fascist home companion

Driving east on the interstate we blew a tire on a piece of metal sticking up from the bridge over the Mississippi River.  We turned off in the first town in Illinois, Molline.  After calling around to different places, and our roadside assistance number with Good Sam (not much help there), we decided to hobble over to the only tire place in town with our kind of tires; it was six o’clock on the Saturday night before Easter.  As soon as we got on the main pothole-ridden drag, a cop car pulled out and started following us.  Because we had a blown tire and were going slow, my husband put the hazards on.  Apparently this was the wrong thing to do, because we got pulled over when we turned left, blocks from the tire place.  “You didn’t signal, sir,” was what the first young officer said (even though my husband did, you just couldn’t tell because the hazards were on).

All told, four cops and one dog got out of two cars; they took our license and insurance, then made us get out of our RV and ransacked it.  They seized our measly gram of pot and two pipes, and in the process tore everything out of the cabinets and under the bed, including mechanical parts of the RV.  The K9 officer and dog were on our bed, reaching up to the cabinets and going through my lingerie.  They broke my glasses, which were in a medicine cabinet that they straight up dumped out. Threw our DVD player on the floor, dumped out a can of pencils and some coffee, etc. They even got down underneath the RV and poked around. Finally, with everything lying left where the cop threw it, we were “let off” with a warning.  Because of a traffic violation, our home was searched (without our consent: we voiced this), and when I asked if we could keep the marijuana, which we purased legally in Colorado, the officer in charge said, “You’re lucky it was me, if it was one of my buddies, you’d be arrested.”

Whether or not we were at fault for not signaling, did that offense warrant a home invasion? And taking of our property? They followed the cop script, asking all sorts of prying questions about our lives and where we were going while they manhandled our worldly possessions.  When I asked the one female officer if searching a vehicle after a traffic violation was common practice in Illinois, she said, “If we suspect something.”  Then she stopped talking to me.  One thing that really bothers me about cops: they act like they’re doing you a favor when they don’t arrest you, despite whatever else they are doing to you.  Our laws aren’t all just (no banker has gone to jail for the housing crisis they caused) and there’s little recourse when you’re pulled over on the side of a busy road, with families coming out of the Chinese buffet restaurant not twenty feet away, staring at you like you’re the worst people on earth.

I tried really hard not to internalize this situation, but it still made me very angry, and sad.  The United States is getting more fascist by the season, with constant public surveillance, data mining of our phone calls and emails, and a general erosion of civil rights.  My husband was much more positive—and calm—throughout our detainment (which lasted almost an hour, we barely made it to the tire place in time); he pointed out we could have spent the night (and following day, Easter) in jail, for having a gram of cannabis with us.  Absurd as this is, thousands of other people have.

After we got the tire changed (almost $200) and made it to the next town (the officers kept asking us where we were going to spend the night, like they were going to come after us again) we put our home back together—took half an hour—and slept poorly for a few hours in another parking lot.  Back on the road today, we’ve found Illinois’ highways every bit as inhospitable as their small towns.  Wherever they put their federal highway money, it wasn’t into torn-up Interstate 80 (which is partly a toll road).  Passing through a particularly bad stretch around Chicago, a billboard asked me “Feeling Illinoid?” Yes, I nodded, absolutely.

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This is a painting I did several years ago, and gave away as a card.  But as I’m about to hoist anchor and travel again, it’s the right image to call forth.  Steady, safe rolling along is the way across America’s blue highways.

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The worst Hitchcock film? Perhaps.

jinnAlfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn was the last movie he made in Britain, before he left England for Hollywood. I won’t review it, just give you some impressions and suggest you watch it some time, especially if you like Hitchcock’s later works. Rebecca, Vertigo, North by Northwest: stylistically, all of these have ties to Jamaica Inn. The 1939 film was based on a novel of the same name, by Daphne du Marier (who also wrote Rebecca), and it’s a real public house in Cornwall, still in service, and reportedly still haunted. A caveat; this movie has been widely criticized, by critics and even by Hitchcock himself—the film critic Michael Medved gave it a place in his book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. It doesn’t move very fast, and some scenes are trying; but visually I still like it, it’s creepy, both the people and the settings.

The opening scene is brutal; it’s 1819 in Cornwall, where gangs of thugs lure ships to the rocky coast with a false light to wreck them, kill the crew, and loot the bounty. This is what we see, and many of the sailors drown; the worse of the reigning thugs goes back to slit the throat of a drowning man crying out for help. Shots of the full moon are very well done for the time, none of the glare you sometimes see in early black and white film at night. The ne’er do wells retreat to Jamaica Inn, a tavern just off the shore.

