Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Cousteau’

Earth Of Foxes

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

earth of foxes

Fox Kit photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“‘Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.’” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“The baby foxes are here again,” says Marcia calling to me from her studio across the hallway from my office.

We have a large old plum tree growing on the north side of our house, and in this first year of our residency the tree has gifted us with several hundred sweet red plums, which are ambrosia to deer, appealing to squirrels, and irresistible to a trio of baby foxes who visit the tree daily, scampering around in the branches like monkeys and going way out on the spindly limbs to get at the fruit. There is nothing I would rather do than stand in our living room and watch these tiny foxes, aptly called kits, climbing around in our plum tree doing their utmost to reach the sugary orbs.

Speaking of aptly named, the little canids have inspired me to read a bit about foxes, and among the many things I’ve learned about these delightful creatures is that one of the names for a group of foxes is an earth of foxes. Other expressions for gangs of foxes are a skulk of foxes, a leash of foxes, and a troop of foxes, but I much prefer an earth of foxes for the implication of what the earth once was and might be again if only humans would stop fracking and over-populating and despoiling everything.

Where did the expression an earth of foxes come from? According to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, one of the definitions of earth is the underground lair of an animal. Since a fox den can also be called an earth, and since almost all groups of foxes are composed of family members, it would follow that a group of foxes emerging from the same earth within the earth might poetically be called an earth of foxes.

“All the intelligence and talent in the world can’t make a singer. The voice is a wild thing. It can’t be bred in captivity. It is a sport, like the silver fox. It happens.” Willa Cather

Curious about Willa Cather’s use of the word sport in the above quote, I looked up the word and found she used sport to mean a surprising mutation, an animal that deviates markedly from its parent stock.

We have been trying to think of a good name for our two-acre homestead ever since we moved here nine months ago, but nothing struck a loud and unanimous chord until the baby foxes arrived and we realized there is an earth nearby where the little cuties were born. Given that our house and land sit in something of a hollow, we have settled on the name Fox Hollow, which, if not particularly original, sounds just right to us.

Speaking of foxes in the plum tree, Marcia has now produced twenty jars of delectable plum jam from plums that the foxes, squirrels, and deer were unable to reach before I picked them. The labels on the jars read Fox Hollow Plum Jam, July 2013, Marcia & Todd. What a tree! Who knew? Well, the deer and the squirrels and the foxes knew, and now we know, too.

 “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” Andy Warhol

When I was a little boy and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered cowboy or dump truck driver. I pronounced cowboy gowboy and dump truck drive dump twuck dwivoo. When I was twelve-years-old I saw Jacques Cousteau’s then-amazing movie The Silent World and became so enamored of Monsieur Cousteau and his oceanic adventuring that I decided to become a marine biologist. By sixteen I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a writer musician actor movie director, but in order to appease my parents who disapproved of such frivolity I told them and their inquiring friends that I wanted to be an anthropologist. I then dutifully majored in Anthropology during my brief stay in college, though I spent most of my time at UC Santa Cruz playing basketball, throwing the Frisbee, and writing poetry and short stories.

When I left the womb of academia and parental support, I began to write novels and practice the art of screenwriting. I was an avid moviegoer and considered seeing movies on the big screen a fundamental part of my life, not only because I was an aspiring moviemaker, but because the great movies of the 1960’s and 70’s were exciting and inspiring myths that helped fuel the counter culture in that revolutionary time. A Thousand Clowns, If, King of Hearts, Coming Home and dozens of other popular motion pictures gave us fascinating stories and compelling visions of men and women stepping away from the suffocating conventions of the old world order into much less restricted lives, an ethos that rejected militarism and stifling sameness and sexism and racism, while promising…well, we would find out!

I was determined to carry on the great tradition of humanist film artists who used this most powerful medium to show us possible ways we might live and relate to each other more lovingly and creatively as we roamed the cosmos on spaceship earth. Movies, the ones I loved and the ones I aspired to make, were heart-opening visions of personal change and resurrection starring all kinds of different kinds of people shaking off the powerful controls of their selfish lizard brains to escape the clutches of our violent greedy lizard-brained society and become emotionally, psychically and sexually liberated lovers with great senses of humor who walked lightly and tenderly upon the blessed earth.

As you undoubtedly have noticed, the lizard-brained humanoids who now control mainstream media as well as most of the side streams, no longer allow movies modeling social revolution and sharing the wealth and living lightly on the earth and rejecting materialism and embracing gender and racial equality into your nearby multiplex or onto your television screen or computer screen or phone screen. No, the movies we are allowed to see today are the quantum opposite of those movies we went to in the 1960’s and 70’s and inspired many of us to break away from the deadly gray sameness and stultifying hierarchies that ruled America in the 1950’s.

