The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Category: Things That Make Us Furious (page 1 of 3)

“Johnson, We Have a Problem,” by Ellen Powell

Penis! 

 

Did I get your attention? 

 

As a writer whose fiction sometimes includes (gasp!) sex, I have a problem with the male genitalia. It’s not that I don’t like the penis – I’m a big fan. It’s because there is just no good way to say its name. Every word, whether scientific or euphemistic, either changes the mood, or kills it altogether. So I tend to write around the problem, by describing the act without naming all the players. 

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The Art of the Modifier, by Laura Iodice

“What is a Swamp?”
“A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”

I sit in our fourth grade classroom’s back row, the class where Sister Mary Bridget, Grammar Nazi and Queen of Land and Water Forms, rules not with an iron fist, but with a rigid pointer. Though a capable student, I rue the day my name appears on her class roster, as her reputation for brutally drilling her students on grammatical and geographic structures terrifies even the most conscientious among us. Structure is what Sister Mary Bridget does best. She begins with structured rows, arranged not according to one’s last name, but according to one’s report card average. Those who score the lowest grades sit closest to the teacher’s desk, within easy reach of her pointer’s tip. Thankfully, I’m seated way in the back nearest the coat closet, a cherished location for both for its obscurity and its expedience. Last seated are first to retrieve their jackets when the final bell rings!

Even from my ironically privileged position, though, I’m not inure to the relentless taunting that those in the front seats endure. Those least likely to dutifully replicate Sister’s blackboard models of perfectly structured sentence diagrams. Those least likely to produce neatly pleated composition book pages containing perfectly scripted definitions of her vaulted land and water forms, ten times over. Those least likely or perhaps least able to comply with her relentless demands for repetition, driven by her zealous conviction that the more often something is said or written, the better it will be remembered.

“Repeat after me,” she ruthlessly chants in a nasal monotone, as she marches between our aisles, her rosary beads swishing against her flowing black gown, her rubber soled oxfords squeaking against the floor tiles.

We rely only on our ears to alert us to Sister’s imminent approach while we affix our eyes to our notebook-scrawled definitions and collectively mimic her intonations: “What is a Swamp?”

“A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”

“Right, class. Now again…”

Realizing that only perfection will satisfy our teacher, those in the back who find reading easy and elocution painless try our best to compensate for the voices up front who invariably lag behind as they trudge through the words on the page like a swimmer through quicksand. Even while overcompensating, though, we resign ourselves to the moment when one of them will be singled out and forced to stand, face the class, and repeat the phrase as a solo performance, without the benefit of scribbled notes.

I cringe while reciting, knowing that we may forestall, but we can’t avoid the inevitable. It’s only only a matter of time before Larry fumbles his recitation and winds up seated in a garbage pail up front, a stack of uncovered text books (yet another blight on Larry’s soul) stacked in a pile that weighs down his outstretched arms. Poor Larry. To this day, I wonder if he’s figured out the difference between a swamp and a peninsula. Or how to diagram either definition. Or why it matters.

Truthfully, for years, both seemed superfluous to me. Not now, though. Now, when I read the morning news, I realize that despite her penchant for perfection and her ruthless teaching practices, Sister Mary Bridget may have been on to something. In fact, her lessons in geography and grammar may even have proved prescient. I knew little, then, about how useful both would become during my present life, as I desperately attempt to fathom why our deeply flawed, bombastic president holds such sway among his base. I’m not psychic, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Larry voted for Trump and still adores him.

Why? It all comes back to land and water forms and the diagrammed sentence. No, not the four-year sentence many of us are enduring since the Russians co-opted our last presidential election. I’m speaking of the sentence that strategically locates modifiers to accentuate otherwise nondescript nouns. Nouns like swamp. And wall. Nouns that become much more codified when accompanied by seemingly trivial articles: swamp becomes “the” swamp; wall becomes “a” wall. Both are rhetorically strategic distinctions, but also rhetorically suspect. Once swamp becomes exclusive, as in “ the” swamp, most assume it is a specific, fixed target, a destination to be definitively appropriated and conquered. And “a” wall? Its very obscurity ascribes an omniscient animistic quality to a finite material object. Ah, but Sister Mary Bridget would never be fooled by either. She knew then, and her students who paid attention also know that “A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”

Swamps can’t be definitively drained and they certainly can’t be securely built upon once they’re supposedly conquered. You don’t need to take my word for this; just consider the Everglades if you need a current example of faulty attempts and unintended consequences. As wetlands, swamps are slippery land sources. They’re “spongy,” elusive. They’re also muddy, their contents, obscure. Still, they’re “freshwater” sites, indicating purity, despite their spongy, muddy consistencies. And swamps contain many trees and shrubs, a multitudinous diversity. Simply draining “the” swamp does not preclude or prevent others from emerging and thriving. Anyone who knows her land and water forms and understands the art of the modifier is easily able to recognize a rhetorical lie when it’s uttered. And this one is utterly ridiculous! (Pun intended.)

