Shazbot

Je sais, je sais.  J’ai disparu.  Encore en fois.

There I was, thinking I was back on track to get back to my semi-regular postings on Life, the Universe, you know- Everything, really.  When a few things happened…

a) I got caught up in an Ideas (that CBC again) presentation about Nietzsche.  Yes, Nietzsche.  Suddenly I’m back in the bookstore (yes, I still go to bookstores- fewer and further between though they may be) in order to re-visit his views on this world of ours (between him and Spinoza, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with philosopher-types of late).

b) I woke up in the middle of the night (my 4 am awakenings have recurred- vengefully, it seems) with a fantastic idea (if I do say so myself) for a project regarding our perverse and self-destructive insistence upon living our lives according to apocalyptic thinking.  An idea that jibed exactly with the Nietzsche and some of the books about positive corporate culture that I’ve been reading as part of my day job.

c) While cruising the interworld (as I am sometimes wont to do) I became aware of a heinously misinformed group of women who think that #womenagainstfeminism is a real thing and a good thing- let alone an ideology that makes anything like rational sense.

This was enough of a distraction- based in something like despair- that I felt the need to track it to its putative source(s) and read- and listen to (sitting in for Jian, Stephen Quinn spoke with Roxanne Gay- author of Bad Feminist- on Q today, and The Current had a discussion about ‘the movement’ on August 4)- a whole bunch of stuff about the ‘arguments’ against feminism that are appearing as poster-boarded memes.  Memes that are dedicated to, and exemplars of, the sorts of things I discussed in my last couple of posts.  Credulity, and how not knowing history leads one down the slippery slope of having it repeat itself.  For example.

d) My company’s Chief Morale Officer paid us a visit, and brought back to my mind something he said at a recent team culture meeting.  It was about how having knowledge makes no difference if that knowledge isn’t shared.  Zero.  Zippo.  Nada.

It reminded me that I know stuff- and that I should be sharing the stuff I know.

And then.

e) Mork left us all behind to return to Ork.

So much has been said- so wonderfully and with such sincerity of loss (I won’t even address the ignorant, negative comments and despicable behaviours that are out there in the ether.  Such things need no further dissemination or acknowledgement)- that I’m not sure I can add anything about his courage and kindness and gifts.  And about how his celebrity and the genuine shock so many of us are feeling has opened (re-opened?) lines of dialogue about the insidious reality that is depression- and the stigma that remains attached to mental illness.

While he brought us so very many enduring characters, I will never forget first meeting, while sitting in my parents’ bedroom, that red-clad charmer from another world.  As he spoke with Richie Cunningham and then battled the Fonz (Fonzarelli thumb against Orkan finger), I felt like I’d found a new friend.

Mork, with his innocent view of our world and his weekly explanations to his superior back home as he tried to make sense of it all, was profoundly resonant- and personally identifiable.

On our yearly family holidays- which always involved extremely long car trips- as a way to entertain my wee sisters (and- as a side-effect- annoy the hell out of our parents- although that was an understanding I came to much later) I created a character of my own.

This character was an alien- with, for some reason, a British accent- named YumYum.  As we passed things of note- landmarks, cities, mountains, or listened to music (when it was our turn to control the tape deck), YumYum asked the sisters (named ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’- my childhood imagination had significant gaps of inspiration, at times) to explain things as we drove along.  In hotels, at the end of each long day, they taught YumYum to swim, talked about things that were on the tv and read each other books as a way of demonstrating the world to their own, personal, visitor from outer space.

To say that YumYum was modeled on Mork is to state the veryvery obvious.  Both aliens taught as they, themselves, learned.

Robin’s subsequent roles built upon the innocence and wonder and joy with which his first great fictional incarnation viewed the world.  He became a teacher (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting)- and his lessons spoke volumes to the teacher in me.

He played the archetypal little boy who never grew up- except that he somehow did grow up and forgot the lessons of his eternal childhood (until that scene when his Lost Boy straightens out the wrinkles and the extra facial padding and says, heartrendingly, ‘There you are, Peter’).

In that way that all things can seem to be connected…

Last week, during our team meeting, our manager played us that little ditty up there ^^^

She and another colleague are both learning to play the ukulele, and Izzy’s mash-up of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World was illustrative of this new undertaking- of branching outside of comfort zones and taking risks for the sake of trying something new.  Izzy’s story- his talent, his pride in his home State, his status as a hero of Hawaiian rights, ideals and culture- make his loss (too young) all the more poignant.

