Hard Write Turn: Karen H. Pittman's Weblog

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose work is widely featured on the web. Her style is as acerbic as it is witty. Occasionally resplendent, often raucous, always refreshing, her no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-is commentary not only informs – it entertains. She's the Lay's Potato Chip of political punditry, with a spicy twist: You can't read just one! Bon appetite!

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Karen Hathaway Pittman is a writer, poet, and interior designer who lives with her husband and cat in London, England. She is currently compiling her essays into book form, tentatively titled Hard Write Turn, and is working on her first formal collection of poetry, The Awful Colossus of Longing. She is also the author of the soon-to-be-released interior decoration book, The American Pied-a-Terre: Creating Old World Charm in Your Apartment, Townhouse, or Condominium. Whatever the project, Karen pours all of her considerable energy into it. Her writing is nothing if not passionate. She'll amaze, appall, and even anger you, but she'll never leave you bored. All poems and creative excerpts posted on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission. All rights to all materials replicated herein belong solely to the writer, unless otherwise noted.

Friday, October 12, 2012

“Hey Joe!”


By Karen Hathaway Pittman
October 12, 2012

     Hey Joe—Smilin’ Joe ... Grinnin’ Joe ... Simperin’ Joe ... Sniggerin’ Joe—what up with the dents, gent?  They kept snappin’ like a pair o’ bitin’ teeth.  I mean, I know it’s almost Halloween, but it was no treat to watch, I gotta tell ya:  I kept thinkin’ my eyes were playin’ tricks.  That whole time you were up there a-yakkin’ I was terrified they were gonna chomp Raddatz’s head off—that is, if yer pointer finger didn’t poke her eye out first.  And why didn’t ya just go ahead and shank the “malarkey” out-a yer “friend” there, while ya had the chance, what with that weird “SHIV-pen ritual” ya had goin’, clutchin’ yer Bic in yer grip like Jimi’s gun, whirlin’ yer fingers all around like Moe Howard doin’ his cranky hand jive?  (Bap-bap-bap-bap POKE!)

     And don’t even get me started on the tan, man.  Some impish sprite somewhere must-a screwed a Crayola Burnt Orange crayon to the sandblaster and opened fire on yer jack-o’-lantern face.  And the eye tuck?  Talk about Squintin’ Clint!  Dude, when ya were flashin’ those bridges to nowhere, yer freakin’ eyes flatlined!  It was eerie as all get-out!  I kept expectin’ Martha to lean over and shock ‘em back open—ya know, just to make sure you were still in there.  Scary.

     And really, I’m startin’ to wonder about ya, Joe.  Is there somethin’ you’re not tellin’ me?  I mean, have ya had some sort of cerebral ... accident, er whut?  Are ya gittin’ sentimental in your dotage?  That cornball hoof-in-black hole tendency ‘o yers aside, are ya just plain lustin’ for yer youth, ol’ boy—Irish Joe, “Bunch-o’-Stuff” Joe?  Is that what it is?

     Cuz I’m thinkin’ maybe you’re tipplin’ jiiiist a wee bit deep into the danger zone, what with that whole spin-the-yarn shtick/schlock ya kept tryin’ to pull:  Dr. Kraut Hammer might well and truly call it “The Whippershnapper Syndrome.”  I mean, put yourself in my shoes:  watchin’ ya up there, gittin’ all excited, gittin’ yer knickers all in a wad, I kept wonderin’ what in the heck ya were really gittin’—like, ya know, maybe the hots?—for young Ryan’s “privates,” if ya know what I mean?  Kraut’s honor:  it did look like ya were startin’ to squirm.  I mean, enough already with this exaggerated “friend” business.  I dunno, Joe, but if I were you, I think I’d tone it down.  In this day and age, a guy can’t be too careful.  I mean, bro:  Bromance is in the air!  After Queer Eye, well—anything goes.  I’m juss sayin’:  ya might wanna, ya know, “keep it on the down-low.”  (Juss between us.)

     But seriously, Joe.  Any points ya might-a won on substance ya lost on style.  You were just plumb ... smarmy—sick smarmy.  And your opponent showed up real clean and presentable—the picture o’ robust health—and real business-like, too:  a respectful “young Whippersnapper” in a dark blue suit, shinin’ those bright blue flashlight eyes o’ his, all filled full-a ideas—and I gotta say:  he made ya look bad, Joe, real bad, real stale and sour, by comparison.  Ya looked old-school.  Ya did, Joe, ya just did.  And young Ryan?  He looked ... well, new—fresh, snappy, crisp, and tailored, kinda like the future:  the one we imagine we might have, if you’d just git yer snarky-fart self out-a the way.

     For all the public to see, Ryan saved himself—simply by not bein’ you, by bein’ the anti-you, by pullin’ back and lettin’ you smirk yourself to death.  Maybe that was his strategy goin’ in.  Remain calm, clear and focused; stick to the facts, be polite but firm; and let you destroy yourself—which is, after all, what you do best.

     And do it he did.  There was one gotcha moment, one zinger, the only line of the night that drew laughter, like yer bleached pearlies drew down the shades.  And that belonged to Ryan, Joe—not you.  All he had to do was sit back and wait for the right moment to blow.  And on cue, like an idiot—ya gave it to him!  What were ya doin’ up there, man, besides havin’ a drag party fer one in yer big fat empty-pumpkin head?

     The gaffe-laugh trigger?  “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way.”

     Ya don’t say.  Shove ‘em back in, like chewed-up candy.  Let’s face it, Joe:  ya just don’t cut it anymore, ol’ chum.  Unless it’s the cheeze yer talkin’! 



Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer, novelist and poet whose political commentary is widely published on the web.  She lives in London, England with her husband and cat.  She receives email at karen.pittman@sky.com.

Friday, August 31, 2012

He Made MY Day!

While he didn’t exactly leave anybody MISTY-eyed, Clint Eastwood was certainly entertaining.  I mean, let’s face it: he wasn’t there to make us cry or cower—or even to make us think.  He was there to remind us, of something so basic we forget about it, like breathing.  He was there to make his point—not our day.  And make it he did, at close range:  when things are this hopeless, people—it’s time for a change.

The impromptu mime was populist genius at its understated best.  It was good; it was bad; it was ugly.  But mainly, it was honest.  Like Dirty Harry, it shot from the hip.  It came zinging out of the butt of the barrel; it went swerving all over the lot, like some Budweiser-drunk redneck’s remote-controlled Monster Gran Torino.   Bidnis, it did.

And while among the elites of both coasts our grizzly Clint-figure is likely to remain eternally Unforgiven, to the average man-on-the-street in Omaha Eastwood is the next best thing to Saint Dave Garber, if not Jesus—you know, the VJ with the Cliché.  So what if he talks to chairs.  They’re no more empty than the suit in the White House.  Nope, far as the ol’ “folks” are concerned, he’s their million-dollar fogey.

And the money quote? A  trusty variant of IT IS WHAT IT IS, it was every bit as clipped as Callahan’s diction (on a bad day):   “When somebody just does not do the job, ya gotta let ‘em go.”

Now really.  Whether you’re Democrat or Republican—you can’t argue with that!  I mean, hello?—Base to Torino, Truth to Power!  It seems pretty obvious—and turnabout IS fair play.  Given the sympathy our nation’s “boss” has shown the unemployed, what mercy should America’s workforce show him?  Tough times call for tough measures; when the going gets tough, the tough ditch the deadbeats, etc., etc.   Suck it up, Hoover—like we do!

Do YOU feel lucky?  Well, do ya, punk?  I didn’t think so ...

