Books: “The Exorcist” (1971)

Hey, y’all, remember when I used to have a blog? …. Me, neither. Lets talk about The Exorcist.

The book, not the movie because I love pea soup and I refuse to see it abused in such a fashion.

Cover of "The Exorcist"

As many (any?) of you may know, I’ve been in and out of hospital recently and, during my last stay, I got fed up and randomly started surfing for something to read on my phone at — uh — about 5 am, if I remember rightly. The BPL Overdrive threw The Exorcist at me and I thought, ‘What the hell.’ I’ve always sort of meant to read it and I certainly wasn’t going anywhere, right?

Fair warning: Here be spoilers (probably) and I’m assuming anyone reading knows at least generally what the story is about.

It’s… fine. Like, it’s not fine, obviously, lots of horrible things happen, many of them to a child which a lot of people seem to feel is worse than the same thing happening to an adult. On the whole, even in a quiet hospital at 7 in the morning — not an absolutely ideal time for a horror novel, I agree, but not terrible either — it wasn’t that actually frightening. That said, I think I’m the wrong audience for it; I’m about 40 years too late and 10 years too not-Christian to have this one get under my skin.

The writing is — odd. I’m not sure what Blatty was going for unless it was some kind of metaphor-per-inch award: . I hope he got it, though, because after you get into the rhythm of it, it works. I don’t know if it would work for anything else, but it works for a story about displacement: displaced demons, displaced dead, displaced living. (Anyone else feel kinda sorry for Pazuzu after Merrin died?)

Despite all the metaphors, it’s also a very barebones writings: things happen, one after the other, and the reader gets more or less pulled along. There’s very little about the interior lives of any of the characters except for one or two incidents per character: Karras and his mother, for example. This is effective in the sense of getting the reader to remember the characters and delineating them in nice sharp lines, but also means I ended up feeling like these people were all determined by, at most, half a dozen key moments and this, for me, made them all strangely flat. Regan and Merrin, especially, suffered from this; Regan for more interesting reasons, I think, because you mostly meet her through other people’s recollections. You only get a scene or two with Regan as an agent for herself and those at the end don’t help much because, duh, you’re at the end of the book and, if the narrative has worked to get you to buy in, this is a kid who’s basically been hollowed out by an immensely powerful demon; I’m not sure she’s on her A game, if you know what I mean.

Oh, and by the way. There’s a passing moment somewhere in the middle of the book where the detective, Kinderman, asks Chris what her daughter is named; she tells him; he says it’s a beautiful name and we move on. For a verbose guy who’s just been pontificating about Scofield’s Lear, it seems like a missed opportunity and it bugs me.

The Exorcist also suffers from all the problems of its innumerable progeny, chiefly the question, ‘Is it really supernatural?’ At one point Father Karras says, talking about poltergheist phenomena, says, “Apparently, extreme inner tension of the mind can sometimes trigger some unknown energy that seems to move objects around at a distance. But there’s nothing supernatural about it.” Uh… Father? Some people from Oxford are here and they’d like to speak with you. I mean seriously. There’s being skeptical and there’s plain ol’ not listening to the words coming out of your mouth.

That said, I’m not going to knock any book that also so clearly contains part of the inspiration for my beloved Joyce Byers. Chris and she would get along just fine — might smoke themselves to death, though.

On the spur of the moment, I’m adopting a ratings system because why not.

Three crows out of five to The Exorcist. Sorry, old bean; guess I’m not Catholic enough

small black crow emoji (repeated three times)

Baby Steps?

From my post on our YTT FB after class on Saturday:

I’m not entirely comfortable with the language we’ve been using around the anatomy of the pelvis — particularly, the essentialist division into a ‘male/female’ binary. I think this is the sort of essentialist thinking that can lead to poor language choices in teaching and cuing that then leads to the alienation of trans, non-binary, intersex, gender fluid, etc. folks.

My understanding of the anatomy is that there isn’t so much a ‘male pelvis’ vs a ‘female pelvis’ as there is a ‘loose pelvis’ vs a ‘tight pelvis’ and those have been linked to a gender binary because that’s how our medical language works, to a great extent. I really feel very strongly that this isn’t something we should continue without question.

I did not get what we might call a “helpful” response.

Small Things

I had my third live call of my YTT this past Saturday and some things happened which disturbed me.

