January 22, 2011
The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of creators and immortals and all-loving existent beings.
In other words, it’s time to take a look at our our off-the-cuff list of higher power attributes and abilities, or perfections, to begin our investigation of whether Alan Rickman can possibly qualify as a higher power.
How to get at this?
Let’s first ask what a higher power must be like if it is to be a higher power and not something else.
Why ask this? Because if we know this, we will know what the qualities of a higher power are. So, next, we can start looking around to see if anything has those qualities.
If something does, then a higher power exists. And if Alan Rickman is something that does, then he is a higher power.
This may seem the easiest perfection to discuss (if not to state). Don’t we just mean that for a higher power to exist is for a being with certain perfections to exist?
And haven’t we already listed perfections that, if fulfilled, would satisfactorily show that we’ve got a higher power on our hands?
But there’s a tricky problem here that takes a little work to see. Once seen, it is clear how important it is, so let’s dig it out.
We can start by asking whether we would be tempted to say that a higher power must possess every perfection, if it is to exist.
I’m not tempted and I’d be surprised if you genuinely were. (Please try not to be contrary for its own sake. Remember that reasoning is not equivalent to being contrary.)
In case you’re having some difficulty seeing what the issue is (and I don’t blame you!), consider that we face two issues if we say that qualifying as a higher power just ends up being the same thing as possessing every perfection on our list.
Firstly, we don’t all agree whether all, or even which, perfections should be on the list. If we simply identify the existence of a higher power with a being possessed of every perfection, consider how many folks are going to be left out in the cold. It’s likely you may be one.
We might not care about this, preferring to assert that we’re right and others are wrong and that’s just that, too bad for you.
However, I find this too easy and, worse, disingenuous.
The problem is that we haven’t even looked at the items on the list to understand them.
By simply accepting all of them as obviously necessary to count something as a higher power would be treating the perfections as if they were clear. Like two plus two.
If you say you think this, I think you’re not looking closely enough. Which is what I want to do.
So, assuming we aren’t inclined to claim complete understanding of the perfections, we might wonder:
Are all perfections necessary for higher power status? If not, which perfections count? Are a certain number needed? If so, how many would be enough? Hmmm…
Now for our second issue.
The list I provided is a traditional one (except for “all-humorous”).
The problem with this is that higher powers are, by their very nature, not necessarily bound by tradition.
The “higher power” idea is motivated by the desire to allow people to escape from traditional notions of God, by re-imagining God however they may choose to do so. A “higher power” thus involves a personal challenge to revise one’s image of God–perhaps “coming up” with a higher power for the first time in one’s life.
Certainly, we expect overlap, possibly complete overlap with the traditional perfections. But we have to respect the dictum that we are talking about a higher power as we “come up with it.”
Can any sense be made of a higher power that does not largely overlap with traditional notions of God? Can a higher power really be something we each individually can “come up with” as we please?
If not, it looks like I might be in trouble.
Perhaps it’s already too late. Perhaps Alan Rickman as potential higher power is already as dead as Dumbledore.
But I don’t think so. I think he can be my higher power, but it’s not going to be as easy as all that. If we are to make any sense of a higher power “as I imagine it,” we’re in for a rougher road.
And why not? We’re talking about one of the most difficult things in human life. More difficult than quantum mechanics. After all, quantum mechanics, although hard, is subject to mathematical treatment.
Higher powers are not.
Please give me the wisdom to work through this muddle.
January 20, 2011
Before I return to whatever the main thread of my blog is–it looks like it will be moving between the story of my revelation experience and an investigation of AR’s qualifications for HP status, with asides along the way–I have to address something that immediately struck me after Alan Rickman revealed himself to me as my higher power.
Why not Michael Palin?
I absolutely love Michael Palin. So much so that I (for all intents and purposes) married him. Yes, my husband is the American Michael Palin, right down to the winsome smile and fondness for cats who behave like parrots.
In case you have ever wondered what it would be like to be married to Michael Palin, I can tell you it’s not easy.
Imagine knowing that for the rest of your life, anyone who meets both you and your husband will prefer your husband to you. Even your friends. Even your mother. Even you.
My mother says that to know my husband is to love him. She is adamant that the same is not true of me. (Thank you for rubbing salt in the wound, mom.)
Surely, if any man, well-known or otherwise, has claim to higher power status on this planet, at this time, it is Michael Palin.
He’s nice. He’s cute as a button. He loves people. Genuinely loves them. He’s a devoted family man. He has a high tolerance for questionable food. He has an incredible inquisitiveness and zest for life. He’s stayed in shape.