And remember:  “Sometimes, if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.”  Like the East-man said, the U.S. belongs to US.  Exercise your right of ownership.  Throw the “illegitimate One” out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiHNVYRTKP8

Friday, June 01, 2012

Cowboy George, That Other George W.

By Karen Hathaway Pittman
© June 1, 2012

In the wake of President Obama’s graceless introduction of George W. Bush at last week’s unveiling of the former President’s official White House portrait, everyone is congratulating Dubya for the amazing grace and avuncular cheerfulness with which he carried his cross, the proud way he bore up under his persecutor’s hail of arrows—as if the man were nothing more, really, than some tolerably ludicrous voodoo effigy of St. Sebastian, a dotty but laughable bachelor uncle you have to invite to dinner every once in awhile (who never gets your subtle digs), or (my favorite) a good-natured old rube who just clomped back into town on his nag. (Yee haw.)

And yes, of course, Bush was gracious, as always—but this time, not as always, to a fault. That chatty, easygoing grace belied his deft quickness on the draw—a draw so quick and deft that the deadly bullet he dealt apparently whizzed right over the heads of almost everybody within earshot! Folks, if verbal gun-slinging really were the equivalent of a shootout at the O.K. Corrall, then this week the only cowboy left standing in the clearing of the vapors still rising from the Old West Wing is ... bizarrely ... St. Sebastian!

Obama drew first. “The months before I took the oath of office were a chaotic time .... We knew our economy was in trouble, our fellow Americans were in pain, but we wouldn’t know until later just how breathtaking the financial crisis had been.” (Ooooh, I don’t know about you, but I’m breathless.)

Then, true to bad-guy form, he hid, like Ike Clanton, behind the nearest tombstone. Apparently, in Ike’s upside-down moral universe, not even Wyatt Earp was a total loser. At least, the good marshal had the sense and dignity to clear out of Boomtown (the one he tore down, following a scorched earth policy) and head for them there hills in a hurry—to, you know, “make sure ... the transition to a new [frontier] administration was as seamless as possible.” And hey, he even bothered to pick up the place before he left, going out of his way to leave his successor a present on top of the box—a “really good sports TV package.”

Talk about blowing GUN smoke ... I’ll bet Obama’s butt’s still burning.

And way out here on the Reservation, my ears are ringing. Did I hear Dude right? Let me back up and try again. Let’s see if I got the message from the Head Honcho back at the Ranch—lock, stock and barrel. As far as Obama’s concerned—am I following?—the best thing George W. Bush ever did was get the heck outta Dodge? (And leave a full round of ESPN channels. Smokin’!) Right?

Wrong.

Sorry, uh, Sam Spade, but the ballistics on that one don’t match. Besides keeping his territory safe for eight solid years (at least), quite possibly the best thing this Cojones ever did, he did quietly, with a winsome, self-effacing humility, as he did most things—but in a way that was loud, too, filling the room with the powdery residue of all the things he did not say, but could have.

He got the last shot. And it was a killer. Aiming for Ike’s old Lady (Tina), he drawled, almost deadpan (but with a slight, arch jive in his eyes ... ), “Thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging.”

Ker-PLUMP. Now, I ask. Could he have been more pointed? To hit his target, did he really have to say “lynching?” Was I the only one who caught the side-graze of that buckshot? Turns out this St. Sebastian’s got a head on his shoulders, one that (arrows notwithstanding) has seen the real world without flinching—even in the face of a ... well, wall-“hanging.”

Folks—dear, gentle readers!—I can’t help it. I love this man! (It seems the Devil has a wicked sense of humor.) I keep him tucked away in my heart, like a secret, shriven memory of a salt-drenched day on the wind-rustled plain, a space in time hidden deep within that soft, beating cave, right square in the middle of my own private American Kansas—next to another stout patriot and humble outrider, Ronald Reagan.

Call me a sentimental fool. Call me a rodeo whore. With all due apologies to Ang Lee, I like my cowboys straight. I like my bullets real, not blank.

Ref. http://www.glennbeck.com/2012/06/01/classless-obama-beats-dead-horse-unnecessarily-insults-george-w-bush/


Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer, novelist and poet whose political commentary is widely published on the web.  She lives in London, England with her husband and cat.  She receives email at karen.pittman@sky.com.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

"Judge and Fury"

"Women tell me EVERYTHING," he said.
(They find me toothsome, good in bed;
I've a deep listener inside my head.)
"Women tell me EVERYTHING," he said.

"Am not I a woman, too?" I ask.
(Am I so "immoral," so not steadfast,
That he should rank my confession last?)
"Am not I a woman, too?" I ask.

"I would not read it, but will it sell?
(For these verses you will burn in hell,
Though truly you do write them well!)
"I would not read it, but will it sell?"

"At last, clarity!" I exclaim.
(It will sell, so light the flame!
It will sell, so change my name!)
"At last, clarity!" I exclaim.

Ashes to ashes, lust to lust.
Last night our love turned to rust
And all his whispered words to dust.
Ashes to ashes, lust to lust.

Though I may burn, I do not lust.

Karen Hathaway Pittman 2010

"Erased"

"Erase, erase!"
That's it: all done!
Your corrupt files are down the drain,
Never to be read again.
You're history, love; you've been undone.

You can lie back now:  it's all erased.
You're good to go, without a trace.

Karen Hathaway Pittman 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Blue"

love, unrequited
me, without you

Karen Hathaway Pittman 2010

Monday, September 14, 2009

And Heaven Wept

By Karen Hathaway Pittman
© September 14, 2009

Down it pounded – a nerve-scalping war dance of rain, pummeling its drums and refusing to let up. Like a tribe of ghouls, the uninvited gusts howled around the pit. If, as the Native Americans believed, the wind really is an instrument through which the souls of the dead commune with the living, what, then, on this day of all days, was it trying so hard to say?

Friday marked the passing of the first anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks without George Bush. The man who for seven years stood strong as our graying father figure and Condoler-in-Chief was nowhere to be seen, though he was with us in spirit, to be sure.

And I don’t think it was just me. Surely it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention: something crucial to the ritual was missing. There was a palpable absence, a great gaping hole in the day, reminiscent of the holes left in the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. Throughout, the ghost of George Walker Bush hung like a pall over Barack Hussein Obama’s bony shoulders. It stalked him as he strode with chin held high onto the White House lawn, bowing his glistening head a hair too late; and it towered over him as he stepped up to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver his strangely tearless yet dripping eulogy. Afterwards it over-shadowed him as he shook survivors’ hands – smiling a mite too broadly for my taste.

Truth be told, we weren’t just missing the man: we were missing the feeling he brought with him. Tellingly, there was far more raw emotion and brio in Obama’s overwrought remembrance of the Lion of the Senate than in all his remarks about the more than 3,000 American lives wasted that day by Osama’s crazed cult of Islamic lunatics. Gone was the shower of empathy, evaporated were the choked-back tears. As with the man, the rain was a poor stand-in.

In his elegiac article, “Flight 93, the Crater and the Open Book”

(http://townhall.com/columnists/JerryBowyer/2009/09/11/flight_93,_the_crater_and_the_open_book?page=full&comments=true), Jerry Bowyer relays a little-told tale of a miraculous relic retrieved from the wreckage rammed deep into the Shanksville dirt.

Remarkably, not everything disintegrated: there was an open Bible in the middle of the field. Where steel had been shattered, a book remained intact. The first responders were not able to find any piece of metal larger than a pie plate, and yet they found a Bible. Where human flesh had been instantly cremated, paper was only slightly singed.

