Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World?

Confession time: I would live naked 24/7, if I could, and I suspect I am not alone in this regard. I hate clothes. They block the sunshine, the air, and most of your body from the sense of touch. They are grating, hot, and sometimes they itch, not to mention expensive and a lot of work to maintain. How much time is wasted washing, drying and folding underwear? How much water, for that matter? I believe there are many thousands, possibly millions of people, who would go without clothing if given the chance.

Cold weather and sunburn aside, clothing doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. Some people argue that it is necessary for adornment, to make us stand out, but jewelry, body paint, piercings, and tattoos can also be used to accentuate the body and express one’s individuality. If anything, a society free of body taboos allows for greater fashion possibilities. Imagine an outfit from the future, made without the restrictions imposed by shame? As for me, the unclad body is infinitely more beautiful. Evolution has been designing us for millions of years. Through a process of sexual selection, we have been deciding the qualities we find most appealing in men and women.

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Nudism allows for more fashion, not less. Here, Rihanna attends the 2014 CFDA fashion awards in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Conservatives insist clothing keeps us from engaging in wanton sex, but any nudist will tell you that an orgy has never “broken out” at a clothing-optional resort, and in fact, becoming accustomed to bare skin helps us to control unwanted urges. In Muslim countries, women are often blamed for rape, the assumption being that men cannot resist revealing attire. While sexual violence is never excusable, accusing the victim is always more prevalent in societies with stricter dress codes. Liberal minded individuals, on the other hand, contend that clothing is simply our natural state of being, that we are animals with removable layers.

Ages ago, we lost our fur (we’re actually in the process of losing it still) to shed body heat quickly, which helped our ancestors chase down prey over long stretches of land. Even today, a marathon runner can outlast a horse in a long distance race. Clothing appears to have been a byproduct of losing our fur. But the parts of the body we choose to hide is largely dependent on climate, which, in turn, impacts local culture. Compare the burqa worn by Afghan women to the nakedness customary to the Bororo people. The Sahara is dry and hot and saps needed moisture from the body. Covering the head and mouth is necessary for survival in the desert. After a time, this survival technique became culturally conditioned, and as Islam spread throughout the world, so did the practice of covering the head. Conversely, the Amazon rain forest, where the Bororo live, is humid and warm, ideal conditions for nakedness.

But our lives are no longer dictated by climate, at least to the extent it once was. Throughout the world, most people rely on some form of air conditioning, so that, even in a country not ideally suited to nudity, clothing need not be worn. In Munich, Germany, there are public parks with “urban naked zones,” even though, for much of the year, the cold makes it impractical; while in Scandinavia, getting into the sauna wearing anything but a smile is greatly frowned upon. Cap ‘d’agde, France, is perhaps the freest city on Earth, as tourists can literally go anywhere, from the bank to the grocery store, in nothing but their birthday suits. But if this were a perfect world, we would not have to travel halfway across the world to enjoy such simple pleasures. We could all choose to visit a park, the beach, or even the mall as God intended. So why don’t we live in such a world? More to the point, why does the thought of public nudity strike most people with dread?

There are numerous factors to consider, of course, like religion and the media. But in a world that has largely come to accept homosexuality, religion does not hold the sway it once did. Even the fashion industry, which profits from making women feel unattractive, is losing its influence. Beauty pageants are becoming a thing of the past, a product of a more sexist age, and far fewer women are wearing makeup than decades ago. But while athletes, actresses and singers pose nude without scandal, they are having little effect on the nakedness taboo, at least when it comes to the general public. Part of the reason is the photographer’s lens, which is a form of cover in itself. The artistry of movies and magazines, much like in the Renaissance, allows for cultural exceptions. Despite our increasingly secular and liberal society, public nudity continues to shock. It’s not simply a matter of popularity. It’s not as if skin isn’t trending. For 99% of people, stepping naked beyond your front door is like jumping from a plane without a parachute. But why?

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It’s OK to be nude in a magazine, if you look like this and you’re famous.

Sure, we have nude beaches and resorts, but those who frequent them represent a tiny minority. Where are the nude cities? The nude countries? Nudists have always been outliers, challengers to the status-quo. We argue over 2% of skin, from coin-sized nipples to square inch pubic regions, which seems silly if you think about it. There is hardly any difference between a bikini and total nakedness, yet everyday beach goers never think to cross that line. It is not as if they hold some deep seated beliefs about modesty. We all do what society expects of us, just as Muslim women rarely consider the moral implications of the hijab. The freedoms we enjoy in America, from not having to wear the swimsuits of the 1900’s, is a thing we take for granted. Proper attire has everything to do with time and place. A woman in a miniskirt might get called a whore, but a grandmother in a one piece, by virtue of being on a beach, is deemed more modest. Once, it was taboo to go to certain venues without slacks and a dress jacket, like to church or a fancy restaurant, and we are likely to be shocked if the president addresses the nation in only a tank top.

In most situations, nakedness elicits a sense of shame, and shame can be a powerful emotion, one that overrides our reason. Sometimes, it can even be destructive. Sexual predators use shame to hide their actions. It is a tool used also by racists and bigots. For how long have LGBT people lived in fear of public humiliation and ridicule? Peer pressure is another form of shaming. The desire to “fit in” can be so powerful, teenagers will ignore their better judgment to engage in destructive behaviors, like drinking, smoking, using drugs and having unprotected sex. But the question remains, why does shame have such a powerful impact? The need for acceptance is as primal as that for food and water. Again, the question is why?