When my first novel Inside Moves was published in 1978 and was subsequently made into a film, I made the erroneous assumption that more of my novels and screenplays would soon become movies, too. But while two other works of mine, Forgotten Impulses and Louie & Women came tantalizingly close to being filmed, nothing more of mine has ever (yet) reached the silver screen or any other sort of screen.

However, despite the twenty-year delay in selling my growing stack of novels and screenplays, I have continued to write scripts and books I think will make fabulous movies. Indeed, just last week, hungering as I often do for a good new movie, and finding nothing of the kind to eat, I put on a little film festival and read five of my screenplays in three days, watching those movies on my mind screen as I turned the pages. Wow! They were exactly the kinds of movies I long to see. No wonder I wrote them.

Having made a multi-year study of the current movie scene by watching movie trailers on my computer, while skipping hundreds of trailers for horror movies, I know perfectly well why none of my scripts and stories have yet to attract anyone with sufficient clout and cash to make them. My movies are not about super heroes, vampires, zombies, murderers, gangsters, morons, aliens, bimbos, or materialistic narcissists and amoral sociopaths and their hapless victims. They do not feature painfully shallow dialogue, car chases, massive gunfire and explosions, the constant objectification of women, gratuitous violence, or toilet jokes. Instead, they model challenging funny sad dangerous transits through and away from the emptiness of self-serving separateness into the emotional and spiritual fullness that manifests when we share our wealth, whatever our wealth may consist of.

Our plum tree would make a perfect recurring symbol in a movie I long to see. The leafless branches in winter giving way to the nascent buds of early spring leading to the fabulous eruption of blooms followed by the coming of the leaves, the fruit, the green orbs turning yellow and finally red, the myriad creatures sharing the fabulous bounty of the earth—a little fox balanced on the branches at the very top of the tree and dropping plums down to his runty sibling—thunder sounding in the distance on this fabulous earth of foxes.

Todd’s novel Inside Moves is now available in a beautiful new paperback edition at Gallery Books in Mendocino and at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah and online from all the usual suspects.

What Really Happened?

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“There are three things I always forget. Names, faces and—the third I can’t remember.” Italo Svevo

The very first course that Norman O. Brown taught when he arrived at UC Santa Cruz in 1968 was Myth & History and I was among the lucky people to hear him deliver that series of lectures. I was also privileged to meet with Norman in his office on two occasions to talk about various things, notably the fifty-page manuscript I composed in response to his lectures. I wish I still had a copy of that youthful creation—poems, dialogues, story fragments, essays, questions—with the notes Norman made throughout and his flattering words at the bottom of the final page, but I was only nineteen and saved nothing I wrote until I was in my twenties.

I have many vivid memories of Norman O. Brown, some of which I shared in an article I published two years ago. After that essay ran in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and was reprinted on the CounterPunch web site, I received a few emails and letters from people who thanked me for writing about Norman and wanted to share memories of him with me. I also received several angry missives from people telling me that my memories of Norman could not possibly be true, that Norman was nothing like the person I described, and how dare I misrepresent the great man. What I loved about these responses was that they absolutely confirmed the central thesis of Norman’s Myth & History lectures, which was that history is entirely subjective and over the course of time becomes indistinguishable from myth.

“In the Eskimo language there are four future tenses: the immediate future, the middle future, the far-in-the-future future and a future that will never arrive.” Robert Littell

I was reminded of the subjective nature of history during a recent visit from my sister Kathy with whom I had not communed in many years. As we shared memories of our shared past, we discovered that our recollections of people and events were sometimes identical, sometimes entirely different, and sometimes partly identical and partly entirely different. Of the greatest interest to me were those events involving Kathy that I remembered vividly and she had no memory of whatsoever.

Our parents—and this Kathy and I agreed on—regularly carried out long and painful interrogations of their four children—my two older sisters, my young brother, and I. They interrogated us one at a time, the child on a low stool looking up at the imperious father sitting on his throne-like chair, the angry mother pacing back and forth behind the scowling father. These interrogations took place in the living room in the evenings or on Sunday afternoons, our mother the arresting officer, so to speak, our father the prosecutor and judge.

The interrogations were ostensibly held in lieu of spanking us for our little crimes, but I think the real purpose of these trials was to fulfill our father’s desire to abuse us verbally, and my mother’s need to involve our father in her attempts to control us—our mother who was frequently overwhelmed by single-handedly trying to control four bright, independent, rambunctious children. She was perpetually angry with our father for not giving her more help with us, and these interrogations provided a way for her to involve him in our upbringing as well as allowing her to vent her fury about her situation in his presence.

