Sunday, October 11, 2015

Analyzing Buffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Wry Look at “The Body”

So that we may fully understand the various levels operating in the last scene of “The Body,” it is necessary that we break our analysis down into several parts: a description of the scene, an analysis of the characters and their relationship to “the body,” and finally an exploration of both our vicariousness and position as viewers.  First, let us begin with a “close reading” of the scene, so that all of these elements can be understood before we plunge into a full explication of what they may or may not mean according to psychoanalytic theory.

The Scene Itself:
In order to understand the episode “The Body,” it seems only fitting to take a closer look at the last scene of the last few minutes the characters Buffy and Dawn share with their deceased mother’s body.  We begin our analysis at the moment Dawn (Buffy’s younger sister) enters the long hallway towards the hospital morgue room.  She moves hesitantly, constantly aware that she might “get caught” going into a restricted part of the hospital either by staff or by her sister Buffy who sits in a nearby waiting room.  But, she is clearly drawn towards the body of her mother, if only for her first “real” look at her mother, thus confirming to herself that her mother is indeed dead.  In other words, she seems compelled to “experience” seeing and even touching the body for herself before she can accept that her mother is, in fact, dead.  The camera work, at first, seems typical.  She approaches the viewer slowly, taking deep breaths and an occasional hard swallow.  This allows the viewers to feel the dread she might be feeling, or at least allows us as viewers to project our own feelings of what might be going on inside her mind onto her character as she makes this journey towards her mother.  The camera jiggles, ever so slightly, as if it, too, is walking with her.  Then, in a move that elicits the “uncanny,” the camera suddenly leaves her face, stops following in front of her, and takes an overhead look at her.  We see Dawn from above, as if she is being watched from another vantage point by some “other” thing.  This switching of subjective/objective shots creates a tension in the viewer the closer Dawn gets to the final set of doors.  The feelings of anxiety are heightened still further when we are given a subjective shot (presumably of what Dawn is seeing) when we peer through the glass windows and are allowed to see the tables with corpses draped in white cloths.  Instinctively, we know what awaits. 
Dawn walks into the room, looks back and locks the doors behind her.  Again, the camera shifts between what she sees and her reactions to what she sees.  We are given a sideways shot of Dawn approaching “the body” from the point of view of possibly the vampire who we later learn is reawakening under one of the white sheets.  She stops before the table where her mother’s body is laying and reaches out as if to touch it but holds back, recoils her hand and looks down at the draped contours of the body, tilting her head, clearly suggesting that she is remembering her mother alive or else desiring that her mother could rise from the table.  It is at this exact moment that a naked male vampire slowly sits up, spies Dawn, and offers a sinister smile.  Because of the use of red throughout this sequence, our eyes are automatically drawn to the “no smoking” sign posted on the wall above the vampire’s shoulder, which is something we will examine later in this analysis.  Dawn senses that she is being watched and turns, faces the creature “between the two deaths,” this monster belonging to the “living dead,” and we watch the horror on her face.
Buffy, too, in the waiting room seems to sense something is amiss as well.  After talking to her friends, she begins to search for her sister, drawn herself to the set of doors with the red sign marked “authorized personnel only.”  Buffy’s walk down the long hallway differs from Dawn’s.  This time, the camera twists counter-clockwise as Buffy emerges from shadows into the dim light.  She bursts through the locked doors when she sees the male vampire attacking Dawn and begins her struggle with him.  Dawn is thrown to the floor, reaching out towards her mother’s body to stop her fall, but instead can only grab the sheet, revealing the body to full view.  Buffy and the vampire wrestle and fight in a scene that (considering the vampire is both naked and male, and the erotic associations made with vampires in lore) may be somewhat erotic in tone.  She finally straddles the vampire, grabs a surgical saw, and decapitates him.  With one last cry, the vampire evaporates into dust and then completely vanishes.  Buffy throws the saw aside and lays back, staring up the ceiling.  The camera offers a lingering shot on Buffy and again the camera twists from counter-clockwise to a more “straightened” view.   The camera shows both Buffy and Dawn on the floor as they look up towards the exposed body of their mother.  The camera follows Dawn as she stands and stares down at her mother’s body.  We are given a view of Buffy still on the floor, Dawn looking at her mother, and their mother’s body in the foreground.  We cannot see the characters without “overlooking” the body.  Dawn asks, “Is she cold?”  Buffy responds quietly, “It’s not her.”  A pause.  Then, Buffy repeats, “It’s not her.  She’s gone.”  Dawn, with her voice faltering, asks, “Where did she go?”  Slowly, Dawn lifts her hand and reaches out to touch her mother.  The final moment of the episode is of Dawn’s fingertips nearly touching her mother but the screen immediately goes to black and shows the credits before she can complete this touch.  This leaves a gap that we as viewers are invited to fill: did Dawn touch her mother’s dead body or not?   We are also left with the possibly more morbid unanswered question: what did the body feel like?