Like most of human nature, the answer can be traced to evolution. If the Discovery show, Naked and Afraid XL, has taught me anything, it’s that primitive survival is hard. We are a social species, relying on one another for our basic needs. The romantic notion of Adam and Eve, living alone in the wilderness, is just that, a notion. While real-world examples of Tarzan, Mowgli and Robinson Crusoe have been recorded, they are always the exception, never the rule. Our earliest ancestors lived in communal groups, divvying tasks to each member of the group. While a small band of young men went hunting, those who stayed behind had to raise the young, stoke the fires, maintain the shelters, find and maintain clean sources of water, and gather fruits, nuts and vegetables. Every one of these jobs was essential to survival, and no one person could be expected to perform them all. Even the best, modern day survivalists depend on modern equipment, medicine, emergency paramedics, and a home to return to, if all goes bad. This is why we have such a strong need to “fit in”—because, in prehistoric times, not fitting in could very well mean a death sentence. Shame, then, is a gauge to help us determine how best to fit in, to better align ourselves with our communities. People with no sense of shame were likely to become outcasts, who did not survive to pass on their genes. Maybe this is where we get the phrase, “I’d die of embarrassment,” because, historically speaking, “dying from embarrassment” was a legitimate concern.

Today, we no longer worry about survival like we once did. If we are socially ostracized, we have the option to move to another community. Nobody is likely to “die of embarrassment” anymore. But shame continues to be a part of us, just like our spleens. This is why we can never live in a perfect, free world. Even the staunchest of nudists are prone to this gene. Free body articles (like this one) pop up almost on a daily basis, but I can count on one hand the number of bloggers willing to offer their real names, or to post nude selfies. Those of us who long for a nude world continue to hide in anonymity, never telling our coworkers, friends or families what we believe. Though we can never hope to get rid of shame entirely, we can change the things we consider shameful. Just like in the Amazon, Celtic Europe and Ancient Greece, nudism can become our tradition, so that when someone in the future goes to a beach, the only exposure they’ll have to worry about is exposure to the sun.

I once dated a girl who had never visited a nudist venue. Before meeting me, going nude in front of anything but her bathroom mirror was unthinkable. But she liked me a lot, and was willing to join me in an outing to Paradise Lakes. To make her feel at ease, I stressed that she didn’t have to go au natural if she didn’t feel like it, since the resort was clothing optional. But after an hour of lounging by the pool, she started to feel out of place. She was in a different community, where everyone was naked. I kept telling her, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it,” but eventually, out of a sense of shame, she got rid of her bathing suit.

We may not live in a perfect nude world, but the Ilmar do, or did for most of their history. In Ages of Aenya, I envision a world where clothes do not exist. When this primeval paradise is lost to climate change, Xandr and Thelana are forced to confront civilization, and the prejudice that comes from rejecting the human body. You can read about the Ilmar and their adventures by following the link below. It is the first naturist epic fantasy written by a lifelong naturist.

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NOW AVAILABLE

 

 

In Defense of George Lucas

Now I want to make a few things clear. I am not a “Lucas apologist.” I have not convinced myself to like his movies, nor have I been blinded by love for all things Star Wars, nor do I “suck at the teat of George Lucas.”

I genuinely, sincerely, and in all honesty believe the Star Wars prequel trilogy is great. Not perfect by any means, but great nonetheless. Now, I do not mean to say they’re “good” in a bad sort of way. The Phantom Menace is a far cry from Plan 9 From Outer Space. No, I think they’re imaginative, exciting, beautifully shot and endlessly intriguing. Sure, the dialogue is often stilted, but no single film excels at everything. Breaking Bad, Star Wars is not. But then again, I don’t go into Breaking Bad expecting fantastic alien landscapes and operatic wizard duels.

A FALSE NARRATIVE

For over fifteen years, there has existed this false narrative, perpetuated by YouTube critics, bloggers and forum commentators, regarding the Star Wars prequels. Hour-long videos have been made, analyzing and nitpicking these films to death. What movie could endure such scrutiny? Never mind record breaking box office and Blu-Ray sales, positive critical consensus (Revenge of the Sith is the best rated film to date at 80%), or a legion of fans who grew up with and continue to be inspired by the prequels, Episodes I—III, we are told, are “objectively bad.” To challenge this narrative is to court unending scorn and ridicule. The only word I can use to describe it is dogma—a hate that borders on religious conviction. If you object to any of the criticism, the haters tend to become angry. Even famous people have gotten into the act, like Star Trek actor Simon Pegg, who stated, “I have no respect for fans of the prequels.” All this vitriol just makes these people seem insecure. I certainly don’t waste my nights bemoaning the (awful) Transformers films, despite growing up watching the cartoon and playing with the toys.

THE STAR WARS: AN EPIC IN SIX PARTS

Lucas has long maintained that the prequels were made to complement the originals, to fit together, as one 13-hour epic. But nobody ever discusses how his cinematic magnum opus turned out, whether the sum is greater than its parts. The ridicule started with Jar Jar in 1999, soon after The Phantom Menace, and never let up. Prior to its release in 2005, people were saying they wouldn’t even bother with Revenge of the Sith. Their minds had been made up without giving it a chance. Talk about closed-minded! And yet, I often wonder whether the haters ever consider stepping back from the expectations and preconceived notions, and the firestorm of negative media attention, to look at the bigger picture? What would they say, had Lucas released all six films at the same time, in some magical theater in 1977? Could it possibly have courted such controversy? Would anyone be saying, “Return of the Jedi was great, but what was with Vader going ‘No!’? He should have been silent!” Could it be that, once it became “the cool thing” to hate on Lucas, there was no going back?

