Life & Time of C. Malone

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Carol's Poetry Final

When it came time for me to present my poerty for my creative writing II class, the majority of student had already left for their next class. So I didn't get the feedback that I would have liked on my poems. If you'd like to read them and give me an honest opinion, I'd welcome your comments.

Here goes...

Out of the Mist

    By Carol A. Malone

He stands beyond my reach in mist,
       prison bar gray

Ashen clouds swirl around feet mired
                  in granite clay

Iron smoke holds quick to mistakes
        of the past

Dark dew on demon’s cords
                  bind hands fast

Buried deep in silvered sands
        of blood’s addiction

Cannot see clearly, cannot reach
                   out for him

No ability to see through
       dependency’s mire

Through murky bogs craving
                 dopamine’s fire

Weary of the future,
         afraid to succeed,

Unable to quit,
                habit’s lips must feed

He drinks despair,
          smokes desperation

Until the law says no more,
                make reparation

Lift eyes from shadowed
         vapor’s eclipse

Move through veiled fog
                  from drug’s claws slip

Reach . . . reach up through
        tattered charcoal gray

Begin hands to trust,
                knees bend to say

I’ve overcome, conquered,
       thrown off the shroud

Transcended the past,
                the addictive crowd

Someone out there,
        stands beyond the mist

Thrown out ropes
                gave one last assist.

Pulled to higher ground
        freedom mine at last

Forgive thyself,
                 forget the past

Off with the metal gray
        shackles thrown

Out of dirty misty haze,
                   he emerges  - reborn.

Peppermint Twist
  by Carol A. Malone

You swept into my life

                      cotton candy on a stick

A gumdrop glance from

                    chocolate cream eyes

Cherry kisses from

                       red hot lips

Left me craving

                        like a wide-eyed child

Face pressed to sugared glass

                     sour-ball sucker in my mouth.

When the day your love

                     took a peppermint twist

Now all your sweet words,

           give me a stomach ache.

The Nut- A Haiku 
by Carol A. Malone

When you look at me
            you see the shell of a nut.
Do you see the meat?

Don't Hate Me
    by Carol A. Malone

Don't hate me because my view
                         is different from you

The world tells women to be liberal

The world says kids are unviable

Women see men as the enemy

The world views me as adversary

I perceive children as desirable

I view women as strong, immovable

I see men as counterpart

I view the world as torn apart

You’ll hate me because my view
                       is different from you

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Diet and Other Four Letter Words

Do you know any of these people or programs? Yes? Then you'll experience the confusion right along with me.
Mark Hyman, M.D.
The Bigger Loser Club
Kim Lyons
Isabel De Los Rios
Mike Geary
Jon Dana Benson
Coach Josh
Joel Marion
Jayson Hunter
Coach Jesse Cannone
Rob Poulos
Biggest Loser
Kyle Leon
Dr. Kareem F. Samhouri
Dr. Oz
Dr. Travis Stork
The Pink Solution
Vince Del Monte

Are you as disillusioned as I am and feel that the start of the New Year sucks--I mean as far as making those resolutions to lose weight and get in shape. Year after year I make the same resolution. Get healthy. Lose weight. Look like a normal human. Believe it or not, I actually had a year like that. The only good year--2008. 2008 was great. (You can read about my weight loss journey from my earlier posts.)

What happened to me? I was eating healthy, thanks toWeight Watchers. I exercised for hours a day, thanks to Contours, a women's gym that has since hit the skids and gone away. I was doing everything right. Then I hit the Christmas wall. I hadn't learned how to handle Christmas. The worst thing though, I became the cooking culprit and undermined my own success. By the New Year 2009, I upped twenty pounds.

Then 2009 struck and sucked the life right out of me. I'm not going to elaborate the problems with 2009, there isn't enough space in this post. But 2009 was my cancer year. But the end, I'd gained back another twenty pounds by operation time and after laying in bed for months, I tacked on another twenty, by the end of 2009.

2010 wasn't the greatest year either. I quit Weight Watchers. (I hated watching the scales and my weight go up and up.) I was a weight watcher all right. Up, up and away. I couldn't keep paying to have my weight increase. 2011 wasn't much better. In April my dad passed away. The grief of his passing, my struggles with editing my first novel and my inability to lose weight added to personal financial woes and . . . boom, the scale continued to climb. Explode actually. Not only that, I broke out with a bad case of hives and they and the weight gain continued to plague my year.

Now I face a big empty New Year. What to do? Of course all my doctors are expecting me to shed those unwanted pounds. (Side bar: have you ever, and I mean ever, known anyone who had WANTED pounds? A rhetorical question.)

But my questions is HOW?

And that brings me to my current dilemma. How to choose a good program.

Have you ever had trouble finding the right diet or life style program that doesn't cost as much as a Lear jet or force you into the gym to pump iron for hours or run on a tread mill for mile after monotonous mile? Well if you're one of those people, I sympathize. I've been bombarded with email ads for this diet and that. Boy, you sign up for one to try and every exercise guru from California to New York City jumps on your case, touting that their program is designed to make you into a bikini babe in a couple of weeks.

What's worse is that they have a sharing system where one exercise guru tells another one about you until your email inbox looks like the Who's Who of the diet and exercise industry. I tell you, this is no easy decision deciding who has the best program that can be tailored to me and my physical restraints and needs.

Do I know the answers? Heck no. I want answers like the rest of you. I want a diet/life style change that isn't going to be too hard to follow. I don't want craziness. I don't want to forsake ice cream, candy, bread, crackers, chips, pancakes, potatoes or any other bad carbs. I want sensible. Or am I deluded myself into thinking a life style change can include junk?