Where Did She Go?     
To tackle the complexity of what we are watching in this last scene in “The Body,” let us begin by making the obvious connections between Kristeva’s notions of abjection and the way the characters interact with this sudden intrusion of “the real” in their usually fantastical lives.  As Julia Kristeva repeatedly articulates in her book The Powers of Horror, the abject cannot escape its associations with the mother’s body and with the uncanny.  Therefore, it is impossible to ignore the way the “uncanny” is operating in this specific scene, especially with the character of Dawn.  Let’s first focus on Dawn’s walk down the corridor and the analysis of how she reacts to their mother’s body.  As Slavoj Zizek states in his book Looking Awry, the feelings of the “uncanny” are created “by alternating the subjective view of the approaching house […] and an objective shot of the subject in motion” (126).  Repeatedly as Dawn walks down the hallway towards the hospital’s morgue room, the camera switches between subjective and objective shots.  This, as Zizek says regarding Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, “provokes anxiety” and gives that “indefinable feeling that [the hallway] is somehow already gazing at her, gazing at her from a point that totally escapes her view and thus makes her utterly helpless” (126).  We are given an overhead view of Dawn that amplifies her vulnerability.  There is the “uncanny” feeling that something is watching her, something “other” than we as viewers since the position of the camera is situated in such an “untraditional” place.  The camera seemingly stalks her.
  Dawn is clearly compelled towards her mother’s body.  Such an action coincides with Kristeva’s thoughts regarding abjection, especially when she states: “The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection.  It is death infecting life.  Abject.  It is something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from an object.  Imaginary uncanniness and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us” (4).  Dawn seems almost “beckoned” to experience the abjection of her mother’s dead body “firsthand.”  She enters the morgue room “before the untouchable, impossible, absent body of the mother” (6), and yet, she raises her hand as if to touch what, according to Kristeva, is untouchable as it threatens Dawn’s very being as a subject.  But, Dawn cannot help herself from “the jettisoned object” which, as Kristeva argues, “is radically excluded and draws [her] towards the place where meaning collapses” (2).  She stops herself before completing this first attempt to touch “the body,” and this desire almost seems to resurrect the vampire.  Certainly, Dawn is vulnerable as a young girl, between childhood and adulthood, but it is her fragility as a “self” that is in danger by her desire to gaze fully at “the real,” to reunite with the abject, with the “absent” mother’s body.

Buffy’s walk down the corridor, on the other hand, is much different from Dawn’s.  She opens the doors leading to the corridor, and a shot lingers on the doors after they close.  In red lettering, these doors are very obviously marked “authorized personnel only.”  Both Buffy and Dawn have transgressed this superegoic boundary, as if to suggest that they have stepped outside of the Oedipal, symbolic order of the law, like a step back in time.  This notion is reinforced by the camerawork of Buffy’s walk down the corridor, intentionally (I would argue) reminiscent of the birth canal itself.  By twisting counter-clockwise and remaining in a tilted view, this “looking awry” at Buffy seems to be giving a feeling of regression as she approaches “the real,” moving towards, perhaps psychically, that primal castration of birth, the very thing that has created Kristeva’s associations between the abject and the mother’s body, since as Kristeva argues: “It is a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling […] a reluctant struggle against what, having been the mother, will turn into an abject” (13).  Such an idea can also be found in Freud’s theories of the uncanny when he says: “the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (121).  Buffy is moving towards what is “known of old and long familiar,” and that is back towards the place of abjection, “the real,” her mother’s body.  Kristeva goes on to state: “The fantasy of incorporation by means of which I attempt to escape fear (I incorporate a portion of my mother’s body, her breast, and thus I hold on to her) threatens me none the less, for a symbolic, paternal prohibition already dwells in me on account of my learning to speak at the same time” (39).  But, Buffy has disregarded that “symbolic, paternal prohibition” by going beyond doors that symbolize restriction and now must deal with “confronting the maternal” (Kristeva 54) in order to preserve her own subjectivity.

