May 6, 2018

Skeeter Explains Kant's Use of the Word "Apodictic" in the Nickolodeon Animated Series Doug



When filmmakers (or in this case - animated television show creators) want to show that a character is super smart, the go-to prop must be a copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason! A few weeks ago I posted a video of Lorelei Ambrosia, a villain from the film Superman III, reading Kant's book. In that scene, Lorelei does not read from the book's text, but she does give a glossy summary of transcendental categories that may or may not make sense depending on how you look at it. In the above scene, Doug's friend Skeeter does a pretty good job of explaining Kant's mission to solve the problem of what constitutes a universal foundation for all knowledge!

Here is the transcript of Doug and Skeeter's conversation on The Critique of Pure Reason:

Doug: [Reading the book's title] Critique of Pure Reason? What's this?


Skeeter: [Tying his shoes] Oh. Just some book. It's pretty cool. 

Doug: [Trying to pronounce the word] The possibility of apodic-, apodic-?

Skeeter: [stressing the pronunciation] Apodicitic!

Doug: Apodictic principles? What's that?

Skeeter: Well. Kant is using the word oddly here because he wants to prove an apriori body of synthetic knowledge is exhibited in the general doctrine of motion .... [soundtrack goes whacky and spoken voice is difficult to discern] .... apriori knowledge can't be reached by empirical processes but apriori [unintelligible] must use strict universality or apodictic certainty ....

[Doug's  eyes go into a psychedelic headspin and mathematical equations circle him in a vertigo like fashion. We all see a screenshot of Skeeter's bookshelf which also includes Isaac Newton's book The Principia Mathematica. Skeeter's head balloons to suggest that he has a ton of knowledge]. 

[Back to reality] Doug? Doug? Are you OK, man?

Doug: Uh. Yeah. I think I better go.

Skeeter: OK. See ya!

*I had trouble transcribing Skeeter's analysis of Kant but I think I got most of it. The soundtrack becomes muddled between the 35 and 53 seconds mark.*


May 1, 2018

"Only You're Different!": Notes on Gender Transformation in the Marvelous Land of Oz


Tip is the cap-wearing boy in L. Frank Baum's Oz 1904 sequel.
Gender transformation in literature is nothing new. Tiresias was said to be both a man and a woman at different stages of his existence. And by the way, he said that being a woman is better. So when I read The Land of Oz in the Fifth Grade, it was nothing out of the ordinary to read about it in L. Frank Baum's fantasy novels. It's a motif in fantasy fiction to be sure - just see this TV tropes wiki page.

The Boy Tip


Tip is a fictional character in L. Frank Baum's second installment of his famous Oz books - The Marvelous Land of Oz (later shortened to The Land of Oz). While the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Gnome King often get noticed from readers as amazing Baum creations, Tip gets looked over in the Oz canon because he is actually not a real person (well, in the sense that in the story he is not who he seems to be). And his tenure in the Oz narrative is temporary.

*spoiler alert* after the jump:

Tip is the boy-form of Princess Ozma of Oz - a character Baum creates to provide a mythological center to the Ozian panoply of mismatched and various characters. In the book, Tip is the servant of Mombi, an evil witch who wants to hide Ozma from everyone in Oz (for reasons I will explain later - see below). Since Dorothy has returned to Kansas - and the Wizard has been booted out as a fraud - the Scarecrow has become the ruler of the Emerald City and sits on the throne wearing a paper-cut-out looking crown. As a side note, Walter Murch, in his 1985 film Return to Oz, depicts the Scarecrow in this exact same guise, matching the aesthetic of William Denslow's illustrations for Baum's books.

Tip as the Key

In the same way that Buffy's sister Dawn is "the key" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season, Tip is an ersatz character whose only purpose is to reveal a plot point. Tip is not really Tip - he - or she - is Ozma. So in the tradition of the gender bender, no one knows the character's real identity until the end of the story. Walter Murch, by contrast, did away with Tip altogether and he is replaced by Dorothy in Return to Oz.