The discussion led me to comment that, on that very same day while walking to work, the Shuffle Daemon played me this tune:

Taken from Don’t Worry About Me, Joey’s only solo album- released posthumously, it demonstrated his enduring spirit in the face of his fight with lymphoma.  The world knew he was fighting- he battled his disease for seven years- but his death still came as a surprise. To me, anyway.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard he was gone (in a seminar class- Coptic language- my thesis adviser asked what I was listening to as I took my seat and removed my earlier-incarnation of the Shuffle Daemon.  I happened to be listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School– and he told me that he’d just heard on the radio that Joey was gone…).  When I watch that movie (at least once a year) or listen to any of his music, I still find it hard to take on board that he isn’t with us anymore.

There’s another version of that song too.  The first version.  The one from 1967 performed by the great Louis Armstrong.  The one that was used in a movie called Good Morning, Vietnam.

My thoughts are all over the place, lately.  Clarity is tricky to come by, and focus is lacking.  Sorely.  I’m, admittedly, scattered and, truth be told, more than a little shattered.

So.  I’m setting aside all that development of big ideas and sharable knowledge and the kvetching about the things that need changing.

Tonight I’m just going to hold onto the conceit that our friend and teacher, Mork- and the man who brought him to life- has been recalled by Orson, once and for all.

To join Izzy, and Joey and Louis.

“Friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do?'”

Na-nu na-nu, Captain, my Captain.

Muddling through

As of this morning there are 13 drafts of incomplete posts in my WordPress dashboard’s storehouse of thoughts.  This is unusual since I’m generally pretty good with the follow-through and finishing stuff.  It may sometimes take a while- I have been known to procrastinate now and again when no established deadline is looming- but things do get done (this is, of course, excluding the novel(s) I’ve been working on for countless years).

I haven’t felt much like writing since my weekend rant about politics and politicos in this city.  My frustration quotient- on a number of fronts- has reached critical levels, and I’m finding that my thoughts have been running in too many directions at once to actually get anything of substance down on the (virtual) page.  Or sleep for more than a few hours at a time.

Need some quiet.  And real rest.  And not likely to have either in the near future.

So, in an attempt to make the brain shut the hell up for a time, and make it possible for me to drag myself out of bed in the morning, I spent part of last evening watching some of the new shows that are being offered for our consumption and potential edification.

James Spader is awesome.  He will always be Alan Shore to me, but I do have high hopes for The Blacklist.

The season premiere of HIMYM was good- and makes this, the last season, look promising.

There are a couple other new shows that are intriguing- namely David E. Kelley’s new one with Robin Williams and Sarah-Michelle-Gellar-the-Vampire-Slayer.  Boston Legal remains one of my favourite shows (Alan Shore and Denny Crane rule) and Kelley seems to know when to let his actors run with the characters and do what feels right.  I’m sure the directors have their hands full keeping Robin Williams under some semblance of control, but the result should be worth a look regardless.

It’s great to see him back on the small screen (I, unlike many younger viewers, well remember his original turn as Mork- on Happy Days).  And I have a definite soft spot for Buffy (which remains one of the best-written shows out there.  Joss Whedon does dialogue like no on else).  Given her past ability at handling Whedon’s scripts, I’m sure she will more than hold her own against the manic zaniness that is Robin Williams.

As mentioned, I’m cautiously interested in Sleepy Hollow– mainly because they’ve linked Washington Irving’s story (which was based on Germanic  folktales of ‘the Wild Huntsman’) with biblical apocalyptic mythology.  Neat twist- we’ll see how it plays out.

I look very forward to the return of Elementary.  I know I know.  The naysayers all say that Cumberbatch’s contemporary Holmes is the one worth watching, but I love Jonny Lee Miller.  Ever since he was Sick Boy, really, but he was really great in another underrated television role a few years ago.  With its modern take on prophecy and prophets, Eli Stone might well need its own post.  Anyway- I do like his take on Sherlock, and the supporting cast of Lucy Liu and Aidan Quinn has really come together.  This season Rhys Ifans will be showing up as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.  Lots of good acting chops in that mix.

Lest you think that my couch is about to swallow this potato whole, I have actually cracked a book in the past few days.  I’m rereading High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s first novel that was made into the movie starring John Cusack.  The film was pretty good- Jack Black was pretty amusing, and Cusack is generally quite endearing- but the original story’s British-ness is somehow more resonant.

I get Rob Fleming’s association of life- and life events- with specific music.  The concept of the ‘mix tape’ as central to the romantic lives of people of a certain age is one that seems to be recurring in my general environment lately.  In addition to Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, that was my cottage reading a couple of weeks back, I read Love is a Mix Tape- Rolling Stone Editor Rob Sheffield’s sad tale of the life- and sudden death- of his wife, the night the lights went out back in July.

Those books, and Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, all play with the thought, sincerity and hard work that used to go into the making of a mix tape for someone special.

