My Inner Procrastinator told me to wait when Ur-Spo hit me with a Meme. I knew I had done the right thing when Dan’s Already Forty emailed me with the same Meme. (Pause to bask in self satisfaction) I have to congratulate myself when I can. If I don’t give myself small victories, I run the risk of having none at all.
Thanks for asking me, fellas.
But before we talk about some of my favorite books, I have to digress a moment.
I was actually “tut tutted” the other day for my pictures of animals in love. I don’t think anyone has ever “tut tutted” me in print, or verbally, come to think of it. It actually felt kind of fun, sort of like having your older brother tell you to behave before you actually got into trouble, or perhaps like being slightly irked at being told what to do, but feeling all warm inside that someone is looking out for you. So I thought about it. I talked to somebody else about it, and they told me they loved the camel pic, but it was “dirty”.
I must be out of touch. All I thought was how sweet they were. I mean, haven’t you ever felt like a camel in love before. I have. Most of the time, actually. I mean, I don’t have a hump or anything, but…Oh, you know.
Then I remembered, Oh yeah, I grew up on a breeding farm! This explains a lot. I’m used to animals humping. I’m even used to having to help them out, sort of midwifing at the conception point. That takes some getting used to, but the glamour wears off, I promise you.
I’m probably more jaded about that sort of thing than a worn out cameraman at a porn shoot.
So, my apologies to all you who went “Ewwwww”, but really now, I bet the camels didn’t think it was dirty at all. They thought they were just having fun.
THE FEATURE OF THE DAY: BOOK TIME
1. One book you have read more than once: There’s a lot of books I’ve read more than once. These are the ones I go back to when I need to get my mind out of a rut, and enlarge my world. I revisit these from time to time, like revisiting my favorite dish at a great restaurant.
I And Thou, by Martin Buber. The Way to Christ, by Jacob Boehme. The Particulars of Rapture, by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. Answer to Job, by C G Jung. Being and Nothingness, by Jean Paul Sartre. The Cloud of Unknowing Ed. Evelyn Underhill.
My top pick for this list is Waiting for God, By Simone Weil. She was French Existentialist to the bone, combining intellectual rigor and love in such a mixture that it may scare you. Nothing I could say about this book would prepare you for it.
2. One book you would want on a desert island: Bella Tuscany, by Frances Mayes. Tuscany is so gorgeous, and her prose makes it even more so. To me it’s the ultimate escape reading.
3. One book that made you laugh: A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. His description of leaving a chic Parisian party because they had to get up early to go to a goat race in the morning is one the funniest things I’ve ever read.
4. One book that made you cry: Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset. A novel in three volumes about a woman’s life in medieval Norway. It builds slowly, but toward the end, you start to realize the power that inheres a true life. When it comes to her death scene, you have to be a stone to remain unmoved.
5. One book you wish you had written: The Lost World, By Christoph Ransmayr. His prose is pure, clean, spare and lyrical. As a model of writing to emulate, he’s my hero.
6. One book you wish had never been written: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Proven to be an ugly forgery from the very beginning, this nasty piece of work has stimulated bigotry and hatred from it’s inception until now. It’s one of the ugliest propaganda pieces in history, written by the neocons of their day, who made Jews out to be conspiring to take over the world, basically the “Terrorists” of their day, just with a different methodology.
7. One book you are currently reading: I’m saving this question for last.
8. One book you have been meaning to read: Maurice, by E.M. Forster. The book behind the movie. Forster was a great, great writer, and he must have been a helluva guy to live as a gay man in England in that era. They managed to destroy Oscar Wilde just a few years before Forster came along. Forster managed to survive, and write some powerful novels along the way. This novel is basically his “coming out” story.
