You Had to Be There–Class of 2020


To return, or not to return.  For most, this August and September, there is no real choice; only between the lesser of two evils.    School calls.

Young children will have to abide by the decisions their parents make; many teens will be asked their opinions, and face various sorts of pressure: from family, the school, friends.  Most will end up doing what the crowd does.  And when the crowd turns, they’ll turn, as surely as with a flock of birds in flight.

But for those who graduated among the class of 2020, seniors only scant months ago, whose school year was cut short right about when the fun begins–you do have a choice.  College looms, in one form or another, but there exists a third alternative.  Some people would love for you not to realize that, but it’s there.

You can take a gap year.

And if there was ever a group of 18-year olds who had a good excuse to do it, in these days when college has become somehow mandatory for those who can “afford it” (are willing to go deep into debt,) it’s you, the class of 2020.  “I’m afraid you’ll never get back into school.”  “Your financial aid will be affected.”  “You’ll fall behind.”  Those voices won’t even articulate some of their deeper fears–these statements are only on the surface.

So, do you risk your health, and the health of everyone you come in contact with, over the next several months, OR do you sit at home on the computer, making some attempt to learn what previous graduates went to an actual building on an actual campus with actual professors, among actual friends, to learn?

It’s one of the hardest decisions you will ever face.  But as someone who taught at the university level for over two decades, and has seen a lot of freshmen come and go (and sat across a table one-on-one with countless undergrads along the way,) I have a suggestion to offer.


Consider this:  many of you really didn’t want to rush into more schooling, anyway.  Be honest.  Twelve straight years was enough, for now.

And while we’re being honest: you don’t learn much on a computer.  Some will resist learning in whatever form it takes.  Even if they had a professor all to themselves and tailored private lessons, they’d fail.  But most of you are willing, I know that.  I’ve been there with you.  But this “online instruction”–c’mon, all BS aside, it’s nothing but a way for schools to make more money off you.  In the past decade, I’ve never heard one good thing uttered about any online class by someone who actually took one, beyond “I didn’t have to get in a car and drive there.”  In other words, no one does it willingly.  They have their reasons–but maximum effectiveness is not among them.

Why not?  Well, older folks like myself might be intrigued by the idea, for its novelty.  But you, who never grew up without a computer, are too familiar with digital devices not to know they have an appeal which eventually wears off.  I’ve written extensively elsewhere about the differences between Digital and Analog experiences.

Here’s an interesting example.  See that advertisement above?  That’s Pete Townshend of The Who.  He and his bandmates, in the 1960s, began a trend of smashing their instruments at the end of a performance.  To a lot of outside people, this didn’t make any sense.  Hard to blame them: hearing about it, or just seeing a recording, or the poster, isn’t enough to explain.  “Can’t Explain,” chanted the refrain of one song.

But the sense of it is not logical; it’s experiential; it’s visceral.  You have to be there.  WHEN YOU ARE THERE, Pete Townshend smashing his guitar to useless junk makes sense.  I’m not just talking about an emotional connection to the band, the crowd.  I’m not just talking about being caught in a moment, although all those are true.

I’m talking about an ANALOG EXPERIENCE.  Are You Experienced? asked Jimi Hendrix.

Most of you have been to see a live band.  The performance may have its downside.  That is, it may be dark, crowded, smelly, sticky, distorted, unrehearsed, and the tickets you got may not have gotten you close enough.  But on the upside: unlike a recording, you’re present for a unique happening, untransmitted and with no intermediary, unlike any other that ever was, or ever will be.  Oh, it may be similar in its contours, but that band played that night FOR YOU.  Everything they could do, was for you, and those with you.  And the smashing of the instruments was a direct message–these will never play another note for anyone else BUT YOU.  It’s a compliment, a gift really–mixed, as with all things rock n’ roll, with drugs, alcohol, sweat,  deafness, and the rest–but still, a high compliment.  We all lived together, brief though it be, in the HERE and NOW.

You may never have thought of it that way before, but all those teachers–the vast majority of them for whom teaching is a calling, not a gig–they come in, month-in and month-out, and offer that same gift.  An experience.  Maybe not quite so theatrical. . .but take it from me, something gets sacrificed. . .and a splinter of its essence goes out to each and every student.  Some accept it; others don’t.

I don’t recommend you try to immerse yourself in that experience, in your crucial first year of college, through a digitized internet connection.  It won’t all get through.  Something will be missing.

Of course, I’m neither recommending you risk COVID.  I’m saying, don’t add to the loss of half your high school senior year by layering an inauthentic college freshman year on top of it.

Consider the third alternative: Go to work.  Hike the Appalachian trail.  Shovel snow.  Write poems.  Keep running.  Take some hard knocks.  Play so hard and long that your fingers blister, and bleed.  Whatever–just keep doing analog.  You won’t ever be 18 again, that I can guarantee.  Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar; but sometimes, it’s more.  In the greater sense, we all have only seconds to live.  The time is too precious to spend it behind a shield, be it cotton, plastic, or electronic.

As another rock band put it:

The universal dream
For those who wish to seem;
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme


“What’s wrong with people?” Hearing the Difference–and the Sameness


Seems to me that a few years back, a fella knelt during the playing of the national anthem at football games, and he had a reason–he was trying to say something, though to many, inarticulately–to do it.  He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t violent.  His disobedience was, as a wise man once called such acts, civil.

How many thought to demand: why?  I wonder if he wasn’t hearing the same song as the rest of us?  Or possibly it was the same, only interpreted differently: “the home of the Brave” as a challenge to contribute more than touchdowns?  Yet, who asked?

