On loneliness

(I wrote this piece as a test article for a potential online advice columnist gig.  They didn’t want me, but I think it’s a decent article nonetheless; it’s got some dharma in it).

There is a secret to embracing loneliness, and it will take half of the sadness away, maybe more. We are taught as children that people come in pairs, and belong in pairs; but that’s only one view. Although relationships can be very good, being alone is an equally worthy way to live, and just as fulfilling.

Like all living creatures, we come out of the world alone; consciousness can only fit in one being at a time. And we leave one at a time; living alone shouldn’t have any stigma attached to it. If you find yourself feeling very lonely, either in a relationship or out of one, there are steps to take that will ease your loneliness and draw you back into the light.

The best way to change your opinion of and experience with loneliness is to reconnect with your body. When we get stuck in our heads, it’s easy to forget what feels good, and how to connect with simply being alive. A way to reconnect which people have been doing for thousands of years, is to sit quietly and focus your attention on your hands. Really allow the feeling to pulse through them, gently sending your awareness into your fingers and palms. Some people experience a light tingling in their hands when they do this. This practice, when refined, is remarkable; Buddhist monks use it to change the temperature in their hands, by ten degrees.

You can also place your awareness in your feet, and even in your organs, like your lungs and your heart. This practice decreases loneliness because it restores the sensation of simply being alive. Your aliveness is not dependent on another person, or on what you’re wearing, or what you do for a living—the same consciousness that rushes through the universe rushes through you.

The secret to embracing loneliness is shifting perspective. Instead of thinking “I’m alone again tonight,” say to yourself, “I have the whole night to myself, I’m free to do as I please. I think I’ll work on my novel/floral arrangement/giant robot.” Although your budget may be tight, there’s no end to cheap entertainment in our modern age. Or take the night off from the TV and sit quietly, just experiencing the sounds of the evening, the rhythm of your neighborhood. If you start to see your life as good, instead of limited, it opens up.  And if you’re in a relationship and feeling lonely, there are other steps to take.

First, have you always felt lonely in this relationship? Or did it just start up, kind of out of nowhere? If you’ve always felt lonely with your partner but kept going on in the hopes it would get better, or were afraid to leave and be alone, fear not; changing your perspective will help here too. Look beneath the loneliness; are you lonely because you’re not connecting with your partner, or because they (or you) are preoccupied with work or sickness or some other challenge? Stress, anxiety, anger, shame—all of these can lie not far beneath loneliness. If you can look at these, and observe them without judgement, you might feel a little less lonely; everybody on earth feels stress, anxiety, anger, and shame—if you can let these emotions rise up and wash over you, without getting sucked in, they lose their power. Psychological studies have shown that emotions are only very intense for about two minutes; if you don’t engage with them in that time, they’ll die down.

And if you realize you’re lonely because the bond between you and someone else is deteriorating, congratulations, you’ve identified a tricky spot; now, go to work on repairing it, through gentle communication and the gift of your full attention. Reconnecting with someone, be it a new lover or an old friend, is a way to offer of yourself, and this offering chases away loneliness.

If you can get past society’s talk that loneliness is the human condition (it isn’t), and investigate the feelings underneath it, you’re more than halfway through the struggle of being lonely.The rest is learning how to treat yourself well, and this doesn’t require vast sums of money.  If you find yourself lying awake, obsessing over your day and feeling, well, lonely, review what you did before you went to bed. Sitting up and staring at a computer screen, especially at night, makes it harder to wind down and fall asleep. Likewise with late night eating and drinking; if you can keep from eating for an hour before going to bed, your body won’t have to contend with new digestion, which is a pretty active process.

To fall asleep easier in a bed by yourself (or in a bed with someone else), stick to late evening activities that stimulate the slower waves in the brain—in other words, no electronic screens or loud noises (also, studies have shown that hanging around social media sites when you’re feeling lonely increases the isolation). Try reading a book or a magazine at night, or learn to knit; small, repetitive actions (like knitting or writing in a journal) calm the mind and body. Exercising, even ten minutes of walking twice a day, helps the body settle down at night and sleep better.

