Posts Tagged ‘Joan of Arc’

High Summer

Monday, July 31st, 2017

High Summer

High Summer photo by Todd

Woke in the middle of the night. I’ve been sleeping well lately, so I wondered why I was awake. Wide awake. And then I remembered I broke my rule about not reading any news in the evening, and I also watched a video blurb about Trump—my first Trump visitation in several weeks. I might as well have had two cups of coffee and chocolate truffles before going to bed.

I haven’t liked a President of the United States since Jimmy Carter. I am aware that Jimmy presided over lots of horrible things done by our government, but I was thrilled by his willingness to talk about the planetary environmental crisis way back in the 1970s, about how we needed to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. And then he pushed through government programs that helped accelerate the solar power revolution. He walked his talk a little.

Our presidents since Jimmy have been consistently dishonest servants of the supranational monsters who began their complete takeover of our government with the election of Ronald Reagan. All our presidents after Jimmy facilitated the transfer of wealth from those with not much to those who already have everything. They all expanded the military and continued the policy of endless war. They all knowingly presided over the killing of thousands of civilians in essentially defenseless countries. They all did nothing to address global warming, over-population, and the environmental crises threatening life on earth. They all allowed our healthcare system to deteriorate and be taken over by the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. They all played golf.

Thus when I watch coverage of Trump, I do not think, as many of my peers do, that Obama or any of our previous presidents were better than Trump. They may have been less obviously narcissistic and dishonest, but they were all hyper-dishonest narcissistic sociopaths chosen for their loyalty to the ruling elite. And whether Trump wasn’t supposed to beat Hillary or not, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from his predecessors except by making more noise and saying more ridiculous things.

I notice the stock market keeps going up and up and up under Trump. This tells us that the big banks and hedge fund gangsters who stole more than two trillion dollars of our money with the blessings of Obama, are happy with Trump. Obama did nothing to rein in the Ponzi schemers, but rather helped them make the world’s economic and financial situation nightmarishly worse. Trump is merely following suit.

I also notice the media and way too many members of the shameful Democratic Party are still trying to prove Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election that put him in the White House. I wonder if these dunces will keep trying to prove the Russians determined the outcome of the election until the next presidential election. Probably. As we learned from Bill Clinton and his sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, the folks in power love to distract the masses with childish nonsense while they carry on their nefarious business of robbing us blind and destroying the world while they’re at it.

No wonder I woke up in the middle of the night.

In better news, a friend wrote saying it was high summer. What a fine expression. The Friday farmers market in Mendocino is in high summer mode. We have several vendors selling excellent organic high summer vegetables and fruit—the high summer days lovely and promising. The blackberry bushes of high summer hereabouts are heavily laden with berries and I have been picking berries every day for our smoothies and snacks and cookie batter.

The Mendocino Music festival has come and gone, the big tent no longer starring on the headlands, and the town is somewhat quieter in the aftermath of the annual musical happening. The two highest points of the festival for me were Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor. Zowee!

We know several people who are traveling to Oregon for the solar eclipse. I will not be going to view the blotting of the sun’s light by the intervening moon, but plan to sit somewhere outside while the eclipse is happening. I want to participate without travelling far to do so. Maybe I’ll walk to the beach for the eclipse where I hope to feel the moon coming between the earth and the sun, since I won’t be able to see it.

Solar eclipses always remind me of a scene near the beginning of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court when the novel’s hero uses his foreknowledge of an impending solar eclipse to save his life and become a powerful player in King Arthur’s court for the rest of the novel—not my favorite book by Mark Twain, but a fun high summer read.

My favorite novel by Mark Twain is The Prince and the Pauper—a great book to read aloud with friends. I also love big swaths of his Joan of Arc, especially his recounting of her trial at the hands of the dastardly Catholic priests, and I love the first three-fourths of Huckleberry Finn—the ending feels false to me. And I’m a big fan of Twain’s short stories and Roughing It.

