Monday, April 26, 2010

Off the Air Waves

Comic book hero Air Wave and his sidekick, Static the parrot (1946)

How long do you take to put together a blog post?

Obviously something like putting together yesterday's Star Trek macros takes hours;
but even when I'm not actively composing, my brain hums along on blog-related lines, and it's really hard for me to switch channels.

Like, today at the YW my brain was sparking, thinking about how I might write about the body pump class instructor.
She's the sort of big bold blonde who wears eye makeup at all times, smokes (secretly) mentholated cigarettes, played community-college basketball--the sort of straight woman who would happily discuss the intimate details of getting a Brazilian wax with you in the sauna. She'd made a terrific starship captain.
I worship her and have as much in common with her as I would a Palomino.

OK, now I've got that out of my system (I made most of those things up--I know nothing about her), I have GOT to take a break from blogging for a week, so I can focus on finishing up a first draft about the Frindian Wars.

Ciao, till May!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

On a Lighter Note...

A new take on the girly way Kirk sits in the captain's chair
From Freaking News

Friday, April 23, 2010

Being American: The Voice of the Sock Monkey

I. The Diamond-Studded Lemur

I used the phrase "Ironic Lite" in the previous post, referring to a communication style that's popular now.
It's a precocious style that might include, say, composing a song about your sock monkey's preference for root crops.

I don't know if it's prevalent all over the Western world, but recently this clever style has become one of the dominant ways of communicating in the United States, among certain groups. *

"Ironic Lite" is too sharp-edged to be the right name.
I'm going to call it Voice of the Sock Monkey, because it often includes some sort of exotic but endearing, possibly endangered or old-fashioned, animal or toy.

Like, here, I found this on Vitaminwater's Facebook page:

"take that refund check and spend it on something important like a pet lemur named 'richard' or diamond-encrusted belt buckle that reads 'head honcho'. what are you going to spend your tax refund on?"
[image from Nat'l Geographic.]

(Need I mention, the speakers/consumers of Sock Monkey are usually not poor.)

II. Sock Monkey Mammy

I went looking for images of sock monkeys, and they're more popular than I realized.
After scanning through many pictures, it struck me that there's a kind of frightening old-fashioned "cozy" (to whites) racism to sock monkeys, with their soft brown color and thick lips sewn shut.
Like the myth of Mammy or the old picture of Aunt Jemima, they are meant to be comforting to the privileged children they care for.

This Obama sock monkey was meant for supporters of Obama. The makers pulled it after accusations of racism, but you can hear the hurt in their voice, because they are nice white children who meant no harm.

If only the harm done by people who meant no harm didn't count.

I don't mean people who speak Sock Monkey are racist.
The common element isn't the toy, it's the child.
How comforting to think of oneself as a privileged child, since children are not repsonsible for the social inequality they benefit from. And how dangerous.
There's nothing wrong with being children.
Except when we're not.

III. Putting Padding Between Oneself and Horror

I say the Voice of the Sock Monkey has become popular recently, but I don't know since when.
Could it be since 9/11?

I'm tempted to say so, because as an American, to express authentic hopes after 9/11, even if you speak very intelligently, opens you up to charges of naiveté, opens you up to ridicule.
While to express authentic fears is again to make yourself vulnerable to social disapproval:
no one wants to hear that fear because they feel impotent in its presence too.

This was probably always the case in the past too, more or less. No one likes prophets of doom, and "laugh today, cry tomorrow" is an old formula warning against being too happy: it will bring bad luck.

I suppose we just come up with new ways to pad our hopes and fears to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
If I tell you my sock monkey lives in the root cellar, there's enough of the padding of humor to make the palpable fear palatable.

There is irony in this style, just not full-on irony. You can see--are supposed to see--the tender heart underneath. But if you come at that heart with a stick, the sock monkey can step in front and take the jab.

Sock Monkey/Irony Lite seems to me to be the protective voice of someone who's smart and educated enough to express themselves smoothly but not sure where to go from there.

In some ways, it's the voice of a young person--though it is not just people in their teens and twenties who use it-- like Holden Caulfield, feeling their way forward in a hostile world. Reluctant to take on full adulthood because the mantle of power that goes with it looks--is--so heavy and cumbersome.

Maybe that's why it feels so American to me.
We are a young nation, in so many ways... precocious and powerful, but not sure what to do with that.
And then, we get hit--hard, on the nose--and now we're even more unsure.

But don't make the mistake of confusing Sock Monkey, who truly does not want to hurt, with a being who is unable to hurt.
That sweet hand is quite capable of dropping the sock monkey and pulling the trigger--and then feeling truly and horribly sorry afterward.

I like Sock Monkey/Irony Lite the way I like Holden Caulfield:
I recognize myself in it, and I really like the tender heart that peeks through.

Today, in fact, I relate a lot, because I'm sick with a fever (spring cold? or flu). I feel little,
the way you get when you know you couldn't defend yourselves against ravening wolves. I felt this way when I came home after I gave blood for the first time (almost fainted twice), and took to my bed with my toy panda.

So, I'm sympathetic to the Voice of the Sock Monkey, even if I don't want to hear much of it.

IV. The Monkey on Our Back

Here's what seems to me the Most Important Thing:
Like it or not, the Voice of the Sock Monkey is an expression of people who are feeling their way (one hopes) toward growing up (even if they are in their forties).
As such, I am fine with it. We all need comfort and funny voices.

