Victoria Jelinek


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

indexThe concept of Frankenstein has invaded popular culture to the extent that even those that have never read the book have a vague sense of what it’s about – “a mad scientist who creates a monster!” This is essentially true, and given the multitudes of adaptations to film and TV, I, too, previously defined it thus. But it’s so much more. Frankenstein is about love, loss, identity, anger, betrayal, beauty, and ugliness. It is also very sad. There was a point when I thought I couldn’t continue reading it, but because it’s so beautifully written and so subtle in its complexity, I continued.

The novel begins with explorer Robert Walton searching for a new passage from Russia to the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic Ocean. After some time at sea, with their boat stuck in ice, the crew and Walton find Victor Frankenstein floating on an ice flow very near to death, and bring him aboard. Walton re tells the tragic story of Victor Frankenstein through a series of letters to his sister in England. Victor was a precocious child who grew up on the shores of Geneva in a wealthy and loving family. He leaves home for university, where he studies physical science and greatly impresses his fellow students and professors by his genius. Spurred on by ambition, Victor uses a combination of chemistry, alchemy, and electricity to create and re animate a dead body. Once the creature comes to life, Victor is overcome by guilt and runs away in fear and disgust. The monster wanders the countryside, repudiated and despised by all who see him. He eventually teaches himself to read and to understand language. One day, he discovers a notebook and letters that were lost by Victor. From these notes, the monster learns of his creation and decides to take revenge on his creator as a salve for the injury and sorrow that he has endured in isolation. His vengeance is horrible. Yet through a conversation with Victor in which the monster relates how his life has been and in which he appeals to him to make him a mate (which Victor refuses), one almost forgives the sorrow that he causes.

As the daughter of philosophers and advocates for women’s rights, Mary Shelley would have been exposed to sociological discussion throughout her life. When she wrote Frankenstein, the French Revolution had just ended and Europe was afraid that its ideas of liberty and equality might spread. Industrialization was just beginning, which would bring an end to the landed class and see a rise of the middle class. Alchemy and superstition had been discredited in favor of hard sciences. Shelley manifests these cultural events through the themes and motifs of Frankenstein: she is concerned with the invasion of technology into modern life; how knowledge and science is used for good or for evil purposes; the overwhelming power of nature, as well as its curative power; and the treatment of the poor or uneducated. At its heart, Shelley asks the reader to consider how we can control the knowledge we have so that it’s for the benefit of all of mankind. How far should advances in science and technology push the individual in terms of personal and spiritual growth? When does man become a slave to his machines? What constitutes a “good” life? Who is responsible for the most vulnerable in society? Provocative questions about the human condition posed almost 200 years ago that remain relevant today.

 



Covid-19–March 12, 2020

Light-07My morning started with an ex colleague of mine at an international school in Geneva sending me a very long article that was ‘end of days’ in theme, with graphs and statistics, about how Covid-19 was going to kill us all unless governments shut societies down and put people over money. She and I got ‘into it’ ’cause I didn’t take it that seriously. I sent her an article from a prominent sociologist discussing the phenomena of social hysteria historically up to today (it’s compelling!), and she flatly told me I was negligent and irresponsible.

Driving up to work that day, the roads were eerily quiet. It was like a Danny Boyle film. But, work was wonderful: my colleagues were calm and informed, the day was sunny, the school did not want to close due to social pressure, life was good. Again, however, driving back to France, I had a foreboding and stopped by the grocery store and bought ingredients for two meals (and wine!), put some money in my bank account, got some cigarettes. President Macron was set to give an address on Covid-19 that evening. I suspected that he would suspend all educational institutions in France. The Italian experience was becoming alarming.

It was a superb speech, as usual. And it was also the beginning of my realization that this was a serious situation. He did, in fact, close all nurseries, schools and universities “indefinitely.” He urged people not to use the virus as an excuse to distrust or hate “other,” because viruses “do not have a passport or a nationality.” It stunned me (and my husband gave me due credit for predicting this next step, even as I wish that I hadn’t been right).



