Monday, November 27, 2006

Where I'm Coming From

I’ll never forget my first day of Primary School and second day of High School. Primary is probably what Americans call Elementary but I’m not sure. Primary school was the first time I realized I was different from everybody else. High school was the first time I was reminded of that difference. Neither was a happy experience, in fact both fucked me up royally in wildly different ways. The first time I was ridiculed for being different was in spelling class when I said “Yes Miss”(we call all female teachers Miss, even the married ones) and the whole class shouted Yesssshhhh Misssssh. I don’t know, maybe I spent my earliest years in some parent made cocoon but I hadn’t the slightest idea that I spoke funny. But they turned funny into a double whammy—the best of puns, where how I spoke was both funny-ha-ha and funny-strange. It was something to ridicule in the innocently merciless way that children always ridicule. Like Jason Taylor in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green I also studied words, dictionaries and my own way of speaking, anything to avoid a word with S in it. I guess that increased my vocabulary a thousand fold but it also made me sound like an idiot, an eight year old stumbling over words so as not to roll the dreaded S off my tongue. I even tried pronouncing it as a Z.

They called me Sissy and other names as well that my subconscious has mercifully kept to himself, but here is the great thing about kids. I was a sissy, but I was their sissy. Once something happened, I can’t remember what, but my school uniform was ruined (might have been a fight, man did I love to fight) and the entire class marched to my home to explain to my mom that it wasn’t my fault. In some way, being the resident strange kid made me a weird kind of popular. I had no reason to believe that this would not continue. But then came High School. And all boys’ High School. Wolmers Boys School.

If Primary school made me different, High School made me so sorry I was ever born that I spent five years thinking of ways to fix that mistake. September 1981. It seemed that I couldn’t open my mouth for two seconds without somebody calling a girl’s name or an animal’s name or just simply battyman or faggot. All because my S sounded like SH (I did not get over this complex until I heard Sean Connery speak the same way). My second day of school I was going home with my brother, the coolest kid in Second Form (Grade 8) and his just as cool friends. They were only 11 and 12 but I thought I was in the company of men, the coolest men I’ve ever seen, and they were even talking about girls and sex already! Christopher M________ saw me leaving and shouted “Angela!” Like an idiot I said, “I wonder who he’s talking to?” to which my brother said “It’s you he’s talking to,” in a tone I heard from my father once talking to my mother because I said I liked disco (that was back in 1977, people) and she seemed to think I was headed for ballet class.

In less than three days I was rejected by my own class and had embarrassed my brother. But I was a good student and needed to learn my lesson only once. I stopped acknowledging my brother as such and never did it again for the rest of our school lives. To this day most of the boys who know us or of us have no idea that we are related. I volunteered to step out of his cool life. I decided, perhaps without knowing that the only way to stop fucking up my brother’s reputation was to disappear, so that’s what I did. I left for school at a different time. I went to a different bus stop. I took a bus that went in a different direction. We had no interests in common, no sports, no school clubs, no arts, no friends. We maintained our distance so well that even when my brother had to repeat a year and we ended up in the same class, people still had no idea that we were related. Some of his own friends made it their duty to humiliate me on a daily basis. I just figured that since leaving high school was not an option that maybe enduring this shit was just something I was supposed to do.

I love my high school and I still support it, but with the exception of two remarkable years in 1982 and 83, it was the most colossally dismal experience of my life. I think the only reason I’m still here was my cowardice about suicide. Back when the first wave of misinformation came out about Columbine, I remember hearing that these two boys were picked on mercilessly in high school because they were not cool or liked (This is totally untrue by the way, they were not nerds or geeks), there was a part of me that felt the way Eminem felt in the verse he cut from the Marshall Mathers LP. I too have been that angry and that hurt. There were days when I don’t know what would have happened if I had a gun. And my mom was a cop. I know there are people who think, “So you had it rough in high school and nobody liked you, nyah-nyah-nya-nyah-nyah,” (I think that’s what my friend, Bill said). I know there are people who think that people like me should just grow up and put the past in the past. But if you have never been through what we’ve been through, rejected at the exact age when you crave acceptance then you really don’t know what being a boy or a girl interrupted feels like. Ten years later you will channel that void into restless ambition and you will do well, just as I did. And it will mean nothing because you’re using success as revenge. I sometimes wonder if I were to walk up to Bill Gates and whisper, “those kids in school STILL hate you,” what would happen. All I know is that to be rejected by your peers at that point when affirmation means everything leaves a void in you that is replaced by something, maybe a chip on one’s shoulder, maybe the emotional life of a 12 year old, maybe a lifelong obsession with Science Fiction, comics and porn. Who knows.

