Seder-Masochism Progress Report

My two goals for 2017 were to bicycle 5,000 miles, and to finish Seder-Masochism. I have 30 miles to go on the first goal, slowed down by mysterious health problems (for which I’m about to undergo a series of invasive tests). But the second goal keeps getting farther away.

I have all the pieces made, and they’re pretty good. The musical numbers are entertaining, and the “Our Father” scenes, based on recordings of my own father shortly before his death in 2012, worked remarkably well.

Scene of Our Father

Our Father

But the overall story isn’t holding together. In fact, it’s hard to tell what the overall story is. I set out to retell “The Passover Story,” but what is that? It’s Exodus. But it’s also more than Exodus, and far less. I tried structuring the film around the Passover Seder, and the result is incoherent. Perhaps because as a story, the Passover Seder is itself incoherent, its popularity and persistence due to early indoctrination and strict rules rather than narrative quality.

So now I’m looking for the story again, at this rather late stage. The narrative quality of the Book of Exodus itself is dubious, but it does contain at least one strong story: the going out, the leaving, the separation, the exit, the Exodus itself. I thought a lot about the meaning of Exodus a few years ago when I animated Death of the Firstborn Egyptians (the solo clip of which has become rather popular, at over a million views on YouTube alone).

Even as the mythological Hebrews exited mythological Egypt, the mythological Firstborn Egyptians exited Life, led by the profound power of Death – who is the Abrahamic God Himself, according to many Haggadot. According to the ancient Egyptian conception of Death and the afterlife, this was not necessarily a tragedy; in fact it would have meant something entirely different to the mythological Egyptians than it does to us. Still an Exodus, but from another point of view.

And that’s where I’m returning to seek my story. To Abrahamics, the Exodus is the story of going forth from the “narrow place,” from cruel slavery to freedom. But what were they exiting, really? According to them it was slavery, oppression, and, worst of all, the worship of false idols. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” commands Yahweh in Exodus 20. How does this story look from the point of view of “other gods”? Specifically, goddesses?

Patriarchy celebrates Exodus as a triumph of civilization. But these days I question the value of civilization, since it’s (we’re) killing the planet and perhaps our souls and minds as well. The popular myth, amongst anxious environmentalists like myself, is that Once Upon a Time humans lived in harmony with nature, gathering and hunting, attuned to the natural world through animism and reverence for the Great Mother. There followed a Great Fall: Agriculture, and its attendant sins of property, hierarchy, and slavery. With the plow we were expelled from the Garden, and things have gotten worse ever since. Genesis in a nutshell.

Exodus is a different angle. This time the Great Mother isn’t a nurturing Garden, but a suffocating oppressor. Man isn’t expelled; he escapes. All those (formerly) animistic spirits are now ridiculous and evil idols. The sacred snake becomes the demonic serpent. Nature and fertility become disgusting things to be controlled. Yeast – spores of Life in the very air – is loathed and mastered through the fetishized Unleavened Bread. This loathing and mastering continues today, as we continually kill Life in the soil with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. (My 4,970 miles of cycling mostly took place in Central Illinois, the heart of the agri-desert, where yesterday I rode past tanks of ammonia being dragged through denuded fields.)

What does Exodus look like from the point of view of the Goddess? She was in Egypt as Hathor, Hekket, Wadjet, Nut, Maat, Isis, and others portrayed already in Moses Goes Down. She was elsewhere in Mesopotamia as Ishtar, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and other mis-named or un-named “idols.” She was in Europe. She was everywhere – all humans conceived the divine as female, long before the invention of the male God.

The Golden Calf (Return of the Goddess) from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Watching Man walk out on Her, going forth from revering Nature to enslaving and killing it – would she even want Him back?

So I’m currently trying to articulate the Exodus from the Goddesses’ point of view. I hope it works. I’ve put a lot of effort into Seder-Masochism so far, I’d hate for it to be a BIG FAILURE WITH NO COHERENT STORY. Then again, I may end up with a coherent story that is despised. If my current storytelling angle succeeds, even more people will hate it, especially men. But that I could live with. Releasing a weak, incoherent film would be harder.

But this late in the game, that may be its fate – it’s up to the Goddess.

