All posts by Richard

The Laddie Doth Protest Too Much: A 1583 Rant on the Depravity of Playgoers

Do they not maintain bawdry,

insinuate foolery,

and renew the remembrance of heathen idolatry?

Do they not induce whoredom and uncleanness?

Nay, are they not rather plain devourers of maidenly virginity and chastity?

For proof whereof but mark the flocking and running to Theaters and Curtains,

daily and hourly, night and day, time and tide,

to see plays and interludes where such wanton gestures,

such bawdy speeches,

laughing

fleering,

kissing

bussing,

clipping

culling,

winking, and

glancing

of wanton eyes,

is wonderful to behold.

Then these goodly pageants being ended,

every mate sorts to his mate,

brings another homeward of their way very friendly,

and in their secret conclaves (covertly)

they play the sodomites, or worse.

And these be the fruits of plays and interludes.

And whereas, you say, there are good examples to be learnt in them:

Truly, so there are;

if you will learn falsehood and cozenage,

to deceive; to play the hypocrite,

to cog, to lie and falsify;

if you will learn to jest, laugh and fleer,

to grin, to nod and mow;

if you will learn to play the Vice,

to swear, tear and blaspheme both heaven and earth;

if you will learn to become a bawd, unclean,

and to devirginate maids, to deflower honest wives;

if you will learn to murder, flay, kill, pick, steal, rob and rove;

if you will learn to rebel against princes,

to commit treasons,

to consume treasures,

to practice idleness,

to sing and talk of bawdy love and venery;

if you will learn to deride, scoff, mock and flout,

to flatter and smooth;

if you will learn to play the whoremaster,

the glutton, drunkard, or incestuous person;

if you will learn to become proud, haughty and arrogant;

if you will learn to condemn God and all His laws,

to care neither for Heaven nor Hell,

and to commit all kinds of sin and mischief,

you need go to no other school,

for all these good examples may you see painted before your eyes in interludes and plays.

~ Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (1583).

Paris through the Window in Three Variations…

A Drabble is a vignette of precisely 100 words in length and the term—described as a word game for 2 to 4 players wherein the first player to write a novel is the winner—was coined in Monty Python’s Big Red Book, first published in 1971.

Since this word game in print isn’t practical to play in the real world within a short period of time, it was determined that a Drabble would have to be a very short novel indeed, in order to play the game in real time. And, it was furthermore agreed that a hundred words would suffice; and that the first rule of writing a Drabble is adhering to the precise word-count of a hundred.

Hyphenated-words-are-argued-about—but not by me, so have at it—with fifteen additional words permitted for a title.

Now, in my daily practice of writing a single page of concise compositions of polished prose using exactly 336 words, I’m accustomed to working within a structure of limitation when I write an essay or a piece of fiction or satire.

However, my practice also includes building on a 336-word piece by writing additional pages, if necessary. Some of my pieces are complete as one-off single-page pieces, but some are not. And all of my pieces can be expanded if I wish—with the highest page limit set at six pages.

Writing a Drabble is a particular kind of challenge for me because it forces me to be even more concise and specific with my writing and requires a very precise collaboration with my internal editor.

The most satisfiying writing exercise I play with is crafting a Drabble inspired by a work of art.

And my favorite is the following piece of short fiction I wrote, inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1913 painting, Paris par la fenêtre, and published here in three variations revised three times over six years.

I’m offering these variations as examples of different ways to tell the same story with slightly and vastly different outcomes and moods.

1.

Paris Through The Window (2012)

by Richard La Rosa

The room is littered with hundreds of paintings yet one instantly catches my eye—Chagall’s, Paris Through The Window.

My brother knew it was my favorite (as I had given it to him fifty years ago). Yes, it’s the original, created with an extraordinary oil paint made by a Russian gypsy in 1909. The one in the Guggenheim is a fake.

Placing my hands on the painting, I concentrate as only my brother the art forger and I, the art thief, know how.

