Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Sand Cherry Dreams
Click for deets.

Here we are beginning that bed last summer.

Gopher Proofing the South Beds

Here’s what the whole area looked like in 2010. The sand cherry went in where the rake is leaning against the NW corner of the house.
West Patio Looking Northish

The garden today.

Faust's Metropolis

I am thinking about my last boyfriend, who inspired a world of numinous solitude much amplified by the self-soothing I learned as an only child, and about the boyfriend who inspired my Old Hell Freezes Over Friend (OHFOF) to get into girls.

There is a tipping point, in geriatrix dating, where powerfuckers — of career, money, or girth, the space you take up — can change your gender as well as your class identification. Susan Sontag, in a little noted phrase, said that at some point in her middle age, men stopped fancying her and Lesbians were the only people who made eye contact. The Guardian got her on the record, denying, by the way, that she and Annie Liebovitz were an item:

She will talk about her bisexuality quite openly now. It’s simple, she says. “As I’ve become less attractive to men, so I’ve found myself more with women. It’s what happens. Ask any woman my age. More women come on to you than men. And women are fantastic. Around 40, women blossom. Women are a work-in-progress. Men burn out.” She doesn’t have a lover now, she lives alone.

I’m not sure that men burn out; Eddie Said’s Late Style indictates that it is possible for a philosophical and stoic (git your Montaigne yayas out) man to become hotter than ever as he shrivels. I met one such man in the garden section of Lowe’s the other day, an old Chicano with a Yorkshire terrier in the child’s seat of his grocery cart. Those teeny teacup dogs are the Baby Girls of all the scariest Hispano gangsters here. You see 400-pound Breaking Bad narco terrorist XXXtras stomping down the street with five pound Chihuahuas on a leash. This Yorkie’s brown eyes were as calm and alert and playful as Don Juan’s own. You don’t often see a two-pound meat loaf dog carrying herself with gravitas; you do here, and it may be the finest thing about the Land of Enchantment. (There are also a lot of Hispano guys resurrecting shelter pit bulls with fringed cartileges into lovebirds.)

Columbia professor Said throws a stone at an Israeli guard house.

Maybe white men in the chattering classes Sontag was cruising burn out. Maybe men of color who live to be old are hotter. I proffered the back of my hand to the Yorqui Princesa to sniff, and we talked a little. He said she helped him in the garden. I said I bet she did.

Clearly I’m not into girls.

Well, about the man who inspired my OHFOF to give up white boys. He was “separated” from his wife? Or, come to think of it, not. One way the dating pool of white boys grows skanky for the geriatric dater. He was married. He was Catholic, and always would be married. God was forcing him to cheat. But, as amenable as he and his rusty gentlemen’s pneumatics were to my OHFOF’s liberated sexual mores, there was one thing he would not do. He would not come. It kept him faithful to his wife. The minute OHFOF stopped counting the ill-gotten Monopoly money of his amazing stamina, she flipped the fuck out. And went out and procured herself butch blue collar Catholic girls twenty years her junior, frighteningly smart tranny dominatrixes whose loving lashes did not assuage Ms. Tran’s paranoia about getting a passport. Lack of European travel finally put the kibosh on loving women. OHFOF was truly courageous and went back to boyz after a while not just because women are poor, and trannies have this problem with papers, but because — well. As one happy femme bisexual explained it to me once, while girls may be the only ones who rilly know how to do it, they don’t have anything to do it with.

I’ve known of another Catholic cheater with the something like the same ontological problem as the gender-shifter, and this loser — who could also not afford a dirty weekend away, or flowers, or dinner out — kept another geriatrix dater friend of mine in sexual torment for months. (Part of the geriatrix dating deal is, erhm, patience.) My friend was afraid to confess this to me. As well she should have been. I was mean. I said to myself, Wait. He’s married? He’s broke? And he can’t get it up? MARRY THIS ONE.

(c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

Lena Dunham’s Girls has been on the tom toms for about a year, I think, with spreads on the actresses in the ladies’ magazines and Gen Y buzz based on Dunham’s indie film success with Tiny Furniture.*

Alessandra Stanley, who has had her own Carrie Bradshaw life in Manhattan, comments wonderfully on the differences and similarities between the Sex and the City generation and the Girls generation. Men haven’t changed since Haight Ashbury, she points out, which revolution was withered by Stokely’s observation that the only place for women in the movement was prone. Joan Didion, Stokely’s equally conservative sidekick, quoted somebody as saying the whole ’60s phenom was about Hippie chicks fuck. For Carrie Bradshaw’s generation, coming up just behind the boomers and before Gen X, one could still reasonably maintain expectations of a satisfying sexual encounter, a satisfying career, and summers in the Hamptons.