Okay. At one time or another I've listened to all of the diet grurus. Somehow I got hooked up with Tony Hortonand his P90X. One look at the program and I shut it back up in the box. I'm fifty six years old, bad knees, way over weight. This thing's for young people.

So I ordered Jon Dana Bensen's Every Other Day Diet. I'm sure it's a wonderful program, but it was just a little too weird for me. Eating nothing but a grass and whey shake for breakfast and an apple and a handful of almonds for lunch. Then the next day, the shake and for lunch--BAM! you can go hog wild. I just didn't have the stamina to stay on the everyday bit. No offense Jon.I'm sure your program has served many well. Those people who are already a size two.

There must be an exercise guru co-op somewhere because each one of these gurus promote the others.With all their enthusiasm it all looks wonderful, exciting and the easiest thing you've ever done. What they say is so attractive I couldn't help but be sucked into their spiel. Right after they wow me with their examples of people who've shed thousands of pounds, you hit me with the bottom line. It's going to cost me and cost me plenty.

Their simple program with their fifteen thousand steps isn't enough. Books on diet, recipes, calculating daily intake, mind transformation, motivation, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. That's enough reading for about three years.

But wait! There's more!

Their initial offering isn't enough, there's always one more thing to entice me into buying their COMPLETE program and only their program. And you have to have the rest. Training. Recipe specific books. Motivation books. Other manuals. How to train. Videos. Meal plans. Etc. Etc. Etc. By the time your basic $47 to $97 program is finished, you've spent close to $500.00 and the programs are so drastic, there is no way in this world a regular person like me can stay on them.

I can't squat, pushup, jump around or crunch. I'm old. Give me exercises I can do. I have sciatic nerve pain in one foot. I can hardly walk some days. I've got a compressed disk between four and five. Whatever that means. So I'm not doing your extreme workouts.

And when they're finished roping you in, they send you emails introducing yet another guru's program in the hopes that you'll to buy that as well. Each email to you is another offer. Flat abs. Burn belly fat. Washboard abs without crunches, etc. Instead of losing weight safely, with an exercise program I can follow, I'm spending money I can't afford to spend for a program or dozens of programs that aren't geared for me.

I took a test to see if I was sluggish and run down. Hello? You have the metabolism of a 200 year old woman. Mark Hyman, M.D. recommends his program at only $396.00 per month. It's called the UltraSimple Diet Enhanced program. Do I look like I'm made of money? Maybe that's how they get you to lose pounds. They lighten your wallet.

Even the TV Doctors, Stork
and Ozhave their own personal program. Just sign on the old bottom line, or enter your credit card numbers and you're as good as bikini ready. They're ripping my mind apart with their promises, their come-ons and declarations that promise a new you in six weeks.

Who wouldn't like to look like Ashley of the Biggest Loser or have her success?

Weight Watchers is great, but does it really teach me what to eat at any given time, how much and the right combinations? What about The Biggest Loser? Do I look like I could do those exercises in a gym 24/7?

I just don't know anymore. I wish there was a magic diet genie who could outline a modified lifestyle, that doesn't forbid a splurge once in awhile, that has exercises for my physical limitations, that says when to eat and what and how much. Can there be such a person or system or program or suggestions that don't require that I turn over my entire pay check to them every two weeks? Oh, stop the insanity. (Say, isn't that an exercise program?) Well, never mind, I'm not doing it.

Finding the right path for me will required some dedicated research. It may not happen right away. But the one thing I know, is that I don't want to die wearing enough weight to equal another person. My feet are getting really tired of dragging around that extra gal. It's time to let her find someone else to hang off of. So if you have a program you'd like me to evaluate--keep it to yourself.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hamlet: “Oh, by the way, Ophelia is pregnant!”

I've taken off a few months to do my own novel editing and indepth education. So here's a sample of one of my latest essays from Critical Thinking-Literature.

Hamlet: “Let [your daughter] not walk i’th’ sun: conception is a blessing but as your daughter may conceive, friend—look to’t” (2.2 181-3).

As I read Hamlet and watched the movie I couldn’t fight the nagging feeling I was missing something; a thought grabbed a hold and wouldn’t go away—what if Ophelia was pregnant. Why else would Hamlet go ballistic when Laertes and Polonius forbid him from seeing her and then used her to plot against him? He had to be furious when denied access to her bed knowing it was too late. It is no secret that they had a physical relationship. “Before you tumbled me, You promised me to wed” (4.5, 60-64). Ophelia’s silly song lyrics not only suggest a physical relationship between her and Hamlet, but lead the reader to believe something more that lost virtue resulted from their romantic liaisons’. I heard someone say that Ophelia died an innocent virgin. I disagree. Not only does the possibility of Ophelia’s pregnancy drive the play but it adds to the human complications. Evidence supporting this idea lies in the participants.

Ophelia was young and innocent—at one point. And there is nothing more obnoxious than a young girl in love. Silliness and empty-headed nonsense rule their existence. It’s like they’ve stepped off the planet. A parent and a brother would notice these changes. But if the young lady in question is pregnant, then the incidents of flightiness and mood shifts would have been ten fold. The threat and/or opportunity that Ophelia might become pregnant were ever present in the thoughts of her brother and father. Their suspicion adds dimension and angst to the drama and tragedy of the play. It’s central to the theme of madness. Whether Laertes or Polonius suspected Ophelia of being pregnant, I believe so. No doubt they speculated some hanky-panky was going on between Hamlet and Ophelia. Why else would both of them warn her away from him?“Shakespeare immediately draws the attention to the significance of Ophelia’s chastity (Act 1, Scene 3). In this scene, both her brother and father lecture her on virtues of maidenhood, her virginity, while they tell her to repel Hamlet’s letters and love. Her brother warns her to fear her ‘chaste treasure open’ (1.3, 30) and to ‘unmask her beauty to the moon’ (1.3, 36). Her father continued the same sentiments…” (Sekinger).

