcraft is based on an orientation toward nature.  It’s kind of a ground-up religion rather than a top-down one.  Christians traditionally labelled it “Devil worship,” as they tended to do with anything they objected to.  Such demonizing helps no one, of course.  And when these ideas grow into superstitions people get hurt.  So I’m out here in the half-light because in the mornings days are shortening quickly and I have less and less time before work begin after the sun rises.  And I have witchery on my mind.


Moral Compass

Where have all the morals gone?  Well, not exactly song-worthy, but it is a question I think about a lot.  You see, I work in publishing.  Publishing, above all, is a business.  People make their livelihood at it, and so they have to find a market that pays.  Money and morals don’t mix well.  A recent New York Times story pointed out that the political polarization that’s tearing America apart is reflected in bestsellers.  Political nonfiction bestsellers have topped the charts since Trump was unfortunately elected.  Books both pro and con have flooded the market.  What’s this got to do with morals?  Well, I believe publishing should be in the business of educating.  If you’re going to publish nonfiction, it should be material that doesn’t cause more problems than it helps solve.

When I look at a book, after checking the title and author, I next look at the publisher.  Some publishers are conservative, and that’s fine.  That’s what they do.  Most, however, consist of highly educated professionals who realize the severe, and continuing damage that Trump caused.  These publishers, however, will produce pro-Trump books if the numbers look good.  There’s gold in them thar hills!  I often have these scruples working for an academic press.  Some ideas are clearly distorted.  I’m no elitist—I’m still pretty much working-class all the way down to the bones—but education reveals when something very bad (fascism) is happening.  Others see it too.  Still, the temptation of all those dollars… it’s a real pressure, almost like being at the bottom of the ocean.  There’s money pressing on us and we want it.

The gray lady story bothered me.  Instead of publishers looking out their windows and seeing the political grand canyon of this nation, they see profits.  This is business, after all.  Just business.  Is there any such thing?  Morality informs the way you live, the choices you make.  Do I promote education, reflection, and sound reasoning or do I promote a very real 2024 threat of a man who leads by refusing to lead?  After elected Trump immediately began campaigning for his next term, loving the rallies, the cheers, the adulation.  Who doesn’t want to be worshiped?  But is that what we want to see three Novembers from now?  I remember the shock the morning after election day 2016 in New York City.  I see the damage four years of environmental degradation caused just when the effects of global warming were becoming obvious.  I see women demeaned.  I see voting rights quashed.  And now I look at the bestseller list and wonder where the morals have gone.