Who am I to judge, with my Captain Kirk obsession?
(That's organic vitamin-fortified Saurian brandy he's drinking, in a reusable container. And his makeup was not tested on animals.)

But what I do judge negatively is the theft or co-option of that voice by marketing.
There's nothing authentic about the top quote from Vitaminwater, owned by a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, btw (link to Wikipedia). The clever quirky copy on its every label was mindfully composed to sell colored water in a plastic bottle.

V. Rebel, Rebel

Here's an idea of how to resist this particular marketing:
Eat oranges.

Really. I read on one of your blogs (RR's?) that people aren't eating many oranges because they don't want to do the work of peeling them.
We could start a rebel group...

VI. Mockery and Mufflers

I've been wanting to write about this peculiar American voice for a while.
What triggered me today is this interview with David Foster Wallace, who does not use it.

[Below, part 3 of 10, from 2003; sent to me by Lee. Thanks, Lee!]

Wallace says here--with awareness of the paradoxical bind he's in--that he thinks the idea, the work, of being a citizen is important.
He's ashamed to say stuff like that, he says, because "it'd be very easy to make fun of what I'm saying." He says he can hear the mocking voices in his head.

Boy, do I recognize this.

I think this is where the Voice of the Sock Monkey comes in. It muffles the voices inside our heads and the mockery outside.

Wallace does not use a muffler.
You can see him working hard to speak authentically here, wriggling to get around the blockades of doubt and dismay, which are visibly, in his body language, present.

And now, me and my fever are going to take a nap with Stuffed Panda.
But first I'm going to eat an orange.

* Besides Sock Monkey or Irony Lite, another popular modern style is belligerence, which we've seen a lot of lately.
Possibly belligerence is an expression of people who feel intellectually insecure;
while Ironic Lite is the expression of people who feel emotionally insecure?

Country-Western tends toward belligerence;
bright young things tend to employ Irony Lite.

P.S. An earlier post, on a related subject: Being American: Cheetohs and Arrogance.

I think the Voice of the Sock Monkey is also related to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl phenomenon.
2016 Update, via Tumblr--The Sock Monkey Abides!

Movies & Poetry: "The Drink"

Krista sent me this fun prose poem * last year, and now I'm rounding up connections between poetry and film, I finally have the perfect place to post it.

Does it bring a movie scene to mind?

"The Drink"

I am always interested in the people in films who have just had a drink thrown in their faces. Sometimes they react with uncontrollable rage, but sometimes––my favorites––they do not change their expressions at all. Instead they raise a handkerchief or napkin and calmly dab at the offending liquid, as the hurler jumps to her feet and storms away. The other people at the table are understandably uncomfortable. A woman leans over and places her hand on the sleeve of the man's jacket and says, "David, you know she didn't mean it." David answers, "Yes," but in an ambiguous tone––the perfect adult response. But now the orchestra has resumed its amiable and lively dance music, and the room is set in motion as before. Out in the parking lot, however, Elizabeth is setting fire to David's car. Yes, this is a contemporary film.

--by Ron Padgett,
from You Never Know, Coffee House Press, 2002

The movie scene that comes to my mind doesn't lend itself to the Ironic Lite tone that strikes the "I'm not deeply invested" note, so popular in modern life. (It's amusing, but for me, a little goes a long way.)

The scene is from To Kill a Mockingbird, and it paralyzed me when I was a kid:
the mad dog racist Bob Ewell spits in Atticus Finch's face, and Atticus merely takes out his handkerchief and wipes the gob off his cheek.

Only as an adult do I, a Northerner, see this movie is as full of class tension as it is of racial tension.

[Image from Screencap Heaven]

*Wikipedia notes prose poetry is bascially the same as what we now call flash fiction (a kind of microwriting).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

People Are Clever Monkeys

We are, aren't we?
We come up with the most amazing little problem-solving gadgets.

Do you recognize this one?

I came across this picture of this common object from my youth and realized my life has entered history.
How would an archaeologist in 300 years know what this object was?

It is a "spider" or a "spacer", a doohickey inserted in the wide center of a 45 record so it will fit on the narrow spindle of a 33 1/3 rpm record player.

Thomas Hutchinson invented it for RCA in the 1960s, and people bought millions of them every year.

It looks space agey, doesn't it?
Without corroborative evidence, a future archaeologist might guess it was a Star Trek insignia.

Or an IUD birth control device.

I went looking for a photo of an IUD to compare and found these IUDs (left), from the early 1900s. (From the Midwifery Fact File.)
The shaft goes into the uterus, with the button outside the cervix.
I had no idea these existed this early, but people aren't dumb. (Well, not about everything.)

These remind me of advice an old Southern woman gave me in 1978 on the neutering of cats.
I worked with this homespun woman in the cafteria of the student union in Madison, and she scoffed when I told her how much I'd paid to get my cats fixed.

Waste of money, she said:
"For a girl cat, just stick a few BB's inside her.
For a boy cat, wrap a rubber band tightly around his balls, and they'll drop off after a while."

I've been thinking a lot about material culture, looking for simple things to illustrate what life was like in colonial times.

Here's a good one:
George Washington's militia in 1754 ate up most of their food. All they had left was parched corn.
I had no idea what parched corn is, so I looked it up.
Basically, it's Corn Nuts--dried corn heated until it puffs a little bit.

Looking for info led me to all sorts of survivalist sites. Some of them are created by jolly, helpful, clever monkey folk.
Some of them by freaky cannibalistic folk.

