Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Anya, Friend of Buffy

Hello reader,
Got a past?
Got time for music videos?
I composed this hoping you would view each video link as I present it.

Note: For Youtube, by clicking on the open square in the bottom right of the little picture (it appears when you move your cursor) you can expand it to take up your entire screen. You may press the “esc” (escape) key to go back to normal.

It’s been 20 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired, but if you still plan to finally watch it someday then be warned: This essay is like the forward to an English literature book—revealing Anya’s story.

Yesterday I was musing; for some reason I thought of Anya, a pretty blond who joins the gang partway through the Buffy series… Wha—? Truth hit me like a blow. Suddenly I understood Anya in a way I hadn’t before, not even after seeing that entire TV series twice.

Tonight I’m thinking sadly of Anya. She always wears nice, bright cotton clothing. Never hiding behind clothing too-sexy, or clothing too-big, or clothing matte black. If you have come across Anya on Youtube, it’s probably for her tearful monologue from trying to understand the death of Joyce. Of course Anya is troubled: Although born human, for over a thousand years Anya lived among “vengeance demons,” as a demon herself. After so long she has even forgotten her last name, she’s forgotten about mortality. How innocent she is. Here’s the link. 

Anya is newly human—a na├»ve human. At the TV script level, I mistakenly thought she was a comic relief, the person to state the obvious, to see the elephant in the room that everyone else was closing their eyes to. An “elephant,” as you know, is a metaphor for something people “agree” not to face, such as, say, the addiction of a scary father. Buffy, of course, is a show where monsters are often metaphors for scary people in real life. Anya, over a thousand years ago, survived a relationship, but at the price, I’m sure, of becoming a vengeance demon. Her story, I now realize, represents people who don’t recover. Not everybody makes it.  

Until feminism came along during my youth, domestic horror was often an elephant: Sometimes it still is, along with child abuse and photographing undressed children. Sometimes, as if the elephant has turned invisible, it’s not unknown for powerless women and children to “go into denial.” Back in the 1970’s, our whole society was in denial. That’s when believers in women’s liberation began their kitchen “consciousness raising” meetings. Remember? They strove to help each other discover “unbelievable” things they and their society hadn’t been ready to face. They de-cloaked words like “sexism.” At the same time, even after their consciousness raising, according to someone who was at those meetings, child pornography rings were not on anyone’s kitchen radar screen…

While Anya would not have called herself a feminist, for over a thousand years she protected women, granting their wishes for something bad to happen to their powerful abusers. Heads chopped off? Entrails pulled out? A vengeance demon can do that for you.

Being newly human, Anya can be as self-absorbed as a child, innocently hurting people’s feelings—but never on purpose. Buffy Summers and the rest of the nerdy “Scooby Gang” accept her as a friend who, like them, is never mean to anybody.

Anya has a queer flaw: a morbid fear of bunnies. For example, she’s tearfully upset one day when “some twisted person” left a stuffed bunny in the old basement. One Halloween, when her friends dress scary, Anya costumes in a furry baggy onesie as a rabbit, complete with big ears. A friend sits beside her: “That’s scary?” She answers softly, “It’s scary to me.”

In the Buffy musical episode where something has is enspelled everyone into singing, and while the Scooby Gang is theorizing about who or what that something is, Anya rocks out, “Bunnies! It must be bunnies!” Funny to us, not to Anya. Here’s the link. 

What Anya (no maiden name) wants is what any young lady would want: to settle down with the love of a good man. She is happy to be engaged to her live-in lover. She and him sing about their relationship having things that “I’ll never tell.”  Here’s the link. 

To understand Anya, I think of alcoholics. Many addicts in Alcoholics Anonymous, AA, believe they are only one day away from relapsing into the “stinkin’ thinkin’” that leads to the “drinkin’.” Meaning: their denial and addiction. As I understand it, addicts don’t go straight until they perceive their insanity, accept responsibility, and atone. Every issue of the monthly AA Grapevine begins with a person’s story of the drinking years, presumably to remind herself of “how it was.” So readers won’t forget their insanity.

But Anya has forgotten. As for Buffy and the others, nobody around Anya notices how queer her innocence is. I saw a brief scene—unknown to her friends—from long ago when Anya was first human, back in her Viking days, a scene where bunny rabbits rested and gently hopped on the shelves of her thatched cottage: She picked one up and kissed it. I thought quietly: “That doesn’t make sense.” But moving pictures allow no time for reflection; I brushed aside my doubts as the scene changed to another day.

