Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Draw the Circle Wide” A Living Legacy

We gathered together, quietly, anxiously, some reaching for tissues in anticipation of the tears bound to flow. Seated in the chapel, we waited for the celebration of life ceremony to begin. There are so many reasons to “draw the circle wide.” We were gathered that afternoon to celebrate the life and contributions of one extraordinary individual, an individual whose constant inclusion of the LGBT community was one important legacy.

We, the celebrants, also mourners, were not sure what to expect. Would our colleague and professor participate via Skype? Might he be too tired that day, at home with his family in hospice care, to participate at all? (Would a recording of his voice be broadcast, and would the voice of a living man seem like the voice of an Old Testament God from above? This imagined scenario made me ill-at-ease.) When every seat of the Methodist Chapel was taken, and latecomers were standing, we heard the surprising and welcome words,”All rise to welcome our guest of honor and his family.” We rose, apprehensively, and then, as our beloved professor, colleague, and friend was wheeled to the front of the room, and slowly turned to face us, the clapping and calls of joy and greeting continued for many minutes.

The pithy, yet heartfelt, words of welcome concluded with an invitation to those present to step forward to share. People of all ages, from around the world, and in many languages, spoke not just of our professor, father, friend, but directly to him. We were reminded by one colleague that this vital man of powerful intellect who loved life, family, friends and justice–as well as a good party and music–so ardently, was also often angry, exacting, and demanding. Though slightly reduced in stature and stamina by illness, before us was a familiar person: gentle, helpful, yet often intimidating, and always life-affirming, fully himself. Some tried, but were barely audible when they stood to speak; some sang; others told of being homeless and being invited “home,” not merely once, but as family. All went forward to bestow and receive a kiss.

The ceremony ended with tossing of colorful confetti, which we rained down on one another. We sang as our esteemed teacher and his family left the chapel. The song was an embrace: we held hands in a convoluted ring, singing “Draw the Circe Wide” as they slowly and deliberately moved away. “Amazing Grace” indeed! Atheists, agnostics, believers in a transcendent God, and in the sanctity of physical earthly and human community, a spirit moved through us and united us. This communal spirit and the strength of the man in the wheelchair– unflinchingly, graciously, even joyously attending his own celebration of life ceremony–was a testimony to one life and to all life.

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Brandi Chastain: Role Model

Brandi Chastain IconicBrandi Chastain is, to understate the case, an accomplished soccer player. She is best known for her game-winning goal, a penalty kick, against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. After scoring the winning goal, Chastain whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees in a celebratory pose male soccer players often strike. The sight, not of Chastain’s bare chest, but of Chastain’s sports bra became an international subject of debate, her spontaneous act defining for a time, her career, but also opening the conversation of women as athletes. Male soccer players routinely show bare chests without commentary, so why the furor about a victorious, but not seductive, pose? Chastain’s “sports bra seen round the world” (Jere Longman, NYT, 5 July 2003) offered more coverage than does the top of many a cheerleader televised during professional sports broadcasts. The bare female body and the bare male body occupy different spaces in our communal cultural imagination. Chastain’s removal of her shirt, not to seduce or titillate, but to celebrate a victory, was outside of the norm. Once she had donned a soccer uniform, Chastain was an “athlete,” no longer a “woman,” so it was shocking to many to see the sweat-soaked bra revealed.
Authorized nudity is acceptable, but unauthorized partial nudity, not designed to pleasingly display the beauty of the female form is unacceptable. The practice of putting little girls in two-piece bathing suits that cover their nipples–at an age when girls’ nipples look no different from that of their male siblings and peers–is part of our early indoctrination into this double standard. There are no soccer or basketball games in which girls or women spontaneously play shirts and skins. Standards of dress and beauty take much spontaneity out of the lives of women.

In Germany and Sweden, and in many areas of Western and Eastern Europe, men and women, old and young, wear tops or not, as they like at the beach and at public swimming pools. Grandmothers and grandfathers’ bellies spill merrily over the tops of bikini bottoms and tiny Speedos. Let the rebellion spread West! Why should women concern themselves with stomach fat after child-bearing or from medical causes (or beer-drinking) when many men do not concern themselves with stomach fat from medical causes or beer-drinking? Public pools and beaches should be zones of tolerance, where everyone present can let it (almost all) hang out.