Another way to feel better in your body, and so connect to the sense of being alive and full of energy (instead of lonely and enervated) is to practice meditation.  The easiest way to meditate is to sit on a pillow or cushion on the floor, with your knees lower than your hips, in a quiet room.  If you’ve never meditated before, try five minutes of sitting with your eyes open and slightly downward, with a soft gaze four to six feet in front of you. Sit with your back straight but not too tight, and your hands placed gently on your thighs. If sitting on the floor is not possible for your body, a chair is fine, but don’t lean all the way back, keep some energy in your spine.

Meditation is a good time to examine loneliness—when it comes up, notice it then let it go. Many meditation techniques, including samatha vipasana (“peaceful abiding”), involve labeling your thoughts “thinking,” and then letting them leave your mind.  Breathe in and out, and place some awareness on your breath.  Gradually, if you find meditation is helping your physical and mental health (as countless studies and millions of people agree), you can sit for longer, or find a group of people to meditate with.

Another way to be okay with loneliness is to examine your relationship to food and alcohol. If eating dinner alone requires three martinis to be successful, then, surprise, you’re actually not alone, many other people are doing the exact same thing, you just don’t know them. Try making your dinner more of a ritual, rather than just a bowl of cereal in front of the TV. If you eat at the same time every night and put a little mindful effort into what you make, even if it’s just ramen noodles, dinner tastes better. Alcohol is a depressant; it amplifies what you’re feeling. If you’re lonely, a beer will pick you up for a few minutes, then drop you down harder.  Awareness of how you relate to food and alcohol is a way to respect your body.

Embracing loneliness is like walking a tightrope; you find your footing and walk for ten or twelve feet, then you look down and see it’s a long way to the earth, and it might be tempting to just fall off and return to hating loneliness. But it gets easier; keep walking.

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ABC book

is coming along, little each week.  I’ve been painting much more than writing lately, you can see this book project here.

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Fun with fungi

Just finished a postcard series on mushrooms. Hope you like them.

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M is for makara

I haven’t done much writing lately, but I’ve been painting a lot. A makara is a chimera that hails from ancient India.


It is part crocodile, part elephant, part fish, and represents strength.

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here is a review

of my book, memory holes.  Thank you, Eileen Tabios.

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stray notes on fairy tales

ridinghoodI’ve been reading through my Norton anthology of fairy tales this week, and have written a sloppy sort of essay, mostly just notes. Feel free to skim it, and be forewarned: I didn’t make it very cohesive, every paragraph goes its own way.

One of the critics wrote in an essay in the back of the book that there may be only six major stories from the Indo-European lineage, each with hundreds of variations. Animal transformation date to 300 AD in India (a Brahmin’s son is turned into a snake, the father burns the snakeskin to free his child), right up through Hans my Hedgehog.  The location determines the animal, naturally.  In Italy it’s a pig king, which centuries later inspired Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso.  Often the cursed men are turned into animals humans either despise or eat; this makes it especially hard for them to find a bride willing to love them for their true selves, as is required to lift their curse. And 300 AD is just the first case of the story being written down; the oral tradition of folk tales goes way, way farther back—it’s impossible to say how old the foundation myths are.

Generations are sometime pitted against each other in fairy tales. The queen mother hates her daughter-in-law and vies to be midwife in the girl’s labor, then switches the baby with a dead puppy. An old necromancer posing as a tailor discovers his young apprentice has been learning his secret trade, so he chases the youth through five or more animal transformations, then the wily apprentice outwits his cruel master. In both there is an element of jealousy—the older party covets either the youth’s beauty (and youth) or their superior skills. Jealous sisters and stepsisters are another strong thread; is this because women didn’t inherit much, and it was kind of every girl for herself? Often the youngest sister saves the whole family, or, at least the family honor, after her cruel older sisters have died or disgraced themselves; the youngest of three seems to have the strongest chi.

And fairy tales encompass sacred geometry. Three, seven, and twelve are the usual numbers in a family or clan (seven dwarves, twelve brides for twelve brothers, three brothers/sisters in dozens of stories). Three, the divine trinity which just superimposed itself over a triangle, a very old symbol of power (and in eastern cultures, three denotes heaven/man/earth); seven, a mercaba (one of the most potent symbols, it’s  present in Hebrew, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim art); twelve houses of the zodiac. Three sometimes lines up with past, present, and future. Seven years is the typical length that a lost protagonist wanders through the wilderness, after which the exile is over and they’re reunited with their family. This period corresponds to western law: after seven years, debts were annulled (until recently, when banks made them infinite), and criminal records were wiped clean. Besides the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar and twelve houses in the night sky, midnight is the witching hour—when you can’t trust what you see or hear.