While much of the criticism is warranted, most of it borders on the absurd, if not outright dishonesty.

INCONSISTENCIES?

A good example is something I recently heard, about how Anakin never specifically tells Obi-Wan to give his lightsaber to his son, even though, in A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells Luke, “Your father wanted you to have this [his lightsaber] when you were older …” Of course, we know Obi-Wan is a habitual liar. He doesn’t tell Luke the truth about his father’s death, so why would he bother telling him, “Oh, your father dropped this after I cut off his legs and left him to burn to death. He used it to murder kids. Want it?” Aside from Leia somehow remembering her mother, who died in childbirth, there are few major inconsistencies that cannot be explained.

BORING POLITICS?

If you take the critics word for it, you’d think a good quarter of the prequel trilogy is nothing but Galactic C-SPAN. Even The Simpsons featured an episode on it. But, interest in politics aside, just how much of Episode I (the most political of the three) is devoted to filibustering? Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. THAT’S IT. That is how long the senate hearing lasts in The Phantom Menace. Out of 136 minutes of dicing robots and dodging sea monsters and exploding spaceships, less than 3 minutes involves trade agreements and treaties, 1.7% of the film’s running time. This might be 1.7% too much, IF the scene was unnecessary, but on the contrary, it is the most pivotal moment in the film, as Palpatine uses the Naboo/Trade Federation dispute, which he himself orchestrated, to seize power, which, by Episode III, leads to the execution of the Jedi and to the creation of the Empire.

THE ADVENTURES OF JAR JAR BINKS?

Given how much people trash talk the character, you’d think the trilogy could be subtitled, “The Adventures of Jar Jar Binks.” Truth is, he mainly appears in the first film, and only for a few minutes in the second. A single fart joke, while lame, lasts for less than a few seconds, and his stepping in “poodoo” happens so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink. While I can’t say the character was a good idea (he wasn’t) I did laugh at parts, especially when he is hanging off the nose of a tank, juggling grenades. And, to be fair, a lot of hard Sci-Fi fans hated C3PO in ’77 for the same reasons.

POOR SCRIPT / POOR ACTING

Horrible script writing is another matter of contention, but horrid dialogue has been a staple of the franchise since the beginning.

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Shakespeare this is not!

Notice, however, how actors with theatrical backgrounds have less of a problem with the script. Compare Alec Guiness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi to Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn. Other great performances include Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku and Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine/Sidious; and Ewan McGregor excels throughout as a young Kenobi. Blaming Lucas for throwing his actors in front of blue screen is also unfounded, for two reasons:  1) Much of the prequels were shot on sets and on location, from Tunisia to Italy.  2) Stage actors are accustomed to blank sets and to using their imaginations. It’s a tradition going back to Ancient Greece.

NOTHING BUT CGI?

Perhaps the most demonstrably false claims about the prequels regards the overuse of CGI. Ignoring the fact that CGI was in its infancy in 1999, and that nowadays, every film from Avengers to The Hobbit depends on it, the prequel trilogy is often compared to a video game demo reel. There’s even this popular meme,

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But this is an outright lie. More models, sets and costumes were built for the prequels than for the first films, and here is the proof:

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A model of Tattooine used in “Attack of the Clones”

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A model of Geonosis used in “Attack of the Clones”

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Models were used even for vehicles!

HATE FOR THE ART, HATE FOR THE ARTIST

What really bothers me is how the director himself has taken the brunt of the hatred. Lucas has been called everything from incompetent, lazy, greedy and arrogant to outright racist. This is coming from people who hardly know anything about his personal life. But how does someone so incompetent and lazy build, from the ground up, the biggest FX company in the world? How does someone so greedy donate most of the 4 billion he earned selling to Disney? How does someone so arrogant appear so humble in his interviews? How does someone so racist have a best friend, Stephen Spielberg, who is Jewish, and make a black man the most powerful Jedi next to Yoda, or produce a film in honor of black aviators, or marry a black woman? But no, the haters hate him and his films, and if you disagree, they’ll attack you too, and with the same fervor.

Now you might be saying to yourself, Nick, why do you care? Well, I’ll tell you. I care because there are few things I hate more than a lynch mob. I’ve been there. I know how it feels. And it doesn’t matter one bit whether he is rich and famous. He is still a human being, just like you and me, and he has feelings. Don’t like his movies? Fine. But he doesn’t deserve personal attacks. Besides that, I really do love the guy. George Lucas helped define my childhood. In my elementary school, we often pretended to be Luke or Han during recess, and many of my earliest stories involved the Death Star. All the cartoons I grew up with, from He-Man to GI*Joe, were influenced by Star Wars in some way.

I am 41 years old, but there are days that I feel much older. Today, I went to the park with my kids and we played Jedi, waving our styrofoam lightsabers and jumping from rocks and tree stumps to avoid the lava on Mustafar. And for a brief shining moment, I was 12 again, and I owe it all to George. How can I not defend him?

