Mon Évasion

(My Escape)

Creativity — or in essence, artsy-thing-making — has served as my escape, mon évasion, during this pandemic, if not my lifetime.  It is what I am compelled to do when I want to bend the rules, feel more alive, venture beyond the gray world of homo economicus.  I am fortunate at this point in my unknowable lifespan to be able to seek escape in my artwork, to explore, to slightly remold the clay of what it is to be at this nearly-cured stage of me.

• • •

Samian (Samuel Tremblay) is a 37-year-old Algonquin-Quebecois rapper, whose songs mostly deal with the apartheid-like treatment of Canadian indigenous peoples.  He told the Guardian, “For a few years I flitted from town to town in Quebec province, working in restaurants on minimum wage because I had no education.  I mined the pain from that hard part of my life for my songs.”  One of those that he wrote in 2oo8 was “Mon Évasion“:

mon évasion !!
ma façon de prendre l’air
ma façon de m’en sortir en essayant de l’écrire
yo je veux partir….
faire sortir le méchant
je tourne pas ma langue sept fois
mais je reste méfiant!
c’est juste de la poésie!
c’est plus qu’une rime, c’est une émotion
un mode d’expression, c’est une passion!
j’ai pas choisi de faire du rap, c’est le rap qui m’a choisi
la vie c’est une chanson, pis c’est elle qui m’a écrit!

In English, with license:

my escape !!
my way of getting some air
my way of trying to get it all down
yo, I want to go….
let that bad guy out
I don’t turn my tongue seven times
but I’m still suspicious!
it’s just poetry!
it’s more than a rhyme, it’s emotion,
a mode of expression, it’s a passion!
I didn’t choose to do rap, it was rap that chose me
life is a song, and she’s the one who wrote me!

My life has hardly been hard, and I haven’t had much to mine except everyday white angst. Nonetheless, with respect to the urgency and rewards of art, j’identifie.

• • •

I had never heard what it means to “turn one’s tongue seven times” and so I looked it up.  This aphorism, the origin of which may either be French, Chinese, or Yoruba, advises that attempting this near-impossible act gives one’s brain sufficient time to control the tongue and avoid making some inopportune utterance.  But I say, go ahead — turn it six times and take a chance that you may speak art.

• • •

We just watched Camille Claudel, a 1988 film about the French sculptor and lover-muse of Auguste Rodin.  The film portrays Claudel (1864-1943) as a passionate and talented artist, fortunate to study under Rodin but ultimately falling victim to his artistic jealousies and sexual dominance.  The film’s most powerful scene shows Claudel closely embracing, while desperately clawing, one of her works-in-progress then finally toppling the mound of clay to the floor.  While this scene was undoubtedly meant to presage her descent into madness (Claudel spent her final decades, questionably, in a sanitarium), it also served to convey her deep and intimate struggle with her art.   Which begs: must all worthy artistic pursuits be so fraught?  Must real artists be so volatile?

Claudel’s art was her évasion but also the entrance to her own labyrinthe, her escape without escape.

“Ce cordon de phrases est un fil d’Ariane parce que je suis dans un labyrinthe, parce que j’écris pour m’y retrouver.” 

“This string of words is Ariadne’s thread, because I am in a labyrinth and I write to find my way around.” —  Michel Butor, French poet

There is a Camille Claudel museum an hour-or-so drive east of Paris.  We hope to go there once we are confident enough to travel again, and when the people who live in the places we would like to visit are equally as confident.  This trip may be a long way down the road.

• • •

It has almost been a year to the day since we last dined in a restaurant or went to a movie.  Our life since then has been a labyrinthic string of trips to the grocery store, the ABC store, the gas station (albeit far less often than before), the library (after a long shutdown) and my retina doctor — all overlaid with countless Netflix-soaked hours and interspersed with weekly family video chats.  We have had exactly three in-person visits with our children and grandchildren in the past year.

(My children cannot possibly appreciate the wonders and capabilities of 21st-century tech as I do.  The internet, speedy chips and high-speed broadband have created so many more possibilities — for better and, vis-à-vis The Proud Boys, worse — than existed in my youth.  Video calls were just a space-age dream in the 1960s.  Reddit was what your mom told you to do when your room was a mess.)

I have tried to turn this past year-of-seclusion into an opportunity of sorts, my chance to do artistic spring-cleaning, where I free myself to spend whatever time is needed to make something out of nothing — which is how I define art.