Covid – 19 March 15, 2020

The Ides of March…

Self InterestJust went to vote. No one taking legal closures and governmental advice seriously…folks were kissing, standing in small, tight-knit groups. The high street pedestrian area was teeming. Two restaurants (of two) in the one km stretch from my home and the voting location open and folks inside eating.

A ski area was open in Morzine and there were lines snaking around the lift station.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Édouard Philippe said: people are ignoring safety procedures and thus things will get more serious and we’ll end up locked down like Italy! What is wrong with people?!

Went to the local grocery store and saw folks with TWO grocery carts stockpiling. THAT will cause a problem for everyone, but “fuck it! I’m (me, mine, etc.) sorted.”

Now, they’re talking about rationing on the news – not because like the war there was a shortage of food, but, quite simply, because of the mine, mine, mine attitude of people.

This selfish, individualistic, greedy behavior is so stupidly shortsighted and individualistic I could scream. It is, arguably, the source for all the problems in the world today (climate change – overpopulation, habitat destruction, consumer orientation, airplane travel, etc., PM of UK, “prez” of USA, poor public education, evasion of taxes for the welfare of all, etc.).

If I spoke better French, or was a confrontational person, I would have said something to the twats at the voting site, and in the grocery store, “Shame on you!” As it is, I’ll do as the boys sang in “The Book of Mormon” and suppress all the pain of it.

 

 

 

 

 



XXIII: Blue Dog Day

Depression is melancholy minus its charms – the animation, the fits. Susan Sontag

depression long roadMy mind has been playing tricks on me all day. I almost convinced myself that my bad liver was a result of my candy intake. Seriously. For a moment, it seemed real. So real, that it almost justified my drinking at 9am. The rest of the day, I’ve been thinking that I’ll try to make it through fifteen more years. That’s the goal. Ten to see my son off to university, then five more years to have fun, do what I want, potentially decimate my body. Then, like a cat when its ready to die, I’ll quietly go off somewhere by myself. These morbid thoughts give me comfort. I think, “I can make it through today…” Then, “I can make it through the next year…” Then, “I can make it for ten more…I think…” “That’s all, that’s all…” But that “all” is everything.

It’s horrible to feel this way. It’s heavy and dark and bitter and mean and uncomfortable. I want to escape me. Barring that, I want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and just pass time. The day, the year, the ten years, the fifteen. However, there are always people around me. My husband would interrupt this. Not because he would be concerned, but because it would annoy him that I was in bed ‘lolling about’ while he was taking care of our child, our house, and ‘business.’ Then, of course, there’s my son. My precocious, sweet, talkative boy who hums and sings to himself as he skips up the stairs, heads out the door, or plays by himself. He zones in on me like I’m a beacon whenever he’s home and demands I engage with him. Not in a pushy, aggressive manner, but because he likes me and wants to show me things, talk to me about what he has seen or done, and to hear what I have to say about it. He’s still cuddly, even as I can see the man that he will become, and he’s way too big for me to lift up. I try to engage with him. To pay attention to what he’s saying. I try to put a smile on my face. I try to pretend not to be me for him.

It’s entirely for him that I’m not drinking and inhaling to my heart’s desire. Or staying in bed all day. Or running away to somewhere else more suited to my real self. Somewhere dirty, large, and anonymous. He’s the reason I stay. He’s the reason I try at all. He’s the reason I will make myself go to the grocery store to get food, even as I absolutely dread the inevitable prospect of running into someone I know. He’s also the reason that we have any semblance of a social life. As an only child, or a “unique” as the French say, he wants playmates. As a naturally curious and social boy, he wants company and activity around him. As he’s still very young, he can’t arrange them or go by himself, and his father is unconcerned with having a social life, happy, instead, to be a homebody. So, I must arrange ‘play dates’ and social plans. Then, I must stay for a “hello,” and a “how are you?” and sometimes a cup or glass of something to be friendly. However, I find these interactions very hard. I feel as though I am perpetually masquerading as a ‘normal’ person, and consequently, am such a fraud. I don’t know how to have small talk when I’m sober, and I know people don’t want me to launch into “serious” talk, which is a “downer.” Having to interact with adults and children alike is painful and anxiety provoking for me. And now there’s no reprieve from the stress of it all.