As part of my ongoing podcast series, I discuss the value of art, the hypocrisy of the prequel haters, and the flaws in A New Hope,

Bob strikes back at “Attack of the Clones” naysayers*

Bob Clark’s excellent, albeit lengthy article is best summed up by his final paragraph, “Simply put, after all these years, the conversation surrounding them hasn’t ended, and isn’t likely to cease any time soon, as passionate supporters seek to defend it, even in the face of overwhelming objecting opinions. The fact that so many people are still talking about these films, even to decry their motives and attack their substance, stands as proof positive enough that they succeeded in making a permanent mark with audiences, providing a series of expert escapist adventure every bit as disturbing and thought-provoking as they are entertaining– love it or hate it, the movie remains a frequent talking point, and that makes it a modern classic.” I have made similar arguments in my own reviews. The Star Wars prequels remain true works of art; the proof is in the way they are continually discussed and debated. Poor films are forgotten. Lucas’ magnum opus has never been, and will likely never be.

Wonders in the Dark

Star Wars—Episode II: Attack of the Clones

***1/2

By Bob Clark

Prologue: Guilty Pleasures

In Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the respected surgeon Tomas finds himself unable to find work after returning to Soviet-occupied Prague, thanks to his refusal to recant an article he’d written prior to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The matter of his article makes for one of the most persuasive readings of Greek mythology—a political interpretation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. According to Tomas, the Communists of his country who claimed to be unaware of the Soviet Union’s atrocities were just as guilty as Oedipus, the Theban king who brought plagues upon his kingdom by unwittingly marrying his mother. “As a result of your ‘not knowing,’ this country has lost its freedom…” writes Kundera. “And you shout that you feel no guilt? How can you stand the sight of what you’ve…

View original post 9,260 more words

Attack of the Clones v. Return of the Jedi

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The lightsaber of Master Enim-Saj

After watching Attack of the Clones with my 11 year old daughter, she sent me this drawing of her lightsaber. I remember doing the same thing after seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, rushing home to draw monsters and spaceships. This is all the proof I need that Lucas hasn’t failed, at least when it comes to inspiring a generation of kids.

After a while, all of the anti-prequel memes and videos start to sink in, and I sometimes think, “Hey, maybe these movies really do suck.” But whenever I actually sit down to watch them, I am pleasantly surprised. Despite a barrage of criticism, I have long maintained that Episodes I—III are great movies, and that much of the hate directed at them has to do with growing up and becoming jaded. Conversely, adoration for the originals has much to do with nostalgia. Older fans tend to dismiss the newer films, while younger viewers are typically more appreciative. This dichotomy between young and old has led to much debate. It’s difficult to accept that something you once loved can also be deeply flawed. “It can’t be me!” the haters think, “it must be George!” They insist Lucas has lost his way, that his success was a fluke, attributed to everything else but him. But the facts simply do not bear this out.

You won’t see people attacking Uwe Boll with the same vitriol, despite his highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes scoring a 25%, with his lowest at 1%. Compare these figures to Lucas’ THX1138, at 88%, or his lowest rated film, The Phantom Menace, at 57% (3% shy of certified fresh). Box office receipts further attest to Lucas’ success as a filmmaker, with The Phantom Menace holding the #6 spot with 474 million, to the original Star Wars at #7 with 460 million. Still, critics insist Lucas is incompetent. It’s a character assassination that has driven the auteur into early retirement, even after saying that he wanted to make “smaller, more personal films.” But you’ll rarely see this kind of hatred for failed directors like Uwe Boll or the Wachowski Brothers/Siblings, or even for M. Night Shyamalan; and it has everything to do with nostalgia, growing up, and unmet expectations.

To test my theory further, and to prepare for The Force Awakens, I sat down with my kids for a week long movie marathon. This was the first they’ve been exposed to Star Wars, and the results were not surprising. Never did my older daughter say to me, “Daddy, why did the movies suddenly get better?” after Episode IV. Of the six films, Attack of the Clones happens to be her favorite, followed by VI, but “they are all pretty close.” My 5 year old, on the other hand, is running around the house knocking things over with her plastic lightsaber.

The prequels are rife with flaws, without question, but what Lucas does well—the action, the special effects, the mythological/philosophical/political motifs—more than make up for it. Besides, a lot of the same flaws get excused when it comes to the originals. And so, after carefully re-watching the saga, I thought it’d be interesting to compare, what I feel, is the worst of the prequels to the worst of the originals.

I should warn you, however, I am very new to podcasting, and would love to have the power to edit this thing. But I can’t, so please forgive the three-hundred or so times I utter the words, “you know.”


If you’d prefer not to listen to my voice (can’t really blame you) here is a list of the flaws I have found in both films:

ATTACK OF THE CLONES

  1. When the Naboo cruiser is blown up after landing on Coruscant, Corde tells Padme, “I’ve failed you senator.” Well, not really. The purpose of a decoy is to die in place of the person being protected. Oddly, Captain Typho seems to understand this, when he says, “She did her job.”
  2. Yoda tells Padme, “Seeing you alive brings warm feelings to my heart.” She doesn’t acknowledge him in any way.
  3. Obi-Wan gets into an argument with Anakin on whether it is in their mandate to find Padme’s assassin. Kenobi insists that their duties do not extend beyond protection. Later, when Kenobi sees the assassin droid outside her bedroom, he jumps through the window to catch it. But it would have made a lot more sense for Anakin to do so, being the impetuous one, and the one determined to find her killer.
  4. Zam Wessell shoots the droid carrying Kenobi instead of, you know, shooting him.
  5. Jango Fett uses a “Kamino saber dart” to kill Zam, when he could have used a blaster, leaving a trail for Kenobi to follow (although, it could be argued that Palpatine intended that he find the cloning facility on Kamino).
  6. A lot of the romantic dialogue is just painful to watch.
  7. After Anakin admits to murdering children (albeit, children of an “evil” species) Padme seems not to care.
  8. The most inexplicable mistake, and the one I simply cannot defend: the Jedi never make the connection between Jango Fett, the clones, and Count Dooku. Knowing Fett was hired by Dooku, and that he was also the template for the clones, they should have at least been suspicious of the Republic Army. This could have been fixed with a scene of the Jedi discussing their mistrust of the clones, which might have helped them escape Order 66.