Anyway, seems that after the Big One, humans will fall back on Corn Nuts. And homemade birth control, no doubt.
iPods are out, of course, but I bet we could hook our record players up to a bicycle-driven generator and listen to our 45s. If we could find a spider.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movies & Poetry: "A Film from the Sixties"

[Interview with Wislawa Szymborksa, The Guardian, July 15, 2000]

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (left) wrote one of the funniest descriptions of writing I've come across.

Here's what she says about the unfilmability of poets.
From her Nobel lecture, no less:
"It's not accidental that film biographies of great scientists and artists are produced in droves.
... Of course [they are] all quite naive and [don't] explain the strange mental state popularly known as inspiration, but at least there's something to look at and listen to.

"But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic.

"Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens ...

"Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?"
There may be few films about writing poetry, but poets do write poems about films. Including Szymborska.

To me, her wonderful poem "A Film from the Sixties" is like one of those riddle-poems from the Middle Ages that describe a thing and end with the question, "Who am I?"

I'll tell you my guess at the end.

"A Film from the Sixties"

This adult male. This person on earth.
Ten billion nerve cells. Ten pints of blood
pumped by ten ounces of heart.
This object took three billion years to emerge.

He first took the shape of a small boy.
The boy would lean his head on his aunt’s knees.
Where is that boy. Where are those knees.
The little boy got big. Those were the days.
These mirrors are cruel and smooth as asphalt.
Yesterday he ran over a cat. Yes, not a bad idea.
The cat was saved from this age’s hell.
A girl in a car checked him out.
No, her knees weren’t what he’s looking for.
Anyway he just wants to lie in the sand and breathe.
He has nothing in common with the world.
He feels like a handle broken off a jug,
but the jug doesn’t know it’s broken and keeps going to the well.
It’s amazing. Someone’s still willing to work.
The house gets built. The doorknob has been carved.
The tree is grafted. The circus will go on.
The whole won’t go to pieces, although it’s made of them.
Thick and heavy as glue sunt lacrimae rerum.
But all that’s only background, incidental.
Within him, there’s awful darkness, in the darkness a small boy.

God of humor, do something about him, okay?
God of humor, do something about him today.

--by Wislawa Szymborska
So, who could she be describing?

To me, those wonderful last lines give it away.

"The circus will go on" could be Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, with its crazy circus dance at the end, but the God of humor has got him well covered.

The small boy in "awful darkness" describes Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows, but how delightfully resilient the boy, Antoine Doinel, turns out to be. Way too funny.

I thought it might be Eric Rohmer, because of the reference to knees (Claire's Knee).
And Gene Hackman's character in the 1975 film Night Moves describes watching Rohmer's films as "kind of like watching paint dry." (Well, I like them.)
But still, I can't imagine any of his characters running over a cat.

I suppose the poem is a bit about all of these Sixties directors, but for my money, the answer is Jean-Luc Godard (left).

He's everything a cool French film director should be;
but if there's any leavening in his movies, godknows I missed it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Library-Book Thieves: George Washington

Now all of us who confessed to "never returning" library books can feel even more less alone.
Kellie alerted me to the recent news that George Washington has racked up $300,000 in fines for two never-returned library books, borrowed in 1789 from New York Society Library.

But I'm afraid we're not in very good moral company.
I mean, I knew Parson Weems made up the cherry tree story, but geez...

Here, listen to what Washington told his Seneca ally, Tanaghrisson, to get him to support British efforts to drive the French off native lands:

"[The] only motive of our conduct is to put you again in possession of your lands, and to dispossess the French, to maintain your rights and to secure the whole country for you." *

Talk about a whopper. Not only was it untrue in general (as Tanaghrisson probably knew),
but in specific, at that time Washington himself had money in a land speculation company that wanted to get its hands on these profitable lands.

There are good things you can say about George. Relentlessly honest is not one of them.

* Quoted in Alan Axelrod, Blooding at Great Meadows (2007), p. 161

Water Melon Light

When Augustine was a young man, back in the 300s, he hung out with a religious group called the Manichees, who believed, among other things, that you should eat foods that contain light.
Top of their list was watermelons.

This drawing is from the visual journal I kept when I was studying Augustine. You can see I wrote, "watermelons are commonly believed to have originated in North Africa [where Augustine was from]."
Yesterday Margaret posted a poem of hers that posits a more interesting origin. Here's the first part of her poem.


I know where they're from, the green zebra mother potatoes.
We have nothing to do with them, or the cultivating of them.
They grow full in the stomach of the sea until, touched by the sun in July,
the ocean unfurls them from her skin.

They float up the fathoms, break surface with a bob,
are swept into bare human arms, rushed ashore,
carried heavily like emerald-wet elephant eggs across hot sand,
over hills (swollen giant watermelons in grass-wombs),
into towns, cities, villages, valleys: wherever there are naked feet.

--by Margaret (Marz)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Exactly a Volcano...

This is the cover illustration for Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson.

In the comic strip version of the story, the comet hits Moominvalley and destroys the landscape, but immediately the flowers begin to bloom again. (I always think it's interesting to factor in that Jansson said she began to write the sweet but weird Moomin stories in response to World War II in Finland.)

Busy today, going over the layout of the Slovakia geography book (which I turned in last summer) one last time before it goes to the printer. It's fun to see the photos and captions in place. Soon, Finland will be ready to go too; though I won't see the actual books for a couple more months.
Blogging is so much better for instant gratification.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Begin Afresh"

Every spring the trees remind me of this poem; this year, today,
the young elm tree off my second-story porch.