There is nothing comparable these days.  Making a playlist can be done in a matter of minutes- as one draws from 1000s of songs pulled out of iTunes or the like.  Sure, The Shuffle Daemon has thrown me for a loop a few times with its accurate matching of the music to the mood/ weather, but there is something incomparably innocent, nostalgic and loving about the process of choosing just the right songs and getting them all to both work well together and fit on the tape- without getting cut off part way through.

(I have sooooo many mix tapes with cut off songs.  Tapes I listened to so often that sometimes, when I hear those songs now, I expect them to just end at very specific places.  I remain surprised when the song plays all the way through.)

Anyway, all this thinking about song lists and the perfect mix tape inspired me to make one of my own.  Figuratively, anyway.  I still have lots and lots of cassette tapes in storage.  Unfortunately, I currently have nothing on which to play them.

So I made myself a playlist.  Not of songs of love or lost love or unrequited love, but songs that are upbeat and happy and determined (if songs can be determined- and I think they can) to drag me out of bed to face the day.

The implied rejection of the past while has, seemingly, become overt, and although I’m attempting to do my best to muddle through (‘to continue despite confusion and difficulties’) some days it’s harder than others.

So these are songs to help with the muddling.

Vampire Weekend.  There are few of their songs that don’t make me think of summertime and friends, but A-Punk is just so upbeat and catchy.  Can’t stay confused and difficult in the face of this.

I wrote about this James song before, but this is a different version- although just as uplifting.  And reassuring in its assertion that we all get thrown a little off kilter now and again.

The The.  This has to be one of my very favourite songs ever.  Matt Johnson is cooler than cool.  And he might be right.  This might be ‘the day when things fall into place.’

The Gaslight Anthem is another band that is just fun.  And high energy.  And lyrically sophisticated.  And did I mention fun?  They put on an awesome live show, too.

Talking Heads.  Not only were they one of the most avant-garde bands ever, but they remain fun as hell.  The world is moving and I’m trying to stay right there with it.

Sweet.  Glitter rock.  Ballroom blitzes.  This is self-explanatory.

And finally, a little Aztec Camera.  Because Roddy Frame and that guitar riff can make anyone feel better.

I’m in love with everything that breaks the grip of caution
On our getting up and leaving for a bigger day, still some say
That all you need is money to be free from what is poor
Well that’s the lie of looking up from somewhere down

Because the sun will show to testify that all the
Time between belongs to you and I, to be still on fire
And when the strongest words have all been used
And all the new ones sound confused, to be still on fire

Somewhere in the middle we could see through all the people
And be playing second fiddle and be feeling sore
Shown the door

To chase out all the child in you
Is throwing out the baby for the chance to make it easy to be more

Solid advice.

Muddling through.

Once. Twice. Three Times a Djinni…

I feel like Aladdin.

You know that thing that happens when you see something once- something perhaps a little out of the ordinary- and then all of a sudden it seems to be everywhere?

For some reason I am seeing djinn all over the place lately.

It started with one of my cottage reads:

Ahmad, the djinni, finds himself released, from a centuries-long imprisonment in an oil bottle, in NYC in 1899.  As he adjusts to life ‘on the outside’ and attempts to piece together just how he came to be captured, he is forced to interact with the popluation of the Lower Manhattan neighbourhood that houses the city’s Arab population.  As a character, he is very much in keeping with the traditional representation of djinn in Arab stories and tradition- a creature of flame, but also physical in nature, with powers greater than those that humans command.

Since he doesn’t need to sleep, he wanders the nighttime streets and encounters a golem, a creature from Jewish legendary tradition, who is having her own issues having to do with displacement, loss of purpose/guidance and generalized existential angst.  Working together they manage to overcome the obstacles- both human and supernatural- that come their way.

Although overly descriptive at times, the novel entertainingly and endearingly describes Jewish and Arab myth and immigrant history in early 20th century America and beautifully demonstrates the ways in which those of differing cultural backgrounds can find common ground and work together to improve their own lives (and the lives of those around them).  Communities- and people- however insular (by choice or through circumstance) have more in common than their surface differences might suggest.

My second djinn-related incident occurred through a random, late night viewing of Rod Serling’s original (and awesome) Twilight Zone in an episode called ‘The Man in the Bottle.’

A less-than-successful antiques dealer, in an act of charity, buys an old wine bottle from a poor elderly woman.  Later, bemoaning their lack of financial success with his wife, he drops the bottle, releasing a genie, who offers to grant them four wishes, with the caveat that every wish has a consequence.

Although their initial wish- for money- seem grasping and greedy, the couple share their largess with their neighbours and friends.  When the IRS comes calling, they discover that the outstanding tax bill on their win-fall leaves them with only $5 (how the IRS knew about their increase in fortune and why the tax rate was so high remains one of those things that has to be addressed with simple suspension of disbelief for the purposes of entertainment).