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Analytic Chemist Needed

A few weeks ago I ran this comic at Mimi & Eunice:

I’ve long suspected that soy sauce could contain only small traces of wheat, so I did a little online research. Surprisingly, I found only one item that addressed the gluten content of soy sauce directly, and found it contains none at all:

Gluten analysis of two popular soy sauces
We sent a sample of soy sauce of the brands Kikkoman and Lima to an external laboratory to determine gluten levels. In both samples the gluten content was below detection limit of 5ppm (see report). According to a new European legislation, which will only be fully implemented in 2012, gluten-free foodstuffs should contain less than 20 ppm gluten. The FDA also proposes a limit of 20 ppm. This means that our two tested products may be considered as gluten-free soy sauce. link

The article contains a link to a lab report which appears to be Belgian. It’s strong evidence, but celiac organizations are still claiming soy sauce contains gluten, which leads trolls to leave furious comments at mimiandeunice.com and my Facebook page for daring to suggest otherwise.

I’d like to clear up the soy sauce confusion once and for all. A Belgian lab report makes one data point, but more data points are needed, especially because these substances may differ between the US and Europe. What I’d like is an analysis of several brands of American soy sauce, both conventional shoyu (derived from wheat ingredients) and “gluten-free” tamari. Also both fancy health food store brands, and cheap run of the mill supermarket kinds. What would really be helpful is a brand-by-brand chart the wheat-sensitive could refer to.

So, is there an analytic chemist in the house? A chemistry grad student? A biochem hacker space with time and resources on their hands? I’m certainly not a chemist, but if you produce such a report you’ll have my undying gratitude and whatever publicity I and Mimi & Eunice can muster. Also, you’d be doing good for the world.

Continue reading Analytic Chemist Needed

Me at Kripalu April 16-18

Wanna spend a fun weekend with me improvising drawn stories on index cards at a renowned yoga retreat? I sure do!

Nina Paley’s Visual Storytelling Workshop @Kripalu
Friday April 16 – Sunday April 18, 2010
(with a screening of Sita Sings the Blues on the 16th)
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (in the Berkshires of Western MA)

Register here! Caveat: it costs money.

Me looking kinda yoga-y. I haven't done real yoga in years, unless art counts.

Me looking kinda yoga-y. I haven't done real yoga in years, unless art counts. But I'm looking forward to doing it again! In the Berkshires of Western MA!

I Be Illin’

munch_scream.jpg

OK, so I’m not in Athens right now. I left Israel early. I got sick, is what happened. A little food poisoning, a little irritable bowel syndrome, a little appetite loss and not eating for days, a little nervous breakdown, and next thing you know I’m back in New York trying to recover in a friend’s apartment, because I lost mine to bed bugs in July – not that that could be contributing to my stress or anything.

IBS

Unfortunately airports and airplanes and trying to sleep in different time zones are kind of killing me, so I’m canceling personal appearances for the next few weeks. It is a serious bummer, because I love meeting audiences and doing Q and A’s; and also because some of my upcoming lecture gigs actually pay, and I need the money. But my body and brain apparently can’t take this much travel, and I’m really sick.

On a bright note, the Rehovot International Women’s Film Festival was amazing – really excellent films, and excellent women. I also met some wonderful animators from ASIFA-Israel.

A Very Bad Time

Infested

These last few weeks have been pretty awful. I am broke and homeless. Time I should be spending working on promoting my film – my only asset, my life’s work – has instead been consumed salvaging what I can from my apartment, bagging things in ziplocs, laundry laundry laundry, carrying stuff up and down and back and forth, throwing things out, calling exterminators, calling the landlord, calling friends, sleeping on a sofa, not sleeping on a sofa, taking showers and immediately changing into more ziploc-ed clothes, more laundry, wiping salvaged computer parts down with alcohol, weeping, talking to other tenants in my now-former building, confronting debt, canceling accounts, checking messages, begging for help, watching red bumps grow on my hands and arms (I have a delayed reaction to bed bug bites; it takes 9 days for the red welts to really blossom, then they linger a long time), reading bedbugger.com, reading craigslist housing ads, weeping some more, et cetera.

Continue reading A Very Bad Time

It has happened to me

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are like Syphilis for apartments. They appeared on the other side of my building a few years ago; it was only a matter of time before they came here. My downstairs neighbor detected and began treating an infestation while I was traveling last month. Possibly they were driven upstairs when her place was sprayed, or perhaps they were waiting all along. Whatever the reason, I didn’t leave an infested apartment, but I have returned to one.

