What the hell am I supposed to say to my daughter when she’s flying out the door, going to college? Probably nothing. I’d suggest she carry some pepper spray, maybe a hunting knife with nice slicing action. And books, oh yeah books, I forgot about those. She’ll need some paper and pens, a notebook computer, and drugs, plenty of drugs!
The idea being that college is nothing more than a rape-trap, a smoldering puzzle-box from Hell. The male culture has gone topsy-turvy in the wake of allegations. It’s not so much the allegations were false. It’s that people still refuse to accept the facts. I remember not-too-long-ago, one of my few Facebook friends swore she would set fire to her UVA diploma unless the University stepped up and did the right thing. What is the right thing?
After the facts came out, she (and many others) did not bother to defend the article nor the principal characters involved. They did not address the probable psychopathy of the alleged victim nor the dubious ethics of the writer. Instead, they chose to remind us that rape occurs on college campuses across the nation, even the world.
It was like, “Oh yeah, this was made up, but it really does happen! So get serious about it! Get involved!”
Yes, we’re serious. Yes, we’re involved. Now what? What are we supposed to do? Other than utilizing some sort of “Minority Report” level of psychic crime detection, I don’t see any other way around it. Yes, rape occurs. Yes, it occurs on college campuses. It happens in nursing homes, and fast food restaurants, and bars, and condominiums, too.
Going back to the male culture, it now seems to me men have become the victims of a perpetual suspicion. That we’ve got “other things” on our minds. That we are rapists and murderers, most of the time, and when we are not raping and murdering, we’re thinking about raping and murdering. It’s interesting. Men have been objectified.
“Sociology of Style”
Eve Kerrigan is one of the strongest, most resilient and courageous women I have known. I include my mother and my wife in that category as well. She’s written several excellent articles for “Sociology of Style” (links to those articles will be included at the bottom of this piece) and her candor and fearlessness are sorely missed in our shared world of literature.
Now people who don’t write, people who are not “writers” don’t understand us. They don’t “hear the music”, to quote from Harlan Ellison, so they refuse to accept that writing is not only grueling work, but also a passion that leads you by the ears when you hear that music. You can’t help but do what you do, in this case – tell a story, share a brief bit of your life, or try to chronicle somebody else’s passion.
This is something I detest in amateurs – people who think they are writers. They call themselves writers, they steep themselves in the “letters”, the literary culture. They pretend they’re all about books, all about the words. They don’t produce. They don’t show their work. As Ellison also said, “you’re not a writer until a writer says you’re a writer”. Unfortunately, though, as with any art (routinely subjective as it may be), even bad work is given legitimacy. Bad movies are still movies. Bad books are still books. Bad writers are still writers. Bad filmmakers are still filmmakers.
This is what drives people like me and Eve to madness. This is why we’re slowly going insane.
I want to thank Eve Kerrigan for joining me in this two-part podcast, and I hope to have her back real soon.
This is the second part of my talk with actress/writer/new mother, Eve Kerrigan. Tonight we talk about the New Feminism, “Sociology of Style”, the myth of “white male privilege”, and the controversy surrounding the fraudulent Rolling Stone article and the University of Virginia.
“I didn’t peruse the site (“Sociology of Style”) that much, only when your writing was involved. It’s much more interesting for me to read people I know when they aren’t incredible celebrity icon-types, like say – I enjoy science fiction, so I read a lot of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlen, Arthur C. Clarke. I read bat-shit crazy stuff too like David Foster Wallace, but he’s very much Thomas Pynchon for me. He’s very hard to read and get – which, I think, would be a deficiency for a writer when the very act of reading you can be painful. He didn’t write books to be read for pleasure, unless it was some kind of pleasure I was not introduced to. I’ve enjoyed Stephen King for years. Dean Koontz isn’t terrible, he’s derivative, he’s lazy but he can be entertaining. ”
“I feel that women are fighting other women. They fight over beauty, over the concept of aging, over perceived youth, over their respective abilities. Just as all minorities tend to fight each other. Sometimes, in my libertarian mind, I feel that each supposed minority is fighting the other for the LOSER SWEEPSTAKES, like the old Yiddish joke about the Rabbi in the schul who tells his congregation, ‘we are nothing’ and the black janitor in the back of the Temple says, ‘yeah I’m nothing, too’ and the Rabbi points to him and says, ‘look who wants to be nothing!’ It’s an enormous persecution orgy, where everybody wants to feel as though they’ve been slighted in life and they’re competing to be the most oppressed.”
