Cee’s black and white challenge this week leaves the topic open. So, it seems a great time to make a mosaic of favorite monochrome images. I’ve only recently begun to really like (some) of my black and white work.
There is a vocal segment in America that seems to spend most of their time and energy preoccupied with other people’s sex lives and reproductive practices. The issues that make their blood boil have to do with sex education in schools (a no-no except for abstinence), contraceptives and abortion, gay rights and now transgender bathroom use. This last one is a horrifying mixture of anatomical, sexual, and scatological prurience!
I’m not the first to find this disturbing. Sex and reproduction (and going to the bathroom) should be the most private parts of our lives. My question is why is this a predominantly American obsession?
Western Europe (and Japan ) seem to have a much more relaxed approach to all things sexual. I remember my shock at watching TV in England and Europe for the first time, as long as 30 years ago. Nudity is common in prime time and on mainstream networks. Graphic depictions of sex (with the concomitant nudity) are also common. So are open discussions of sex, sex toys, sexual preferences, etc. on talk shows and news shows. Sex is considered a normal part of everyday life and sexual preferences are considered to be varied and generally acceptable. In Poland, all public bathrooms are unisex, shared comfortably by men and women, just like bathrooms in private homes.
So what separates us from the rest of the civilized world on this issue? I believe it’s the Puritans. England considered the strict anti-sex and anti-pleasure platform of the Puritans to be totally whackadoodle! They were marginalized and discriminated against, even by English Catholics. (Remember from the series “The Borgias”, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, even Popes were married, had mistresses and openly had children out-of-wedlock).
The discrimination of the Puritans in England caused them to leave in droves and start a new society in a new world, in their image. I don’t think America has ever shaken these rigid and repressive beginnings.
Maybe after another generation or two of naked selfies and crotch shots Americans will stop preaching repression, shame and judgment regarding any form of sexual expression. Or are we heading way too far into the TMI zone? Only time will tell.
The Class of South Pacific, by Rich Paschall
It seems like an odd thing to say to high school or college graduates, and yet we say it all the time. Students are probably listening to graduation speeches in wonder, perhaps even shock at this notion. There it is, however, an oft-repeated idea that older folks are selling to the young.
“These are the best years of your life,” some may exclaim. Others may narrow it down to tell students, “You will look back on this as the best year of your life.” The best year?
It was a long time ago, and I can not recall specifically what I heard at my various graduations, but I am pretty sure the idea was sold to me somewhere. “How can this be?” graduates may ask themselves. “What about the next 60 years? You mean to say, ‘this is it’?”
Are these youthful years the best years of our lives? Is this where we had the best times, best friends, best dances and concerts and music and well, everything? The answer is a surprising yes, and no.
When I was in third year of high school I learned that DePaul Academy would be closing and we would all be shipped off to another area high school. To be perfectly honest, I did not like this a bit. Despite the tough discipline of my school and the fear of 4th year Latin, I wanted to go to a similar environment. However, the school where I applied to go to for 4th year would not take any incoming seniors. So off I went where they sent me, bound to make the best of it.
There were a few familiar faces at the new school, some were transfers, some I knew from grade school. There were also dances and plays. They had a fine arts department (something lacking at the all boys academy) and teachers who seemed to care about you as well as your studies. I took drama, not fourth year Latin. I came, I saw, I took something else.
The social activities meant more opportunities to make friends. The interaction was an education itself. Soon there was a group of us that hung together a lot, and some of us still do.
The most remarkable part of this transition was the “Senior Class Play.” Yes, so many students wanted to take part, it was just for seniors, as in 17 and 18-year-old students. I got the nerve to audition. I have no idea what I sang. Everybody was in the show so it did not matter that a hundred of us showed up. We were going to do South Pacific. I was rather unaware of it.
Aside from learning the art of theater (Project, Enunciate, Articulate, Stand up straight), I learned about the classic story of war, hate, prejudice and, of course, love. Learning to play our parts was important. We were commanded to be professional in everything. We also learned a story that held a dramatic lesson in life.
When the movie starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi and Ray Waltson was re-released, we ran off to see it. In subsequent years, we saw several community theater productions as well as professional versions of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical. We grew to love the theater and the lessons that such musicals could bring to us. We learned why fine arts were so important in the schools.
So we were fortunate. We had a positive experience and a good education. We learned our lessons in the halls as well as the classroom, in the gym which was also our auditorium. We signed one another’s yearbooks and held on to them like they were made of gold. But was it the best year of my life? If so, what about all the intervening years?