Kurt H__________, one of my brother’s friends started coming to this church I joined a few years ago. He was clearly going through some very heavy shit and as a church brother, moreover a church brother who knew him maybe it was my duty to encourage the man. But here is something funny about nerdhood. To be tormented by people is not half as bad as to be forgotten by them. Because there really is a link between abuser and abused, a relationship in its own weird way that leaves you thinking that considering all the shit this son of a bitch put me through he could have at least the common decency to remember my name. Because I will never forget his. It weird being a nerd because you find so few reasons to feel special that you’ll settle for being special in torment and when you find out that you were a mere run-on sentence in your tormentor’s life it feels worse than the abuse. Anyway, this guy was clearly going through some heavy stuff or he wouldn’t have been in church. I’m not going to speculate what the heavy stuff was, but maybe he needed somebody to talk to. That was not my thought but the friend beside me, who also went to the same school. He kept prodding me to talk to him, to remind him who I was as if that were an icebreaker. All I could think of was him humiliating me again and it would hurt like I was fourteen. You have to understand Kurt H_________. Loads of boys humiliated me during high school but Kurt H________ went one step further, by befriending me enough to help him cheat on his art exam then publicly humiliating me right afterwards. I looked at this guy in church and felt such a monstrous hatred for him that I was pissed off at Jesus for letting him in here. I thought that if this was the kind of asshole who was going to make it to heaven then I wanted nothing to do with that goddamned place.

Maybe it was the thought of never hearing Purple Rain again or reading another issue of X-men that kept me from killing myself. Maybe it was that we had a rather loud car and somebody would have heard the engine before the carbon monoxide got to me. Or maybe I was just too chickenshit to do anything. The truth is something else. Something Todd Solondz nailed in that movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Like the brutalized heroine in that movie I think what kept me alive was the stubborn determination that some way, somehow, somewhere, sometime things just had to get better than this. It just had to.

In 1986 I decided that I had to do something. By the end of 1985 I was so unpopular that I even earned a sort of respect because nobody could understand how I could stomach so much relentless abuse, to even laugh along with it. It seemed that I was one of the top four targets of ridicule in my year; something had reached critical mass. There was just no way I could continue like this, hated because I like art and lit and history, didn’t like football (soccer) and walked and talked funny. I realized that more than everything, it must have been my screwed up way of speaking that made people hate me.

So in the summer of 1987 I stopped speaking.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Losing My Religion

It’s far easier to be a dogmatic Christian than you may think. You don’t need the ability to read, or a secondary education, or a sense of reason or even reality. You need believe only two things, Creationism and Armageddon. Once you have alpha and omega nailed then everything in the middle is just gravy. Doesn’t even matter if your dogma is slightly different than mine. It’s a disturbing Irony that Jesus never wrote down a single sermon, perhaps because he knew exactly what was going to happen, that by writing something down his words would have become exactly what it is today: Dogma, especially for those who prefer to be read to.

Because reading, as the always-brilliant Jeanette Winterson said recently, is an act of free will, and it is a private act. This is why when the oppressors come, whether they are culture warriors or Armageddon-horny church sisters, they destroy the books first. An educated mind is a liberated one and a liberated mind is a dangerous thing, especially when it becomes sensitive to injustice. This is why Religion is still the opiate of the masses and for it to remain so; the masses cannot be too intelligent. Who’d ever guess that an ignorant, uneducated populace would serve both a religious and political agenda in one shot? An uneducated believer can be told that hardship is his lot and accepts such as God’s will without even once realizing that his slave ancestor was told the same thing. Or he is told the opposite, that MONEY SHALL COMETH TO HIM NOW, and he will believe that instant, unearned money is God’s will as opposed to the whole “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread" business. A friend of mine bought this hook line and sinker several years ago and thought it was the Lord speaking to him when an old, childless woman willed him the contents of her safety deposit box in England. He had only to pay the overdue bank charges and the contents of several boxes would be his. He flew to England, paid the charges to her attorney at his six storey, busy office and was handed the keys. He soon found out that while the bank certainly existed the account did not. By the time he got back to the attorney’s office, less than two hours later the people, the furniture and the phones on all six floors were gone.

