throw the book at me

I have stated previously that I am educated woman. Truth is, I am an exceptionally well-educated woman who has been reading since she was 4 years old.

Which means, I see the world differently.  Not just because I’m the weirdest person I know, but because I continually consume literature produced by fellow weirdos.

One of the mottos I adhere to comes from the Palestinian author Suheir Hammad.

read-too-many-books-to-believe

Education takes time. This ain’t The Matrix. You don’t get to just download jiu-jitsu or James Joyce or J. R. R. Tolkien or James Baldwin. So a large chunk of my life has been spent at one university or another.

At one point, I was pursuing a doctorate in literature from the University of Arizona.  I eventually abandoned that goal when I realized that I couldn’t put up with the world-class level of bullshit a Ph.D in liberal arts requires.

Bullshit

Also, I fell in love, got married and then got pregnant (in that order).

Before all of that, however, I was dating a fellow graduate student who eventually transfered to UCLA so that he could study Herman Melville.

That really should have been a sign, because I fucking hate Herman Melville.

I remember the day he and I first met, which was the day he first asked me out.

The class was a 500-level reading seminar and it was held in a long and narrow room with a banquet table surrounded by chairs. I was running late, so by the time I got there, all the chairs were taken.  I put my bag down on the table, and he (along with a couple of the more human people in the room) realized my dillema.

He raised up out of his seat just a bit, but I didn’t need his help, turns out.  I had a plan.

I strode to the end of the room, where there was a stack of chairs. I retrieved one off the top of the stack and, holding it up over my head, carried it to the back of the room.

Of all the days to be wearing a white shirt and a printed bra, I thought to myself.

I placed the chair and sat in it, then looked up and smiled at him.

“Hello, my name is Seamus.”

“Hello, my name is Lulu.”

“Don’t leave today, please, before I get a chance to talk to you.”

“Okay.”

Easiest date I have ever gotten.

In the end, I was kind of glad that he moved away because I liked him okay, but not enough to really do anything about it.

One of the reasons was his extremely vocal dislike of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his masterpiece The Scarlet Letter.

There are few books I get so fanatical about.  And, of course, I need to say right up front that I am not talking about the 1995 piece of shit film adaptation with Demi Moore.

scarlet-letter-movie-the-scarlet-letter-nathaniel-hawthorne-free

This remake is so horrible that my graduate friends and I used to watch it together and throw raisins at the screen whenever anyone said the word “sin”.

That’s where Seamus and I first discovered that we really weren’t well suited for each other. He was all good with mocking that particular version, but when we would then discuss the merits of the book, he would continue to bad-mouth Hawthorne.

Okay, the text will give you TMJ disorder, it’s so dense. But that was the era. Melville was a wordy son-of-a-bitch when he wanted to be.  And have you read Dickens?

But no novel, past or present, in American literature has a character so dear to my heart as Hester Prynne.

Hester_Prynne

Why do I love this character so much? Because she’s a sinner, because she admits her sin, because she is too proud to beg for forgiveness, because she eventually beats the holier-than-thou Puritan crowd at their own game.

Plus she’s a seamstress. I come from a long line of seamstresses, even if I don’t currently practice the craft. (For a laugh, see my previous post about being a witch).

For those who need a refresher course in the story:

Hester Prynne shows up in the New World as a new bride without her husband, a man named Roger Chillingworth.

Everytime I read that name, I think about the song “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles: “And it breaks her heart to think her love is only given to a man with hands as cold as ice”

Time passes, and rumor has it that her husband has been killed by Indians.  Hester is now a widow and becomes a seamstress to provide for herself.

Time passes, about a year. Then, all of the sudden, Hester is pregnant.

Now, the baby obviously can’t be her dead husband’s. But as much as the townspeople shame Hester for her sin—including locking her up until she gives birth and then forcing her to wear the infamous Scarlet Letter and stand in the stocks while people hurl insults and garbage at her—she defiantly refuses to name the father of her child.

It is hard to say if she does this out of love or loyalty or just spite, but at any rate, her lover is the town’s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale.

Then (talk about your deux et machina!) her husband returns from the dead and joins the rest of the town in demanding to know who fucked his wife.

Hester is hounded and abused and ridiculed and hated. All the while, she loves her daughter Pearl (BTW: the daughter of the heroine in my novella The Rightful Lord of the Castle is named Margaret, which means “pearl” and that was absolutely done on purpose), and she makes her way through the shit until she is a completely respected and integrated member of her community.

She wears them down, bit by bit, with her righteousness until they seek her out for her endless wisdom and her dope-ass sewing skills. Total poetic justice.

Meanwhile, her lover never admits to what he has done, and he is tortured internally for this over the years, finally lying down to die on the same scaffold where Hester suffered, with a Scarlet Letter of his own—this one burning and scraping its way through his flesh from the inside out.

dimmesdaleA

https://sites.google.com/site/scarletletter520/dimmsdale

Hawthorne is never afraid to play the supernatural creepy card, and I love him for it.

And if you want to watch a movie version of the story, I can happily recommend the 2015 adaptation.  Finally, someone did it right.

hesteryprynne2015

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4700594/

Ultimately, I agree with John Updike in the following assessment of the character:

She’s such an arresting and slightly ambiguous figure. She’s a funny mix of a truly liberated, defiantly sexual woman, but in the end a woman who accepts the penance that society imposed on her. And I don’t know, I suppose she’s an epitome of female predicaments. She is a mythic version of every woman’s attempt to integrate her sexuality with societal demands.

https://www.npr.org/2008/03/02/87805369/hester-prynne-sinner-victim-object-winner

Now, if that doesn’t sound like me, I’ll eat my hat.

Alright, enough of the bookworm talk. Except that I am ready to release another poem. This one sprang from my re-reading of the original Aladdin.  Most people only think of the Disney version, but the truth is that Aladdin is a pretty-boy player in the original story from the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  Plus, the translator for the most widely accepted version of that novel is the same man who translated the most widely accepted version of the Kamasutra.  Not a coincidence.

Because erotica has always had a place in literature.

Also, Aladdin wasn’t Arab, and at no time is the story set anywhere near the Middle East.

aladdin kissing

https://interestingliterature.com/2013/01/30/surprising-facts-about-aladdin/

The poem is told from the point of view of Scheherazade, another fascinating female character that is a prisoner of sex and sexuality and her part in society as a woman.

I wrote it sometime after Thanksgiving but before Christmas 2018.

hostage

craft a fiction so I may live,
tonight I will not die.
only respite my lord will give,
tonight I will not die.
time slips as water through a sieve,
tonight I will not die.

weave tomorrow another tale,
tonight my life is mine.
my throat he’ll slice if I should fail,
tonight my life is mine.
the moon above beams and I exhale,
tonight my life is mine.

spin yet more lies, wasting the years,
tomorrow breaks the day.
and still I’m bound by all my fears,
tomorrow breaks the day.
each moment now my judgement nears,
tomorrow breaks the day.

a broken heart, dishonored vow,
my words are at their end.
the wife that once was isn’t now,
my words are at their end.
your grudge must finally take a bow,
my words are at their end.

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