Bowyer’s account comes as eerily close to prophesy as you can get in this world. He goes on to note that the Bible recovered from that smoldering Somerset County field was found by the local Fire Chief lying opened to I Kings 12-16, a passage describing how Israel descends, after “a golden age,” into "a long period of oscillation between good and bad kings."

Sound familiar?

The story strikes this reader as salient less for its macabre overtones, however, than for the timing of its release, aimed by Bowyer to coincide with Friday’s proceedings – ceremonies jarringly different, both in tone and temperament, from those held in years past.

Consider: Friday marked the first year since 2001 that it actually rained on the day of 9/11, the sun being as elusive as George Bush’s tanned face. To add insult to injury, for the first time ever, the observances at Ground Zero were forced to carry on gamely with nary an appearance by the American President.

Instead, the otherwise-omnipresent Obama chose to keep himself scarce, for once, deigning to touch down only momentarily at the Pentagon Memorial, where his soulless speech offered slim comfort to the grief-soaked crowd. Given his outsized reputation as a stentorian orator, Cicero’s words were pat and patently unconvincing, grudgingly given, wet and yet dry, pinprickingly personal and yet soaringly aloof. (Rather like the man himself.)

But perhaps the single most jolting and uncanny thing about the entire day was not so much a difference as a foreboding likeness: on September 11, 2009, the DOW Jones Industrial Average closed at 9605 – exactly where it had closed eight years and one day earlier, on September 10, 2001.

I don’t know which is more chilling – that DOW number or that Bible flapping open in that smoking field.

What, if anything, I can’t help but wonder, do these bizarre planetary alignments mean? Could Heaven possibly have been crying with us, and was the DOW (of all things) speaking to us in tongues still more mysterious than the wind’s?

How in the world, would somebody please tell me, did that Bible eject itself from all that rubble in one piece? And why do we keep looking to conjure up some hidden import in all these vaguely portentous atmospherics, anyway? Are we still so vestigially superstitious that we really believe nature joins us in our bereavement? Can it actually reach out to us and warn us?

Or is the truth simply that some events in the history of a society are so utterly devastating that they forever sear themselves into the very air that the culture breathes?

So what do we do – just shrug off these oddities as coincidence? What are we to make of these niggling little occurrences – nothing?

On the one hand, if we weigh them as a whole, we are bound to be perplexed by them; indeed, even the most spartan rationalist could be pardoned for succumbing, in a moment of extreme visceral weakness, to an atavistic inkling that these things taken together may, just may, all point to some deeper subliminal significance, potentially even of cosmic proportions (beyond the superficially obvious and rather stupefying fact that they happened in the first place).

But on the other hand, these irksome quibbles may amount to much of nothing, besides a whole lot of fatalistic tommyrot. They may be nothing more than the randomly-shed fluff of fluke and chance – or else the fevered fantasies of fate-minded flakes over-inclined to read patterns in the tea leaves.

So. Do we just sit around with our backs up, vigilantly resisting the spine-tingling allure of all the myriad niggling little things that tug at the collective consciousness, all the more so because we are hell-bent on ignoring them? After all, conspiracy theories, even the naturalistic, epic ones, do die hard ... But can we afford to chance it? And do we do so at our peril?

If that's the case, I say we should err on the side of caution, giving our imaginations free rein to trace the shapes the leaves are taking. No matter how jingoistic and corny the effort seems, we should squeeze all the meaning we possibly can out of this philosophic cauldron of occult-like chaos – before it’s too late.

All right, then; in that vein, I’ll go first: are we not now, just like the DOW Jones Industrial Average, right back where we left off on the afternoon of September 10, 2001? Have we not forgotten our watch and fallen asleep at the wheel, slumping back into that twilight slumber? Are we not once again stuck in the mud of the pre-9/11 mindset?

And most ominous of all, are we not propping ourselves up, tower-like, for the next big fall?

It’s your turn to read the handwriting on the wall, America, and make of it what you will. But weep you must. Heaven did, if her Chosen One did not.▪

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely published on the web. She lives in London, England with her husband and cat. Her work is archived online at http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She receives email at karen.pittman@sky.com.




Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Britney Hussein Obama Spears

By Karen Hathaway Pittman
© July 29, 2008

Oops, he did it again: fresh out of a tone-deaf rehab-session with the Democrat Congressional caucus, Britney Hussein Obama Spears is right now noisily sucking back all the available airtime on my TV, Pac-man-style, filling it up with his obscenely flapping face … and his fluffy meringue fillips.


That's right, baby, you got it: this nimble, deftly dancing juvenile performance artist extraordinaire has just finished hitting me over the head – one more time – with yet another throaty rendition of his number-one platinum remake, “Yes, We Can!” Followed (and preceded) by the obligatory uh.

Somebody please tell this guy the needle's stuck. I mean, how many more times can we stand to hear this same syllable being played over and over? In between raptly choreographed, rehearsed refrains, this flaccid-tongued phenom is st-st-stuttering his way, it would seem, into the White House.

Well, it beats rapping. And tottering over in the middle of your Vegas comeback act.

And the gimme-more media is just lapping it up!

And why not? He’s the MTV candidate, the potential Prez with pizzazz. Word to the wise: this fist-pumping mutha’s manufactured.

And what he offers would be truly toxic, if it had legs just half as sturdy as Ms. Spears’, even on her drunkest day.

What, pray tell, does this Woodstock wunderkind, this latter-day inside-out Mr. Mojo Risin’ shame-on-the-man shaman, deign to give us? Why, platitudes with an attitude. Behold: “We are poised on the brink of historic change.” “I was against the surge before I was for it.” “Hope is our only hope.” And lastly, the inimitable, “Yea verily, I am a citizen of the Milky Way.”

Gag me with a tune.

Messiuh-like, our staritz-starlet gives the phrase “boob tube” new life, and sets his starry-eyed Tsarinas swooning. The paparazzi press sings fawningly along. I keep waiting for Chris Matthews to plunk down a leg-thrilling record-smashing 14 mill for the first photographs of Brithussama’s twins – normally held in Hillary’s lockbox. If this guy gets any higher on his own fumes, I’m going to call in Mel Gibson for an intervention.

And if his suit gets any emptier, he’ll soon be the Invisible Man of Manchuria. Even when stoned, the Britstar has a few more syllables in her lexicon then he does on a dry day, and way more platforms in her closet to run on.

Our Rasputin of "The Real World" (and I’m talking the TV one) had no time in private to hang with the troops, but, when his AP handlers told him the cameras would be rolling – surprise, surprise, Sarjint! – he went out of his way to bang on the hoops! (It was for a good cause – his own.) Nice to know he’s got his priorities in order.

And that should make us all feel better. After all, feeling better is what it’s all about. I don’t know about you, but the next time Allah-whatever-Izod threatens to smack-down Israel, I’ll feel better knowing Dr. Feel Good has his finger on his sphincter. And when he calls in the Joint Chiefs of Staff to charge them with their next unconstitutional military task, they can all take a good long toke from the SONG BONG (think George Carlin here): "
It’s a small world aaaaaafter all, it’s a small world aaaaaafter all, it’s a small world after aaaall, it’s a smaall smaall weeeeeeeeeerld. Uh."

Like Britney’s wild wild world post-breakdown, this would all be some big joke if it weren’t so serious. Time to sober up, girlfriend, and get real about what’s at stake: nothing less than your life, especially if you happen to live, like I do, in the all-inclusive international community of Terror Hills. (Lest you think I overstate my case, may I remind you of the way you felt on the morning of 9/12.)


