Friday, March 2, 2012

See Your True Self -- Writer's Poke #372

In The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s parents make the decision to send her to Europe for her own protection. Once there, however, Satrapi discovers that she no more belongs there than she does in her own country. How Europeans view Iranians has changed, and Satrapi becomes a victim of stereotyping.

Interestingly, Satrapi is not above passing judgments on both Iranians and Europeans. For example, she considers her mother’s friend Zozo, not a “liberated Iranian woman” living in Iran; rather, she thinks Zozo’s “power” has turned her nasty. Zozo’s daughter, Shirin, likewise, doesn’t pass Satrapi’s inspection. To Satrapi, Shirin is too materialistic and too concerned about her looks.

Zozo doesn’t like Satrapi, either, and quickly finds a way to rid herself of the burden of taking care of her. Much of Satrapi’s problem with life in Europe revolves around being isolated from a more “traditional” environment. In Iran, she was a radical, but in Europe, she’s quite conservative. She’s the same person, of course, but the switch in cultures has proven to be almost too much for her. Not surprisingly, she experiences a rather tough period of adjustment. Although she wants to be a “liberated woman,” she doesn’t want to “pee standing up,” and she is rather shocked at the sexual openness of some of the European girls she meets.

When in Iran, the idea of dancing appealed to her. Listening to Iron Maiden and Kim Wilde had value for her imagined liberalism. Living in Europe proved to be a much different experience than she could have ever imagined, however, and she starts to wonder if there is any place in the world where she might fit in. Her grandma told her to always be true to herself, but she finds it difficult to be true to herself when the context of her surroundings continues to make her feel as if being herself is unpopular at best and life-threatening at worst.

Is it possible to be true to yourself no matter what social setting or context, or does being true to yourself require assistance? How can you make sure that being true to yourself is a constructive rather than destructive process?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e.e. cummings

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Complete Iran -- Writer's Poke #371

The average American knows nothing about Iran. That’s my basic premise.

Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis is the autobiographical account of one girl’s experience growing up in Iran. The period it covers is just before the Shah’s overthrow in 1979 through Satrapi’s ultimate exodus from Iran in 1994.

What’s unique about the story is that it provides the average American reader with an “insider’s perspective.” We learn, too, that what it means to be an insider is not uniform. That is, Satrapi presents Iran as a complex nation. It has its extreme elements, and those elements may currently be in power, but Iran shouldn’t be thought of as one person with one voice. Satrapi may be an outsider in her own homeland, but she's not alone. Not even close.

In the United States, we recognize that we are a nation of different religions, different regions, different political views, etc. We may have customs and traditions that unify us in important ways, but no American would make the mistake to say “the United States is” totally this way, or totally that way. Would we? Well...

Perhaps some might say this, but hopefully what they mean to imply is, “The United States should be” this way or that way. Likewise in Iran, the power in charge may want the country to be one way, but Iran isn’t one way and never will be. Not all of its people support its leaders’ official positions, just as not all Americans support the official policies coming out of Washington, D.C.

Recently, for example, when the Iranian movie A Separation won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture, the Iranian government declared it a “victory over Zionism,” simply because the Iranian movie had beaten out an Israeli movie for the honor. Did Asghar Farhadi, the film’s director, view it that way? Of course not, and it’s not likely that most Iranian people viewed it that way, either.

What does the average American know about Iran? Not much. What can we learn about Iran? About as much as we would like. Does it matter? Absolutely.

What do you know about Iran? What should you know, and how can you learn what you need to know?

“I am sure the majority of Iranians want a peace agreement with Israel and want Iran to integrate with the international community and accept its universal values.” – Moshe Katsav

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Imagine God -- Writer's Poke #370

Is imagination everything?

Human beings love to tell stories; perhaps the stories we tell aren’t as important as what the stories say about ourselves. Why do people love Harry Potter? Why do we love science fiction? Vampires? Or why do we love good old-fashioned love stories? Why do we love The Transformers?

Human beings tell lots of stories, but almost every story ever told has one thing in common – the participants in the story are human beings. Even stories that don’t feature human characters feature human problems. Characters like Wall-E or The Iron Giant, for example, resonate because they seem somehow human. Imagined characters with real humanity.

Did human beings also imagine God? For those that believe that God is real, to say that God is a product of human imagination is probably not a welcome assertion; however, even most believers in a God or gods would have to admit after even a cursory study of mythology that human beings have been imagining gods for thousands of years. Some might suggest that all gods but the one or ones they believe in are made up, imagined. Others might suggest that all imagined gods are simply characteristics (or anti-characteristics) of the one true god.

The point is, we don’t really know who or what God is (or what gods are). All we have are stories. Even those that categorize themselves as atheists have to admit that the stories told in the various world mythologies are fascinating. If for no other reason, it must be because these stories tell us something – not necessarily about the God or gods themselves, but something about the people that imagined them in the first place, as well as something about the people that continue to believe in the stories today.

If you believe in God (or gods), what does your belief in the stories of your deity say about you? If you don’t believe, what do you find interesting about the stories told about the gods, and what does your disbelief say about you?

“If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.” – Voltaire

Monday, February 27, 2012

Making It Real -- Writer's Poke #369

What would it mean to turn myth into fact?

For Joseph Campbell, writing in 1970, one example is landing on the moon. Granted, 1970 seems like the distant past, but consider this: Eugene Cernan was the last person to ever step foot on the moon in 1972. That’s 40 years ago! Why haven’t we been back to the moon in the past 40 years?

Human/Moon direct contact last a mere three years (1969-1972), and only twelve American men ever stepped foot on its surface. Yet our relationship with the moon has been in some ways forever altered as a result. The moon is not unreachable. In theory, we could go back if we wanted to. For America, though, most people probably see the moon as, “Ho-hum. Been there, done that.”

Other nations, such as China, however, are still trying to turn the myth of the moon into fact. China has been able to send an unmanned moon orbiter crashing to its surface, but it has yet to turn the myth of the moon into fact. It’s probably only a matter of time, however, until the Chinese join the United States as members of elite lunar alum.

Space, writes Campbell, may be the best example of the “final frontier” for humanity. Are we the “fruit” of the world? Is it our destiny to go forth into the universe, knowing that its limitless vastness is ours for the taking?

How does the human extension into space provide us with further opportunities to look inward at who and what we are?

“We came all this way to the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” – Bill Anders, Apollo 8