Laertes tells his sister that Hamlet might just be going through a phase “and a toy in blood. A violet in the youth of nature that is in its prime…but not lasting” (1.3, 7-9). Ophelia says “really”? Laertes suspects a problem resulting from their physical relations and admonishes her to refuse Hamlet her bed. Imagine the girl’s frantic fears now she suspects she’s with child and father and brother rail on her and she can’t keep company with the baby’s daddy. Laertes continued in that vein telling her that Hamlet couldn’t love so lowly a creature because he has a responsibility to the state. Gosh, why not just push her into the pond and be done with it? Laertes must have been clued in to Ophelia’s pregnancy.

Polonius inadvertently admits to such a claim. Polonius’s knowledge is revealed when Hamlet discloses that he knows Ophelia, his lady love might be pregnant. Check out the words that Hamlet uses when he confronts Polonious. He said, “For a sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion—have you a daughter?” Polonius wonders why Hamlet keeps “harping” on his daughter until Hamlet tells him, “Let her not walk i’ th’ sun. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to’t.” (2.2, 196). Okay, dad, look, me and your daughter have been fooling around and because I’m a scoundrel, your precious, virtuous daughter is preggers.

It is thought by scholars that the word “sun” in the referenced text may have meant “son” as in the son of Hamlet. But it’s interesting to note how Hamlet uses the simile of breeding of maggots on a dead dog to what he had done in his relationship with Ophelia. He’s not happy with himself, so this can’t be a good thing for him to reproduce. It’s clever the way Hamlet dances around the possibility, yet Polonius has an odd response. “Indeed, that is out of the air. How pregnant sometimes his replies are! A happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of.” (II.II, 220). Catch the “allusion to the following word descriptions in the footnote of: breed (198), conception (197), pregnant (220), and delivered of (223)” (Sekinger). The words uttered by Polonius are much too portentous not to have us suspect he knew.
Shakespeare is a master at making us wonder. Was she? Wasn’t she? I wondered what Hamlet meant when he confronted Ophelia in the hall within hearing of Polonius and The King. “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldn’t thou be a breeder of sinners?” (3.1, 131-132.) I don’t think this was specifically meant to reference her going to a brothel or whorehouse, although that’s a notable explanation. It could have been a place to protect Ophelia and her unborn child, because Hamlet also says, “…I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me” (3.1, 132-134). He doesn’t want his child to suffer the same fate as he will. Because of Hamlet’s anger which is further complicated by the knowledge of her pregnancy, the bitterness of his indecision to kill Claudius and the final betrayal of the woman he loved, Hamlet finally snaps. Love turns to accusation.
“Hamlet: …God has given you one face and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no marriages: those that are married already, all by one, shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.” (3.1, 154-162.)

No wonder poor Hamlet teetered on the brink of insanity. Everything is starting to add up and the total is freaking him out. 1) The crap with his mother and Claudius, 2) his back-and-forth indecision about revenge, 3) Ophelia’s refusal of his bed and his tenderness, 4) she throws his love back in his face, 5) Ophelia betrays him, and finally 6) he learns she’s carrying his child all the while deceiving him. How sad for Hamlet. How sad for Ophelia.
Perhaps Ophelia didn’t realize she was pregnant right away. Hamlet’s been away at school, the old king died, his mother and Claudius were married. A few months may have passed but now she knows. That knowledge added to the tension and dramatic slip into madness. She’s been commanded to refuse the attentions of her lover and her baby’s father and ordered to refuse his offerings of love and give back his love letters and refuse him her bed. Family loyalty is one thing, but she’s torn. Does she reveal her pregnancy and spoil everything, or go insane?

It is her father who put the final screws to her and fractured her heart. He asked her if Hamlet has given her many offers of love and affection, which angers him. When she answerd in the affirmative, he lost his cool. “Affection, puh! You speak like a green girl unsifted in such perilous circumstance” (1.3, 117). Polonius mocked her relationship with Hamlet by telling her Hamlet only wanted one thing from her and when he’s got it, it’s over. “In few, Ophelia, do not believe his vows, for they are brokers” (1.3, 135). Ophelia tried to tell her father that Hamlet’s love for her was genuine. “My Lord, he had importuned me with love in honourable fashion” (1.3, 116-117), “and hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven” (1.3, 119-121). In her mind, she’s already married to Hamlet, so why not conceive and bare his child? But it is really at the end of the play, where Ophelia’s insane raving cements the supposition that she’s is going to have Hamlet’s child. Ophelia sees her brother in the great hall, brings everyone flowers and sings a little ditty, “There’s rue for you, and here’s a rue for me; we may call it herb of grace o’Sundays. You (must) wear your rue with a difference” (4.5, 205-207). Although the herb plant carries one symbolic meaning of grace and regret, it is also carries the power of an abortifacient—abortion. “Herbal abortifacients tend to be mild poisons. The idea is that you poison yourself to the point where your body decides it’s too sick to support the growing embryo or fetus, and rejects it” (Epstein). Ophelia wouldn’t have chosen rue for herself if there wasn’t a reason for its properties to be used in her behalf.Let’s examine again the evidence. Laertes warned off his sister from the pitfalls of loving a person of higher station with the blood of youth running through his veins. Even in jest Polonius confirmed her pregnancy with terms like “pregnancy,” “conception,” and “delivered of” in his statements to/and about Hamlet. Hamlet dropped not-so-subtle hints to Polonius that he knew Polonius’s daughter was pregnant. Hamlet went back and forth, but in the end recoils at her betrayal, thus telling her to leave and get to a “nunnery.” But it is the plaintive, melancholy song which Ophelia sings that gave the final clue. The song acts as a confession to Gertrude and Claudius before Ophelia takes her rue and climbs down the bank of the river:

By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack and fie for shame,
Young men will do ‘t, if they come to ‘t;
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quote she “Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.”

