Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gesture Suggestion for Depression

Dear Fonzie, I just posted this on Best American.  Love, Jenny

Prosper and Long Live [a gesture suggestion for depression by Jennifer Michael Hecht]

IMG_9022 My Beautiful Bleaders,

I’ve got something to sell you about.  It’s a show and tell.

It’s about signs and gestures and how we get new ones.  Our world's top six might be: thumbs up, peace, thumbs down, rock and roll, and fuck you.  Try them right now in quick secession.

I can use my face to flash you some quick information, as a flashed sad-face means bad news.

Great news for people with low self-esteem is: eyes wide and a shake of the head to suggest disbelief, mouth downturned, shoulders up, then… jazz hands.

We ought to have a simple gesture for thank you.  The best we have is hands pressed palms together and a little tilt of the head, toward face-down.  That’s easiest to recognize but any sign that needs two hands has limitations.  You can ask for the check or for a bottle opener with one hand.   I guess the bow of the head alone, with slightly lidded eyes, actually works for thank you.

I’ve been thinking about this.  Say we had a gesture that meant: “I feel so terrible I can’t stop thinking about death” which specifically does not signal a breakdown of the normal social walls.  I’m thinking of Spock’s "Live Long and Prosper" but upside down.  You flash that at a stranger and if she is feeling bone awful also, she flashes it back, while someone having an okay time right then flashes back a supportive upright LLP.   The symbol should be quick, deniable. If you want to start a conversation you have to try it through normal means and risks.  What I am suggesting is just an unspoken semiotics of support.

Excellent work staying alive since I posted last.  Now stay alive until I have an opportunity to encourage you yet again.  At the latest, one week from now, but I feel all stealth posty, like I may sooner paste up un autre placard rather than later.

Love you,


ps Chewy words are tasty as nougat, no?  Nu?  Here's lookinat chewkid.  wordy your mother.  peas out. 

pps Would you like to be Happy All the Time?  Simply read this book: The Happiness Myth.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Thesis Is that There Was a Beginning

 Poem commissioned by Yeshiva University at the Jewish Center Museum, delivered last week.

                                                                                                Jennifer Michael Hecht

The Thesis Is that There Was a Beginning

In the begin there was heaven and earth

but the earth was void and darkness had the sea.

When there was light it was good.


The waters gathered together and dry land appeared.

The waters swarmed with living creatures,

sea-monsters.  On Earth, every creature that creepeth.  

Fill the waters, fill the earth.


Bring forth the living creature, creeping thing,

I have given you every seed upon the face of the earth.


Finished, the host of them. Rested.

These are the generations of heaven and earth. 



Good people of Yeshiva University

and the Jewish Center Museum


You ask me for a poem in conversation

with an art installation


on the theme of Genesis, as in:

In the begin.


There was light.  It was good,

but there was also a lot of darkness.




The art I’m responding to is seven

TV screens, each showing one word

from Genesis in somewhat random order.

The phrase showing when I took a photograph

was: “The earth was an open living seed.”


In this flicker poetry, when a monitor

lands on the word “God,”

the serene black screen flashes bright-white

in your mellowed, museum eyes,

crashes in your soft museum ears.


The viewer tells the five screens

when to whirl words by, and when to stop

but hasn’t any control over the sentence.

You stand there like Captain Picard

and an ensign all in one, and tap the big

red and green buttons.





In the begin there is darkness,

then there is some kind of light.


Then a kind of darkness again.


Then light.  In the end there will be

darkness again


and then light.

This flickering is like a candle

sputtering, pretty and frightening.




The earth was an open living seed.


There are millions of sea creatures

and millions of stars in the galaxy

and millions of galaxies.

There are billions of years.






Yet it is uncharacteristic for us

to change our minds.  Despite

how wrong we obviously all

must be, about so many things,

odds are, disagreeing as we do,

a lot of us are wrong a lot of the time.


Yet we rarely change our minds.

We get our actual hearts replaced

more often than we change our minds.

And our metaphorical hearts also change

faster than we change our minds.


Yet every generation changes,

tips a flip on what they grew up believing

then stick with that forever.


Yet we love life.




Ever answer a question asked by a museum

and a yeshiva?


I’m a poet and a minor-famous atheist.

Seven tv screens flicker chaotically the Bible’s

first eight-hundred words.

In the begin there was no beginning.  When you

walk over to it, it’s already going.


Even the biggest bang Tangos somehow

with others, say, a former and another after.




When a screen flashes “God” and thunder

crashes, it is an interruption. 


I was trying to think.

Hoping the text might be oracular

for me, hoping for ideas to help me.