It was much easier to call him a son of a bitch, a nigger, a bum, a loser, and to call for his job.  After all, what did refusing to respect the flag have to do with racial injustice in this country?

Today, and for the past three days, many of these same attackers are wondering–or pretending to wonder–what a race riot in Boston or LA has to do with a murder in Minneapolis.  And what looting a Target store has to do with political protest.

I might answer: the connection is about as clear as how “To Protect and Serve” relates to carrying a badge and gun, while kneeling on a handcuffed man’s neck, until he dies.

The connection is emotional, not logical.  But no wants to hear about a man’s dread, his fear, and his certainty that when talk fails, violence will come.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable,” warned Martin Luther King, referring to the protests in the era of the Vietnam War.

Maybe the guy stealing a TV from out of a busted store window, or spray-painting a wall near a police barracks, or throwing a rock, isn’t just crazy.  There most certainly is something wrong, something past eating at him.  Maybe he feels, deep down, that something has been taken from him, when another black man can be conspicuously humiliated, denied the rights of all American citizens, and tried by judge, jury, and execution in the span of eight minutes, and in public–once again.

Maybe that guy wants to take something–anything–back, from those who did it.  And maybe he doesn’t recognize any difference anymore between a white cop in Minneapolis and a white storeowner in Boston.  Some voice, through his red rage, whispers: They’re all the same.  Imagine that.

A group of people assembles to protest something.  They do it because they don’t have an individual pulpit or a TV broadcast or a press podium to speak from, as some do.  The U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to do it–peaceably.  A company of cops or soldiers is sent in to make sure they stay that way.  Armed, of course.  And uniformed (because Pigs are all the same.)

If the crowd is a thousand strong, someone will yell something, someone will throw something, someone will ignite something, because of the anonymity the crowd gives them.  Yet this triggers the bullhorn response to disperse the entire crowd, lawfully.  (Because Protesters and Looters and Losers are all the same.)

Violence is an amplifying cycle.  It begins quietly, maybe even silently.  It doesn’t end that way.

We can either admit, in 2020, that King and Kaepernick, each in his own way, had something worth listening to–at least worth considering–or we can continue to close our national ears.  We can ignore Joe Biden’s allusion to racism as “the original sin of this country,” and Bernie Sanders’ more explicit charge of “systemic racism.”  We can boycott Spike Lee’s movies.   Turn a deaf ear to George Floyd’s pitiful refrain from the grave:  “I can’t breathe.”  Perhaps Don Lemon put it most plainly: “. . .as a black man, my actions, my thoughts, whatever I do [i]s being seen as more aggressive, or somehow sinister, just because of this shell that I am in.  I am sick of it. . .”  Hell, we can tune him out, too.  Blah, blah.

Yet it is not so easy to ignore sirens in cities not so far from our own homes.  We can, of course. . .apparently we are capable of ignoring anything. . .hoping they’ll go away.

But don’t be surprised when the next noises are louder, closer to home.

Like gunshots. . .


Say It Ain’t So, Bernie


What a grave tactical error.

Senator Bernie Sanders suspends his campaign today.  His conscience tells him his campaign “cannot win” at this point, and that to continue would interfere with the work of getting our society past the viral outbreak that threatens everyone.

In other words, his dropping out of the presidential race is a practical decision.

But as arch-progressive (in fact, Abolitionist) American Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, The most ideal position is the most practical.

We don’t fight because, or only when, we are sure to win.  Even when we are sure of losing, often we must fight.  In fact, when we cannot win may be the most important time of all to fight.  Otherwise, the Trumps of the world are sure they can roll right in, in bloodless victory.

And he will.

It is difficult for me to question the dictates of any person’s conscience.  But in this case, I believe Mr. Sanders may be overscrupling.  There is, after all, an alternative path for him:


If you, who are reading this, have not read the Federalist Papers, it should not be necessary–in fact, by now, it should be common sense–to see for yourselves that our two-party system is broken, and has been for a long time.  The Founding Fathers, the authors of the U.S. Constitution, intended that a multi-party system be the norm in the new United States of America, in order to prevent, as Alexander Hamilton warned, the dangers of “faction” (partisanship).  For a long time, we had such a system, but in our lifetime, it has degenerated into a choice of the lesser of two evils.

So he won’t be the Democratic nominee.  This is hardly dishonorable, these days, nor any more a disqualification for a potential president than a failure to make the Republican ticket.  It’s a little like saying you don’t want to be a major league baseball player because you can’t be on either the New York Yankees, or the Boston Red Sox.

Perhaps Mr. Sanders believes, as many do, that a progressive third party will only “split the vote” and ensure victory for the conservatives.  This is the most pernicious political lie of the modern age,and an insult to thinking people.  And if there were the least shred of truth to it, still I would say: Take the most practical position of all; TRY IT AND SEE.  Because all failures of logic are exposed in the trial of them.

Think about it, Mr. Sanders.  The best hope of defeating Trump was to mobilize hundreds of thousands of voters to come out of their homes (literally and figuratively, ) those previously cynical or indifferent–rightly so–to the political process. Now, especially now, with the pandemic, getting them out will be even more challenging.  They need a reason–a person–to motivate them to do so.  Is Joe Biden that man?  Do you really think you are going to steal votes from a man whom most real liberals, and for that matter conservatives too, will consider either an Obama clone, or no less “business as usual” than Hillary Clinton (who lost to both Obama and Trump in succession)?

