Not Moving

I’ve never been part of a movement. It was knocked into my head when I was a kid that you don’t join things. My dad began his career during McCarthyism and saw what happened to fellow grad students, professors and colleagues. It was a major thing with him not to form “entangling alliances,” and not only in social movements. It was his advice to me in matters of love.

When people organize into a movement, things can degenerate into power struggles and infighting. Unification on the basis of hatred is the most dangerous and the most volatile. It also seems to have the greatest potential to endure long enough to destroy things. Anger can be strangely satisfying and it is addictive. It doesn’t concern itself with the future all that much, either. It just wants to break things.

During the late sixties/early seventies, my teens, I watched the “youth movement” in all its various shapes and saw — even at my young age — that many of the various facets didn’t have a plan for the future. I wondered even then, “OK but what are you going to do INSTEAD?” I understood protesting the draft and the Vietnam War. I understood demonstrating for the vote for 18 year olds. Those objectives were focused and clean, though the movements weren’t. The objectives gave the movements an end point, something to negotiate. Sitting in for “peace and love” was way too abstract for me.

OK, I’m not very subtly referring to the insurrection at the capitol on January 6. I wonder what they were planning if they had TAKEN the Capitol and made hostages of some of the Congress people? Were they going to insist Trump be made president or else? And then? Setting up a monarchy with 45 followed by his son and/or daughter?

There’s an image from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia that I thought about during the insurrection. Lawrence led the Arab Revolt (against the Turks) during WW I, basically a side-show that distracted one of the Allies’ enemies and gave Britain (France, etc.) the toehold in the Middle East that we’ve struggled with through the whole 20th and into the 21st century. It’s true that at the time no one knew about ALL the oil in that region, but… So in the film the Arab army takes Damascus. They go to the state house, sit around the table and prepare to start a new government. Then they realize they have no idea how. They don’t know how to use the power station to generate electricity. The city is quickly out of water. Government means technical skills and education; it means pushing papers and the tribal leaders don’t want to. It’s a gorgeous scene.

I’ve also realized that 1) I want my vaccination, 2) I’m tired of the present moment or tired from the present moment. Hard to say which it is.

The Roxy

“I’ll ask my mom.”

I was ten, just the age when the ‘rents start letting the kid out of the cage on her own. “It’s time you learned to do things by yourself.” Since that is the litany written on my soul, I was all about it. I already did stuff on my own like go to my friends’ houses or wander off into the woods, but this was the big league. A movie theater at night with a friend. The girl across the street, Becky Sparks, had called to see if I wanted to go.

I heard the secondary phone conversation later (between moms) that involved planning. It was winter, days were short, nights were cold, there was no question of us walking down there. It was the Christmas season, so the idea of a Saturday matinee was out, too. Too much to do. “Thank you, Elizabeth,” I heard my mom say, knowing it signified my mom wasn’t going to have to drive. She’d just gotten her license and didn’t like to drive at night.

She was one of those people frightened by everything. 

Becky and I got dressed up (comparatively) in wool capri slacks, our sweaters, our coats and wool scarves tied around our heads. It was 1962. I wonder what happened to wool pants. They were comfortable and warm… ANY-hoo we got in back of Elizabeth’s white station wagon and a few minutes later we were at the Roxy. 

The Roxy was a small town theater with two entrances that flanked the (freezing cold) ticket booth. There was a tiny line. We stood doing the “It’s COLD!” prance young girls do, hugging themselves and laughing. 

We bought popcorn and sour cherries and found seats in the back. The lights went down. The curtains parted. We heard…

For the next two hours I sat mesmerized, sucking sour cherries, and, for the first time, feeling both the power of film and of personality. The little girl who entered that theater never came out.

Lawrence of Arabia

Daily Prompt Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? What are you now? Are the two connected?

David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia, came out when I was ten almost eleven years old. That was it for me. I wanted to grow up to be Lawrence of Arabia. I realized that there are problems with that aspiration, not the least of which is that Lawrence of Arabia already WAS Lawrence of Arabia, but I was undaunted.

I was also aware that Peter O’Toole was not REALLY Lawrence of Arabia, and I wanted to find out who WAS. This became my life’s first research project. 🙂

I was in between the years of little girl dress-ups and young woman dressing up. In sixth grade, I took a bed sheet to school with a rope from a rope toss game and wore the sheet on my head and so… Yeah. Under the lid of my desk were pictures of T. E. Lawrence. Other girls had The Beatles.