In the book, however, Tip is the central protagonist of the novel - and there is nary a mention of Dorothy Gale. Baum gives subtle hints that Tip is not whom he seems to be; for example, the boy is described as "rather delicate in appearance" and Denslow's illustrations of him in the book art strike me as somewhat androgynous. He could be a boy or a girl - especially given his mopish hair. Baum retains the Emerald City as the story' central place of reference, and it is a rather big deal that the Scarecrow is awarded sovereignty. In a similar way that Dorothy had to find the Wizard in Oz in the first book, Tip is motivated to visit the Scarecrow in the Emerald City when he learns that his master, the evil witch Mombi, plans to use the potion of life to turn him into a marble statue. By the way - in another reference to Walter Murch's ingenious film (which I will write about separately in a future post) - Mombi is featured in Return to Oz but she is an amalgam of two characters from the books - Mombi the witch, and Langwidere who has a curiosity cabinet of dozens of heads which she can affix and change at will. So, Pip, in visible flight mode, flees with Jack Pumpkinhead - a hobbled together creature formed by the same said potion of life - and both take a journey to the Emerald City.

On reading The Land of Oz, I could not shake off the feeling that I was disappointed that Dorothy is missing from the story. Because Judy Garland graced the silver screen as Dorothy, I suppose people may assume that Dorothy is one of the most memorable creations of L. Frank Baum; however, it strikes me that probably young readers in the 1900s who were captivated by Baum's storytelling were more than likely astonished the most by the Scarecrow. And it is he that shines in the Oz sequel - as I mentioned already - Dorothy is merely a footnote. In film versions of the story Many Oz fans are expecting Dorothy - which is probably why Walter Merch tossed out Tip in his cinematic sequel to The Wizard of Oz in which he tossed out Tip and inserted Dorothy as the hero and combined the plot of The Land of Oz and the third book in the series - Ozma of Oz

And it is true that Baum received a lot of letters from children begging him to write more Oz stories - and Baum would write his stories based on the whims of these children. So I think that is why the sequel to Oz - and most of the subsequent thirteen Oz books that Baum would write - have a somewhat episodic feel. Baum was going for the ride - and he needed the cash. So - in this way, the Oz books back in the 1900s were what the Harry Potter books were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They seized on the needs of the people of the time. The Oz books gave turn-of-the-century folk a story that whisked them away from their own familiar place; I imagine reading the Oz books one hundred years ago felt like going on an epic adventure; in the 1990s the Harry Potter books were a similar draw. But unlike Harry Potter, Baum - I do not think - thought of Dorothy's original story as a saga - which is why I think Tip is so unusual in the sequel. Baum was able to write a book set in the same universe as the first Oz book but cast with a totally new set of friends.

So, Tip is basically a device to lead us to Ozma. Perhaps just introducing Ozma was just too blatant so she had to be inserted into the Oz mythology cleverly so she could take pride of place with the other Oz heroes. Baum wanted to make a memorable character - so he invented Ozma - but he was careful in how he introduced her. He needed a clever nom de plume to take her place and to have her be revealed fantastically by the book's end. Tip is actually Ozma, the daughter of Pastoria. Pastoria was the ruler of the Emerald City before the Wizard came - and from whom the Wizard usurped the throne. To maintain his sovereign rule, the Wizard had instructed Mombi to transform Pastoria's daughter into Tip she would not grow up to challenge his authority. Mombi reveals that "The Wizard brought to me the girl Ozma, who was then no more than a baby, and begged me to conceal the child." Now that Oz is threatened to be overtaken by an angry girl General named Jinjur, Glinda, and the Scarecrow figure out that Ozma is alive somewhere in Oz.

As a kid, the fun of reading Baum's books were the zany transformations he concocted. The head of a Gump is attached to a sofa and comes to life. A hollowed-out pumpkin head is inserted on a walking stick and is animated. An insect is intelligent and waddles about. So Tip is also another of one of these fun Baum transformations. But Tip is even more fun to read in context because when he is finally revealed to be Ozma, I love the genius way he exclaims "'I!' cried Tip, in amazement. 'Why, I'm no Princess Ozma — I'm not a girl'" Tip is both astonished to be Ozma and at the same resolute that he is not Ozma - nor is he a girl. In the book, Ozma has Tip go through numerous denials of who he truly is until he finally accepts that he is a she and everyone accepts that Tip has basically gone through a sex change operation. The Tin Man comforts Tip that "it doesn't hurt to be a girl" and that girls are nicer than boys.
Is Tip in drag?

Baum makes it clear that everyone is OK with Tip's transformation: the Scarecrow affectionally pats Tip on the head, and Professor Woggle-Bug wants to tutor Tip when he becomes the princess of Oz. And in a running gag, the Pumpkin Head bemoans that Tip cannot be his father anymore - which is made funnier when I realized that in the Walter Murch movie Pumpkin Head calls Dorothy "Mom." Baum does make it clear that Tip is not all that ready to become a girl, attenuating the reader's own anxiety about the loss that ensues when going from one identity to another. Tip tells Glinda that he is okay to try being a girl for awhile but "if I don't like it" he can just go back to being a boy. Glinda pretty much tells Tip that is beyond her magic. You can go to being a girl, but there is no turning back - just like in the real world of gender reassignment. Glinda also throws shade on the whole operation by suggesting that only Mombi can change Tip to back to a girl because all in all the whole art of gender transformation is in  making things appear to be what they are not. After some Mombi created mumbo jumbo Tip is transformed - and it is the Pumpkin Head who seals the deal with this interchange between he and Ozma (once Tip). Ozma - who seems to be very much talking like she is still Tip - says, "I hope none of you will care less about me than you did before. I'm just the same Tip, you know; only - only [...]" and the Pumpkin tips his hat with this line: "Only you're different!" And Baum makes the ironic concession that it was the wisest thing the hallowed out Pumpkin Head had ever said.


Apr 9, 2018

Eating Peanut Butter and Onion Sandwiches and the 1989 American Hollywood Film Little Monsters

In 1989, Richard Greenberg, a Hollywood film director, made a movie for Vestron Pictures called Little Monsters. The movie had a limited run in theaters and did not gross over a million dollars in ticket sales even though the picture cost about seven million dollars to make.
I read Little Monsters as a tween same-sex love story

Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold!)

In the 1990s, the movie gained wider distribution on American cable television which is how I most likely saw it for the first time. The movie stars the boyish actor Fred Savage. He plays Brian, a sixth grader who discovers that there are really monsters under his bed. As a kid, I liked the juxtaposition between monster world and the real world - and I was transfixed by the way in which the film jumped back and forth between a staid Middle America suburban landscape and the carnivalesque world of the monsters.

About twenty years has elapsed since the movie was released; and I'm interested about what Little Monsters was telegraphing about what it means to be male, to be interested in "adult things," but to also remain a kid. It's obvious now - but movies like Little Monsters were remarkably heterosexual. In the film's preamble, Brian sneaks into the kitchen when everyone is asleep to watch (what looks like the Playboy channel) and eat a peanut butter and onion sandwich.
Brian has a thing for peanut butter and onion sandwiches
I suppose the scene sets up Brian's loneliness as a kid (i.e., eating a snack in the middle of the night all by himself) and to highlight his burgeoning curiosity in women (i.e., ogling a female actress wearing a bra). As writers like Jeffery P. Dennis have pointed out, boys going girl crazy at twelve-years-old is a relatively new feature of Hollywood films. It almost feels necessary in a film today - the boy protagonist has to have some younger (or older) female foil - he has to be interested in girls - or so we are led to believe. Just look at any film targeted to younger audiences, even the most family-oriented films like Goonies (which was made in 1985) and you can see this narrative element play itself out - Sean Astin's character Mikey is mistaken in the dark by his older brother's girlfriend and makes out with her off-screen. It's a gag - and it is meant to make viewers laugh - but it also presents Mikey, who is about the same age as Brian - as primed and ready for girl-craziness.

White Middle-Class America

I'm fixated on race in American movies older than twenty years. If I am not mistaken, the only character of color in Little Monsters is a short cameo by Magbee, a black actor, who plays Brian's school bus driver. Brian's classmates are typically middle class, his school is fairly caucasian, and the film's adult characters seem to inhabit the mostly yuppie world the late 80s and early 90s seemed to project - material wealth and strategic brand placement. For example, don't you want to eat a bag of Doritos after watching this movie?

As an adult, it is unsettling for me to watch a movie like Little Monsters, because when I watched it as a kid I was not looking at the film with a critical view. However, looking at it now, I must have been influenced in the way the film shapes a narrative about masculinity. I think it matters to think critically about movies we watched as children because as adults or nostalgia for the films of our youth can cloud our judgement. I'm amazed by how many of my peers who have children love having their kids watch the same movies we grew up with as kids. It's funny how the passage of time makes a Hollywood sacred. What's so great, for example, about Brian?  I certainly was not the same as Brian. But I knew kids like Brian and privately I wanted to be like the Brians of the world. They were not especially academically minded but the Brians of my youth had a masculine charm that Fred Savage was certainly able to market - which is why he has become a teen star icon. 

My Crush on Fred Savage

The plot of Little Monsters could be read as a pre-teen buddy flick - or, through the eyes of a young gay viewer, it's a pre-teen love story. If you shave away the film's incidentals the story is about same-sex friendship. When I was watching Little Monsters as a kid, I was the same age as Fred Savage's Brian, give or take a year. So while I did not identify with the character, I certainly had a crush on him (a fact - by the way - which I am embarrassed to admit) because I was also becoming more aware of my same-sex attraction. 

In the movie, Brian meets the monster under his bed and the two become best friends. Howie Mandel plays Maurice, the monster. Brian is instantly drawn to Maurice and a kinetic relationship forms between the two of them. In Brian's real-world, his mother and father are divorcing, and he has had to recently adapt to the stress of moving to a new town and attending a new school. Maurice is Brian's emotional support. The friendship between the two is so intense that Brian is slowly becoming transformed by his relationship with the monster. The more time he spends in the monster's world the more he slowly starts to become like them.

We Live in Two Different Worlds, Brian and Me

Not to spoil the plot, but Brian eventually has to make a choice. When one of the monsters steals Brian little brother Eric (played by Ben Savage - who really is Fred Savage's brother!), Brian has to choose between the real world above and the monster world below. Of course, he saves his brother and is spared having to ultimately pay the sacrifice; furthermore the film attenuates the difference between the two worlds as a metaphor for Brian's own coming into his own sense of self.

Maurice represents the unbridled nature of young male masculinity. While he is ostensibly a two-hundred-year-old creature, he is very much portrayed as a wild boy. Brian, on the other hand, feels bogged down by rules and obligations - which is why in the film's opening scenes Brian is depicted as finding refuge at night with his slice of peanut butter and onion sandwich and the television set. Fearing the negative repercussions of his parents' divorce, Brian seeks solace in a fantasy world that gives him what he desires the most - someone to love.

Queering Little Monsters means seeing it more as a romantic comedy than a family horror flick. At the end of the movie, Brian has to say goodbye to Maurice and the scene is really heartbreaking. Fred Savage plays vulnerability really well - and he depicts Brian as emotionally torn up when he realizes that he is losing a friend. In fact, the entire film is based on this idea of loss. At the beginning of the movie, Brian tells us in a voice-over that Maurice was one of his most special friends and that he is afraid that he will never have a friend like him.

Maurice and Brian Together At Last - Or Not?!

So while the film introduces a girl the same age as Brian as a potential love interest, it is really Brian's love for Maurice that fuels the emotional energy that drives the movie's plot points. As a kid watching this movie, I did not want Maurice to go. I wanted Brian to follow him and they could be together forever.
So I imagine if I were to follow Brian into his adult life, if that were possible, he would always have a jar of peanut butter in his cupboard and sliced onions ready-to-go in the refrigerator. Also, he is a man who will probably never just blindly drink a bottle of apple juice before checking that it is not urine. And he will always love a blue man - even when he is married with children. *Sigh*

N.B.: Watch the movie, if you don't know what I am referring.

Mar 31, 2018

10 Things I’ll Miss about Brooklyn

So I’m outta Brooklyn.

