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.

After about twenty years has elapsed since these movies were released, it is interesting to think 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. Of course, in the main, 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.

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 . . .

Mar 20, 2018

"Rest at pale evening . . ." - Excerpts from Langston Hughes's "Dream Variations"

Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me

- from Dream Variations, Langston Hughes

Personal Story

I like to collect quotes from poetry, from various sources, and whatnot. I have always liked this passage from Langston Hughes's poem "Dream Variations." Why do I like it? I like it because it is a relevant example of a poet exhorting darkness - extolling the color of blackness - rather than relegating "black" to a tired, and debilitating symbol of evil. So. That is why I like the poem. Hughes is resurrecting "black" as a symbol of beauty, not as a symbol of moral darkness.

Going Further

The poem imagines a speaker coming upon nature at the moment the sun is going down. Looking at the landscape, there is a moment when day turns to night, and the beauty of the oncoming dark sky fills the viewer with a sense of the sublime, of beauty.

Making Connections

Interestingly, the last line from this passage, "Black like me" is used as the title of a book, by John Howard Griffiths - about a white man who changes the color of his skin to experience what it feels like to be black in the rural South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. The book is strange because I do not think this kind of experiment would carry over well in today's political terms.

Epilogue

Do you have any poems that you've read that turn the tables of symbolism and imagery? I'd love to hear your examples - you can leave a comment in the box below.


Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. "Dream Variations" The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994.

Mar 19, 2018

"Rats!" by Robert Browning (excerpted from the Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1842)

Frontispiece, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Chicago, McNally, 1910
Rats!
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats
And even spoiled the women's chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats . . .

Robert Browning, excerpted from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1842


Works Cited
Browning, Robert. Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child's Story. Chicago, McNally, 1910. Print.

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