In the next scene comes young Mary Yellen (Maureen O’Hara), in a prim bonnet, tossed out of a carriage far short of Jamaica Inn; she’s headed there from Ireland, to find her sister Patience, her last living relative. Instead, she knocks on the door of a giant house, which belongs to the local squire, Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton, a classical Shakespearian actor trained at the Royal Academy, who later directed one of my favorite movies of all time, The Night of the Hunter). Sir Humphrey takes her to view his den of hedonism, and later brings her to Jamaica Inn, as she asks.

The characters at Charles Laughton’s table: a bunch of curled, jeweled and silken fusspots. Two of the oldest, wartiest character actors fall asleep at table, others gulp wine by the goblet. He throws a bag of coins and they dive for it like hungry dogs. Laughton’s dinner jacket collar is a giant horseshoe around his bulbous head, and his eyebrows are impressively arranged, thick quote marks enclosing a fat sentence of forehead.

From here, the movie shifts to the Jamaica Inn, where all manner of foul play and smelliness resides. I’ll leave off the plot summary (watch this movie if you like Hitchcock and character actors; otherwise, it might be too slow and occasionally ridiculous for your taste) and describe why it’s so visually striking.

The gothic scenery (shabby stone buildings, thatched roofs) drives home how oppressive the poverty is, and also how boring it is. The ship wrecking marauders are like the evil seven dwarves (although there are at least ten of these cartoons), and their various jaunty hats and crude make-up tattoos make me smile. They have nothing to do between raids except accusing each other of cheating and picking their teeth with knives. Down along the perilous shore, and even above it, there is the constant sound of water smashing against rocks, and spray soaking dirty clothes. People crouch behind the rocks, either waiting to commit mischief or hiding from it.

And when the law arrives, brought in by the long-suffering secret police officer (Robert Newton), they’re a wall of uniforms, bland and official; an opposite pole to the distinctly individual and preening thieves. As they are placed in shackles, each thug has a different reaction; the cheekiest and baddest thug of all, with a cocky top hat, spits at the redcoat in front of him, and is slapped in return.

Again, I can’t encourage you to see this film unless you don’t mind thick character acting and Cornwallish accents; but, if you appreciate the Hitchcock films that came later, this is an informative movie. The overall darkness of scene and story are possibly the most gothic I’ve encountered since Nosferatu. Not for everyone, possibly the worst Hitchcock movie, and still, I can’t not like it.

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Barbarella, Jungian style

barb2This afternoon I watched Barbarella, the 1968 Italio-Franco sci-fi standard starring Jane Fonda.  This time I decided to view it through a Jungian lens (I just read The Red Book), watching the sets and props most keenly.

The movie is about the elemental feminine confronting nastier desires: aggression, unbridled lust, lethargy from sedative drugs.  Barbarella is the only guileless character.  And her body is equally innocent—41st century earth has somehow evolved beyond copulation, people take conception/bliss pills and hold hands in lieu of actual sex.  I’m going to assume everyone reading this knows the plot, and skip right to a mostly Jungian interpretation.  Here’s a helpful passage from Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious:

“Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or “archetype” of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman-in short, an inherited system of psychic adaptation. Even if no women existed, it would still be possible, at any given time, to deduce from this unconscious image exactly how a woman would have to be constituted psychically. The same is true of the woman: she too has her inborn image of man.”

From the first shot, the feminine is called forth: a veiled spaceman floats in a soft, gold room, attached to its walls with long, slack cords.  This a womb.  There’s a statue of Isis holding a crescent moon and offering one of her breasts out of her dress. The androgynous astronaut takes off their suit and a young Jane Fonda is revealed—she’s like Venus inside a clam shell. But Barbarella’s spaceship (seen from outside: model dangling from fishing line) is really both masculine and feminine.  Three phallic protrusions poke out from a playful pink vessel, with one round eye.

The first aliens on Tau Ceti (a cold but pretty planet) she encounters are twin girls, about eleven years old.  They speak some strange language, throw an ice ball at her head, then drag her back to their lair of other prepubescent twins, via a sled pulled by a flesh colored sting ray sort of creature, painfully fake, and not unlike an organ gliding across the ice.

The bad children, who live in Alpha 1 (an abandoned spaceship) unleash a gang of killing dolls on Barbarella. The dolls have razors for teeth and walk of their own accord; painted blue, green, and sickly pale, they are a perversion of feminine energy. Twins carry weight in a lot of cultures; Jung read them as two separated halves of one whole, masculine and feminine, and sometimes, soul mates who’ve lost each other in the collective unconscious.