The room dissolves as I step into the Paris of 1913—and the past becomes my present.

2.

Paris Through The Window (2015)

by Richard La Rosa

The flat is cluttered with a hundred paintings, but one against the wall catches my attention: Marc Chagall’s, Paris Through The Window.

It’s the original, created with an extraordinary oil paint made in 1909 by a Russian gypsy. The painting in the Guggenheim is a fake—expertly copied by my brother, using the paints that our great-grandfather made a century ago.

Placing my hands on the painting, I concentrate as only my brother the art forger and I, the art thief, know how.

The room dissolves and I step into the Paris of 1913 just before the world ends.

3.

Paris Through The Window (2017)

by Richard La Rosa

I stride over to a painting by Marc Chagall hanging over a bricked-up window inside a Paris flat that is filled with a hundred masterpieces acquired over a hundred years.

A copy of the divine work of Cubism—created with oil paints made in 1909 by an artist whose genetic imprint is stamped in my own art-thief eyes—was made by my deceased art-forger brother and switched, like all the others, for the original.

Closing my eyes, I reach out to the painting, and I’m a hundred years in the past where my brother takes my hand.

***

Author’s Note:

This piece is precisely 672 words in length (2×336) and I expect I will likely expand it with an additional 336 words (probably on the subject of Chagall’s painting and some of the themes that inspired it—as well as the connection those themes have to my story). ~R.L.R.

On the hypocrisy of corporal punishment for children…

Imagine you’re at your job and your boss confronts you and demands to know why you didn’t get your work done on time. You begin explaining your reasons but your words are cut short—the boss yells at you, berating you for making the same old excuses. You try to continue speaking when suddenly your boss slaps you across the face and says, “Don’t talk back to me!”

Or imagine you’re that boss or manager or supervisor and your employee screws up on the job—or simply refuses to acquiesce to your demands. Do you believe, since they’re under your management, that you have the right to demand that they drop their pants and bend over your lap so you can spank their bare ass with your hand or with a belt?

What if that scenario was an acceptable dynamic in the relationship between employer and employee and that your boss or manager or supervisor was permitted to beat you as a form of discipline if you did some something they thought was bad or wrong?

Now, let’s switch out the word “boss” for “parent” and the word “employee” for “child” and imagine the same scenario.

Welcome to the double standard of corporal punishment for children—brought to you by a tone deaf society that has socially conditioned you to accept it’s justifiable to beat a child if they do something you don’t like.

Well, I call bullshit on the concept of acceptable violence against children under any circumstances. To hit a child, while harboring a belief that hitting others is wrong, is some kind of twisted hypocrisy. It’s one of the most baffling mixed messages we receive when we are children; the assertion that hitting people is wrong.

And the assertion that “you shouldn’t hit others” typically comes with extenuating circumstances like “it’s sometimes necessary to hit a person in self-defense” and “sometimes it’s okay to hit someone if you’re protecting someone else.”

This nefarious double standard creates cognitive dissonance in a developing brain.

~ Part 2 ~

When I was fifteen years old I made a vow to myself that I would never use corporal punishment or the threat of physical violence as a form of discipline or corrective behavioral therapy with my own child. This was a non-negotiable promise to my future daughter to ensure that she would never have cause to fear me or to feel humiliated or defenseless in my presence. It was a vow guaranteed to secure our bond of love and trust.

As I grew older I would periodically bring up the subject of corporal punishment in conversations with people and I was continually appalled by the casual acceptance of spanking as a legitimate method of disciplining children. And when I protested the practice as being psychologically harmful to children my opinion was dismissed.

The claim that mild punishment (slaps or smacks) have no detrimental effect is still widespread because we received this message very early from our parents who had taken it over from their parents. This conviction helped the child to minimize his suffering and to endure it. Unfortunately, the main damage it causes is precisely our numbness as well as the lack of sensitivity for our children’s pain. The result of the broad dissemination of this damage is that each successive generation is subjected to the tragic effects of seemingly harmless “correction”. Many parents still think: What didn’t hurt me can’t hurt my child. They don’t realize that their conclusion is wrong because they never challenged their assumption.