It is an interesting paradox that you can not adequately explain to an 18-year-old graduate. Yes, it was the best year up to that point, and it will always remain so. Nothing can ever take away those memories, so hopefully they are all positive. Those lessons of love and life will influence everything from that point on.
While you are busy making new memories, a career, a family perhaps, and new friends, they will all be measured against “the best year of your life,” whether it is 18 or 21. Some friends may be better, some lessons may be better, some experiences may be better, but they will all be measured against those moments in youth when you discovered who you were and where you were going. The quality of future friendships must stand up to those already at hand.
If you have a South Pacific in your memory bank, you will tell people all across the (hopefully) many generations that come through your life how this was a great experience. You may say it was best time ever. If your younger friend looks sorry that your best times were so far back, remind them to enjoy what they have because it will be the springboard to everything else. It will be their touchstone.
Every spring, without fail for these many decades, the change of seasons hits me like some great coming of age story. My imagination calls up images of Bali Hai and I hear echoes of “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” in the distance. I once again feel “Younger Than Springtime” and every night is “Some Enchanted Evening.” Whenever I look back to the Class of South Pacific, I can also look forward with a lot of “Happy Talk” for everyone who will listen.
In a different context, WordPress asked us to share our first post. Well, actually, this isn’t my first post, but it’s the closest thing to the first I’ve retained in archives. Though I started blogging in February 2012, I didn’t really get into it until May. This was published May 22, 2012. It’s too long and rambling, but I’ll let it stand, minus a few typos.
Note that I’m away through tomorrow, so if I don’t answer comments, it’s because I did not bring my computer.
I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now … any God I might be willing to worship would not care what ritual was used or in what language we spoke our vows. I really believe everyone has the right to live life as they want, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want.
All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.
Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it. I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though still have an attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass. And as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.
When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.
Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thankfully we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married. I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbiters of what constitutes a family.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”
The bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost along the way. Pity because it’s not less important than the rest. It may be the most important. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy? Gay, straight, old, young … we deserve the right to marry who we choose and be happy.
If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group not allowed to marry? How about people who are too old to make babies? Can they marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.
You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like, but if it’s so clear what God wants, why all the religious debate — not to mention wars — for thousands of years?
Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want to. Or not. Be happy.
I have no opinion on an afterlife. I don’t know. Neither do you. You can believe what you like but you don’t know anything because God doesn’t talk to you. Or me. Make this life a good one. It’s the only one you know for certain you’ve got.
Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe with both hands and don’t let go until you’ve squeezed that last bit of joy from your world!
I was a reader as a little kid and I read all the time. I was voracious and pretty much devoured books, as many as a dozen a week. My mother firmly believed in letting me read everything, without any kind of censoring. And so, once she had a near-to-violent confrontation with a local librarian who had refused to let me read stuff that wasn’t in the “children’s” section of the library. I was 9 or 10 and the librarian had placed the adult section “off-limits” to me.
I remember my mother standing there, furious (she didn’t get mad much or often) yelling (she didn’t yell, either): “YOU WILL LET MY DAUGHTER READ ANYTHING SHE LIKES. YOU WILL NOT CENSOR MY DAUGHTER! SHE’S SMARTER THAN YOU ANYWAY. HOW DARE YOU!” Amazingly, it worked. She was definitely physically more imposing when she was enraged.
Now, about “Epitome.” I had read the word in books, but I had never heard it in a sentence, so when I finally used it, I call it eppy-tome. It was a conversation stopper as everyone tried to decipher what it was I was trying to say.
I also called Tucson, Arizona “Tuckson.” Another case of not connecting the pronounced name “TOO-sahn” with the printed Tucson. Now you can look everything up, including pronunciation, on the internet, bu we didn’t have an internet. And anyway, if you don’t know you’re pronouncing it wrong in your head, why would you look it up?
You know I’m right.
I stood there by the side of the highway, hands in the air as the masked bandit grabbed the gold shipment. Now the bastard was demanding any personal property belonging to passengers which might be worth selling.
I was pissed. Really mad. Steal all the corporate gold you want, but I don’t have anything extra to help fund your wacky adventures as a highwayman.
I balked. “How about this?” I cleverly asked, proffering forth my favorite gardening fork. With the matching spade and trowel. He was not having any of it.