"The Trees", by Philip Larkin (53 sec.)

(Above link to the poem on Jeanette Winterson's site. I agree with her: Larkin isn't my favorite poet either, but this poem is just right.)

Larkin reads "The Trees".

Friday, April 16, 2010


Thank you all for making my blog interesting this week, confessing things you've stolen. (Amazing the libraries have any books left at all!)

I'm not much for blog writing right now:
the verbal part of my brain is otherwise occupied, trying to fit together the puzzle pieces of colonial America.

Inside my head, the madness-inducing process (because of the mercury fumes) of making beaver-felt hats is bumping up against
the demographics of 1750 Virginia (almost half and half Euro- and African-American);
French Papists are handing out rosaries to Indians, and Indians are cutting off gun barrels to make flutes;
colonial women camp followers are washing soldier's linen,
and soldiers are eating parched corn--what does that taste like?

Aaargh. How am I going to pull this all together into a short book for kids?!

Luckily blogging isn't all writing--we have pictures 'n' stuff.
So, here're a couple simple-minded things that make me happy.

I. Slicing an Orange (23 sec.)

I love special effects made with everyday objects. Here, I slowed down the knife sharpening.
Listen: when the blade hits the steel,
you can hear why the orange stands no chance at all.

II. SFX = Shatner Effects

I'm still learning blogging tricks.
Jen recently told me how to post large images on blogspot: upload them from a photo-hosting site on the web. (I've always loaded them from my computer.)
So, I finally set up an account on Photobucket. Today I'm trying that tip...
OK, yeah, it works.

Now I just need to figure out how to get my blog banner to stretch out to fill the space behind the title. Do you know?

I found these Star Trek Special Effects among thousands of images on Zainin666's William Shatner Album. They were originally culled from Star Trek History, which has tons of good stuff about the show's production.

Six more Shatner SFX are on my account.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Are you doing what I'm doing?

April 15 = Tax Day in the United States

(NOTE: None of these books is stolen property.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Special Offer: Clear Your Conscience Here! (Plus, Soothe a Suffering Soul!)

My confession of stealing Paul Eluard's collection of poetry, Capital of Pain, has brought forth a fellow sinner.

Verily, our brother in blogging, Manfred Allseasons, hath commented...

"At last, a chance to confess.

I too have stolen (or taken on a long lend as I kept telling myself), three books. Plautus' The Rope and Others (not the Penguin edition, some Victorian hardback), from Hull University Library under the very nose of Philip Larkin, and two very old battered (not first editions) Waugh, Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust.

I swear I will return them. Well, the Plautus anyway. I was young and stupid and, it appears, slightly criminally inclined, but no more.

I would ask that your other correspondents confess their little crimes, M'lud, in an attempt to, y'know, make me feel better.

I should also say I have comitted no further crimes in the quarter century since these offences were committed..."

[end Manfred's comment]

So, how 'bout it?
Any stolen literature lurking on your bookshelves?
Or other trifling or not so trifling crimes or misdemeanors weighing on your conscience?

Come on, even Captain Kirk "borrowed" a few items in the past. Not to mention stealing starships.

[Answers in COMMENTS} 

Poetry: Light & Dark

Dania sent me the link for Eddie Izzard discussing Bobby Burns's poetry-writing process. (Thanks!)
It's even subtitled in Hungarian (I think) for added interest.

Long ago I'd posted Eddie Izzard Does Star Trek.

To balance the silliness, here's Anna Karina reciting from Paul Eluard's collection of poems, Capital of Pain, in Godard's Alphaville.
I was so enamored of this when I was fifteen, I stole a copy of Capital of Pain from the university bookstore.

("I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters
that I have sinned. In my thoughts and in my deeds...."

What can I say? It was an expensive edition and I was out of babysitting money.)

It is now my policy to avoid all works with "pain" in the title.

(More here: Close Up: Paul Eluard on the blog Thesis Anxiety)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rain: Night and Day

Distant thunder woke me up in the dark of the early morning, so I grabbed my movie camera. It was still raining when I got up a few hours later. Rain is a good thing.

[Be sure to move the cursor off the movie screen to make the menu bar go away (so you can see the title).]

"Rain: Night and Day" (25 sec.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rhymes with "Cow"

For the poetry round-up, Manfred contributed John Betjeman's wicked funny poem "Slough", which I'd never read before.

The BBC comic series The Office (the original and more disturbingly awful series) is set in Slough--an ugly industrial town (right).

The U.S. adaptation is set in Scranton, PA.

Here, Ricky Gervais as office manager David Brent (like Steve Carell's Michael Scott, but perfectly, slimely worse) takes John Betjeman down a peg or two.
Left me gasping.
"I don't think you solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place."

Show me the monkey.

"The great humorists were people who had been driven to despair and anger by the conduct of mankind.
In this respect, I am one of those people."

--Stanislaw Lem, (left, Polish author of Solaris, etc.)
from "Chance and Order", The New Yorker 59 (January 30, 1984) 88-98.

Mm. Yes. Very wise, very profound... But I WANT THAT SPACE MONKEY!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anna Walentynowicz, Woman of Iron, R.I.P.


I rolled over in bed this morning, turned my laptop on, and read, "Polish President, 96 Others Dead in Plane Crash".

I was shocked to read that Anna Walentynowicz is among the dead. I got out of bed and dug up the college paper I wrote about her in 1983, at the height of the Solidarity movement for justice and freedom she helped form.

This is the obituary I just wrote. An obituary with footnotes.

