Orphan Black (S5): Cosima and Rachel

I was late in the game with Orphan Black but I’m finally on the last few episodes and the last season’s focus on Cosima and Rachel is fascinating.  Ok, fair warning to those who have not watched Orphan Black. There will be **SPOILERS** ahead.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The best thing about the show, as many have said, is Tatiana Maslany in her multiple roles, especially Cosima Neihaus, the scientist. Cosima’s primary struggle through the show is the greatest human fear — her own mortality. She plays it stoic through much of the season, even after her break-up with Delphine who represents both lover and savior/healer. In season 5, after she finds a cure and starts taking it, her character becomes more expressive, even quite tearful. This could be retroactive grief or fear finding release but it also builds her as the “humane” scientist in contrast to the other scientists who have no tears for others. In Rachel’s case, this is at least partly literal because one eye is a machine and a tool for exploitation– including her own.

“In the Odysseus, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours two of Odysseus’s men on the spot and imprisons Odysseus and the rest in his cave for future meals (Wikipedia)”. Rachel is the cyclops with Kira whom she invites into her cave with aim of harvesting her eggs for future clones. But Cyclops was also imprisoned by his father and Rachel is imprisoned by all her fathers. First, Adam Duncan who creates her, then Leekie who uses her as a lab rat and whom she thinks of as a father, and finally by PT Westmoreland who calls her ‘daughter’ but implants the artificial eye as a tracking device inside her. Obviously freedom will involve her gouging out the eye in a cold, gory scene.

Cosima and Rachel constantly play off each other in season 5, which is more satisfying than pitting Rachel against Sarah. In many ways, Cosima is the most evolved of the clones despite her illness. She’s the most intelligent, the most level-headed and the most giving. She has awesome hair to boot. She consistently takes risks for the people she loves and pursues self-actualization while the others are reactively flailing around their respective lives. Rachel is similarly strong-willed, hunting for ‘purpose’, but her’s is a search for self-actualization gone awry. “Follow the crazy science,” Delphine tells Cosima in one scene but it’s Rachel who puts the ‘crazy’ in that.

The two characters have interesting run-ins through season 5: in one scene, Rachel stands on the steps of PT’s mansion and Cosima is in the crowd. She takes the opportunity to run into the clinic and administer her own cure. She tries to inject herself but Rachel comes in — and our sense of horror gives way quickly to disbelief because Rachel is almost gentle. She administers the shot to Cosima. This is a far cry from the Rachel who stabs Sarah ruthlessly earlier. Sarah is her nemesis, the pencil-in-the-eye, the cause of her physical disabilities, but many of Rachel’s extremities seem muted around Cosima in these episodes.

It’s interesting to see how the show’s central theme of knowledge expresses itself in these two characters.  Cosima’s parents know too little about her life. In one scene, she says this is because she is trying to protect them. Rachel’s parents, including all those claiming that position, know too much about her life. Privacy is a luxury she’s never had and this need is part of her manic drive. By establishing her superiority to the other clones, she hopes to gain personhood and privacy. To be more than a number but also, to gain freedom and safety from being examined. Cosima is also examined because of her illness but it is of her own free will most of the time, much of it is done by people she trusts. Even in the end, she tries to administer her own cure. Yes, it’s hard and she finally lets Rachel do it but this too is an act of consent. Compare this with Rachel’s examination at the hands of Coady which takes place suddenly and without her prior knowledge. In fact, Westmoreland’s betrayal of her privacy seems to tip Rachel over the edge (towards good) at the end.

 

*I’ll add to this post as more thoughts come to me. Here’s a clip of their first encounter–


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Also, can we just agree the opening credit sequence is all kinds of gorgeous?

 

Notes

New poems

Tales and Poems of the Feminine Divine

A poem of mine, ‘Shakti’ which is also in City of Water, is in a new anthology published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina which is a library and cultural center in Alexandria, Egypt.

Anat, Ereshkigal, Artemis, Juno, Venus, Bast, Seshat, Brigid, Arduinna, Freyja, Hel, Yemaya, Mawu, Pele, Ix Chel, Kuan Yin, Tara, Sarasvati, Kali. Goddesses were, and still are, widely worshipped. Not just in far off places, but close by, right here. People today sing to these Goddesses, pray to them, dance for them, make offerings – and write for them. The poetry and prose and art collected here celebrates Goddesses from all over the world. Like the Goddesses they honor, these tales and poems and works of art vary from the humorous to the horrific, from the deeply personal to the deeply transcendent, and everything in between. Some Goddesses will be familiar, others strange, still others completely new. It is our hope that you will find these words and works of art not just entertaining, but also inspiring: sing, pray, dance, set up an altar – pick up your pen. The Goddesses are here.