Regretting that they started so small and forgetting the genie’s warning about the inevitable consequences associated with the wishing, the couple decide to ask for something more permanent than just cash.  The shop owner wishes to become a the leader of a modern and powerful country where he cannot be voted out of office.

The genie turns him into Adolf Hitler.  In the last days of WWII.

He quickly uses his final wish to return to his old life- with a changed perspective and attitude.  The bottle breaks and the couple dispose of the pieces- only to have it reassemble itself once in the garbage can.

Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone stories have morals to them, spelled out in his signature sign-off at the end of each episode, and this one uses the motif of the genie and his wish-granting to demonstrate the age-old wisdom that nothing is free, and that all decisions have consequences.

* Brief aside- Rod Serling was a strong, and often controversial, voice of morality and progressive thought, and his values and commentary on injustices like racism are cleverly- and enduringly- addressed in The Twilight Zone.  He was an interesting guy who understood the power and value of strong storytelling and timeless themes and characters.  And who doesn’t equate the theme song with anything strange or unexplainable?  THAT’S quality television that is deserving of its longevity and hallowed place in popular culture.  ‘The Bachelorette’, my ass.

The third and final (so far) visitation (three is appropriate since that is the number of wishes much ‘genie lore’ has them offering those who release them- the Twilight Zone episode notwithstanding) was an episode of Supernatural titled ‘Pac-Man Fever.’

As is generally the norm with the things-that-go-bump-in-the night that the Winchester boys regularly have to deal with, the djinn that they encounter are of the pretty nasty variety.  No wish-granting from these two.  As is also often the case on Supernatural there is some pretty extreme poetic license taken with many of the myths that are incorporated into the storylines.

The episode features the trademark Winchester brotherly banter and the semi-recurring character of Charlie is fun to watch, so I’m not about to make a fuss  about the strange vampire-djinn hybrids that were the Nasties du Jour.  When Sam and Dean identify them as variants of djinn, the viewer knows that they are mythological characters and at least something about them.

Djinn are creatures from Arab and Islamic mythology who live in a dimension outside of the visible human world.  Inscriptions from the Ancient Near East indicate that they were worshiped as gods.  In Islamic tradition they represent one third of of the sapient creations of Allah (along with angels and humans).  They are supernatural creatures in possession of free will and capable of good, evil or ‘benevolent neutrality’ as dictated by their individual natures.

In Islamic mythology, djinn were created by Allah from smokeless fire (as humans were created from clay).  Their possesison of free will sometimes caused issues- one djinn in particular disobeyed Allah (by not bowing to Adam at the god’s command) and was expelled from Paradise.

He was called Shaytan.  (Yes, in Islamic tradition Satan was a djinn.  More on this when we get back to our ongoing discussion of all things Devil-ish…)  Like humans, the djinn will be judged on the Day of Judgement, and sent to Paradise or Hell according to their actions.

Myths about the djinn came to the attention of the Western world in the early 18th century with the first English versions of a collection of tales from Arabic, Indian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Persian folktales called One Thousand and One NightsArabian Nights, as the collection came to be known, contained historical stories, tales of love, comedies, tragedies, erotica and poetry featuring characters known from history intermingling with sorcerers, ghosts and djinn.

The collection is a fantastic representation of the mythology of a variety of cultures, presented in a narrative frame (the new wife of a Persian king tells her husband stories each night for 1001 nights- ending each night with a cliff-hanger so he will postpone her execution) that dates back, in (barely) extant manuscript form, to the early 9th century.

Djinn appear as characters in a number of stories, but one of the most recognizable (to modern, Western audiences at least), first appeared in later European translations of the myths.  ‘Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp’, although most certainly an older, authentic tale from Middle Eastern tradition, did not appear in Arabic versions of the collection.

This myth is the origin of many of our pop cultural representations of the djinn- and their associations with lamps and wishes- and while we, in the West, might picture djinn as buxom women in ponytails and pretty pink outfits or bulbous blue manic cartoons that sound like Robin Williams, they remain a part of a living mythological system.

Some adherents of Islam believe in the djinn in the same way that some Christians claim that angels can, and do, impact the lives of human beings.  They are mentioned frequently in the foundational religious text, the Qu’ran, and even have a surah (72) that deals with them specifically.

When we see the position that mythological creatures like the djinn retain in the beliefs and practices of one of the world’s largest religions, can we reasonably doubt that myths have relevance?

Ancient motifs and themes are found all over contemporary literature and popular culture, and their riches continue to entertain and educate as the images and characters from stories that are thousands of years old remain recognized parts of our collective awareness.  Without necessarily knowing why or how, we KNOW that genies come out of bottles and offer unsuspecting humans wishes- either benevolent or inimical- depending on the nature of each particular djinn.

Like the djinn that have been stalking me over the past couple of weeks, myths are powerful and wonderful things.

We would be much poorer without them.