  1. Our head teacher got caught in an…unfortunateness around the fact that you probably shouldn’t cue your students to ‘move towards a double chin’ when what you want to say is ‘lengthen the back of your neck’ or even ‘look towards your feet.’
  2. We had a moment of pure OMG when discussing what makes female pelvises ‘special’ in that the class came up, resoundingly, with BABEEZ!
  3. This was the first session I attended where we did pose review. Everyone in the class is supposed to take photographs of themselves in various poses and then particular poses are “reviewed” during a particular live call. Okay, fair enough. I don’t know how many people we have in the YTT as a whole; on my particular call on Saturday, we had 32. We had bodies of all kinds: short, fat, thin, tall, square, lanky, black, male, female, Asian, older, younger, middle-r — you get the idea. The only pose photographs we looked at were white womenwith fairly conventional ‘yoga bodies.’ (If you need an illustration for what I mean, just go look at the Yoga Journal site for a few minutes. I’ll wait.)

Now I didn’t challenge any of these things at the moment — partially because I loathe conflict (I’m working on it) and partially because I flat-out could think of nothing to say. And then with Point #2 because I know I am not well-balanced on the question of female reproductivity; I’m just not. So I tend to keep my mouth shut if I possibly can. In this case, I would have been warranted in pointing out that the “point” being made was, in fact, wrong and verging on the non-cis-phobic. If that’s a word.

I also know that all three of these things are relatively minor. I don’t honestly think our teacher meant any offense with Point #1; I think she just got turned around in what she was saying and got out of it the best way she could with an awkward joke — as a woman, that felt entirely familiar to me even if as a fat woman I wanted to kick her in the shins. I don’t think anyone in the class intended to make a exclusionary statement about bones. And I doubt that the pose photographs were chosen with malice aforethought.

What I do think is that all three of these things exemplify little things. Things we don’t think about. And when we do think about them, we go through precisely the process of rationalization that I have described above: oh, she just got tangled up; oh, they didn’t mean it; oh, well, you have to choose some photographs. And that’s all well and good and true in all three cases but it also feels to me — in this Year of Our Oh Dear Lord 2018 — that little things have been allowed to slip for far too long.

And I still don’t know what to do about any of these particular three things.

Judged by the Yoga Sutras

I’m reading Inside the Yoga Sutras for YTT and I’m feeling very judged. I haven’t read the sutras en masse before, just excerpts here and there, so I’m open to the idea that it’s this particular translation or presentation. I got stuck after 1.21, 1.22, and then particularly 1.30, all of which are about intensity and focus of practice — at least, as I said above, in this translation. I have nothing on hand to compare it to, although I do have a second translation arriving in the mail soon.

What eventually got me was the idea the tone in the book — a very ‘well, duh‘ tone at that — that there is one way to be focused in your practice. And I’m willing to go along with that to a point: if you don’t get on your mat at least occasionally, your practice probably needs a little work. But the model of practice referred to here seemed to have much more relevance to a non-lay experience of (a very particular) type of yoga practice. And that’s fine — everyone gets to have their handbook — but I’m not sure how to push back on that in class and it needs pushing back on. If nothing else, to be purely personal about it, running down the checklist of this translation, I don’t really count as a yoga practitioner. Like, at all. Neither does anyone who has body issues which would prevent them from practicing daily and I could make a much longer list.

This is, as the man said, ‘obvious cobbler’s.’ (“Cobbler’s awls.” Google ‘rhyming slang.’ You’re welcome.)

I don’t want to be loosey-goosey to the point where anything counts as anything but it seems to me that this presentation is unnecessarily restrictive and discouraging.

So, Here’s A Thing

My third week of yoga teacher training is just starting. It’s an online only training and I have so many more thoughts than will comfortably fit on our cohort Facebook page (without it simply turning into a text-based monologue from me) that I’ve decided to reawaken this old beast.

I considered making a new site — in fact, I did make a new site — but new sites are ponderous and slow and disheartening and this beastie :pats site: is like a really nice pair of worn-in pajama pants. And so here we are.

I have no plan or schedule or outline or calendar for this; I’m going back to my old days of blogging when I wrote things more or less as I felt like it and posted them more or less as I felt like it. (And I imagine Doctor Who will sneak in here and there because, well, it always does.)

People Are Not Things

not thingsIf you want to know what I’m writing-aloud-in-reaction-to, read this post and then read these posts.

Full disclosure: I’m one of the governance group for the CAA and extended the invitation to Brad Houston to write for us. I still think this was a good idea and I think Brad wrote a decent piece.

However. Much as Brad would like to take exception to Jeremy’s use of “bloodless neutrality,” I would like to take exception to Brad’s use of “frenzied,” “hysterical,” and “breathless” along with the general tone which the use of these terms implies.