We underwent these interrogations from early childhood until we were in our teens—the grueling sessions lengthy, abusive and emotionally damaging. I find it hard to believe that our intelligent, highly educated parents—my mother an attorney, my father a child psychiatrist—were unaware of the harm they were inflicting, and I assume they felt justified in carrying out what my three siblings and I remember as their relentless efforts to break our wills and verbally pound us into submission, first by forcing us to admit our crimes (real or not), then forcing us to beg them repeatedly for their forgiveness, then making us promise to never again do whatever they said we had done, and finally, sickeningly, to help them devise appropriate punishments for whatever they had forced us to admit to.

Kathy said several things about these interrogations that greatly surprised me. She said that at the outset of every interrogation, she would frantically try to shift the blame from her to another of the children, and she assumed we all did that. But I, as the younger brother of two powerful older sisters, never did that because I feared my bigger stronger sisters would take revenge on me if I dared to even try to divert my parents’ wrath onto them.

Kathy also said that during every interrogation, after our parents had verbally battered her into a state of desperate despair, she always wanted to shout at them, “Just hit me and get it over with!” but never had the courage to do so.

What made this revelation so surprising to me was that one of my most vivid childhood memories was of a time when I was eleven and Kathy was twelve, and my parents were viciously torturing Kathy and she was sobbing so convulsively I feared she might die. And my fear of my sister dying was so great, that despite the probability of being physically assaulted by my father for daring to defy him, I went to intervene on Kathy’s behalf. And just as I entered the living room to demand they leave her alone, Kathy shrieked, “Just hit me! Just hit me and get it over with!” Then she jumped up, ran down the hall, and locked herself in her room.

“I have no memory of doing that,” Kathy told me these many decades later, “though I always wanted to, so I’m glad to know I actually did it one time.”

When I imagine telling Norman O. Brown such a tale, I see him gazing off into space as he visualizes the drama, and then I hear him suggesting that regardless of what actually happened, the most interesting thing about my memory is that I wanted to rescue my sister—to be a hero—though I failed to act quickly enough for that to happen. And though I, too, find my desire to rescue her quite telling, what I find most interesting is that Kathy has no memory of ever acting out her wish, while I remember her defiance of my parents as an act of incredible bravery and self-preservation that empowered me to defy my parents, too.

“There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.” Rex Stout

We now officially congressionally know that in 1964 the North Vietnamese did not attack a gigantic heavily armed United States of America battleship in the Gulf of Tonkin with a little motorboat and a pea shooter, and that the alleged attack was entirely fabricated by our government so they could begin the horrific saturation bombing of North Vietnam and escalate the ground war in Vietnam that went on for many years and killed millions of Vietnamese people and tens of thousands of Americans. Therefore, those of us who protested from the outset that the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a fraud can no longer be called conspiracy kooks, at least regarding that particular event.

Norman O. Brown frequently spoke of Gulf of Tonkin-like mytho-historic events that compose much of Greek and Roman history, and how there is really no way to distinguish ancient historical events, as writ by the victors, from myths, which is why the Norman O. Brown I remember was far more interested in archetypes and poetry and art and legends and philosophy arising from particular cultures and cultural milieus than he was in the historical records of who, what, when and why.

“The field of philosophy may be reduced to the following questions: 1. What can I know?  2. What ought I do?  3. What may I hope for?  4. What is man?” Immanuel Kant

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the trial and death of Socrates that probably (maybe) happened in Athens some 2400 years ago, assuming Plato and others who left behind accounts of the event may be trusted not to have fabricated the whole thing. Why do we trust Plato? I dunno. In any case, the trial and death of the famous Socrates, who left behind nary a scrap of his own writing, took place four hundred years before the birth, if there really was such a birth, of Jesus of Nazareth, who also did not leave behind a scrap of his own writing. Come to think of it, Gautama Buddha didn’t leave behind a scrap of writing either. Indeed, we only have the highly subjective words of others that these super famous people even existed.

Nevertheless, the more I read about Socrates, the clearer it becomes that he was either a great champion of democracy or he thought democracy was a terrible way to run a city-state; that he drank hemlock rather than flee because he wanted to honor the laws of Athens or because he was old and ill and preferred a quick death to lingering in misery; and the method of philosophical inquiry known as the Socratic Method either sprang from the brilliance of Socrates or from his inability to come to a conclusion about anything.

Speaking of conclusions, in honor of my wholly subjective memories of Norman O. Brown’s wide-ranging lectures in which he might read a poem by Robert Duncan, follow Duncan’s poem with a passage from Finnegan’s Wake, follow that with a salient and beautifully pronounced line or two of Latin, and finish that particular train of inquiry with a pronouncement such as “in psychoanalysis only exaggerations are important,” I will end this ramble with a quote from Jacques Cousteau.

“From the data, covering over a hundred shark encounters with many varieties, I can offer two conclusions: the better acquainted we become with sharks, the less we know them, and one can never tell what a shark is going to do.”