Buffy could be seen as regressing as she approaches “the real,” the abject, the corpse of her mother, and she must confront the representation of infantile, eroticized desire, perhaps, as embodied by the vampire.  According to Kristina Busse in her essay, “Crossing the Final Taboo: Family, Sexuality, and Incest in Buffyverse Fan Fiction”: vampires are presented as infantilized yet highly sexualized beings whose incestuous desires suggest a pre-Oedipal existence with its lack of inhibitions and polymorphous sexuality” (208).  While this quote talks about Buffy “fan fiction,” we can make obvious connections to the vampires used throughout the series itself, particularly in the episode “The Body.”  Busse continues her analysis by arguing: “the vampire exists outside any symbolic universe that would control and regulate his behavior.  As pure id, he follows his every drive and desire” (212).  A vampire follows Zizek’s own ideas about being a member of the “living dead” that exists outside of societal order, since it is not dead and has not “received a proper burial” (#).  Busse goes on to say: “the vampire’s immortality also resonates with the timelessness ascribed to the infant’s state before self-consciousness: vampires—just like babies—exist outside temporal dimensions” (212).  Buffy must struggle with this figure of unbridled id before she can look at her mother’s body and no longer recognize it as being her mother.  She must become the thing she fears, the all-powerful phallicmother that represents being both all and nothing, defeat and overcome her own pre-Oedipal desires before she can reclaim her own subjectivity.  She must struggle with the id by decapitating it, castrating it before it can completely vanish.  Kristeva states: “the eroticization of abjection, and perhaps any abjection to the extent that it is already eroticized, is an attempt at stopping the hemorrhaging: a threshold before death, a halt or respite?” (55).  Buffy defeats the vampire.  Thus, the camera focuses on Buffy’s face and turns back, twisting counter-clockwise , to a straightened view.  She, once again, has positioned herself in the symbolic order by overcoming the representative of pure id, the eroticization of the abjection.  This is why it is she who is able to say of the body at the end: “It’s not her,” or “that’s not my mother.”  Buffy’s comment so perfectly echoes Julia Kristeva’s words: “A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome.  Not me.  Not that.  But not nothing, either.  A ‘something’ that I do not recognize as a thing […] On the edge of nonexistence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me.  There, abject and abjection are my safeguards.  The primers of my culture” (2).  Unlike Dawn, who still reaches for the mother, still wants to recognize “the body” as something to be desired, Buffy keeps herself “safeguarded” by seeing her mother’s body as something separate from herself.  Just as Kristeva says: “abjection is elaborated through a failure to recognize its kin; nothing is familiar, not even the shadow of a memory” (5).  In this case, we see that Buffy is able to not recognize the body as kin, literally.  It is Dawn who still desires to see the abject as her mother.  She reaches out to touch the body in the final scene, which threatens her very subjectivity and the screen goes black, as if to show that touching the body, feeling it as “real” would be an annihilation, blackness, the end of existence—something symbolized by the end of the episode arriving at that very instant and showing us the words “executive producer,” perhaps, on some level, an imposed reinstatement of the law of the Father.  We, the viewers, are reminded that “the body” must never be completely touched, jarred by the black screen back into our psychic realities.  This reverie with “the real” must be brought to an end for us, as viewers, to continue to recognize ourselves as subjects.