That’s Alice Miller, calling bullshit on the assertion that hitting children doesn’t have a lasting effect on their psyche, in an excerpt from Every Smack is a Humiliation – A Manifesto.

And here’s Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Geneva, proposing the revolutionary idea that children should never receive less protection than adults and that we must put an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as ‘tradition’ or disguised as ‘discipline.’

~ Part 3 ~

Accepted as tradition…

Okay, now we come to the part of my essay where I really start calling bullshit in earnest and I’m going to list some of the pervasive justifications I’ve heard supporting violence against children.

Tradition seems to be the default justification for hitting kids. It’s the reason the majority of people I’ve spoken with hit a wall in conversations about corporal punishment. And, while it’s true that tradition is a major roadblock to get past, it’s only one barrier that prevents me from breaking on through to the other side when trying to promote the revolutionary concept that hitting a child as a punitive measure is a really bad disciplinary strategy and just bad human behavior.

But most people are going to defend their convictions to the death and the people I’ve observed with the most certitude are the older generations that think tradition is as necessary as breathing.

It’s like this…

“Back in my day we didn’t coddle children the way some of you youngsters do with your time-outs and your calm reasoning. Corporal punishment has been an acceptable practice for thousands of years in civilized society—people didn’t have a problem with spanking in olden times.”

Well, I’m sorry-not-sorry to break it to you, old timer, but you’re dead wrong. It’s actually not difficult at all to find someone from “back in the day” that has a problem with spanking.

Like this fellow that says,“Children ought to be led to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.”

That would be Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, calling bullshit on punitive violence against children almost two thousand years ago.

And, to illustrate the illustrious nature of Plutarch as a personage of respect with regard to his opinions, I will add that Plutarch was also the fellow that wrote many stories that would be mined by William Shakespeare for the plots to a dozen or more of his plays.

~ Part 4 ~

Speaking of Shakespeare…

There was school teacher in England by the name of Roger Ascham who wrote a book called The Scholemaster which was published in 1570 when William was a boy of six. And while it’s true that it was a common practice to beat a child as a form of disciplinary punishment at school in England in the 16th century, not all teachers did it—and especially not one of England’s most famous teachers of the day.

So, if people still believe that children were better off when teachers were stern disciplinarians and lament that teachers in most schools are no longer permitted to mete out physical punishment they are believing a fiction and lamenting the demise of a barbaric practice.

I’m old enough to have been at school when corporal punishment was still permitted in some areas of my country in the early seventies and, though it wasn’t practiced at my elementary school in Berkeley, California, it was used aggressively at a school I went to in central Florida. Those were the worst teachers.

The best teachers—those that teach from a place of love and empathy for their students—already know the following:

“Chide not the pupil hastily, for that will both dull his wit and discourage his diligence, but admonish him gently, which shall make him both willing to amend and glad to go forward in love and hope of learning. Let the master say, ‘Here ye do well.’ For, I assure you, there is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a love of learning as his praise.”

And that’s Roger Ascham, who was also tutor to Queen Elizabeth when she was a girl, promoting a gentle and encouraging approach to educating children and calling bullshit on being a dick to kids in school.

Furthermore, in saying, “In mine opinion, love is fitter than fear, gentleness better than beating, to bring up a child rightly in learning,” he’s also calling bullshit on using punitive violence against children.

~ Part 5 ~

And then there is the religious justification regarding violence against children…

This justification is perhaps the trickiest one to unravel because it is tightly bound by fervent belief and faith and unquestioning obedience to the ultimate authority figure: Almighty God.

God told me to hit my children.”

But, really…did He?

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Spare the rod and spoil the child is that old biblical chestnut that proposes it’s better to beat a child than not beat a child and that version comes from the King James Bible published in 1611.