I’m not convinced the faith is supposed to trump reason. Ever. I’m not sure God thought so either. For every “Faith can move mountains” one can also find in the bible a “test me in this.” There is something essentially backward and pagan about blind faith, something unintelligent in such thinking that runs contrary to a God who seemed intent on establishing a kingdom of reason and justice on Earth. Yeah you read me right, don’t let all this faith mumbo-jumbo fool you. God also said faith without works is dead.

Because if religion without question becomes dogma, then faith without reason become mysticism, a holy witchcraft. We’ve seen this before. Not just in Jim Jones’s Guyana or Waco or the Moonies or Mormon polygamists. We see it also in Jamaican churches that insist on their pastors being a final authority. That nutcase preacher who condemned her congregation for exposing the filmed gang rape of a young girl wasn’t pissed that the rape occurred, but that by taking the case to the authorities, the congregation members challenged her God given authority. I wrote a novel about this, set in the past because I refused to believe that I was telling a contemporary story. Boy was I wrong.

I still consider myself a believer, but I’m not sure if I’m a Christian anymore. One reason for this is that to this day I have never been able to take my mind to church. It always seemed unwelcome in a place that lionized the once illiterate Smith Wigglesworth while ignoring that the man did eventually learn to read and write. The church has the archetype of the holy idiot who takes things on faith, sings choruses for two thirds of the service and pays attention to the sermon only if it condemns everybody else for being sinful and praises him for being saved, sanctified and spirit filled while promising him that while bullshit happens in the night, joy cometh in the morning.

I cannot think of a more satanic existence. As long as religion never engages the mind it never engages reason. The by-products of reason, ethics for instance then become fluid to the point of meaningless. A case in point, some of the kids I counseled could speak in tongues at the drop of a hat. They could also sleep around with no remorse whatsoever. They would drag praise and worship for hours so that the “spirit” is given free reign but tune out once a pastor starts to challenge them. They would condemn everything and every one outside their window but never look at the monster in the mirror. Because open-mindedness, fairness even is an act of reason as well.

A lack of this creates moral hypocrisy. More porn in consumed in Utah than in New York. Adult friend has 21,000 Jamaican members, even though, as we will sooner or later tell you, we have more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. You can always tell when a Christian convention is staying at a hotel, for the adult cable viewership quadruples. A woman I know who sold adult toys and videos when asked said she hadn’t sold a sex video to Jamaicans in years, instead they preferred scat, amputees, S&M and all manner of kink.

Christianity began as a renewing of the mind. That is what made it so liberating and so dangerous. Maybe it is the curse of all movements that they become the very thing that they were supposed to be a reaction against. The crux of the New Testament are letters from Paul that impressed people through reasoning, not dogma, condemnation or cheap spirituality. The first manifestation of Jesus’ uniqueness was him dazzling the Sanhedrin with his intelligence and wit at such a young age. This Jesus and the adult he became flipped the script on dogma with intellect, not by creating new absolutes of his own. And if you don't think the sermon on the mount is a profoundly intellectual discussion then you're reading the wrong bible. I rarely find this intelligence in church and even when I do, I still feel as if I have to set my mind on dim.

What so great about being proud that the Bible is the only big book you’ve ever read? Jesus never even read it. Why do people rejoice when they hear that sister so and so doesn’t have a PhD but a G O D? How come all these evangelical anti-Catholics all praised that orgy of gore and violence called The Passion of the Christ? Why did they use the film to recruit new Christians? I told some church people that I felt like I had seen a snuff film or some really kinky porn with children in the audience. I thought the film was nothing more than the director’s bloodlust passing off as art and it played into the belief that people should still be scared into faith—something that Jesus couldn’t have been more opposed to. I also said that Jesus would have been appalled that anybody would stoop so low as to show his suffering in order to get people to follow him. I think he would have been appalled in the utter refusal to engage the mind as opposed to the heart or in this case, the stomach.

Two of my favourite writers are Jack Miles and Gary Wills. Both are Catholics and both are part of the few who believe that Faith and Reason are by no means mutually exclusive. I read their books like how others take drugs. Both agree that by not trying to explain God, by resorting to “he works in mysterious ways” you reduce his supernatural power to magic and Jesus becomes hocus-pocus. I love the Jesus of the bible. He was actually quite scandalous, fraternizing with whores and tax collectors, cursing trees, praising lowlifes, hanging out with women, staying homeless, remaining single, calling himself the fulfillment of prophecy, educating leaders in the dark, giving over to rash emotions like fury and mirth, sometimes at the drop of a hat. There is simply no way to understand a mind such as his without using your own . That is what I plan to do. I just don’t know if I can do this in the church.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Live TV and Dead Children, Take 2

I LOVE this. So right after I post my blog about what I think about today's children, along comes a kid to set me straight with this:

I agree that children can be like this, but not all. Some children have the right mind not to do any of those things. You may think this is foolish, since this is coming from a kid, but it's true.