He can sing about lumberjacks and make you want to sing along. He’s practically unflappable. He never teases small children. He is man enough to share his digestive problems with the world. And his digestive problems are not off-putting, but actually endearing!
He can win anyone, anywhere over without even trying in 30 seconds or less. He’s so genuine. He’s so earnest. I have almost forgiven the Catholic Church some of its horrible misdeeds due to the work of Michael Palin. And the fish dance always makes me laugh like hell.
Did I mention, he’s nice?
I think it’s because, unlike husbands, you get the higher power you deserve. And I don’t deserve Michael Palin.
I’m just not that nice. In fact, I have theoretical problems with “nice.” I’m happy enough to be married to it, but to exercise it?
Let’s just say that it’s not easy for Michael Palin to be married to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in morality. But it irritates me that people so easily identify niceness with morality. I almost take it as my personal duty to demonstrate that this is mistaken.
Alan Rickman the person is not nice, no matter how you slice it. I don’t have to know him personally to know that. He may be decent, he may be loyal, he may be good, he may have moments of niceness. But if I can do all these things without being nice, surely he can.
My assertion is not based on the crude mistake of conflating Mr. Rickman’s roles with himself. This would not do, because his roles have not all been so univocal. Some (of the best) have not even been villains.
No, I’m staking my reputation for good judge of character on two things: his public face and his acting abilities.
As for acting, I think that it’s very easy to underestimate the difficulties of the actor’s craft. There’s the tendency to conceive of it as a sort-of glorified “Let’s Pretend.” It is not.
The most crucial difference between acting and pretending, for my discussion here (and perhaps The Crucial Difference), is that the best actors, those who don’t say lines but inhabit them, are showing us something of themselves.
Please note that I am not here acting as an advocate for Method Acting, nor does my point depend on any particular acting theory.
It is simply the case that the best pretending, like the best lying, happens when it is closest, in some fashion, to the truth.
That is, actors do not have to feel the feelings of their characters, but they must damn well pretty much know what it is to feel those feelings and how to show us that they do or the performance will be hollow.
So Mr. Rickman is not nice and Mr. Palin is. Because Mr. Palin could never, ever convince us of anything other than niceness. And Mr. Rickman is renowned for it.
What am I to conclude for myself, given the above? Well, my higher power is not simply co-extensive with Alan Rickman. I’ve already said that my higher power has a complex nature, beyond that of mortal man.
However, if I can be permitted in this instance to use the person Alan Rickman and the actor Alan Rickman as shorthand for the higher power Alan Rickman, then…it’s an interesting thing to discover that I have a higher power with a bit of nastiness in him.
Certainly, mine isn’t the only higher power in the annals of history to exhibit this trait. In fact, when one starts looking into the matter, there seems to be a great deal more nastiness than niceness.
Niceness, like Michael Palin, is of relatively recent origin and, even in our civilized times, is far from universal.
Perhaps it’s best for me that Michael Palin isn’t my higher power. We simply don’t suit each other that way. Besides, one should never worship one’s husband.
Thanks for your nastiness. Without it, I might not have a higher power.
January 20, 2011
The transition to the relation of lesser being (me) to higher power (him) took twenty years. And it was a transition, a sort of morphing, not a sudden change of state, like that brought about by flipping a light switch.
There was a light switch, but it was my realization that the transition had taken place. It was my acknowledgement of the change that went from off to on over the course of a few minutes.
Understanding the transition involves more than merely examining what happened in between introduction and revelation. It requires examining the time prior to Alan Rickman’s entrance into my life.
Why? Because in order for us to be capable of heeding the call of a higher power, the force of the higher power’s voice alone is not enough.
(Although, by general agreement, if any voice could be capable of enough force to force heeding, it would be Mr. Rickman’s. But we must leave the rich topic of his rich voice for another day.)
Examining the time in my life before Alan Rickman, or B.A.R., for short, requires uncovering why I have found myself in the unusual position of being susceptible to a voice that has called few (if any) others. I hope this explanation serves as an adequate apology for delving into my past.
Now that I’ve spent so much time apologizing, I’m not sure I have enough time to do more than introduce the first element from my past that is essential to these inquiries. My Anglophilia.
I don’t like this word. It has connotations of blindness about it. Blindness to the realities of Great Britain, both past and present.
If there’s anything I’m not, it’s blind. Great Britain is not now, nor has it ever been, the genteel place that many folks known as Anglophiles imagine.