Moreover, ‘the slings and arrows’ of children and their parents’ politics are very hard for me to observe, digest, and remain calm about. ‘Cookie cutter’ type kids and their parents are popular. They’re confident about asserting themselves. The kids spot the ‘Achilles heel’ of any child and exploit it cruelly. The other kids gravitate to these types. Prompting me to wonder if there isn’t some truth to the idea that people, in general, do like dictators – someone to tell them what to do and how to be. Tennessee Williams notes in “Night of the Iguana” that humans are the only creatures that won’t do anything to get out of a trap, such as bite off a foot or an arm. The kids ‘fisty cuffs’ are generally all forgotten relatively quickly, but it’s terrible to watch when you consider that these human propensities begin early. Ugh, and the little clusters of cliques, with those who are the ‘henchmen’ to the popular kids often being the meanest. Girls seem to be the worst. Or the best, depending on how you look at it. I think of the film “Mean Girls” frequently. Even among the hierarchies of adults. I hate observing these dynamics. It ‘winds me up.’ It makes me feel like I’m in grade school or high school all over again. I hated those years. I felt like a captive.

I keep looking for justice and signs of human thoughtfulness: to notice the person who picks up after himself when leaving the cinema. Or notice the car that uses only one parking space. Or notice the person who lets someone in front of them in the line at the grocery ‘cause they only have three items and the other person a trolley full of goods. Or see ‘the chancer’ get fired summarily. But it’s so hard to do when I feel so fucking bad. And, it often makes things worse ‘cause I don’t see these things everyday and then I’m angry. Then, like the masochist I am, I sling abuse at myself for being “so negative.” I tell myself that it’s MY fault that I see the ‘bad’ things about people in the world! I’m sending out that ‘energy’ and it’s causing a reverb by bringing negativity to me!” “If I could only change my perspective then it would all be fine. All would be different.” “It’s how I see things that’s the problem.” “It’s me. I suck. I’m horrible, beastly, angry, critical, and judgmental.” “I should relax and not think “too” much.” Problem is, the only way I don’t think too much is to ingest a mind-altering substance. If I’m to make it another fifteen years, I can’t. It’s already ‘dicey’ that I’ll make it that far with what I’ve already done to myself.

And that’s when I want to spend my day in bed. It’s then that I see little point in venturing out into the world. It’s then that I return to the idea that I’ve had a good run and I’m eager to be done with it. I’m tired of watching imposters get ahead. I’m tired of bullies dominating society – both on a micro and macro level. Of mediocrity reigning. Of the rise of pride in ignorance and the consequent disdain of intellect. Of no one really giving a shit about anything. I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of me.



XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 



X: Call Me Old Fashioned

An excerpt from a letter to a friend today:

Prawn & avocado cocktailThank you my dear. Always.

I remember a friend who is a public defender in my home state (another thankless, hard job) telling me that he felt that it often feels like you’re rolling a boulder up a hill over-and-over again in an effort to help humanity, or at least to stave off its inevitable decline. However, if you CAN roll the boulder up the hill, you have a moral obligation to do so.