Be an Independent Man, Senator.  For all our sakes.  Raise a third party and kill the diseases that threaten our country as surely as does the Corona Virus: partisanship, obstructionism, and the lie that somehow there’s a difference between Coke and Pepsi.  It’s all sugar and water, and the color can be seen, unchanged, in the toilet bowl.




Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture: The Figure of Death

Cft0R_vWQAQrH5d (1)Here lies a subject that it would take a large book to survey, let alone a blog post.  So I’ll necessarily confine myself to one small phenomenon, far more limited even than the katabasis (mythological journey into the Underworld): the anthropomorphic figure of Death (that is, Death given a human shape and characteristics.)  Not all mythologies do this.  For example, in a Boethian universe (one in which evil does not exist as a force, but rather as an absence,) Death is not considered evil, but more often incarnates as the end of a cycle–like winter ends our calendar year.  If you’re a Buddhist, it might not even signal an ending–but the beginning of a next life, during one’s journey in Samsara (the cycle of reincarnations, culminating hopefully in Nirvana).

So to further narrow our topic:  Death is, contrarily, personified frequently in a Manichaean view of evil (as a force, it exists in tension and constant conflict with Good /God.)  For us, this would mean, most familiarly, a Western, Christian-based universe.  Death is the ultimate manifestation of Evil, from the mortal perspective.  A paradox, of course, since one must traverse the barrier of Death to reach Paradise; but of course, one risks a descent of the Soul to eternal Hell.

So, at least on the surface, because God appears in Western art in the figure of an Old Man (famously in Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel tableau, creating Adam) it makes simple sense to present Death, also, in human(oid) form.  And yet, rarely are the two dramatized in direct conflict, and when a physical adversary is needed, a serpent often stands in.  Milton, of course, famously poeticized a centerpiece of Satan’s host being thrown down by St.Michael.  Which may provide a clue.

Unlike the perfection attributed to Creator figures in this type of world (and also contra many Native American mythologies,) one might consider the theory that anthropomorphized Death–especially thus visually presented–signals an association with humanity.  Specifically, the flaws.  The potential error, imperfect knowledge, and mistakes.  Philosophically, this suggests that Death can be cheated.  An archetypal fantasy.  Cheated, not necessarily in service of eternal life, but perhaps only temporary reprieve.

Consider Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, in which a knight of the Crusades (Max Von Sydow, pictured) meets Death’s arrival with a challenge to play chess.  Asked why, he responds with a bargain to be let go, if he should win the game.  If not, he will submit willingly.  Death, perhaps bored with power, accepts.  Only gradually do we realize the knight cannot (but privately has no least intention to) win.  Death smiles at his ignorance, but Block’s character is in fact playing only for time, to allow several of the minor characters of the film–all archetypes–to avoid the plague which would otherwise take their lives.  Because Death has no experience with such selfless sacrifice, he is fooled by the gambit, for a time–though the inevitable outcome must come.  Still, by the end of Bergman’s poignant allegory, Life has had its hour.

Death is also sometimes portrayed as a Joker, himself (usually male, notice.)  Hermes, in Greek mythology, the Trickster God, had among his duties the conducting of fallen souls to the Underworld, either directly, or to be passed to the custody of Charon, whose boat ferried shades across the river Styx, into the domain of Hades.  The defining trait of mortality, perhaps, is the ultimate joke upon humans, by deathless gods.  This Hermes/Charon/Hades trio would seem an analogue to Christianity, the triumvarate Father/Son/Holy Spirit.

A far cry from Milton, but in modern pop culture, an example of untrustworthy Charon can be found in Chris De Burgh’s 80’s hit:

In the rolling mist, then he gets on board,
Now there’ll be no turning back,
Beware that Hooded Omen at the rudder,
And then the lightning flashed, and the thunder roared,
And people calling out his name,
And dancing bones that jabbered and moaned
On the water.
And then the ferryman said,
“There is trouble ahead,
So you must pay me now, “
Don’t do it!
“You must pay me now, “
Don’t do it!
And still that voice came from beyond,
Whatever you do,
Don’t pay the ferryman,
Don’t even fix a price,
Don’t pay the ferryman,
Until he gets you to the other side. . .
Difficult to imagine a more human characteristic than the desire to get paid, as Ishmael explains in the opening chapters of Moby-Dick.  We might legitimately wonder, what could be Charon’s motive; why the desire for money, in the Underworld?  And one level deeper, why the warning?  Why the demand for payment at signs of trouble?  Will he betray the bargain?  Is the ferryman not as powerful an authority as he may seem?
Or–and in my mind, more likely–is this a trick, a test, to divide the Worthy from the Unworthy passengers?
Let’s go deeper.
It is common in mythologies for a guardian to demand payment for passage (your state government, an ogre at a bridge).  It is equally common to demand a test of wisdom or knowledge (famously parodied in the Monty Python film about the Quest for the Grail.)  Cannot these two possibilities amount to the same thing–two sides of a coin?
Not all tricksters work against the best interests of humanity.  They are chaotic; meaning they are as likely to do so, as not.  Death has persisted in being often presented as a helper (Charon as ferryman, of course, down to the holding of the lifeless hero in his arms on the cover of the first modern graphic novel, “The Death of Captain Marvel,” a visual echo not just of Michaelangelo’s Pieta, but of the famed song by Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”
Beware.  (Be Wary.)  Meaning Be careful.  This is not a command to Fear.
“Beware the Hooded Omen at the rudder.”  Whether in a voluntary katabasis, as Odysseus or Aeneas or Heracles journeying to the Underworld with the intention of returning later, or involuntary fall, as  “so many heroic souls” lamented in the opening lines of the Iliad, it is the concept of the rudder that interests me.  Just as in modern times, when we board an airplane for example, we voluntarily surrender our power, completely, over our transition to the next phase of the journey.    The song conjures the protagonist–and by extension, the listener–to resist the demands of Death to assume control.  (Here I would remind my reader that Christinianity, as glossed at length in Dante’s Inferno, considered suicide, the voluntary taking of one’s own life, a mortal sin of despair.)  De Burgh is advocating heresy here (cf. Dylan Thomas’ “Rage, against the dying of the light!”)  A Romantic would consider such rebellion the act of a hero, a la Prometheus; a Realist, the act of a fool.  Can Death be resisted?
Probably the master theme of Homer’s Odyssey is the tension between when to submit to Fate, and when to resist the fear, stubbornness, greed, or folly of one’s own nature.  Almost as if in co-conspiracy with the forces of Death, Circe, “dire beauty and divine,” (of dual nature) tells the hero, “Home you may not go/Unless you take a strange way round and come/to the cold homes of Death and pale Persephone.”  Fitzgerald’s translation of the Greek into “strange” means foreign / unfamiliar.  The Unknown–the ultimate human fear.  And Odysseus is afraid: “moaning” in acts of “despair.”  But he submits, and goes.
Not all tests come in the form of a riddle.  Circe gives exact instructions (as does the voice–conscience, maybe?)–in De Burgh’s song.  The test is one of nerve.  What makes a hero?  Lack of fear–certainly not.  That would not be human.  Rather: Superiority to fear, when it rises.
“Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil.”
“Baby take my hand /don’t fear the reaper / We’ll be able to fly. . .”
DeBerg’s song lacks a third, climactic verse following its complication, quoted above.  Thus the listener is left to interpret, based on the evidence provided.  To me, this overwhelmingly points to Charon as a true compatriot of Hermes (and Satan,) tempting his passenger to abandon a bargain, abandon courage, and abandon faith.  To tempt (test the free will) is not evil; but the resulting choice may be.  The passage into the next plane of existence is not free, but the coin is only symbolic.  The real cost is one of integrity, even beyond the passing of the physical body.  Thus the true motive of Charon, in demanding early payment, becomes immaterial.  Whether the “trouble ahead” is real, or merely invented, also immaterial.  The only reality is whether the passenger earns her passage across, to the next stage of existence, by accepting the inevitable; or wanders the near shore (purgatory, see elder Hamlet’s ghost,) for bailing out.
This pop-cultural manifestation, then, is a sort of Buddhist interpretation of Christian Death, returned to abstract form: Ultimate, not temporary, Surcease of Sorrow (borrowing from Poe) must be earned, just as life must be earned, by courage.  Death, in human form, delivers that opportunity and challenge.



All You Zombies: Gun Violence Must Become the #1 Election Issue of 2020


Now another century nearly gone,
What are we gonna leave for the young?
What we couldn’t do, what we wouldn’t do,
It’s a crime, but does it matter?
Does it matter much, does it matter much to you?
Does it ever really matter?
Yes, it really, really matters.

-The Kinks, 1984

Hey, did you catch yourself forgetting to think about gun control for a week or two now–because there hasn’t been a mass shooting on the news, lately.  Yeah, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.  Forget.  Because solving this epidemic is gonna mean a whole lot of people who are used to blaming other people for the nation’s problems are going to have to buckle down, and do something resembling work.

Non-Partisan Wake-Up Call 

All you Conservatives: Stop pretending that the least mention of Gun Control is a conspiracy to take your shotgun away from you, leave your home defenseless, and force you to hunt with a bow and arrow.  Just because you saw a “Ban Assault Weapons” poster, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to “keep and bear arms”; you invented that straw-man position.  Your God-given human rights are not under threat.  So cut the crap.

All you Liberals: Stop pretending that because you don’t own a gun and abhor violence that this problem of Mass Shootings is going away, or if it doesn’t go away you can’t do anything about it, and your neighbor who owns a gun is dumber than you are, and he’s responsible and part of the problem, but you aren’t.  We are all responsible, because we all have a part to play in the solution.  So cut the crap.

All you Zombies:  Stop pretending that you’ve thought this through for yourself, and have done the least bit of research outside of listening to someone else’s rant on television or radio, telling you what to think.  Have you ever held a copy of the U.S. Constitution?  Was it engraved on granite–or was it on paper?   You do realize it was meant, by the people who wrote it, to be changed in the future, as needed?  Or did you miss that day in 5th grade?  Cut the crap.



You’d go to the wall, if invaders came to our shores, wouldn’t you?  To defend all of our lives?  Wouldn’t you?  Every person reading this would.  And yet, because the war is inside any wall we could build around our country, you’re just gonna sit around on your hands, and hope for the damn best??

Recently, I was preparing to sit down and fill this space with a movie review of John Wick 3, the thesis of which would have been that such a film needs to be rated X for Violence (NC-17, today.)  In other words, children should not be allowed to see it.  At all.

Which is ironic, of course, because never did a movie follow the formula of a video game so closely: the gathering of gold coins and a slow, monotonous killing spree intercut by confrontations with various bosses (enemy characters with actual names and faces,) with a minor change of mission after each movement, until you simply run out of enemies to kill.  To compare it to a musical suite–some critics have– would be to overdignify a series of acts characterized by having to shoot ever-more-powerful-adversaries multiple times in the face, as the ordeal drags on.

