Poetry Hit: The Secret by Denise Levertov

I read poetry in the morning or before bed, one poem after another that I don’t understand or that doesn’t resonate with me, until I find one that makes me stop.

The Secret

BY DENISE LEVERTOV

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.
I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines
in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.
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Kitchen Sink Links

A photo history of male affection on The Art of Manliness. This is my favorite link all week. Possibly all month. The men in these pictures didn’t see their poses as gay; the modern Western viewer (with some exceptions) probably does, but we’re imposing our worldview, so different from theirs. So worth scrolling down for all the pictures.

I Am Fed Up with Missing White Girls from Reading the End

Striking Portraits of Muxes, Mexico’s ‘Third’ Gender, on Feature Shoot
Of course, these portraits leave me wondering about the women who feel like men, and are they included in the third gender, is there a fourth, or is it only men who get to play.

I’ve been looking for good non-fiction and cities are a fascinating topic. Brainpickings has a list: Understanding Urbanity: 7 Must-Read Books About Cities

And ancient cities: 8 Ruined Cities that Remain a Mystery to this Day, from io9

Capturing the Ephemeral and Enduring Spaces that Make Brooklyn Weird from Atlas Obscura (Am I the only one who wishes they would fix their font? The sans serif they use is difficult enough for people with normal vision to use; I imagine that anyone with vision problems or learning disabilities just give up.)

Classic Dr. Who: The Green Death

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been watching some classic Dr. Who to remind me of what I used to love so much about the show. I’ve pretty much hated new Who since Donna. Why did she have to be assertive and screechy? Why was the fact that she was not-typically attractive linked to her not being romantically attracted to the doctor? (Unlike those more conventionally attractive companions, who were blond or slim and feminine even while saving the world and disgustingly infatuated. Please.) And finally why the hell didn’t they let her die the hero’s death that she wanted instead of consigning her to her dead-end hopeless life where she didn’t even have a memory of all she’d become? In other words, I stopped being able to ignore the writers’ and producers’ misogyny. And it’s only gone down from there, until each episode of new Who is a torture of waiting for the moment I, as a lifelong female fan of Dr. Who, will be betrayed. I keep watching, hoping they will prove me wrong, and they keep meeting my low expectations.

Sometimes I think the writers of new who think they’re writing for The Highlander: There can be only one! No one can be as smart, resourceful or interesting as the doctor and there certainly isn’t any space for another timelord any more, even when the convoluted logic of the show would allow for it. Like that episode with the doctor’s daughter–they killed her off real quick didn’t they? And don’t even get me started on Clara. It’s the wasted potential that gets me the angriest.

Anyway, this wasn’t intended as a post about misogyny, but about how so many social concerns have remained the same over the 50 years of the show’s history. (Although misogyny is one of those things.)

Take The Green Death from 1973. It was produced either just prior to or smack in the middle of the 1973 oil crisis and during the economic uncertainty of the decade.  The series takes place at the site of an old coal mine in Wales, where laid-off coal miners are protesting the loss of their jobs. Concern about fossil fuels, unemployment and problems with the economy sound familiar? The facility is being used for a new oil refining process that is being touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts. UNIT is called in to investigate some suspicious green deaths, and ultimately is ordered by the prime minister to protect the site/blow up the mine, against the advice of scientists, to contain the infection. Profit and productivity are king, with death, pollution and the environment afterthoughts that can be cleaned up later.

Sounds a lot like today’s fracking. It especially echoes the current situation in Balcombe, England, where the government has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for police to protect the energy company that is conducting fracking from…taxpayers. And where fracking is touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts, while meanwhile it is poisoning our ground and water, and using up clean water and creating shortages.

There are also the “kooks” who believe in alternative energy sources like wind, solar and tidal energy and who are protesting the pollution and destruction of the environment.

Change a few words, and The Green Death isn’t about the 1970s oil crisis; it’s about fracking and 2013’s struggle between climate change deniers and everyone else. We have made some progress in the acceptance of alternative energy sources and the idea is no longer so fringe, although it is not by any means mainstream.

What else hasn’t changed? The misogyny. I was probably too steeped in the 80s brand of misogyny, or I just didn’t want to remember, the patronizing treatment of Jo, by the doctor and everyone else. Surprisingly, the brigadier seems to treat her as an equal more than anyone else. (Although thank god female actors aren’t expected to whimper today as much as they were in the 60s and 70s, especially the young ones. How did they even stand themselves? And did all that really make men feel manly?) All the men talk down to her, and she plays scatter-brained blond for them and offers to fetch them coffee. No doubt her mother told her men don’t like smart women. And the doctor engages in underhanded manipulation the equal of anything under Moffat, when he tries to prevent Jo from making her own decision about leaving him for the “kooky” professor (who totally has the same 70s haircut as Jo).

But actually, is the misogyny the same, or is it worse? I’m jumping back and forth between the Pertwee and Baker eras as episodes sound interesting and not in any particular order. In my head cannon, audiences loved Sarah Jane Smith because she had agency, and Ramona, in both her incarnations, was supposed to keep an eye on the doctor–and was just as smart and resourceful, and of course was a timelord herself.

I’ll see as I watch more episodes. What’s my memory of the show, what’s actually in the show, what’s the subtext. I’ve already learned that the doctor was emotionally manipulative even on the early shows  (Hartnell’s doctor doesn’t count, he was obsessive scientist manipulative in that he didn’t care about anyone but himself, and so much changed when he left the show and the creators decided to keep going.)

Oh, does anyone know if those are real Welsh accents? I could understand them remarkably well but I can’t understand a thing Stacey on Gavin and Stacey says. And I just love the doctor’s pride in his cross-dressing talents.