Nor is it currently the bastion of whiteness that some Americans imagine would be a solution to our race troubles. (Was it ever?)
In addition, there’s a sort of interesting issue about whether Alan Rickman strictly qualifies as as an object of Anglophilia.
He’s not, strictly speaking, English, you know. If you don’t know, look it up. But then, of course, he really is, you know. If you don’t know, just consider.
So although I perhaps am not the paradigm of an Anglophile and Alan Rickman perhaps is not the paradigm of an Englishman, these features of both of us are still central to my story of how I came to have a higher power.
Thanks for being so patient. You’ve been waiting a long time for me to wake up to the fact that you are my higher power.
January 18, 2011
I have said before, and I will keep saying until the strangeness of it starts to fade in about ten years, Alan Rickman is my higher power.
One question that might occur to a sensible person is whether Alan Rickman actually possesses attributes and abilities sufficient even to qualify for possible higher power status.
I feel obliged to investigate this, because if there is one thing that gets under my skin more than people who think mere assertion and certitude are enough to establish truth and falsity, I don’t know what it is.
Excepting George W. Bush. As far as getting under my skin, that man… Let’s put it this way, whether or not I’m right about Alan Rickman being my higher power, I absolutely am certain who my devil is and I absolutely am certain he possesses attributes and abilities sufficient to qualify for this Office.
Here are a few traditional attributes and abilities (more formally known as Perfections) of higher powers off the top of my head:
- Creator (of something really big, like the Universe and all contained within it)
- Eternal (actually different from Immortal. If you don’t believe me, you’ll have to wait for it.)
- Omni-benevolent (actually different from All-loving–more patience required.)
- Attended by various saints, cherubs and angels
- I wish I could come up with a tenth traditional off the cuff, because no one likes stopping at nine. I’m going to add something that I think must be considered a serious oversight of the usual list: All-humorous. (That is, possessed of a flexible and generous capacity for humor about everything, always.)
- I thought of a tenth traditional that will probably sound strange to modern ears, but it used to be considered The Perfection-To-Beat-All-Perfections: possessed of existence.
Even so, they are so commonly found where-ever higher powers gather that I think they must be included. So here they are:
Claims Higher Power status. Has devoted followers. Demands (enjoys?) being prayed to and worshipped and believed in.
Contacts followers in particular ways, such as revelation and burning bushes. Has a complex nature (metaphysical structure). Produces miracles.
May bestow certain favors to the favored. May be a means for followers to change selves for the better. Proscribes special rituals and rites.
Also mandates certain behaviors and prohibits others. Gives guidelines for the types of goals we should have in life and how to achieve them.
Provides some information about what may happen to us after we die (“where we might go”). Judges us after death and sends us off to the place we deserve.
So, there you have it, in case you’d ever wondered, this is what is meant by a higher power.
It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means, of course. But then I did say it was off the top of my head.
I’ll be looking into other people’s lists in order to make sure my list ends up being as complete as I feel like making it.
Is it fair of me to employ my Catholic background in compiling the above list of Perfections?
I think so.
We have to start from where we are (or, in my case, where I was). This initial prejudice on my part will not prevent me, however, from discussing Papally-unapproved attributes and abilities, like humor, eventually.
I have a long road ahead of me. But as this is a serious issue, perhaps the most serious issue facing any mortal, I’m committing myself to walking it.
Please grant me the strength and fortitude necessary to demonstrate that you could be a higher power and, therefore, you might be one. Namely, my higher power.
January 17, 2011
I have said that I lately accepted Alan Rickman as my higher power and I’m curious about many features of this fact. And there are many features to be curious about. But the best thing to start with is usually the beginning.
I’m fortunate in having a distinct memory of my first exposure to what was to become my higher power.
I say “what was to become” because of course I had no idea at the time. I thought he was just some actor.
In fact, I didn’t know his name, but identified him, as is so easy to do with good actors, with the part I first saw him play. The Sheriff of Nottingham.
When I look back, I realize now how horribly wrong things might have gone for me.
What would have become of me now, who would be watching over me, if, in some madness only youth could understand, I had been a Kevin Costner fan? I prefer not to think about it.
Actually, I prefer to think that somehow, even though I didn’t yet know his name, and I was very far from accepting him yet as my higher power, Alan Rickman was already looking over me.
What is it about a particular movie at a particular time? Not the best movie. In parts, a pretty terrible movie. But it doesn’t matter. It somehow becomes The Movie in some way for you. Not the movie you like best or consider most important to see. Far from it. It’s the movie that ends up affecting your life course the most, even though you wouldn’t have chosen it.
