Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

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If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

Beauty

Plato said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning beauty is subjective. We each find different things attractive, but there are some societal standards. Being obese was once a sign of wealth and surplus, today the preferred image is, in Tom Wolfe’s words, “starved to perfection.” One thing I find beautiful is a person who is comfortable with themselves. Confidence is wonderfully sexy.

Men in general find women attractive, the standards are still based in evolutionary values, good mates will make babies. Wider hips for easy birthing and larger breasts implying ample nursing (untrue if you didn’t know, breastmilk quantity is not dependent on the size of the breast). Breast size is almost universally seen as the measure of a woman, even my beloved Emma (who had rather large breasts), would make disparaging remarks about flat chested women.

My own taste in women seeks a different beauty, even though each successive wife has had larger breasts than the last, it was mere coincidence. When I met Lieve on line (without seeing her) she described herself as “ample.” I thought she meant she was heavy. I see a beauty that is not skin deep, in fact having nothing to do with skin. It is the soul which shines through and captures my attention, which is why I have been involved with women of every body type and ethnicity. My “type” is “real.” I may prefer certain noses and shoulders, but the sparkle of a gentle soul is what attracts me.

Two stories captured my attention the other day. A stunning contrast just inches apart on my Facebook page. I will start with the story of a beautiful woman.

I attended High School with Gail Chovan, who survived breast cancer the year before Emma had pancreatic cancer. Photographs of Gail, proudly bald from chemotherapy, helped Emma approach chemo. That is not all of Gail’s story, she carries the soul of a warrior in the body of a ballerina. Her children, the twins Zelda and Creed, were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, and have severe medical issues. Had these children been born in a different home they could not have the resilience growing up with a Mother such as Gail imparts. Last year Zelda was in the hospital again, for about six weeks. When the nurse came into the room and said Zelda would be released that day, Zelda pulled the intubation from her nose and said “Let’s go!”

Recently Gail participated in Lily Mandelbaum and her mother Elisa Goodkind’s “The What’s Underneath Project,” a series of videos focusing on self image. If you are disturbed by mastectomy scars you may want to close your eyes near the end of the video, but you should listen to Gail’s story.

Beauty, strength, and talent all in one body. Precisely what you would expect from Gail. She doesn’t need to meet anyone’s standards, because her standards exceed them.

The other story is about Mayra Hills, who goes by the name “Beshine.” I might find Mayra beautiful, if all I saw was her face. She has a nice nose, deep eyes and pleasant lips. Most people probably don’t notice those features due to her “enhanced” breasts. By enhanced I mean ten litres of saline each, a bra size of 32Y, and she’s planning to increase the size again this year. The only thing of which I am certain is she will be spending more on back surgery than breast implants as she ages. Her first impression fades fast, as she claims in recent interviews to be 27, yet she was born in 1983. I’m not sure why she would choose to lie about her age at 32, it appears she is not happy with who she is. I can’t imagine going through such crippling surgery (she can’t tie her own shoes) for any reason other than she thinks this is beautiful. She certainly elicits a second glance, but usually it is so people can see what they’re laughing about. She says she loves her breasts, but she obviously has some difficulty with reality. I wonder where her real breasts are? Did she start out large and just obsess? There are few career openings for someone with her disability, and the revenue from porn will certainly drop beneath the level of her medical expenses as she continues to remodel herself.

What we find to be beautiful says more about ourselves than the objects of our desire. What a person does to appear beautiful says more about them than the final product.  Gail is beautiful with or without her breasts. Mayra would be vacuous with or without her breasts.

Attraction, were it logical, would be based on characteristics that will last as long as the relationship. Having written that, I can see it is. Gail and Evan are a life match. Mayra’s fans will disappear as she ages, because beauty may not be skin deep, but attraction to that type of beauty is.

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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