Garland of the Goddess: Tales and Poems of the Feminine Divine

 

Franklin Canyon + Descanso Gardens

I thought this was a Speckled Skink at first then found that’s not so common in California. They’re natives of New Zealand. Turns out juveniles of the Alligator Lizard are mistaken as Skinks. So a baby Alligator Lizard then? There’s a bunch of fascinating reptiles on this site and I spent my morning teatime staring at them. Which was surprisingly refreshing. As opposed to Facebook, I mean.

This was at Franklin Canyon which sits at the center of Los Angeles city, 605 acres of park land, a lake, a pond with turtles and ducks. The park is also part of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route for birds. The lake has some nice tall grasses and rushes on its banks which you can walk through/under and it’s all very children’s adventure book at this point.

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The pond is civilized and easy for kids to do some turtle spotting. They are not shy, the turtles (not the kids–I don’t know about the kids). The turtles are very photogenic and very obliging. True LA turtles.

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Also, visited the Descanso Gardens — not the best time of year but their rosarium was pretty. I love the climbing roses. The oak forest is a wild canopy. And the tree ferns in the ‘ancient forest were beautiful.

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History from wikipedia: In 1942, while the Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the United States were being sent to internment camps, Boddy bought out two local successful Japanese nurseries. According to different sources, he acquired somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 camellias.

Immense parental guilt: at some point we realized our daughter wasn’t feeling well. She had seemed reluctant in the morning but she wasn’t warm and we thought it was just childish laziness. So we  jollied her out of bed and went off “exploring”. Now, she was lying down on a rickety bench under the trees, saying she wanted to rest. Of course, we abandoned the ‘ancient forest’ at Descanso and hustled home. I keep thinking of it though. Old redwoods.  Tree ferns bursting all over the place. The forest features plant species that Descanso gardens calls ‘prehistoric’. From this page: Today cycads, ferns, redwoods and other ancient plants persist relatively unchanged. They have survived dramatic changes in the world’s geography, competition from other plant species and major extinctions – including that of the dinosaurs.

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Solstice Canyon, LA

July was full of walks.  At Solstice Canyon, the sun was harsh but a couple of easy walks took us into shade and toward un-scorched plants. The canyon is in Malibu, just off the coast and it’s a short way to the ocean which means it has coastal vegetation alongside other types.

Here’s a Japanese Red Elder (Elderberry) blooming and a bee flailing about in the blooms. Most parts of this plant are toxic for us but apparently they can be eaten after cooking. Toxins exist to protect plants and we circumvent that through fire.  Not always but sometimes.

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Not sure what trees these are but they formed a wall of shimmering green near a dry creek.  This canyon is part of the Santa Monica Mountains. Plants and animals here are suffering because of climate change but   “possible plant responses include: tolerating new climate conditions, adaptation in place, migration to a more suitable environment, or extirpation.” (from here.) The more you adapt the more you can adapt. Which is to say those that have done it before will do it again. Many California plant species have experienced wide fluctuations in climate recently so they have a chance. New communities of plants may happen as the world changes around them.

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A tiger lily growing in the wild. Tiger lilies are also called ditch lilies because they grow easily in ditches in America. Old Korean legend has it that a hermit helped a wounded tiger by removing an arrow from its body. The tiger asked him to make sure they remained friends forever. When the tiger died, he became a flower. But the hermit died of drowning and his body was lost. The tiger lily is still looking for his friend, in all the ditches and corners of the world.

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Lizard, camouflage:

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Poetry Couture + Pinker

I read at a gathering organized by Poetry Couture alongside Smeetha Bhowmick and others at Kulture Shop in Bandra, Mumbai. We were the featured poets before an open mic session.  The audience and energy were fantastic. The folks at Poetry Couture are organized, professional, and lovely. They gave Smeetha and me a generous amount of time each. They seemed genuinely happy to be doing this. And they’re trying to do some great stuff around the country. Please give them some love on their FB page.

Besides being in between places, I’m also in between jobs. After three years of handling communications at Gender at Work, I’m moving on. To what?  This and that, say I vaguely. Which is to say the freedom of freelance, the getting up in the morning, hunting for a gig kinda thing. It’s time. Frightening as it may be, I feel more alive this way.    The hunt, the perpetual hunt.  The possibility of being anyone.  Less romantically, I’m in the market for writing/editing contracts etc.