In a dream I had about a month ago I was shown the title of a novel. When I woke from the dream, I wrote the title down, waited a moment, and the novel began to pour out onto the page. I have now written five chapters of this dream novel and I think the story will continue to emerge, but I don’t know for certain.

And that’s the high summer news. Sleep well.

Men In Dresses

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it;

If I be in it, I pray God keep me so.

Jean D’Arc

Various accounts of the life of Joan of Arc, or as they say in French, Jean d’Arc, suggest that when she first heard voices urging her to wrest control of the badly beaten French armies and lead them to victory over the occupying forces of the British, she wasn’t sure if the voices were those of angels or self-delusion. I know how she feels. A week ago I woke to a voice saying loud and clear, “Men in dresses,” and for hours thereafter, visions of men wearing dresses came fast and furious.

I saw the capitol mall in Washington D.C. filled with millions of men in dresses, not kilts or robes or even skirts, but full-blown dresses made originally for women but now worn proudly and purposefully by men. Please understand: these millions of men were not dressed up as women. They were not wearing makeup. They were not trying to imitate women. They wore sensible shoes. They were merely men, the vast majority of them heterosexual, in dresses.

Why were all these fellows wearing dresses? I didn’t know, but I felt in my bones that these visions were prophetic, and furthermore I sensed that men in dresses, both the idea and the three-word expression, would play a key role in the salvation of the world along with the salvation of human society. My linear logical mind told me I was delusional, but my gut, if you will, told me I was right on.

So I wandered deep into the forest and sat at the base of a mighty redwood and spoke to the unseen powers of nature or whoever it was that had contacted me. I said, “What meanest thou by men in dresses?” I thought by using that older form of English I might entice even the most reticent spirits to join in the discussion. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was whistling in the dark. I had no compass in my quest to understand why these bizarre visions had been sent to me.

Then I heard a voice. Well, I didn’t really hear a voice. I sensed a voice. And maybe what I sensed wasn’t technically (measurably) a voice, but more of a feeling. Yes. That’s it. I had a feeling. A feeling deep inside. Oh, yeah. And the feeling said unto me, “Enough with the olde English. By men in dresses we mean just that. Men wearing dresses. If men in great numbers start wearing dresses, trust us on this, eventually all men will start wearing dresses, unless their job absolutely precludes wearing a dress, and when the majority of men are comfortable wearing dresses and wear dresses most of the time, then for reasons we can’t explain to you yet, there will come a cognitive and spiritual sea change in how men and women think about life and the planet, and most importantly in how men and women think and feel about each other, and this sea change will spark a vast and celebratory global transition away from the paradigm of weaponry and greed and inequity, and usher in a time of peace and compassion and creative family planning that will reduce the global human population to planetary perfection within seven generations and make of the earth a paradise once more, and render humanity vibrantly diverse and creative and profoundly graceful.”

“Fine,” I said, liking the vibe of this feeling I was hearing, “but what does that have to do with me?”

“You have been chosen as the messenger to bring this news to the world. You are deeply, one might even say absurdly, heterosexual. You had two brilliant older sisters and relish the company of women, and, well, we can’t tell you the Big Reason we chose you, but believe us, it’s a really good reason.”

“Oh, come on. Why me? And for that matter, why choose an illiterate peasant girl, speaking of Jean d’Arc, and not some well-connected princess to lead the resistance? Why not invade the psyche of some macho movie star with fabulous media connections? Why an unknown middle-aged semi-recluse perfectly comfortable in trousers?”

“Sweetheart, we’ve been grooming you for this role over several lifetimes. Trust us. You’re the perfect person to lead this movement.”

“You keep telling me to trust you. Why should I?”

“We’ll get to that later. For now, how do you like these visions we’ve been sending you? Of men in dresses. Compelling, no?”

“I see all sorts of problems with your plan.” I directed my words to the massive tree, imagining my words traveling up the trunk to the highest branches and from there skyward. “First of all, assuming I could convince an initial bunch of guys to wear dresses with me, what makes you think we wouldn’t be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists?”