This Teleprompter Titillater, this facile Phillip Marlowe of the Microphone, may be laughing all the way to the whorehouse, but (my clever quips aside) we shouldn’t be. Do we really want conservative talk radio silenced in favor of tired liberal retreads? Obama’s oldies-but-goldies can’t save us when he confiscates our guns. Reparations? Sure. Come Elvis, Martin Luther King, or Casey Kasem, this dark knight is out to prove he’s no Slave 4 Us. And the dysfunctional mess he promises to make of the Supreme Court makes Spears’ custody battle with Kevin Federline look like an especially endearing episode of "Leave It to Beaver."

So go ahead. Cast your Idol ballot for this year’s flash-in-the-pan, if you dare. Youth of America, don’t despair: at this rate, you’ll soon be able to just text in your vote. And hey – that rocks!


As for me, I’m sticking with my old soft shoe, my dependable if dowdy Tony Bennett, the one I know won’t skip in the clutch. I’m phoning in my vote for the one and only contestant who has actually cut a record in real life: John McCain.

But then … that’s my prerogative. ▪

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely featured on the web. She lives in London, England with her husband and cat. Her work is archived online here: http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. You may email her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Glass"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

for Aunt Mary

The first cut made barely a dent –
But after that the walls were bent.

At first her claws left only scratches –
Then the crazing came in cobwebbed patches.

It cracked like ice beneath her heat;
It broke, or melted, with every beat,

With each sharp word, each pointed deed –
Each aimed to burst the bubbling bead.

And now that the glass has finally shattered,
Only a fool would believe it ever mattered.


Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"My Name is Karen"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

My name is Karen, not Kay.
Kay was that sheepish eight-year-old
Who always did as she was told.
But Karen is forty-four today
And sick of doing what others say.
So call me Karen, not Kay.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.



Friday, May 05, 2006

The Paris Poems: "Pont de l'Alma"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

In Memory of Princess Diana

You dissolved in the dead of August, eaten alive
by this dread, descending tunnel: you went in . . .
and never came out again.
But we keep looking for you on the other side . . . .

Hapless passenger, what happened?
After your love summer of ocean and sky,
the black tar kissed you goodbye.
(We swore we heard you sigh . . . . )

And so now, Diana, the golden flame
lights up the sky,
here at Pont de l'Alma, in your name,
and for your sake and ours we bring you
our tattered burthen. We lay them down –
these, the scattered pieces of our broken hearts: here
a bleeding note, there
a fractured rose, and deep down . . .
a shattered jewel rusting like a crown.

Queen of hearts, you left us alone
and lonely like you, stranded
by the side of this dead-end road, empty-handed,
with nothing for our decaying hands to do
to observe these eternal hours without you
but strew our fraying flowers
and scribble illegible elegies
on the top of this concrete wall . . .
keeping us from you.

Holy mother, what could you do?
At the end, whose name did you call?

Across the water, the iron tower
stiffens her sparkling spine.

Sacred Lady, where did you go?
I stand on this bridge and stare down below,
praying for some sort of sign.
Notre dame! – your people flock to your final shrine.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing.

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Away"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

I went away.
There in that shadeless land
no night pierced the glaring day,
and no friend held my hand.

I fell away.
A petal swaying, fraying around
the edges, I snapped away . . .
and drifted without ground.

I floated away . . .
till at last I hit rock
and broke the long curse of day.
And there I stopped.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Little Violin"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

for my darling cat, Natasha

I play you and your pressed throat purrs.
Sweet puss, what do I hear?
A love song?
Little violin, laying music to my ear . . . .

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"Agnostic"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

The eternal question lingers on your lips:
You ask, but cannot answer.
What if, what if . . .
Your terminal doubt spreads like a cancer.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Atheist"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

You diss god with gum in your mouth:
You spit them out.
I point it out –
But, Judas of the jaws, you deny it.

"What gum?"

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"Proposal over Dinner"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

I've caught you off-guard with my sour lemon.
It's too late now to take it back.
I watch the surprise invade your eyes:

Face wadding up, your mouth rejects it.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

The Paris Poems: "April at Republique"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 2006

Underground the revolution began . . .
and now this morning the wild youth blooms are carrying on all over the place!

Cruelly born, in unison,
they turn their red anger toward the Sun

King holding court in his bellicose sky,
where his thundering blue legions gather,

turnng their water cannons on the growing mob.
Beaten down by the hail,

the raw rioters rally,
their bloodied mouths protesting.

Then bodily the late bloomers storm the square
where the mad lady stabs her branch in the air.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Haiku

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1985

flickering white lights
spiral up a cut blue spruce:
dust devil of snow

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Pendleton King Park, My Twentieth Spring"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1990

I remember clinging to the chainlink fence, feeding the ducks.
A tuning fork of March wind
was sounding out the season's new notes with a moan,
as my heart reverberated in sympathy.
It struck its plangent chord and held it long.
Wringing stinging whirlwinds out of the sand,
those late wintry furies raged, with wild palms slapping.
Even then I could not be swayed ....
I kept a niggardly watch over my flock
of orange charges below, matching squawk for squawk
those kids who carelessly played
in swarms in the nearby park.
Begging for crumbs, they took what they could get.
I was their Pied Piper;
they surged like water around a rock .... And yet ... and yet ...
inexplicably, I just let ...

gothose idling hands held nothing but time,
though I kept them working with my weird, wired worry.
And still the stale grains fell from nowhere, like confetti.
The icy, steel mesh smelled tinny and tasted of dirty money.

I had been here before, in the ninth grade,
with a bowl-skulled boy who had a crush on me .... Back then,
we walked on cushioned grass shaded like a zebra's skin,
as we dragged the tensed, waffled faces of our tennis rackets
down through the mud with our classmates' good names ....

He said psychosis was the sure diagnosis
for the infamous Son of Sam's ills.
I imagined I was the criminal –
and in my dazzled sick mind
I was already guilty of gruesomer crimes.
I could not have known it then, but my sin was committed
against no body but mine.


I clung to the fence as to a cold mother.
It was no use. She would not hold me.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"The Diagnosis"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

Desperate, my psycho-docs thumb their DSMs and land on bipolar,
but I know where I stand: locked down in this dungeon of dolor.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Epitaph for My Father"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

In Memoriam: Elton Llewellyn Hathaway
May 18, 1923 - November 11, 1993

 
Here lies one man who ran out of time –
Who was, who is, who always will be –
Conjugating himself eternally
Inside this four-room school house of mine . . . .

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Samson, of Delilah"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

Because her arms are quicksand
And her tongue a tongue of fire,
I let go of her slick hand –
Because her arms are quicksand.
Between her magic hands I cannot stand
But melt, as the fire licks higher . . .
Because her arms are quicksand
And her tongue a tongue of fire.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"Rabbit"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

for Todd

Though your eyes aren't really brown,
And you aren't really spry as a rabbit:
Still, I'll keep you around,
And still, I'll call you Rabbit
Out of love and out of habit.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"Said the Poet to the Actor"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

"You inhabit your skin, James Dean,
Like a worm inside a jumping bean."

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

"Mad"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1994

My father's face was a lightbulb.
My mother flew into it like a moth.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.



Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Cheers"

© Karen Hathaway Pittman 1990

A Toast to Blue Argo

“Poetry comes straight from the heart,” she said,
“that wound that always bleeds.
Like a glass of good wine, it weakens the knees.”

So here’s to you, Blue. I drain the red

glass to the lees.


Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may contact her at ltpkhp@aol.com.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

In the Perfect Middle: A Review of Peter Spagnuolo's "One-Way Street"

by Karen H. Pittman
© March 2, 2006

If Shakespeare was right (and he usually was), a man has maybe one good hour, if he’s lucky, to show the world what he’s made of, to strut his stuff on the stage of life in such a way that people will stand up and take notice. That’s the metaphorical equivalent, mind you, of sixty measly minutes in which to shine, to bask in the pregnant light of his prowess, even as he knows the meter is running and his time will soon expire. And when his allotted hour is up, his descent into decay is slippery, if not always steady and precipitous. His powers eventually suffer the same downhill slide as his person.

In the Winter 2006 issue of The Threepenny Review, Brooklyn-based poet Peter Spagnuolo has seized the stage during what must surely be his finest hour, and, with the publication of his pensive poem “One-Way Street” (
http://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/spagnuolo_w06.html), is keeping his equilibrium in the spotlight. Happily for us, Spagnuolo’s tale, signifying much, is full of more than mere sound and fury, and the bard himself shows no signs of eminent slippage.

Indeed, he knows this, for he quite self-consciously calls himself the man “in the perfect middle.” And so it is: his character, the unidentified protagonist who positions himself midway between the young girl and the elderly gentleman, conjoins the two extremes in a taut, precariously poised progress down the dicey one-way street of life. His poem is an icy paean to the seasons of man.

He begins his halting journey by taking first the girl’s hand, followed by the man’s. All along the way, Spagnuolo stops to remind us of the universality of his theme. Death imagery abounds. The old man’s “cracking, yellowed, horn-like nail” not only provides a raw slice of realistic detail, but also suggests the grave, from which his gritty hooks “claw” their “way up through the grain.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the young girl, an “arrow” poised to take aim “against the hazards she can't know” – hazards which the poet-seer foresees and vainly attempts to steer her around, but of which the old man has long since, perhaps blessedly, lost sight.

Spagnuolo’s subtle, unobtrusive use of rhyme constitutes the poem’s prime technical virtue. His deft pairing of “mincing” and “convincing” in the first stanza bears witness to his dexterity with the language. His keen imagination, his ability to transmute everyday events as mundane as a swift slip on the ice or the otherwise unremarkable ritual of eating dinner at the local diner into the stuff of high poetry, belies his genius. This latter, especially, is a gift, not a skill. Spagnuolo possesses in abundance what many post-modern critics call “the alienating insight." All true poets are both blessed with and cursed by this extrasensory power of divination and perception. This you do not acquire in the antique house of "Creative Writing." Only God and Nature endow you with it.

Besides its masterful technique, what distinguishes this poem, elevating it to the level of greatness, is the poet's poignant, symbolic treatment of the cycle of life, which he has chosen to represent in all its fullness in these three central figures, redolent of the definitive perfection, the Holy Trinity. Like Hamlet, the poem’s narrator is the pitiable, tortured soul caught between two opposing ends; too acutely aware for his own good, he alone remembers where he has been and knows where he is going, and to what sad and tragic outcome that last fall in the snow ultimately portends. (And, not to be too heavy-handed, their little tumble also kicks up the dust of original sin, taking the reader on a warp-speed trip through time to man's first big "fall.")

Reading this poem, one is reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins' elegiac verse, "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" (http://www.poemhunter.com/p/m/poem.asp?poem=187544). Like the writer of Margaret's poem, the writer of "One Way Street" shows us, by vivid example, that life itself is the road of no return down which all of us – young, old, and in-between alike – are headed, stumbling toward the same dead end; and he, too, "weep[s] and know[s] why." But unlike Margaret and the child and old man, the all-seeing "man in the middle" – the poet, the protagonist who “connects” youthful promise and infirmity, who is actively both “becoming and decaying” – knows only too well that he was born to mourn his own ungluing, one numb toe at a time, and it is this fatalistic awareness that gives the poem its dramatic tension.

Karen Hathaway Pittman is an award-winning poet and essayist who is currently compiling her first book-length collection of poems, The Awful Colossus of Longing. You may read her articles and poems online at
http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She lives in the New York City metropolitan area with her husband, Todd, and her beloved cat, Natasha.



Monday, September 05, 2005

The Blame Game

by Karen H. Pittman
© September 5, 2005

I have heard it all now. While illegally threatening the President of the United States with bodily harm on ABC's This Week, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) accused him of visiting hurricane-decimated Louisiana merely in order to stage a "photo-op." She ranted and raved hysterically during her appearance on the televised news show last Sunday, at one point bursting into tears. No doubt about it — her levee broke, big(easy)-time.

It's always something. If President Bush works out, he exercises too much. It never occurs that perhaps this is his only means of relieving the enormous stress and pressure he's under. And now comes this latest antic fabrication, straight from the big brassy mouth of a bureaucratic bass caught in Katrina's rip current. If he tours the hurricane-ravaged coast, he's posing for a photo-op. If he stays away, he doesn't care, isn't "personally engaged," and is perpetrating nothing short of indirect "murder."

Sure, Mary, why not? Just pile on! Since George Bush is literally the most convenient scapegoat on the planet, why not blame him for the whole dam thing? For the love of jazz, did those levees not need shoring when Bill Clinton was President? By most estimates, any effective reinforcement of the canal system there would have taken at least a decade or two, probably more, to complete. How then could Bush have fixed the whole dam problem in a lousy five years, while waging war? Is it any wonder New Orleans is now a literal cesspool, considering it has been one figuratively for as long as anybody can remember?

Less absurd but more egregious is the charge being leveled at him by racist black demagogues like Al Sharpton. According to noted rapper-sociologist Kanye (Noyekant) West, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Well, maybe he does and maybe he doesn't. What he thinks matters less than what he does. As relentlessly as politicians pander to minority groups, the notion that any pol worth his weight in votes would purposely neglect a powerful constituency is patently absurd. Even if George Bush were a racist, he is no fool, and is far too wizened politically to commit so flagrant an act of self-destruction. The political consequences for such behavior would simply be too dire.

Or, to put it another way: If he refuses to seal the borders for fear of losing Latino support, why on earth would he knowingly encourage or permit the targeted genocide of impoverished African-Americans in New Orleans?

Furthermore, the Crescent City wasn't built in a day. How, then, can it be salvaged in one? If, with prior warning and advance planning, Mayor Nagin and other local and state officials couldn't figure out a way to evacuate their own city in three days, with all of its infrastructure intact, how can they reasonably expect the feds to rescue every last straggler, put out every raging fire, tamp down all the senseless looting and shooting, and seal nearly 1000 total feet of breached levee, with the city drowning and de-nerved, in less?

Nagin and local pols can't say they weren't warned. In a watershed article published in Risk & Insurance in December of 2000 by Lori Widmer (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BJK/is_15_11/ai_68642805), Shea Penland, geologist and professor at the University of New Orleans, reveals himself to be a veritable Cassandra: "When we get the big hurricane and there are 10,000 people dead, the city government's been relocated to the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, refugee camps have been set up and there are $10 billion plus in losses, what then?" he queries. Penland laments the Francophile city's laissez faire attitude, which in the end proved fatal: "These are things I've been preaching for a number of years. This town has never planned ahead. They've always reacted and not pro-acted."

