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Young Pot Moms

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2011)

“Youth is wasted on the young.” George Bernard Shaw

When I and my middle-aged and elderly Mendocino Elk Albion Fort Bragg peers convene, talk often turns to the paucity of younger people coming along to fill the local ranks of actors and musicians and writers and artists and activists. The excellent Symphony of the Redwoods plays to audiences of mostly white-haired elders and is itself fast becoming an ensemble of elders, ditto the local theater companies, ditto the legions of Mendocino artists and social activists. People under fifty in audiences and at art openings hereabouts stand out as rare youngsters; and the question is frequently asked with touching plaintiveness, “Will it all end with us?”

“The supply of good women far exceeds that of the men who deserve them.” Robert Graves

A few days ago I was waiting my turn at the one and only cash dispensing machine in the picturesque and economically distressed village of Mendocino, my home town, and I couldn’t help noticing that the woman using the machine was young (under forty), expensively dressed, and pushing the appropriate buttons with an ambitious energy that made me tired.

When it was my turn to stand before the cash dispensary, I noticed that the young woman had declined to take her receipt, which hung like a punch line from the slot of the robot. Being a hopeless snoop, I took possession of the little piece of paper, affixed my reading glasses, and imbibed the data. Did my eyes deceive me? No. This young woman had a cash balance in her Savings Bank of Mendocino checking account of…are you sitting down?…377,789 dollars.

In a panic—dollar amounts over four figures terrify me—I turned to see if her highness was still in sight, and there she was climbing into a brand new midnight blue six-wheel pickup truck the size of a small house, her seven-year-old companion, a movie-star pretty girl, strapped into the passenger seat.

“Did you want this?” I cried, wildly waving the receipt.

She of great wealth slowly shook her head and smiled slyly as if to say, “That’s nothing. You should see the diamonds in my safety deposit box.”

Staggered by my encounter with this local femme Croesus, I wandered toward Corners of the Mouth hoping to find my eensy teensy rusty old pickup parked there, and further hoping a little overpriced chocolate would calm me down. My truck was not there, but I didn’t panic. I only park in one of four places when I drive into the village, so I was confident I would eventually find my truck: somewhere near the Presbyterian church or adjacent to the vacant lot with the towering eucalypti where I gather kindling or in front of Zo, the greatest little copy shop in town (the only one, actually, and not open on weekends.)

In Corners, the cozy former church, I came upon three young (under forty) women, each in jeans and sweatshirt, each possessed of one to three exuberant latter day hippie children. These lovely gals were gathered near the shelves of fabulous fruit comparing notes on diet, marriage, motherhood, and who knows what. Beyond this trio of young moms, and partially blocking my access to the chocolate bars, were two of the aforementioned latter day hippie children, a very cute snot-nosed four-year-old redheaded girl wearing a bright blue dress, and an equally cute roly-poly snot-nosed five-year-old blond boy wearing black coveralls and red running shoes.

The boy, I couldn’t help but overhear, was trying to convince the girl to secure some candy for him because his mother wouldn’t buy candy for him, but the girl’s mother would buy the candy because, according to the boy, “Your mom let’s you have anything you want, and my mom won’t,” which, the boy indignantly pointed out, was not fair.

“But my mom will know it’s for you,” said the girl so loudly that everyone in the store could hear her, “because I don’t like that kind.”

I reached over their innocent little heads and secured a chunk of 85% pure chocolate bliss flown around the globe from England, and feeling only slightly immoral to be supporting the highly unecological international trafficking of a gateway drug (chocolate is definitely a gateway drug, don’t you think?) I headed for the checkout counter where two of the aforementioned young moms were purchasing great mounds of nutritious goodies.

Remember, I was still reeling from my encounter with she of the massive blue truck who had enough money in her checking account for my wife and I to live luxuriously (by our Spartan standards) for the rest of our lives, should we live so long, when Young Mom #1 took from the front pocket of her form-fitting fashionably faded blue jeans a wad of hundred-dollar bills that would have made a mafia chieftain proud, and peeled off three bills to pay for six bulging bags of vittles.