Popcorn and Shadows    
We sit in the shadows of our darkened living rooms, able for the space of an hour to forget “the self” and immerse ourselves in the borrowed subjectivity of the characters we see on the television screen.  But, this particular episode, “The Body,” imposes a sudden confrontation with “the real” in a diegetic universe of monsters, vampires, and other mythical figures of “campy” horror.  In episodes previous to this one, we as viewers have witnessed the character of Joyce’s battle with cancer and her hopeful recovery, and yet, unexpectedly, we find ourselves sitting down and suddenly, almost painfully, reminded of our own “selves” when Joyce dies, becoming “the body.”
The first thing that separates this episode from all others is its “lack” of a musical score.  This is a prohibition such as the ones Zizek describes.  He states that prohibitions such as this represent “symbolic castration” and “herein lies the sentiment of an unbearable, incestuous stuffiness” (43).  He goes on to say: “the fundamental prohibition constitutive of the symbolic order (the ‘prohibition of incest,’ the ‘cutting of the rope’ through which we achieve symbolic distance towards ‘reality’) is lacking, and the arbitrary prohibition that replaces it only embodies, bears witness to this lack, to this lack of a lack itself” (43).  We can also see this notion as being connected to Kristeva’s regarding abjection.  Interestingly, Kristeva describes abjection as: “a nonassimilable alien, a monster, a tumor, a cancer that the listening devices of the unconscious do not hear, for its strayed subject is huddled outside of the paths of desire” (11).  We do not hear a music score.  The episode itself is an “abjection” within the usual world of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other television shows.  Perhaps there is no music because “the mother” is dead.  Music, for Kristeva, is associated with the pre-Oedipal, with the mother, but the mother is gone, an abjection, a thing no longer able to be desired.  There is only silence here.  Since the music is absent, we, the viewers, who are conditioned to “feel” a certain way during certain scenes based upon how the music stirs us, are left without that comfort.
It could be argued that this is quite possibly Buffy’s most frightening episode.  The final moments of the scene, with “the body” foregrounded, is not unlike Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors from which Lacan modified his notions concerning “the gaze.”  The dead body of Buffy’s mother is looking upwards, but if looked at awry, she seems to be gazing directly at us.  In the midst of this “fantasy” show, the “real” is staring back at us, refusing to be turned away from, not allowing us the comfort of ignoring it.  This scene mirrors Zizek’s discussion of how the gaze functions in film.  Zizek states: “The gaze as object is a stain preventing me from looking at the picture from a safe, ‘objective’ distance, from enframing it as something that is at my grasping view’s disposal.  The gaze is, so to speak, a point at which the very frame (of my view) is already inscribed in the ‘content’ of the picture viewed” (125).  We cannot watch the final scene of the episode without “overlooking” the body.  Our eyes must alternate between Buffy and Dawn and their dead mother’s body.  Our “gaze” is framed and controlled by the camera, which obeys the commands of the person directing the episode.  Like Holbein’s painting, “the body,” this metaphor for “the real,” the death image “gazes” back at us, and there is no “safe distance” we can achieve from it.  The tenuousness of our own positions as subjects and psychic realities are given a tremor when we watch this episode.  This is probably due in part to what Zizek says: “This social reality is then nothing but a fragile, symbolic cobweb that can at any moment be torn aside by an intrusion of the real (17).  The “real” has intruded not only Buffy’s diegetic world but also our own social reality, threatening us at the most primal level of our consciousness.
We sit in the shadows of our living rooms, the television screen, that unifying, electric womb, illuminates our faces as we project our fetishistic fantasies onto the characters.  These characters can clearly be seen as fetishes, much like Marcia Ian describes in her book Remembering the Phallic Mother: Psychoanalysis, Modernism, and the Fetish: “Characters function as fetishes, which are ‘accretions’ of idealizations” (105.  While Ian is talking about characters found in novels, this same idea can be certainly be applied to the fictitious characters found in television programs.  They are idealizations existing within the isolation of this colorful womb-like screen.  The “power” cord plugged into the wall is not unlike the phallus, especially if we take critic Ian’s notions about the phallus as being more biologically representative of the original maternal phallus (which we also share—an object of “reconnection,” that unifies the Self to the Other), which, to Ian, is the umbilical cord.  Ian argues that the phallus as “penis” is a symptom of the patriarchal notions inherent in psychoanalytic theory and states: “Every single human being ever born, however, has been joined to its mother by an umbilical cord” (33).  She goes on to say: “the umbilical cord is the only universal biological organ of connection.  Why hasn’t this organ been fetishized?” (34).  Perhaps it hasn’t been in psychoanalytic theory itself, but perhaps it has in our own psyches all along.  We “gaze” into a television screen, able for the space of an hour or two to forget our own selves, while its characters serve as our fetishes, offering the promise of reconnection.