In August 1980, Anna Walentynowicz was a rather dumpy little fifty-year-old widow. In photos of the time, you often see her wearing a mauve polyester paisley dress and carrying a big black handbag, her hair in a granny bun.

She was also a crane operator at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, a tough town on the Baltic Sea.

Soon to retire from her job, she was fired for trumped up charges that August. The real cause was her ongoing work to form an independent labor union, something the Communist government outlawed.

It wasn't the first time the regime had punished her for her outspokenness.
The first time was in 1953.
Postwar Poland was under the paw of its neighbor the Soviet Union. Like many Polish women, Walentynowicz had gone to work in state-controlled heavy industry. After three years as a welder in the Rosa Luxemburg Brigade, she complained that women weren't receiving equal prize money as production incentives.
Pointing out inequality in the socialist system got her an eight-hour interrogation.

In 1968, the year a Soviet invasion of Prague crushed Eastern bloc hopes of reform, Walentynowicz was fired for speaking out against corruption in government trade unions, the only kind of union allowed.

Two years later, Poland broke out in strikes, protesting the government's enormous hike in food prices.
Walentynowicz described what happend at the Lenin Shipyards on December 15, 1970, called Bloody Tuesday:
"It was horrible. Tanks and trucks with police surrounded the shipyards. When the workers wanted to go out into the street and were told to halt, the shooting erupted. Those who fired were policemen dressed up in soldiers' uniforms. The first victims were right at our gates." [2]
By December 20, the official toll was 45 dead and 1,165 wounded.

Again she was arrested in 1978, this time for her work with Lech Walesa and others to organize independent labor unions. Their group, the Free Trade Union Committee, published the underground newspaper called Robotnik Wybreza (Worker of the Coast).

The English word robot comes from robota, which means work or labor, including the slave labor of serfs, in many Slavic languages. It also carries the sense of "drudgery." Czech author Karel Čapek introduced artificial people called robots in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), in 1920. [3]

The Polish workers' crusades against using people as if they were machines matched Poland's deeply Catholic culture.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II, once Karol Wojtyla of Poland, visited Poland and met with Lech Walesa.
In the pope's nonspecific but nevertheless obvious blessing on the workers' movement, he stated,
"Christ will never approve that man be considered, or that man consider himself, merely as a means of production. This must be remembered both by the worker and the employer...."[4]
On August 6, 1980, management fired Anna Walentynowicz again, just months from her retirement.
In the unjust firing of a well-liked woman, the Free Trade Union Committee found a rallying point.

On August 14, workers walked off their jobs, carrying signs demanding Walentynowicz's reinstatement. The strike committee also demanded a raise in pay and the right to an independent trade union.

Anna Walentynowicz and Lech Walesa, August 1980

On August 16, management agreed to everything. Except the trade union.

Walentynowicz described what happened on that day:
"[Lech] Walesa declared an end to the strike... and the workers started leaving the shipyard.... The workers standing outside from the other factories protested:
'You got your issues taken care of, but what about other people from other factories who were fired? They will be lost!'

What could we do? How could we stop 16,000 people leaving through three different gates?
We ran to the gate and I shouted, 'Let's have a solidarity strike!'

Then Alina [Pienkowka] took action. She stood on top of some barrels, such a close-to-tears girl in a candy pink blouse, and she said:
'We have to help the people from other factories because they won't be able to defend themselves....'

Alina's quiet voice stopped the masses of people. The gate was closed––then another. Six thousand people stayed in the shipyard.
For me, only in that moment did the Polish August begin." [5]
Walentynowicz was called "the most powerful orator in the whole strike movement." (pictured right) [6]

In an interview with the New York Times in August 21, 1980, when asked what the main cause of the strike was, Walentynowicz said:
"It is the lying and cheating the government does. The truth must be told to the people––that's the main thing.
We workers are much more sure of ourselves [compared to a disastrous strike in 1970]. In 1970 it was a shout of despair. We went into the streets calling 'we want bread for our work.'
Today our demands are different. We are more humanitarian, more political." [7]
And so the Solidarity--Solidarnosc--movement was born. A blend of workers' revolutionary fervor and Catholic social justice piety--a blend sometimes hard for those of us in the secular West to imagine––Solidarity brought down the Communist government in Poland and was influential in the eventual fall of the Soviet Union itself.

Before that happened, there was at least one more arrest for Walentynowicz. On December 13, 1981, General Jaruzelski declared martial law and put Poland under "state of war" status. Police arrested Soldiarity leaders along with radical priests, intellectuals, journalists, and any other people perceived as threats. Including Walentynowicz, who said:
"There was an old lady in our house, very ill with high blood pressure. I had to take her to the hospital. On the way a car pulled out, some men jumped out and tied my hands behind my back, bundled me into the car and left the old lady standing in the street." [8]
"Anna Walentynowicz with Lech Walesa, 8-29-80" [9]

Relations didn't proceed smoothly between Walentynowicz and Walesa. She felt he made too many compromises, and when Walesa received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, she commented,
"I started Solidarity, but the winner was Leshek [nickname for Lech]." [10]

At the time she was doing clerical work and campaigning against alcohol, saying "It's easy to rule a nation that drinks." [11]
Eventually she left Solidarity.

But Walentynowicz wasn't forgotten. On May 3, 2006, President Lech Kaczyński bestowed upon her the Order of the White Eagle.