“My politics changed when my daughter was born. It was a slow erosion of my liberalism. I didn’t become a conservative. I don’t value any particular political party. I’m Pro-Choice. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe abortion is murder. I’m for gay marriage, but I believe homosexuality is wrong. I’m for the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, but I don’t use drugs, nor would I encourage or promote such usage. I think we can discourage the behavior without banning it. That’s what tolerance is about, for me.”
The audio clips that precede and follow the episode are once again, from the brilliant documentary about Harlan Ellison, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth”. There are two clips of Anne Rice and Stephen King speaking about their experiences writing.
by Eve M. Kerrigan
Ravnel Valpole is a hairy man, hirsute to the point of appearing wolfish. He has tried every method under the sun of hair removal and has a regular habit of attending electrolysis appointments which leave him with minor pimpling and scarring at his jaw line. He has heard of something they do with lasers that is supposed to work well but he needs to do more research on that.
This scarring, coupled with the size of his head gives Ravnel a tough appearance, but he is a kind man. His mud brown eyes do not, in themselves, endear him through a shine or attractive shape, but they do convey a warmth. He has crow’s feet when he smiles, which is often, and the thicket of hair on his head is combed to a Frederick Douglas-like coif. Ravnel is 6 foot 1 but he stoops, so he is 6 feet.
Ravnel works in the industrial design plant that makes Scrabble games. The letters from a Scrabble game require an influx of Vermont Maple on a daily basis that would dwarf the lumber stores of Home Depot. Once chopped, shaped, scored and lacquered by machine, the letters come out on a conveyor belt and uniformed workers sort them into bins.
Ravnel Valpole collects the letter S. He has over 500 Ss. He hopes to tile a floor with them someday.
He has been doing this job for 15 years. 15 years ago, he was in the military. 15 years before that he was in school. It was in that school he met is wife, Serafina. 10 years later they had a child, a boy named Stephen. It was 10 years later that his wife and child were killed.
They were camping in the White Mountains. Camping is the vacation retreat of the child-rearing poor and middle class. It’s free, it’s full of beauty, it’s peaceful and kids can run wild while they learn a thing or two. Meanwhile, the grown-ups can get a little nookie in the tent.
Unfortunately, on the Valpole camping trip, there was an unusual amount of rain when an unforcasted storm hit the mountain range. The three wet campers were hiking the 8 miles back down the mountain to get the hell out of the weather when a flash flood swelled the river and rose between them. Ravnel stood on one side of the rushing torrent and his wife and child struggled to stay standing on the other. The bank they were on broke off and turned to liquid before Ravnel’s eyes. They were gone.
Ravnel nearly drowned himself searching for them. A couple of rangers dragged his nearly unconscious body from the torrent. It was hard to say how he had lived. Often, as he stood sorting A’s from B’s and stealing S’s, he wondered why he had lived.
S for Serafina
S for Stephen
S for Squander
S for Sadness
S for Suicide
But today, Ravnel was not wondering why he had lived. Today, Ravnel was excited because it was the first day of cicada season. It had been 17 years since the cicadas had last hatched and inundated his unremarkable Pennsylvania town with their music.
Ravnel’s hobby (other than collecting S’s) was insects. He loved them. Bees were his favorite. He kept a hive of honeybees in a breezeway behind his apartment building. None of the neighbors knew it was there. He collected honey twice a season and left enough for the bees when the cold weather rolled in. He put honey in everything; tea, coffee, on toast, in warm milk, on pancakes, even in spaghetti sauce. He read about using honey for hair removal and wondered about it. That suited him. One day he would figure out how to shed his pelt with honey.
Another insect he loved was the mystical and mysterious butterfly. Butterflies began as caterpillars, small and fat as pinky toes. They did nothing while in that state but eat and eat and eat some more, munching all the leaves their slow, peristaltic journeys would deliver them to. Then, they sleepily spun their little cocoons and entered a prolonged sleep state. It was here that the Imaginal cells did their work. (Imaginal!) It was then that the caterpillar ceased to exist, preferring instead to become a gooey liquid inside the cocoon.
