Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Scholars of war

Kill Your Darlings is a 2013 film about the beat poets, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, behaving in ways Harry Potter certainly never did. Oh my.

Those Two, Allan Ginsberg
That tree said
I don't like that white car under me,
it smells gasoline
That other tree next to it said
O you're always complaining
you're a neurotic
you can see by the way you're bent over. 

I never much liked the Beats. Reading them reminds me of the guys in college who holed up in blacklit dorm rooms smoking clove cigarettes and pretending to like Chartreuse. Wait, that was me. Well no wonder I never liked the Beats - I was really annoying in my blacklit dorm room clove cigarette days. Though in my defense, I never claimed to like Chartreuse. It's like licking the bottom of a spice cabinet. But I digress as usual.
In the film, the boys talk about overthrowing the fascism of meter and rhyme; the tyranny of propriety and decency. About chucking everything the establishment claimed was poetry.
The Beats weren't the first to liberate poetry from rules and rhythms. Ginsberg was heavily influenced by the long and sometimes meandering free form lines of Walt Whitman, who wrote a half a century before (though Whitman was far from the first poet to write in what we today call free verse). 

A Song, Walt Whitman 
COME, I will make the continent indissoluble;
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever yet shone upon;
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of
America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over
the prairies;
I will make inseparable cities, with their arms about each other's
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.

For you these, from me, O Democracy, to serve you, ma femme!
For you! for you, I am trilling these songs,
In the love of comrades,
In the high-towering love of comrades. 

Yeah, poetic trailblazers of the 20th century liberated poetry from the shackles of form and tradition, and a great many great works were created that could never have been shoehorned in to a sonnet or a villanelle
i sing of Olaf glad and big, ee cummings

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or
his wellbelov├ęd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”
straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)
but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”
our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died
Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too
preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.
But did we throw the baby out with the bath water?
My poetry professors warned us not to rhyme when we wrote, sometimes forbidding rhyming poetry outright, even as we studied Shakespeare's sonnets. Literary magazines often won't even deign to read rhyming submissions before tossing them in the trash - their submissions pages often warn writers not to even bother submitting poems that rhyme.
But why?  Is it impossible to imagine that there's room for both structured and unstructured poetry?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I read poetry periodicals from time to time and I've got to say, this oblique, opaque, meandering poetry that's in vogue today is rarely exciting or memorable. I have never read a verse in The New Yorker and felt inspired or excited (also, I admit it, I don't get the cartoons. There, I said it). Certainly nothing that gets me as jazzed as Shakespeare or even Springsteen. 
It feels kind of like we locked grandpa in the basement so that our kids wouldn't be poisoned by his age and wisdom.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return

A member of the Akron trans community was murdered this week, though it remains to be seen whether she was killed because of that, or because of some other hatred. It has me thinking of all my trans friends who are made to be afraid to leave their homes, almost as afraid as they are of dying having never lived as the person they know in their hearts they were meant to be. 
And it leaves me to ponder why, why in the hell some people are so fixated on the supposed sin of homosexuality, when there are so many more dire evils in the world, like the murder of people who died only as their real lives began.
Only I think I figured it out. Actually, I think I figured it out when I was four - when I informed my mother in all seriousness that I'd be giving up vegetables for Lent. See, giving up the things we like is hard, so we scream and yell about the sins of people who do stuff we have no desire to ever do.
90% of people have no idea what it is to be in love with someone of our own gender, to be considered a monster based on something they couldn't change if we wanted to. It is so easy, when we have no desire to do something, to jump up and down and scream that it's a sin.
The Bible condemns avarice dozens of times, but we don't want to give up our SUVs and our cable TVs, no, so we yell and scream about the half dozen times the Bible mentions homosexuality in hopes God and the world won't notice our hypocrisy (a trait the Bible also condemns dozens of times over). 
So we make others' lives a living hell, or we foment a hatred so vitriolic that it leads horrifyingly often to murder. We point and shriek until gay people begin to feel their lives aren't worth living - the Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates 30-40% of gay youth have attempted suicide.
I'll say that again - at least a third of gay youth have tried to end their own lives. The Bible condemns wrath and cruelty but by god we can't possibly be expected to give that up so let's just go ahead and beat and bully and condemn and hate and hate and hate so loud that we think we can bury our own sins far from God's sight. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My pretty little head