We are Diaspora and post-garment district

which makes us both post-exilic

and post-textilic.  Our late elders

wrote Russian as well as Yiddish

so we are also post-Cyrillic.




In the beginning there was darkness

and then there was light.

Later again there was that

darkness I mentioned.


Then that light again.


The young people speak of the light.

The older people darken, the sky lights.




We are in this together.

There are billions of stars.

There is darkness and light.


There are generations.

They begin in darkness.

They get light.

A kind of darkness returns.


By the waters of Babylon

and in Brooklyn.


By the waters of the Gowanus Canal

we sat down and wept.  Born into

these ideas and flipped into those,

everybody’s an exile.  Everybody

drums themselves out, sits at the edge

of the Hudson or the East River

and weeps for some lost temple,

wails on a turnpike wall.




Adam drummed out,

and Eve drummed out too.




All of us so tired.

With or without the holocaust.


An unusually ancient

people, within a century

of an attempt at our eradication

on a scale beyond scale.

It makes you sad.  Ask

any Ute or an Inuit. 


This is a very strange land

between  Proxima Centauri

and the fat old sun, absurd even.

If someone asks you, frankly,

How can we sing in a strange land?

Answer by patting yourself down

as if to find a pen.  It will keep you

from going up in flames.




I’m important, it matters what I do.

Everything I do matters only to me.


It’s in the Talmud somewhere –

A person should at all times have

a note in one pocket  reading: You

are the most important person

and a note in another pocket that reads:

You are no more important than anyone.


Between these, there is land

where nothing matters.


Between passions, there is land

where nothing matters.


Between passions, there is a terrible

land, beautiful if you can bear it, but

you can’t, where nothing matters.


This is recovery.  You are not dying.  


Between passions, there is a terrible

land, beautiful if you can bear it, but

you can’t (yet) where nothing matters.




The older people speak of the light.

The young people darken, the sky lights.


The thesis is that there was a beginning.




Yet there was unformed void

and darkness.  Then there was light,

then land, then animals, and sea creatures.


Dominion creeping over everything.

Male and female.  Replenish the earth.  Fish.


Finished, the host of them. Rested.

These are the generations of heaven and earth. 

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.




The thesis is that there was an ending and the ending

was exile, the thesis is that something sweet

came before all the horror.  Something Edenic

before the ash and flood.


How does it feel to be post-exilic, post-textilic,

and post-Cyrillic? 


It’s not idyllic.

They were from someplace dangerous.

We are from someplace dangerous too.


A world with a holocaust in it is never

without it.  I hate to break it to me

but it’s true.  I want to do strange things

with you either today or tomorrow

it’s up to you as I am ready right now.




Everything changes and changes.




The air felt like his voice before he lost

his hair, sounded like your father

looking right at you and smiling.


Then you did something you shouldn’t have done,

ate something you shouldn’t have eaten.

You are always eating, aren’t you?




Voltaire’s Enlightenment was nice

but Spinoza led the Jews into light

a good two centuries prior.


Which set us on fire.

Which set us on fire.




As Eve said to Adam,

“If this is the beginning

why am I already so tired?”




Museum and Yeshiva University,

there is a flicker poetry to the universe

and it had already started when we

got here.  Yet we can star in it,

standing there like Captain Picard.

Our hearts on our sleeves like Commander Troi

There are millions of galaxies to change our minds, 

yet we get our hearts replaced more often.


Leonard Nimoy and Bill Shatner are both Jewish;

the “live long and prosper” hand gesture rabbinical,

a secret sign a young Nimoy spotted in shul

when his father told him to close his eyes

and he peeked instead. 


There they are on the bridge, Kirk and Spock,

sailing into the universe

where no one has ever gone before,

exile upon exile,

until nothing feels like home as much

as further exile, further out, further on,

ancient secrets furling secrets like fractals.


By the waters of the Babylon Turnpike,

we sat down and wept. 


Two-thousand and ten used to feel

impossibly far in the future

but here it is.  No one thought the Berlin Wall

would ever come down, not in our lifetimes.


There are people born

in the year two thousand and one who could already

beat most of us in a game of chess.

Everything changes, everybody’s an exile,

wailing on a turnpike wall.


Between passions, there is a terrible

land, beautiful if you can bear it, and you

can, where nothing matters

but that we look after one another

in the terrifying darkness and the weird

interruption that is light.  Walls rise and fall.


The earth is an open living seed

and so is the mind.


This, such as it is, is our time on camera.

Our time on the screen. 

Animals and every creeping thing.  

Man and Replenish the earth.  Fish.

Finished, the host of them. Rested.

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.


We are tired, but still, go forth and multiply,

live long and prosper.

These are the generations of heaven and earth.