I agree that children want to be a singer or an actor so they don't have to learn anything, because I used to. Now that I am growing up, I want to be a writer, but being a singer or an actor is still in mind. I say this because children can imagine to be what they want to be. After all, we are just kids.

The real world will come to kids soon, just don't judge all kids and say that all kids want to be super stars and that they would do anything to be famous because, like I said before, not all kids are like that.

"The Real world will come to kids soon." It sounds like both a promise and a warning. Perhaps it's both. I have only one question. If kids are reading my blog do I now have to behave myself?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Live TV and Dead Children

I love kids. Especially today’s kids. They are smarter than we (I mean we old people in our mid 30’s) were at their age. They are more aware, speak more languages, know more people and thanks to the internet they talk to friends all over the world every day, all day. They live on a planet that even my generation passed off as science fiction; cutting room stuff best left for a Blade Runner sequel. This is the exciting world children live in. But they are not children.

Enter Trishelle. I was always fascinated with this Real World cast member and it was not because she was a white trash redneck slut who always seemed to trip and fall smack on top of a penis. More than that, Trishelle and her costars were the first Real World cast to grow up watching Real world; (she was twelve when the show started) probably the first not to remember a world before the show began. There was a price paid for that awareness and you could tell from the very first episode of that season. As soon as the cameras rolled they were performing. Sure everybody faked it on some level from the first season, but this was different. This was Courtney Love’s lyrics come to life—“my fake is so real/ It is beyond fake.” Not only could you see the disingenuousness, but you knew that were you to scratch the fakeness off what you would find was not the real Trishelle, but nothing at all. Since then I’ve run into dozens of kids all waiting for their close up. All wanting fame for fame’s sake. All wise beyond their years, and most of them underdeveloped zombies masquerading as kids.

If you think that fourteen year old girl on the receiving end of R. Kelly’s golden shower didn’t know what she was doing then you don’t know today’s kids. Not that she really knew, but she THOUGHT she knew and that is the problem. These kids are not wise, they are merely precocious and world weary. Adults confuse the two and think they have miniature adults in their midst. They trade in real world terms that they have no maturity to process. I’m not sure a thirteen year old really knows what a being a ho means, nor do I think a 12 year old can truly be a playa. But they think do and adults assume that they do, which could not be further from the truth. Years ago, many were stunned by the film Kids, because here were children that were not children at all. They were young people with a nonchalance about sex, drugs and aids that stunned audiences. But that kid has been threatening to show up for some time now. And maybe it’s the parent’s fault.

Or maybe it was Britney. I remember an article in a mens’s magazine, probably GQ about this man who had his little girl’s friends over for a slumber party. “_______ dances suggestively,” his wife said. The man thought the remark absolutely ludicrous since the girl was not yet seven. Two Britney songs later he was on the phone demanding that somebody remove little slut from of his house. I’m not a prude, but I’m not blind either. These children have watched Britney, Justin and Christina grow up on camera but for all three growing up merely meant getting more and more sexual as if that was the only sign of maturity. Should we have been outraged that the man who ushered Britney into video womanhood was controversial porn director Gregory Dark? Does it mean anything that it was a porn director that shaped the archetype that your nine year old is presently following? I’m all for bringing sexy back but I wonder if Justin has anything else to bring.

We like to congratulate ourselves that we are not in Dickensian times, that children are no longer chattel, dregs or slaves. But they are now the opposite: pandered, patronized and ignored. The ironic end result is a 21st century child not much different from the Victorian: one whose circumstances have forced him to grow up too fast. The first evidence of this is an entitlement complex that would floor a Hilton sister. Some of the kids I’ve met expect to be paid millions even though they are at a loss as to why they should actually work for it. There are children in Jamaica waiting for American Idol or some other reality show, a recreational career that would save them from having to learn to do anything. They are dead set on a music career because being able to sing is beside the point and they want to be in movies not to act but to appear on the MTV special about the movie. They have friends with benefits but may never know young love. They may be smart about the world and know as much as adults, but they have never experienced what being a child is like. And they don’t have a clue.