Most religions are steeped in judgment and extremely high expectations and children raised in religious families are hardwired to resonate with a structure that has a clearly defined family hierarchy with adults as the authority figures at the top and children at the bottom; expected to be subservient to the wishes and whims and expectations of their parents.

No child can meet those expectations. Ever.

So when those wishes become demands that cannot be met and punitive measures are measured out in blows…

Bottom line here:

Adults are larger and much more powerful than children. Therefore, hitting children is a flagrant abuse of power that can cause physical and emotional damage that may last a lifetime.

Here’s this from Ashley Montagu, a 20th century humanist and anthropologist that popularized the study of race and gender:

“Any form of corporal punishment or ‘spanking’ is a violent attack upon another human being’s integrity.”

Montagu believed the effect of that attack:

Remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality—a massive frustration resulting in a hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others.

The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experienced.”

***

Postscript: This essay will be published in six parts with each part containing 336 words. Part 6 will be added on Monday, December 11th.

Image Credit: Child Abuse by Mauro Fermariello

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336 Journal Website Is Back Online

336 Journal is delighted to announce that we are back online after many months of technical difficulties and relentless pestering from Russian spambots. There are still some glitches in the system but there is hope that things will go back to normal soon. All content from 1 January 2017 was mysteriously erased—so all links to old stories are irrevocably broken—but most content will be restored eventually. Stay tuned and thanks for your support…

336 Journal

M Train

Patti Smith has conversations with inanimate objects.

She has a daily routine of going to Café ‘Ino—a regular spot in her Greenwich Village neighborhood—where she sits at the same table and orders a proletariat breakfast of brown toast, a small dish of olive oil, and black coffee. Smith writes of this after waking from dreams of a laconic cowpoke—an imaginary muse I picture in the likeness of her long-time friend, Sam Shepard—who tells her it’s not so easy to write about nothing.

Smith is a poetic tour guide in New York City, stopping to chat with a bust of Nicola Tesla that loiters like a lone sentinel outside the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. She’s having trouble writing, off balance, moving back and forth from lethargy to agitation. Tesla, a statuary catalyst that coaxes rumination into words, tells her she’s “misplaced joy and without joy we are as dead.”

The café in New York is home base but she’s not always bound there. Her memories take her to French Guiana and the ruins of the Saint-Laurent prison—which she photographs with a Polaroid camera—and to Hermann Hesse’s house in Montagnola, Switzerland, and wherever else she wishes.

Her rambling memoir contains Polaroid photographs she’s taken over the years during her travels: Snapshots of Frida Kahlo’s crutches leaning against a wall in Casa Azul; the Arcade Bar in Detroit, Michigan; an incense burner resting atop the gravestone of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa in Japan. And always there are stories that go along with the photographs.

One of my favorite tales tells of a time she is sent on a clandestine midnight mission to Reykjavík to meet with the elusive Grand Master of chess, Bobby Fischer—who greets her with paranoid conspiracy rants that morph into a duet of singing Buddy Holly songs.

M Train is just the sort of book I like to savor slowly…while dipping biscotti in coffee and taking periodic breaks to delve into my own journal in my own favorite café.

Martians Unprepared For Trump Mars Mission

When American President Donald Trump of Earth signed a bill in March of 2017 authorizing $19.5 billion in funding for NASA he announced plans for a Mars mission during his first term. Some citizens of our nearby planetary neighbor expressed skepticism and alarm.

“We weren’t expecting Earthers to visit for at least fifteen years,” Dr. Kelvin Klaatu—a Martian professor of human anthropology currently orbiting Earth in a flying saucer with two grad students—tells me in an interplanetary Skype chat.

“We’re not ready,” he says. “We’re still trying to figure out how to protect ourselves from human viruses and microorganisms. Plus, our minister of human affairs hasn’t received the funds promised for the construction of Trump’s hotel and golf course in our capital city. And frankly, we feel that Earth people are presently too xenophobic for a successful first contact.”