Author and star of Girls, the Gen Y Sex and the City, Lena Dunham.

She writes, “Sex and the City,” which began in 1998, when its heroines were already in their 30s, placed boy trouble in a satiny frame of glamour, cocktails and pricey real estate. On “Girls,” the women are in their 20s, and boy trouble comes with cramped apartments, S.T.D.’s and dead-end volunteer jobs.

I’d like to pause here briefly, and think about the thrill of subscribing to The Observer and reading Candace Bushnell’s original SATC columns in the 90s. The Observer, like the Financial Times, was a peachy pink color. It had all the news I wanted to know, including a wonderful column hitting the hi-lo, mandarin/Lawn Guyland realms that only Ron Rosenbaum, the last true downtown Village Voice flaneur, could discern. I mean who knows as much about the iambics of Horace, the incarnations of Hitler, J. D. Salinger, Sid Vicious and Joey Buttafuoco as Rosenbaum? What other beat is there?

Sex and the city is the other beat. The idea that people from St. Augustine to Gogol through Flaubert to Mishima go to the city to get some, and that sex — not the dark Satanic mills or storming the Bastille — is what makes life on the sidewalks the very center of revolution and modernity itself had kind of escaped me. And the anthropology that my friends, our mothers, our grandmothers had been discussing, as Bushnell’s girlfriends do, in the kitchen within the 100 years of living memory I can claim direct knowledge of, had finally hit the front page of a newspaper. Candace Bushnell and her girlfriends, like Seinfeld, worked the taxonomies out around the Formica tables of midtown coffee shops. She said it, based on her own experience and that of her clever and adventurous field workers, that there were modelizers and Peter Pan men and that men treated women ruthlessly as a matter of course. How the gay television auteur Darren Starr changed SATC into far more a feral cruising narrative (and, I believe, ripped off Bushnell in the process) would be, should be, just another anthropological field study of men for fans of the Bushnell column. She once said she strove to be Edith Wharton; while Wharton’s nearly Marxist critique of woman’s lot is a worthy and plausible aim, I think the only equivalent of her ’90s SATC columns,is Kingsley Amis’ misogynist masterpiece, Jake’s Thing. Certainly the phallic emphasis later limelighted by Darren Starr stripped Bushnell’s narrative of its more Whartonian affectional and social critique.

Candace Bushnell marries Charles Askegard, 2002.
Photograph by Jodi Hilton.

Now comes Lena Dunham. I am very interested in how it’s going for Gen Y, because it strikes me that’s how it’s going for the boomers, and how it started for the boomers. The point which struck me in Stanley’s review which made life easier for us boomers was that men — and women — were still grateful for, and not entitled to, sex in those days. Stanley writes:

Adam lets her visit his apartment for sexual gratification — his own — and ignores her desires; most of his sexual fantasies seem borrowed from video games and porn videos. He is just as callous about her feelings, grabbing her stomach rolls and asking why she doesn’t lose weight.

Those sex scenes are shocking not because they are graphic, though they are, but because the sex is so unsexy: they are as clinical and coldly funny as the seduction scene of Dottie in McCarthy’s novel “The Group.”

I am grateful that never happened to me. And I am grateful for the compliments I just remembered, reading this piece, and will not be writing down here or making a movie about, compliments that even the most worthless or chemistry-free boyfriends were dishing out to the body St. Francis (and I)  called Brother Ass. They liked him a lot and were grateful and said so. I married somebody because I was grateful, and because he could dance. For about six years I went nowhere without being spooned into that man. That’s the truth.

I also ended the war and invented rock and roll, civil rights, jobs for women, free love, Gandhi, pantyhose (those miniskirts were hell), and smoking marijuana. I feel it happening, as if Gen Y and the boomers are uniting against the truly joyless generation, Gen X. Irony, like Charles Manson and speed, kills.  Be grateful. And if you are, you will storm the Bastille and turn this bad time into a counterculture worth giving up heaven for.
*[This reminds me of nothing so much as what it felt like, graduating from college into a world which didn’t hire girls and sent your boyfriend to Vietnam, watching The Graduate.

[Not to be a boomer buzz kill, but that’s a different post. Someone on Jezebel has just been complaining about boomers bitching about not being able to retire. You try looking for work with an oxygen tank, little missie. And forget about a rent-free berth on this fucking ice floe. You want to bitch about boomers? You can do it on Medicaid. If you’re lucky. Note to self: post on the rise of intergenerational meal-ticket nut-cutting.]

(c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved

Art historians argue, with ample documentation, that perhaps the most revolutionary assertion of the Renaissance was that Christ himself was a man.