As a result, I spent many months last year writing, orchestrating, polishing and mixing my song “Company Man” for purposes that defy 21st-century logic.  It didn’t get me a million followers (the currency of the internet) let alone a hundred, let alone one.  Expanding my circle wasn’t the point.  (In that, I seem to have succeeded.)

And now I’m putting in nearly the same kind of time orchestrating one of my decades-old piano compositions.  The process has been equal-parts fun, intellectual and compulsive; and sometimes it brings tears to my eyes, hearing virtual cellos and violins playing parts that I only imagined in my head sitting at the piano bench years ago.  21st-century tech is pretty amazing when put to benign purposes.

Composing and recording music has been mon évasion for most of the past year.  It gives me the impression that I’m accomplishing something, even though most of humanity will never hear it or even know of it.  My escape from the wave of sickness and stasis that has swept over us all.  Mon évasion… before la vaccination.

My second vaccination is, at last, today.  An end to escaping, an embrace of embracing.

More in  Life | Read 4 comments | Subscribe
Bumblebee Boy
The bumblebees that stung me
   had a hole
The bumblebees that stung me
   had a role:
To defend their nest
   from unwelcome guests
The bumblebees that stung me
   had a hole.

The bumblebees that stung me
   had a hole
Their hole was by the front door
   near a pole
One of us boys
   had this idea
(Don't recall who, 
   possibly me?)
To have a little fun
   with that bee hole.

The bumblebees aflight
   had work to do
We sat and watched them
    fly out in and through
Clever boys,
    we played our trick:
We dug a fake hole
   with a stick
And covered up the hole
   they were accustomed to.

What fun it was to watch
   the bees explore
They couldn't find the way
   to their front door
Could not get in,
   could not get out,
Those bumblebees
    flew all about
We boys had won our battle
   -- not the war.

We eventually grew tired
    of our game
The boys went home for lunch,
   I did the same.
As I walked toward
   our kitchen door
One bumblebee
   gave me what-for:
She stung me on my ear
   and made me pay.

I yelled real loud and
   ran in to my mommy
She flicked the bee away
   and tried to calm me
I didn't tell her
   of our game,
Our craven plot,
   what it entailed,
And so my mom felt
   very, very sorry.

But lest you think that
   nature had its way
A garden hose was
   summoned the next day
Down the hole it went
   flooding out the residents
So the bumblebees that stung me
   went away.
More in  Verse | Be the first to comment | Subscribe

We have all watched at least one “evil child” film, most likely several.  Our latest one was Case 39 (2009) featuring Renee Zellweger.  It was pretty derivative as evil-child films go, but the actress (Jodelle Ferland) who played the evil foster-child did an admirable job of getting viewers to hate her from the get-go.  Unfortunately, this meant that our viewing experience amounted to 1 hour 45 minutes of waiting for the evil child’s comeuppance.

Even so, in accordance with post-modern conventions, the evil child’s comeuppance would remain in doubt in the end.

Perhaps the first-and-foremost evil-child film was The Bad Seed (1956), based on a novel of the same name.  The story of the biological daughter of a serial killer (and her victims), it garnered four Academy Award nominations and would pretty much write the rules for how all future evil children in film would behave and the dilemmas that they would pose.  Namely:

  How can a child be evil?  Children don’t know sin!  They haven’t had enough experience to learn adult-quality guile and calculation.  The evil child’s motives are presumed to be beyond question for the simple fact of her age.  This means that Act One of every evil-child film deals primarily with the adults coming to grips with the possibility of child sin.

The evil child’s bad intentions are usually brought to light by showing her doing something really annoying, like making a whiny demand over and over (like a normal child might do) until the adult can’t stand it anymore and yells at her.  Subtext: if it makes an adult angry, of course it is sinful!

  How dare adults question the morality of a child when every adult has his own secret sins!  The adult-as-hypocrite angle is usually explored in the middle of Act Two, though often presaged by wanton behavior revealed in Act One.  We often discover that the reason evil children become evil is to make their parents pay for the sins they never owned up to.  (That’s what children — and priests — are for!)

Of course, the adults in the film turn this idea on its head and say, my child can’t be evil!  The child is like me — it sprang from me — and we all know I’m not evil!  (OK, Hypocrite.)

  Then there’s the dilemma of how to deal with the evil child on a “level playing field.”  Even after it becomes obvious that the evil child has special mental/physical abilities and can manipulate others to do her will, the adults invariably cling to the notion of children as helpless beings.  So they purposely hamstring themselves from taking physical measures to stop the evil child.  Subtext: Adults hate to take responsibility!  What if they’re wrong?  If they harmed a child without a really good reason, they would never hear the end of it.

