Mini Movie Review (MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES)

I’ve been watching documentaries lately– three within this past week. The one that stands out for me the most is the fascinating MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES, from 2016. The title is wittily taken from a statement made in the U.S. Senate by the late, ultra conservative Senator Jesse Helms. He pushed to ban the artist’s work from being shown in a museum in DC in 1989, shortly after the famous photographer’s death at aged 42.

Having long enjoyed Robert Mapplethorpe’s skillful, thought-provoking, sensual, and sometimes disturbing photography, the narrative of his life from a Catholic-raised suburban, middle class gay boy to controversial New York City-based avant garde artist of the late 1960s through the ’80s was deeply compelling to me. The visual exploration of gender and race of his human subjects was both playful and venerating. Even this creative master’s photographs of flowers come across as powerfully erotic and beautiful.

For the general public, Mapplethorpe courageously threw open a window into an existing urban gay subculture. By extension, I think this helped force people to acknowledge and grapple with the very real sexuality of queer people in general. And while I wouldn’t have wanted to live his intense life of self destruction and enormous creativity, I very much appreciate the legacy of work and cultural expansion this talented artist left behind.

Science Fiction Story Development Musings: K. AND THE HOMO CEPHALOPODS

The homo cephalopods, or whatever they actually call themselves, are a long-existing species inhabiting a world somewhere far from earth by millions of light years. A land-based civilization, their actual population is unknown, but it is probably somewhere in the billions. They have progressed in technological advancement in seemingly subtle ways. The outside human observer would find it difficult to discern what is actual technology versus extremely efficient evolutionary adaptation of the h. cephalopods to their natural environment. They make use of some created tools with their eight appendages, with just one tool having multiple purposes. In short, they are materially very efficient.

An earlier evolved subspecies of h. cephalopods resides deep under the oceans of this planet of concern. Their population is comparatively smaller than their land dwelling descendants. Contact between these two societies is rare and considered particularly taboo among the above-water kind. However, on occasion, intermingling between them has occurred, leading to many episodes of recorded lore by each set of beings and a small population of half-breed homo cephalopods arising from some of these encounters. These comprise a rare and often especially adaptive and gifted group.

Homo cephalopods, as I shall keep referring to them out of convenience and sheer ignorance (until one or more of them conveys their true nomenclature to a human being), shall be encountered through inner space, namely via shamanic journeying by a very attuned person traveling to the Upper World. It is there that a certain non-binary individual will come upon these sophisticated, mysterious beings. I shall refer to this shamanic journeyer as K., though their name may change during future writings. K. will mentally-astrally ascend to the world of the h. cephalopods and witness an incredible sight.

It will be instantly deduced that the human is in astral form, so the h. cephalopods will reciprocate in kind, journeying mentally so as to properly attend to this out of body visitor. Through K.’s eyes, we will be introduced to what appear as human-sized, and larger, octopus-like entities. These hermaphroditic creatures will likely allow a particularly precocious one of them to approach K. Rapidly gathering information from each brain within every one of hier suction cup-filled tentacles while touching the earthling, s-he will then process it in hier larger central brain. Hier leathery skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes will surely at first be frightening to behold for K.

K. will wonder at the combination of exoskeleton and strong, pliant tissue that comprise the outer body of a homo cephalopod. Since evolving from the ocean over millions of star revolutions of their world, h. cephalopods developed extremely hard shells over their heads and sections of their tentacles. Their marine counterparts do not have these, rendering them comparatively more vulnerable to injury, though they are far better at maneuvering their bodies through small passages and camouflaging themselves to blend in wherever they happen to be.

Sections of this exoskeleton are shed from time to time, to accommodate growth of the h. cephalopod. This aspect of anatomy used to act as armor for the race during their now ancient history of warfare and small scale territorial disputes. Homo cephalopods eventually achieved homeostasis for their kind via peaceful means. A critical mass of them realized large-scale cooperation would save their population and result in more innovations for the overall betterment of the civilization. K. will unknowingly come upon a flourishing society ready to welcome contact with other beings.