But this episode of “The Body” intrudes this “safe” space.  We have vicariously joined with both Buffy and Dawn down that shadowy corridor, allowed to become both Buffy and Dawn, and to project our own feelings onto them as they make that slow walk.  Before Dawn’s hand touches her mother’s body, the credits roll, and commercials provide what should be a “welcomed relief,” a diversion as we re-enter the fetishistic environment of our social realities, and we listen to the music that has been so long been absent, the imperatives of pere-version—enjoy!  But, with this episode, the boundary between fantasy and reality has been transgressed, collapsed with the dropping of that white sheet from the body, and what it reveals to all of us and what we feel in the pit of our stomachs, is a reminder that this feeling is as close as we can conceivably allow ourselves to come to “the real.”  During the series, we have suffered along side of Joyce, known her as a character, a fetish, which we are now severed from for the rest of the show’s life.  We are left with catharsis—that mixture of both pity and fear.  We pity ourselves, fear for ourselves because we have all been forced to confront what we will all ultimately one day become—“the body.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

An Interview with Bob Moulesong

Recently, I was honored to be interviewed by Bob Moulesong. He is interviewing several "Hoosier authors" for his own blog.

Thanks again, Bob!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ways Joining A Writing Group Will Help You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Let’s get honest.  The zombie apocalypse is coming.  We all know that.  If you haven’t been saving up your canned goods and extra toilet paper, then you have not been paying attention. 

One thing we do know is that people don’t read any more.  They don’t seem to like poetry and print newspapers, and unless that book comes with batteries, they probably aren’t checking out fiction and nonfiction.  I mean, I’m sorry to be the messenger, but facts are facts.

So, it’s time to pick teams now.

You might think that local writing groups are only for hobbyists. Guess again. It’s time to get serious and face the music. 

Your local writing group is going to save your life. You could do the math if you weren’t an English major.

The reasons are obvious:
  1. Foremost, you can enjoy your anti-zombie underground bunker in solitude.  That’s right.  No endless prattle or listening to pretentious indie bands or relentless DVD viewings.  Your bunker mates will want to read and write in silence.  In fact, most of them will be such awesome introverts, you may not even have to worry about awkward “good mornings” or “when do you think the zombie apocalypse will end” chitchat.
  2. Your writing group connections will have read manuals for how to build cool things out of coconuts and tree roots and dirt.  That’s right.  They’re readers.  They will know things.
  3. You will have books to use for fuel. Writing group friends will probably own box after box of those things once known as “printed books.”  AND, because they are avid in their pursuits, they will have more than one copy of just about any Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Virginia Woolf book—likely Penguin editions.  These can be used to entertain each other by reading various marginalia AND keep the bunker warm at night…provided there is adequate ventilation.
  4. You also have to account for the fact that they are writers.  This means that they will have draft upon draft of early versions of their novels (yes, of course, they have more than one).  They may even still have drafts of their stories from undergraduate and graduate workshops stowed away in the boxes they are sure to bring with them into the bunker for safe keeping.  Nobody wants pages gnawed on by a desperate zombie.
  5. Most importantly, your writing group friends have brains—the things that zombies crave.  So, in a pinch, you might just be able to survive.

In the meanwhile, before the zombie apocalypse inevitably hits, if you join a writing group, you will be able to enjoy intelligent conversation, a thriving artistic community, and a much more stimulating evening than watching some mindless zombie show.

Consider it.

You might just save your own life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No Child Left Behind

On a quiet snowy night, I sat on my lumpy couch, watching Netflix, not finding anything to watch beyond the first ten minutes, and so I turned off the television and decided to read the news.  Depressing headline after depressing headline--parents harming children, children murdering parents, shootings, and worse.  Politicians all jockeying for the spotlight in yet another presidential race that has begun far too soon--a bit like Christmas decorations appearing in stores even before Halloween.