The result of all these constraints is that the only acceptable way for the adults to deal with the evil child is to outwit him, her or it.  So most of the tension in Act Two derives from the protagonist adult trying various schemes to distract/derail/disempower the evil child, but with each attempt failing — and each failure portending the dreaded (and taboo) physical measures that will ultimately be needed to neutralize his/her/its evil threat.

  Eventually, the protagonist finally realizes, it’s the evil child or me (or humanity), and all stops must be pulled, all taboos set aside.  And all past sins must/will be acknowledged, whatever it takes to defeat the child.  This brings us to Act Three, where the battle begins.

No matter how it ends, the adult who takes on the evil child always winds up (a) exhausted or (b) cynical and demoralized or (c) sullied by the endeavor.  Often all of the above.

• • 👿 • •

A BRIEF COMPENDIUM OF EVIL CHILD STORIES (AND THE CHILDREN)

The Bad Seed (Rhoda Penmark)
Village of the Damned (David Zellaby)
Pet Semetary (Gage Creed)
It’s A Good Life (Anthony Fremont)
The Adventures of Lassie (Timmy)
The Exorcist (Regan MacNeil)
The Omen (Damien Thorn)
Case 39 (Lilith Sullivan)
Godfather Part II (Michael Corleone)
The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy)

If I may remind you, Dorothy was responsible for killing two older women.  As for Timmy, well, no one can be that wholesome.  Lassie was onto him, but adults wouldn’t listen.*

• • 👿 • •

We will see how these well-worn themes play out in the real-life horror story in which the “evil child” happens to be a once-President of the United States.  As you recall, his actions could not be questioned because… well, because he was President!  How could any act of our President be sinful?

In this suspense-thriller, the Evil President (like all Presidents) began his term by reciting an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.  This oath is the American version of white smoke pouring from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney — a sign of new leadership blessed by destiny.  And sort of like how cardinals becomes popes, the recitation of the oath transforms the oath-taker, for one brief moment, into a person pure of heart and a worthy vessel for the nation’s hopes.  Americans expect their new President to be the quasi-religious guarantor of their liberty, opportunity and well-being — at least when it comes to themselves.

But in our story, soon after the curtain lifted in Act One, this President’s words and deeds were seen to be callous and calculated.  His constant lying, whining and pandering forced (most of) Americans to recalibrate their notions of normal.  Still, since he caused nothing terribly tragic to happen, at least not right away, this slow-boil of the frog served to freeze his opponents in place and embolden his supporters.  The Evil Child President grew in strength even as the media tallied his innumerable threats, lies and schemes.

So, Act One concluded with the forces who wanted to “do something” about the President lining up against those content to “wait him out” (as long as he advantaged them), while a third contingent formed, agreeing among themselves to add fuel to any fire that the Evil Child President might ignite.  Which he would.

Every horror movie since The Bad Seed has taught us, don’t give the evil child a free pass.  The evil child takes advantage and preys on the weaknesses of others.  Then the evil child appeals to the adults and pleads for immunity from punishment, because he is a child and because the adults are just as bad.

Act Two.  The Evil Child President took advantage of his free pass, given to him by half of Congress and a third of Americans.  He demanded loyalty without being loyal to anyone or anything.  He made enemies for the sake of having enemies to disparage.  His opponents were vocal but their curses did not harm him.  With Shakespearean flair, he set fires and caused storms, setting himself up for a grand Shakespearean fall.

Act Three.  The Evil Child President was sort-of held to account for his acts by a tribunal of self-interested politicians.  But these nominally powerful adults could not summon the will to banish the Evil Child President or deny him future power.  Instead, they condemned but ultimately excused his wanton behavior, because they could not come up with a really good reason to punish the evil child.  Technicalities, they said.  Cowardice, they showed.

So the evil child won.  His weak vindication (reminder: a majority of the Senate did vote to convict him) showed that the essence of the evil child’s reign was to sow doubt about who are the victims and who are the victimizers and thus render moral judgment impossible.

And suitably, in accordance with post-modern conventions, the evil child’s comeuppance remained in doubt in the end.  We may now have to endure a sequel.

_____________

For further reading, you might consider “The ‘Evil Child’ in Literature, Film and Popular Culture”, edited by K. J. Renner (2013).  I didn’t consider it because accessing it would have cost me about $50.
* “What’s that, Lassie?  You say, Timmy is from hell?  You must mean, Timmy is in the well!  Let’s go!”
More in  News and Comment | Read 2 comments | Subscribe