Within the same solar system as the planet of the homo cephalopods is another world inhabited by a large mantid peoples, with three particularly dominant species roughly about as tall as human beings. There are green mantids, tan ones, and then those more mixed in coloration, with shades of red, blue, and purple being the predominant hues on those belonging to this third species. There are a range of much smaller, less advanced mantid genera, probably in the hundreds, residing across this primarily arboreal jungle of a world, though there also exist large swaths of savannah land. The tan-colored species of enormous mantids reside in this latter habitat.

All of these insectoid beings have always been war-like. They comprise a beautiful but cruel and hazardous network of societies battling for dominance over the entire land and resources of their verdant planet. The homo cephalopods have been aware of this neighboring world and its comparatively less advanced populations for a while. They have felt reticent to try and assist them with changing their destructive way of life. However, it is possible that the three dominant mantid groups will finally confederate and battle to the death against the underground dwelling tarantula-like creatures, a recently-discovered culture of giant, deadly venomed spider beings inhabiting the vast tundra of the planet’s north pole region. Interestingly, h. cephalopods have been in telepathic contact with these other eight-legged entities. This offers a sliver of nascent hope for peace to possibly occur between the mantids and these advanced arachnids. The h. cephalopods continue to discuss among themselves the best ways to approach helping the neighboring races of their shared solar system.

K. will journey several times to the world of the homo cephalopods. They will show them many places and things on their lands, including clutches of h. cephalopod eggs. These are cooperatively laid and attended to by several adults, with babies hatching and already familiar with each other within a wide radius, having telepathically communicated while still embryos with their fellow hatchlings. All tentacles of each creature pick up sound and tactile vibration signals at the start of gestation, the central brain then storing and slowly translating them throughout the cycle of development. A basic language is then already known by each new h. cephalopod upon hatching.

The knowledge K. takes with them from each shamanic journey back into their physical waking life on earth will be dense and take time to understand and carefully, selectively disseminate to their fellow humans. Fortunately, they belong to a circle of open-minded journeyers, led by a particularly wise and astute shaman and healer, with whom K. can slowly begin to impart some of this wisdom. It is possible that others within this close-knit group will each then also journey to the planet of the homo cephalopods when they next choose to go to the Upper World. Maybe the group leader will ultimately have all members simultaneously journey to this mysterious place K. initially came upon. From there, this small delegation of sensitive humans can begin to share select information of peaceful higher consciousness to others around them. In turn, perhaps even more people will then shamanically travel directly to the h. cephalopods and pass on their deep learning– occurring during these inter-species astral exchanges– far and wide across America and the world.

(This all comprises the framework of a story, or set of stories, waiting for me to write.)

Bruce Lee, Kung Fu Dancer

Recently, while watching Bruce Lee in the ridiculously dubbed movie FIST OF FURY (1972), I was reminded of how I’ve always found his graceful Kung Fu moves just as beautiful as the motions of a talented dancer.

For me, Bruce Lee (birth name Lee Jun-fan) came across as a real-life superhero when I was a child. Sadly, he died not long before I turned seven in the summer of 1973, shortly before I returned to the U.S.A. after a year abroad in Europe and Central America. I spent the next few years or so enjoying images of Bruce wherever I came across them, such as catching snippets of his movies on TV and coming across posters of him in stores or other people’s homes. I wish I could confidently remember the very first time I saw Lee on TV or in a photograph, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be until around aged thirty that I’d finally watch him as Kato in the 1960s campy TV series THE GREEN HORNET and then, still later, in a few cross-over episodes of BATMAN. Certain media celebrities and fantastical beings (such as Marilyn Monroe, Godzilla, or the mighty genie/djinn of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, for example), have a relatively clear touchstone memory of introduction into my world and psyche. It surprises me that Bruce Lee doesn’t.