I suggested he do something painful and probably anatomically impossible. I could see his rage mounting.
It was all delay on my part. We were just outside of Tombstone. I knew the Earps were going to be on their way, if not to save us, then to steal from the bandits what they’d already stolen.
It’s important to have a plan.
A King Brothers Dilemma, by Rich Paschall
The meeting of the secret Political Action Committee formed by the King Brothers was about to conclude and no one was happy. Two years earlier they had planned to capture the Congress and then the Presidency. As luck would have it, they also saw the possibility of controlling the Supreme Court as well.
“Just imagine it,” Chauncey King said to his brother before the meeting, “we could control all three branches of government. If that old guy did not drop dead at our resort last month, he would have given us what we needed.” They still hoped to delay the next justice until they could actually influence the appointment.
While the Political committee had done a great job in the off-year election, their negative messages were beginning to backfire. They had been telling the public for years that Washington D.C. was a problem and the President’s party had to go. Why should it be a surprise when people began to hate the workings of capitol politicians, including many of their special, pet congressmen.
Worse yet, the few they felt they could support for President were well behind in the polls and dropping out one by one. A rogue candidate, not of the regular party, was leading in the caucuses and primaries by using the very negative rhetoric the King Brothers had been trying to perfect.
Over the past years, as the economy improved, the King Brothers dispatched their favorite politicians and “news reporters” to claim that things were still bad. When gas prices went down, they blamed the President for lack of oil exploration. When the stock market improved, they claimed the business climate was bad. There was no positive story that they could not spin in a negative fashion. As the country got better, they convinced people through campaigns and political “reporting” that things were worse than ever.
Now an outsider was taking over the party, contrary to their original scheme. It did not seem the King Brothers and their billionaire friends could buy him off. They also could not find a candidate strong enough to overtake the front-runner. This meant the good old boys at the meeting could not be convinced to get behind just one candidate. They had a LOT of money to spend on the campaign, just where should they spend it? No candidate delighted a majority of the committee.
Rather than invite everyone back to a penthouse party as originally planned, the King Brothers said good night and headed to their suite at the elegant Wilford Washington Hotel. Others headed to their rooms or left for other accommodations in the nation’s capitol. They were all in the top one per cent and could stay at the finest places.
Cal Rhodes, architect of the Congressional strategy just two years earlier, was pacing the penthouse floor when the King Brothers arrived. The brothers could tell by his demeanor that Cal was not pleased. They had seen this look after debates and primaries, so they knew things were not well.
When the campaign for President started, the boys felt they could manipulate a young Senator into place. He was handsome and made a good first impression on people. With some well placed ads, they thought he could charm his way to the top. However, he could not stand up to the bombast of the front-runner and a few others and was forced to drop out when he got crushed in the primary of his home state. Other candidates the brothers felt they wanted also dropped out, and they certainly did not like what was left at the top of the Leader Board.
“We might as well drink the Pierre Jouet,” Chauncey said of the wine that had been perfectly chilled while the meeting was taking place. Derrick agreed and a servant, standing at the ready by the wine bucket, brought over two glasses.
“You should give Rhodes one too,” Derrick instructed. “It looks like he needs it.”
Since the frontrunner of their party was not to their liking, Rhodes had developed a new strategy and the boys approved. They dispatched the previous party candidate, as well as some well-chosen spokesmen, to go forth and try to prevent the leader from gaining enough delegates to win the nomination.
“A brokered convention will suit us well,” Derrick stated. “We could even bring back one of the guys who has previously dropped out. We just need someone to sway opinion. Truth doesn’t matter, you know, just victory.” With that, they toasted and ordered another glass of the expensive French wine.
When Rhodes returned to the room after watching the latest speech of the front-runner and reading his tweets and social media proclamations, he stopped for more of the precious liquid from France. He needed a large gulp before reporting the latest.
“So,” Chauncey started, “how does Mr. Bombast like our latest strategy? Perhaps he sees we can deny him a first ballot victory at the convention.”
Rhodes looked rather pale and did not exactly know where to start. “Well, it does not seem to bother him at all. In fact, he told his supporters tonight that if he does not get a first ballot victory at the convention, he expects civil unrest not only outside the convention hall, but inside as well.”
Derrick set his drink down and stared at his brother for a long moment. Their well crafted plan had blown away like a sand castle in a wind storm. Finally he said, “Well Dr. Frankenstein, now what?”