Leo Steinberg has made a moving life’s work studying this specially frank way a picture is worth 10,000 words. I can think of no image of the adult Jesus’ genitals. (There are reasons for this, among them, apparently, that Adam had no penis until he had committed the Original Sin; therefore Jesus had no penis either, until the 15th century, at which point his fully erect member could be discerned under the usual loincloth in depictions of the Crucifixion. Or, he only had a penis after the resurrection.) But the genitals of Jesus as a child are freely depicted — with the Madonna lifting his tunic to reveal them, or the baby Jesus himself flashing his cherubic parts, with all sorts of people pointing to them, and Magi looking at them — starting in the Renaissance, as proof that Jesus was not the shape-shifting spirit of the Gnostic gospels or a magic trickster. Among the theologies asserted by the Renaissance depiction of Jesus’ genitals was that the first blood he shed for us, predicting the crucifixion, was his circumcision — which is a covenant with God. Making the baby Jesus’ genitals the cynosure of all gazes helped all the enterprises of the Renaissance claim that we are born in God’s image and likeness. He looks like us. He speaks Italian.

Tolerance for the proud Renaissance assertion that God is human, and fraternal, comes and goes, with a bronze loincloth that is applied and stripped and re-applied as, over 500 years, popes decide whether or not the public may gaze on Jesus’ genitals as depicted in marble by Michelangelo. The art critic Waldemar Januszczak noticed the loincloth on The Risen Christ — who along with the acquisition of genitals, has been healed of his stigmata — in a 2000 piece in the London Sunday Times:

The next time I visited Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, I was astonished to see that Michelangelo’s Christ had acquired a miraculous bronze loincloth that stayed up with no fastenings, baroque style. It was a ridiculous object. Michelangelo was a sculptor in marble. Cheap bronze loincloths were not his thing. His decision to display a naked Christ had been central to the intended effect of this prickly sculpture. Nowhere in the gospels does it say The Risen Christ sported a tiny loincloth. Yet this is what the priestly authorities of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva had insisted upon. By so doing, they had ruined The Risen Christ as a work of art. The papacy of John Paul II was acquiring its unmistakable flavour.

I later learnt that the ghastly loincloth was manufactured many popes ago, and that it came on or off depending on the prevailing Catholic reading of Michelangelo’s work. Today, the artist’s 500-year-old vision is again considered too progressive and shocking for the modern worshipper. The fake loincloth has been slapped back on. Michelangelo’s Christ has had ersatz sweetness thrust upon him.

Michelangelo's Risen Christ, with genitals covered by a subsequent loincloth.

It seems to me, as someone with a modicum of study of the images of children in extremity, that the photographs of dead babies, like those of the Duggars’ miscarried daughter, or the narrative of the death of Gabriel Santorum, by his mother, the wife of the former Presidential candidate, are informed by the pro-life movement’s graphic rhetorics employing images of what they claim are fetuses. The aim of the pro-life movement in using these photographs of children in extremity is the opposite, it seems to me, of the Renaissance artists’ incarnation of Jesus through his genitals. I think what is being asserted by the pro-life photographs is similarly a religious rhetoric, but going in the opposite direction. The Duggars’ photographs, the pro-life fetus photographs, Karen Santorum’s disturbingly graphic portrayal of letting her children “cuddle” the baby’s corpse, are asserting not that these unviable babies are human, but that they have immortal souls. Which should not be aborted.

Photograph, by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, of the Duggars' dead baby, featured on their website.

There are many other tropes being asserted in the trend of photographing and telling the story of your dead baby — “remembrance photography” as the people who photographed the Duggars’ dead baby have called it (warning: that is a website full of triggering images).

It interests me that the smallness of the corpse’s hand is emphasized, both in the supposedly private photographs of the Duggars’ baby taken by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a company which specializes in baby funerary photography, and in the carefully conceived sales object which is a book cover — a book on the subject of the long struggle and death of a prematurely born baby.

What is asserted in these two images, by emphasizing the smallness of the child’s hand with the touch of the mother’s hand, is the agency of the mother not only to lead the child out of a fatal illness, but to resurrect her, to immortalize the child — by never forgetting her, by photographing her, by asserting and naming the significance of her immortal soul as someone whose life was not pointless or in vain.

The connection between the Renaissance impulse to incarnate Christ by depicting his genitals, and the 21st century impulse to incarnate unviable babies by photographing and describing their dead bodies is one I haven’t thought entirely through, except to the point that each is an acceptable theocratic political argument, whose political graphic seems to be unacceptably outrageous in its frankness about bodies. More transgressively,  it is very bad voodoo in its pimping out public iconography of what almost everybody thinks of as deeply private and intimate. God’s genitals and unviable dead babies are not anything anybody wants to look at without violating serious taboos and experiencing deep shame.