Some headlines and statements caused me to consider one current issue in particular.

As most will agree, Jesus did not mention “gay” anything.  Sure, he did say that a husband would leave his parents and “cleave” to his wife, but that was about it.  We can find ambiguous talk regarding eunuchs and Centurions guards wanting their “servants/younger lovers/who knows” healed. 

I was raised Fundamental Baptist, but I’m not a translator of Hebrew/Greek/Roman.  But, even as a child and teenager, David and Jonathan in the Old Testament often gave me pause, and the Centurion made me think deeper, too.

Still, maybe Jesus didn’t mention “gay stuff” for a reason…

Why wouldn’t He?

He was God incarnate.  Certainly, He knew that 2000 years into the future people would obsess about it—particularly people who claimed to follow Him.

So, why not throw a bone to the faithful?

Is it a test?

What if Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality because He wanted to see if any of His teachings were actually learned and practiced?  

He taught that hypocrisy was wrong (“judge not, lest ye be judged likewise”); He condemned divorce and remarriage unequivocally; He preached forgiveness, love, acceptance, and that pesky thing about not throwing stones…

Perhaps He is testing our current generation? 

If so, the results are interesting.

I am a teacher for whom assessment is paramount. 

As a believer (judge or not judge), I think this is an interesting notion, and I sit back and wonder…

Which child will be left behind?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Grieve A Pet In Five Steps

1. Denial and Isolation

“Thanks. Yeah, well, she was just a pet. Yeah, it was hard.” Such a grief suffocates you. What is the socially acceptable amount of grief for a pet? When does it veer into too much?  People offer well-wishes and sympathies. You try to breathe deeply and stay composed, but as soon as you can, you go and sob in the bathroom, at home, in your car.  She was your friend, one of your dearest companions who knew your heart for years. She would nestle into you, cuddle you in dark times, cheer you up when you felt sad—every morning, she slept against your neck to feel your warmth, to feel the beating of your heart.

2. Anger

I already took you to the emergency vet clinic last week. Why are we going again?  Why are we doing the same process of a week ago? 

I grit my teeth.  I slam my fist.  I cannot even cry because I am frustrated, powerless, a blood tempest swirling in a cage of skin and bone.

We already did this.  Why isn’t the problem fixed? 

I try to keep a level-head.  I know that decisions will need to be made, life-changing decisions. 
My friend knows, too.  She sulks, depressed in her crate with a catheter and e-collar again…again…again.

3. Bargaining

I prayed more than one night that my friend would improve, that the infection would heal, that an x-ray would reveal that she could come back home.  But, such prayers came with guilt, and I hear the words—she is only a cat—whose voice is it?   I wrestle with conflicted feelings. I stared hard at my ceiling, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and spoke a prayer out loud.  I didn’t care if my neighbors could hear me.  Such words were raw, authentic, honest. Those were the words of a friend desperate to save another friend.

4. Depression

I couldn’t eat, didn’t want to eat.  I drove the hour and a half south to West Lafayette, spent my time with her in that stuffy room designated for owners who need private, emotional good-byes. They were patient.  They did not push.  You have as much time as you need.  But, my friend was not interested in hugs and kisses.  She didn’t know this was the end of her life.  She just wanted outside.  Outside of crates.  Outside of e-collars.  Outside in that sunlight and fresh air.  She stared out the windows.  She wanted to jump and slink and go places her catheter didn’t allow. 

I wanted to hold her tightly, hug her close to me, and translate through my heart beat and pores the love I had for her. 

But, she was my animal friend who was more interested in opened windows she had not seen in days.
I broke down in bitter sobs as I paid the bill.  Everyone in the waiting room hushed.  All eyes were on me.  They knew my pain, hoped it wouldn’t be theirs.  Me, too.  I made that awful choice.  I had to decide the time of death.  No matter how right people tell you such a choice is there’s always the doubt.

I cried the entire drive back to Michigan City—the entire two hours.  I would not eat for two days.  But, who mourns with you when your friend is of another species?  There are no casseroles or meat trays.  Buck up, it’s just a cat. I told myself that and then felt guilty for it. I tried to quell the pain by thinking but remember she was an animal.  