Poland's highest decoration since 1705, the White Eagle was never awarded during the nation's Communist era. It was only given again in 1992, after the fall of communism.
How fitting that a woman of iron should get a cross of gold.

On April 10, 2010, along with President Kaczyński, Anna Walentynowicz was part of an official Polish delegation flying to western Russia to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Katyn Massacre: the slaughter by Soviet secret police of twenty thousand Polish officers and others in Katyn Forest at the beginning of World War II.
LEFT: Polish soldier at Katyn Memorial [12]

The plane crashed in thick fog, killing everyone aboard.

Former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said, "This is a great tragedy, a great shock to us all."

I wonder if he remembers that mauve paisley dress.


Anna Walentynowicz and Lech Walesa appeared as themselves in Man of Iron, by Andrzej Wajda. The filmmaker was part of a Polish "cinema of Moral concern."

"It is not exaggeration to say that films played a major role in the struggle for Poland’s independence," says blogger Venkat SIddareddy in a review of Man of Iron.

It is because of films that I know who Anna Walentynowicz was.
I went to see Man of Iron in 1983 and had not a bloody clue what was going on. Distressed at my ignorance, when I saw a course offered that fall on "Postwar Polish Culture," taught by Wlad Godzich, I signed up.
The paper I wrote: "Anna Walentynowicz, A Polish Woman, a Polish Worker" is one of the few college papers I saved.

(I haven't seen Strike, a fictionalized story of how Anna Walentynowicz (renamed Agnieszka in the film) provided the spark for Solidarity.
Walentynowicz reportedly did not like how she was portrayed. Now I'm going to watch it anyway.)


[1] Top photos:
a) Black-ribboned flags for plane crash victims, April 10, 2010, at Poznan, Mickiewicz Square, by Andrzej Monczak; from the gallery at Gazeta Wyborcza
b) Anna Walentynowicz by Michal Grocholski/AG 2008-12-05]

[2] Bloody Tuesday: "Catalyst of Poland's Crisis," New York Times, August 21, 1980, p. A-12.
Photo: "Gdansk,December 15, 1970," from Andrzej Friszke, Polska Gierka, [Gierek's Poland], Warsaw, 1995;
found at Anna M. Cienciala, History 557 Lecture Notes: Poland 1957-1980/81.

[3] Film poster for the Soviet film "R.U.R." after Karel Capek, 1935, from Wikimedia

[4] Pope John Paul II, from Lawrence Weschler, Solidarity: Poland in the Season of Its Passion, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982

[5] Urszula Wislanka, "The Solidarity Movement: Women's Roles," New Women's Times, March 1982, p. 1

[6] "most powerful orator," from Weschler, Solidarity: Poland in the Season of Its Passion

[7] "lying and cheating," from "Catalyst of Poland's Crisis"

[8] "ill old lady": Urszula Wislanka, "The Revolutionary Activities of Polish Women," Off Our Backs, April 1982, p. 12

[9] B&W photo of Walentynowicz and Walesa, © Harald Schmitt / stern

[10] "I started Solidarity": Wislanka, "Revolutionary Activities"

[11] "a nation that drinks": Ibid.

[12] Katyn Memorial, April 4, 2010, from Gazeta Wyborcza

People are sick puppies.

And I say that with all due respect.

FAR LEFT: Hannah Duston clutching Indian scalps;
Jim Beam commemorative bottle (1973-1976)

NEAR LEFT: Hannah Duston Bobblehead Sparks Controversy (2008)

Thanks to ORSINO for the heads-up about the Jim Beam bottle.

I wrote about how Anglo-American Duston and her kidnapped companions killed and scalped their Indian captors in 1697 here: Savages.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Lines of Others, Out Loud

Having found Hugo Ball's Karawane (from Annika) on youTube, I looked there for some of the other poets people quoted.

I couldn't find the specific poems, but it's nice to hear the poets' voices at least.

Here's the first crop.

I. Robert Frost

Margaret said: "One that's been lodged in me since a period of Frost fanaticism a couple years back:"

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

- Robert Frost, from "Desert Places"

Jennifer said: "Speaking of Frost, my favorite, typed from memory so the lines may break in the wrong places. [Nope. I checked and you were just missing a comma, which I added. --Fresca]
I love its succinctness, the colloquial sound of it even though it scans and rhymes in classical style. And I love the un-"Frost"ness of it--no Hallmark poetry there. : )"

"Fire and Ice"

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
This is the only video I found of Robert Frost live: a snippet from a poetry reading.

II. César Vallejo

Momo posted this poem in Spanish on Easter: "Masa" (Mass), by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo.
She said: "It's in Spanish and I can't find the better translation of it into English (there is one by Robert Bly that is servicable, but even the better one by Clayton Eshelman is not great). It's a resurrection poem without god. It reminds me that we are never alone."

So I (Fresca) went and found Leonardo Sbaraglia (from Argentina) reciting the poem in Spanish, with English subtitles.

III. T. S. Eliot

Clowncar said: "Lines encountered during a time of grieving, and have never left me."

In the dawn I gathered cedar-boughs
Sweet, sweet was their odor,
They were wet with tears—
The sweetness will not leave my hands.
--From "Song of Whip-Plaiting", by Constance Lindsay Skinner

"One more, that used to roll around in my head when I lived in Mpls, next to the Mississippi.
I love that river."

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god.
--From "The Dry Salvages" (No. 3 of the Four Quartets), by T. S. Eliot

Eliot reading "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" (which turned up on this blog last spring: Dare to Eat a Peach).