He answers:

“So would I ‘a done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.”

He bedded me, he rejected me, I’m preggers, I’m history. In my opinion, Ophelia’s pregnancy is pivotal to the story. Hamlet’s confused inaction and impetuousness were a result of wrestling with that knowledge and of course, Ophelia’s madness. We see a woman who lived a fairy tale life then was commanded to reject her lover and the father of her child, and was then brutalized by said lover who just happened to murder her father, and now he’s been packed away on a ship bound for England. In her mind she does the only honorable thing she could think of—death by water. “…many in an Elizabethan audience would take this as a clear suggestion that she [Ophelia] was pregnant, since drowning was the preferred method of suicide for unmarried women who were pregnant” (Lady). Tis sad but true, our lady Ophelia was with child. “And I, of ladies most deject and wretched” (3.1, 169). So, as one person suggested, the next time Hamlet is staged, dress Ophelia in maternity clothes to save time and confusion.

Works Cited

Epstein, Alex. Crafty Screenwriting. Henry Hold and Company, LLC. New York, N.Y. 2002. 19 Feb 2011.

Lady, Lee. Hamlet and Ophelia. 19 Feb. 2011.

Sekinger, Aleksandra. “Ophelia Commits Suicide Because She is Pregnant?” 14 January 2010.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Hamlet Second Quatro. 1604.

Friday, November 19, 2010

RENT - The Musical - My Take

Rent: A musical, mystical romp through the mind fields of homelessness,drug addiction, anti-American-establishment,Gay and Lesbian love, and HIV/AIDS

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

If you parade something in front of people long enough, they will go through Alexander Pope’s famed cycle of acceptance. They will begin to believe the abnormal, socially abhorrent and once thought of abomination as okay. The stages of Broadway have had a long history of being a harbor “for social misfits, a refuge for those who never quite felt accepted by the masses” (broadway & aids). Michael Feingold, who is quoted on this website goes on to say, “it [Broadway] has been a tool to raise awareness about important issues and new ideas. Broadway has long been a place of refuge for the homosexual community, a place that judged people on their talent as performers, not on who they were as people or how they lived their lives” (Osborn, xvii). In this vein, Jonathan Larson wrote his “Rent.” Originally based on Puccini’s La Bohème, Larson kicks his play up a notch by incorporating the social hot buttons of American society in the 1980’s: Drug addictions, homelessness, kicking the establishment, squatter’s rights, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. All are still sore subjects with the country. Larson used as skillfully as possible lush music, pithy verbal exchanges, highly charged and controversial sexual situations to portray these once unacceptable things as normal. It could be said that Larson’s design was to enlighten the country about the controversial plight of so many on society’s fringe. But I would suggest “Rent” is merely a means used by Larson to entertain with subject matter that titillates and shocks.In my opinion, the more something is sensationalized, taunted as abominable or condemned by some religious group, the more people are going to flock to it. It’s like coming upon a horrific fatal accident on the freeway. Don’t tell me you don’t slow down and look. I know you do. We all hope to see the gruesome gory details. Then speed away. Did “Rent” offer us a car wreck only to have us speed away after viewing the blood? Is it only art, like a painting to move us for a time and walk away from? Baca suggests “Rent” is only art. “’It’s an incredibly special piece of art,’ Pascal [the actor who played Mark] said. ‘Just like any other piece of media that stands the test of time’” (Baca). So “Rent” is art for art sake. Regardless of Larson’s supposed vision for changing the world, “Rent” only played to a specific audience. We can only wonder if Larson meant to reach only a minority of the population. If he was going to bring about social consciousness to mainstream America, maybe his message missed the mark—a bit. “Hair was the first show to really tap into the sensibility and musical tastes of a young generation…Rent, which has grossed more than $280 million on Broadway, helped by a fervent audience of kids, many of whom saw the show multiple times” (Zoglin). Thus the term RENT-heads. “Rent” was seen as poignant, lyrical, sad, and enlightening. But underneath it was entertaining.I’d heard stories about “Rent”, so when Tim and I sent to see the Moorpark College production, I was apprehensive. I didn’t want to like a play about gay and lesbian relationships. That’s all I’d heard about it. Thinking about Larson’s mind set, none of us can really know what his ultimate goal for “Rent” was. His father said of him in the forward of his book Rent that Jonathan “was eager to remake the American Musical and hungry for a career breakthrough” (Larson). He wanted to sing about social ills. He wanted recognition, triumph, . . . glory! “One song/Glory/One song/Before I go/Glory/One song to leave behind/find one song/One last refrain/Glory!” (Larson, One Song Glory scene). He chose to do Puccini’s La Bohème and made a modern remake. It was to be the “shock and awe” for the most heinous of 1990’s societal ills. In my opinion, he meant to entertain and excite. He died before it made its off-Broadway debut. Maybe his death is what sparked the rapt attention it might otherwise have not gotten. No one can tell for sure. One thing Larson knew was that American’s have fear. “From facing your failure, facing your loneliness/facing the fact you live a lie/Yes, you live a lie—tell you why/You’re always preaching not to be numb/when that’s how you thrive/you pretend to create and observe/when you really detach from feeling alive” (Larson, Goodbye Love scene). I have to admit something at this juncture. I was raised in the Mormon culture, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a little town in Northern Utah. I’ll wager good money, (gambling: something Mormon’s are advised not to do), that even a good Catholic school girl was not as naïve as I was. I was sheltered and preserved from perverse American society.So my first introduction to Gay and Lesbian Americans came in 1977 in a poetry class in College. Apropos? Perhaps. Our openly Lesbian teacher had an equally open fondness for a Gay male. I often wondered why they didn’t just get together; his woman to her man. But that’s an issue for another paper. Needless to say, I might have been considered a classic in-the-dark American stuck in the morally conservative dark-ages. I like to think I’ve “come a long way, baby”, but I still don’t “embrace” the lifestyle portrayed in “Rent.” So to say that “Rent” shocked me, I’d have to say yes, a little. Did it make me cry and hurt for the emotion grief? Yes.