I’m having two thoughts here — as you will appreciate, when bodies are politicized and trophies taken, civility is of the utmost value in determining the truth of things. The first is that my favorite pro-lifer, a six-foot Irish girl from Dundalk, MD who used to press fetus key chains on me and argue with me for hours at a time in my days as an abortion clinic escort, once summed up the entire discourse of months by saying, But Jeannette! They’re immortal souls! As if I disagreed with her. As if abortion killed immortal souls. As if either of us had any agency whatever in the lives and deaths of immortal souls.

The second is that the ghoulish sensationalistic narcissism of promulgating the images and narratives is something I can’t get over, even as I understand the deeply mythogenic pathos in the drama of a mother’s grief. Our best and deepest mysteries — the Eleusinian — come from the rape of Persephone and the grief of her mother, the earth goddess, in whose fidelity to the memory of her daughter, and non-sexual obsession, the very type of unconditional love is perceived. Mother love!

Unconditional it is not. The condition is that Mother accrues to herself the agency of God. To confer life and death. To wreak havoc on the seasons, our food supply, and the universe itself if she does not get her way. Is birthing really so important? Or has God given the power to worms? Is parenting something God forks his power over to you to do? The foremost Bible scholar of our time points to a Christian thread started by St. Paul and moving through the monastics, the Cathars and the Shakers, that a true Christian doesn’t reproduce at all.  In the back of my head, I always hear, concurrently, when the ultimate power of the matriarchy is asserted, the ultimate power of the patriarchy. The threat of the sexually abusing father, the torturer of animals. I made you. God gave me dominion over you. And I will do with you as I wish.

I will snatch you, my creation, from the jaws of oblivion and make your most private body immortal by making its vulnerability a spectacle.

Nonconsensual nonimmortality.

Let us return, as it is always instructive to do, to Persephone’s isle — the place from which she was snatched — Sicily. They know, in Sicily, who is in charge. Here is Waverly Fitzgerald describing Mary Taylor Simetti’s tale, from On Persephone’s Isle: A Sicilian Journal, of the Easter ritual in the stoniest of Demeter’s redoubts, an old, old, old agricultural town called Castelvetrano:

Simetti describes as Easter Sunday enactment of the first meeting of Mary and Jesus on Easter Sunday as performed in Castelvetrano. In a crowd of onlookers, Simetti and her husband watch as two large statues, one of Mary and the other of Jesus, are carried into the piazza from two different directions. While the two statues are still out of sight of each other, the little angel statue that accompanies Mary and is borne by a dozen young boys, dashes across the piazza to sway at the feet of Christ, then darts back to Mary, as if carrying the good news. “Three times this polychromed plaster ambassador is hurtled back and forth across the piazza, faster and faster as the delighted crowd urges the runners on to greater and greater effort,” writes Simetti.

Then the bigger statues begin moving, slowly, shuffling forward, hesitating, as if experiencing doubt and disbelief. When they come within sight of each other, the pace quickens, the bearers break into a run and the two statues fly towards each other, almost colliding. At the very moment when they come face to face, Mary’s black cloak falls away to reveal a brocade mantel beneath and releasing a number of white doves that wheel and circle in the sky above. Both Simetti and her husband are moved to tears. Simetti writes, “The emotion that was released together with the doves was so intense, the longing for just such an encounter so palpable. Mary and Jesu, Demeter and Persephone, black-veiled mother and murdered child, release from mourning.”
— Waverly Fitzgerald, Easter packet

We all want to be human. We all want to be immortal souls. We all want to be resurrected and forgiven. And so, without even being very good, or lucky, or chosen, we are. By one another, if no one else.

(c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

Anna Dorfman over at Door Sixteen has an interesting post today for those of the digital magpie Pinterest generation. Dorfman, a top flight book cover designer hired by Simon and Schuster straight out of art school some 15 years ago, is one of the most stylish DIY reno bloggers and a punk ethicist — vegetarian, upcycling, city-loving.

She is often asked what serves her for inspiration. Her response is everything. And then she addresses advice to Generation Y:

….[Because of the visual stimulation of the city] inspirational stimulation can easily become overwhelming for me. I’ve never had an inspiration board/mood board/whatever board—I find them oppressive. Aside from the pressure of influence, I dislike the act of stripping context from another person’s work. And yes, I do do that here on this blog sometimes—but I cannot have it around me when I’m in “design mode.” I show up, and I get to work. OK, most of the time. Sometimes I’m an amateur.

So here are my lessons for artist/designer types, as inspired (oops) by Chuck Close:

Not every decision you make has to be crowdsourced beforehand. Trust your gut and keep it to yourself while you follow through.

It’s OK to strive to accomplish things that may never lead to financial reward. More than OK, actually.