I ask Dr. Klaatu if he had been monitoring the conversation between President Trump and astronaut Peggy Whitson, while she was aboard the International Space Station.

“Actually, we heard about Trump’s plan while listening to NPR over the radio,” Klaatu says.

His grad students, Barada and Nickto, appear next to him on screen and perform what can be best described as a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch.

“Tell me, Mars…” Barada says in a perfect imitation of Trump’s voice. “What do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule and when would you see that happening?”

“You already approved a timeline for the mission to launch in 2033 when you funded NASA, you ridiculous human meat-suit,” Nickto replies in Whitson’s voice.

“Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term,” Barada says. “So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

“Yeah, well, you better cancel the construction of your golf course on the sun,” Nickto sneers.

“But I already borrowed the money,” says Barada.

The two grad students high-six each other and laugh hysterically.

Charlie Chaplin Crashes My Interview With Pola Negri

I’m at the café with Pola Negri, the femme fatale from the Kingdom of Poland who appeared in German films such as Die Augen der Mumie (1918) and Mad Love (1921) before she made her first Hollywood film in 1922. Charlie Chaplin joins us at the table.

“I met Charlie at the Palais Heinroth,” Pola tells me.

I know the place well as it’s the swankiest hot spot in Berlin. Pola says that Charlie entered unrecognized, conspicuously underdressed among all the swells in evening dress.

Charlie remembers it like this:

“I was guided by the Palais Heinroth manager to a table located at the most obscure part of the room and I’m surprised by a slap on the back and a voice calling out my name.”

It’s Al Kaufman of the Lansky Corporation.

“Come over to our table,” says the manager of the Famous Players studio in Berlin. “Pola Negri wants to meet you.”

Negri laughs at the memory.

“A little man with a sad sensitive face fought his way up to our table. Were it not for his odd appearance, so dapper and so pathetic. He had such a strange physiognomy, with tiny feet and an enormous head that made him seem top-heavy. The only physically attractive thing about him were his hands, which were never without a cigarette.”

“Pola was so beautiful,” Charlie remembers. “Beautiful jet-black hair, white, even teeth and wonderful coloring. She was the centre of attraction.”

The silent screen star blushes.

“What a voice she has,” he says, traveling back in time to the moment. “Her mouth speaks so prettily the German language. Her voice has a soft, mellow quality, with charming inflections. Offered a drink, she clinks my glass and offers her only English words, ‘Jazz boy, Charlie.’”

On Christmas Eve of 1922, Charlie gave Pola a large diamond that he intended to set within an engagement ring. However, in March, he announced to the papers he was too poor to marry her and she ended their engagement.

Stan Laurel Crashes My Interview With Charlie Chaplin

I’m in a pub with Charlie Chaplin and he’s regaling me with one version of his history. He says he was born into poverty amid the squalor of South London on 16 April 1889—the same year that the Moulin Rouge opened in Paris. Charlie’s birth took place in a gypsy caravan as it was traveling through Birmingham. His mother, Hannah, would never tell Charlie who his father was or if she even knew.

The funny thing about this interview is that Chaplin’s lips are moving but no sound is coming out. Of course, he’s a silent movie star, I should have expected a dumb show. Fortunately, there are subtitles in my mind.

Chaplin started as a music hall performer among comics and mimes and magicians and mesmerists, performing before booze soaked audiences that watched the acts through a haze of tobacco smoke. At eighteen, he joined Fred Karno’s burlesque of mimes and acrobats. Karno, a theater impresario and comedian, was known as the father of the custard-pie-in-the-face gag—and Charlie was still with Fred Karno’s Army in the autumn of 1910 when the touring company left Southampton aboard the SS Cairnrona and crossed the Atlantic bound for Canada.