The hoard of evil dolls with snapping metal mouths may be the most disturbing scene in the whole movie: Barbarella is consumed by malicious energy—she’s being eating alive.  She is rescued by a strapping Italian “Catchman” (Ugo Tognazzi), who wears a fur suit and teaches her all about coitus in his goofy mancave on ice.  His name is Mark Hand, and he catches wayward children and delivers them to Sogo, the city of the night.  Hand’s bed is at the base of what’s essentially a vaginal canal, a flesh colored fabric tube lit from within with a bearskin rug at the bottom. Here is where Barbarella learns of “old fashioned” lovemaking; in the 41st century the practice has been abandoned, long proven to be inefficient.  When he takes off his fur suit, the Catchman’s chest is equally furry; he’s like a cartoon of a manly European.  Even his ship is suggestive; its sail is a giant plastic clamshell, and the vessel drifts in lazy circles around an ice lake as they make love.  Afterwards, a humming Barbella trades her shiny space suit for a fur suit, black and white with a long skunky tail.  But two scenes later she’s back to an S&M sailor suit (this film was made in 1968 in France and Italy; costumes were their own characters).

Next Barbarella meets Pygar (John Phillip Law), the bronzed angel who lives in the labyrinth below Sogo.  It’s the labyrinth of the unconscious, where people peek out from inside rock walls and shrouds of spider webs.  Bodies are half stuck into rocks, especially one couple who faces each other but is cemented waist deep into jagged rocks.  Everyone here is naked except for fig leaf clothing fragments. “All that is not evil is exiled to the labyrinth” says the cooky professor who comes to fix Barbarella’s ship. The labyrinth is the place where the psyche wanders unaware of itself, a monotonous, unrealized place that’s intrinsically neither good nor bad.  Like sleepwalkers, the people in the labyrinth have messy hair and touch each other without making eye contact.  It’s the psyche unable to connect with others, isolated in its own corner of the collective unconscious.  And the slow moving labyrinth is the opposite pole of the city above, where any and all ruthless desires are played out: aggression, jealousy, addiction, and greed.  The vulnerable parts of self are banished below, to wander disconnected in the unconscious.

Although he’s an angel with giant floppy wings, Pygar can’t fly until Barbarella seduces him in his bird’s nest.  Connection with the feminine enables the psyche to move freely again.  They crash land into Sogo, where groups of girls make creepy eyes at them and men unabashedly stare.  The naked psyche (a blind angel) isn’t tolerated in Sogo; as soon as it’s caught, it’s crucified.  Psyche, a Grecian beauty, was blindfolded with her lover Cupid until she couldn’t stand not knowing what he looked like, lifted her veil, and ruined their union.

The sets and costumes in Sogo are all shiny surfaces: glass, plastic, leather.  Reflective, manufactured textures. As Barbarella escapes from two ruffians with spiked collars and a threatening one-eyed lady with knives, she runs past a statue of an owl, the Grecian symbol of Athena.  In other traditions, owls stood in for psychic ability and intuition.

Underneath Sogo is a lake of energy in liquid form that watches the citizens.  The lake feeds on negative psychic vibrations; in return it gives light and warmth—but this light manifests in harsh colors, and the warmth rises up as menacing steam—”It has a terrible appetite” says Dr. Durand Durand, servant of the great tyrant and later, usurper of her throne.  The name of this energy is Mathmos.  The great tyrant (Anita Pallenberg) soon appears, with a horn on her head; she’s evil, both masculine and feminine.  Barbarella is dressed in all white, with curly blonde hair; the tyrant is in black, wearing a giant black wig and an unnerving plastic phallus.barb3A few scenes on, Dr. Durand Durand tries to pleasure Barbarella to death in a mechanical bed with an attached organ that he plays manically (the “excessive machine”).   The machine eats her clothes and kind of looks like a dark jaw clamped around her body.  It’s a way of manipulating the senses.  All of Sogo is like this; strange, PG sadomasochistic rites are performed and women smoke the essence of a man trapped in a glass jar.  Evil is the perversion of someone’s energy, for the consumption of others. Barbarella, pure feminine energy, beats the machine by wearing it out—her capacity for pleasure is unmatched in the universe. The excessive machine smokes and sputters out, and Barbarella emerges sweaty and pleased.  Small wonder Penthouse called Barbarella “the kinkiest movie of the year” (though it wasn’t successful at all in 1968; Paramount re-released it in 1977 with better marketing, and it found its footing as a cult classic).