Something, however, kept me from it.  Perhaps I had some inkling of what was happening in Virginia Beach, in the real world; a place I used to live.  I have friends and neighbors there, and hundreds of former students.

Mass shooting.  That’s what was happening.

Of course, my first reaction was to find out if everyone I knew is okay.  As far as I was able to determine at the time, they were.  Okay.  And then the whole cycle resumes: shock, disbelief, relief, outrage, depression. . .amnesia.

Amnesia.  It’s human.  “It happened to someone else, somewhere else.  Not me.  I’m okay.”  It’s cultural.  Like “We live in a society of trade-offs.  Guns are part of our freedom.”

And it’s crap.

The depression that sends us back to sleep after these mass shootings is a by-product of anger mixed with a feeling of utter helplessness.  We don’t seem to have a solution.  We hope it’s finally over.

Only trouble is: it ain’t over.  Seventeen years ago, I walked the perimeter of Columbine High School, while on a summer visit to Colorado.  As lonely and desolate as any abandoned desert prison. I thought the clear air might have something to teach me.  And whatever it was, has haunted me through the intervening years, as seemingly, like clockwork, this disease we cannot rid ourselves of has moved throughout the nation, on an ill wind, taking lives wherever it will.

If the daughter of a Supreme Court justice or senior senator were vacationing in Virginia, and happened to be paying a ticket at the facility at the corner of Princess Anne and the    Parkway, we would now be seeing the beginning of the end of this epidemic.  Because when it happens to you, apparently, is a language we humans seem to understand.  It’s why we didn’t enter World War II until Pearl Harbor.

And that’s crap too.  Because somebody knew the 12 people who died on that day.  They’re all somebody’s wife, daughter, mother, sister, father, brother, son.  Friend, neighbor.  Peter Baelish had a few wise things to say: “Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend.”  They’re not somebody else; they’re us.  And, damn it, it’s tragic because this problem can be solved.

The folks we elect need to do their jobs.  They’d rather argue about whether an abortion law the Supreme Court decided sixty years ago needs to be revised.  About whether a newly fertilized egg, a fetus, deserves life–when undoubtedly living human beings are being murdered regularly, systematically, and predictably now, in cold blood, and the laws that could save those lives are not even being discussed with any seriousness.  

Yeah, it’s hard.  It’s a lot of damn work.  Those people on the hill have to argue and decide: IF access to firearms should be restricted further than it is; HOW it can be restricted by laws, and enforced; and WHAT sort of firearms we are talking about.

This business about stricter background checks (“WHO””) is a distraction.  The WHO is everybody.  It’s everybody’s problem, because everybody is at risk–and so everybody has to give up something.

The WHAT is far more pertinent.

Don’t pretend there can’t be a limit on “arms,” as (not) specified in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  There already is.  As a private citizen, you can’t own an M1-Abrams tank.  You can’t own a functional 50-caliber machine gun.  Do you really think you have a good reason to own a semi-automatic, concealable weapon capable of killing or wounding 30 people in 30 seconds?  Do you?  Cause if you’re afraid the National Guard might someday come to your house, I got news for you: your little cache of AR-15s and 10,000 rounds of 5.56mm aren’t going to defeat the National Guard.  You ain’t John Wick.

By now, the answer to “IF” should be painfully clear to anyone without an investment in a gun collection and several thousand rounds (most of my former neighbors in Virginia Beach, for example.)  It’s really just a matter of wrangling out HOW.

These so-called pre-election “issues” are crap too–to the extent that they are far less immediate, and distract from immediate dangers.  Instead of solving the real problems of our society: institutionalized racism disguised as “border security,” employment statistics manipulated to disguise the fact that real, full-time jobs have been replaced by pseudo-jobs, and exploitation is the New Normal; an entire generation of kids being sold into debt and wage slavery; farmers and small businesses being starved out, to name a few–politicians get us looking the other way.  It’s sleight-of-hand.  The oldest trick in the book.  And they do it, not because they aren’t smart enough to do the real work–but because it’s too damn hard.  Especially if you’re safe: you’ve got the Secret Service, or something like it, and security at home and fences and metal detectors and ADT and a reputation and a big lawn and money between you and the problem.  Then you’ve got no motivation to solve the problem; because you tell yourself the lie that it’s not your problem, or that it’s too big of a problem.

“But if you restrict guns by law, only the criminals will have them.”  You’d have to be 5 freakin’ years old to fall for this stupid line.  Examine a law–ANY law.  Just because some people break laws, does that mean you just give up and not make laws?  Is this how you raise your children?  By this logic, because some people insist on driving drunk, we shouldn’t bother making it illegal, or enforcing it, or punishing offenders.  Brilliant.

Post 9/11 especially, we have given up so much freedom already, in the name of security.  It should count for something we can point to, and say: For this, we made a sacrifice.  We all chose to willingly give up a little something, so that everyone else could have their fair share.  We already do it every time we stop at a traffic light, and wait for the other guy to, as the Declaration of Independence names it, “pursue [his] happiness.”  It’s not total freedom.  It’s what the Founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution–yes, the same ones who called it a human right to bear arms–called Liberty.  A restriction on freedom, to protect the greater good.   When people–regular people–say “Freedom isn’t free,” what they really mean is that, by its nature, liberty isn’t free.  You earn it.  WE earn it.  By deciding what’s really most important, and letting the rest go.

You wanna Choose Life for another person?  Turn off the BS screens and the rhetoric and the class-loyalty and race-loyalty and party-loyalty long enough to realize that choosing bullets is not even close to Choosing Life.