Treating bedbugs is a lifestyle. Anything made of fabric must be washed and dried at high heat, then immediately transferred to ziploc bags. You then live out of ziploc bags for months (I’ve already spent the last month living out of suitcases, which I thankfully haven’t brought back to the apartment; those at least are not infested). You vacuum constantly. You change into ziploc-fresh clothes immediately before visiting friends, in order to not transfer hiding bugs to them. Everything you own must be inspected, cleaned, sterilized, heated. Furniture must be emptied and pulled from the walls. Exterminators visit every few weeks to spread poison. You are supposed to continue sleeping in the bed, as bait to attract the bugs from their hiding places over the poison. You keep doing this for weeks or months, until the bugs leave you alone. Of course they just move to a neighbor’s apartment, and play musical beds unless your whole building is treated. Good luck with that.

So I’m moving out. My lease ends September 30 anyway. I can’t move my stuff, of course, as it is possibly harboring renegade bugs and needs to be sprayed at least 3 times over 2 months, with no guarantees. I’d like to salvage my computer, but everything else I own could vaporize for all I care. I wish it would.

Bruno and I are going to stay at a friend’s house for a while (friend will supply a fresh outfit from my off-site suitcase I can change into to prevent infecting his car, and anything else I bring with will be sealed in bags and placed straight in a washing machine; cats aren’t known to carry bugs except in the most severe cases). Much as I hate travel and have longed for home these past weeks, I don’t really have a home right now. Since I can’t afford to rent or buy a new place now (I’m in deepening debt from Sita) I may just go from festival to festival for a while.

By some miracle I haven’t completely lost my mind yet, but I’m getting there.

Whining Advisory Next 600 Words

I got back from Stuttgart, still coughing (albeit less), and slept for about 2 days. Now I’m slogging through my backed-up emails and figuring out what to do next. I looks like I’ll be touring the Eastern Hemisphere most of June and July, and sub-letting my Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Interested parties please get in touch – the apartment comes with my cat Bruno, who needs daily food and love.

You’d think I’d be all overjoyed about this, but actually I’m stressed and confused. Will Sita get a distribution deal? Will it win an award? Awards drive me crazy – I always want one, “for the sake of the film,” I tell myself, but surely it’s for my ego. Press too is like coke, I always want more; google blogsearch is becoming a compulsion. I compare Sita‘s progress with other films, which can’t be good. I’d like to detach from all this, but what about the festivals? This is my big chance to attend film festivals, it’s not like I can postpone them all until next year. But film festivals are orgies of comparison: who’s getting the most press? the best reviews? whose shows are selling out first? who’s getting the award? These are enemies of the Muse, and I’m not sufficiently mature to maintain my equilibrium in their midst.

Also, I am out of money and racking up expenses like you wouldn’t believe. Take “film festival rights”: publishers charge at least $500 a song just to play the film at festivals – and I don’t get money at festivals, I spend money to make the prints and stuff. I’m spending money I don’t have to get the film out there, and although something always works out, I have no idea how I’m going to pay for French subtitles (the “honor” of attending the Annecy Animation Festival is costing me over $5,000), or legal fees, or rent. Someday the film could bring money in, but I’m not sure how I’m going to make it to that day, if it ever comes.

What a whiney post this has turned out to be. On the brighter side, I’ll post next about all the sweeet reviews Sita got at Tribeca, with tasty little quotes selected by Publicity Bitch herself. But I am not Publicity Bitch. I am a servant of the Muse who is losing her way.

Phlegm Festival

Tribeculosis kept me home from Raw-Chester, but I’m still going to Germany tomorrow. Still coughing, but I’m on antibiotics now so presumably it won’t get any worse.

Marrowing News

from plexpixel:

  • As you may have heard, Emru Townsend, Editor of Frames Per Second Magazine is suffering from leukemia and is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. None of his relatives are a match, so he is relying on outside donors. We are asking you to help us encourage members of the animation community to join a bone marrow registry – you or someone you know may be the match Emru is hoping for!
  • Because tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to match someone from their own race or ethnicity. As an Afro-Caribbean, Emru Townsend will be most likely to match other donors of African or Caribbean decent. So please urge anyone in your circle with this racial background to participate.

Emru adds:

I’d just like to make one small correction: although there’s a better chance of a match from someone of the same ethnic background, it doesn’t mean I have no chance of matching anyone else. It’s better for me (and everyone else waiting for a transplant) if everyone registers. Registering is easy and, at worst, as painful as a blood test.

I wanted to spread the word here. Emru did a big article on me and Sita in 2005.