I was regarded as “odd” and “flamboyant” back then and that was all right with me. When my Home Economics teacher asked us how we would decorate our future homes for Christmas, I said I would have a gold brocade table cloth, white dishes trimmed in gold and white napkins. She accused me of being a show-off and asked why I picked those colors. I explained they were “Lawrence of Arabia’s colors.” I can only imagine what went on in her mind. She looked at me and I looked at her. It was a standoff. She had her motives; I had very different ones.

Lawrence of Arabia propelled me into a completely new level of reading — I had to read HIS book, right? So I read Revolt in the Desert (the abridged version of his magnum opus, Seven Pillars of Wisdom) because it was all there was in our little town’s library. Later, looking through the book case at home — my parents’ bookcase — I found my mom’s old book club edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I read that. It was tough going, but I persisted. At the time I tried living on dates and water.

This is extreme reading for the eleven and then twelve year old I was then. Lawrence was not a simple man and his ideas of things were iconoclastic, to say the least. I learned about the joyful imprecision of spelling in Arabic from Lawrence’s notes on the spelling of his camel’s name. I learned that (ideally) urine is sterile and can be used for cleaning wounds. I learned that Lawrence was sad about something, but I had no idea what he was sad about. I learned later that the Treaty of Versailles and his role in the sharing out of “bits” of the Arabian Peninsula made him a betrayer of vows he’d made to his Arab allies and a betrayer of vows he’d made to the British government. I understood he, himself, felt used and betrayed by the British. And, like everyone else, I don’t know the whole truth behind that — only that events in Arabia during WW I led us to the horrific situation in the middle east with which we live now.  A good biography — that looks exactly at this question — was written by John E. Mack , The Prince of Our Disorder.

Now that I’m long beyond the sheet on the head and the pictures on my desk first crush with a hero period of life, I wonder what Lawrence would think of the chaos in Syria today? The great moment of the Arab Revolt was the re-conquering of Damascus, taking it from the Turks. Lawrence’ push was to get the Arab army there before the British army so that it would — again — be an Arab city. How did he feel about the ambiguity of his situation, a British serving officer leading an Arab army? He wrote, and I felt it was to me:

Pray God that men reading the story will not, for love of the glamour of strangeness, go out to prostitute themselves and their talents in serving another race. A man who gives himself to be a possession of aliens leads a Yahoo life, having bartered his soul to a brute-master. He is not of them. He may stand against them, persuade himself oa a mission, batter and twist them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of theirs. Or, after my model, he may \imitate them so well that they spuriously imitate him back again. Then he is giving away his own environment: pretending to theirs; and pretences are hollow, worthless things. In neither case does he do a thing of himself, nor a thing so clean as to be his own (without thought of conversion), letting them take what action or reaction they please from the silent example.

In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time, I could not take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only.

In plainer English, Lawrence knew he had lost himself and hurt those he’d sought to help. He saw his own failure and had few resources remaining to rebuild the infrastructure of himself. His death on a motorcycle has been thought by some to be suicide.

And so, from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I learned that a person must be true to himself.

I also learned about religion and how three of the world’s foremost religions came from the same place — the desert — and how they were linked to each other, related to each other, offspring of each other, acting in different geographical regions, all disseminating a message that Lawrence explained had come from the borderline of the settled and fecund Semitic world and the desert.

It was significant that this wrack of fallen religions lay about the meeting of the desert and the sown. It pointed to the generation of all these creeds. They were assertions, not arguments; so they required a prophet to set them forth. The Arabs said there had been forty thousand prophets: we had record of at least some hundreds. None of them had been of the wilderness; but their lives were after a pattern. Their birth set them in crowded places. An unintelligible passionate yearning drove them out into the desert. There they lived a greater or lesser time in meditation and physical abandonment… The founders of the three great creeds fulfilled this cycle…

This was the first time I had ever read anything that questioned Christianity. My dad was a skeptic, an agnostic, but my mom was not and I’d been raised in the Baptist church. I really liked the Bible and I liked church and everything related to it, but suddenly I had big questions in front of me exactly at the moment I was expected to — and did — “go forward” to accept Christ as my personal savior. Only later did I fully comprehend that my acceptance of Christianity was more the acceptance of the existence of God, not any particular faith.

You see, from Lawrence I had also learned that Islam, Judaism and Christianity were family members. In spite of his warning NOT to abandon my culture and my world, Lawrence of Arabia, in the words he’d written, had drawn me out of my culture and my world.

So yes; I am Lawrence of Arabia. 🙂