Call to Action: What can we do?

I’d like to lay it at all at the feet of the lawmakers, but I don’t have the heart to do it anymore.  They’re clearly not able.  They need our help.  Not just Democrats, not just Republicans, or Indies, or non-party members.  ALL OF US.

We need to hold Congress accountable.  To do their jobs.  To represent us.

We need to reconsider what’s more important: loyalty, or life.

I swear I will go out and change my party affiliation for this.  Because crap is crap, no matter what name it calls itself by.

As election time approaches, and politicians start sending mailings and shaking hands and kissing babies, you wait, because someone is going to come to you for a vote, from Dog Catcher to President.  Liberal or Conservative, shake their hand in a gesture of peace, and then challenge them with a direct question:

What are you DOING about gun violence? At your level?  NOW?

No promises, no plans or visions.  ACTION.

Any equivocation should be met with a single response:  You will not have my vote on election day without a clear ACTION LIST, not a PROMISE, for what you are contributing to the elimination of gun violence in America.  And if your opponent, of whatever party–Republican, Democrat, Indie, Green, Blue or Pink–has one that’s better, s/he WILL get my vote.

Then watch something happen. . .because, as a wise American once wrote, No matter how small the beginning, something once well-done, is done forever.









The Tragedy and Redemption of Tony Stark



Requiem for a Fallen Avenger            by Shawn StJean

The 22nd film chronicling the MCU, and the culmination of its third phase, is too brimful of elements to treat in a single blog post, and not all of them working.  So I’ll leave alone the inevitable (self-reflexive) paradoxes of a time-travel plot, and the weariness of more multiple quests for magic stones (albeit made here more palatable when sought through time, rather than space, this still feels, in parts, like a video game).  Some are movie-trite and artificial–though still great, for all that–such as the hero moment with Captain (Carol Danvers) Marvel flanked by all the women characters on the battlefield.  Rather, I’d like to reflect on an aspect that packs more wallop than a Hulk punch, and carries more [emotional] heft than Thor’s hammer.  In fact, many in the screening I attended were reduced to audible sobs, at the death of Iron Man’s alter ego.

And this is really the crux of the superior storytelling that has defined Marvel all along, and raises it consistently, since the 1960s, above its counterpart, DC.  Even Clint Barton’s brief, sadistic rampage through the underworld, in anguish over the deaths of his family–clearly an echo of the Batman mythology–seems more believable.  Endgame manages to convey empathy for Ronin, while not aligning with him.  He’s no good guy at that point, and the his fellow Avengers say so; he himself acknowledges it.  There’s no avenging, in the end; there’s maybe possible atonement.  Revenge is only an outward manifestation of anger at oneself.  At failure to protect; and more, failure to love properly, in the first place.  With Batman, it’s simply a willing suspension of disbelief on our part, that unconscious revenge motives can masquerade indefinitely as controlled justice.

Which returns me to Stark, opening the film with a clear visual homage to Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull in his very hand, contemplating his own failure and death.  I might call it the second stage of his arc of tragic development, as a character.  Having passed through his initial phase as a self-aggrandizing egomaniac, in several films, culminating in his alliance with the government in the superhero registration movement, Stark begins a suicidal spiral.  The film does a convincing job of reducing his body to skeletal, and, ranting at Cap about how he was right all along to privilege security over freedom, “Iron Man” tries to tear the electrical heart from his chest, in a melodramatic, verging on infantile, tantrum of self-indulgent masochism.

But, again, Marvel makes us privy to the source of such a tantrum.  In the five years that elapse since Thanos’ immolation of half the sentient beings in the universe, Stark’s life is among the few that improve: he fathers a sweet little girl.  He loves her; any of us would.  And, while the film is still trying to keep the time-travel bit from breaking loose from its mooring, the scientist points out that if history is set right, he will lose what he’s gained in the interim.  So naturally, he refuses to help, at first.  But he wouldn’t be Anthony Stark if he allowed Bruce Banner to out-invent him, so he reconsiders.  But for him, it’s really a “even if I win, I lose” proposition.  His child will never have existed.  And that’s the essence of the Marvel Universe, and, as Stan Lee conceived and ran it, the reflection was close to life.  We suffer.  We lose.  But in those moments of victory lie the kernels of nourishment to keep going.  We individuals may win the battles and lose the war, but it is still worth the fighting, in service to those who remain.

IF you should have the same emotional reaction that I had during the third act (really an epilogue that redeems any of the film’s deficiencies,) examine where it’s coming from.  Stark was never a character we were meant to LIKE.  Arrogant, flippant, encased in armor and thereby distant, his finest hour begins with (another Hamlet allusion) his encountering the “ghost” of his father, Howard.  A more innocent and honest version of himself, is the elder Stark.  Howard confides his ambivalence about the impending birth of his son (Tony himself–it’s time-travel stuff, see the movie).  And in so doing, humanizes himself for his progeny.  What Howard is really doing is humanizing everyone for Tony: authorizing him to see the good, the weak, as well as the bad, in us all.  Joseph Campbell might say that, in recovering the infinity stone in this scene, Tony is really slaying the ogre aspect of the father, in his quest for identity.  “Be your own father, young man,” was advice given to the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s 1950 novel, Invisible Man.  Only with the shadow of the father well and truly vanquished in the light, can a man begin to follow his own moral code.  Luckily for half the universe, Tony abandons selfishness and bows to serve.  Abandons ego.  As with armored heroes going back probably before Beowulf, his masks, his shields and swords, his mechanical and technological shells and weapons, fail him.  He turns to good, old-fashioned hand-to-hand (literally) combat with Thanos to save the day, and the effort overloads his already-debilitated, human frame.