RETURN OF THE JEDI

  1. The plan to save Han is ridiculously convoluted. First, C3PO and R2D2 show up as gifts for Jabba (just to get them into the movie, I guess). Then Leia arrives in disguise with Chewbacca (again, to get him into the movie), only to get captured. Lando is somewhere in the background, pretending to be someone else. Finally, Luke makes an appearance, only he doesn’t have his lightsaber. What was the original plan exactly?
  2. Jabba is a fat, naked alien slug with a penchant for “scantily clad human females,” apparently. This makes no sense. It would be like a horse getting turned on by a spider. Even if the point is to “degrade” her, how does Jabba know what is degrading to a human? And where does he even find a slave costume? Do they have racks of sexy outfits in the back somewhere? Slave Leia was, obviously, an attempt to appeal to adolescent boys.
  3. Luke falls into the rancor pit, using a perfectly sized bone to escape the rancor’s mouth. If the bone had been an inch or two bigger or smaller, he would have been lunch. And why again doesn’t he have his lightsaber?
  4. Finally, R2D2 shoots Luke’s lightsaber into the air, so he can catch it at the perfect moment, after he somersaults off a diving board. How could he have known any of that was going to happen? It all seems so contrived.
  5. Boba Fett, the most popular bad guy aside from Darth Vader, the “best bounty hunter in the galaxy,” dies in the most idiotic way imaginable, as Han accidentally hits his jet-back, sending him flying against Jabba’s pleasure barge and into the sarlaac pit. This always seemed, to me, like a lazy way for Lucas to “wrap things up.”
  6. Leia strangles Jabba to death with a chain. His neck is about three feet wide. It would be like trying to strangle an elephant.
  7. The entire movie seems like two separate films spliced together. Part #1 is all about saving Han. Part #2 is about destroying the *new and improved* Death Star. But the two halves do not seem to relate to one another.
  8. Yoda dies, telling Luke he has completed his training. What? I thought it took years to become a Jedi. Apparently, Luke just needed a few days of acrobatics classes on Dagobah.
  9. The Ewoks manage to defeat “an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops” using nothing but rocks, sticks, and bows that shoot sticks! Storm Troopers in battle helmets are knocked cold by teddy bears dropping things from hang gliders. Also, how lucky did the Ewoks have to be, to position those log traps for the AT-STs?
  10. Luke asks Leia, “Do you remember your real mother?” She says she does, but how does Luke know to ask this? Couldn’t she have been raised on Alderaan by Padme? And what the heck happened to her real mother anyway? None of this is explained or alluded to in any of the original films, proving the Luke/Leia/Vader relationship was a late invention and poorly thought out.
  11. The Emperor continuously goads and harasses Luke, stating that if Luke gives in to his anger and strikes him down, he will become like his father and turn to the Dark Side. Why? If I am in a room with Hitler, and I kill him, does that make me Hitler?
  12. Yoda tells Luke the Emperor must not be underestimated. And Vader tells him, “Together we can destroy the Emperor.” Palpatine is built up to be this ultimate evil power. But by the end of the movie, he proves to be just a feeble old man, powerless to do anything as Vader picks him up and throws him down a shaft.

I Love The Phantom Menace

Here is my defense of one of my favorite, oft hated movies, “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” updated 11/05/2015

the Writer's Disease


I love The Phantom Menace. There. My secret’s out.

Saying that feels like saying I love Al-Qaeda. On the Internet, you might think hate for George Lucas has surpassed hatred for Osama Bin-Laden, particularly after his recent decision to yet again alter the Star Wars Saga for the upcoming Blu-Ray release. The controversy between what some call Lucas “apologists” and Star Wars “purists” brings to mind Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu, Scientist and Creationist. The same deep seated convictions stir the hearts and minds of both groups of fans. Never mind the global economic crisis, the revolutions taking place throughout the Islamic world or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is STAR WARS! That anyone should care so deeply about a movie is unquestionably absurd, but I find myself inexplicably drawn to this controversy. I can’t help but feel angry by this hatred for a filmmaker who has given so much to my generation. Imagine someone gives…

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Ages of Aenya: Book 2 Chapter 1, “Thelana Leaves Home”

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‘Thelana Leaves Home’ artwork by Nicholas Swenson. Please note: This art is meant to be INNOCENT. If you see it otherwise, the problem is with YOU, not with the image.


 

Blooms of orange and purple brushed at her thighs and touched the horizon. It was the time of low moon, the season of color, and Ilmarinen was pregnant with ilms. But Thelana did not bother to guard herself from their thorns, or pause to wonder at their beauty. On she pressed, against the Mother Goddess’ breath—the wind—blinking the swirling petals from her eyes.