Try to put a limit on the amount of time you spend searching for and cataloging images for the sake of inspiration. Think more about appreciating these things for what they are, and not just how you can apply them to your own work.

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.
— Chuck Close

I read this after twenty-four hours of idly thinking about Karen Santorum and the power she accrues wielding the dead body of a baby, as others wield pictures of the bodies of their dead babies.

Dead babies are a very powerful symbol, as I have written extensively in my work on children as the icons of genocide. I’m not well versed on what they symbolize to Catholics, or pro-lifers, or to their mothers, but I can tell you what they represent to genocidaires and to artists who are the first to try to wrap their heads around the numeracy and finality of genocide. War trophies. Big medicine. The Khmer Rouge strung dried fetuses up around the eaves of one jungle headquarters. There’s more and worse; it’s all about magic.

A lot of it is to be seen in Save the Children ads. I once had a murderous discussion about the unapologetic exploitation by doers of good of images of children in extremity in their fundraising literature. The art historian Anne Higonnet was among the first to note the particularly ruthless exploitation of children’s images by women beginning in the 20th century.

Anne Geddes does Celine.

I want to ask you to think about pictures of dead babies as the Karen Santorum mood board. As inspiration. As precedent what do they command of your today and your future? As guideline for moral action, female empowerment, spiritual elevation, the narcissistic need for endless sympathy, pro-life politics or goddess shamanism?

Saturn devouring his son, by Goya, who helped define the age of revolution, and modernity itself, with this image.

What, explicitly, is the grief transaction that goes on when you publicize pictures or written images of your baby’s body? The usual psychological suspects are:

  • If I take my eyes off the photograph or narrative of your dead body, forget you, you really will die. Your soul is immortal only as long as mortal memory, a photograph, a tombstone, the curiously numinous void that is the Internet, enshrine it.
  • As your mother/goddess I can a.) pre-empt God and karma who have authorized or permitted your death and b.) keep you and your immortal soul alive only by mourning you forever.
  • My sins have caused your death, the death of an innocent, or failed to prevent it. I must work off my guilt by etc. etc. etc.

Giotto's Massacre of the Innocents, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. Massed and disarrayed bodies are an early and persisting symbol of the numeracy and contempt of genocide.

At what point, not to put too fine a point on it, does God say You are powerless over the life and death of innocents and, Innocence has nothing to do with it, and, This whole motherhood/madonna/goddess power trip is not what you think it is and Your guilt is blasphemous and This is one of my mysteries and If you actually believe in me, you need to suck it the fuck up?

At what point does God say to Karen Santorum, the mood board is oppressive? Proscriptive? It accrues to yourself powers of life and death that are not yours to take? Yesterday I pointed out the mood board of the dead babies is iconic, the worship of which is something God explicitly forbids straight off the bat. Isn’t it possible that the handling of the dead baby might be the accrual to one’s self of the shamanistic power of a blood thirsty pagan God to bring you to your knees in fear?

Molech-Leviticus 18:21
And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.

William James, the father of American pragmatism, took note of such a God and his uses to the citizens of a democracy as the 20th century dawned in The Varieties of Religious Experience. James, the subject of a magisterial new biography which sets him at the center of American philosophy and one of the inventors of modernity, writes:

Today a deity who should require bleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to be taken seriously. Even if powerful historical credentials were put forward in his favor, we would not look at them. Once, on the contrary, his cruel appetites were of themselves credentials. They positively recommended him to men’s imaginations in ages when such coarse signs of power were respected and no others could be understood. Such deities then were worshiped because such fruits were relished.

I haven’t checked the latest Biblical scholarship on what Leviticus’ fairly direct edict against the idea that sacrificing your children, your Isaacs, your Astyanaxes, your Jesuses, to God earns you Brownie points — oh, do let’s go there — means to the 21st century.

I think it still means something like, don’t throw your babies into the fire of propitiation and self-regard. I could be wrong.

Once again, as with the first commandment we discussed yesterday, either God means what he says, or he doesn’t, and he’s just kidding when he says the sacrifice of children is abomination. You choose.

Pyrrhus beats Priam to death with his own grandson, Astyanax.

(c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

One of my worst internet experiences was back a while. I was reading this young couple’s house reno blog, and scrolling back down through several years of posts I picked up that they were pregnant. I quickly scrolled by a pic of a baby, propped up and looking very unwell. I scrolled back to find out what was up.

What was up was that the baby had been stillborn. They dressed his body and photographed it and posted the picture to the internet on their blog.

I can understand that people all over the world take pictures of the dead and love them and look at them. What I do, which is cremate you within seconds of your last breath, and sprinkle you on the Gulf Stream, I understand others find sociopathic.

