This Website will be devoted to essays and insights related to diversity, addiction/recovery, psychological growth issues, global perspectives, the disenfranchised, aesthetics, and cultural values. The core value streaming throughout the essays I write will be about returning to our innocence, which sometimes requires a trauma, a jolt, an invasion of the “other,” or a paradigm shift.
Many of my comments will sometimes reflect a more radically progressive approach to an idea. At other times, I may very well see some healthy alternatives in a more reactionary, conservative approach. There will be few areas, if any, that I hold sacred, taboo territory. In that sense, everything will be up for grabs.
I am also interested in international film narratives, stories whose voices are too often left out of the more powerful voices of the international film industry. They have much to teach us about aesthetics, cultural values, and morality.
For those wishing to participate, enjoy the ride!
John T. Marohn
In my dotage, I have been taking to television more than I should these days. I have also found myself staring into space for no particular reason and for longer periods of time.
My brother once used an expression, “I was just wondering….” when he was about to broach a family issue that he knew I would not respond well to. He never liked conflict.
I often rationalize my tv watching by convincing myself that my mind goes into mush after dinner. Or I’ve been thinking all day and I “just need to escape.” Or, my favorite: “I want to see what American culture is all about.”
I also defend my three hours of nightly conscious sedation in front of the tv as my entrance into the “wondering” stage of my ongoing intellectual development (My brother would be proud to know that I take “wondering” seriously)
So, my friends I have been wondering lately: Continue reading
Images and Story: Call and Response
Vittoria de Sica’s classic 1947 film, The Bicycle Thief, has probably been written about more than any other film in history. At one time, film audiences considered it to be the best film ever made; unfortunately, it has slipped off the charts in recent times.
I have longed maintained that films consistently use visual and auditory images as stories in and of themselves. They often become complementary social plots replete with cultural values and world-view perceptions. The central story line in many classic films becomes more than just ornamented with these visual and auditory images, it often becomes a kind of call-and-response complement to the less evident images of a film.
The Zealot by Reza Aslan (Random House, 2013)
Christ as Jewish Nationalist, an Earthly Messiah, a Threat to the Roman Empire
So let’s get to the meat of Reza Aslan’s theory about Christ.
According to Aslan, in his potboiler book, The Zealot, Christ was a Jewish nationalist who was more interested in being an earthly king of the Jews than a sky-god miracle worker promising eternal life to those who followed him. “The principal task of the messiah,” says Aslan, “was to rebuild David’s kingdom and reestablish the nation of Israel.”
To add more fuel to the fire of Aslan’s position is that Christ’s crucifixion, as Aslan sees it, was Rome’s way of executing anyone who was a threat to the Empire (Aslan is emphatic here that Christ’s behavior and words were seen by the Romans as acts of “sedition”).
The crucifixion of “bandits,” by Rome was not an uncommon practice. And “bandits” was a code name given to those who were accused of treason or attempting to overthrow Roman occupation. They were the ancient Jewish variation of modern terrorists.
And the Jewish clerical hierarchy, especially the Jewish Temple rabbis, felt very threatened by Christ’s followers claiming him to be a Jewish Messiah or King of the Jews (There is some evidence to suggest that the Jews, by tradition, were not allowed to execute—ahem, somewhat debatable—so the rabbis willingly deferred to the Roman law that allowed execution for acts of “sedition”).
Recently, I asked someone I knew if I could talk to him for a few minutes. I will call him Eric.
We walked for a short while. I explained the issue. Then we stopped. I was facing Eric directly as he turned to give what I will call his “verbal position paper” on the topic. He was wearing sunglasses, his face angled upward, his jaw, firm, his body arched backwards at a comfortable level. And then he spoke.
It was clear to me, at that moment, that Eric had total control of the space he was in. I was convinced that his body actually began to stretch upwards, his voice sounding like hot taffy, consonants tapping softly on top of long rubber-band vowels.
I felt I was in a re-run of a 1930s Cary-Grant black-and-white film. Blue-blood, Boston-Brahmin, old-money territory. Continue reading
In the summer breeze,
Your arms around my waist,
My hand cupping
Your shy face
And I, intrigued by the
That you would
When the time
For loving you
Was ripe beyond
Even my imagining.
Winter Sleep, 2014
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Interiority, Pathos, Survival
There are many things to like about Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s exquisite film, “Winter Sleep.” (Palme d’Or winner at Cannes Film Festival, 2014).
First of all, it is a very interior film. Ceylan manages to create a strong inner sensibility of pathos, an aching sense that life, in the end, is cruel, relentless, and merciless. Inside of that psychological cosmos, however, is the other half of Ceylan’s Sisyphean fatalism: people do manage to survive in spite of the quiet desperation of their lives.
There is little question that Aydin, the central character, is the personified form of Ceylan’s world of pathos. And he is also a survivor, not unlike Hidayet, his lower-class assistant, who does all the managerial tasks and is Aydin’s personal chauffeur. (Hidayet’s constant, but strong background presence in the film appears to be Ceylan’s way of reminding his audience that the poor and the service class, in their uncomplaining stoicism, will always be with us.) Continue reading
I have held you
For too long,
Releasing you now
Into the pebbles
Of days that will
Crowd your life.
But soon, those days will linger,
Nagging me back
To your frail self.
Learned Emotional Detachment
Now that I’ve got your attention.
It took me a long time to discover that I had learned, from early childhood, to be a detached observer. I was the youngest of five children. My family was in constant turmoil. My parents argued all the time. My two older brothers were always fighting. And my mother’s volatile and often violent mood swings continued to keep the family on pins and needles.
So, kids do what kids do. They protect themselves. They go to their rooms. They stay away from the chaos as much as they can. And when they are in the midst of the family tornadoes, they often withdraw into silent observers. They become recorders, television cameras, quiet witnesses. They learn, very early in the game to passively take in what’s happening and not to participate. It is the only recourse they have; it gives them some kind of order and safety in their lives.
Then they become adolescents and adults. They can’t figure out why others tell them they are “too analytical.” They find themselves observing again as they did when they were children. But the observation mode begins to implode when a friend breaks down after his girlfriend tells him the relationship is over.
The first instinct of the grand observer is to look around for the nearest exit. The other instinct is to click into the detached mode and calculate all the possible solutions for the friend. “Have you thought about an online dating service?” “Why don’t you go on a trip, get away?” “I’ve got a single friend; I think you guys would really hit it off.” Continue reading
Feelings of Worthlessness
I’ve been in a 12-step recovery program for many, many years. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people describe themselves, in one way or another, as a “piece of shit.”
Much of this self-degradation comes from the guilt we feel over our behavior when we were actively using: infidelity, disappearances, credit card debt, emotional/verbal/physical abuse, stealing, or, one of my favorites—emotional withdrawal.
Recovery, for many of us, involves taking responsibility for those actions and behaviors. Over time, through meetings, doing the steps, and being emotionally transparent, we learn a better way of living.
We stop having secret lives. We learn to be honest. We start owning up to our faults. And some of us learn to be more humble, especially if we hid behind our arrogance in order to protect ourselves during our drinking days (As someone in the rooms so poignantly said about himself, “I tried to be one step ahead of everybody else so I wouldn’t be hurt”).
But what about those of us in the recovery rooms who have a difficult time believing that we are worth anything? Continue reading