Pride straightened her spine and eagerness added to her steps. A rabbit lay long and limply, its neck broken, its blood mottled fur tickling her shoulder. Over the hilltop, she spotted Old Man, the ancient evergreen oak marking her house.

At her rear, the tributaries of the Potamis cascaded like a woman’s hair, and the land swelled and dipped like hips and bosom. She fondly remembered her grandmother, how she would regale them at the ritual of Solstice, with tales of the Goddess, how Alashiya had lain herself across the barren world to become Ilmarinen. But having reached the age of bleeding, Thelana knew to separate fact from folktales. Trekking homeward, the illusion of the Goddess-shaped landscape gave way to formless hills and valleys, no more substantial than myth.

Somewhere in the dense fauna her younger siblings were busy at being children, Heimdl and Lodr and Baldr; Anja, Brittania and Nicola; dodging chores for games of tag and hide and seek, running and climbing, tumbling and collecting bugs. Vaino and Laine, who were older, hammered posts to fence in the hens, complaining of life’s facts now that innocence had gone from them, while Aliaa and Amina were turning their feet purple in baskets of mashed blackberries. They would be delighted to know of the meat, even if the rabbit provided only a sliver to each. And for a moment, against her heart’s desire, Thelana’s mind turned to her eldest sibling. Borz loved the taste of rabbit. He would have greeted her with a broad grin, tousling her hair. Oh Borz . . . a sigh came up from her throat, bringing lumps of pain. Where are you this moment?

Within the root folds of Old Man oak, the house rose up like a fallen seedling. Over the years, Baba and his sons set every stone and beam—now mired in moss—though Old Man’s wood, ingrained in the solitary post and lintel, was from an older generation. Built into the side of the house was a silent water wheel, fed by the stony brook which branched from the Potamis. When the climate edged toward cooler winds, bougainvillea speckled the house in icy pinks as though flicked from a paintbrush.

Where she stood the ancient tree cast sharp shadows, and the house felt strangely forlorn, an odd thing for a dwelling of fourteen. Memories beckoned at the gates of her consciousness, but they frightened her, and she pressed on. Remembering her mother’s oft repeated reproach, she scraped the dirt and blades of grass sticking to her soles and pushed against the door. It creaked as its hinges came apart, a noise usually lost amid the bustle of work and play. Nicola was at Mother’s side, a silhouette of braid and buttocks and jutting spine. She was weeping because a spur was in her toe. Thelana was angered by her sister’s weakness, how did she expect to survive like that? Hesitantly, Nicola pulled away from Mother’s hair, which was thick with gold braids and flowers and was sometimes all encompassing and could heal bruises of the heart. Mother hushed her younger daughter with a kiss and shooed her from the house, and as the girl moved away Thelana noticed Baba. They were seated beside one another, Mother and Baba, neither working, which was odd, for it was midday, and at once Thelana feared them ill.

Whenever Baba was unsettled, he would ring his great big hands, as if feelings could be scrubbed off like dirt. When Borz went away, he shed no tears, but there had been much hand scrubbing.

Now his hands were tightly intertwined.

Thelana slid her bow and quiver against the door, as if slowing her movements could hinder the passage of time. The rabbit carcass, which had carried her home with such swiftness, lay forgotten.

“Baba . . .?” she whispered, “Wh-What is it? Has something happened?”

“No, Thelana,” he said. “No.” Mother sat quietly, dressed in strands of gold hair and petals, with moons and stars of henna about her nipples. Even after twelve children, she was still strong, still beautiful. When Thelana thought of the Mother Goddess, no other came to mind but her own mother. But now, beneath that face of stoic beauty, Thelana saw weakness, and the building tide of emotion.

“I brought you a rabbit,” said Thelana, but the words did not sound right—she’d stressed the wrong syllables at the wrong moment.

“We can see, Thelana,” said her father, clearing his throat. “Sit down. You must be tired.”

Sit down? You must be tired? He doesn’t say things like that! “No, I can stand. I’m strong, Baba.”

“Of course,” he said, “We know you are.” He attempted a smile but failed.

“Is this about Borz?” she asked.

He glanced suddenly to Mother, taking up her hand. She looked strangely detached. Her eyes met his, focusing on him only after a time, but she could not give the consolation he sought. “Not about Borz,” he said, but it was a half-truth and Thelana knew it.

“You’re going to sell me?” Thelana heard herself say.

“No,” Mother exclaimed, a bit too loudly, “it’s not like that. We made a mistake with your brother.”

“You are different,” her father said, the words flowing more easily and deliberately, “you are special, like the spirit of the wind. No one place should keep you.”

“Like the spirit of the wind?” Thelana echoed. “What does that even mean—?”

“You can no longer stay with us,” she heard him say.

This was supposed to be a special day. Mana and Baba were to shower me with praise; we would spend the day skinning my catch, boiling water to cook the meat. It was not supposed to be like this. “Baba?” she implored, “Mana?” Thelana searched her mother’s eyes. They were hazel, sometimes gold. “You’re sending me away?”

Father took her up by the shoulders. How many times had he embraced her so? How many times had he lifted her onto his back or tossed her into the air? “Try to understand . . . You are not meant to be here—your abilities, what you can do—the gods have shown us you were meant for greater things. You must go out into the world and do great things.”

Thelana was unable to think, unable to digest the words and come to rational thought. She was there with Baba, and then Mother began to sob.