How can a person have been a vengeance killer, and then not have remorse, take responsibility, and atone? Atonement is what addicts call “making amends.” The show Buffy the Vampire Slayer understands this: Offstage, a former vampire slayer named Faith has recovered from her ego-filled darkness. She’s in the state prison. Even though Faith has the super-power to leap over her prison wall, she won’t. Faith accepts “doing time” as part of accepting her responsibility. Supporting her is a vampire named Angel, with a new soul, who is himself atoning for his previous two centuries of soulless evil. He is, in Faith’s words from AA, her “sponsor,” meaning: the person further along “in recovery,” who helps her stay on the path.

Anya is different. She doesn’t go “straight and clean,” not really. Because she stays in denial, untouched by her centuries of vengeance. How? By fleeing from truth into innocence… The terrifying bunnies? Here’s what I understand, at last: They are her defense. Better to fear bunnies than face her bloody past.

Again, the Buffy show is a metaphor for how people may react in real life. I know. For I know my own dear Anya.  

Anya loses her lover—she cries to heaven from her gut. Her friends try to sympathize, but none of them have walked in her darkness. None know how to be her sponsor—and poor Anya doesn’t even realize she needs one.

In time, Anya relapses to her dark side. Vengeance. Anya just can’t stop herself from reaching for a sword and stabbing abusers again… and so someone else has to stop her— her friend Buffy. They meet; they fight. A lost girl sings her last song. Here’s the link. 

It’s sad… how I obviously have my own dark blots of denial, since it took me so long, right up until a moment of musing, to understand the bunnies—I forgot my own Anya. Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine, I shall grieve for her and me and all the lost children.

Sean Crawford

~ Part of addressing the gender “power imbalance” was feminists teaching traditional ladies how they could avoid the horrid label of being “aggressive,” while being something new under the sun: “assertive.” Remember?

~If a former abuser is having trouble turning over a new leaf, if he or she is baffled as somehow they keep reverting to saying not-nice things, then a mantra for a new lifestyle is: “If it’s not nurturing, then it’s abusive.” Seldom is there a neutral middle ground.

~Andrew Vachss, the writer with the eye patch, has a book series about an ex-convict who fights child abuse. If the first book in the series seems a little dated, that’s because it is. Vasch couldn’t get published for years because no editor would believe there could be such a thing as a child abuse ring of grown men and women, secretly living among us.

~I like TV nerds. I wrote Silence and Three Nerd Heroes, archived May 2013. Also, I wrote about two fictional screen characters in my essay Two Imaginary People archived December 2012.

~Today I linked to Youtube—but not to improve my SEO, (Search Engine Optimization) and not from any ignoble motivation to increase my web traffic: Traffic? Who cares?

Part of the reason I seldom present Web links on a silver platter, not even to my own essays, is that I once, by request —but not a “polite proper sentence” request, only a “stupid sentence fragment” instead— made some links for fans of the (Joss) Whedonesque site, only to realize too late I was casting pearls before swine.  Je regrete. (Archived January 2012)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Into Arizona

Hello Reader,
Got travel?

There’s only one reason Europeans travel so far to the micro state of Monaco. No, not for culture: for the casino! Recently I flew hundreds of miles, past three states, due south to Arizona for the “casino thing.” From Sky Harbor I went by road to the Arizona Casino. The road infrastructure alone was a sight worth telling of; I also looked at colors. These are the three things to tell you about my trip: colors, road and casino. And then I’ll try to perceive the context of it all.

Arizona is sunny like Italy, with the same quaint red tiled roofs everywhere, but often duller, even grey. In “the grand canyon state” shoveled dirt is brown not prairie black. Pottery is red. Homes and structures are of dull earthy colors: ochre, rust, brown, grey-white (never a Greek bright white) or grey. A couple times I saw red buildings, but both were dull in hue, not bright like a barn. Nothing colored like a lime fruit, be it green or yellow. And no blue; never a bright hue. Phoenix, of course, is not surrounded by emerald ocean and brilliant jungle, but by dusty desert. Truly sunny, yes, but without intense tropical colors. No bright parrots. All the birds of the desert have dull feathers.

Do you like public art? In Calgary, the city has mandated that that all city infrastructure projects allot a tiny percentage of the budget towards public art, to be built very close by. Hence the giant hula hoop as you approach YYC. And hence the crude sketchings in the concrete under the overpasses: For me, the only memorable road art in Calgary is the realistic fish glimpsed along the Glenmore Trail walls as you are rushing by.