The cost of war is sacrifice.  Marvel knows that.  These films, at the unconscious level where it counts, are advertisements for heroism, but they make no glorification of war.  A real-life small girl, younger than Stark’s daughter in the film, asked her mom “Is Iron Man dead for real?” during the screening’s denouement.  Indeed, he is.  So are the Black Widow and Vision and Gamora.  Captain America really is old now, and ready to hand over his shield to a younger man, who can lift it.  But, as in the Denmark that Hamlet gave his life exposing the killer of the true king to save, the price for redemption has to be paid, as dear as it may be.  The best any of us can hope for is the dignity of fleeting recognition:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”


Seven Demands for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Movie, and Why, and Why Now??


by Shawn StJean


Because isn’t it about bloody time?

AND: All one has to do is survey the (cough, cough) brilliant spate of films that (de)populated theaters this September and October.  Was there ever a better endorsement for Netflix and the wasteland that is network television, than for Hollywood to simply roll over and rely on the fact that people will suffer anything to get out of the house?  I mean, Halloween Yet Again??

I’m sure the realities of Hollywood are more convoluted than insider texts like Entourage and Wag the Dog and The Player reveal to us.  And so there may be compelling reasons against it; some might claim Joss Whedon CAN’T legally (or emotionally, ethically, temporally, blah, blah) make a BTVS movie.  But seriously, did we really need the eighth (or is it 9th?) Rocky sequel, when there are perfectly good–damn good–properties lying around, unexploited?  That people are dying to see (see what I just did there?)  In Hollywood, even in 2018, be sure of it: nothing dissolves legal obstacles like good, old-fashioned obscenely stacked numbers of zeroes on direct deposit readouts.

Now, as a die-hard fan, I’m as dead-set (chuckle) against revivifying this franchise as anyone else, IF it’s going to suck.  And I’m not talking blood-sucking, I’m talking wind-sucking.  So let’s establish a wish-list.  Hey, it’s not like I’m writing Santa Claus here.  Hollywood suits love money.  It’s a natural (as unnatural subjects like vampire-slaying go. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Joss Whedon must be attached.  Change the entire cast, if you must–let those has-beens like Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar appear in cameos as alternate characters if they so choose–but Whedon is the soul of the Buffyverse. No one does a hero shot like him. Oh, and, I hear he knows how to write as well as direct.  Go figure.

Casting is critical.  Here, the budget-friendly move is the better move: use all unknown actors for likes of Buffy, Angel, Faith, Spike, and the Scoobies.  But make sure they aren’t just pretty faces, a la the CW network.  These characters, each in their own way, are more tough than good-looking: Buffy with her mixed sense of destiny, Xander with his stupid courage, Angel with his inner torment, Giles with his world-weary sagacity.

Epic-level plot.  Cf. Serenity.  Here’s my idea: take a page from Beowulf‘s second act (the descent into the lair of Grendel’s mother.)  In the TV series, the baddies were always coming up out of a Hellmouth below Sunnydale.  This time, our heroes must leave home and descend into the Hellmouth.  Maybe someone (Willow) gets kidnapped, Persephone-style, and Angel goes down–typically alone–to the rescue.  Except Buffy hears about it, and, knowing he can’t do it alone, goes after him.  Scooby gang follows her, and viola, it’s a party.  I’d love to see Anthony Stewart Head appear in surprise-reveal as the Head Demon /Big Bad.

Push the envelope.  Hollywood has a way of playing it safe, homogenizing and pasteurizing anything non-vanilla.  If you recall the Entourage movie. . .ah, wait, YOU DON’T??  Exactly my point.  The script had very little of the edge and risk of the series.  It had cameos, it had sets, locations, ad infinitum.  But it was clearly a phoned-in cash-in.  We Whedonites deserve the opposite.  What made our beloved shows so great?  Allegory: High school as Hell, young people as freaks, adults as monsters, power as addiction, the healing power of friendship.  Mythology revisited: women as defenders and predators and not prey, the vampire with a soul, friendly ghosts.  Humor: sexual awkwardness, Spike, puns, Halloween as a day off for bad-guys.

Merge Galaxies in the ‘Verse.  Barring the comic-book extensions, we last saw Angel’s crew facing off against the uber-minions of Wolfram & Hart.  It would be compelling to see the likes of Gunn and possibly even Wesley join the fun.  Maybe split the San Andreas fault from Los Angeles to Sunnydale as the Hellmouth opens wide. . .

-And speaking of verses, How about a Production Number for the After-credits scene?  Hey, if you are a Buffy fan, you know why.  There’s no point catering to the general public on this–by the end, everyone will be a fan.  And guess what?  Might just wanna release the original series on Blu-ray. . .yeah. . .in fact, that will pay for the whole deal, Suits, and you know it.  So. . .

Spend the Money!!  It needs a respectable budget.  We dig special effects aplenty, sure.  But the creative people have to be paid what they’re worth, and they need to be good.  There’s no way this film won’t make it back–hell, half the people in the world will go to see it.

-Release it in early October.  There’s nothing to stand against it.  It will kill.





Branches End: Poem by Shawn StJean

A Caterpillar on a long tree branch, crossing my head level

As I hike my morning away, in the woods.

He’s reached the very end, the very last bite of the very last leaf.

It’s taken his entire cycle to munch out to here.  Not so long, after all, but for him a lot of work.