But whoah.

Reading the big profile of Rick and spooky Karen Santorum in the NYT — they brought their extinct baby home, so his brothers and sisters could say goodbye. I can understand that.

Then she wrote a children’s (?) book about it. It is sort of the major plank in his anti partial birth abortion bill. Not to mention Karen’s, a non-practicing lawyer’s, six-figure medical malpractice suit against a chiropractor who treated her for an injury related to the birth. The suit netted the Santorums, struggling to survive on his senatorial salary, taking cash from his parents, $75,000.

The next day, they took him home. ”Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!” Karen writes in the book, which takes the form of letters to Gabriel, mostly while he is in utero. ”Elizabeth and Johnny held you with so much love and tenderness. Elizabeth proudly announced to everyone as she cuddled you, ‘This is my baby brother, Gabriel; he is an angel.’ ”

Whoah. As she cuddled you? Forgive me, I’m not the biggest Christian in the world, but isn’t there something somewhere about thou shalt have no other Gods before me? Like dead bodies kind of thing? And what about the graven images thing? I do understand a body’s being an axis mundi, the rent in the veil through which eternity is pouring, honest I do. But that is an illusion. The axis mundi is you (or God in you).

I’m a big fan of the Catholic Encyclopedia ’cause they work this first commandment stuff out with real sophistication:
The Supreme Law-Giver begins by proclaiming His Name and His Titles to the obedience of the creature man: “I am the Lord, thy God. . .” The laws which follow have regard to God and His representatives on earth (first four) and to our fellow-man (last six).
•Being the one true God, He alone is to be adored, and all rendering to creatures of the worship which belongs to Him falls under the ban of His displeasure; the making of “graven things” is condemned: not all pictures, images, and works of art, but such as are intended to be adored and served (First).

As I said, I’m not the biggest Christian on the planet, but either God means it about the first commandment or he doesn’t. And if God is just kidding about idolatry, the Catholic Encyclopedia certainly is not.

But this is getting close to those diva realms in which people think tragedy makes them better than you and me. I can’t imagine for what other reason such a private consolation — perhaps the Santorums tell their children consoling things about the first commandment that they know aren’t quite true — would be made public.

Um. No. It is the Victorian fallacy Des Pres refutes for eternity in his study of the concentration camps.

Suffering refines no one.

The Gnostic gospels, ruthlessly repressed by the Catholic church apparently for reasons of male hegemony on apostolic succession, have Jesus laughing on the cross. You read it here first.

(c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

I had a friend once who worked in a titty bar. She was the head waitress, which meant she counted out the tip pool and could wear a jacket sometimes. She was a math prodigy, the smartest person with the least education I have ever met. Her deal was cross racial dating with guys who, to put it nicely, pulled her hair. Her idea of glamor was to be likened to Nicole Simpson, to serve boneless, skinless chicken breasts marinated in bottled Italian dressing, and perfectly folded pink towels to match her bathroom.

I think of her often, and what I worry most about is the pink towels. Being respectable will kill you.

The reason I am thinking about her today is that part of her blue collar feminist nexus was menstrual cramps. Or, no, PMS. All the girls at the titty bar had PMS. It was verb. I am PMSing. It was the de rigueur, don’t-ask, don’t-tell, reason for not coming to work. Apparently no boss who requires you to show your tits as a job description has the stones to question your PMSing 23 days a month.

Demi Moore’s 1991 VF cover, voted the number two best magazine cover of all time.

It is what the immortal Florence King, a Lesbian lover of women, called pelvic politics in her immortal discussion of Southern Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Southern woman is the world’s foremost practitioner of pelvic politics. She has more power over men when she is sexually hors de combat than other women have in the middle of intercourse, for the Southern man’s socioeconomic identity and masculine image are trapped in her bonny blue box. Being delicate means that she is both aristocratic and feminine — which means that he is both aristocratic and masculine. This is pussy power in the most literal sense.

Her obsession with her body is by no means limited to her pelvic region. She is launched on the road to self-absorption early in life because the notion that she has the power to drive men crazy is constantly drummed into her.

“I can’t wait till I get bosoms, can you?” my girl friend said when we were ten years old. “You can bump men with them and just drive them crazy.”

…As far back as we could remember, we had heard about driving men crazy. We knew that merely touching a man’s sleeve could turn him to mindless lust.

“Don’t be a lint-picker,” Granny warned me — when I was five. “A woman’s touch makes a man go crazy.”

This, and — dear me, what to call it? aside from a flood — an entire library of saucy, ironic, riot grrl zine books called Flow about how punk and saucy your menstrual war stories are, a kind of icky medical materialism closely aligned to prurient narcissist cervix porn, and a trend among bloggers like Penelope Trunk to Tweet their having a miscarriage at a business meeting, or to post a picture of her naked hip with the bruise on it allegedly caused by her husband, has given rise to the next stage in pinny porn.