The higher standard of beauty applied to women in the U.S., and against which it is incredibly difficult to rebel, is costly to women in terms of time and money dedicated to the pursuit of beauty. Appearance continues to define women in the U.S. in ways which it does not define men. Though I have staged some minor rebellions–no nail polish, no makeup whatsoever when I was younger–I too am guilty. No matter how I detest the neologism “mani-pedi,” and avoid nail salons, I fall prey to other travails and delights of fashion and vanity. Painting a wall the perfect color is satisfying, and so is putting together an outfit suitable to the occasion, and in which I feel comfortable and attractive. Despite assiduously refusing to subscribe to fashion magazines, I am a person to whom appearance matters. I have internalized dubious external standards. This internal divide is a source of stress. Though I do not aspire to wearing batik muumuus, and am comfortable with my generic sporty style, I wish I just didn’t care! Circe, who is almost always nude, had more time available and became an accomplished sorceress. She may not, however, have risen to her iconic, mythological station had she not seduced Odysseus.
Of all organizations, the ultraconservative Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University (don’t ask, Google, or go to the MUDD Archives for primary source material) recently featured a panel that debated “Are women limited in our society? Does Freud’s claim that “Anatomy is Destiny” hold any weight today?” What is your view?

The Action Hero (Alter Ego) Versus the Procrastinator

Circe must abbreviate her words this evening. She works as procrastinating writers often do, against a deadline an hour from now.

Seeking the best word, I found “abridge,” “parse,” and “pare”, the latter of which I share here in visual thesaurus format from the thesaurus.com site. The visual thesaurus is brilliant! Sketched organic chemistry for word lovers! Check this out for fun. How or who determines which related words are nearer or farther from “pare,” at the center, & where on the 360 degrees each belongs? An algorithm or humans? http://thesaurus.com/browse/pare

Back to those alter egos. I was going to claim that I have no male alter ego, and I’m not sure I do, but perhaps posting a photo of myself as Diego Forlan belies that. (Where are diacritical marks to be found in WordPress?)

The Super Hero is taking a back seat to the Procrastinator tonight. Though left-footed, I am pleased that I did not feel any connection with Luis Suarez during the World Cup. Might too many concussions and headers be related to his appalling bigotry and behavior? Soccer (football) another day.

Circe Sleeps later….Image

Alter Egos

My alter egos have become part of who I am. Do most other people have alter egos? All discussion about young people today is about role models. The phrase “role model,” aside from suggesting a living person whom one should emulate carries very different connotations than does “alter ego.” My alter egos help shape who I am.

Circe is, finally, my first fully adult and powerful female alter-ego. She captivated Odysseus for a year and bore him three sons.

My alter egos, until recent years when Circe joined them, were young girls who saw life “through a glass darkly.” Alice of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Though the Looking Glass, saw life in a dream and backwards. My brother sometimes calls me “Licec,” also suggesting that my view of life is not straightforward. My other mystified and misplaced alter ego has long been Dorothy of Oz. I went to Oz (California) and was certain there was no place but home. There is not, but the Dorothy of Oz, challenging evil, living a dreamlike existence in which lions and straw men speak, and sleep comes unexpectedly in a poppy field, is the Dorothy I think of most often.

As a child I played dress-ups, and my alter ego then was the plucky little Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “Half-Pint” of the Little House books. The friend with whom I played dress-ups was forever doomed to be the less boisterous, more obedient Mary. It is from Laura that I must have adopted the pioneering spirit that sent me to the West Coast and remain convinced that drying clothes on the line and growing your own food is the correct way to do things. I admire Laura, who was often displaced, but never entirely upended. Laura, my first alter-ego, may be the one I am least like, but I should not decry or deny my practical side. Alice and Dorothy were also eminently practical even when confronted with the otherworldly.

The Wicked Queen is another one of my alter-egos. Snow White is not.Image