The Green Death

Pitmad: First 250 words

THE DESERT WALL

Malenie was hiding. The sun burned hot and brilliant on the white plaster and dull adobe houses, banishing the shadows from even so narrow an alley. Sweat prickled along her hairline. She leaned against the wall, its grit rubbing off on her back, and tried to stop panting. Fear and humiliation made a hard fist of her stomach, urging her to run again. Only two streets over, the market hummed with activity, promising safety.

“I hate them,” she whispered soundlessly, though she wanted to shout. She had been careless after almost a moon without trouble, and now here she was, with at least one bully somewhere behind her. But a cactus never has just one spine, and bullies never travel alone. She tucked her black hair behind her ears, pressed herself closer to the house behind her and crept forward. She peeked around the corner, thinking, Please.

The boy was so close she smelled fennel and anise on his breath as they both recoiled. “Told you,” said the tall girl with him, stepping forward and forcing Malenie back into the alley. Malenie’s heartbeat seemed to shake her whole body, demanding that she fight or run. Run or fight. The boy followed half a breath later, straightening his shoulders, trying to look bigger, but the girl didn’t notice. Pursing her lips, she looked Malenie up and down. “Where you going, Red?”

The insult stung and Malenie said, “I don’t want to fight,” knowing it was the wrong thing to say even as she said it.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Since I finished Orphan Black, and I’m not allowed to watch The Wire without my husband, I’ve been looking for a new TV show to inhale watch on Netflix. Someone mentioned MI-5 was good and there are a lot of episodes so I thought I would give it a try.

Mistake.

I got to the second episode and it was WTF, hell, no time.

Meet Helen, a trained agent, who makes no attempt to save her own life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen is admin, not a field agent, but at the beginning of episode 2 when she’s angling to get into the field, she very clearly states: I’ve taken all the trainings.  This could be a cool story line, right? The woman stuck in a gendered class of employment who longs for something else and believes she has what it takes to make it as a field agent. Wrong.

Helen is not the hero of her own story. She’s motivation-bait for her coworker, Steve (or something, I’ve blocked it out of my mind already). Steve is the hero, and Helen is here to make sure he goes down the proper path of fulfilling his mission, feeling a shit-ton of grief and making the right choice of taking the next step in his relationship with the woman in his life.

Presumably, training for British spies involves at the least self-defense, unarmed combat, weapons training, negotiation–actually I have no idea what training for real spies is like–but on TV it seems the men get training in all those areas. And Helen has taken all the trainings, remember? She said so. Her superiors allowed her into the field, so she must have taken them and done well.

But when her life is threatened, does she do any more than gasp and look blondly terrified? Why, no, she doesn’t. Sure there’s a thug with a gun, but the mastermind criminal holding her–not very securely I might add–is threatening to put her hand in boiling oil (which eww, as a call out to the specifically gendered violence against women in areas of Asia, is disgusting).

Never mind that she’s got one hand completely free (the one you can’t see in the screenshot), her feet are untied and, oh yeah, he’s not holding her in a very secure way.

So what could our trained Helen do?

She could stomp those little black boots on his toes or instep and break them. I bet the pain would make him take notice, maybe even loosen his grip

She could kick his knees and do some serious damage because she’d be kicking against the joint. Knees aren’t meant to bend that way, but they will under pressure

She could head-but him, not my personal favorite, but she could break his nose

She’s also got that free hand. Maybe he has a gun on him. Maybe he has a knife. She could elbow him in the ribs and then slam her fist into his nose/temple/throat. She could gouge out his eyes, hook his nose or mouth and cause some distracting pain. Or my personal favorite (I am not a bloodthirsty person, but depictions of women on TV drive me to it. The writers had a CHOICE. They MADE THIS ONE. We don’t all get choices all the time. In real life, women are assaulted and killed without a chance to defend themselves, but this is NOT REAL LIFE.) Anyway, back to my personal favorite and the favorite of women everywhere: she could grab his testicles and twist/yank/squeeze his brains out.

Oh, wait, did I mention that he’s not holding her very securely? That arm is not around her throat. There is absolutely no reason that in terror for her life Helen could not turn into his hold so she’s facing him and make it a lot harder for him to dunk her in oil without dunking himself. And then she could attack him in any of the ways mentioned above but face to face, because, yanno, she’s a trained agent.

But no, she dies and poor Steve finally finds a negotiating point and manages to save himself…too late for Helen, who’s just another incapable, weak woman sacrificed on the TV altar of women are victims… to keep us real-life women victims too.

Try this at home. Well, don’t try it on your friends and loved ones. Find someplace that teaches women, specifically, self-defense, and then go beat the hell out of the padded attackers. It’s scary. It might give you an adrenaline headache. You might hurt your hands on the punching bag. You might have to be told 100 times how to punch correctly. Or, hell, you might have untapped skills as fighter. You might feel really good slamming all your aggressions out on a punching bag or a man in a head-to-toe padded suit. You might find you like hitting things. It’s made me feel a little better just to list all the ways Helen could have wrecked serious damage on the bad guy and been the hero of this episode.

(Also, MI-5? I wanted to give you credit for making the villains white supremacists, but the only character of color was totally sidelined and not able to be a hero in this narrative that I’d imagine directly affects him. Instead, we got white savior Steve.)

Maybe next time I’ll talk about a show that pleasantly surprised me.

Alias

Once Upon a Time

Luther, why do you fail me so?

Seeing is Understanding, and Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense, Blair MacGregor

The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain, Kate Elliott

Somewhere out there is an excellent post by Julliet Marillier about self defense and women that I can’t find. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?