I will call it gyno porn.

It afflicts home reno bloggers who may or may not be third wave feminists. I think not. I think they’ve stolen the valorized gyno affect of the serious third wave feminist cultural histories of menstruation, blendered it up with Sex and the City Me Me Me plus the Fear Factor gross vittles ethos and come up with gyno porn. I think the Sexting Generation is just talking about their periods, their prenatal mucus plugs, their aching uterus, their ovulation IVF sagas and posting the latest meme — month by month or week by week bump pictures* — because it’s saucy and transgressive and seems kind of pornographic. I mean, how saucy and transgressive am I to monologue on the fascinating subject of my own vagina, Fallopian tubes, perineum, taint, between really educational and artistic posts on how to craft your own sunburst mirror out of cheap wooden shims from Lowe’s?**


Is it a Lesbian or paganist kind of narcissism thing by which I accrue pelvic power and become aristocratic, as King suggests? Does it make my man a real man, and is it therefore shuck and jive? Is it a class prerogative, a kind of extortionate sorority girl hazing ritual, a blue collar or Southern or peasant thing? The other person I know who does this, that is, delectates on the whole process of ovaries popping eggs into the baseball mitt of the Fallopian tube, and all, is no southerner unless the harder scrabble purlieus of the Black Sea count. She has strange veins of queer female shame and narcissism, as if female trbbl actually made her visible, and transgressively sexy, the way hypochondria works for neglected children. (Shame is narcissism, or vice versa, as far as I can make out.)

It just seems like flashing your crotch — some starlet eating her own placenta was actually the subject of a recent item in the baby-crazed People magazine — in your home renovation journal is, for the twenty-somethings, that which matches the chandelier earrings and the tube top. Call me fastidious. But I do not want my shelter porn adulterated with tedious Girls Gone Wild personal detail.

I tell you what. It is not remotely transgressive. Transgressive is like inviting somebody with COPD to dinner at your house and smoking (Ptolomea in the Inferno). Or a teacher fucking his student (Judecca). Abuse of privileged access. Nothing half so cute or as newsworthy or as accessible as your prenatal mucus plug, of which you are the first human on the planet to produce one and discuss it on the internet! Wow! What a woman!

Lucifer surveys Judecca, home of the teachers who betrayed their pupils, and vice versa, in Dante’s Inferno, by Gustave Dore

Even educated fleas do it.

We are not amused.


*Britain’s Mail Online newspaper website recently became number one in hits due to its gossip aggregate feature, which has no less than five reports daily on celebrities’ “bumps”, accompanied by papparazzi shots.

**A project touted as one’s own invention, and bogarted without attribution, in one prominent gyno porn case, from This Old House.

(c) 2012, Jeannette Smyth. All rights reserved.

Jacob Bernstein, who is, I believe, the son of Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron, has written in the best tradition of his parents’ candor the story of the suicide of Bob Bergeron, a Manhattan therapist who wrote a book about the bright side of gay life after 40.

Bottom line is, if you have made your way through life as a beauty, or, even if you haven’t and yet were granted the privilege of the good-looking, there is a point in life when it goes away.

Peoples’ eyes slide off you. Dinner party invitations — unless work-related or you are part of a couple — slide off too. New friends are hard to make; you get stood up for the first time in your life. And that’s all at age 45, before the invasion of the skin tags, the hearing aids, the night guards as well as anaphrodisiacs such as inflamed toenail beds and contempt for the young and their narcissism. (I actually had someone, a practicing, tight-lacing femme who was grinding her teeth in her sleep to the degree she was loosening their roots, filing off the edges of her molars, and scalloping her tongue, say to me about night guards: But are they feminine? My answer: rather more so than no teeth.)

The last rat-fuck I went to was an enormous soccer-related cocktail party. I walked through the crowd of 200 from end to end looking for friends; and became aware of serious eye contact. It was coming from one of the professional soccer players in a far corner, and it was laser-sharp and as aggressive and hostile a sexual gaze as I have seen. Of older women, it is written, on the walls of urinals, They don’t swell, they don’t tell, and they’re grateful as hell.

I was not surprised when he was later arrested for rape.

The encounter reminded me just how sexualized the universe is, how American social events are now held together by sexuality, how interest in conversation is mistaken for sexual interest rather than an entirely disinterested separate category of art, and how mostly unaware of it I had been until I stopped being cute. Here I flash on the dinner parties of my childhood in South America — at the Yugoslavians’ house where we girls stamped grapes with our perfect little feet. All three generations lived around the courtyard. One big table in the courtyard; grama at one end, grampa at the other, and everyone else in the universe in between. Candlelight, politics, the stars — all discussed by everyone. My mother plays the guitar.