“Oh, you most definitely will be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists. Not to mention perverts and weirdoes. But since you’re so fond of referencing Jean d’Arc, remember, she was considered as nutty as a fruitcake until she proved herself otherwise. This won’t be easy. Saving the world never is.”

“Great, so I’m supposed to spend my golden years as the brunt of jokes and verbal abuse and who knows what else? Listen, I’m flattered you thought of me, but I’m sure you can find someone better suited, pun intended, to the task.”

“We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. In the meantime, we’d like you to focus your thoughts on how you will stage your first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. Bye bye.”

I walked home in a funk. Being sent visions is completely different than thinking things up or imagining things. Visions are out of your ordinary. I know that doesn’t sound like a proper sentence, and it might not be proper, but it’s accurate. Whatever your ordinary might be, a vision is not of that. Not obviously anyway. Visions don’t follow logically from inklings or predilections or stuff you’ve been working on. I’ve never wanted to wear a dress. And I’ve never thought it was neato or even keeno when a man wore a dress. Indeed, men in dresses have always made me uncomfortable. What’s the point, unless one has a rash you-know-where and you’re trying to avoid chafing? So…

I decided not to focus my thoughts on how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. If these spirits had a plan, let them present it to me in full flower. And so they did. They didn’t even wait until the next day. I was eating a desultory lunch, avocado on rice cakes with goat cheese, and pondering my diet to discern if I’d eaten something that might have triggered the whole Men In Dresses concept, when a high definition vision came to me of how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal (and positive) media attention. And with this vision came a partial understanding of why the spirits had chosen me. I’m a huge fan of elegant design, and this way to stage the first massive Men In Dresses demonstration was, in the immortal words of Richard Pryor, pure pussy.

Okay. So. Brown paper grocery bags. We, the ten thousand men attending the first Men In Dresses critical mass, bring our dresses to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags. This is critically important. Brown paper bags are a symbol of no frills masculinity. No real man would be embarrassed to be seen carrying a brown paper grocery bag. Embarrassment is the first and largest emotional obstacle to making this whole thing work. Men, believe you me, are very easily embarrassed.

Secondly, a minimum of ten thousand men must participate in the first demonstration because any fewer than ten thousand will be, well, embarrassing. This will require a great deal of advanced planning, but there’s nothing wrong with advanced planning, especially since ten thousand men without exhibitionist cross dressing tendencies will need serious convincing about why we’re doing this and how it will not be embarrassing.

Thirdly, we will wear jeans and T-shirts and sensible shoes over which we will put on the dresses we’ve carried to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags, thus eliminating any worries about undressing in public or being seen carrying a dress. Eventually, men will feel perfectly comfortable traveling to massing sites in their dresses, though that will never be expected or required. The idea is to get men used to wearing dresses in public with a minimum of discomfort.

Fourthly, as stated before, no one will wear makeup or act girly. This whole movement, in these initial stages, according to my spirit guides, is about wearing dresses. Everything else, whatever that turns out to be, will follow from that.

Fifthly, I have to write a declaration, something along the lines of the Declaration of Independence, brief and poetic (in a masculine sort of way) and deeply inspiring, that will compel millions of men to become Men In Dresses.

Which is to say, I have to compose a stirring text from the dictations of the spirits. Once I have the declaration in fine fettle, I will send the speech to the seven men the spirits direct me to send the speech to, and these seven men will each send the speech to seven other men, and so on until seventy thousand men have received the declaration and one in seven commits to showing up for the first public display.

The cool thing (and a huge relief) I just learned is that if I can successfully transcribe the Declaration of Men In Dresses and the attendant Oath of Commitment To Wearing Dresses as given to me by the spirits, I will be exonerated from wearing a dress until the fourth critical massing. Here’s what they’ve sent me so far.