There is a memory I have of being about nine years old and visiting a house where my father happened to be busy on a carpentry job. This was in Berkeley, California. It must have been on a weekend or an afternoon, after school. There before me in what seemed to be an entry room or hallway of the house hung a large poster of Bruce Lee, shirtless. His smooth and defined pecs and abs gleamed with sweat. His thick black hair and side burns framed his face, which held an expression of determination, focus, and defiance. I believe it was an enlarged still from his final completed movie ENTER THE DRAGON, released in 1973. Perhaps this is my initial touchstone memory of Mr. Lee, though I’m not at all certain. I sense that I knew about him even before this moment. It is possible that I’d heard talk of Bruce and already seen him in photos or briefly on TV at friends’ or neighbors’ homes. Anyway, I think my mother was standing right next to me during this deeply impressing moment. She explained, either right then or a little later, that Bruce Lee had died from “a stroke” a few years before, due to being too hard on his body. He had exercised too much, too harshly. At that time, I had never heard of this happening to someone. This man of incredible strength and agility, who looked so fit and healthy, had died suddenly from actual physical abuse to himself, like a master pushing a slave to keep laboring through their exhaustion. At least this is the sense I’m left with of how my parents explained what had tragically happened to him. The image of my father pretending to bang his head against a wall to demonstrate just how brutally Bruce practiced his discipline resurfaces in my mind here.

I felt sad for Mr. Lee, disappointed that I would never be able to meet this handsome man of such skill and grace. I have found that grief so often arises over the loss of potential, what could have been but wasn’t. I grieved over something that, for me, never existed, in this case, the possibility to follow with adoration the life of someone actually alive in the world. There I was, come to awareness too late of a great man long gone while also being too young to fully understand what I intuitively was appreciating. I would simply have to make do with treasuring whatever legacy Bruce Lee left behind– his movies, TV show appearances, photographs, and writings.

Life has a way of distracting and taking one’s focus elsewhere. I had frequent moves with my parents and subsequent adjusting to deal with, school to attend and homework to complete, and an imagination already filled with assorted imagery and other stimuli to keep me plenty occupied. Bruce Lee entered the labyrinth of my psyche, taking his place among many icons and magical beings. On occasion, he would be mentioned during play with childhood peers, where sometimes I pretended to be Mr. Lee fighting off villains, executing what I thought to be his trademark “flying kick” to fell evil men.

At around age twelve, I seized the opportunity to finally see Bruce Lee on the big screen. Having moved to the small Northern California city of Grass Valley by this time, I attended a screening of ENTER THE DRAGON put on by a local projectionist, who made it a point to show movies in town for a reasonable admission fee. I was entranced from beginning to end with the film, marveling at Lee’s incredible grace, agility, speed, strength, passion, and– though I dared not admit it to myself then– sweaty, lithe sexiness. In one scene, a supporting character in the drama musingly referred to him as a “human fly” while watching Bruce jump high up onto a rock wall and either proceed to scale it or walk with ease along its narrow edge. (Given this was over forty years ago, my memory of the actual imagery is not very clear. Regardless, it was some impressive feat of balance and strength evoking comparison to the fine movements of an insect.) His animal-like stances, leaps, punches, hand chops, and kicks relayed a super-human, aggressive form of dance, the intensity enhanced by his constant howling-like kiai’s/battle cries. Every time Bruce was on-screen I watched with rapt attention, captivated by such charisma.

What particularly both moved me yet also puzzled my naive pre-teen mind was Lee’s dramatic facial expressions, namely in one slow motion scene where he jumps upon a villain’s back, crushing it. The camera focuses on Bruce’s pain-filled visage, his eyes wide and mouth pulled back. The emotions of rage, anguish, sadness, perhaps also disbelief, pass through him like shifting lightning bolts captured on very slow film. Pure passion within such intense focus. I wondered what was actually going through his mind in this scene, both his own and the character’s he was portraying. That particular image of Lee’s face lingered in my thoughts for at least a few days. I never arrived at a clear answer to my wondering, but simply found peace around the not knowing. I came to realize that Lee was a complex person, driven yet thoughtful, with a profound ability to focus his will like a laser. My much later reading of a book he wrote about his actual life philosophy confirmed this impression. There, he stressed the importance of being both formless yet adaptive and flowing like water.