Draining “the” swamp to eliminate undesirables would be no more effective than building “a” wall for the same purpose. Promising to build “a” wall as protection is fallacious, at best. And prevaricating over other modifiers, such as steel, brick, reinforced, barb-wired, does nothing to authenticate the endeavor. Those of us who know our land and water forms know well that walls are not among them. Walls are manmade, and as such, unnatural. What happens when you construct a wall as an impediment to nature? Nature responds. Wall can do little to ensure safety because nature is all encompassing and cannot be contained merely by a manmade structural device intended to obstruct.

If this obstruction were completely enveloping and unbreachable, it would be modified as the wall, a comprehensive, impenetrable presence. A wall, though, is an inadequate material mass when pitted against forces of nature, one such force being the human heart and its passionate pursuit of freedom. “Where’s there’s a wall,” the passionate of heart might say, “There’s a way.” And the way usually takes the form of yet another modifier, whether it is over, under, around or through.

Devoted students of grammar and geography understand this, so why don’t others?

This brings us to the problem's root

Not all of us are inclined toward structured academic disciplines such as geography or grammar. Some are more responsive to emotional appeals; others, to cautionary admonishments; still others, to hyperbolic promises that mimic our grandiose notion of “The American Dream,” the most hyperbolic, idyllic fantasy of all, the dream many believe has been damaged, but is still reparable if we drain the swamp and build a wall. Ah, those instigative modifiers To dream is laudable, but to limit the dream to a definitive version (“The”) and to brand and commoditize it as exclusively “American” just perpetuates the myth that residency equates with ownership, while distracting us from the practical reality that dreams, by their very nature, are illusory aspirations. As for the dubious notion of ownership? Who among us is not just passing through the earth we presume to inhabit? It would be much more honest to admit that we are guests on this land who often overstay our welcome or abuse our host’s generosity and benevolence.
It’s no surprise that Sister Mary Bridget’s less academically curious or disciplined students would rely on the accuracy of modifiers, seizing on basic grammatical rules while ignoring their contextual limitations. Humans are habitual creatures. We may not remember what we’ve learned, but we remember well how it felt while we were learning, and fear and shame are powerful motivators. To be forced to sit at the head of the class so that others might bear witness to one’s supposed laziness or ignorance is motivation enough for now-grown classroom outliers who often grow into agitators, clowns or bullies to champion hyperbolic, bombastic, anti-intellectual rants, especially when they’re bolstered by another powerful motivating force, monetary success accrued as a result of predatory behavior.
I’m not claiming that all Trump supporters wear this brand, only that those who do so learned their lessons early and well. They learned to embrace rigidity and authority, even while scorning the system that taught them to comply. They learned to admire bold modifiers, whether they be glittering adornments or inflated words, as these equate with success. Most especially, they learned to vote not necessarily in their own image, but in the image of the dream they believe has been taken from them by those looking for a seat in their classroom; those willing to take any seat, even if it’s right in front of the teacher’s desk. Even if it means daily humiliation. Even if it means living on the poverty line in an unfamiliar land, among people who speak an indecipherable language.
These newly arrived assumed interlopers may not know the definition of swamp, the composition of walls or the relative value of articles used to modify either, but they do know that language matters, even if it’s not their own. And they know enough to avoid dwelling in empty swamps with the snakes who drain them or relying too heavily on a wall that’s bound to crumble. That’s why they come to America, the land of “The” dream that never dies. Isn’t this elusive, unachievable quality the stuff that dreams are made of, after all?
These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare. The Tempest, Act V, Sc. 1.

Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma is Going to Win the Tony for Best Revival and I Hate It

by Tess Tabak

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma is gloriously weird, an experimental triumph. It forever changed the landscape of Broadway when it debuted in 1943. Previously, songs tended to be interchangeable – removing them would have little impact on the story. Oklahoma set a new standard where songs were expected to advance the plot.

Last year, director Daniel Fish opened a conceptual, pared-down revival meant to reveal Oklahoma’s “darkness.” It’s received heaps of praise for revealing the show’s uncomfortable center. His pretentious, sexist, creepy production is up against Kiss Me Kate for Best Revival of a Musical this year. Oklahoma is almost certainly going to take home the Tony, and I hate it.