The tree and the world are full of other leaves,

And other branches, but it’s a mighty crawl, back to the trunk.

He could roll off, to the ground. . .

I’ve seen others along my own tramp, some crossing to their business,

Others dead of the heat, or trampled.  Impossible to know

What will happen, in that direction, life on the ground.

Of course, the way back to the trunk is safer, more predictable.

Sure leaves grow there.  But who knows what bird may land there, as well?

So he waits, on the tip of that long, thin sliver of wood: ruminating, wondering, deciding, waving in the breeze.

The wind picks up; and I feel a big splat of rain on my neck.

Time to go.



Tribute Poem for NaPoWriMo

I have a friend–a real poet–who is writing perhaps a poem per day, this month, National Poetry Writing Month.  I lack her workman-like ethic–or perhaps simply her skill, which improves all the time, not coincidentally, because she works.  True artists of any stripe don’t always produce great work, and the reasons are simple.  They don’t hoard their productivity, the way most of us do.  It flows out of their minds and mouths and fingertips, into the world, to be judged, ignored, discarded, or praised.  Look at the ouevre of any great artist–from Milton to The Beatles and Stephen King–and you will find a lot is not great, that is not even very good.  Because they experiment.  They take chances.  They don’t hold back.  And the great stuff flows out of that same, brave place.

There are so many definitions of poetry, but the one that sticks with me is the romantic one, coined by Wordsworth over two centuries ago: a spontaneous overflow of emotions. . .recollected in tranquility.  It doesn’t mean someone in the poem is crying or shouting angrily, or even that the poet had other than serene feelings, at the time.  It means, simply, an experience that is meaningful, among all other experiences, like a yellow flower amidst a vast green field.  An experience worth crafting, by experimentation with language, so that it can be shared with others.

True artists, in any form, are the most generous of people.  They surrender their vulnerabilities.  Over and over.

I am not such a one.  One month; one poem.  It’s all I got.  I write my poetry, for good and ill, in private places: small classrooms, garages, in the woods, carving it on trees no one will decode.  That’s most of us.

Here’s to the unprotected souls, the poets–it’s their time to sing.



Shopping for Colleges


Despite the pouring rain, it’s not so much a memory of feeling, like cold and wet,

Nor of hearing the plunking relentless drops, or smell or taste, or even what we saw:

A lone girl walking along the sodden grass of the quad, a bright red raincoat

And a black umbrella shielding her.  I didn’t wear glasses then, and if I had

It might have all seemed like an impressionist painting.

My buddy had come with me; a come-with guy when an experience was new.

I was ready to get out of my factory job, go back to school; but he would stay.

We arrived on a Saturday, not knowing any better, and many offices were closed

and most of the professors and students had flown.  It was late May, anyway.

The pair of us crossed her path by chance, converging to cross the green expanse.

“Hey, you guys want to get under my umbrella?”

We exchange looks.  “Sure!”

I hadn’t yet been to college, but I’m not stupid.  The rain was nothing to me.

Once, in Korea, I spent a night in a hole full of monsoon rainwater, on a hillside.

And before that, I trudged seven miles through a storm

so that my first girlfriend could dump me, in person.

So the rain really was nothing to me.  Still, we huddled, we trio of twenty-somethings,

And the umbrella wasn’t big enough, so that we scrunched the poor girl in on either side.

She smiled and we chatted for as long as it lasted, only a walk of a hundred yards.

And somehow we didn’t ruin it, by hitting on her or touching by accident/on purpose

or insisting she give up her errand to the Registrar.  Later I wished we invited her

to swing back around, for coffee.  You don’t always know what to say, or do, at the time.

Of course I never saw her again.  Yet, sitting right there, in the dive coffee-house,

which since then had been replaced by a surgically clean campus computer-lab,

I looked over my cup, and declared to my buddy: “This is where I’m going to college.”

No pamphlets, guided tours, statistics, or Barron’s guides could have shown the way clearer.

Thirty years later, I have no memory whatsoever of the prior month, or the following month.

Can’t recollect her smell, or the color of her hair, or what anybody said.

The gym has since burned down and been replaced, that quad of green grass paved over.

Most of the faculty I knew are gone, and the football field has grown a ten-foot perimeter fence.

And the students are not even the children of my own classmates–some August soon,

their grandchildren will arrive.  Not long ago, in the grand scheme, but a full third in the life of a man.

I’ve walked through so much rain, since then.  And rarely have been offered

a share of an umbrella by a girl in a red raincoat, and a smile, no one within call

to protect her from strange boys.  No one to tell her what the right thing to do was.

Just the invulnerability of her open heart.

I sometimes wonder if women wonder if all the thousands of smiles they’ve spent

on strangers were worth it.  Or if they shouldn’t just have bowed their heads,

and moved on with their business, silently, or raised their eyes in Don’t-Mess-With-Me,

paved themselves over with concrete, and put up high, iron fences.

That would be too bad.

Because frigid damp, exposure under the wet sky, the unsureness about the right thing, are not nothing to me.



























Australia’s Hardest Working Blogger Reviews Cranky Bear Wakes Up


Andrew Gillman, tireless analyzer of all things pop culture via his blog SparklyPrettyBriiiiight, has taken a look at Cranky Bear Wakes Up, the new, illustrated offering for children from Glas Daggre Publishing, authored by Shawn StJean and drawn by Todd StJean.

Here’s a snippet:  “It doesn’t matter that the pictures aren’t coloured; there’s a beguiling simplicity to each and every drawing that portrays the story more memorably than even than coloured-in drawings would.”

Read the detailed review HERE: