purity is bullshit, she says

Can you feel it? That big downhill slide we’re on?

Pipe lines wrecking the rain forest, fracking wrecking the water, greenhouse gases wrecking the weather. The “big picture” is all wreck [sic] and ruin.

My way of coping with that awareness is usually by focusing on my own little picture. And blogging about it — grandsons and gardens, nostalgia and nuisances.

But when it comes to the way, across the globe, that women are treated, portrayed, denied, discouraged, wrecked and ruined, I take it personally, especially since I remember the early days of our feminist struggle, when so many of us joined with each other, and with wise and willing male supporters, to push back against a sexist system set to designate who we were and are and could or couldn’t be.

If you think it’s any better these days, all you have to do is look and listen to know that you are wrong. Cultural attitudes. in general, and the attitudes of many males, in particular, have become even more misogynistic.

NPR’s article about the Amanda Knox case points up one aspect of this rampant “cultural sexism.”

If Amanda Knox had been Andrew Knox, the breathless and prolonged excitement around his sex life would be greatly diminished, or absent altogether. If Amanda had been Andrew, he wouldn’t have been labeled “a sex-mad flatmate” in the media.

No, just in last Sunday’s New York Times, the “veritable drumbeat of sexual shaming” heaped on Amanda Knox amounts to sexism run rampant.

While we should have already evolved way beyond the gender roles that our early progenitors adopted as necessary for survival (see NPR article linked above), the attitudes and behaviors of too many young males indicate that the opposite is happening. As a culture, we are not only backsliding; we are slipping into a subversive hatred of women that is triggering both vocal and physical violence against females.

Voicing the young, strong, liberated, and angry perspective of women who refuse to let sexist male attitudes intimidate, suppress, and repress their sexuality is Lindy West’s article in Jezebel entitled Female “Purity” is Bullshit.

She says:

Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. “Purity” is a lie. Do not even worry about any of this garbage, because it’s about as real as a fucking unicorn. And like my Nana always used to say, “Never take life advice from a grown man who believes that unicorns are ‘extinct.'”

And this “good girl” shit isn’t just limited to odious ding-dongs like dude-who-doesn’t-know-the-difference-between-extinct-and-fucking-mythological. I know plenty of progressive, liberal, adult men who openly say they’re looking for a “good girl”—who prioritize some paternalistic illusion of “self-respect” over personality and chemistry. And to those dudes, I say, HOW DO YOU NOT SEE HOW CREEPY THIS IS. Can you imagine if women went around saying they were just looking for a “good boy” and sometimes they “jokingly” scout kindergartens for promising baby virgins?!?!?! Groooooooooss!!!!!

West’s article is a hoot and holler to read. It is raw. And truthful. And angering. It is the way it is but shouldn’t be.

I don’t know how the bad attitudes of misogynist males can be changed. I don’t know how to prevent their younger brothers from becoming just like them. Is there a warped Y chromosome or strain of testosterone that is being unknowingly spread to each generation of males? Is it something in the water? Is it something that we should put in the water?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that there needs to be more females refusing to put up with stupid men’s bullshit.

lost books that need to be found

I know that at my age I could easily be misremembering, but I don’t think so.

Back in the early 1980s, I found two books that I gave to my pre-pubescent son to read.

Girls: A Book for Boys and Boys: A Book for Girls

They were the best two books for kids that I ever saw analyzing gender/sex and the physical and psychological changes of puberty in a way that supported respect for both your own and your opposite gender. Both the explanations and the illustrations were clear, honest, and age-appropriate. Together, they provided an approach to sex education that also placed a high value on each gender, encouraging understanding of the differences and appreciation of the human similarities. I eventually I gave them away to another mother, and now neither Amazon nor Google has any mention of them.

I think of these books now because of all of the discussions around the rape of the 16 year old girl by the high school football players.

My son says that he doesn’t remember reading those books, but I sure do remember sitting there and watching him read them, ready for any questions he might ask. Even though he doesn’t remember those books, the reality is that his strong respect for females can be traced, in part, back to the concepts in those books that became embedded in his subconscious.

Next month he’s participating in this, offered by Ball State University:
Gender Through Comics: A Super MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that examines how comic books can be used to explore questions of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles. This highly engaging learning experience is designed for college-age and lifelong learners. I guess that there are some things I did right as a single mom bringing up a son.

I keep thinking that kids today need those two books more than ever. But all traces of them seem to have disappeared from both the real and virtual face of this earth.

If you know any feminist parents who were raising young kids back in the 80s, please ask if they remember those books. They were published about the same time as the original Our Bodies, Ourselves.

cooperative Tuesdays

Tuesdays is Home School Co-op, where my grandson goes to learn as part of a group; where parents teach what they know best (science, language arts, history, etc.); where my daughter teaches history with an interdisciplinary, creative, and dramatic flair that includes costumes and role playing and presentations laced with the fun of technology.

So, Tuesdays is my day home alone, when I try to be cooperative and help out by doing some chores, like cleaning out the double sinks and putting dishes away from there and the dishwasher.

Other than than, my household chores are limited to my own living space. In the house at-large, my daughter does the cooking; my son-in-law does most of the cleaning. They don’t expect me do help with much of anything. But on Tuesdays, I try to cooperate a little more.

With that done, now it’s time to tackle my own laundry and clutter and bathroom. I’ve never been a great housekeeper, but never having had anyone who would cooperate with me, I had to learn to tear myself away from doing fun stuff and take care of my own necessities. Which is what I’m going to do now.

Funk and Folly

Funk and folly. That’s sort of been the theme of my life over the past several months. Funk gets in the way of lively living, so I’m trying to add a “y” and move toward “funky” — a place where I’d much rather be.

Last month, I had to put my 17 year old cat down for the count; I’m never getting another pet, but the family has added an adorable kitten, Kasza, to the two other big male cats who already live here. The spunky little female now rules the kingdom. Spunky. Rhymes with Funky. So far so good.

I ran out of energy volunteering several times a week at the geriatric center. Part of it is that it’s winter, and I just want to hibernate; part of it is that I really took on too much responsibility there, and they need to be more organized. I’ll probably go back, but with a much lighter schedule.

I will be 73 next month, and I am reminded that my father passed away at age 73. Of course, my mother lasted until 94, so who knows which way I’ll go. In the meanwhile, however, I need to have some fun.

I always feel better when I’m engaged in a hands-on creative outlet, and I love playing with fabric and yarn. I had made some funky walker bags and gave them to a few of the women at the geriatric center; they really like them and I loved making my own designs and playing with the materials. I think I want to try to sell them. Thinking about an Etsy store. How about “Kalilily’s Funk and Folly” for a name? “Funk and Folly.” I think I’ll make that my official trade mark right now.

My living space is filling up with funky creations in wild colors and combinations of materials — hats, wristlets, leg warmers, boot socks. I might try a variation on a kind of overhead shawl I designed and made years ago. It might all be folly, but it’s fun folly. Fun, funky, folly.

By next winter, I should have enough stuff to do a holiday craft fair. Just for fun. I need something fun toward which to look forward.

Funk and Folly — fun stuff to wear and share.

butterflying

Except for a few mounted in the exhibit room, butterflies fly free at the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Museum, where I assisted with the nursing home folks who went on the field trip today.

The thousands of butterflies are free to land wherever they want, and this one took a real liking to one woman’s hair. (Must have been her shampoo.) None of them chose to land on me. (Must have been my hair spray.)

The Conservatory is pretty much an indoor recreation of a tropical environment, with baby quail running around through the ground cover and an occasional bird shrieking from some sheltered niche. Of course, I tried to take some photos, which, also, of course, can’t come close to the ones in the web site’s online gallery. But I did get a shot that they don’t seem to have: a pair of butterflies mating.

They were in that position when we got there, and they were still in that position when we left.

(Better they than I.)

not Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Actually, it’s a laid-back Pioneer Valley Sunday. All I did all day was some knitting while I listened to an audio version of the second book of the Hunger Game series, Catching Fire.

I love the fact that I can download audio books free from the library, but I don’t like the fact that I have to hurry and finish listening before the allotted time. I just don’t understand, since it’s downloaded, why an audio book can’t be available to any number of borrowers at the same time and for as long as they need to finish the book.

My grandson is out in the back yard reading an oversized Calvin and Hobbes book of cartoons; his mom is out there reading some book about home schooling on her Kindle; his dad is nearby reading an actual book borrowed from the library — a biography of Frank Zappa.

My grandson takes a break from reading every once in a while to resume his imaginary globe-trotting journey that is based in a “camp” he has set up next to his “fort” in the yard– complete with globe, desk, drafting tools, and assorted mute companions — where he devises maps and plans his adventures. He has amused himself all day out there with only occasional bouts of participation by the rest of us in his continuing saga.

At some point, I unplug myself from my audio book and listen as my grandson reads aloud to us something from Calvin and Hobbes that he thinks is funny. My daughter shares a passage from the book she is reading about how important it is for kids to have time for imaginative unstructured play. I think about our neighbor’s young son whose days are taken up with competitive sports, school, karate, Pokemon, and video games. A basically nice kid, an ordinary kid, he is almost devoid of any flights of fancy or curiosity about the world around him.

Ours is not a typical or ordinary family, and our quirkiness extends way out to the west coast, where my imaginative untypical son still struggles to find a job.

I think about what the world will be like when my grandson is ready to participate fully in this society, to find work that is meaningful and satisfying. Hopefully, the Hunger Games is not prophetic, although if the Republicans had their way, it might come awfully close.

For now, we are thankful for what we have. And we hope for a future where curiosity, imagination, playfulness, and mutual support and cooperation across age levels are valued a lot more than they are today.

this old Pole soul

Like every human on this planet, my heritage traces back to the heart of Africa, from where the original homo sapiens emerged around 100,000 years ago.

Somewhere around 40,000 years ago, their descendants descended on what eventually would be the nation we now know as Poland. Since the time of these early forbears, the land that was considered “Poland” shrank and expanded depending on the whims of glaciers and governments. Pretty much land-locked except for its limited access to the Baltic Sea, Polish land has been traipsed over, lived on, and fought over by tribes and nations from the Turks to the Celts. The 19th and 20th centuries, alone, saw Poland’s boundaries recede and expand drastically as various histories and wars played themselves out.

While I know that America has claim to the title of “melting pot,” pre-historic Poland has to come close because of the hundreds of different peoples who settled there at one time or another, coming upon its central location accidentally or on purpose. So, even though I can trace my bloodline back through several generations of “pure” Poles, the truth is that I have in me genetic traces of countless races, leading back to that elusive “Mitochondrial Eve.”

Why I’m thinking about all of this is that I’m taking a class in Polish language and culture to help me remember how to converse in Polish. I have no immediate reason for doing that, except that it’s free at the Senior Center, and relearning the language is helping me to exercise my brain.

I have never been very good at just sitting in a class and listening. I like to participate. So, I offered to do a session next week on the traditions still alive in Polish culture today that have their roots in that land’s pre-history. (Of course, that means “pagan,” but I didn’t use that word in my offer to do the session. All of the other students seem to be Catholic, and I didn’t want to use language that would turn them off.)

For anyone who is interested, there are a very few websites that deal with Polish/Slavic pre-history. This is the best of them.

More than a dozen years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful site explaining the pagan origins of various Polish folk customs and chronicling the Polish pagan pantheon and magical symbols. I printed out all 80-something pages of information from that now-defunct website, and I am so glad I did because I would have to track down a ton of books to compile it myself at this point. I’m thinking that I probably saved it on my old computer but somehow lost track of that document.

Growing up Polish in America (as did the other students in my class), what I was told about Polish history made it seem as though it all started with the the conversion of Poland to Christianity back somewhere around 990 A.D.

However,

In the course of the Christianisation of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, the Christian churches adopted many elements of national cult and folk religion, resulting in national churches like Latin, Germanic, Russian, Armenian, Greek and so on. Some Pagan ceremonies became modern holidays as pagans joined the early church.

It just goes to show you — children are told the history that their “responsible adults” want them to believe. But there’s always more. Always more.

Do zobaczienia.

Living Life Spherically

Second draft:

still life with lunch

I indulge my tongue with baguette and brie
and contemplate a miniature collection
of my life’s best metaphors,
captured in small wooden squares
framed, off-center, in an expanse of
off-white kitchen wall–
spiny shells and chunks of stone
bought or stolen from gritty beaches
and hallowed hillsides;
two miniature totem poles,
stacks of toothy masks eternally
divining and defying;
a ceramic face of serene Kwan Yin,
open hands inserted
in stiff maternal blessing;
a pious, pewter St. Anthony,
haloed, holding the sad Child, and
on the lookout for misplaced keys;
a feather, probably a duck?s
because the wild turkey’s didn’t fit,
and every altar needs a feather;
a brass double dorje, the mate
to the Tibetan bell I ring
in moments of turning
toward thoughts of a box-less future;
and, finally, a crumbling wine bottle cork
on which someone I can?t
remember had printed
in balky blue ballpoint:
Conundrum.

Elaine Frankonis 3/04

My life and my poetry — striving for art, settling for whatever it is.

“Live life spherically” is a line from Mona Lisa Smile — a movie a rather liked because it harkened back to my life as it was in the 50s (although I was a couple of years younger than those characters) and I felt good about not having made the assumptions that those girls made about being a successful female. And I really like that one line: Live Life Spherically.

Back in the 50s, being a helper, taking care of others, was not part of my life’s plan. Now it’s one of my primary functions.

But that doesn’t stop me from writing. At the moment, I’m wrestling with the first exercise for the NY State Writers Institute Advanced Poetry Workshop led by poet Eamon Grennon — to write three different 11-line (9 to 13 syllables per line) stanzas based on a assigned Vermeer painting.
A Google search located poems about paintings written by a variety of well-known poets. I find that I like this exercise.

I particularly like this poem by Wislawa Szymborska, “Two Monkeys by Brueghel”:

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.
I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.
One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing–
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

Actually, years ago, I wrote a short poem about Renoir’s Peonies.

There are no blossoms real as Renoir’s Peonies.
No rose as red. No red as real.
I would have them for my lover’s table,
to bloom red
and real
as a heart
open
to the palette knife.

In the meanwhile, I’m also helping to make arrangements for a reunion of a dozen or so of my old Beta Zeta sorority sisters. Most of us haven’t seen each other in more than forty years. I know for a fact that one of them will be participating in the Republican Convention in NYC this summer. We shared an apartment with four other BZers the summer of 1958. That was after my freshman year in college and I didn’t want to go home so I took some courses over the summer. I was 18 and we were all politically liberal. I guess I’d better not talk politics at the reunion. Man, that’s going to be hard!!!

And also, meanwhile, I watch my mother grasp for words, sleep away afternoons, and fret over losing control of everything she fought so hard to hold onto.

Live life spherically. But don’t hold on too tight.