Now that the 50 Shades movie is upon us, editorials abound warning about unhealthy messages and violent urges. 
I'm gonna opine all over that in a minute, but first a public service announcement:
I haven't seen 50 Shades, but I've heard it's not so big on the safe aspect of "safe, sane, and consensual" (or the sane. or the consensual.) So if you've never done the BDSM thing before, but the movie made you want to try, learn how to be safe. Even simple handcuff play can cause serious injury if you don't know what you're doing, so don't do it until you've learned how.
But on with the opining. There's something really bothersome to me about all the editorializing about bad messages and unhealthy relationships. I feel that sort of talk infantilzes women. Nobody wags their fingers at grown-ass men and says "Now, Mr. Bond bangs 8 ladies in this movie, but don't you bang 8 ladies because that's not healthy." Of course they don't. They are grown up men and it would be absurdly condescending. 
So how come women can't be trusted to put two and two together and realize they equal "creepy sociopath"?  We didn't enter suicide pacts after watching Romeo and Juliet in English class, so I think we can safely assume that women aren't so frail of mind that they can't deduce what's a healthy relationship decision and what's not.

If Pretty Woman didn't convince us all to turn to prostitution as a great way to meet men, I think we can read 50 Shades without leaping into bed with the first abusive billionaire who starts stalking us. It's for pretend, and we're grown-ass women who are perfectly capable of telling the difference between real and pretend.

At one time, people believed that sexual excitement and fantasy in women could make them go insane and develop female hysteria, a condition sometimes "cured" by the surgical removal of the clitoris. Women were simply too frail to handle sexual fantasy without going stark raving insane.

Some articles say that women who like 50 Shades need therapy, so I consulted an expert on women's own frailty when it comes to their own sexuality. Dating coach David Wygant explains why women "can't handle sex" perfectly on his website when he says 
A lot of women can’t handle the feelings they get when they have sex... women are not wired that way. The beauty of your emotional wiring is that when you do have sex, you’re giving your soul and your heart to another person and you do get all confused. And that’s a beautiful thing.
See, as women, we aren't wired to understand that just because sex with a controlling nutter looks sexy on screen, we shouldn't have sex with controlling nutters in real life. Because when we indulge in a sexual fantasy, we get all confused. And that's a beautiful thing, apparently.
Now the billions of dudes the world over who watch Internet porn, they don't need therapy because men are different from women, constitutionally capable of understanding that glory holes are fun in porno but not so much in real life. They don't need therapy when they play Grand Theft Auto, a game that literally lets you screw and then murder prostitutes because they're men, and men can handle these things. Women? No way. 

50 Shades is a fantasy, and fantasies don't need to have Socially Redeeming Value. The primary audience for the books and films are married, suburban, middle-class women approaching middle age. They've got kids who need braces and crushing debt and soul-sucking jobs, and love handles and husbands with waning libidos. So they like to take a minute and imagine the life of a woman who never has to worry about money and gets to follow her bliss and has sex with a powerful man who can't get enough of her. 
50 Shades is an awful book series and an awful movie about an awful man in love with an awful woman. It is also for pretend. Batman has sex with an international supervillian who wants to kill him, but don't you have sex with international supervillians because that is too dangerous. Ana has sex with a very bad man, but don't you have sex with very bad men because you are too stupid not to know that.

(Note: I do know the BDSM community has a legitimate beef with 50 Shades, in that gets pretty much everything about safe, sane, and consensual play wrong. That is a totally fair criticism - it's a book by tourists, for tourists, and neither James or her readers will ever get it right because they'll never actually be part of the scene. But considering this is the first mainstream depiction of BDSM that even mentions things like hard limits, contracts, safe words, etc., I don't think it's unreasonable to cut it a little slack.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blurred lines - you know you want it.

Jeremy and I don't do Valentine's Day. Not our thing. But that hasn't stopped everyone who asks either of us about our Valentine's Day plans from insisting that I am totally lying about not wanting to do Valentine's Day. It seems that I secretly hope that Jeremy will sweep me away for a Valentine's Day surprise, showering me with candy and Italian food and necklaces shaped like snakes.

That's not the only thing I'm told I'm keeping mum on. Three different jewelry stores told Jeremy I was lying about wanting a star sapphire for an engagement ring. What I really wanted was a diamond. And while the jewelry stores had a financial motivation, that doesn't explain the tacky comments I got about my fiance being too cheap to buy me the diamond I had specifically said I didn't want.
Of course, that was before they made these.