Which reminds me, I watched Macron give a (long) speech in response to the Yellow Vest protests and at the conclusion of a two-month series of ‘national debates’ in which he had been traveling around France meeting people in small towns in order to hear their views and complaints. I felt like weeping: his grasp of the complicated conceptual elements that make societies function, to thrive, are astounding. And his knowledge of the tedious, practical details of governance are impressive (can you imagine Trump doing this?!). He had notes, but he would ‘go off’ on tangents, addressing each-and-every point (the growing sense that governments seem inaccessible to the general public, for example), and explaining WHY he would not fight for one thing or another (blank votes, for example). I felt like weeping because I thought that I’m so impressed and relieved that there ARE politicians out there like him that DO know something about governing (history, sociology, law, economics, geography, rhetoric, etc.), and are showing accountability by the mere fact that they’re acknowledging the grievances and worries of their citizens; that these leaders seem to be SO few-and-far between, making someone like Macron a surprise; but it should be the standard we hold ALL politicians to! And I also felt like weeping because I know that in general the French don’t like him (they think he’s arrogant and a friend of big money  because of his background) and will consequently vote him out in the next election…

I fear, too, for the upcoming European elections, where cynical far-right politicians are exploiting people’s ignorance, impotence and anger – in France, Hungary, Austria, and Italy, for example, where they are promoting anti-immigrant and euro skeptic views – and these political parties will likely gain power in the EU parliament.

Why can’t people learn from history? Or even the recent history of the USA and England and the deteriorating state they’re in culturally and practically?!

That said, Spain did NOT vote for the far-right party that was promoting guns in every household, thank goodness. Hope lives another day. (Even as the far-right party there now has access to parliamentary power – a terrifying global phenomena akin to global politics in the 1930’s).

Am going to watch some good TV programming now and pour myself a large glass of wine. Finished watching “Fleabag” season 2 last night – breathtakingly excellent!

And excellence, to me, in any realm, is like ‘god’ (for want of a better word) – a raison d’être.

Love to you, my excellent friend, v.



VIII Virtual Aggression Jan. 15, 2019

robber-in-a-mask-and-with-money-bag-vector-illustration_k18850995Cyber warfare truly is the combat of the future. Over the last year, I’ve had all of my credit details stolen via Experian, the credit monitoring agency in the USA, and my passport and credit card details hacked via the British Airways site. That’s right, the almighty social security number every American is told to guard with their lives has been exposed – what an ineffective way to identify a person. I have diligently had my credit report monitored and received yearly reports because I have bought into the idea of identity theft and the need to protect my credit rating in case I want to buy more stuff. Then the very agency gets hacked (with the CEO’s of said company resigning mere weeks before the news broke and those of us effected were alerted). I can barely access my own bank accounts in the USA because of the levels of ‘security’ on my account, with numerous passwords and questions/answers that I simply forget. Which means, I can’t even prove I’m me often enough, yet others can break into the “super secure” storaging systems of corporate entities. This week, I received an email that had the password to my computer in its subject line, and then there was a letter of blackmail. The letter tells me that I have two weeks to pay $1000 to a bitcoin account (with no reference number or name, so I’m not sure how they’d know it was me if I paid up, or why they would stop at that). If I don’t pay up, all of the contacts I have on social media and via my email accounts, will receive an email telling everyone that I watch pornography and am a disreputable person, etc.

Meanwhile, Trump and his cronies pretend to question the need for increased cyber security? Oi vey. Well, we know why that is, but I won’t digress.

As a result of this threatening email (yes, I have been known to watch porn online – adult, consensual material, with the knowledge of my husband) I have spent the day changing passwords for the myriad of accounts that I use online, updating spyware software, running diagnostic checks to make sure that my system is still not hacked (the software identified two threats and removed them) and eliminating saved details across accounts. Not because I’m afraid that all of my contacts will receive a disparaging email from these unknown assailants, but because I am thoroughly freaked out that the camera on my computer may have a little hacker eye looking at me, and a little hacker ear listening to my computer’s microphone, and these same hackers are aware of all of my personal and professional banking details, accounts, behavior, interests, as well as my thoughts and wishes conveyed via personal missives.

In my day, receiving phone calls at home from telemarketers was considered intrusive. Is this how “progress” is defined? What a waste of a day. What a waste of humanity’s technological ingenuity that it has come to this: intruding, blackmailing, and threatening your fellow (small change) man in order to get a few bucks simply because you can.