Like an Egyptian

So I was standing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, crying over a red clay pot.

It was a lovely pot, though not as lovely as the one without the dent.  Both were pale red Nile clay in that beautiful vase shape, wide round shoulders tapering symmetrically to a flat bottom.

In the exhibition, called “The Dawn of Egyptian Art,” there were quite a few vessels of a variety of shapes and purpose. Some, like these two pots, were thickly decorated with drawings in a pigment the color of brick dust, while others had designs scratched into the clay or picked out in charcoal or white.  The designs were varied.  Stylized humans: stick men with spears; and women with heart-shaped torsos and bell-shaped skirts, their arms raised heavenward like Evita Peron on her balcony.  Boats were represented by a shape like a centipede, a curved line bristling with oars. There were hippos and fishes and crocodiles, some kind of antelope, long-legged birds and a recognizable dog. And ears and ears of wheat.

Then there were the carvings.  A large spotted-basalt frog, ready to jump.  Palettes carved with hunting and battle scenes in delicate bas relief.  The ivory figure about the size of my thumb, so old and dry that it looked like splintered wood, was a mother with her child hanging on her back, her cloak covering his body. Her face had been worn away, but his little nose was still clearly poking over her shoulder. I thought he was looking back at me.

Someone made these things. You don’t always think about this when looking at artifacts in a museum. Things that survive the ages are often so perfect that you forget about the hands that made them.  But I thought about it now.

People made these.  With what tools? According to the case, some of these pieces were circa 3800-3400 BC. Knives of soft metal and hard stone? Reed brushes, or animal hair tied to twigs? Imagine. It must have taken hours and hours of laboring, and in stolen daylight time because you can’t do this kind of work by firelight.

Someone did this fine carving and that meticulous painting.  Why? Sure they needed the pots, but did they need them painted with stories? Not really.  But someone—a god by way of a priest, a noble looking to show rank, a lover trying to express a sense of precious elevation—someone thought beauty was important enough to cause someone else to not only want to create this art but to have or find the time to do it and to learn to do it.  They saw a value in art, at a time when providing food and shelter took most waking hours.

I looked at the pot with the dent.  A dent as if the heel of someone’s hand had slipped before the pot had been put to harden in the fire.  On the other side of the glass case, the heel of my own hand angled in sympathy and I could touch that first hand, nearly 6000 years away from mine.  How do you not cry?

Taking Responsibility

I spent a few years working on a story—first as a screenplay, then as a novel (coming soon to an online outlet near you)—about a kind of Messiah who manifests as piece of female anatomy. Primary among Mam’s messages to humankind is something that we’ve lost sight of in America over the last half century or so: the need to take responsibility for our actions. It’s the crucial first step in making the world a better place for everyone.

When crafting Mam’s speeches, my thinking was that the important messages (like this) are so simple that they’re routinely ignored, but that maybe if they came from an extraordinary source people would pay attention.  All the hours I put in to tell that story, and it turns out Samuel L. Jackson (a different kind of extraordinary source) has said it more powerfully in a few brief seconds.

In the wake of the horrible shooting of Trayvon Martin, Jackson’s wakeup call becomes ever more urgent. Please watch!




He was angry. He was pissed off at the world.  He was so angry, he was almost a parody of anger.  A good looking guy, broad shouldered and buff, the face under his black do-rag a felicitous conjunction of features.  Like the many men who seem to feel degraded by having to use mass transportation (if they’re not driving themselves, clearly they rate a limo), he was sitting wide.  You know what I mean by sitting wide.  He’d staked out nearly 2 of a 3-person bench by pressing his shoulders against the back and spreading his denim knees a good 18″ apart.  His forearms were crossed aggressively over his chest, his fists tucked into his armpits as if to contain them.

I peered into the car for a sign (since one was conspicuously absent from the exterior) as to whether this was an M or an R train and saw all this at a glance.  He was sitting directly across from the open door and as I looked through, he stared into my face with a fierce burn that might have been a manifestation of existential anger or perhaps a token of anonymous loathing of dumpy middle-aged women with whom he is forced to share his train and his planet.

People like me are of no value to wannabe gods like him.  We’re powerless to lift him into his entitled firmament.  We obviously have no wealth or, like him, we wouldn’t be on the subway.  Also we presumably have no contacts in music, sports or reality tv, as these are young, sexy industries.  And we’re definitely not hot, so there’s clearly no purpose to our existence.

I let him glare at me.  And I glared right back.  I mean, really, did you not read what I just wrote?  He‘s disaffected?!  His handful of adult years of magical thinking haven’t paid off?  Boo-hoo cry me a river, as we used to say.  Let him hammer away at life for a few decades and sweat to make his American Dream come true and only after all that find out he was a victim of the biggest emotional ponzi scheme since the invention of Heaven.

Disaffected youth my ass.  I’ll give you disaffected!  Me and the rest of the middle-aged middle-class marks who played by the rules, that’s who’s disaffected.  My posse’s bigger than yours, Sunshine, and we’re reaching the point where we have even less to lose.

Here’s glaring at you, kiddo!