Frequently when boys hook up with helpful animals in folk tales, the animals are fierce: bear, wolf, lion. When girls meet animals, which either help them or enchant them, the animals are small but powerful: snake, bird, frog (as in The Frog Prince, Biancabella, Cinderella). Both sexes are aided by horses, but in different capacities: boys ride horses into battle/exile/fortune-making, or turn themselves into horses in a wizard’s duel; girls ride horses to escape bad marriages (and here they’re usually the gift of a fairy godmother), and the horse offers useful information. Like the bird of truth, horses can speak when needed. If a girl meets a wolf, it usually goes badly; devour used to have a more sexual connotation—the earlier Italian versions of Little Red Riding Hood had a highway man for the villain, who raped the child. Both wild animals and outlaws populated the woods, so the two merged in some stories.

Dragons vary across cultures; in Asia, they’re more good than bad, often mountain or river guardians, and in Buddhist imagery they represent the inscrutable quality of the human spirit, that which can’t be pinned down. But in Europe, dragons got a bad rap (largely after the rise of Catholicism, which equates serpents with the devil), and they became virgin-eating demons that hid in caves. Another mythical creature that changed from east to west is the Garuda, which became the griffin in Europe. The Garuda is the lord of birds in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It’s a fantastic creature that hatched fully formed (after a 500 year incubation), never stops flying, and eats snakes (nagas), which represent deception, in this case. It has the head and wings of a bird, and the body of a man; some early Greek traveler whose name escapes me documented the Garudas flying around the Himalayas, and eventually this and other sightings inspired the griffin stories in Europe. And maybe there was such a creature once; there used to be aurochs, dodos, and who knows what else.  This is getting far afield, I’ll return to the psychological notes.

The worst mutilation of women in fairy tales is chopping off their hands, followed by blinding. Is this because without hands they can’t work? Or hold a child? They become objects instead of humans, on a constant pilgrimage. And blinding: now the world is more dangerous. In medieval times blindness was regarded as a character flaw, some egregious sin was committed somewhere and blindness was the punishment. In the Grimm brothers’ The Maiden Without Hands, the heroine grows new ones through religious devotion (after her father cuts hers off), though she keeps the silver hands her husband made her as proof she was once deformed; when her lost husband finds her and their child, he’s not convinced it’s them until their fairy protector produces her old mechanical hands. (And did this story in some way inspire Edward Scissorhands?) Biancabella, an Italian heroine whose name means “blonde beauty,” has her hands cut off and eyes blinded by jealous in-laws, and only the touch of her sister, a snake/fairy, restores her former beauty. This is especially interesting to me, because snakes in western stories often represent a phallus, so it’s like a masculine force (that was born at the same time as the ultra feminine Biancabella) is required to restore the balance.

Physical beauty was linked to royal blood, and if an ugly baby was born to a king and queen it threatened the stability of the realm. There was fear the queen was carrying someone else’s baby, and also that years of inbreeding had created a diseased child. In some stories, freakishly ugly crosses over into changelings, the child of fairies, planted in human families purely for entertainment. Outer deformity was a sign of an inner badness; this was the stance of the church for a long time, but ugly baby stories preceded this. Maybe a fear of peasant genes mixing with royalty? Marrying off an ugly royal child took either money or trickery; brides were presented with their hair covering their face, or inserted into the bed of a prettier sister who conveniently disappeared after the wedding. A frequent indicator of royal blood was a physical appraisal: a ring test or a shoe test. The Grimms’ All Fur and Cinderella are two examples. Princesses were expected to have the smallest bodies, tiny fingers and feet, and “lesser” caliber women disfigured themselves to try to meet this standard (shaving the heel to fit into Cinderella’s slipper, chopping off the toes, etc). For ring tests, the hands were defiled. [Side note: while many people consider Joseph and William Grimm's fairy tales to be the bloodiest in the European tradition, the brothers actually left out the scariest stories in the later editions of Kinder und Hausmarchen (Children and Household Fairy Stories). I've looked around for the earlier editions, but if you don't speak German, they're hard to find.]

That’s enough for one post, thanks for reading. Please add your thoughts, and let me know if you think this could turn into a more polished piece, or if I should leave it be.

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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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