Not surprisingly, a piano crashes through the ceiling above and crushes our table, depositing an unkempt Stan Laurel at our feet. I’m reminded of Slim Pickens riding an atomic bomb at the end of Doctor Strangelove.

Stan dusts the ceiling plaster from his suit and says, “I was Charlie’s understudy and room-mate for the tour. When we reached the shores of Quebec, we were all on the deck of the [converted cattle boat], sitting, watching the land in the mist.”

Suddenly, Charlie ran to the railing, took off his hat, waved it and shouted:

“America, I am coming to conquer you! Every man, woman and child shall have my name on their lips—Charles Spencer Chaplin!”

“We all booed him affectionately and he bowed to us very formally and sat down again.”

Table for One at the Existentialist Café

Over the years, since around the age of nine, I’ve had imaginary conversations with a great number of historical figures and fictional characters. It all started with verbal chats with Tarzan, Spider-Man, and The Human Torch. Growing up on the road, with real life friendships few and far between, I had years of solitude to hone my imaginary social skills.

I spent a lot of time in libraries and bookstores, perusing my favorite subjects and also seeking out new things to read about. I became a literary dilettante with a bee-like habit of flitting from one book to another—gathering a bit of prose-pollen from each book.

When I was twelve I began writing about my encounters and placing them in specific environments. I was a time traveling voyeur of literary worlds and a fly on the wall of the peanut gallery—and I had no qualms about commenting.

At sixteen I was journaling and weaving into the conversations ideas and actual thoughts and dialogue from books I read. That was the year I first read The Outsider by Colin Wilson and learned that there was a name for what I was—an autodidact.

Reading The Outsider formally introduced me to philosophical worlds and those that created them. I learned about phenomenology and read about Jean-Paul Sarte’s book, La Nausée—though I would not actually read the book itself until I was twenty-one. I wasn’t the most sophisticated philosophical thinker but I was extremely earnest and driven to understand what I was reading.

For seven years, from the age of sixteen to twenty-three, I considered myself an existentialist—though I didn’t yet have a full understanding what that meant. At twenty-three I abandoned existentialism in favor of what I thought to be the less dogmatic shifting belief system of guerrilla ontology.

A few days ago I bought a book called “At The Existentialist Café” and I’m once again captivated by the architects of existentialism.

Like Dorothy returning to Oz.

Nambia Joins The United Nations

When President Cheeto Benito, The Great White Dope of American nationalists, spoke at the United Nations this week, there was a moment when he turned to the African leaders in the room and said: “In Guinea and Nigeria, you fought a horrifying Ebola outbreak.”

True enough. Three and half years ago there was an Ebola epidemic that infected over 25,000 people and killed more than 10,000 in nine African countries. The official declaration of the epidemic came from Guinea in March of 2014 and Nigeria was one of the countries infected. The worst of the devastation was in Sierra Leone and Liberia—and the general consensus among Africans and African supporters abroad was that the response came too little and too late.

And then The Mango Mussolini continued his address to the African contingent with this line of faint praise: “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.” Wait. What?

Nambia?

Did he mean the uranium-rich country of Namibia, located just north of South Africa and circled by Botswana, Zambia, and Angola? If Trump meant to say Namibia, he was probably getting his intel about their health care system from UNICEF, which states that:

“The Namibian government has made significant efforts to address HIV and AIDS, malaria and communicable diseases. Official estimates put per capita health expenditure at $108 in 2010, with significant private and donor spending topping up public health expenditures.”

I’m trying to imagine the thoughts that must have swept through the mind of Hage Geingob, the president of Nambia—I mean, Namibia—as his African compatriots in the room glanced his way to gauge his reaction. Was he preparing himself for the inevitable spotlight that would fall on him and his country in the days following the latest gaffe by President Business?

Unless, maybe—oh, please let it be so—maybe there actually is a Nambia, a plucky little African nation in the universe next door, that has spilled into our consensus reality.

If so, I’ll bet they have great uranium flavored covfefe.