Here’s ten things I’ll miss (N.B. The following list is South Brooklyn oriented):


N.B. You can move out of Brooklyn with the help of a Smartcar #car2go

10. Watching cruise ships arrive in New York Harbor from my bedroom window

9. Getting off at the Atlantic Avenue stop in downtown Brooklyn to do some urban exploring

8. Chatting up Peter at Melody Lanes

7. Talking with the handsome neighborhood guys who promenade Fourth Avenue on a Saturday night

6. Taking the express train at 36th Street - a world of wonder awaits

5. Getting my cheap cinema fix at either Alpine or Cobble Hill Cinemas

4. All the amazing, smart people (whom I consider friends) I shared an apartment within the last eight years - I’m talking about you, boo.

3. Shopping on Eighth Avenue - they’ve got Louisiana boiled crayfish and hot pot. What more could I want?

2. Picking up hold requests and chatting with Coquile at the Sunset Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

1. Hanging out with my squirrel friends at the Wash Depot

Sayonara, Brooklyn - you’re the fourth largest city in the United States (if you were your own city) - and damn girl, I’m going to miss your style.

Is my list bougie? Inform me in the comments.

Mar 30, 2018

On Knowing Nothing and Why I am Embarrassed that I am a Know-it-All

My worst trait is that I am a know-it-all. I like to know things, and I feel amiss if I am not the one explaining. It’s an embarrassing trait. But I admit it. Awareness is half the battle, right? I like to know things. I am obsessive that way. 
Dicken's Mr. M'Choakumchild in the Age of No Child Left Behind

© 2000 Hearst Newspapers
Because I am a know-it-all, you’d think I’d be a sore loser. But I am not. I do not like to know stuff, so I can somehow feel superior to others. I just wish to know things and I will gladly listen if you have something new to teach me. 

As a teenager, I would get into bitter arguments with my parents about the minutiae of a such-and-such fact. Is a shark a fish? Why does Louisiana have the Napoleonic code? I think my parents thought I was just being a know-it-all. I am pretty sure my mom thought I was arrogant most of the time. I liked to read, and I wanted to find someone to bounce off ideas. When you're a kid, your audience options are limited.

Frustrations came to a head one night at my dad’s house. We were eating spaghetti and meatballs. I brought a book to the table to read. Boy, Dad did not like that idea one bit, and he basically chewed me out. I think I was telegraphing the message that I would rather learn from a book than have a conversation at the kitchen table. 

While my family valued education and wanted their children to have college degrees, they themselves did not go to college. Learning was something espoused as important - but, frankly I did not have good models in what learning looked like and I was seldom praised for being curious. I don’t think my parents were ready for that kind of teen rebellion. And of course, stupid disputes over where homo sapiens first originated then blew up into debates about religion and politics. I was taught early on that diverging viewpoints are dangerous.

It is ironic that I eventually - in my adult life - earned a Master’s degree in Continental Philosophy and in English - basically a degree in asking questions and being curious about the nature of everything. I wanted validation that I wasn’t just an arrogant little kid who wanted to know everything.

Now that I am a teacher, I find myself turning into my father. I know. It’s crazy, but you do transmogrify into your parents. I am not talking about a one-to-one transformation - but tics of parental inheritance find their way into one's being. I become miffed when a student knows something that I do not know. I'm my father. Or when that teacher gets a kick out of telling everyone at lunch how I misunderstood that the word lovely in the sentence “Dog food is lovely” is an adjective. Hey, I thought, I wasn’t paying attention to the lesson. I imparted the wrong knowledge. Happens all the time.

I share a classroom with that knowledgeable teacher. He is similar to me in that he likes to know everything. To my chagrin, however, he corrects me when I make a mistake in my class, and I am pretty confident he enjoys the satisfaction of catching me in error. 

Mar 29, 2018

Fish in the Sea

The Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana
I enjoy aquariums. The vast amount of water in large, transparent tanks transfix the eyes. I can watch stingrays all day. I anthropomorphize their bellies - don't you think they look like smiling faces? In New York - at Coney Island - there is a modest aquarium. I was excited when I found the moray eel hanging out behind a fake coral. Aquatic creatures! It's comforting to fantasize about life in water. One of
Arthur chased by an alligator gar in the Sword in the Stone
my favorite Disney animations is The Sword in the Stone* - the boy Arthur turns into a squiggly little fish - then a squirrel - but it is the fish scene I liked the most. Wouldn't life be so much more agile under the waves? Well, when a gar fish isn't chasing you.


Mar 28, 2018

Lorelei from Superman III (1983) Reads Kant's Critque of Pure Reason



Superman III (1983)

You can read the above clip from Superman III as a dumb blonde joke writ large or as an insightful riff on philosophy. I am guessing it is the former rather than the latter.

Playing the supposed ditzy lover of the film's villain, Lorelei reveals she is a fan of Immanuel Kant's transcendental philosophy - the eighteenth-century European thinker's idea that he could bring together two schools of thought - empiricism and rationalism. At least that's the general idea of the book Lorelei's caught reading - The Critique of Pure Reason.


Lorelei: How can he say that pure categories have no objective meaning in transcendental logic? What about synthetic unity? 

It looks like Lorelei has stumbled upon the truth of transcendental idealism - that things in themselves cannot really be known. Or did she? 

Mar 27, 2018

Louisiana Facts and Places

The Louisiana State Seal


The seal lists the motto of the State: Union, Justice, and Confidence
What is the Meaning of the Pelican?
A mother pelican sits in her nest and protects her children. Maybe you learned in third grade and forgot what the symbol of the pelican is and why is it emblazoned on the seal. While it is true that the Brown Pelican is the state bird, the story has a deeper meaning. I posted on Facebook asking my friends what the pelican symbolizes and lo and behold Basil Burns, a Roman Catholic priest, explains: “The pelican was a symbol of Jesus at one time. It was once believed (mistakenly) that the pelican would pierce its breast and feed her young with her blood -- the parallel is obvious, of course. So it's very much about self-sacrifice! I wonder if we couldn't throw a crawfish in there somewhere, maybe, with a bunch of hungry humans gathered around it?” Yeah. That would be cool, Basil. Let's contact the U.S. mint and put a crawfish on the commemorative state quarter. So, next time you are in the great state of Louisiana, take a photograph of the pelicans that fly around Lake Pontchartrain - north of the city of New Orleans. They are visible in the early evening, right as the sun goes down and you can watch them nose dive into the lake searching for their prey.

Louisiana Parishes

Acadia
Claiborne
Jefferson Davis
Rapides
Tangipahoa
Allen
Concordia
Lafayette
Red River
Tensas
Ascension
De Soto
Lafourche
Richland
Terrebonne
Assumption
East Baton Rouge
La Salle
Sabine
Union
Avoyelles
East Carroll
Lincoln
St. Bernard
Vermilion
Beauregard
East Feliciana
Livingston
St. Charles
Vernon
Bienville
Evangeline
Madison
St. Helena
Washington
Bossier
Franklin
Morehouse
St. James
Webster
Caddo
Grant
Natchitoches
St. John the Baptist
West Baton Rouge
Caldwell
Iberia
Orleans
St. Landry
West Carroll
Cameron
Iberville
Ouachita
St. Martin
West Feliciana
Catahoula
Jackson
Plaquemines
St. Mary
Winn

Jefferson
Pointe Coupee
St. Tammany


Mar 22, 2018

Save Me From Drowning My Creativity



"The Drowning Metaphor in Dreams" - What does it mean?
I’ve found the courage to write about my past. Looking back, however, is painful. I think the gods were smart when they cursed those who turned back. Orpheus lost his lady when he turned back to look at her in Hades. Some ancient Hebrews turned to salt when they looked back at the smoldering city of Sodom. And old adage, “Never look back,” reinforces the idea that one must push forward. The common turn of advice is, "Don't dwell on the past." Turning back and looking back seem to have negative consequences. But if psychology has taught me anything, it’s the idea that nothing ever truly goes away. It’s there, the bits and pieces, past loves and perceived let-downs. It must be that time - Spring - when that which was dead struggles to come back to life. Last night, I had a dream. I was witness to a drowning. The scene was a leafy layered lake. A body was found in the water. It was a disturbing dream. Straight out of Hamlet - Ophelia’s been drowned. But after thinking about it for a bit -the dream made sense. I was thinking of drowning too literally. I had to think psychologically. Since I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately, my psyche has become unsettled. That which was drowned comes to the surface. I guess that’s why another old adage - “drown your sorrows” - seems apt. I’d been drowning my sorrows - which makes sense when I think of my behaviors as of late. Something sunken rises again to the surface. So for me - what’s been unearthed? What has drowned? I feel like I’ve stifled my creativity. And for me to get it back I have to take care of that side of myself. Call it self-care. So it was a snow day. And I took care of myself. And I realized that one major problem I have is creating and planning my weekly classroom activities. Call it lesson plans or whatever. I go to sit and work. But nothing comes out of me. I’m drowned. To come up for air, what do I do? It’s a problem because my success depends on my ability to be creative. If I can’t successfully accomplish that then I’m truly sunk, and sunken. So I’m swimming to the surface, looking to get my magic back. What’s holding me back? Well - for one, the hierarchy of work holds me back. To be free to create you need “a room of one’s own” and inspiration to produce. That’s what I call incubation time. It’s important because without reflecting on my process, I feel like I am running on empty. That’s a self-defeating thought. It’s those thoughts that lead me to feel drowned. So I light upon an image of my success - from the past - and I build from there. What’s my image? It’s an image I have from a class I taught - near the beginning of my career - and the students were busy preparing a project - and everyone knew what they were doing. I am holding onto that image and hoping I can recreate that same modicum of drive for the last quarter of school. I need to find a project that will give our class a lift. Lift us from the Winter doldrums - to use the Spring as metaphor: put a spring in our step. Hope does spring eternal.

Do any of you, readers, have any ideas? Help me not drown.

- Posted on BlogPress

Mar 21, 2018

How I Learned to Love Solitude and Why I Am No Longer a Benedictine Monk


I am going through old papers, tossing out papers, and boxing up books so I can move out of my apartment on April first. I realized I could not find any photographs of me as Brother Bede. I used to be a Benedictine monk. But the traces of that life are quickly receding.

Leaving a Monastery 

When I left Saint Joseph Abbey - a Benedictine monastery in Saint Benedict, Louisiana - I was twenty-eight years old (and six months). In my life as a monk, I was Brother Bede. I baked bread once or twice a week with my fellow monks, I went to daily prayers, ate with my community at the common table, worked in our college library - and I was a graduate student at the local university. That was nine years ago (and eight months, roughly).

As a monk, you are told: "To work is to pray." So I grew up in this dispensation. We were told that we were monks first. Our work was just something we did as part of our religious identity. If I was baking bread, or if I was studying Latin, I was merely living out my life of prayer and work. I was a monk. So don't complain.

The Life of the Monk

Life in the monastery followed a trajectory. And there were different stages of my life there. Depending on how you count the years, I was first a seminary student, then a novice, then a monk in temporary vows, then a monk in solemn vows - all for a total of ten years. 

I had just graduated from high school when I joined the seminary. It's crazy to think that was twenty years ago. In May, I am going to Louisiana to celebrate my high school reunion. But I probably won't visit the abbey where I gave ten years of my life - formative years (if you want to put it that way.)

I fantasize that when I tell people I was a monk, they think I lived in a stone hut, spoke to no one and ate bone stew and hard bread. The truth is my life as a monk was at the same time innocuous and magical. Life follows a scheduled rhythm in a monastery. Vigils, Morning prayers, Mass, Evening prayers, and Compline. Monks were assigned jobs. And for the most part, we went through our day praying, eating together, and performing our tasks.

Why did I Join?

People often ask me why I joined a monastery. What was going through my head? And then they ask me why I left the monastery. And people seem to be pretty curious about the whole process. For me - I wanted to be a priest or a monk since an early age. I can remember pretending to celebrate Mass with Ritz style crackers while my brothers complained (they'd rather play other games). When I was in High School, I was very much into Catholicism - and I made it pretty well known that I wanted to join the seminary when I graduated.

Read more about why I became celibate after the jump . . .

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