...Wait, I think I get it. When a woman says sapphire she means diamond, and when she says no, she means yes. And if a woman tells a man "no," then it's up to the man to override her decision if he thinks she meant something else. All coming into focus now.
No, I'm not comparing Valentine's Day surprises to rape. But the whole Valentine game is emblematic of the attitudes that keep people from accepting that no means no.
As women, we're programmed from birth to not ask for what we want. A woman who admits to wanting shiny baubles and jewelry that looks like snakes is greedy, a gold digger.
She should have been much more specific.
And men are programmed too. Valentine's commercials hint or outright say that if they want to get laid - or even sleep in the same bed - on Valentine's day, the price has got to be right. They're led to believe that a real man makes the decisions, whether the decision is whether their woman is lying about not wanting a diamond, whether a woman means yes when she says no.
In the words of Jeff Winger, "I think we've just found the world's newest profession."
When men and women choose to buy into this nonsense, they're playing a game invented by the patriarchy, and the patriarchy always wins.
Dude, we gotta stop embracing the attitudes that keep us down. Sex is not a transaction. And we're not greedy bitches if we say what we want. And men aren't more manly when they decide what their women wants or doesn't. And here's a radical thought: women are perfectly allowed to go buy themselves a snake necklace if they want one. We don't have to sit around waiting for him to guess, and that doesn't make him any less of a man.
Also, is there any woman who doesn't see Valentine's day as a blur of chocolate induced heartburn and a crushing sense of disappointment capped off by lackluster obligatory sex? 
And is there a guy who doesn't see Valentine's Day as a day of immense pressure to prove his love with baubles shiny enough to not disappoint? Eff that noise. Wait until the 15th and buy that candy sampler from the discount bin. Go out to dinner the night after and you won't be packed like sardines into the Olive Garden trying to digest food while surrounded by other people trying to cram romance down each other's throats like all-you-can-eat bread sticks.
And for god sakes, you do not want those stupid open heart necklaces. They look like snakes. Snakes are not romantic. They're snakes. How can you look at these things and not see snakes? 
Wait, it comes with kitty paws now? Forget everything I just said.
I hope that sumbitch knows there needs to be one for each cat,
or else he's sleeping on the couch for a week.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You have literally ruined literally

Today, someone showed me an afghan their relative had made and I said that this was literally the nicest afghan I'd ever seen. Now, when I say literally, I mean literally, but the person I said that to doesn't know that. Because people have ruined it. Those people are literally monsters.
"But Brigid," you may be asking, "aren't you all enlightened about linguistic prescriptivism and super evangelical about it?" Yes, yes I am. Normally. But we are now literally out of words that mean literally. You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you all to hell!
Literally the nicest afghan I have ever made. Literally.

Yes, I did make this afghan just for this blog post. I literally need a social life.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The definition of rape culture

My sophomore year of college, we had a "peeping tom" on campus. Which is to say that there was a man entering school buildings and sneaking into dorms, exposing himself to and threatening women, whom the authorities called a peeping tom. There must be an alternate definition of "peeping" I've not heard.
I did a story on it for the school newspaper. I talked to a campus police officer who rushed to assure me that people were making a way bigger deal of things than was warranted. I asked him if it was true that he had sneaked into a dorm and assaulted a woman in the shower. 
"No, no." He assured me. 
"But he entered the women's bathroom in a dorm."
"And got in the shower with a woman."
"And grabbed her breast."
"And that's not assault."
"No, we don't call that assault."
I have many regrets in life. Perhaps the greatest was that I did not break into that rent-a-cop's house, climb into his shower with him, grab his balls, and ask him if he felt assaulted.
It's funny. I was such a rabid feminist back then, so loud and angry about injustice. But I didn't dig my teeth into that and I do not understand why. I think as with so many things, I was more interested in being outraged than fixing the situation than caused it.
I am not a conspiracy theorist. Like, at all. But I believe colleges knowingly and intentionally hide rape on campus for financial reasons. Colleges could never get away with forcing underclassmen to live in dorms if they were transparent about on-campus rape and sexual assault. 
Lake Erie at Maumee Bay
After a huge storm churned up all the mud

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I read recently that when it comes to vaccines, parents should have a choice. Which is a funny way of putting it.
Parents of children with leukemia now have a choice: take my kid on their Make a Wish trip to Disneyland and risk their death, or keep my kid shut up in the house and keep them alive.
Parents of infants too young for vaccines have a choice: take my baby to day care and risk a long and dangerous illness, or stay home with my kid until the outbreak is over and risk unemployment. 
Parents of kids with AIDS have a choice: take my sick kid to the doctor and risk their catching a deadly disease, or keep my sick kid home and risk their dying of the disease they've already got. 
Pregnant parents have a choice: avoid public spaces where measles could be spread, or risk miscarriage or stillbirth. 
In the words of my friend Diane, doctor and all around amazing lady:

When you choose not to vaccinate, it's not just about you and your family. If [an immunocompromised] child... has to stay away from school because of the foolish decisions of parents who can and should vaccinate their healthy children, then aren't their actions really saying that their pseudoscientific beliefs are more important than an ill child's right to an education?