Notice what Penland does not do — blame the feds for a localized problem. Ultimately, there's no getting around the fact that New Orleans is responsible for itself. All across this country, cities and municipalities face their own peculiar exigencies, and must reckon with them themselves, with limited or no federal aid. San Francisco is at high risk for sustaining a major, devastating earthquake. If it does, will that act of God be magically rendered an act of George too? Should the federal government not also subsidize reinforcement of that city's buildings and infrastructure, and if so, to what extent? How much responsibility do state and local entities bear for their own disaster prevention, preparedness, and funding? I mean, my goodness, if you choose to live in Frisco, you'd better have quake insurance or learn to sleep soundly without it. You know that going in. And you learn very quickly to accept the grim reality that if the Big One does hit and you die, you die. You won't get time to evacuate.

The bottom line is, if the federal government subsidizes every high-risk community, it will go broke in no time. Just ponder for a moment all that has happened in the past half-decade alone: Coordinated terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, and now, after numerous severe storms in Florida that combined to wreak costly havoc, a calamitous hurricane on the Gulf Coast. When 9/11 occurred, armchair quarterbacks everywhere rose up from their easy chairs and demanded accountability. Why were we asleep at the wheel while this storm was brewing in the Afghan desert? Why were we unwilling to spare no expense to prevent it? And now that nature itself has dealt New Orleans a warrior's blow, the journalist-naysayers are whining and nagging, "Why was the federal government spending all its time, money, and energy fighting the war on terror when it knew all along that The Big Easy was doomed to drown?"

And is our choice as stark, really — as black-and-white (if you'll pardon the pun) — as Bush's most vehement critics would have us believe? Should we neglect to defend ourselves abroad so that we can amass enormous numbers of troops stateside, just in case a natural disaster happens? Should we not exert ourselves in the world so that we can have the ever-ready capability of instantly marshalling all of our resources in our own country in the event that a given outcome occurs? (And remember, this is slim comfort at best, since there is no such thing as perfect preparedness.) What happens if we are attacked? What — we don't avenge an act of aggression because we might be needed here? Like bag upon bag of sand deposited in the levee's breaches, disaster can always be piled upon disaster. Heck, for that matter, the terrorists could choose to kick us now, while we're down. Whose fault would that be? Must it be anyone's, other than theirs? As far as we're concerned, maybe it's just our own rotten luck or bad timing.

What all of the emergent criticism post-Katrina against this president's prosecution of the war on terror seems to suggest (with the added fillip of hindsight) is that — oops! — as it turns out, he should not have undertaken to defend us overseas, after all. Instead, he should have been more attuned to domestic problems and potential natural disasters and less preoccupied with international imbroglios. (Never mind the limited central role the federal government is supposed to play in this aggregate of empowered states we call a republic. The preeminence of state and local governments in their own affairs is conveniently forgotten by the advocates of socialism who fuel these diatribes.) In other words, he should have been more worried about a phantom problem over here than the very real one right in front of him. What choice did the man have, given the stakes and urgency of the moment? One has always to weigh the probabilities in life and make tough decisions based on what one can and cannot reasonably anticipate. And, while it is the federal government's job, and thus the president's, to ensure the safety of the republic, it is not its task, nor is it his, to make sure that every single state and local government is taking care of business and faithfully discharging its duties to its residents.

Given all this, then — given the choices and probabilities with which George W. Bush found himself confronted on the morning of September 12, 2001 — what do you think was uppermost in his mind: Standing up as Commander-in-Chief for all the people of these United States (of which Louisiana, last I looked, was but one) by doing all he could to prevent another terrorist attack, or playing Lifeguard-in-Chief by single-handedly saving New Orleans? (And one is tempted here to add, "from itself.") After all, what is more likely — that the terrorists who have killed us already will kill us again, if given the chance, or that a Category 5 hurricane will wipe out a solitary city that is but one of many along a coastline stretching for thousands and thousands of miles?

If the Big One strikes California tomorrow, you can bet that out of the smoke and rubble will rise the clarion complaint: "Where was George W. Bush while all this was getting ready to happen to us? While he was waging 'his war' against terror and drying out Bourbon Street, he was ignoring our need for the kind of infrastructure that would hold out against the worst Mother Nature can give."

On and on it goes. In Washington, the blame game is the only game in town.▪

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely featured on the web. You may read her articles and poems online at http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She lives with her husband and cat in the New York City metropolitan area.



Sunday, September 04, 2005

City of the Dead

by Karen H. Pittman
© September 4, 2005

Watching New Orleans sink, I can almost feel the wheels turning in my brain, churning like those massive paddle wheels of yore that — alas! — once roiled the murky waters of the Mighty Mississippi as they propelled those genteel steamboats of a still gentler era past poor but proud N'Awlins, nestled down and dirty in the muddy Delta mouth . . . .

But as to the chaos occurring there now, permit me to be bluntly prosaic: I can't help it, but I have an inherent antipathy towards that certain sub-species of human animal that is now commandeering the streets of that fetid city, truly a razed City of the Dead. I haven't the sufficiently impoverished vernacular to express just how thoroughly revolted I am by these mack daddies and gangstars and brazen bitches-with-FATitudes(-in-these-lowlife-latitudes) when I hear them squawking on-camera about how "ain't nobody did nuthin' fa us" — when they were told to leave! What else, in a forty-eight-hour window, could government do?


Not only did their officials ask them to leave; not only did they beg them to leave — they ordered them to leave. The vast majority of these ambulatory refugees were able-bodied and could have at the very least abandoned their low-lying neighborhoods, as they were repeatedly commanded to do. For those who would or could not evacuate, they were advised to go to the Superdome, not as an ordinary shelter, mind you, but as an UNPREFERRED, NON-RED-CROSS-SANCTIONED, NON-GOODHOUSEKEEPING-GOLDEN-SEAL-OF-APPROVAL SHELTER OF LAST RESORT.

Now, I know that to folks who are functionally (and factually) illiterate, or who are fluent, not in the King's English but in Ebonics, the words "last resort" have no meaning. But whose fault is that? (I know. It's ours. It's "da gubmint's.")

I say let the gangstars drown in their toxic soup. If they aren't killed by Guardsmen, and they aren't rescued, they will soon be dead of typhoid. So be it. They chose.

Then, when the responsible folk roll back into town in the vehicles they bought and paid for with the sweat of their brow and which they then used to FOLLOW DA GUBMINT'S ORDERS TO EVACUATE — yea, verily, when the flood waters recede and these self-same self-sufficient folk roll back into town TO DO THE WORK that it will inevitably take to reclaim that city from the sea, they then can rightfully reclaim their Rolexes from the fish-limp, waterlogged wrists of our desperately drowning heroes, our modern-day Mongols and Visigoths, the street thugs and swamp kings of New Orleans. (Ow ow ow ow — she'll put a smell on you . . . .)

The simple fact is: We have forgotten God and lost our healthy, innate fear of Nature. Man is not the measure of all things. Foolish men in particular are a gauge of their own vapidity and vanity only.

To be less sardonic, let me state unequivocally my "official position" on the matter: To the extent that prioritization of response in the midst of an unprecedented calamity was required, those buses and helicopters should have been dispatched first to rescue all the people who obeyed the orders and were truly stranded, through no fault of their own — i.e., those who gathered at the Superdome (the way they were supposed to) and those who had no alternative but to remain where they were, in the nursing facilities and hospitals. For these folks, I feel nothing but heartfelt anguish and sympathy.

But my pity for the others — those who could have fled their flood-prone parishes but elected to stay behind, for whatever reasons (none of which are justifiable, especially when small children are put in harm's way by their parents' complacency and dereliction) — is tempered by a peculiar kind of flummoxed indignation. For instance, I was shocked to learn of Fats Domino's close call, but again, he made a choice, and one that very nearly proved lethal: His wife and daughter would have been the ones to pay the price for it.