To put it bluntly, these are all belittling terms. Their use implies that the user does not take what they are describing seriously — unless, of course, they’re commenting on a footrace in which case ‘breathless’ might make perfect sense.

“Hysterical” is particularly a loaded term given that it has a long and ignominious history of use in dismissing health concerns, particularly mental health concerns, particularly women’s mental health concerns. “Hysteria” was long the dismissive diagnosis for conditions we might now understand as ranging from acute epilepsy to mild depression to severe postpartum depression to schizophrenia or various forms of dementia in women and men. Equally, it was used to medicalize conditions such as depression in unhelpful ways, turning a manageable condition into an incurable disease. Using it in this context to describe the attitude of those alarmed by the possible destruction of records documenting, among other things, possible abuse and sexual assault of ICE detainees is an unfortunate choice.

The other big problem is a systematic one. Taken together, Brad’s posts boil down to “It’s okay, the system will work it out.”

This is simply not correct. If we have had nothing else over the past eighteen months, we have had proof raining down on us day after day to demonstrate that the system will not work “it” out. Or, rather, the system will — but only to the benefit of itself. Inasmuch as the system “wants” or “needs” anything, it “wants” or “needs” to perpetuate itself. That’s it. That’s all it does. Think of Richard Dreyfus in Jaws: “All it does is swim. And eat. And make baby sharks.” Well, all systems do is perpetuate and ingest and make baby systems.

There was a lot of hopeful talk just after the election last year that “the Constitution will protect us” and “the Congress will balance it out” and, no. It won’t. The system is not some magical apparatus like something you might find in the back of McGonagall’s classroom at Hogwarts or sitting under the TARDIS console. The system is people. The system is only as good as the people in it and, frankly, most of the people in it? Are not great. And the ones who are great face incredible systemic obstacles in getting even the simplest of tasks done.

The problem here, I think, is one larger than this discussion of NARA policies; it has to do with the fact that aspirationalism is the American disease but that’s probably a different blog post. Aspirationalism urges us all to identify with “winners” — we could all win the lottery next week! we could all win those Super Bowl tickets in the office draw! we might all luck into a million dollars from a rich uncle! Yeah, we might — but the odds are so far against it as to make the prospect laughable. Is buying a lottery ticket a problem? Not unless you have a gambling problem. Is looking at the next ten years of your life and saying, ‘Gosh, when I’m forty, I’d really love to be able to buy a house’ a problem? No, in and of itself, that’s a reasonable goal. Is believing that you’re really one of the “winners” and if only all these other people weren’t here, you’d be up there with your very own gilt apartment a problem? Yeah, it is. That’s a huge fucking problem.

The aspect of that which has bearing here brings us back to the use of the term “bloodless neutrality.” Relying on the system to fix things not only leaves out the part where “the system” has no agency of its own for good or bad but also elides the part where the people caught in “the system” are, in fact, people. The entire issue has been made bloodless by walking it so far back from the initial issue — ICE wants to destroy records pertinent to serious misdimeanours on their part — that the individual caught in the system has become invisible.

We — and I speak as a processing archivist and historian here — think of records as so many boxes, so many cubic or linear feet, so many folders, with such and such a date range, to be filed in our catalogs under such and such subject headings. And this is all true while at the same time allowing us, if we choose and as I believe has happened here, to lose track of the fact that the record is, really, a person. Or people. Or a family. Or an academic department. Or a school. Any given archival or records management unit you choose is, in the end, going to be made up of individual people.

The people at risk here are people with far less agency and privilege than any of us currently in this discussion have. It may seem like a small thing to remember that an ICE detention record represents a 25-year-old man who was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Connecticut, and has finished three years at NYU, but, if you think about it for a minute, it really isn’t particularly small.

Friday Fun Times

In a week which involved the death of a beloved cat and the conclusion of an unwanted apartment move, any small good thing is welcomed. This is one of the small good things I found this week: the TV adaptation of some of the Brambly Hedge books. If you’re like me and missed these detailed delights as a child, check ’em out here. If that doesn’t work for you for some reason, then may I suggest you check out the cast as listed on IMdb.

Handmade Giveaways

Haven’t done one of these in awhile! I just finished the scarf pictured below — it’s 100% wool, long enough to go twice around the neck, and comes pre-catted (so you probably don’t want it if you’re allergic.)

First come, first served — leave me a comment or come find me on Twitter (@CrowGirl42) and tell me you want it and it’s yours. All I need is a mailing address.

img_20170226_113853 img_20170226_113810 img_20170226_113752

Edit: Gone, baby, gone. There will be a next time, though!