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.

Youtube 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.

Spoiler warning: 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 naïve 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. 

Anya's 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” has 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 a convict 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 now understand: They are her distraction, her substance abuse, her mental defence—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 fearful 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 Anya doesn’t even realize she needs one.

In time, she 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)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting a Sense of Humor

I remember sitting next to a guy from Manhattan, during Free Fall writing, when our “prompt” was “humour.” I leaned over to say, “That’s  “o-u-r”” Everyone along the table burst out laughing, without me having to say another word: they all knew what the joke was; everybody knows Yankees spell wrong, leaving out the “u” in humour, and other words too.

Hello Reader,
Got humour?

While traditionally the national spotlight has been on how physical health impacts our national economy, what about mental health? Everyone knows laughter is the best medicine.

Then surely an essay on “humour” can help my fellow citizens. Wait—Let me spell that word without the “u;” let’s avoid stressing my Yankee spellcheck machine. Besides, what’s a little “u” between friends? We North Americans tend to practical and quick with our spelling—the British, not so much.

Sense of Humor
Everyone knows God stuck us with different hair colors and textures. Most people, if they ever thought about it, would assume we are each stuck with differing degrees of humor too. Nope. You can dye your hair, tweak your style, and you can tweak your humor style too. Sure you can! It can help to have a foundation theory first, and then you may tweak from there. I call this foundation theory, “getting a sense of humor.”

I know whereof I speak, for while I was getting a degree in Community Disabilities, I had to take a business 101 course. Having already learned more management than I’ll ever need, I chose something different for my term paper: “Humor in the Business World.” My campus library was well wired up: Instead of going to the card catalogue to search for magazine titles, and then going to search for the specific paper magazines, I could download and print off complete articles from various business magazines of recent years. Cool, eh?  

Reading those articles, two things stood out to me.
ONE: Although it seems all the other business articles are “supposed to be” written with heavy, serious “professionalism,” these ones were invariably light and funny.
TWO: They all start out apologizing for their topic, saying “It’s OK,” and giving the readers permission to be funny. Why did this sound so familiar to me? …I wondered, then—Oh yes, I’m old enough to remember the sexual revolution. Note to couples everywhere: Your naked bodies are clean, not dirty. It’s OK.

(Incidentally, as regards better profit from better humor, see Southwest Airlines) So there I was, in my dusty university classrooms, learning about how to teach handicapped people things they would do well to know, if they wished to happily fit into society. We called it “mainstreaming” because our learned Yankee cousins were twitchy about the word “integration.” What we were taught, with all due respect to our professors, was that people learn best not from classrooms but from “role modeling.”

So here’s your sound bite conclusion: "Permission" and "role modelling." Are we done? No, not unless you believe that summaries and sound bites are as good as an essay. If you do believe so, poor sap, then maybe you should just run along and become a computer nerd, spending your life skimming your screen when you could just as well be reading it, and be reading real books too. Woody Allen skimmed War and Peace. He said it’s something about Russia.

Let’s expand this essay. It’s instructive to study an anti role model, such as a young fellow on a popular culture TV show that’s been running for years. A scientist. You guessed it: Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. On this award-winning situation comedy, or sitcom, the situation is that Sheldon is “humor challenged.” And he knows it. Sometimes he’ll do a forced, “Ha…ha.” Sometimes, “That was a joke.” And sometimes, if he thinks he’s pulled one off, “Bazzinga!” You may have seen the T-shirts. If he can have a Ph.D, then why can’t he have humor too?

Why?… Consider his childhood. Sheldon, unfortunately, was disliked for being a nerd. If he therefore spent his time away from other kids in laboratories and libraries, (But never skimming) then he would have missed many chances to role model. As for permission, Sheldon, unfortunately, had a strict religious mother. To explain the psychological fallout, just imagine yourself working in a big corporation with a really cranky boss. Re-e-e-ally cranky. There you are, being funny with two co-workers, when you glimpse the boss coming down the hall. You look to their eager faces, then you look towards the oncoming boss. Joke or boss? You probably shut down, and slink off to find some work to do. In fact, normally, you probably would avoid smiling too much, lest Cranky-pants notice, and have you transferred to the branch office in Alaska.