“If this is about food,” she started—food was a thing she could understand at least—“I can hunt more, eat less. I can, I can . . .” she stammered, just as Baba wrestled to quiet her with spurts of No and No.

“No,” he whispered at last with a sudden hard edge, his face grown still, impassive. “I have made my decision. It’ll do no good to beg. Now be strong, my child. Just as Ilmarinen becomes harsh where the world encroaches—so you must be strong to survive, and shed no tears, nor think on us any longer. Do you understand?”

I can be strong, Baba. I’ll show you. “When do I leave?”

“Now,” he answered her.

“No!” a voice rang out. It was Mother become hysterical. “How can you be so callous? Let her stay a little while—”

Baba scolded her with a glance. “Bryseis,” he said, “we’ve been through this. We’ve kept this from her for a reason. If the children were to know, it’d make difficulties.”

“Wait.” Thelana interrupted him, visibly quivering. “I can’t say goodbye?”

There was no answer, though she heard her father’s voice. “Bryseis, get her things.”

“But how will she live?” her mother argued. “You said it yourself, the world beyond is cruel . . . and she’s only a child!”

“Silence yourself, woman!” he cried. “The girl’s as strong as she’ll ever be. Nothing will happen to her.”

“Don’t you dare say that!” she contested, throwing her arms up, half in frustration, half in prayer. “You’ll give her the bad eye talking like that! You’ll bring the gods’ envy down upon her. Go knock on wood.”

He rolled his eyes, and then thinking better on it, found the lintel of the door to rap his knuckles against it. “There, I’ve done it. Now will you go get her things?”

Mother stood mechanically, gathering items into a blanket: a gourd with a cork stopper, an assortment of breads and berries, flint stones for lighting fires, a small paring knife. Her fingers shook so violently that even her skilled hands fumbled to knot the four corners. Thelana was quick at her side, adding her fingers to the task.

“Now you remember to keep yourself clean,” her mother said as though reciting a verse from the songs. “. . . and making a fire, you know how to do that . . .?”

“Of course, Mana.”

“I think that’s everything you’ll need. I pray the gods I not forget anything. I even made extra pasteli; it’s still your favorite, isn’t it—?”

Thelana nodded. Her earliest memories were of eating the chewy mix of sesame seeds and honey. She remembered how her mother used it to soothe her childhood sorrows. Now she was being sent out, like a grown woman, but was she so different from that child?

“Good,” said Bryseis. “Remember to eat it slowly because it won’t spoil.” She continued to ramble nervously with advice as her fingers twitched, though the supplies were all packed for the journey. After fastening the bindle to her bow, her mother left the room to return with a long piece of fabric, yellow with patches of brown.

“What is that for, Mana?”

“Something I nearly forgot . . . and I spent weeks at it! Well, it’s the best I could do.”

“It’s a . . . a goat,” said Thelana, her stomach turning sour. Goats were saved for milk, never for slaughter. Hides stored foodstuffs or were used to make tents. By the pattern of the hide, she recognized the young kid. It had been no taller than her kneecaps. She remembered its gentle nature, the way its tongue tickled the straw from her fingers. Now its dead skin was being prepared to cover hers.

Her mother worked up a false smile, stretching and turning the fabric this way and that. “You remember the soldiers who sought shelter from us? How they were covered?” Spread to its full length, the goatskin tunic dwarfed Thelana’s slim frame. With a small knife, Mother cut and rearranged it, imagining how it might go.

“I don’t need that,” said Thelana. “I shall stay as I am, an Ilmarin, no matter where I go.”

“That may be,” her father answered, “but Alashiya, who protects us, is weak where other gods are strong. In the West, men burn under the sun of Solos, and in the East, cold winds blow from the trumpet of Strom. In other parts of the world, you will learn, clothing protects man from these cruelties.”

Baba came nearer, embracing her, “But even where the gods are kind, you must be wary of men, for men can be worse than any gods. In the lands far from home, men do not thrive as part of Aenya, but apart from it, seeking to possess every little thing. It is the lust for possession that drives men of the outside, causing every evil and misery. If a man should lay eyes upon your beauty, it will drive him to madness, and he will seek to possess you. From this you must hide yourself, your body.”

“I don’t understand,” said Thelana. “How can my body drive a man to madness?”

“Trust in our wisdom!” her father said forcefully, “we learned much of the world when the soldiers came. Do you remember how they looked at us, at you? If you reveal yourself, at the very least, they will shun you. Hidden by clothing, they will not know you are Ilmar.”

Bryseis pressed her daughter to her bosom, just as Thelana appeared to founder with realization. “You will always be Ilmarin within your heart,” she added, “and no one can take that from you.”

“Never,” Thelana murmured. “I’d never forget you.” As her mother worked the tunic over her head and past her knees, she became terribly conscious of it. But it was a small discomfort amid the pain and uncertainty churning inside of her.

“Where will I go, Baba? What will I do?”

“Follow the river,” he said. “Continue until the hills of Ukko become faint, and the ilms nowhere grow. Do you still remember the speech the foreigners taught you?”

Captain Aola. She was the only one kind to me, teaching me the bow, the language of Kratos. Thelana nodded slowly.

“Seek them out, anyone who speaks the same language. Show them what you can do. A skilled bowman has great value in the outside. But do not show fear, or be overly trustful, or let them cow you into service. Promise me never to suffer your brother’s fate. And promise one more thing: do not permit yourself to starve. Do what needs be. Understand?”