The plot, which I have not made clear in any way (it’s not all linear in the comic or the movie, frankly), wraps up when Barbarella finds a key into the chamber of dreams, intending to defeat the great tyrant who slumbers inside.  The tyrant’s dreams are magnified on the clear walls of the chamber, which is locked from the outside—this is how the unconscious is traveled, you get locked in from the outside. With the light and dark ladies trapped inside an impenetrable chamber, Dr. Durand Durand (and yes, the 80′s band Duran Duran took their name from this character) explodes the city with his positronic ray and crowns himself lord.  To fight off the rebels he releases Mathmos, pure evil—it consumes the entire city.  But Barbarella’s goodness shields herself and the tyrant from this evil, and Pygar flies them away.

Barbarella asks him why he saved the tyrant after she crucified him, and he says, “An angel has no memory.”  Likewise, the psyche has no memory when it’s thrust into a dream—only certain clues and symbols serve as landmarks, and it can be hard to recognize these while we’re down there in the collective unconscious.


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here is a treat

from the United Haiku and Tanka Society, who just published their first online journal.  I am on this page, towards the bottom, but I highly recommend browsing the table of contents (accessible from the top right corner), where you’ll find many forms of Japanese poetry represented, old and new.  Print version is forthcoming in March, and they seem to be looking for more submissions.

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new gig

I just started a new freelancing job, writing about music.  Here’s my first article, hope y’all like it.

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Space Jalopy II: the Victrola at the center of the universe is skipping

I can’t remember if I’ve published this before or not.  Hope you dig it.


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Last week I went on a three day solitary retreat in a tiny A-frame cabin that sits in an Aspen grove.  Its name is Parmudita, which means “boundless joy,” and also the first bumi, a big step on the path to enlightenment.  Unfortunately I didn’t attain the first bumi, but I did have a joyful time, and I took a lot of photos.

Here is what the cabin looks like on the outside:
And the inside:
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This is the side of the woodstove, which I didn’t use (there’s a propane tank and heating system, and I couldn’t find any dry firewood nearby, though I really wanted to have a fire).


Here are the views from the front porch.  In the midground, lower left, is the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya which liberates upon seeing.

IMG_4011I meditated at this shrine for about six hours a day (more on the last day, because I woke up really early). When you go on retreat, you don’t bring any distractions with you, only one dharma book (Buddhist teachings) and you don’t eat much, just enough to get by.  There’s no electricity or running water in the cabin, so the whole experience is pretty rugged (not sure why there is a standing lamp; I used a Coleman lantern at night). This makes it easier to focus on the nature of mind.

IMG_4036 It’s hard to explain samantha vipasana (peaceful abiding) meditation to people who haven’t done it, but I’ll try; it’s like sitting on a cushion with your eyes open for minutes or hours, breathing in and out, and not freaking out over the wild material your mind throws down.  After enough sessions, the violent thoughts, sexual fantasies, childhood traumas, grocery lists and other minutia lose their potency.  What’s left is clarity, and muscle ache (some people feel it in their backs, I usually get sore in the hips); but that calm clarity is worth any kind of body ache, to me.  Which is why I went on retreat and sat silently and alone for three days, drinking too much coffee and eating twice a day, just oranges and bread.  And yes, I would recommend this experience to others, maybe experienced meditators rather than people new to the practice.  It gives your monkey mind a good shake.

On the last day, Saturday, I hiked up towards Marpa Point, one the highest points on the land here, and took some more photos.

IMG_4015Here is Allen Ginsberg’s memorial, up close:

IMG_4059and farther back:

IMG_4061Then I walked around the charnel grounds, below Marpa Point (Marpa was a student of Milarepa, one of the greatest sages in Tibet).  There are monuments, with people’s ashes, all around.  I took a few photos, left a few offerings:

IMG_4066 IMG_4067 IMG_4070IMG_4072IMG_4073And when I got back to the cabin, mule deer were grazing.  Song birds hanging out in the Aspens.

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drumroll and

here’s my book, at long last.  Get yours for ten dollars (or buy the ebook for $2.99)

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snow, ice

It’s snowing pretty steady here in the mountains, over that particular gray light that stays the same all day.  So please enjoy this snow and ice city, which is somewhere in northern China, I know not where exactly.  We’re planning on watching a really bad movie tonight, so stay tuned for a bad movie review tomorrow.

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