I almost called this post in medias res, then didn’t. Convincing experts to simplify their language is tough. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now, because it’s the kind of work I’ve been doing for a long time now. Steven Pinker says in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century that “When we are apprentices in our chosen specialty, we join a clique in which, it seems to us, everyone else seems to know so much! And they talk among themselves as if their knowledge were second nature to every educated person.” We then start to jabber, speak in code, nonsensical to people outside the universe. Sometimes we’re convinced that’s the right way to speak. Sometimes, we’re shit scared of not speaking like that. “Even when we have an inkling that we are speaking in a specialized lingo, we may be reluctant to slip back into plain speech. It could betray to our peers the awful truth that we are still greenhorns, tenderfoots, newbies.”

Good ol’ insecurity.

He goes on to say: “…if you are enough of an expert in a topic to have something to say about it, you have probably come to think about it in abstract chunks and functional labels that are now second nature to you but still unfamiliar to your readers—and you are the last one to realize it. As writers, then, we should try to get into our readers’ heads and be mindful of how easy it is to fall back on parochial jargon and private abstractions. But these efforts can take us only so far. None of us has, and few of us would want, a power of clairvoyance that would expose to us everyone else’s private thoughts.” The answer, he suggests is reviewers, people who will offer critique. The logic of the workshop. I helped out at a writer’s room for a tv series earlier this month. It was interesting to see how each of us have our own linguistic tics, words we keep using, phrases, even character arcs that we fall back on. The collaborative process is great for avoiding one person’s particular weaknesses.  (On the flip side, things can go awfully slow on a bad day and pleasing everyone can mean a design-by-committee problem i.e. everyone’s ok with it but nobody loves it.)

 

Context of Cultures: High and Low

On Edward Hall’s Context of Cultures: High and Low which basically classifies societies on the basis of interaction, communication, relationships. High-context cultures tend to rely more on context: references, old relationships, community. A lot is unsaid. What is said is flowery, indirect.  Low-context cultures have open, direct communications, based on specific rules that are accessible to everyone. Commonly, China, India, Brazil, Japan have been talked of as high-context and the US and Germany are examples of low-context societies.

This website comes with a neat little test to help you figure out whether you function better in high-context situations or low-context ones. I’m not sure how accurate the test is but it is fun.

Ruchir Sharma talks about India and Brazil as high-context cultures in his book Breakout Nations. 

“High-context societies believe deeply in tradition, history and favoring the in-group, whether it is one’s family or business circle, and thus they are vulnerable to corruption. If this description sounds questionable to businessmen or tourists who know Brazil and India as open, familiar and straightforward, that is because they’ve experienced only the low-context facade adopted by the outward-facing elites who need to deal in a clear way with foreigners. Everyone is welcome at Brazil’s Carnival or an Indian wedding, and they may even be made to feel like an insider, but the reality is that it takes decades to become a real part of these cultures.”

I think of times I’ve tried to ‘explicate’ India to foreigners. At one time, I worked as a ‘cultural fluent’ for a consumer research firm called Iconoculture. My job consisted of decoding Indians, categorized into tidy market segments of course, our particular triggers and responses. To them, India was a vast and mysterious place with its intricate coded meanings and these needed translation.

In classes at UCLA, I found myself saying, ‘No, I can’t put that in the screenplay; that would never happen in India’–and a moment later–felt the discomfort of generalizing, of ‘speaking for’. The question of representation.  But ‘outward-facing elites’ are often those who get heard, those who get to speak. At night, I’d stay up late, replaying conversations in my head. What had I left out? What had I mis-conveyed? Sins of omission.

Once, I hosted ‘Indian night’ at our place, aware of the ridiculous inadequacy of any such endeavor. I cooked Punjabi-ish food. There had been vague discussions about watching a Hindi movie. I couldn’t choose one. What would be appropriate, encompassing, enough? Personal faves didn’t make it. Lootera was too period, Queen too atypical, Kahaani too much of a genre movie. Finally, I decided to show a montage of trailers. Bits and pieces of upcoming Hindi films, collated to add up to something like a ‘fair’ picture. Of course, it wasn’t. I didn’t include a single Khan movie (the upcoming ones just didn’t appeal to me). It was at best a representation–in fragments–of my taste in Hindi films.

From this article: For Indians, the purpose of communication is to maintain harmony and forge relationships but we’re moving towards an LC culture, largely because of technology, trade, travel and television. Indians are more verbose and dialogue-oriented than other high-context societies like the Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, which also makes this move easier.

And another view on this whole thing and the danger of stereotyping.

Finishing

Some things, I dislike finishing. Dislike is the wrong word. I’m wary of. Finishing is so final—the end of tinkering means the end of power.

