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The Merchants of Death, part 2

A quick quiz: What do Ahed Tamini and Emma Gonzalez have in common?



(note: This image of Ms Tamini with the flag is courtesty of the Irish artist Jim FitzPatrick.)

I am not saying anything new in this post. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it long before I was capable of thinking such things, and so did Thomas Merton, and so, I am sure, did many other good and wise men and women. But it bears repeating.

To get back to my original question, what do Emma Gonzalez and Ahed Tamini have in common? Not that they are teenage young women in the news; not that both are being attacked by right-wingers; not even that both, in their different ways, are fighting for justice. What, exactly, are these girls fighting?

You might say: Ms. Gonzalez is fighting for gun control and Ms. Tamini is fighting the Israeli occupation. Fair enough. But look a little deeper.

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I’m not sure how he’d feel about being quoted, but my father, a WWII vet, once said ,“There is no excuse for war in the New Testament. None.” He also said we had to get away from the wartime economy.

When you look at the horrors happening right now in the Middle East, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in so many other places, what do they have in common? To be blunt, they support the wartime economy. Just like the militarization of our police; just like the prison industrial complex, the massive amounts of bloodshed in the Middle East make profit for the merchants of death.

Ours is still a wartime economy. In some ways, I truly believe we are still fighting WWII. And our leaders would not know what to do with themselves if there were no enemy they could demonize. For some of them, that enemy is Russia. For others, it’s brown-skinned people, particularly Mexicans and Muslims. For some, it’s both of these.

The Palestinians, it’s been said, are lab rats for the military industrial complex. The billions of dollars we give to Israel every year go mostly for armaments. Those weapons are used against the Palestinians. Arms merchants can then sell more of these weapons, claiming they are battle-tested.

This must stop. The sooner we stop it, the better. The bloodshed going on right now has nothing to do with justice. It has nothing to do with self-defense. It has everything to do with power-grabbing, greed, racism, and fear.

Just imagine what the world could be like if we actually beat our swords into plowshares and spent our treasure on peace rather than war!

I am cheering on Ms. Gonzalez with all my heart. Her classmates, too, and Ms. Tamini and all the people of Gaza, Bilin, Nilin and other places where the indigenous Palestinians are protesting peacefully. We do not need more occupation. We do not need more weapons of war. We need food, clean soil, clean air and water, and to give our children a chance at a better future. Think how much skill and technological innovation our horrible drone wars have required! If we can put that kind of energy into peace, what might we achieve? Let’s starve the merchants of death and feed the children!

That woman who fell,

Cut down

Clutching the flag

Of the land she loved--

She fell like a flower,

Cut down like the grass.

Remember her.

Remember,

The grass dies.

It will rise again.

She will rise again.

(Written during the Easter vigil, Mary Johnson)

[reposted post] Easter Eggs

Eileen watches as Severus hunts for Easter eggs

This little painting was made specifically for everyone to whose kind comments I failed to reply in a timely manner in ... January. All through November, December and January, I worked very hard on a specific project at the office that took up most of my time and energy. But other people were busy too, and they replied to their fest comments. So it's me. I am unforgivably disorganised, and at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, it was worse than ever. 

I didn't get round to replying, and as the weeks stretched into months, the situation became more and more embarrassing and ridiculous. But the matter never sat well with me — not least because of how much these comments mean to me. So I wanted to apologise with a small gift, on the next gift-giving occasion. 

Please, dear reviewer, accept my sincere apology and this Easter egg. I hope you can forgive me for having been such a rubbish fest participant.



On Damsels, Crones, and Heroines—a review of A Wrinkle in Time


I was apprehensive about the new movie; I’ve loved the book almost my entire life, and, when I saw the trailers, there was almost nothing I recognized. Still, I was bound to see it. At the very least, it seemed to be well cast and visually interesting.

It was both those things. The little girl who played Meg could hardly have been better, and the boys were good, too. The little fellow who played Charles Wallace was a charmer! And there was a bit more of the book in the movie plot than I’d expected. Still, the movie is not the book. I’m not sure I could even call it an interpretation of the book. As fine as the young actors are, as good as the effects are, the story was altered too much.

I could try to compare and contrast book and movie, point for point, as has been done for the earlier movie, But I’m not sure I could; I’ve only seen the movie once.  Instead, I’m going to focus on three key words and show how they are changed in the film. The words are damsel, crone, and heroine. I’ll then take a look at the spirituality of book and movie through the lenses of these words. (Yes, I know. Words don’t have lenses. But damsels, crones, and heroines do.)

Damsel? I can almost hear you asking. You don’t mean Meg, do you? She’s not a damsel!

Indeed she’s not! A Wrinkle in Time, the book, is refreshingly damsel-free. Book Meg is young, uncertain, prickly, and vulnerable. She wails, cries, lashes out, and says self-deprecating things about her looks and abilities. But she’s also a fighter. That’s one of the first things we learn about her. She beats up an older boy who’s made fun of her little brother. In addition, she’s smart, loyal, and brave.