Around Phoenix, the broad highways are amazing. All the overpasses and road walls are a brownish red. They surely mix their cement powder with red dye. The art changes every mile. For the road walls, I invite you to imagine an endless variety of “crafty” decorations, such as cross hatching, swirls and vertical lines. Changing every mile. Now imagine embankment zigzags of ribbons of little rocks, bisecting land of different textures. Amazing embankments! All sorts of simple brick lines, as well as carefully landscaped repetitions of shrubs, then cacti, then bushes. All on reddish ground. No grass. Ever changing. Each red overpass, facing the oncoming traffic, has a different artistic picture on it—often a modern-art type animal, never mere realism. How affluent it all seems. You would think Arizona must be erupting in gold, or gushing in oil—more oil Alberta ever sees.

If you watch too much TV, you may be expecting elegant ladies in pearls and men in tuxedos.  Nope: Forget James Bond. Although back in the 1950’s we all dressed up for special things like air travel and going to the cinema, no one does now. The slogan near the casino door, under multi-media screens, goes something like “the local folks casino.” And yes, the folks are all people you would see in everyday Arizona life, maybe not like “the people seen at Walmart,” but truly like folks at the local mall.

No windows in the dimness. A constant sound, allegedly musical, tries to keep you excited: How silly, but at least it’s not like the blinging bells of an old video arcade. The sit-down slot machines have the same flashing vibrant colors of a pinball machine, while new digital technology allows flowing pictures. For example, The Walking Dead slot machine had chained zombies moving through a forest, and sometimes a close up of a zombie approaching. My own slot had dancing hot peppers. Wearing sombreros. Not much action at the gambling tables—the poor tables seemed lonely.

Again, as with the roads, there’s art: lots of indigenous art was inset behind glass along the walls near the restaurants. I saw a dress, with beads, of Navaho turquoise, that was off the shoulder. In other words, the aboriginal artists felt safe doing things a little modern, even as they surely felt pressured to be authentically traditional. Same with the bracelets, being inscribed traditionally, yet still a wee bit modern and free.

Tourism broadens the mind…
As for art and culture, I am still accustomed to my favorite decade, whence I was born: the 1950’s. I wonder: Is it a betrayal of our ’50’s uptight conformist culture for us to build and appreciate Arizona’s “artsy fartsy” highways? Are artists with aboriginal names, while making modern art, betraying folks of earlier time-space locations? If so, then do we call today’s artists “they” or “us?”

I wonder, because recently some people would make “culture” into a sacred cow, referring not to different “nations” but to different “cultures,” —that being their synonym for nation. Call me middle aged, but I grimace. Or laugh. I figure those folks don’t realize their fetish for rigidly separate and unique “cultures” is not “a new improved idea,” and certainly not “a fixed point,” but merely part of a pendulum swing, as new ideas, just like new styles of “off the shoulder” clothing, will have their day in the sun. (Like those sweatshirts after watching Flashdance) But some folks seem unaware, bowing down to their raised up “culture” as if it were a golden calf.

I like how my clothes closet figuratively has a Nehru Indian shirt next to British sailor bellbottoms, next to a Yankee preppie vest that looks like some sort of old life preserver. Hey, the styles might come back again… Meanwhile I amuse myself by extending the consequences of people’s fetish idea, imagining each one of “these American states” as having it’s own culture, where people who would cross state lines must step through watertight doors like on a submarine.

Never mind.

I would recommend you go to Arizona even if you don’t gamble. Why? Easy: When I left there today it was a dry 32 degrees; (90 Fahrenheit) when I touched down in Calgary the tarmac was sopping black and there were snow flurries blowing across the plane windows. A whole planeload of hardy Canadians all groaned.

Sean Crawford,
South East Calgary
Trying to warm up

Footnote on road speed
So there I was, driving a rental van in the dark, along a winding well-traveled rural desert road, with only one narrow lane each way, only a dotted line to keep us from oncoming traffic. I told my passengers, “The speed limit is 65 miles per hour, but I’m only going 60. It’s dark.”

With the windows rolled up we couldn’t smell the warm callitas; as we sped along we could contemplate the pompetis of love.

Have you ever driven the Queen Elizabeth II highway up to Edmonton? It has two lanes going north, with a hundred yards of grass separating you from oncoming lanes, along straight flat prairie. The Canadian engineers put the speed limit at 110 kilometers per hour. This snakey desert road was nearly that fast!

(And it was faster than the divided Stony Trail highway of 100 kph)