I finally finished a crochet toddler blanket, which is to say I wove in the ends. It was really done for weeks but I couldn’t bring myself to ‘finish’. I typically betray/suspend pieces right before they’re complete, so I have a pile-up of crochet pieces in the cupboard with one little thing incomplete. That way, they’re never over. That way, I can still unravel, change, tinker.

I spend a lot of time unraveling things I make and making them again. Crochet is wonderful like that—much like writing, it allows you to endlessly undo, begin again, re-fashion. (I’m not getting into the Freudian definition of undoing, which is different = “a ritualistic effort to undo damage and reduce guilt over some action in the past.” Not sure that’s relevant to crochet but who knows. it’s true I started ‘yarning’ as A calls it, when our dog died. it’s true i felt guilty about his death because i wasn’t with him but it seems like a long shot and I’ll leave it to the therapy couch.)

As long as something is continuous, time feels like a string. When I end something, the air feels hollow.

I do this with books too, the ones I read and the ones I write. Which is probably why I rarely submit individual poems. To submit is to admit I’m done, at least for the moment.

*

I finished the second proofs of Monsters and Fables, my next book of poems, and sent them to the publisher. The book may be out in a couple of months. That’s the aim anyway. I’m jittery, brittle but heading to a place of indifference which helps me deal. In a  few months, I’ll look at this book and feel entirely disconnected from it. I traveled to Los Angeles with no copies of City of Water. Not a single one. My classmates were baffled, probably thought I was lying about having a book out–“you didn’t carry a single copy?” I couldn’t explain it.

*

So here’s an interesting art project to do with crochet and undoing: Amy Stacey Curtis in Maine made Undoing (2012) by crocheting for an hour everyday, for a whole year. The resulting blanket was 72′ x 9′  and during the installation, viewers were invited to unwind the single string of yarn and place it in a 9′ clear box. By the end of the show, there was no blanket, only yarn. A vast empty space, a glass box, a heap of yarn. From this book: “Every stitch undone was a reversal of Curtis’ time and an eradication of her concerted effort.”

*

And the other morning in the garden, ladybugs — three or four different pairs — mating on the Pennisetum.

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Thoughts on letting go

1. From Ross Gay’s poem ‘to the mistake’, which is in his collection catalog of unabashed gratitude.

“I am lecturing on the miracle
of the mistake in
a poem
that hiccup or weird
gift that spirals
or jettisons
what’s dull and land-locked
into as yet untraversed i.e. cosmic”

This made me think of wabi sabi. “Wabi sabi embodies the Zen nihilist cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back to nothing.” (Andrew Juniper in his book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.) I crafted a neat little poem for my second book while thinking of wabi sabi. It was too neat, it talks about letting things go, and making it rough and all that, but it’s precisely laid out with every little word in place. I put it at the beginning of the book because I hope the ones that follow it will do something else, something more.

2. Living between places is antithetical to hoarding.  I’m a collector of spices, yarn, books, vintage jars and bottles.  I have spices I will never use. I will not finish my stash of yarn before I leave. An immigrant life described not as sunlight or dreams, but as ‘all that yarn I bought and won’t get to use.’ A psychiatrist once told me the mind creates decoys. Faced with something it doesn’t want to face, it creates little fires to put out elsewhere. As the plane leaves LA, my mind will be on the Wool of the Andes worsted. Color: hollyberry.

3. If I was struggling into a notebook, what would I be struggling with? The word seems to be at the surface today. The struggle to swallow down spice. Blood burst in the throat. The struggle to sit.

There are bird sounds. I saw a white butterfly sit on a parsley plant. The parsley is struggling to hold its place because a Broccoli plant, unwise-layed, is also threatening to sit on top of it. As an experiment, I’ve stopped tending the garden. How will things grow in my absence. Just fine, thank you, it says to me. Everything in the garden is going to seed. It’s beautiful.

4. We lost our car in the desert. It broke. We never repaired it–the cost of repairs being more than the cost of the car–we left it there in a garage owned by Rusty whom I never met. We got $100 for it and drove back in a rented orange car. It’s the beginning of this next phase, we said, of learning to let go.

It was just a car. Curiously, I kept thinking of our dog as we drove back. Cars are not pets. Cars are not pets. Yet, that silky black nose. That soft underbelly where the beige fur went all white. 

People react differently to a child dying. Some never leave the house where it happened–they believe the child lives there. Others leave the house overnight, bags boiling with grief. After our dog died in LA, I wanted to leave the city. When I had survived the loss, I wanted to stay. Not because he had died here but because there was something in the place that had allowed me to live anyway. By live, I mean enjoy things.

(I’m not saying a dog is like a child.)

5. I’ve been reading about surrogacy.

 

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