More than celebrating Oklahoma’s darkness, the show seems like an exercise in onanism for Fish, who basks in his “auter” vision. The actors sit around and pout, much like they do in the promo video below. Continue reading

Why Are We Still Arguing About Baby It’s Cold Outside?

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The 100 Watt Brightly Shining Princess by Penelope S. Hawtrey

Positivity

Okay, here’s my plan to be more positive: I’m going to empty all my bank accounts of the cash in them. That will total $5.86. Let me dive into my Retirement Savings Plan and then I’ll have some real dough to play with! Who needs to plan for the future when you’re positive?  

Next, I’ll book a one-way ticket to Europe: London? Amsterdam? Ooh…Italy has unlimited gelato! I love ice cream anytime. It only makes sense I’ll make my new home there. I’ll live in eternal blissful happiness as I sip a cup of java at Caffè Florian in Venice in the morning and dive into unlimited pasta and one thousand flavors of ice cream in the evening.  

Responsibilities? What responsibilities? I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.  Or rather, I’m flying off to Europe with my pants firmly attached to an airplane seat. Maybe even in first class. Call me Rocket Girl.  

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“It’s October! Time to Pretend We Care about Women” by Marissa Glover

It’s early October, and that means I’m bracing myself for when the whole nation suddenly turns pink and social media turns to talk of boobs.

Enough already.

I don’t want to “save the ta-tas,” and I don’t need to see some football team wearing pink gloves or socks for a day.

Here’s why.

Women are more than their breasts.

And before you call me a prude and tell me to relax (or take the stick out of my butt—yeah, I know how this goes), hear me out. Continue reading

“Things that make us furious: Sitting in bed, lying in bed, and sleeping” by Dan Tarnowski

I am not sitting in bed as I write this, and I am glad of it. Beds are terrible things, lousy with shoddy physics, crushed dreams, and sometimes, even lice.

A bed seems like a heavenly, therapeutic place. Ever since we upgraded from sleeping on splayed out hay (my uncle Shane still prefers this form of bed) the human bed has seemed like a lovely offering: four legs to elevate you, with a plushy surface on top to rest your corporeal frame, atop. The very invention of the bed seems like its creator got away with murder. Some shamelessly enterprising mind, at some point said, “Let’s not sleep on anything hard, anymore. Let’s put some marshmallowy stuff down, and go on top of that. In this way, we’ve made things better for ourselves!”

The unapologetic privilege of this maneuver suggests that beds were not invented by serfs.

O, the hypocrisy of a bed! A bed is manufactured for optimal niceness, but utilizing a bed is anything but nice.

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“The Big Bangin’ Theory,” by Rosie Byrnes

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“My Husband’s Parkinson’s Disease” By Linda Miller

Two things.

   One, my husband’s Parkinson’s disease. It’s a tough break for such a splendid man and in spite of all the stiffness and fatigue and slow-motion, he’s Mr. Positive. But then you’ve got to be with this stuff, or you’d never get out of bed in the morning. You’d surrender to your cement-filled joints and then allow yourself to sit around recovering from a hellish morning of rising but not shining. Television would soon rule your life and there’d be hell to pay for anyone who nudges you to do more. You’d sit there, stone-faced and barely moving. You’d be the rusty tin man without oil-can relief.

  When Steve was first diagnosed back in 2003, both of us were cool, calm and accepting. We were sad but not yet mad, and I remember my sunny husband saying, “If I had to get something neurological, I think this is a good one to get.” Really?

    I had just lost two parents to cancer, and as I sat across from him in the diner I almost thought he made a good point. Parkinson’s wasn’t going to steal him too soon, just make his everyday movements torturous and sometimes dangerous. Like hopping in and out of a car, eating a salad, pulling on underwear or threading a belt through the loops of his pants. It made me mad to witness the downshift in his life’s power and pace, but I had to put a sock in it. Tamp it down. Squash it. Steve wasn’t to blame. No one was to blame. His brain wasn’t making enough dopamine. Should I be upset with his nerve cells? OK. Works for me. It’s their fault.

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“Life Lessons from L.A. Fitness,” by Carrie Camp

13955958265_e78fe0f421_bI will cancel my membership to L.A. Fitness next week. I’ll be moving at the end of the month, and I’ve calculated that I would burn more gas on my way to the gym three days a week than I would calories once I got there.

I’m sure the staff will try to talk me into staying. The curly-haired dynamo at the reception desk will remind me of the Monday morning spin class I never attended, the world-renowned personal trainers I never enlisted, or the squash courts I never entered. Or the whirlpools to soothe my aching muscles after spin class, training sessions and squash games.

But my mind is made up. I will cancel my membership. Continue reading

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