The point is, people have to take personal responsibility for their own welfare. How can we fairly compare this to the tsunami, when in our case we knew, we had warning? I daresay the folks in the Twin Towers would have appreciated being notified two days beforehand that those airborne jet-missiles were going to be plunged into them at approximately 8:45am on Tuesday, September the 11th, 2001. How about the catastrophe in Galveston in 1900 when 8000-12,000 people perished because they had no idea that a hurricane was even coming? I'll bet those sluiced masses in Sri Lanka would have listened to Max Mayfield!

The distorted public reaction to this tragedy, devastating as it is, tells you all you need to know about how and why our contemporary culture and our own brand of Bread and Circus have failed us. They have killed us from within, because they have spoiled the people's attitudes and thinking. They have made perpetual victims of them, and made them stop taking responsibility for themselves. They have enslaved them all over again, this time to the all-mighty, but now all-too-obviously fallible, State. And worst of all, this slow corrosive contagion is not only fatal; it's lethal.

The twisted reasoning goes roughly like this: You tell me to go, I stay. When I stay, and you don't (or can't) come get me, I blame you. It's your fault. You deliberately didn't do it on purpose. Whatever I did or didn't do, at least I didn't do it on purpose; I couldn't help myself. I always have an excuse or reason, a mitigating circumstance; you, however, never do. You see, it's never my fault. It's always somebody else's. Anybody's but mine.

Well, if that's the case, you're always going to be at somebody's mercy anyway, and there apparently isn't a damned thing you can do about it. You have no control over your own destiny, so you may as well be dead. ▪

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely featured on the web. You may read her articles and poems online at http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com/. She lives with her husband and cat in London, England.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bulletin

It has been determined by the MSNBC Katrina Fact-finding Commission, also known as KFC, that President George W. Bush is personally responsible for the thousands of citizens left dead in the wake of this week's catastrophe along the southern Gulf coast. By failing to sign Kyoto, he single-handedly made conditions ripe for the hurricane, and by underfunding the Corps of Engineers, he alone is accountable for the breach in the levee. He would not rest until the low-lying parishes of New Orleans were filled with poverty-stricken African-Americans, and he then left no stone unturned until they were all engulfed by the sea from whence they came. Furthermore, he, as (the first two-term Republican) President (since Ronald Reagan), is accountable for the feeding, clothing, funding, medicating, and otherwise comforting of every single victim in every single square inch of the more than 90,000 square miles of landscape devastated by this un-natural phenomenon.

For once, the commentator/commissioners, who could barely conceal their glee in the midst of so much tragedy, had no comment.

This just in . . . .

Al Qaeda today claimed responsibility for Hurricane Katrina. Update at high noon.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Being Fonda Jane

By Karen H. Pittman
© April 18, 2005

Well, if nothing else, one thing I’ve learned since writing “Kinda Fonda Jane” is that being Fonda Jane – even kinda – isn’t exactly a good thing to be. In fact, it’s almost as bad as Being John Malkovich (a fate truly to be despised).

Indeed, being Fonda Jane can be downright dangerous, and can lead, in its most benign form, to humorless, ill-considered name-calling. I’ve been dubbed a RINO (by people who've never read another word I've written, no less – which also puts me in the questionable company of John McCain, who likewise urges forgiveness), and I’ve been told that I deserve, for committing the unpardonable crime (an offense on par, surely, with Ms. Fonda’s original sin) of even suggesting that we move toward some sort of rapprochement with this radioactive woman, to go to the gallows with her and rot, right alongside her, in hell.

Phew. And well. That kinda takes the steam off your coffee. Kinda sorta.

And then there was this, the most tortured piece of logic I’ve been offered yet, by a Vietnam veteran, no less: “I spent eight years in the service so that [Jane Fonda] and her kind could bad mouth America. If I had my way, she would be shot.”

Which begged the reply:

“While I honor your service and thank you for it, I have to say: What was the point? Correct me if I'm wrong: But, with all due respect, what you are telling me is that you spent eight years of your life in the service for nothing – if, in fact, as you say, you served so Fonda and "her kind" (apparently to include me) could freely speak their peace. If, then, after Ms. Fonda has exercised her right to free speech, which you say you went to war to protect, you would then turn around and shoot her for it, for what, pray tell, were you fighting?"

I realize it isn’t as simple as that, of course. This man doesn’t really believe Jane Fonda should be shot just because she spoke her mind. He believes she should be shot because she spoke her mind on enemy terrain during war – because if nothing else, she was a willing mouthpiece for enemy propaganda.

One thing I’ve learned for sure is that this brouhaha has become less and less about Jane Fonda and more and more about me, about some readers’ (sometimes diabolically intense) need to force me to think and feel as they do about her, regardless of whether I truly do – in other words, I am being persistently pestered to conform to the groupthink on this one. I must banish all “fonda” Fonda fondness from my brain. So my great sin, it would seem, is not so much in bucking the system itself, as in “being Fonda Jane.” I mean, what kind of blame fool would be fond of Hanoi Jane?

The question itself is a landmine, one I must gingerly sidestep if I’m to avoid being blown to bits. The answer is: No kind, of course. After all, it isn’t “Hanoi Jane” I’m “fond of,” not even kind of; it’s the mature Jane, the one I meet between the pages of her book, My Life So Far, whose voice I find to be impressively authentic and serious.

It’s unfortunate, though understandable, that the whole of this woman’s extraordinary life has come to be defined by what she did during that fateful fortnight in Vietnam. Of course, she has only herself to blame for what she did. But by the same token, can we really condemn her for trying to shift the spotlight away from that one darkened two-week window onto her whole interior world? Isn’t it likely that “Hanoi Jane” is only one part of the many parts which make up Jane Fonda the complex woman, who is more than the sum of these parts, particularly of any one part wrenched out of context?

Much as we don’t want to hear it, there is a lot more to this oft-dehumanized human being than this. If you were too personally affected by what she did – if you are one of those who cannot forgive or forget, no matter what – then clearly you are closed to anything she might have to say of any substance or value because to open yourself up to it is to risk defeating your preconceived, myopic view of her: that she’s crass, self-serving, manipulative, facile, unstable, a dabbler, and (my favorite) an “actress” predisposed by her craft (which is a kind of witch-craft, after all) to shed “crocodile tears” on cue – an argument I find particularly disingenuous, since it suggests that no person can be a talented actor and still retain a shred of sincerity, integrity or credibility. What does this say about Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, I wonder?

And maybe she is all of these things, and more. I do not deny that she may be lying. But neither do I deny that maybe, just maybe, she may be telling the truth, as she knows it.

Where I part company with my conservative brethren is in my willingness to at least entertain the possibility that she is not quite as shallow as we have formerly believed her to be. In fact, I’m so willing to consider this possibility that I’ve been doing something this week that most of my critics will never even contemplate doing – I’m actually reading her book! (Gasp!) After all, for years I’ve been reading all the rotten things people have been saying about her, most of them admittedly justified; so, in the interest of fairness, should not impartiality and intellectual honesty demand that I give her a hearing too? After all, we have nothing to fear from the whole story – from the truth, insofar as it can be known.

Why do I dare believe Ms. Fonda, the Barbarella of yore, has substance? Because she has important things to say, especially to women, concerning topics other than her involvement in the anti-war movement. She is most effective, I think, when addressing the subject of female self-esteem, noting the necessity of framing one’s self-concept independent of men (a lesson she no doubt learned the hard way from her three disastrous marriages, during which she “twisted herself like a pretzel” in order to become whatever the man in her life at the moment “wanted her to be”).