Beneath our clothing, we are each and every one of us naked. We hold this truth to be self-evident.

(This piece originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2010.)

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com

Exact Equality Redux

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Exact Equality Redux

I first wrote this essay a few months before the election of Obama. I posted it on my blog and had several responses, some angry, some supportive, and one that suggested I preface the piece, as I am now doing, with the disclaimer that this musing is intended to ignite your thinking about gender equality and our current socio-economic reality without making any claim to certainty about any of the ideas contained herein. You may call that a cop out, but if reading this piece inspires you to ponder the possibility of a connection between the feminist movement and the more recent (last forty years) machinations of the vile male oligarchy that currently rules our nation and much of the world, I will feel justified in sharing my epiphany. 

I recently came upon this quote from Mark Twain. “No civilization can be perfect until exact equality between man and woman is included.”

Not his most erudite aphorism, but certainly thought provoking. Many feminists consider Twain to be a prototypical American misogynist, yet Twain called his novel Joan of Arc his most important work; a novel he was compelled to self-publish at the height of his fame because no publisher would touch it. What were the publishers afraid of? Or to put the question another way, what did the ruling elite find so threatening about Twain’s account of Joan of Arc?

The novel depicts France in economic ruins at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the nation ruled by a horribly corrupt Church and monarchy (essentially one and the same bureaucracy) with much of the country occupied by foreign troops and brigands. There is seemingly no hope for France’s salvation until a young woman rises from the lowest ranks of society to set the nation free.

To write this book, Twain learned to speak and read French, spent years studying the life of Joan of Arc, pored over the historic records of her time, and went to France to retrace the steps of Joan’s life and study the original transcripts of Joan’s heresy trial that led to her being burned at the stake. In his novel, Twain depicts Joan as intuitively brilliant, mysteriously strong, and endlessly resourceful. He suggests that Joan’s phenomenal strength and wisdom derive from a deep and loving connection to the earth and through direct communications with God. Twain’s Joan has no interest in personal success or proving herself the physical equal of men. She is pragmatic, honest, and wholly intent on making life better for all her countrymen.

At the heart of Twain’s quotation is the expression exact equality. I find his inclusion of the adjective exact to be the most original part of his proclamation, though a hundred years ago in America the entire remark would have been revolutionary.

The feminist movement that gathered momentum and grew large in the 1960’s and 70’s addressed social, economic, and sexual inequalities, with exact equality an ideal to be strived for, though certainly never realized. As far as I am aware, the feminist movement paid little attention to spiritual equality, and this, I think, proved to be a disastrous oversight—not that there was ever a comprehensive plan guiding the movement. When I speak of spiritual equality, I am not referring to women struggling to gain the right to become ministers and rabbis and priests in the various patriarchal religious systems, but to an active recognition of the common humanity of men and women transcendent of gender.

Today, fifty years after the feminist movement burst into the mainstream, the corporate media—which I view as our contemporary version of the omnipresent Church of Joan’s time—is more pervasive and dominant than ever and uses every means imaginable to control our bodies, psyches, and spirits, while the American economy is largely in ruins and our nation is now ruled by a totally corrupt oligarchy of wealthy crooks. And I wonder if there could possibly be a connection between the feminist movement and the subsequent ruination of our society by the male overlords, if you will permit me to give those shadowy villains a medieval moniker. I wonder why, with all the fabulous momentum of the gay, feminist, and civil rights movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, has equality between men and women, let alone exact equality, eluded us, and is, by many measures, rapidly regressing to the inequality that defined our society barely two generations ago? Could this moral decline be intrinsically related to the feminist movement and the backlash (see Susan Faludi) sparked among the corporate elite and reflected in the machinations of our government and media? I think so, and I think Twain’s Joan of Arc, in a roundabout way, posits a credible explanation for why, at least in part, this may be so.