If Larson was strictly going for the social awareness and changed attitudes within the entire American society, then he failed. I think he was trying to be like Mark [his fictional character/film maker] when he was filming the homeless woman. Her reply to his camera in her face was this: “Who the f*#@ do you think you are? I don’t need no goddamn help/from some bleeding heart cameraman/My life’s not for you to/Make a name for yourself on/Just trying to use me to kill his guilt” (Larson, “One The Street” scene). Was “Rent” Larson’s ticket or kick in society’s pants? Maybe he just made the ideas of others more palatable. There were so many others in the Broadway community before him who felt the need to sound the alarm without the use of musical theatre.

“The plague [AIDS] broke all the rules. Because it’s first victims in the U.S. were gay men, it immediately assumed Levitical proportions. AIDS raised the specter of sinful sex in a horrifically literal way. . . . But when it comes to addressing the epidemic as a collective trauma, no medium has been more effective than theater. What we remember most, among the scores of works about AIDS, are plays” (Goldstein). Great play writers wrote with stirring eloquence in the hopes that theater would be a source of “information, education, political agitation, mourning, scalding anger, insolent humor, catharsis and healing” (Winn). Some of the most dramatic plays included those that preceded Larson’s “Rent” are the following: William Hoffman’s “As If,” (1985); Terrence McNally’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1994); Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz,” (1995); and considered an unrivaled masterpiece of the AIDS era is Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” (1993). Each of these vital plays focused their visual recreations to draw people to the plight of others regardless of the theme. Though not set to music, these plays started the movement to draw attention to AIDS and other social ills and used their highly visible forum to speak out. “The forms and immediacy of the medium; the centuries-old potency of agit-prop; the almost sacramental power of live actors enacting stories of death, defiance and endurance all preordained it. The fact that a great number of people who worked in the theater were gay and at risk themselves only heightened those intrinsic qualities of the theater” (Winn).

So Jonathan Larson was not the first and certainly not the last with the desire to bring offensive and execrable behavior to the forefront of people’s minds. There was some speculation that a new production of Larry Kramer’s “The Normalizing Heart” might re-open because the movement has lost momentum. Winn in his article went on to say that “the epidemic would lose its symbolic power” (Winn). What better way to keep it forefront on people’s minds than shocking and titillating while entertaining with beautiful music, the sorrow and triumph of seemingly abnormal love affairs and the grief of a loved one’s death. Hence the twelve year run of “Rent” because people will “dive into work/drive the other way/that drip of hurt/ that pint of shame/goes away/just play the game/You’re living in America/At the end of the millennium” (Larson, What You Own scene).

“Mourning, privately or collectively, is a beginning of action” (Osborn, xiv). That’s what Broadway is hoping for—action. If we view something long enough our senses will weaken for good or ill, and we’ll eventually be moved to action. Whether the highly entertaining production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” hit the mark of raising social consciousness enough to move people to action, we can’t measure. Did he fill his audience’s minds with the plight of homelessness? Did he help people find a way to stop heroin addition? Did he garner more sympathy for the Gay and Lesbian community? Has he aided in the reduction of HIV/AIDS epidemic causes? What I came away with after seeing the production of “Rent” is a profound empathy for sufferers of all kinds of difficulties.Did the play give me the blinding desire to run out and walk in the AIDS marathon or contribute to AIDS research or kowtow to the requested “right” to marry by Gays and Lesbians? No. Did I cry when Angel died and Mimi came back to life? Of course. Who wouldn’t? Have I moved from enduring, to feeling pity for all these social ills to embracing and making them part of my life? Perhaps not. Am I completely closed off to these things because of the shock value of “Rent”? Absolutely not. We can only hope that some of the $280 million dollars that “Rent” earned in its twelve year run was spent on AIDS research, finding homes and jobs for the homeless, and opening drug clinics. Well we can dream, can’t we? And from Mark and Roger the hope for the future is that “for once the shadows gave way to light” (Larson, What You Own, scene). Then of course the last question is: Was I thoroughly and irrevocably entertained? You betcha.

Works Cited

Baca, Ricardo. “Impact of ‘Rent’ roars unchecked by time.” 5 Jun 2009. 17 Nov. 2010.

broadway & aids. Project for Gay and Lesbian Performance. 15 Nov. 2010.

Goldstein, Richard. “The Normalizing Heart; How AIDS Plays Have Changed Since Larry Kramer Raged.” The Village Voice. 13 Apr. 2004. 9 Nov. 2010.
Larson, Jonathan. Rent. New York, NY: Harper Entertainment. Harper Collins. 1997.

Osborn, M. Elizabeth. The Way We Live Now: American Plays and the Aids Crisis. 1990. Theatre Communications Group, Inc. New York. NY.

Pope, Alexander. “Essay on Man”. Epistle II: Of the Nature and State of Man, With Respect to Himself as an Individual. Section v. 1732. Transcribed by hand from “The Complete Poetical Words of Alexander Pope.” Student’s Cambridge Edition. 1903. Hougton Mifflin Company. Editor: H.W. Boynton. 17 Nov. 2010.