There is a point — Germaine Greer wrote a whole huge book about menopause when somebody laughed at her when she took her clothes off — when somebody says something to you about wearing a miniskirt which you had thought was just a skirt. Your clothes stop suiting you. A stranger calls you on it. At a friend’s 60th birthday party, we touched upon some of these things until one of the ladies said, rather bitterly, But if you weren’t good-looking to start with, it’s not anything like a blow. So. You can fall on that sword early. Or late.

That sense of not being in your own body is the killer, I think. The proof is that it works the opposite way as well. I remember some epic hangovers and other traumata in which my body did not betray me. Looking at myself in the mirror and saying, Jesus, I feel like a typhoid-bearing barnacle on the underside a garbage scow in the Ganges, when it is going to show? When I dream about myself, I’m always about 30 years old and in fighting trim.

Erving Goffman, the great sociologist, wrote a book about the management of spoiled identity, including race and handicap, identifying status markers and society’s gatekeepers, among many other fascinating guideposts. I think it was the poet Alexander Pope, whose spine had been deformed by TB, who said it took him 20 minutes of talking to people before they forgot his hunchback. Virginia Woolf, the scion of three generations of women famous for their beauty, said society was exhausting because you had to put all your energy in your face — and not, presumably, your genius or your pants. Ralph Ellison famously wrote, of being black,

Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.
Invisible Man

There is a way, as Ellison documents, that lack of eye contact becomes soul murder.

I remember the belly rush I got, as a lady of a certain age, meeting a celebrity for lunch and discovering he was unfortunate in the face department. I was feeling anomalous about the post-cigarette weight. (Quitting your vices, along with the miniskirt, and investing all your disposable income in your teeth, is what Nice People do in their forties.) He’s ugly!, I thought, and my stomach plunged as if I were on a roller coaster ride. It was a huge relief. And an unprecedented ambush of an emotional transaction which still embarasses me. I felt something like it the other day when I walked into the senior center to get my taxes done. Somewhere, someplace, I remember a sociable and attractive octogenarian saying he could only “emerge” — put on his beautiful, well-chosen clothes as well as his unrapeable, unkillable social personna — and leave the house about once every three days.

Far from being a matter of vanity, to sustain the gaze of one’s fellow humans is a matter of life and death. Terrence Des Pres writes that one survivor technique in the concentration camps was literally to become unkillable by working to remain “recognizably human”. People who stopped washing and mending their rags and polishing their blistering wooden clogs with carbonized motor oil simply died; all the survivors noted that when somebody stopped washing themselves, they’d soon be dead.

There’s no mystery as to what the solution is. Wash. Polish. Oxytocin detox. Self-soothing. Generativity. Altruism. Spirituality. Pull on jeans. A tailor. A gym with nobody in it under 50.

(c) 2012  Jeannette Smyth. All rights reserved.

Spring cleaning menu #2:

Barley Salad
Not beautiful, but neither would you be if buried in a glacier for 10,000 years.

Part of spring cleaning is to eat everything in the freezer and the cupboards. Yesterday we had corn pudding and cluster beans amandine with Ötzi upside down cake.

Today, barley.

Barley is the mother of all stodge. Cut it with a very bright citrus vinaigrette and lots and lots of well-caramelized sauteed mushrooms.

Barley salad, with mushrooms, leeks, kale and an orange-lemon vinaigrette

1 c unhulled barley
2 c boiling water, with a vegetarian bouillion cube
1 T butter (or olive oil, for salad)
(1 hour, plus up to 30 mins in 375 oven, tightly covered. After one hour, keep checking it and tasting it until all the liquid is absorbed and the kernels are tender.)


1/3 c orange and lemon juice, plus zest of one orange (one orange, 1 1/2 lemons)
Hot sauce, a sufficiency
Whisk in 2/3 c olive oil, saving some 4 T for sauteeing veg
Plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper


8 oz Crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (next time I will do 1 lb.)
2 leeks, washed and sliced
Saute, stirring, in hot reserved oil until mushrooms have given up their juices and the juice has reduced away so the mushrooms can brown, and add to the large bowl into which you have put

8 oz. kale, ribs removed, rolled into cigars and cut into 1/4 inch slices (chiffonade)
Boiled for 10 or so minutes, drained well and all water pressed out.

Add the vinaigrette and the hot barley to the cooked veg, s + p, toss. Serve at cool room temp.

This is a riff on Alton Brown’s adventures in barley.……

And this stew from Bon Appetit which sounds kind of dreary:…

(c) 2012, Jeannette Smyth. All rights reserved.

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