But now Sheldon’s an adult. He can give himself permission to model off of his young fellow scientists. Or can he? If imitation, and modeling too, is the sincerest form of flattery, then it kinda, sorta, follows that we only model off people we like and respect. Poor Sheldon: He thinks he’s better than his peers, he’s not humble; he’s self absorbed too, he’s not kind. In his unfortunate situation: No modeling is possible. Of course some folks are intense about science—and that’s OK—just like how other folks are intensely into self-improvement. That’s OK. But if an intense person can’t look outwards? Then the bust-a-gut effort just ain’t worth it: the prognosis for humor is not good.

What Sheldon doesn’t realize, in his intense lifestyle, is that even Eagle Scouts, working so hard on self-improving their number of merit badges, will also look to “secretly do someone a good turn every day.” Even wretched recovering alcoholics will look to do their “Step Twelve,” helping others who are still suffering—lest they suddenly crave the bottle. Sheldon? He really enjoys his collection of Star Trek memorabilia… with no clue that “it is better to give than to receive.” He’s oblivious—and he can’t do jokes. Coincidence?

“Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch” (Old TV cliché)
There’s a country-and-western song, now playing on better radio stations, where a father is advising his son, “Remember to always be humble and kind.” (Tim McGraw) Keep it in mind, for now, as we’ll be getting back to it.

When I was living in town, not on a ranch, but in sight of the Calgary Stampede grounds, long before I ever went to university or ever worked with any disabled person, I met someone. A staff person. Who invited me for tea and cookies. At a group home. With mentally handicapped people in wheelchairs.

So there I was, a future university scholar, wearing my blue Star Trek shirt, like Science Officer Spock—and being qui-i-i-te serious. Maybe, at most, I could summon up enough emotion to say, with my mouth in a straight line, “Fascinating.” I walk in. I sit down. You may remember a white funny T-shirt from those long ago days, with a blond in the foreground biting her lip in distress while in the background a party is roaring. She is thinking, “Oh my God, those people are partying like there’s no tomorrow!”

I walk in, “Oh my God, these people are laughing like there’s—.” They are joking; seeing the bright side of things; putting on a positive spin; laugh after laugh… You would have loved it, I’m sure, to see those poor-little-handicapped having such a rip-roaring good time. Wait, did I tell you I sat down? No, I couldn’t, for there weren’t any kitchen chairs (work with me, here) So I knelt. They say, “A man never stands so tall as when he kneels to help a child.”

I knelt, eye level, amongst the laughter… I humbly opened my heart, kindly thinking, “How can I bear to be be an uptight Mr. Spock, when that’s not what these guys need right now?” … (They also needed small talk)

You know the problem with making eye contact? You better not have self-esteem issues, because it means someone is looking right back at you. For a second I worried, “Oh God, do they know I haven’t dusted the warp drive coils?” But then I remembered: I’m trying to always be humble and kind here, like in the song. If I’m humble, then I don’t have any grand expectations that my coils will be dusted and shiny-polished. Therefore? I can’t be hurt. Besides, who can focus inward on being hurt and outward on being kind, both at the same time? (No one, especially not if they are trying to use a laser pointer.) The nice thing about being low-to-the-ground? If you tip over you have nowhere to fall.

Would you believe I told why the chicken crossed the road and why firemen wear red suspenders? Actually, no, I didn’t. We didn’t tell any prepared jokes: Life itself is funny enough, if you look at it slant.

Parting Concepts
So that’s it. My two specific concepts are “have permission” and “role model,” under the two umbrella concepts of being “humble” and “kind.”

One last Concept: I find humor helps me navigate a world that is just not as black and white as “it’s supposed to be.” And since Sheldon is from Texas, and I’m on a country and western theme just now, let me end by saying I am still chuckling, decades later, over a cunning old man in the western movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Now, I meant “navigate” as a metaphor, but this scruffy old fellow actually has to navigate a river—right between the blue and the grey, the union and the confederacy, the North and South—just when the boys on both sides of the river are standing there with their guns.  Actually the war has just ended, but they still have their guns. Of course they do, they aren’t in Canada, Toto.

Specifically, the old man runs a ferry, using an overhead rope and pulley, like a really big clothesline. He crams Josey Wales and his horse into the ferry with him. Then the cheerful man starts pulling them all across—after collecting his money in advance. Josey is a southerner, so old man gives a rousing rendition of, “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton…” He catches his breath midstream, grins, and starts up “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…” I think the old survivor had a terrific sense of humor, don’t you?

Sean Crawford
Trying to keep a straight face
around my Yankee friends,
from Maine to Miami,
who believe in polarized politics,
March, 2017 A.—wait … A.D. or A.C.E.? (After Common Era)
Hey, if I can take out that “u” from humour, then I can take out that blasted “E” too!
in 2017 A.D.