Winn, Steven. “AIDS AT 25: How to respond to the devastating disease? Live theater—more than any other art—has asked the most profound questions.” 7 June 2006. 7 Nov. 2010.

Zoglin, Richard. “Life After Rent.” 29 Feb. 2009. 17 Nov. 2010.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting older--Where everything sorta bags, sags, wags or drags!

Caution & qualifier: Sorry Fred. This piece is about me feeling sorry for myself. But hey! It's my blog so I can.

Some wise person said there are three stupid stages in our life: Teenage years where we have time and energy but no money; working age: when we have money and energy but no time and finally; old age: where we have time and money but no energy.

If someone would have told me that I could go from middle-aged to decrepit in one lousy year, I'd have bit their head off! But that's exactly what happened.

Before my surgery on August 1, 2009, I was happy, carefree, enjoying life, and exercising with gusto. I was also writing novels with verve and inspiration. I was losing weight and feeling great. When the stainless steel blade of the surgeon's scalpel pierced my soft, unwilling flesh, my life force, energy and commitment came whizzing out in one ominous gush of energy. Not only that, but my body changed in so many horrifying ways that I am loath to describe them.

But I will, of course. (Hence the blog, for goodness sake!)

Long before my medical concerns appeared, the one feature on my body that I could automatically count on being the best was my legs. I took great pride in my legs.
Though they have always been short, they were at times shapely and free from bumps, bruises and blotches. But after the surgery and the dreaded development of debilitating blood clots, all of sudden I have tiny spider-like veins snaking their way across my feet and ankles. Dark red blotches where blood has obviously pooled mar my once perfectly clear skin and knots. I have a larger knot where a large vein now protrudes and any time I'm bumped or bitten by a predatory beast, instead of a cute little red dot, I have an enormous blood pool just below the surface of my skin which lasts for weeks instead of mere days. What's up with that?!

Another thing that really sends my up a wall is my arms.When did all the skin I had around the muscle of my arm decided to head south and now drip off my arms like turkey waddle? And when I get injured, instead of having a discreet cut or blemish, the miserable injury gets this awful blood blister just beneath the top layer of skin and spreads out like a map of Africa--add to that dark purple and black spots and I look like I've been beaten with a baseball bat. I didn't sign up for this.

Lets not forget what a lack of exercise can do to one's body after surgery. The effect is appalling and disgusting. Muscles turn to jelly, strength fails alarmingly and commitment--well my commitment to my weight-loss journey became a thing of the past. Added to that was the swelling of tissues because of the blood clot caused during surgery and you have one big ugly mess. (Are you appalled yet?)

Let us not forget about the joints--not that my joints would let me forget about them. While sleeping six months on my back, (I'll talk about that later, or not), when I was finally able to return to sleeping on my sides, my shoulders rebelled. No longer were they able to hold my body weight and I strained both shoulders which meant months of chiropractic visits. Sometimes at night I would wake up and both arms would be dead wood. How is the possible seeing that I was sleeping on only one arm at a time. There's just something so wrong about that. Luckily, the chiropractic care relieved some of that. But not all.

Let me talk a minute about canes, walkers and wheel chairs. Marvelous inventions until you have to avail yourself of them with limited strength in your legs. Then its rather humiliating to admit your too old and feeble to walk by yourself without assistance. Where are my carefree, effervescent simi-youthful days when I could skip and hop and jump my way through the life? Long gone, all of them. No more buoyant, jaunty steps for me. No sir. Just heavy, plodding, uneven steps that cause pain with every agonizing planting of my feet.And that's another thing. I had been suffering for a while with the usual pains of old age, when another enervating pain assailed me. This paralyzing pain is related to diabetes and sciatic problems. Combined together, the pain was draining. But right after surgery I thought the pain had abated. Unfortunately, when I was taken off my surgery meds of Vicodon and my beloved pain patch of Fentanyl, the miserable, grinding pain came back with a vengeance. Give me back my drugs!

Drugs! There's a paradox for you. Some people take drugs to escape, lose their minds in pleasurable euphoria. I, on the other hand, can't abide the sense of losing control that being on drugs causes me. Try a combination of Fentenyl and Codine and you have a laser light show in your brain. Not my idea of a good time. Before the surgery, I had all but thrown off my dependence on drugs. After, I couldn't control my blood pressure so my life is once again governed by the used of man-made drugs that have tremendous side effects. Not the least of these is weight gain.

Ah, weight gain. Did I mention that having blood clots in both legs caused me to gain 20 pounds in one week! No. I guess not. But there it is. What was a fantastic year of losing weight in 2008 was followed by a year of gaining a lot of it back again. I had no idea that cutting open one's body would cause a loss of motivation and drive. Maybe not for some, but it did for me. You can't lay on your back for several months and deal with the lasting effects of surgery and not lose something of yourself in the process.
It's like having the crank the old handle of a Model T. Unfortunately, the old motor just isn't going to kick over anymore and definitely not in the same way. I'm worn out, my energy reserves are drained, I can't find the motivation, the spark to kick start my life. Where's Nike when you need them? "Just Do It!"There are other complications that no one tells you about that are associated with surgery. Those are financial. But for this discussion, I'm not going to address them. Suffice it to say, the financial worry can be as devastating as the physical worry of getting older. The idea that one must continuing working in the outside world probably until death instead of retirement, does fill one's heart with aching dread. But that's a discussion for another time.

So yes Fred, this had been about me and my suffering. And people would say complaining has no place. But I find it cathartic. Writing out my feelings often facilitates recovery. It helps to unburden the soul and free the mind. Life is not about feeling good all the time. Who wants that *cough* *cough* *Mike*. It's not possible to achieve Nirvana in this life time. Thank God! Who wants Nirvana anyway? Who wants all that "enduring, transcendental happiness" anyway? Yeah! I do!