The union of beauty in form and movement, such as Bruce Lee’s, is special. Dance often relays this embodiment, succinctly stated by W.B. Yeats’ question, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” According to Wikipedia, dance is defined as “a performing art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value.” Martial arts, including Bruce Lee’s invention of Jeet Kune Do, is considered to have a dance-like quality to it, because, though it is a fighting art with vanquishment of a perceived foe as a primary goal, there is also an aesthetic intent to its movements. Dance occurs mainly to evoke pleasure, wonder, even bliss in the viewer and/or participant. In regards to Bruce Lee and his film and television performances of Jeet Kune Do, he especially met the criteria of doing actual dancing in conjunction with displaying a fighting (warrior/martial) art. Since performance for viewers was primary, with actual defeat of opponents in combat scenes being fictional actions as a means to create entertainment, the aesthetic purpose of Lee’s martial art was pushed to the forefront for a worldwide audience, like what is done with dance. (More intimately, the truly martial aspect of his art was, of course, expressed through the actual classes he taught and his own personal practice. But, I am less concerned with that whole domain of Lee’s discipline here.) I have no doubt he performed his deft foot work, kicks, and strikes to evoke in viewers a sense of wonder and pleasure at the incredible grace emanating from his body. His on-screen opponents are partners in dance. They follow through on choreographed moves, as traditional dance techniques do, albeit explicitly driven by polarized aggression, with touches of erotic energy and intent more in the background, just enough to enhance keeping the opponents’ attention locked on each other. Conversely, traditional dance moves appear to stem more from a source of polarized, controlled erotic energy, the aggression aspect underplayed yet present as well, or sometimes even equally so to the erotic, depending on the dance style. Hence, dance and martial arts– certainly Jeet Kune Do as performance– can be viewed as two sides of the same coin, if not two neighboring sections on the same side. An end result for both of these different movement arts is a multi-dimensional– or form and movement united– expression of beauty, to be enjoyed by onlookers. Bruce Lee for me was and is like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire was to my grandparents and parents, masters of graceful movement through time and space, i.e., dance, immortalized on screen, while each looked wonderfully dapper in his unique ways. It is no wonder Mr. Lee developed such a following and maintains one to this day, attracting men and women alike for both similar and different reasons as fans experience for Kelly, Astaire, and other famous dancers.

Over a year after watching ENTER THE DRAGON, I started attending a local Jujitsu dojo (school). This Japanese martial art, which focused on avoiding aggression and deflecting attackers via using their own forceful energy against them as much as possible, could not have been more different than Bruce Lee’s explicitly aggressive Jeet Kune Do. For a time, Tyron, the tall, muscular, raven-haired Italian-American Sensei (teacher) at the dojo became somewhat super-imposed in my psyche with Bruce Lee. Before me on a weekly basis was a real-life, darkly handsome martial arts master who, on at least a few occasions, gave me extra attention in between classes. However, at thirteen and fourteen, I was too young and insecure to fully appreciate this man’s kind gestures. What else strikes me, though, about that two years-long experience of martial arts training was how the Sensei mentioned Bruce Lee on a few different instances while teaching us students. He compared styles of certain Jujitsu moves to Lee’s Jeet Kune Do ones, demonstrating how Bruce was a worthy, memorable influence in the overall field of martial arts. I warmed at these brief intersections of my inner world with outer life. Lee’s legacy really did live on(!).

It took me years to integrate my understanding of why and how I embraced Bruce Lee as such a worthy icon. Often, venerating beauty is initially a simple impulse, born of intuition and longing, like a budding flower opening to the sun. It simply feels right to do. Being attracted since childhood to an assortment of appealing, fascinating images, tales, and concepts borne out of the Near and Far East, Lee harmoniously fit within that matrix of my interests. How he stood out from all of this was that he was a man who had actually been alive in relatively recent times and possessed seemingly heroic powers. He represented a union of male beauty and strength, sheer power in pursuit of the greater good, channeled through perfecting his body and movement while deepening his mind. Paradoxically (and, hence, humanly), Lee pursued world stardom, an often selfish endeavor, while also generously developing and teaching others a philosophy of harmony through clearer thinking, being, and movement (like water). He was still early on in developing a healthy life path for others to further emulate or at least draw from, his movie and TV show appearances an expression of his public persona, one of beauty in form and movement. He apparently explained that his martial art was poetic metaphor for his philosophy. Cut down too young (aged 32) from cerebral edema, Lee’s loss was tragic, given his deep potential that he’d only just tapped and started sharing with the world. But, in my own way, I slowly took in what I could of Bruce Lee’s legacy of beauty and wisdom he left behind. And, now and then, I return to take in a bit more.