Storm Reid got these qualities of Meg’s across brilliantly in the movie, in spite of the way her spiritual journey is curtailed (more on this later). But there is a damsel in the film. His name is Calvin O’Keefe.

In the book, Calvin is 14, an excellent student, a star athlete, and a gentle, self-aware soul. Mrs. Who does say of him (as she does in the film) that he wasn’t her idea, but she thinks he’s a good one. Though not as brilliant as Meg and Charles Wallace, Calvin’s also gifted, and the Mrs. W strengthen his particular gift. That gift is the ability to communicate.

Interestingly, in the theater behind us when we saw the movie on opening day were three older ladies who had never read the book. One of them was a teacher of the deaf. They all said they thought the pacing of the film was off, and that it could have spent more time on certain themes it brought up, such as communication! So right! It could.

Those women were thinking of the idea of communicating to the flowers—a scene that is nowhere in the book. In the book, as we fans know, Dr. Alex Murry is imprisoned by the Darkness in a transparent pillar. He can’t see out, but the children can see in. Meg manages to rescue her father by using Mrs. Who’s spectacles, which let her rearrange matter. But Calvin also tries to communicate with Dr. Murry. A little later, he almost succeeds in reaching little Charles Wallace, who has voluntarily gone into IT, and he quotes Shakespeare while he does. The text Calvin quotes is Prospero’s speech to Ariel in The Tempest, where the magician reminds the spirit how it was trapped in a cloven pine. Finally, Calvin’s the one who comes closest to explaining the Mrs W to the inhabitants of Ixchel.

Calvin’s role in the movie could hardly be more different. There is a cloven pine—literally--but it’s not a prison Calvin tries to free people from. Instead, it’s a means for Meg to save Calvin. The children huddle into the tree and let a maelstrom hurl them over some sort of wall. Needless to say, this scene is nowhere in the book.

Also absent from the book is the scene when Calvin falls off Mrs Whatsit’s back on the planet Uriel. (To be fair, the Darkness flings him off, but still.) Mrs Who has to rouse the flowers to rescue him. In both these scenes, Calvin is a damsel. He is there simply to be rescued, and that’s his only function in the plot of the movie.

Now to that ambiguous word, crone. It usually denotes a witch, and Mrs Which takes dry pleasure in appearing as a stereotypical witch. Needless to say, she doesn’t do so in the movie. In the book, the two younger beings, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit, basically dress like bag ladies. And, to the children, they look old.  In fact, they are. Being former stars, they are billions of years old, but Mrs Whatsit is many orders of magnitude younger than Mrs Which. Still, when she manifests as a human being, she is grey-haired and wrinkled.

These very ordinary-looking old ladies have been replaced, in the movie, by attractive and glamourously dressed women. In the book, Meg realizes what the Mrs W look like has nothing to do with what they truly are. This insight is weakened in the movie. Also, Oprah, the oldest of the Mrs W in the film, is still only in her 60s. That’s hardly elderly in modern America. I would have liked to see some respect given to old age and the wisdom that can come with it. I would have liked to see the Mrs W played by old women. Basically, there are no crones in the movie. To me, that’s a loss.

Meg’s heroine’s journey has been altered, as well. I was heartbroken that the scenes on Ixchel were left out. Dr. Murry, desperately fleeing IT, lands there with the two older children. They’ve had to leave Charles Wallace behind in the clutches of IT. Meg has been injured by the Darkness, which is bitterly cold, but the people of Ixchel come to her aid. These people are blind. They are also frightening-looking to the traumatized humans, but are gentle, generous, and wise souls.

It’s on Ixchel that Meg expresses her rage and disappointment that her father, the adult and the scientist, is helpless to put things right. It’s on Ixchel that she then apologizes to him—as he does to her—and states her understanding of what she must do. She must go back to the darkened planet, Camazotz, alone. And she does it.

I’ve said before that there is nothing in the new movie even half as terrifying and inspirational as Meg’s long, lonely walk to IT. Here, we see the little girl display a quality I’ve written about before as the height of courage. It’s integrity. She understands what she’s doing, and why she’s doing it. She’s terrified, but she doesn’t let her fear stop her. Body, mind, heart and soul are united in her actions.

And, before she goes, the Mrs. W give her gifts. Mrs Whatsit gives her her love; Mrs Who the beautiful quote from Corinthians (which I would have liked to have heard in its entirety, but which was left out), and Mrs Which tells the child she has something the apparently all-powerful IT doesn’t’ have, and that thing is her only weapon.

Why couldn’t the filmmakers have left this in? Instead, we basically see Meg’s emotions rewarded. She breaks away from her father by herself. She never has to apologize to him, nor come to the difficult, adult understanding that grown-ups can’t always save the children they love and don’t always have the answers, however much they may wish they did. All she has to do, it seems, is be herself.