So to end this lament about old age, I just want to say that it's not for the faint of heart. It's not for cowards. It's not for weaklings. I take a person with strength of character to endure the pains and trials of getting older. My father will be 92 this year and what a strong character he is. Of course, he can't chew or hear and he's losing his memory, but he's got such a great spirit about him. He's always happy and cheerful. And "that's what it's all about Charley Brown." Learning to be happy through the pain, cheerful through the exhaustion and inconvenience of the age. I'm just having a little trouble. It all happened overnight for me. I wasn't prepared to have old age slap me in the face quite so soon. I was waiting for 80 or 90 to feel old. Physically that's how old I feel. Mentally I still feel like I'm eighteen.But take heart, all is not lost. Things are looking up. I'm back in the gym, I'm striving harder to write my feelings and working on book number six. I'm trying really hard to watch my food, not only the quantity but the quality. Improvement may be slower at this age, but not impossible. Today I'm actually going to talk to a therapist about my feelings of being yanked kicking and screaming into old age. Who knows? Maybe it will help. Prayer helps as well. What do you think? Can I pray that being fifty is the new thirty five?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Perfectibility—Possible among the Puritans

Christ taught: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as you Father which is in heaven is perfect” (The Holy Bible: New Testament, Matthew, 5:45). But Christ knew perfection on earth was not attainable for man without Him. However, the Puritan society dwelt falsely under the experimental premise that societal and spiritual perfectibility was possible. It was even mandated. But they especially misunderstood the Savior’s comment to the hypocritical Pharisees when they brought the woman caught in adultery before him and he told them, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (New Testament, John 8:7). In Puritan society, everyone who appeared strange, did strange things or transgressed their godly laws would have found themselves buried beneath a pile of stones. This delusional infatuation with perfection is best illustrated by a statement issued by an early colonist Kenneth Lockridge, in New England, when he decreed that Puritan Societies ought to be perfect. His explanation of the Puritan experiment was found in a book by Francis J Bremer:

Christian Utopian Closed Corporate Communities:
Christian because they saw Christian love as the force which would most completely unite their community. Utopian because theirs was a highly conscious attempt to build the most perfect possible community, as perfectly united, perfectly at peace, and perfectly ordered as man could arrange. Closed because its membership was selected which outsiders were treated with suspicion or rejected altogether and Corporate because the commune demanded the loyalty of its members, offering in exchange privileges which could be obtained only through membership not the least of which was peace and order. (Bremer 103)
Knowing the Puritan obsession with perfection, Nathaniel Hawthorne portrayed the Puritans of The Scarlet Letter in just that way—obsessed. He played up their hypocritical and false premise. Hawthorne emphasized that law and religion were inseparably connected in their community. Fanatically so. The colony worked under regulation, “that the legally mandated penalty for adultery . . . was death. . . . Nevertheless, adulterers were, at the very least, beaten, branded, imprisoned, fined, and banished . . . " (Johnson p. 79). Central to the story of The Scarlet Letter is the sin and crime of adultery. The story follows as one of the offenders was taken, charged and punished while the other hid his sin under the guise of godliness. It is under this assertion that Hawthorne dangles the Reverend Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale as a clear demonstration that moral and societal perfectibility was not possible.

Hawthorne chose Dimmesdale as a paradox between the perfect saint and the perfect sinner. He, Dimmesdale was seen as attaining some type of saintly godhood by his parishioners. This is a notion the reverend did not discourage, though it was said of him by Hawthorne, “it is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him” (Hawthorne, Chapter II, p 133). He could have confessed. But no. It was much more self-atoning to endure silent suffering. But that didn’t stop the love fest. Referring to the pious young priest, a townsman told Chillingworth at the pillory punishment of Hester Prynne, “‘she hath raised a great scandal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale’s church’” (56). Single women of his church gang went ga-ga over the seemingly unspotted Dimmesdale. The “virgins of his church grew pale around him, victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment, that they imagined it to be all religion, and brought it openly, in their white bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar” (133). Were they offering their bosoms to him? As if! And the elder members of his congregation not to be out done believed thought Dimmesdale, “would go heavenward before them,” so much so that they wanted their kids to bury them “close to the young pastor’s holy grave” (133). Delusions of perfection! Even the famous godly man himself, the reverend John Wilson refers to Dimmesdale’s perfectibility when he said, “‘I have sought, I say, to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here in the face of heaven . . . ” (60).

What Dimmesdale offered the world was a perfect veneer while underneath he hid a perfect lie—a “black secret.” He tried to go straight. On one or more occasions, the young minister rose to the pulpit with the intent to confess his adulterous sin. Yes, he confessed alright. He confessed—but only to being a “vile sinner, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners” (134)—so generic, so theatric. He didn’t confess to adultery. He would draw in that “tremulous breath,” and end up appearing more sublime, more perfect. Then his beguiled sheep would reverence him even more. “The godly youth!” said they among themselves. “The saint on earth! Alas, if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!” (134). The Puritans saw points of perfection in others and not in themselves. But Hawthorne stirred the pot with Dimmesdale’s almost confession. “The minister well knew—subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was!—the light in which his vague confession would be viewed” (135). Not only did he not confess to his guilt, but he compounded the sin by self-deception. Maybe that was his goal to appear in the eyes of his followers as the perfect confessor! And “they deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness" (133). At the close of Dimmesdale’s life he delivers a stirring speech exhorting the people to live correctly.Afterwards, the combined townspeople actually thought they saw “a halo in the air about his head[.] So etherealized by spirit as he was, and so apotheosized by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps, in the procession, really tread upon the dust of the earth?” (235). Oh, come on!