The clerk didn’t bat an eye, ceremoniously held each bill up to some sort of validating light, and made small change.

Meanwhile, Young Mom #2 had stepped up to the other checkout counter and proceeded to pay for her several sacks of groceries from a vast collection of fifty-dollar bills which she pulled from her pockets like a comedic magician pulling so many handkerchiefs from her coat that it seemed impossible she could have crammed so much stuff into such a small space.

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” Bo Derek

Further frazzled by the sight of so much filthy lucre, I stumbled to the post office to buy stamps and see if Sheila wanted to talk a little Giants baseball. Ahead of me at the counter stood a beautiful young (under forty) mom with one of her cute little kids sitting on the counter picking his nose, her other slightly larger cute little kid standing on the floor, embracing his mother’s leg while sucking his thumb. The beautiful young mom placed a pile of brand new hundred-dollar bills on the counter, a pile as thick as a five-hundred-page novel, and proceeded to buy a dozen money orders, each order (I couldn’t help but overhear) for many thousands of dollars, and each order duly noted in a leather-bound notebook.

The thumb-sucking lad clinging to his mother’s leg looked up at me and I made a funny face at him. He removed his thumb and half-imitated my funny face. So I made another funny face. He laughed and patted his mother’s leg. “Mama,” he gurgled. “He funny.”

“Not now Jacarandaji,” she said, keeping her focus on money matters. “We’ll go to Frankie’s in just a little while.”

Jacarandaji smiled at me, daring me to make another funny face, which I did. Jacarandaji laughed uproariously, which caused his nose-picking brother to stop picking and ask, “Why you laughing?”

“He funny,” said Jacarandaji, pointing at me.

At which moment, the beautiful young mom turned to me, smiled sweetly (ironically?) and said, “You want’em? You can have’em.” And then she gave each of her boys a hug, saying, “Just kidding. Mama’s only kidding.”

“Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic.” Norman Cousins

Who are these young (under forty) moms? They are pot moms, their wealth accrued from the quasi-legal and/or illegal growing of marijuana and the almost surely illegal sale of their crop to feed the insatiable appetite for dope that defines a robust sector of the collective American psyche. Many of these moms have husbands. Many of these moms have college degrees. And all of these moms have decided that it makes much more emotional and economic sense to grow and sell pot than to work at some meaningless low-paying job.

And let them grow pot, say I, so long as they don’t carry guns and shoot at people, and so long as they don’t have dangerous crop-guarding dogs that might escape and attack me or my friends as we’re riding by on our bicycles or walking by minding our own business. What I care about is this: will their children grow up to fill the ranks of the aging musicians and actors and artists and writers and activists who define the culture of our far-flung enclave? Or will those snot-nosed cuties grow up spoiled and arrogant and not much good for anything except growing dope, which will almost surely be legal by the time they’re old enough to join those aforementioned ranks, so then what will they do to make easy money?

Hear me, ye young pot moms. The lives you are leading and this place where you are leading those lives are rare and precious beyond measure. Thus it is your sacred duty to strictly limit the garbage your children watch on television and on computers. It is your sacred duty to give your children plenty of Mendelssohn and Stevie Wonder and Mozart and Joni Mitchell and Brahms and Cole Porter and Eva Cassidy and Richard Rogers and Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles and Nina Simone and Gershwin, to name a few. And beyond Harry Potter and the corporate guck that passes for children’s literature, at least give them Twain and Steinbeck and Kipling. Beyond today’s execrable animated movie propaganda, give them O’Keefe and Chagall and Picasso and Ver Meer and Monet and Van Gogh. Use your pot money to give your children not what the corporate monsters want to force them to want, but great art that will engender in them the feeling and the knowing that they were born into this life and into their bodies to do something wonderful and special and good.

Yay verily, I say unto you young pot moms, every last one of you beautiful and smart and good women, your children, and you, too, have come unto this bucolic place far from the madding crowd so they and you will have the chance to fully blossom. Feed your family well. Yes. Excellent organic food is good for their bodies, but do not neglect their precious minds and their generous hearts, for we oldsters desperately need them to fill our ranks when we are gone.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com

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Exact Equality Redux

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.