Disclaimer: I grew up with two brilliant older sisters, a brilliant mother, and a not-so-brilliant but oppressive know-it-all father. I knew from an early age that women were easily the equal of men in every way except in terms of brute strength, and I saw how the creativity and intelligence and sensitivity of women was a threat to the supremacy of men who were in no way equal to such women. That is to say, my family reflected the greater reality of our male-dominated society. I identified more with my mother and sisters than with vader, thus I grew up a champion of women despite the societal stigma against such championing.

Addendum to disclaimer: My novel Ruby & Spear, published in 1996, is full of powerful female characters. The publisher, Bantam, one of the large corporate agencies of cultural control, was aghast at the strength and independence of my female characters and asked that I tone them down to make them “more acceptable to the reading public.”

Bantam or any of the current corporate publishers wouldn’t know what to do with Twain’s Joan of Arc, for she is so incredibly strong that by today’s standards she is a super hero, with one notable exception: her feats were real and historically undeniable. I note that Twain’s Joan is not called by God to liberate women, but to liberate all those suffering under the yoke of cultural and spiritual oppression. Modern feminism, while justifiably excoriating the patriarchal systems underpinned by the world’s major religions, unfortunately made villains of men in general and thereby alienated a vast army of potential male allies. Millions of men who loved women, truly loved women as people and women, were so often characterized as sexist pigs, agents of the patriarchy, and much worse, that they either turned against their accusers or became indifferent to women’s liberation. And the real enemies of women (those dastardly overlords) gleefully capitalized on this painful schism and used it, I believe, to hold our society back from an equality of the sexes that would have ushered in a new age of social dynamism and egalitarianism. Women striving for equality were, in essence, characterized by the popular media as men haters, which characterizations resounded in the collective unconscious.

Twain’s Joan of Arc did not misplace her enmity. She recognized and connected with the souls of all people, men and women, and was thus able to rouse a depressed and severely wounded population to oust the foreign occupiers. Indeed, so formidable was Joan’s power and influence, so threatening was she to the corrupt status quo, that very shortly after her miraculous military victories, the Church moved swiftly to convict her of witchcraft, sorcery, and alliance with Satan. How else to explain the miraculous successes of a mere woman?

My favorite part of Twain’s novel is the trial of Joan of Arc, wherein despite terrible privation and unspeakable cruelty at the hands of her captors, Joan daily repulsed the verbal and intellectual attacks of the most brilliant minds the church could muster against her. Joan’s triumph is recorded for all time in the transcripts of her trial. Unable to surpass Joan’s astonishing and inexplicable grasp of the most esoteric aspects of religious law, her enemies resorted to starving her, torturing her, and forcing her to sign a false confession so they could at last burn her at the stake. She was nineteen when the Catholic hierarchy killed her and shortly thereafter canonized her.

Some fifteen years ago, a wise woman said to me, “So now we’ve got women’s retreats and men’s retreats, everybody getting in touch with their inner woman and their inner man, which is all well and good, but the real revolution comes when men and women unite their spirits to experience our larger purpose here. As long as we define ourselves first as men or women, and only secondarily as human beings, we are too easily divided and conquered.”

John Trudell, the potent American Indian thinker, frequently invokes this same idea. Unless we think of ourselves first and foremost as human beings, and men and women and black and white and Indian and European second, the overlords will use these divisive self-perceptions to keep us from uniting. We are all earthlings, not Americans or Germans or Iranians or Africans, but human.

Exact equality between man and woman may seem an impossible idea. Men and women cannot be exactly physically equal. Indeed, the latest research strongly indicates that men and women have very different operating systems installed in our cranial computers, so to speak. I make the assumption Twain was speaking of spiritual equality, and exact equality means that we all have exactly the same value; each of us is priceless. Until we reshape our social institutions and our personal behavior to support this very reasonable concept of exact equality, our civilization will never approach perfection. In spiritual union, I and Thou become We. Inseparable. Exactly equal. 

 

Todd’s novel Under the Table Books will be published on May 18.