There was another who kept the pastor’s guilty secret; a person who hid the seeming sublime person of the clergyman from public view. One may ask why. Love is the answer. Love is the very emotion that elevates the recipient to the lofty level of perfection in the eyes of the one who loves. Hester Prynne loved Arthur Dimmesdale. She loved him so much that she kept his identity and seeming perfection in the eyes of his parishioners hidden. This fact is attested to when she was confronted on the scaffold and asked to reveal her partner in sin. As she replied, she looked deeply into Dimmesdale’s eyes and referred to the reviled symbol she was forced to wear on her bosom, “it is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!” (63). There is no greater sacrifice for love than what Hester did. She offered to take on his sin knowing that if he were to be punished along with her, he would lose his spotless, godly reputation before his followers. Hester offered a perfect sacrifice to maintain his spiritual purity. This she did because of love. She tells Dimmesdale in the woods, “your sin is left behind you, . . . Your present life is not less holy, in very truth, than it seems in people’s eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works?” (180). She still sees the good, the embodiment of saintliness in him and he was “still so passionately loved!” (182).

But Dimmesdale wasn’t worthy of the self-sacrificing love of a good woman, or of the child they bore. So many times Dimmesdale had the opportunity to pronounce his fatherhood of Pearl, to admit she was his crime and his sin—his daughter. But he refused. So the saintly, godly minister of the practically perfect Puritans was anything but. Pearl wanted him to be complete, (another meaning of perfection), and to acknowledge her and her mother. “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?” She inquired of her father. But Dimmesdale replies, “nay; not so, my little Pearl, . . .” (142). He didn’t have the courage or the moral fiber to admit his mistake for fear of public outcry and public humility.Dimmesdale wanted to keep up the appearance of holiness solely for the purposes of selfishness. Once again towards the end of the story when Arthur and Hester meet and confess their love and hopes for a bright future together, one mixed with love, Pearl asks again, “‘Doth he love us? Said, Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother’s face. ‘Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?’” (200). Pearl knew instinctively that the clergyman should have demonstrated a singular perfect love for them, but because of the fear of looking less than faultless, he never did where it counted for good.

Into the mix Hawthorne throws Hester’s husband, Roger ChillingworthAs the story progresses and Chillingworth’s obsession to find Hester’s partner in crime consumes him, he sees through the good reverend’s untainted guise. This gives the reader another hint at Hawthorne’s scorn of perfectibility. Chillingworth saw something in the unblemished purity of the clergyman that did not ring true. Hawthorne hit the perfect nail on the head with this quote:

These men deceive themselves, . . . They fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for God's service—these holy impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean hands! If they would serve their fellowmen, let them do it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience, in constraining them to penitential self-abasement! Would thou have me to believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be better—can be more for God's glory, or man's welfare—than God's own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves! (123-124).

The reverend brushes it away with subtle reasoning. "‘There can be, if I forbode aright, no power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried in the human heart. The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be revealed’” (122). The reverend doesn’t believe confession is for him. He would rather wait for the bar of judgment. If perfection was the goal of the Puritans, Hawthorne painted them as having missed the mark. He did this cleverly by categorizing the hypocritical and false perfection of the Reverend Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale. And in the end, what is left appears like the surface of the perfectly calm sea while underneath it is a seething hot bed of sin and un-repented guilt. Hawthorne revealed Dimmesdale’s preference to suffer when he said: “it avail him somewhat, that he was broken down by long and exquisite suffering; that his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which harrowed it; between fleeing as an avowed criminal, and remaining a hypocrite. . .” (189).

It should have been so easy to repent. But Dimmesdale deluded himself into thinking he was equal to the Savior. Instead of allowing the Savior’s atoning sacrifice to work in his behalf, Dimmesdale took upon himself the suffering for his own sins—which is not possible. All he had to do was offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit and the Savior’s atonement makes up the difference and takes away the sin. It’s in the Bible. They should have believed--he should have known. There was no need for him to beat himself up—literally and figuratively. His inability to confess was reprehensible. The delusions of grandeur his parishioners held for him was laughable. The cowardice he displayed by not standing with Hester and his child was abominable and even when Chillingworth pegged him for what he was, he did not climb down from the lofty godly tower and admit his guilt. What he did was deny his Savior’s sacrifice all in the name of appearing to be perfect. He could have found peace and freedom. He could have been loved. He could have come home to the arms of his lover and his child. He could have been freed from sin and recrimination by openly confessing. But he let selfishness, pride and hypocrisy rule his existence and finally died, not a perfect man, but a broken man. "Poor, miserable man!" (138).

In J. I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godliness: The Reverend White said: “come, dear souls, in all your rags; come, thou poor man; come, thou poor distressed woman; you, who think God will never forgive you, and that your sins are too great to be forgiven: come, thou doubting creature, who are afraid thou wilt never get comfort; arise, take comfort, the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . calls for you . . ." (Packer, p. 160). "God will forgive; that's his job. . ." (Packer, p. 206). Dimmesdale should have sought the sublime cleansing that comes from repentance. But he did not—not completely. In the end, Hawthorne confesses through Dimmesdale’s admission that he and his society were anything but perfect. It could be said of any of the Puritans: “I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!” (134). “Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!" (135).

Works Cited

Bremer, Francis J. The Puritan Experiment: New England Society for Bradford to Edwards. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. 1995.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: 1850. Re-published by Barnes & Nobel Books. New York: 2003.

Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding the Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 1995.

Packer, J. I. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1990.

The Holy Bible: New Testament. King James Version. Salt Lake City, Utah: Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1979.