IV. Mary Oliver

Kellie said:

"You do not have to be good"

"The entire poem is a touchstone for me ("Wild Geese", by Mary Oliver), but that's the line that scrolls behind my eyes in all-caps at times. It is my talisman against useless guilt."

I couldn't find a video of Oliver, but here's an audio recording of her reading "Blackwater Pond" and "The Sun."

V. Nancy L. Wade

Nancy, who is working (I hope) on a way to record her poems, sent this poem she wrote:


when is a good time to die?
when broad leaves shelter
tiny lives singing, crawling, hiding,
as you should have sheltered,
or when loose dry leaves
swirl in a puff along the sidewalk
huddling like cold children.
perhaps when trees spread black,
naked limbs, appealing
for only a streak of light – or
when warmth comes, just a little,
enough so that when
those you have shadowed
return home without finally silent you,
there is one small,

--Nancy L. Wade

VI. Wendell Berry

Deanna said:
"I've loaned out my favorite poetry book, by Wendell Berry, but here's a line from his poem "Marriage," that might fit many relationships and is one of my very favorites:"

It is healing. It is never whole.

Wendell Berry Reading from Leavings

I had a hard time finding online the little poem "Marriage" by Wendell Berry (another of his marriage poems eclipses it), so I will post the whole thing here:


for Tanya

How hard it is for me, who live
in the excitement of women
and have the desire for them
in my mouth like salt. Yet
you have taken me and quieted me.
You have been such light to me
that other women have been
your shadows. You come near me
with the nearness of sleep.
And yet I am not quiet.
It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Jane McCrea was killed and scalped in 1777, during the American Revolution.
John Vanderlyn depicted it in his 1804 painting The Death of Jane McCrea. This painting, below, is, I think, the sort of image that comes to mind when Americans like me think of scalping.
But here's a reversal of (my) expectations:
Hannah Duston Killing the Indians.

Painted in 1847, by Junius Brutus Stearns, this shows colonial American Hannah Duston and her companions (actually just one other woman and a fourteen year old boy) tomahawking their Abenaki Indian captors--a family of two men, three women, and six children.
Duston had been captured and her six-day-old baby killed during a raid on their settlement, Haverhill, Mass., in 1697, during the first round of the French and Indian Wars.

The captives scalped ten of the Abenaki (two escaped) and brought their scalps back to Massachusetts for bounty money.
Hannah became a hero, with a statue and everything, her story written up by Puritan minister Cotton Mather, of Salem Witch Trial fame.

There's a ton of cultural baggage to all this, but there is no doubt in my mind, studying history, that we are a savage species.
And those Puritans... I wouldn't want to meet them in the dark.

More here: Hannah Dustin: The Judgement of History,
 by Kathryn Whitford)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Brave Wolfe"

Not feeling bloggy because I'm lost in the wilderness of the French and Indian War again.

I asked my pal Peg, who knows traditional folk music, if there are any songs from the French and Indian War. She turned up "Brave Wolfe, or the Battle of Quebec," sung here by Carolyn Hester.

I've already posted the painting "The Death of Wolfe" romanticizing James Wolfe, the English general who beat the French at the Battle of Quebec in 1759--almost the last big battle of the war.

The liner notes say: "In America, the backwoods bards paid tribute to the sweetheart he left grieving for him in the haunting ballad where she is made to say, 'Strange news is come to town, strange news is carried, some say my love is dead. . . "

Of course, when you read about these war heroes, they're usually not romantic or even likable at all, and Wolfe certainly wasn't. He waged what was essentially a terrorist war against the Canadians--not that that was unusual in this war.

Anyway, it's a good song--it survived 150 years before being written down.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Brain on LSD

Last night, Maura, my friend who won't give up (thank you, Maura!), figured out how to view the confusing CD of my brain scan I got last December. The docs were ruling out brain weirdness as a cause of my vertigo, and I now have official confirmation that my brain is normal.

Looking at the 51 stills was freaky. They called out to be animated and set to equally freaky music.
And what's freakier than Bill Shatner's rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"?
Here's the result: 17 seconds of LSD is about all you can listen to without risking brain damage.

This is from Shatner's album The Transformed Man (1968), which turns up on many compilations of Worst Albums Ever Released.
But it's so exquisitely bad that it's good.

Speaking of the Best of the Worst, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post a picture of Dr. McCoy operating on "Spock's Brain".

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roses in Shadow

bink borrowed my camera on Good Friday for the evening service of Tenebrae (shadows, darkness), probably the most dramatic liturgy of the Catholic church year.
She distilled the service into 3 minutes, ending with a shower of rose petals, dropped from the catwalk by Cathy and herself.

(If the video stalls, hit the "pause" button and wait for the whole thing to load before playing.)

Tenebrae, by bink

"Miserere nobis" = Have mercy on us.

[I had earlier posted the 2-minute video of bink hanging banners for Holy Week, here: Passion Banner.]

The Lines of Others: Annika

Annika actually quoted this Dada poem before I asked people to offer favorite lines for National Poetry Month. It's so good, it goes in the pot.

(Please, anyone who wants to, keep leaving more in the comments--with a little explanation of what they mean to you.)

Poet Hugo Ball (below) started Dada in World War I in response to what he saw as the "glaring mistake" of confusing people for machines.

Hugo Ball reading his Dada sound poem "Karawane," Cabaret Voltaire, 1916, and the original typesetting of the poem.

Image found on Dali House--also there, a nice write up about Hugo Ball.