Road Rage as a Learning Moment

Road rage in Massachusetts is out of control, as I imagine it is in a lot of other states throughout the U.S.  Earlier, I was driving down a main thoroughfare when a burly white guy from off a side street pushed his car into oncoming traffic, in front of me, to my left.  I shook my head at him as I drove on by.  Shortly, he sped up from behind, turned into a store parking lot (to my right) and barreled along there while making it a point to flip me the bird– instead of watch where he was going.

Toxic masculinity is a real thing, be it on the road or anywhere else.  This problematic phenomenon admittedly irritates me when I’m faced with it head on.  It’s all such an obnoxious exhibition of childish entitlement, lack of empathy, and poor sense of boundaries.  Very un-evolved.  Breathe and enter a peaceful place, I try to remind myself, time and again.  This behavior from some men is troublesome and, ultimately, rather sad.  Toxic masculine men deeply challenge my human compassion capacity.  Therein lays the reason why they continue to be teachers of sorts for me.  Live and learn, then wake up another day to keep living and learning, while also taking no shit.

Taking Up Space

I walk this graceful and sometimes clumsy line of doing my best to take up my rightful physical (and otherwise) space in the world without over-stepping into others’ space. I’m very aware of my privilege as a white, professional male and how I’ve overly taken up a lot of space, some of which here and there was not rightfully mine to take. Then, there’s the actual space that I and my needs naturally fill up, which is ultimately non-negotiable. Between this delineation has been a confusing, gray seeming area for me, which, thankfully, has become less and less so over the years. I think this is a challenge many of us– if not all– humans learn to navigate better as we grow.

Hear hear to all the disenfranchised people taking up more of their rightful space!

Quick Thoughts on Kraft and Human Traffickers

Personally, I have no moral judgment against consenting adults receiving money for sex from other consenting adults, as long as all parties concerned are doing so completely from a place of free will. I don’t think it’s my place to judge what consenting adults do with each other behind closed doors, including whether money is exchanged between them or not. But, it’s a different matter altogether with trafficked individuals, who have been captured and imprisoned into a life of prostitution. Shame on both the traffickers and purchasers of the “services” provided in such heinous, criminal circumstances. Robert Kraft and others should know better. To Kraft et al, I say, find unfettered consenting adults for sexual servicing and stop perpetuating a cycle of brutal exploitation. And I do think that paying for sex with a trafficked individual should be considered a serious felony offense, and an even more grave one if the person is a minor.

This incident involving Kraft is yet another example of largely rich white males continuing to exploit women and minorities in this skewed, power-imbalanced culture. Nothing new, sadly, but well-worth fighting to stop.

Me, Maria Muldaur, and Black Panther

In February of 1975, my parents decided to resign their posts as English teachers at Modesto Junior College to travel around California and, if I remember correctly, British Columbia, Canada for the rest of the school year.  We mostly stayed at friends’ and friends of friends’ homes, driving around in my mom’s 1960-something VW station wagon and then, soon, a 1969 VW van.  It may have already been the latter vehicle we rode in entirely during this period.

In any case, my parents made it a point to go to my 3rd grade classroom and gather text books and consumable lesson manuals for me to work through during the months ahead.  I did not consciously know it at the time, nor did my parents, but this method of on-the-road homeschooling would be problematic for me.  I learn best by listening to and watching someone disseminate information in a classroom setting, taking in information primarily via my hearing, enhanced along by visual aides, such as viewing writing on a chalkboard, slideshows, movies, etc.  Some interactive question and answer time can help with my learning as well.  But, alas, here I was left to my own devices to take in information and express it back via only the two-dimensional pages of texts and workbooks.  Through life experience, one lives and clearly learns what works and what doesn’t.