But, no, this was my friend. I knew her eight years…just a cat…just a friend.

5. Acceptance

Pet.  Grandmother.  Grandfather.  Brother.  Friend.

If acceptance means wishing those lost were still here, then I can accept that.

Still, on a quiet night, I almost believe I see her moving along the wall, or sitting on her empty cat tower. 

Loving another for years is the hardest habit to break.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Come Forth: A Poem at 13-Years-Old

We went to Mary that day
we had heard about Lazarus.
I didn't know what to say
when a man came called Jesus.

Many people recognized his face.
We wondered why he had come the this place.
We thought maybe he knew Lazarus.
Who was this man called Jesus?

He asked to see where Lazarus had been laid;
Someone said, "Lord, come and see!"
I wondered why they called him Lord, why?
Then I saw this man Jesus cry.

People around began to talk
about this man who had made the lame walk.
They talked again about this power he possessed;
They said it was special, a certain kind.

They said this man called Jesus had healed the blind.
Some people asked, "Why then did Lazarus die?"
We all turned and watched Jesus cry.
He spoke, "Take ye away the stone."
What kind of power did he own?
I wondered what he planned to do.
Surely, he couldn't raise Lazarus from the dead.
Then the man called Jesus raised his head

It sounded like he started to pray.
I'll never forget what happened that day.
Suddenly, he brought his face back down.
Then he shouted, "Lazarus, come forth!"

I could see movement in the grave.
Then a bound man came out of the cave.
I couldn't believe what I just saw.
Then Jesus turned to me and said my name.

I stood in disbelief, how could this man know me?
Suddenly, it all became clear
I turned to him and said "Lord!"

And He said, "Come forth."

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Summer of 1984

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a podcast and blog called Not Your Mama's Gamer. You can still find several of my blog posts on the site.

One that still means a lot to me is called "The Summer of 1984."

You can find that post here.

This day with its blue sky, green grass, and slightly humid air reminds me of that summer 30 years ago almost to the day--one that contains many of my favorite childhood memories.

The blog post pays tribute to my cousin Becky White-Schooner and my mother Marsha White.

I hope all who read it enjoy the memories I share, and, hopefully, it will rouse a few of your own.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What It Feels Like For A Girl

He started stalking me after my twelfth birthday.  Just after my body developed curves and cars started honking at me when I walked down the street.  He lurked in every shadow, hid around every corner, crouched poised to strike behind every shower curtain. 

He follows me.  I can hear the scuff of his shoes on sidewalks.  He waits until my bedroom light goes out.  Is he outside my window?  In my closet?  Behind those bushes?

He holds his breath, listens for me to fall asleep, so that he can pounce on me at my most vulnerable. 

I close my eyes but surrendering to sleep is slow. I've heard the stories.  A friend woke up in the middle of the night and found a man on top of her, intent to rape and murder her.  Another woman, the wife of a friend, was raped and strangled by a maintenance man. He had the keys.  He let himself in.  He stole her last gasp of life.

The movies air 24/7 on cable, in theaters, in the imaginations of middle class women awake after midnight.  Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls, The Last House on the Left, Halloween, Captivity--Hollywood loves a good mix of sex and murder.  In fact, there's even a genre called torture porn.  

Society celebrates the notoriety of grisly serial killers--Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia murderer, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, The Green River Killer, and the list goes on.  The headlines romanticize these deeds with sexy names.  Who were the victims?  That's incidental to the fascinating story of a psychopath--a man who stops living by the confines of society's mores, a man who takes what he wants when he wants. 

He is glorified, my stalker.

When I step onto an elevator, I wonder if that's him in the business suit, or hoodie, or polo.  He's white, black, brown, yellow, orange, purple, pink--it does not matter.  His violence can be found in the shadows, a leer.  When I go out after dark, I know that he is somewhere in the rustle of the trees, in the face of a stranger who might soon make me famous.  Victim #4.  There's more than one way to get your fifteen minutes of fame in America. 

That's what I've been taught and shown since I was a little girl too frightened to sleep.  The darkness makes you prey.  And pray.  The weaker sex, the one too innocent, too naive, too ditzy to understand how dangerous the bumps in the night can be. 