Here's a rendition I like a lot because of the dancing typefaces:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Recover'd Greenness

Thank you all for the wonderful lines of poetry in the previous post's comments! If people want to continue to leave favorite lines of poetry (please do!), I'll post them all together later.

Yesterday I jotted down scraps of poems as I walked around the lake. Half wrong, mostly, and now I see the lines from a poem I wanted to post this Easter morning are actually from two different poems:

Who would have thought my shrivl'd heart
Could have recover'd greeness?
What is all this juice and all this joy?

[Top lines: from The Flower by George Herbert (1593–1633)
Bottom line: from Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins.]
Fair enough--they both catch the surprise one feels at recovering from desolation--whether that's the desolation of winter or grief.

Living in Minnesota, I love how we all react like startled cats when spring jumps out at us one. more. time.

The deep surprise of recovery from grief, though, is on a different order of magnitude, or it was for me.
It's not that we don't expect spring to return,
it's just that winter's so very l o o o o o ng, we kind of forget we expect spring.

But the desolation of grief felt final to me, like death not sleep.
I figured I would be OK in the long run, you know, but never fully well again.

But it turned out my heart was like the Easter basket made of willow my friend Laura left sitting in her basement laundry sink.
In the dark, damp place, the willow branches started to sprout.
Laura is a gardener, and she took one of the branches and planted it next to the pond in her backyard. Now she has a young willow tree.

Anther of my favorite images of surprise at the return of life is Rembrandt's sketch of Mary Magdalene mistaking the risen Christ for a gardener (the first image).
Her smile when she recognizes him is my favorite.

But I actually prefer the Christ Rembrandt's student drew (second image), with his casual pose.
I'd like to put elements of the two drawings together: Mary's smile and Jesus' lean.

(I guess the idea that she thought he was a gardner came from a misreading of the original text, but it is a happy mistake:
of course the resurrected Christ is a gardener, like my friend Laura with her willow branches.)

I recognize Mary's sweet relief from dreams:
my mother and my friend Jim, both dead, have both appeared to me in dreams, and my feeling is like nothing else.
Herbert's lines about "recover'd greenness" grabbed me many years ago.
Reading his poem again now, I see there's more to it than I caught back then:
it's also about the surprising power of renewal after the passing of youth.

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.


I was surprised, too, to read that Samuel Taylor Coleridge called this "a delicious poem" because I'd thought describing something as "delicious" was a 21st century thing, but seems it's been around before. Of course.

Finally, I've written before about how deeply grateful I am for rock 'n' roll and Captain Kirk:
both expressions of that same life force.
Their surprising power represents to me another line of poetry, Dylan Thomas's
"the force that through the green fuse drives the flower".

(Poem here.)

And now, I'm off to brunch.
Happy Easter!
Top image: left: "Christ as a Gardener Appearing to Mary Magdalene," Rembrandt, about 1640.
Bottom image: Same title: once credited to Rembrandt, this drawing is now credited to his student Ferdinand Bol.
(Both from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.)

More on Rembrandt and His Students, courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum

Saturday, April 3, 2010


LEFT: Men hauling tuna nets, Trapani, Sicily,
by Andrea Pistolesi

The Academy of American Poets asked people to share "the lines of poetry that are the most vital to you, along with notes about the precise situation that summoned them to mind."

Reading the respones here: Life/Lines,
I want to dig into the various pockets of my life for lines always to hand, like a tube of Carmex, or surprising, like a twenty in last year's winter coat.

I will post a few here and there for National Poetry Month.

Today I have a newly minted one. It's an accidental poem, still crisp from that ATM, my e-mail inbox:

Hey, Grrrl!

Did I screw up?
I thought you were coming over today
--Good Friday--
at 3 p.m. to our house.
I wrote it in my journal
right away.
Maybe my brain was goofy from back pain.... Come over, please
if you can. I've made organic salade nicoise and

here you are!


I had arrived at 4 p.m. (the time I had written down), my doorbell interrupting the writer, my friend Stef, but she sent it anyway, an unusual freeze-frame of a body entering into the nets.

I didn't open the message until this morning, and it made me laugh, like William Carlos Williams's plums. (You know.)

The time and day and mention of pain* give this casual "where ARE you?" note an extra resonance. Even the salad with its tuna echoes the old Catholic practice of fasting from meat on Fridays (even now, during Lent).

In fact, the writer is Jewish, which the reader can't know. But I do;
so, it doesn't count in the world, but in my pocket there's another intersection because this year Good Friday falls fittingly during Passover.

All this was accident--like the note itself--neither Stef nor I were celebrating, it just happened to be the day that worked to get together.
The final reason I love this notepoem is because we had such a nice evening--lying around on her couch late, eating candied ginger and chocolate-covered almonds and laughing.
Yeah, that's not in the note either, but the question is,
Why are these lines in your pocket?

I'd love to hear what's in other people's.

* re time, day, pain: Jesus died at 3 p.m. on Good Friday. It hurt.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I Sing the Body Electric (for Margaret)

[NOTE: I've since turned these macros into a video slide-show: I Sing the Captain Electric]

The pleasure Margaret's wonderful macros give, especially the one she made for my birthday, made me to want to make a mélange of my own again.
I'm not sure when Margaret's birthday is exactly, but I know she's an Aries like the captain, so it's somewhere in here.
This is dedicated to her, in thanks for her inspiration and with best wishes for her last year as a teenager.

Lines from Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric"
Click on images to embiggen.

Screencaps, as always, thanks to that treasure trove Trek Core.