Focusing was a challenge to no end, made particularly difficult by having no routine of place and time as we moved around from day to day or week to week.  My parents’ minds were preoccupied elsewhere, such as deciding where to go next and how to save money, among many other adult concerns.  “Did you finish your homework today?” was a frequent refrain I heard from Mom and sometimes Dad.  “No, not yet,” I often replied.  “Well, get to it!” was said, usually by my mother, or some other similar response.  That was largely the extent of my parents’ involvement with my schooling during this latter part of my year in 3rd grade.  I was eight years old.  I sat with school books in other people’s dining rooms, living rooms, outside on sidewalk curbs, doing my best to get through some reading, writing, or math lesson (though the math I barely remember working on, as it’s possible I did not have a math workbook).  My imagination and ever-changing environment distracted me to no end, that and a deep sense of loneliness and uncertainty.  Looking back, it is amazing that I managed to complete whatever schoolwork I did.  Many of the pictures in the books and manuals were interesting to look at, which helped somewhat to sustain my attention.

Around the beginning of this itinerant period, I remember us staying on a few occasions in a semi-communal household of young women.  This was still in Modesto, or somewhere close by, I believe.  One of them, Christy Ellis, had been a student of either my father’s or mother’s and had taken an interest in me.  The year before, when she lived alone, I had spent a lot of time with Christy in her small apartment listening to then popular music, such as Joanie Mitchell’s latest album, and doing things together in downtown Modesto.  But, that is perhaps for another story.  So, there we were, hanging out with Christy and her roommates, a group of women in their early to mid twenties, my parents being older by less than ten years.

I started talking to one of the roommates, bonding with her around the new Maria Muldaur album she was playing one morning.  “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” crooned a sultry woman’s voice through the stereo.  I was entranced.  Some months before, I’d been swept up by Ms. Muldaur’s 1973 and ’74 hit song “Midnight at the Oasis,” my imagination carried along to an exotic desert locale with camels and a large, bejeweled tent filled with plush cushions and female belly dancers.  I was thrilled that this beautiful woman singer had another record out, this time with a song that made me want to move from within a deep erotic place that I was far too young to understand.

While staying in this household, two publications made deep impressions on me.  One was the week’s current issue of PEOPLE MAGAZINE laying prominently out on a coffee table in the living room.  A closeup of Cher was on the cover.  She wore multiple turquoise necklaces and her head of long black hair was topped with a cowboy hat, feathers stuck in its brim.  A Native American look was clearly going on, which was especially trendy at the time.  She smiled broadly at the camera, her long purple polished fingernails matching her dark lipstick and eye makeup.  I was impressed and intrigued but in a muted, interrupted way.  On one hand, this photo embodied the dark-haired witch imagery of powerful, mysterious women with whom I’d already started to become intrigued.  On the other hand, my parents disapproved of such an expression of blatant excess and, I’m pretty certain, co-opting of Native American culture.  Mom also found imagery of women in commercial media, such as that of Cher on PEOPLE’s cover, to be sexist, objectifying.  Dad found that particular picture pretentious and, again (I strongly believe), co-opting of Native Americans.  I remember him complaining about the picture to someone when we were away from the house.  (My folks had already begun researching Native American cultures and we would later visit Indian reservations in the years to come.)  So, to avoid irking Mom and Dad, I secreted away my own fascination with this photo, which was neither borne out of sexist objectification or viewing it as having anything to do with crass, superficial emulation of Native Americans.  To me, in a deep intuitive way, the image simply embodied an aspect of the Great Goddess, who I would grow up to understand and revere as a core part of my spirituality.  I would go on to watch THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW on TV now and then, enjoying Cher’s chameleon-like quality of colorful, showy costume changes and theatricality, though never caring much for her singing.  There was something magical to her then that captured my rich imagination.