With a will not her own, Thelana pushed apart the hinges of the door. Clothing, her quiver and bow, and a sack sat heavily upon her. The rabbit lay forgotten in a heap of fur and blood. As the door shut behind her, she slumped onto the porch with great sobs. Faces fluttered in her mind and her heart drained into her stomach. “Why can’t I say goodbye!” she cried, feeling suddenly young and frightened. Her shoulder fell against the door and it gave with a groan, but her father stood on the opposite side.

Thelana slapped at the door as her father wrestled to shut her out and keep Bryseis away, who sobbed and pleaded for her daughter. “Don’t make this harder on your mother!” he shouted. But there was no cruelty in his voice.

“Go!”

Time lapsed strangely for the three of them, and when exhaustion set on both sides, their hearts toughened and became proud again.

Baba? Thelana was powerless in his arms.

“I cannot send you away.” He sounded broken, defeated.

“No,” she said softly. “I must go. I’ll come back. I’ll find gold and jewels, like the men of Kratos had, and there will be food for us always.”

“That’s my brave girl,” he said, wavering between pride and despair, “that’s my Thelana.”

Her mother remained in the house as her father escorted her to the edge of the porch. At the foot of the steps an ilm grew from between the floorboards. How many times had her mother made ilm tea for a broken bone, for Vaino or Laine, or even that one time when Lodr attempted to chase Thelana up Old Man’s branches? The memory made Thelana smile, and at once sad, knowing she would never again laugh with her brothers.

“Even here,” her father began, thumbing the orange petals, “they grow rarer.” With a twist he broke the flower from its stem. The orange blossom filled her cupped hands. “Remember: we are children of the flower. As long as you keep it close to your heart, this land will never be far behind.”

She nodded as the delicate petals trembled against her belongings.

With bow-bindle firm in hand and heart lighter than before, Thelana set out across the valley, numb to all but the path ahead. This time she paused at the top of the hill overlooking Old Man oak and the place she once knew of as home, taking care to fill her breath with the intoxicating scent of ilms. Wind rushed through her tunic, knocking orange buds against her thighs. Dying petals swirled around her like fingers holding her back. But it was just the wind escaping to freedom as wind is wont to do.

Her bare feet sank into the rich soil, down hills and up again, coming finally to where the dirt met hard against her soles and the earth became strewn with gravel. The sounds of the Potamis trickled in her ear, but she did not cross it before her sister came up. Britannia was a sliver of muscle and bone, thin enough to hide behind a birch, which she made a game of, surprising her siblings by appearing from trees and disappearing again. Unlike Anja, who was prissy and proper, Britannia never bothered to comb the twigs from her hair or wash the earthy muck from her body, nor did she mind her soles turning to leather against the river rocks. Britannia was a mirror of her sister, only two years younger, too young to show any hair on her body but for the chestnut locks that fell over her cheeks and nipples. Now she stood, an accidental flower pattern of mud caked across her, a snog twitching fitfully in her hand.

“What is that?” Britannia asked, eyeing her sister’s new garment with fascination.

Thelana worked up a smile. “Something Mana gave me. I think it’s called . . . a toonik.”

Britannia combed a strand of hair from behind her ear, her face puzzled. “Is it some kind of game?”

“No,” Thelana replied, wishing it was. “The outsiders used it to hide their bodies, remember? But I can’t really think of any use for it.”

“It looks scratchy.”

Thelana’s cheeks reddened with a strange new emotion as, for the first time in her life, she avoided her sister’s searching stare. Fibers were scraping against her pores, were sticking to her in the sweat of the building heat, were stifling her breathing. Without thought, she tugged at the garment and the sun washed across her shoulders once more. The rush of air was like jumping into a spring on a sultry day.­ Thelana could not bring herself to understand the ways of outsiders and did not care to. After all, she was who she was, body and all. Shame was as incomprehensible to her as a fear of heights in a sparrow.

Despite her discomfort, Thelana did not wish to disobey her parents so soon after leaving home. Reluctantly, she pulled the sheet around her shoulders again, shutting herself from the touch of the world, and searched her sister’s expression.

“Well, you won’t catch me in that,” Britannia said, rolling off her heels.

Among her sisters and brothers, Thelana would miss Britannia most. Other than Borz, she was her closest friend, the only one of her kin daring enough to venture this far from home.

“I have to go.”

Britannia took her by the hand. It felt warm and full of youth. “Come quick. I have to show you something.”

Steep and unforgiving earth slashed at their heels and made a staff of Thelana’s bow. Memories of past and future floated like petals blooming and decaying. They arrived at a precipice over a broad horizon, but the land beneath was peculiarly absent, only clouds rolling beneath their bare feet.

“Wait. There is no such place as this,” Thelana murmured to herself. “This isn’t what I remember . . . Where are we?”

“Nimbos, I think,” Britannia answered.

“Why are we here?” she said, shivering against the cold.

“I’m not here,” Britannia said. “Just you. You were brought by the bird people, remember?”

Gradually, Thelana pulled apart her eyelids, and all the warmth went from her. She was without any clothing, curled cat-like into herself, the wind lashing her with icy tendrils. When, at last, the blood ran through her again, she gazed about in wonderment. There was only continuous sky and great swirling shapes vast as mountains, pink and violet clouds gilded with sunlight.

 

Want more chapters? Go to Ages of Aenya. Or get the book now for Thelana’s complete story!

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