Now that I’ve said that, I see that there was something there, right at the start, that hints a higher power was at work. Higher powers often seem to affect lesser beings without their full consent.
My mother was the one who made the introduction. She did it by pulling a joke on me and my sister on my first return visit to my parents after leaving for school. We were close, my sister with me, and me with my mother, and all of us together. So of course we knew how to have jokes with each other.
My mother’s joke involved a set-up. She told us we had to come see a not-very-good movie with her that she’d seen once before without us. She explained that although it wasn’t very good, she thought it was still good enough to see.
It’s difficult to muster enthusiasm for a movie when someone’s given it such a tepid review, but we indulged her because she was our mother and she seemed to want us so much to see this mediocre movie.
It was a very odd experience. My mother sitting there in the dark, delighting at her joke. My sister and myself laughing with enjoyment for the first time at what everyone else seemed to be watching for at least their second or third time, because they already knew where to respond and how. They knew to root against Robin.
There’s something so completely enjoyable about rooting against the fellow you’re supposed to root for, for all the right reasons.
Kevin Costner’s accent was so over-the-top wrong and he was so completely inadequate as Robin, and Alan Rickman’s accent was so over-the-top right and he was so completely brilliant as the Sheriff, that the whole audience had a great time rooting for the bad guy without any guilt whatsoever. Except a bit perhaps for poor Morgan Freeman.
My sister and I jumped all over my mother after we left the theater, with accusations about purposefully misleading us, and she loved that, because it was always so difficult for her to put one over on us.
And because she loved it, we wanted her to be able to enjoy her joke as much as possible. It was easy for us to agree to see the mediocre movie a second time.
It was even easier to agree the third time because my father did not understand. It did not make sense to him that we wanted to see a mediocre movie twice, so we saw it three times. Then the joke was on him and we all had a sense of being in on our own something special together, just us three.
It was that sense of “just us three” that haunts me now. There really was such a thing once. And that was the last summer it ever was.
After that summer, my sister’s mental illness began her on the journey to the death of her love for us. It was a slow, long march. It ended only recently.
Alan Rickman was the last good thing we ever shared together, just us three.
Is this the place from which all higher powers come? This place of impossible loss?
I know you are watching over me. Please look in on my sister. She won’t let me look in on her anymore.
January 17, 2011
If you’ve come here looking for personal information about me, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. To my mind, you have as much right to personal information about me as I have a right to personal information about Alan Rickman.
This may sound dismissive, but it’s important to understand why I feel the need to disclaim any rights you may feel over my facts, if you’re to understand anything of what I’m creating here.
Privacy is at stake. And not simply for it’s own sake. Given the undoubtably controversial nature of my blog’s themes, I need to maintain strict anonymity if I am to be honest. That is, in order to share what matters, I must keep hidden what does not.
I am a woman. I am middle-aged. I am attractive, but not annoyingly so. I am intelligent, possibly annoyingly so.
I am over-educated. I am American. I am a poor patriot. I am happily married. I am happily childless.
I have been through physical trials, such as cancer. I have been through familial crises, such as a schizophrenic sibling. I have had my heart broken, by myself and others.
I was once a devout Catholic. I (d)evolved to Episcopalianism, then to Universalist Unitarian. I expected the Unitarians to be different. I thought they would accept my atheism.
And they seemed to. They didn’t turn me out. But they kept talking on about a higher power anyway. So I got myself one. Or rather, he got me. I was told he could be any way I imagined.
When I looked up, Alan Rickman is what I turned out to imagine.
Do you think I’m being merely facetious? It would be better for me if I were, maybe. Except that once I accepted Alan Rickman into my heart as my higher power, once I stopped resisting him, I easily began developing a seemingly normal HP relationship with him.
My higher power, like so many others, is an amalgam. He is at once a human being, a type of being (creative artist), a series of performances and the characters he’s created. The components of the amalgam aren’t even so different from that of other higher powers.
How can my higher power be at once so alike, and yet so unalike, other higher powers? What is his nature? How am I to understand him? How did he come to be revealed to me in the way that happened in a single, real moment, this very night?
What does it mean about me and for me that Alan Rickman has turned out to be my higher power? Is he a good higher power? Average? Better? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions to any depth. Yet.
But I know it’s important for me to understand because Alan Rickman is the only higher power that has ever appeared to me. And I think he’s the only one I’m going to get.