Which—well, in a way, that’s in the book, too. But the Disney version privileges impulse and emotion over integrity. And it’s a loss.

There is much more that I could say about the movie. There were some lovely things in it, and some ideas from the book, but in the end, I really don’t think it told the same story. I’ve tried to explain why. As always, comments and critiques are welcome.

Another Short Story!

 I responded to the 'future" prompt at Sick Lit Magazine, and Kelly accepted my story! You can read it here:

https://sicklitmagazine.com/2018/01/12/among-the-stars-by-mary-johnson/
So, we are just back from the Horn Book Awards at Simmons college. As always, it was an inspirational and energizing event, with a lot of wonderful writers there. I met Richard Peck again! And the theme, like last year’s, was very relevant. It was resistance.

The winner of the award for teens was Angela Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. This is a book you need to read carefully, without skimming and without skipping around. When I first began reading, I was doing both those things. And it seemed too polemical, too much a retelling of current events. When I read more slowly, though, I really appreciated the story, the characters, and the craft Thomas uses in bringing them into a whole. It’s pretty devastating, actually, but not without hope.

Since she is a woman of color, Angie manages to do some things here that a white author could not. The boy who dies, Khalil, is by no means a bad kid. But he makes mistakes. He gets caught up in gang activity, though he doesn’t want to and is not a member. He is surly and uncooperative when the police pull him over. Nevertheless, it’s quite clear that he and his friend Starr, the main character, are unarmed children who pose no threat to anyone. Khalil dies anyway.

That is not a spoiler, since it’s been one of the selling points of the book that the main character witnesses a police shooting. What follows might be. :Read more...Collapse )
This came to mind because I’m rereading one of them right now, and it’s amazing. I am astonished that it didn’t get lots of awards and that it doesn’t have (so far as I know) legions of passionate fans. Please correct me if I’m wrong; I’m certainly one of them!

So here it is: My number 1

The Gift Moves, by Steve Lyon. “Soft” Science Fiction

In the southeastern part of what used to be the United States, a young girl called Path Down the Mountain is entering the second stage of her life. She is leaving her family and going to the Banks to become a weaver’s hand. Here is her leavetaking. Path is visiting the two women who taught her to weave.

I opened my hand to give away my last gift, the shuttle they had made for me
two years ago when I came to live with them. It was the last piece of the life I
knew, and I put it in Blue Leaf’s hand. “The gift moves,” I said, somehow letting out the words and keeping in the tears.
“It moves,” she replied. (The Gift Moves, hardcover, page 3)

cover, The Gift Moves

Path is living in a strange and lovely world where batteries grow on trees, buses are made of termite colonies, and cats can talk. This is no dystopia, thank heavens, but it’s no utopia, either. Instead, it’s a believable society with its own strengths and weaknesses. In this future world, much that is true and beautiful has been lost – for example, Path has no idea what a “chapel” is. But much that is true and beautiful has been retained. The story takes place over the course of a month, while Path settles into her new life with her stern teacher, Heron, and while the people of the Banks prepare for the midsummer festival and the turning of the year. This is a story about love and loss, about how hurts get handed down in families (both natural and adoptive) and how they are overcome, and, most of all, about two young people struggling to find their own place in their world. Those young people are Path and Bird Speaks, a boy her age who becomes interested in her.

If you’re intrigued by alternate societies and like stories about real people, you should love this book.
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More on "Wrinkle"-

So, after writing the earlier blog posts, I came across this comparison on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRx2J_MgBeY

It's extraordinary how alike they are. In particular, it's extraordinary how, whenever the old movie deviated from the book, the new trailer seems to deviate in the same way. I get the sense, from watching this short video, that Ava DuVernay may be remaking a movie rather than filming a book. This would explain the major deviations from the book. (And I don't mean the race of the characters! I mean the setting, the lack of Sandy and Dennys, the scenes that seem like earthquakes, and so on.)

But I might be wrong. After all, the new "Jungle Book" could also be compared to the old movie point for point. But the makers had clearly read the book and paid intelligent tribute to it, as I said in an earlier post. They ended up making a unique and excellent movie. Let's hope the same with be true of the new "Wrinkle in Time".

Still, I'm more apprehensive now. I can't help but be apprehensive, since I love the book so much! We shall see.
Well, they are again going to try to film a book that was formative to me: one of my absolute favorites from the age of ten on. The trailer just came out, and it looks fairly spectacular in some ways. You can see it here.


Then I saw this:


And, of course, there is this.

These three stories are rightly beloved by many thousands of girls and women. Did you catch the common theme? I honestly didn’t until just the other day, and--

I’m shocked that it took me so long to notice, actually. In each of these stories, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence rescues her little brother. Read more...Collapse )

New story!

I had a story accepted for publication by Sick Lit Magazine. It came out today! Here is the link:

https://sicklitmagazine.com/2017/05/05/sorrow-by-mary-johnson/

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