In Which Symbols Overwhelm Story

14 May 2004

Last night, Mark and Timprov and I intended to go to "The Golem" at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, but Timprov wasn't feeling good enough to go, so we were going to call down a list of friends starting with the ones we hadn't seen in awhile and see who wanted to go. We didn't get any farther than Em; she wanted to go. So we got to hang out with Em and hear her news and all those good things.

I think this is the first time I noticed a difference between how I treat my friends with children and how I treat my friends without children. If people have significant others and are being offered a single free ticket (on a by-no-means-sold-out Thursday night), I figure they have a choice between buying an extra ticket, deciding who wants to go, or not going at all, and I figure they can make that choice when it's a free ticket. But my brain draws a line between that and asking one spouse to stay home with the kid(s) at the last minute. Ah well; we'll come up with other stuff to do with friends with kids, when we next have free time. So, June, then.

"The Golem" was...all symbolic and stuff. And by "all symbolic," I mean all symbolic. Mark and I disagreed about how many people were dead at the end of the play. Disagreed entirely (possible answers: 0 and 5). That's how low the story-to-symbol ratio was. I generally prefer considerably more story. I mean, I know that for Eastern European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, there weren't particularly many likely outcomes to their story. But 0 dead people vs. 5 dead people out of a cast of 6...that seems like a big discrepancy in interpretation, and when I heard Mark's interpretation, it didn't sound obviously wrong or stupid -- just completely different from mine. Too much symbolism, not enough story. The last line was, "For us, even death can blossom into wonder." I liked that. I did. But...well. They dropped the framing device entirely, and I just like story. I can't help it. Story and me, we get along pretty darn well. And symbolism and I seem to have a better relationship when story's around.

Four different story ideas, though; that's not bad, though it's not why I went. (Em hasn't been very many places with me. She asked what the little notes on the program were. A clear indicator.)

I've read that the New Yorker has an "unflinching" article about Madeleine L'Engle, and the summaries I've read of it seemed to be less unflinching than sensationalistic. It seems to misread Meet the Austins in the extreme, for example, saying that it was about how horrible Maggy was when I thought it was a fairly compassionate look at a little girl having a horrible time and coping with a huge number of awful things in her life. Also, I don't really see how relevant it is whether L'Engle's husband ever slept with someone else -- how is that "unflinching?" Why do people decide that the most irrelevant things are a sign of good journalism?

Also, why are people such jackasses? There have been letters to the editor all week trying to downplay the torture at Abu Ghraib: why? What possible justification can there be -- from any political approach -- to saying, "Oh, well, it's really not that bad to rape people?" That is, what possible justification from anyone but a rapist or would-be rapist? I shouldn't read the letters to the editor. I really shouldn't. Because at times like these, it makes me wonder which of my neighbors are sitting around thinking, "It's not so bad when it happens to brown people." Or just, "It's not so bad." I don't know which is worse. I don't particularly want either next door.

And now there are self-proclaimed feminists in the Strib and online, talking about how shocked and surprised they are that women participated in war atrocities. Saying that they thought better of women than that. I just want to take these folks by the shoulders and shake them and say, "Weren't you ever 9-year-old girls?" We should not take the Victorian view of gender roles and reverse the plus and minus signs. We should not say, "Oh, women are more emotional and gentle and irrational than men. But that's a good thing." We have no evidence that either sex is morally superior to the other. We never have had any such evidence. Anyone who tried to act as though we did was thinking wishfully one way or the other.

Women are people. Men are people. People are a mix of good and bad; people are flawed to various degrees, violent to various degrees, gentle to various degrees. Occasionally you can draw different behavioral bell curves for women and for men, but they almost always overlap. Trying to treat women as though they aren't people is no better if you think they're superior than if you think they're inferior. Same goes for men. So cut it out.

What else...well, my Onie isn't feeling good, so let's hope they figure out why today. She went to the doctor yesterday and is going in for more tests today. The grands are up there serving as an extra pair of ears for her with the doctors -- it's generally good on big things to have more than one person listen, because you'll remember different things as important. Anyway, that'll be on my mind until we hear more, and possibly thereafter.

Mark and I will be heading out for Omaha as soon as he's done with work today. Most likely we'll have an earlyish dinner here and then start driving. My cousin's wedding is tomorrow evening. We'll be back Sunday in time to get Mark packed and ready to head out to California early early Monday morning. Eurghhhhh. My mother often says, "There's no rest for the wicked." Apparently Mark has been unspeakably horrible and I'm only slightly better.

It's still strange to me that I wasn't packed to go to Omaha until around 1:00 this afternoon, and we still haven't left. From California, Omaha is 10-15 hours of travel. You have to devote all day to getting there. I'm also still getting used to the fact that most of my friends have left: there were enough people there while I was in college and even grad school that there was always someone to see. Now I've got a few of my former teachers in town there, and Jim, but he's graduating this weekend. And that's about it. Sometimes I get lucky and am back in town at the same time as old friends. I think this time will probably be just a family trip. That's its own kind of fun, it's just a change, that's all.

Time to get a few more things done. Have a good weekend. "See" you all Monday.

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