This why we all sleep with ball bats, mace, weapons even more potent.  We learn self-defense and kick boxing.  We prepare ourselves.

It's time our screams stop being entertainment.

It's time that girls stop having to fear the faceless threat.

When can we stop being afraid of the dark?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Matter of Inches

March 13, 2014.

That might’ve been a monumental date for me.  Literally.  Chiseled on my headstone. 

I drove back from visiting family in Ohio late that night.  It was a quick trip, but one I had been planning for weeks.  It was my Spring break, and I had few other chances to see my parents and cousins. I hadn’t seen them all since Christmas, and I like to visit everyone in March since the month is meaningful for my parents’ birthdays and the anniversary of my older brother’s untimely death.  

I drove over a day early so that we could sit around wrapped in afghans, watching movies on Netflix, while a blizzard blanketed the region in white.  This blizzard was a bad one.  The main roads in Ohio were left with thick ice chunks that jarred cars and risked damage to the undercarriage.  I’ve never driven on anything like it.  Like a dirt road full of potholes.

It was around 8:30 pm EST when I left my parents’ house to head back to Indiana. They told me more than once that I could stay overnight, and I did consider it, but I figured I had made the drive in worse weather before.  I liked the idea of waking up in my own bed.  I knew it would be late when I arrived back, but with the hour change, it didn’t seem too bad.  Plus, I planned to take the highway, then the turnpike.  Those roads, I reasoned, would be the clearest of any storm leftovers.

The toll road was clear.  No snow.  No ice.  I drove my usual speeds and then some, since there were so few cars on the road.

But, I made a rookie mistake.  The off-ramp.  I hadn’t even thought that it would still be icy.  I hadn’t seen much snow at all when I entered Indiana.

But, there it was.  I swung off the highway and saw a thick, thick sheet of ice and snow.

“Oh, no,” I said. 

My puppy was on my lap, and he could sense something wrong.  That’s why he jumped into the passenger’s seat as soon as we started to swerve.

Inches separated us from the right side of the road where there was a steep drop-off. Had we slid off the right side, we would have plunged several feet.  Provided we remained conscious, we would have been stuck down there and not easily removed.  If we suffered injuries in the fall, nobody would have found us for hours and hours.

I tried to remember all of the things I’d learned about sliding on ice, but as I approached the edge on the right, I did everything I could to swing us hard the other way.  There was a guardrail on the left.  Still, at the speed I was slipping, I was on path to slam head-on into the concrete tollbooth lanes.

We were moving too fast to the left, and I knew we would hit.

“We’re going to hit,” I spoke again.

The car spun around so that the right front bumper slammed into the guardrail—the metal part, not the concrete part just a few feet away. 

My seatbelt didn’t lock, and I thunked my right shoulder into the steering wheel.  Otherwise, both of us were unharmed.  The right front bumper of the car shattered, just being thick plastic, and the right front tire would end up shredded.  I dug the car out of the snow, and turned us around.  We were facing oncoming traffic.

Inches.  Just inches.  My life can be measured in inches.

--In 1965, a 20-year-old soldier was inches from death when standing at the airbase in Bien Hoa when a plane crashed and detonated the stacks of bombs.  A hot piece of plane ripped into his knee, and he fell.  He was inches from death, inches from being incinerated, inches from never being sent to a hospital in the Philippines for rehabilitation, inches from not being sent home to live with his parents where he would get a job as a stock-boy at a grocery store and get set up on a blind date with a little red-headed girl. 

---And, if I go back even further, if Howard White had been just a few inches shorter, my grandmother Dorothy would not have dated him.  My grandparents, too, were set up on a blind date, and my grandmother made them stand back-to-back.  She said that she wouldn’t go out with him if he wasn’t taller than she was.  It was just a matter of inches.  Maybe he had stood high on his heels at that moment.  But, three months later, they married. 

Our lives can be measured in inches—the near-misses on the highway, the near-misses crossing the street, the near-misses we will never know existed.

The awkward balance of fate, luck, and providence—little lines on a ruler, tiny measures of space that can separate a person from life and death, pain and joy, all or nothingness.

We live in the space between.