The other periodical that struck me deeply at this time– far more so than the PEOPLE issue’s cover– was the Marvel Comics series BLACK PANTHER.  I was either in a local supermarket or convenience store with Christy or one of her roommates when I came across the latest issue of it on a stand.  The actual initial moment of discovering the comic is vague to me, but I know I was accompanying one of the young women of the household and not either of my parents.  At my request, she bought a copy for me, which I’m pretty sure neither Mom nor Dad would have done at the time.  Back then, they often were reluctant to buy me such mindless “trash,” especially my mom.  (She has long since relaxed around my liking of comics, having even bought me one or two as gifts.)  The comic cover was that of a hyper muscular man covered from head to toe in a tight black costume that stuck to him like a second skin, a pointy little feline ear on each side of his head.  Pure masculine strength stared out at me with virile determination, ready to lunge.  I was hooked.  Complementing Maria Muldaur’s wonderful, sizzling “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” here was the object of my interest to act out that song, except it was both the meat and the motion.  However, I had no idea about such a connection between the song and this image for me at the time, I just knew I had to have the comic.

Back at the house, I proceeded to look through the colored newsprint pages and managed to recruit Christy to read the story to me, which I found both suspenseful and disturbing.  I have very little recollection of the actual narrative, which was mid-story, following from previous issues.  What I do remember is that the opening scene beheld the hero, Black Panther, bending over a pool of water in a wild jungle, nursing his wounds.  His body suit was torn in several places, revealing bleeding, brown-skinned flesh.  His vulnerability and pain upset me deeply.  I wanted to go to him and help somehow in his time of need.  I wanted him to be strong and healthy again, like how he was portrayed on the cover.  Some villains were stalking Black Panther and it was basically a kill or be killed situation.  I think I had one of Christy’s friends read the comic to me as well.  I stashed the comic somewhere and eventually misplaced it during our travels and many moves.

Like Black Panther by himself in the wild and facing danger, I felt alone and uncertain during that year I discovered him and throughout most of my childhood and adolescence.  My wounds weren’t physical like his in the comic book, but they were there inside me due to familial discord resulting in my parents divorcing before I turned five and me subsequently having to adjust to a new mother, Dad’s second wife.  In the summer of 1973, I had lived with my father and (new) mother in a thatched roof hut in the jungle of Belize for two months, which I had very much enjoyed, the weather being warm and the lizard and amphibian fauna particularly fascinating to observe.  I’m sure this positive experience further enhanced for me the mystique of Black Panther and his own jungle life.  In short, I could deeply relate to Black Panther and his predicament in the comic, even though my jungle was no longer a literal one but one often made up of asphalt and concrete, unpredictability, and social isolation from peers and consistent adult attention.  I had to learn to navigate this frequently rough outer and inner terrain on my own, or so it felt at the time.

The primal male strength yet vulnerability and heroism of Black Panther deeply appealed to me as a fatherly protector in my colorful, wish-fulfilling fantasy life.  This contrasted with the actual life of a sensitive, sad little boy in need of more tender attention than he happened to be getting from loving, but otherwise preoccupied and insecure parents.  Obviously, though, there were more implications than this.  Black Panther was clearly an early fantasy crush for me, one clue of many that I was different from most latency-aged boys and their nascent sexual interests.

In 1975, my imagination did not just find ways to comfort and entertain me, for it often met those deep needs just well enough.  My creative thinking led me to inwardly and outwardly listen to my very own growing life impulses, impulses of how my body wanted to move and feel and who I wanted to move and feel with in the world.  Listening to Maria Muldaur awoke something in me, her singing giving voice to these budding stirrings, those nonverbal, primal urges to celebrate life, such as through dancing alone and with others, which I would eventually do now and again over the  years to come, while enjoying feeling deeply erotic, both alone and with others.  Black Panther offered me a sense of where and to who I would direct and share those impulses as I grew up.  This would almost entirely be with men, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.  And both Ms. Muldaur’s singing and the images of Black Panther gave me meaning when I so badly needed it, being an oasis or safe clearing for me in a desert or jungle of fear, loneliness and frequent boredom, affirming that the sky was the limit as far as being able to envision the great expanse of beauty and wonder in the universe.  From grand tents filled with belly dancers in a faraway desert to hunky, powerful feline men in a jungle, or anything else you can possibly imagine, there is always more to life than whatever tedious, solitary-feeling difficulties happen to be at hand in the moment.  Meaning and connection to something more and bigger than one’s own lonely existence is there to be found.  Connecting one’s imagination to the imaginable in the world around you, it’s all good.  Doing so has been a life saver for me.