She further urges us to avoid the trap of “perfection,” which is, it seems to me, an especially instructive lesson for the former Barbarella to hand down. In particular, she speaks to the topic of eating disorders and female reproductive health and responsibility. (And before I am wrongly accused of condoning Ms. Fonda’s pro-choice position, I must note, in my defense and hers, that the goal of her activism in this arena is to encourage adolescent reproductive health by stressing pregnancy prevention, not termination.)

One thing Jane Fonda and I probably share in common is this concern for women’s issues. While I’m a conservative, I’m also, at heart, a “feminist” (for want of a better word). No, I’m not a FemiNazi, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe FemiNazis exist. I do. But I’m not one of them. (I do not take up radical feminist causes, for instance, nor do I support abortion on demand, nor do I favor same-sex unions. I do not use this word in its most polarizing form.)

So, as both a conservative and a feminist, I am presented with a peculiar dilemma when considering the controversial case of Jane Fonda. Fonda describes herself as a “feminist Christian” (admittedly an oxymoron, but no more of one, really, than a “conservative feminist”). The conservative in me wants to take her to task, while the feminist in me needs to understand her.

So, in my last article, “Kinda Fonda Jane,” I took a lot of heat for riding (rather too cavalierly, according to some) to her defense. Perhaps it was my tone of voice that got me in trouble – and I’m well aware that my propensity for punning can sometimes land me in hot water. The title, while witty and clever, was a little unfortunate, in hindsight, because it may have led some readers to believe I thought the whole thing was a joke.

I thought nothing of the kind. These are weighty issues that deserve to be considered, so this time I have made a concerted effort to dispense with the wit and proceed with the polemic.

There are those who have suggested that I propose to excuse Ms. Fonda’s radical actions during the war by arguing that she was a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool believer. Because she believed is not the reason why I suggested we forgive her. It is, however, a reason which those who are so inclined can use to try and understand her. (Even Hitler begs understanding, lest we allow another like him to rise up.) For anyone to suggest that I have put forth anything other than her Christian faith as a road to redemption (as some critics have done) is to grossly oversimplify and twist my thesis.

And to those who would attempt to argue the empirical evidence with me, I can say only this: What is actually open to debate here is not so much what Jane Fonda did in Hanoi in July of 1972 (
http://www.snopes.com/military/fonda.asp) as whether or not we should forgive her for it. This latter is strictly a subjective decision, one each of us must make in his or her own heart of hearts, and is therefore purely a matter of opinion and individual conscience (much as is whether to conscientiously object in wartime).

And to those who say that Ms. Fonda cannot possibly have repented of her Vietnam sins because she opposes the current war in Iraq, I am amazed that I find it necessary to point out what should be, prima facie, obvious to all fair-minded, educated people: That she need not embrace conservatism (or reject liberalism) in order to be forgiven or even to be given another chance. She need not reject out of hand her former renunciation of the Vietnam War in order to attain spiritual redemption, either. Doubtless even some Democrats and liberals go to heaven too. Probably even some of them who were wrong about Vietnam and Iraq occasionally manage to slip past Peter’s Velcro-covered fingers at the pearly gate.

Ms. Fonda’s detractors charge that she should “apologize,” which, truthfully, it seems to me, she has tried to do, on more than one occasion. But even this is not enough, for these folks in the main don’t like the way she has apologized. I guarantee you not even very public groveling and prostration would do the trick for most of them. They would still say her genuflections are fake and that she is only getting down on her hands and knees now to sell a few more lousy books. (The book is actually quite good, by the way.)

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it disconcerting and discomfiting that many of the critics appear to drop all the blame for the carnage (the killing fields of Cambodia) and the quagmire (Vietnam itself) at the feet of one (hysterical) woman? Is Jane Fonda really the Helen of the modern age?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon – not Jane Fonda – who sent these good men to those mayhem-strangled jungles in the first place, was it not? Whatever else we can say about her motivations (including her adversarial ideological leanings at the time), Jane Fonda did at least want to stop the bombing and bring the soldiers home, whether she achieved that mission or not.

Even if Hanoi Jane was directly or indirectly responsible for many deaths, how many more young men were felled before she went? Do we really think she was trying to add to the number of the dead or to quit the killing on both sides? How many deaths, do we suppose, belong to the ghosts of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon?

Rather than blame Jane Fonda strictly, for all of it, as so many of my correspondents seem to do, shouldn't we hold to account the system that drafted and pressed into service these impressionable young men in the first place? Whatever we may think of the current conflict in Iraq (which I, unlike Ms. Fonda, wholeheartedly support), at least our modern army is all-volunteer. Rumsfeld knows what he’s doing there.

Yes, there is no denying that Jane Fonda committed some sort of treason (though the extent of her aiding and abetting appears to have been confined to the promulgation of pro-Viet Cong propaganda). Less strictly speaking, John Kerry committed treason too, and so did quite a few others during that era. But we are kidding ourselves if we deny the real reason why neither she nor Kerry has been prosecuted for their crimes: There is simply no genuine consensus in this country which in any way indicates that a majority of Americans favor holding these "traitors" to account. Why? Because, frankly, too many of us are still too riddled with doubts and vexed with questions about Vietnam – what we were doing there, why we there in the first place.

Conversely, there is no such lack of consensus on the current war on terror, and so we, as a society, condone holding John Walker Linde's feet to the fire. And we had no trouble socking it to Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose during WWII either, another conflict which was undeniably morally clear.

And maybe we should have held Fonda's treacherous tootsies to the stove, too, long before now – but the statute of limitations has effectively run out. And that's precisely my point. It's time to fish or cut bait. Charge the woman or let her go.

And yes, treason should be a crime punishable by imprisonment, but it isn't, not always, for the collective will to prosecute in these cases too often depends on the prevailing popular sentiment about the worthiness of the cause. And even if it were, it should no more be a punishable offense for Fonda than for Kerry. And here it's worth noting: Whatever else we may say about Jane Fonda, we have to give her this much, at least – unlike John Kerry, whose every move was motivated by ambition and not conviction, Fonda's radical flame-throws were fueled by an actual ideology, however ill-conceived.

Furthermore, if treason really were a death-penalty crime, my guess is that Barbarella never would have parked her bulimic arse on that anti-aircraft battery to begin with.

We can hardly fault her for what we as a society aren't willing to stand up for, now, can we? More rigorous enforcement of the prohibitions against this kind of behavior would have doubtless served as a more powerful deterrent than all the enraged ravings of her detractors combined.

And finally, much as it might satisfy our psychological purposes to demand a scapegoat, our lust for one still does not justify the witchhunt. The truth is a louse: It is never easy to tease out. And when you finally do manage get your mits on it, it has an infuriating way of jumping around, so no matter how carefully you think you are handling it, you never really get a good grip.

And the real truth is this: There are many people and events, besides Jane Fonda and her anti-war activities, which, when taken together, formed the fulcrum upon which our failure in Vietnam turned.

But it's so much easier for Ms. Fonda’s most astringent, one-note critics to just let Jane take all the blame. Why not? It's been done before. Let the seditious actress play Eve to Nixon’s Adam: Let her be the lightning rod for the pols' bad choices. Let her be the repository for our collective guilt and confusion over this most mistake-strewn and murky period of our history.

And then, when you're tired of hearing her mouth off about it, tell her where to stuff her big fat apple. ▪

Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely featured on the web. You may read her articles and poems online at http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She lives with her husband and cat in the New York City metropolitan area.