9. One Book That Changed Your Life: It wasn’t a book, but a magazine article in Scientific American or something like that. It was about some study that had been done about sexual arousal by smell. This author was talking about how precisely scientists are able measure stimulus and response now. The scientists would inject a minute amount of testosterone or pheremones into the testing atmosphere, too little to register in the subjects awareness, and then measure the response by recording the electrical impulses on the skin, lights flashing in the eyes, all responses that the subject didn’t even realize that he or she was exhibiting. Even when the subject didn’t realize he was smelling anything, his body was going off the charts, with lights flashing and bells whistling.
Then the writer managed to drop a little bomb shell that somehow made it past the editors: He wrote that he just didn’t see how arousal to olfactory stimuli could be considered a matter of choice, if you weren’t even aware that you were being stimulated.
In other words, a person can’t choose what arouses him or her. It’s not a choice, but a given.
For some reason I was ready to hear that. I had spent most of my life hating myself, thinking that I could force myself to desire women somehow, that I was just a miserable sinner, that if I prayed hard enough, yada yada yada yada… All of a sudden I realized that God hadn’t answered my prayers because God just didn’t care if I liked guys or not. It just wasn’t on His to-do list. All those times when I had “stumbled” and “fallen” into sin, sometimes for years at a time, weren’t on some Cosmic “bad” list.
All the self loathing dissipated.Well, at least a lot of it dissipated. There were still a lot of questions about the practical side remaining to be answered, and being a Christian and a thinker meant I had to rework all the garbage theology that had been stuffed down my throat, but I had a revelation that day that changed me, for sure.
Now for number 7, a book that I’m currently reading.
Keep the River to the Right, by Tobias Schneebaum.
As a young man, Tobias went to Coney Island and saw a statue of the Wild Man from Borneo, and fell in love. He didn’t look like what you’d expect a great explorer to look like, no Errol Flynn here, but frankly somebody you’d like to pull up onto your lap and play with, tickling him and chucking him under the chin.
He was a good artist, exhibiting with Jackson Pollock, and a pretty good anthropologist, working with Margaret Mead and Claude Levi-Strauss, real heavyweights in the field.
But his credentials weren’t what made him great.
He got this Fulbright Scholarship to go study in Peru, so he took off all his clothes except for his sneakers and walked into the Amazon jungle. He found a tribe of cannibals, entering unannounced into their encampment one evening. The fellows all saw him and fell in love with him on the spot, and not for dinner. They were delighted with his whiteness, and that he showed up with no weapons at all. They couldn’t get enough of him. They took him to the chief and asked, “Can we keep him please”. The chief said “OK, but you have to feed him”, and that was that.
So Tobias became one of the boys in this stone age tribe of Amazon head hunters. It turned out that all the ladies sleep in one pile at one end of the encampment, and all the fellows in another big pile at the other end of the encampment. To make little head hunters you had to find spare time during the day. Night time seemed to be reserved for same sex rest and recreation. Tobias found that sexual boundaries amongst the cannibals were Very fluid, to the point of being almost nonexistent.
It’s not an academic or scholarly report, but an intensely personal journey into another life. I’ve described it jokingly, but it’s very serious in the issues with which it deals. Tobias writes beautifully; he’ll take you into a very private room, where it’s just you and him and nobody else, and he’ll tell the deepest secrets of his heart. You’ll want to find someone and pour your heart out, as well.
It’s the masks we wear that hinder our vision. In surrendering to the grace and fluidity of a simpler vision, Tobias discovered much about himself that had been hidden from his own view. He doesn’t gloss over the parts of their world that would appall a “civilized” person, but he integrates them into a coherent worldview. One mask that we wear is the deception of “civilization”. In truth, I find modern warfare much more savage and debased than simple headhunting. Cannibalism is a much less horrific act than carpet bombing whole cities and nations into rubble.
He joined in the life of the tribe so completely that I doubt he made it all the way back. And I wonder if perhaps it was the best part that stayed.
Oh, and P.S. This Meme has spread so quickly, I can’t think of five bloggers that I normally associate with that haven’t already done this one yet. So here it is: If you come across this page, consider yourself invited to take this challenge. Once you start on it, it becomes really fun. Let me know if you do. I love to hear from you.