~Free Fall Fridays has to break with the tradition of being open on Good Friday because we won't be able to get into our own building, the City of Calgary's new Creative Space uncreative is that?

~Update: I meant my blue Spock shirt as a joke, but last week I was in Edmonton, at a comic book store, and—there is such a thing, now, as a Spock shirt. Man, our economy gets more affluent every day!
(I was looking for the Doctor Who Apollo astronaut, from the fate of the 11th doctor. No luck. So I went all the way to London. Still no luck)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After a Memorial

I was sitting in the bar, on a long wall couch, next to a man my age, Canadian by choice, born in another hemisphere. He told me he hadn’t understood this North American thing of replacing a funeral with a celebration of life. Aren’t you supposed to cry? And cry and cry? With your brain flat lining and void?

He had felt this way right up until his brother’s funeral. With more than a thousand people in attendance. His brother was an artist and a musician. At his service, people produced guitars and other instruments. They asked the surviving mother: May we play? The mother paused, and thought of what her boy would have wanted. Yes, play. And they played at length, and it was beautiful. As they played, the mother did not flat line. She had room to reflect, to look, to see how so many people loved her son; to think what his life had meant to them. He had touched them.

My friend left his beer getting flat on the table as he explained that now, back in his old hemisphere, there are various celebrations of life these days. “It is OK,” he concluded.

Across the table from us was the surviving brother of a man we held dear. Precisely one week earlier, just after giving a terrific humorous speech, entitled, “Apparently I snore” complete with expressive arms to show how Fred Flintstone moves the blankets when he snores, Michael Cody sat down, breathed, and then slumped to one side. Heart attack. We all behaved well that night, and we didn’t save him. His soul went off, even as his heart pumped and his blood flowed. We did CPR. He never woke up again, spending some days in hospital. In the end, before his body went home to funeral, he donated his organs to save others.

My plastic driver’s license has a little heart to show that I will donate, and my paper health card is in my wallet with my sister signed as witness. “Donate all” I have said. Of course the dead must serve the living, and that means that living relatives can deny one’s request to donate, or so I am told, but let’s hope that they don’t.

Michael’s surviving brother Bob lives two time zones away. Visits are rare—just Christmas. He told us, just as he had told his mother, that our love and assistance to him, so unexpected, had softened him up, so that now things affected him more. He said that by attending our memorial at our toastmasters club, he had met people from different parts of his brother’s life. He wouldn’t have known how much his brother touched people. Back home, in old life, at church, his service was limited to passing the collection plate, but now he was going to serve more: He was changing his life.

What we toastmasters learned, since we normally saw Michael solely at our own club, was the gratitude of toastmasters regional leaders. They told us how Michael had helped them, how they had turned a profit at the annual downtown one-day leadership training conference, the year he ran it, for the first time in years. Michael was a highly competent man, whose day job had once involved flying in as a consultant—worth every penny of aviation fuel.

A sad, numb friend gave us a friend’s perspective: He explained that some one had told Michael he was “not enough” unless he owned his own business. So he bought into a franchise, resulting in long years of long hours… long, long hours. It wasn’t worth it, I agreed, as I listened with heavy heart. Michael, said his friend, put on a hundred pounds.

I used to see him with a too big belt. With the big end flopping down. Too big, only because he was using his belt was charting his progress in getting back to being the same size as his surviving brother. He never made it. When he crossed the river he was about age 59.

Let me say this: I was always glad to see Michael Cody DTM, (Distinguished Toastmaster—the highest award we have) and he was always glad to see me. I call that a good legacy.

Sean Crawford
Miracles Toastmasters

I will be be absent from Free Fall for this Friday and the next.

~Our memorial ran for the entire second half of our meeting. Here is the Youtube

~Call me a Zen Buddhist, but it seems to me that if you “set your intention” to have folks always feel a little better for having been in your presence then, in good time, your results will always be positive.

At our very next meeting, although I would normally not sit anywhere near the middle, (I like to look across at people) I sat in Michael’s usual chair, front row center. And yes, somebody challenged me about my choice of seat. I reasoned: This ain’t the Ford Theatre, and this ain’t the fancy box seat of President Lincoln. The show goes on.

Coincidently, the next day, I ran into another member of my club in a coffee shop. He said he had been intending to sit in “Michael’s” chair, except that I beat him to it. He said, “Life goes on.”