If you held one of these cocoons up to a light during this stage (and Ravnel had) you would not see the tightly swaddled invertebrate snuggling there like a tiny bound foot. You would see the shadow of a silvery ooze simmering at the bottom, hovering in possibility. And then, slowly, an entirely new creature would begin to create itself, eventually filling the cocoon to bursting. Only then would the resulting butterfly emerge.
Once its wings were dry, this newcomer would proceed to careen wildly through the air, drunk on pollen and nectar, copulating madly, picking up speed on its suicide mission. The whole thing made Ravnel shake his big, shaggy head. He didn’t know if it was crazier that it happened at all or that people went about their lives as though everything were normal.
And cicadas… The cicada also emerges from a cocoon after undergoing a maturation process within. It comes into the world with an insatiable appetite and a song to sing.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
So indelible was the sound of thousands of cicadas playing their strange tymbals that, even though he hadn’t actually heard it in years, summer always had a soundtrack of cicada song in Ravnel’s mind.
And they were coming! For the first time in 17 years! He read in Real Life Bugs & Insects that conditions were correct. So, Ravnel would be making the pilgrimage to a grove of Sycamores hidden in the middle of the ancient little wood that spread out behind his apartment building.
He deposited an S into the pocket of his regulation navy blue Dickies and shut down the belt. He punched out. He climbed into his Datsun and headed home where he ate a simple dinner of sardines, crackers and cheese. He put on the khaki fishing jacket he liked to wear when he was engaging in entomological activities because it held plenty of small specimen jars and a tiny net and still left room for a few pony-sized bottles of beer.
Ravnel grabbed his flashlight and headed out. The lightning bugs helped to show him the way down the path. He breathed deep and sighed at the evening’s dew on his skin. He disappeared into the night in a way he would never be permitted to disappear in his daily life. It felt good to not exist. He wondered if this is how an owl felt, observing from the trees with luminous eyes and a head that revolved to take in everything…
When he got to the grove of sycamores, he sat down and leaned up against one of the old trees. He opened a bottle of beer and looked at the sky full of stars.
Ravnel read once about a sailor out in the middle of the ocean at night who encountered an uncharacteristic calmness there. The sea, said the sailor, went utterly motionless and shimmered with the reflection of a million stars on its glassy surface. The sailor forgot which way was up, so surrounded was he by stars peppering the blackness, and he thought, for a few blissful moments, that he was floating in outer space.
Ravnel thought of this and decided it would be completely worthwhile to brave the mercurial ocean and all its dangers if you could be guaranteed that feeling for one moment.
He slipped his hand in his pocket and traced the curve of the beveled s on the smooth wooden square there. He closed his eyes and conjured the twin faces of Serafina and Stephen. They floated before him and suddenly there was a swell of song. It was a sound strung between symphony and tribal drumming. It beat like a heart and, rattled like a maraca (chchch cicada chchch cicada) and it cried for something out there…out there…out there… …
Ravnel woke with dew covering him, his fishing jacket chilly and heavy with the damp.
S for sunrise.
He stretched his stiff joints and got his bearings. He looked around, slipped his hand into his pocket.
He was about to stand when he felt a pain at his jawline, not unlike an electrolysis needle. He nearly slapped his own face in reflex but somehow had the presence of mind not to. Instead, he reached up and gingerly felt the place where the piercing was. His hand came back holding a creature, stubby and no bigger than a Scrabble tile. If it sat there long enough, a young cicada would sometimes mistake the landscape of human flesh for the nourishing surface of vegetation and insert its proboscis. In other words, it might bite you. It wasn’t an aggressive stinging, just a misplaced hunger.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
The two creatures surveyed each other, Ravnel with his mud brown eyes, mottled jaw and electrified shock of black and silver hair and, in his palm, this tiny pilgrim gazing back with large eyes and veinous wings still wet, translucent and green like a new spring leaf.
They stayed like that for a long time. Finally, Ravnel carefully placed the cicada onto a nearby blade of grass. He stood, breathed in deeply the scent of late spring and turned toward home. After all, he had to get to work. He instinctively reached for the S in his pocket and worried it with his fingers as he whistled his way through the woods.
S for Surprise
S for Satisfaction
S for Spellbound
S for Sentience
S for Spirit