Baby

In December 2020, my daughter sent me a peperomia plantling. It was a thoughtful gift that fetched a feeling of great tenderness. I’ve named and renamed her several times over these years because I could never quite recall the nom du jour. Finally, I landed on “Baby” as the easiest endearment to remember, likely because it was the affectionate name my father used for me when I was a child.

I wouldn’t call Baby a vivacious plant, but she has nevertheless been responsive to what have been my well-meaning efforts to keep her alive: a weekly watering; as much filtered light as I can find for her in my dark living room; and occasional, one-way discussions. Every so often she has surprised me with a new leaf, and I have hovered over it like a helicopter parent until I was confident it had matured sufficiently.

A few months ago, though, an infant leaf appeared at the base of the plant, where it remained tiny, pale, and unfurled. Then last week I noticed that one of the mature leaves had fallen off and was laying on its back next to the planter. I picked it up and turned it over and over before coming to the conclusion that it certainly seemed healthy enough. Immediately, I felt a small panic spread as I asked myself the following questions: Had I overwatered her? Had she suffered because there were more than a few days when I decided not to open the blinds? Did I not show her enough attention and care?

Since it quickly became clear that I wouldn’t be able to answer any of these questions, I instead pinched off the dying infant leaf and considered throwing the whole of Baby in the garbage. Although I didn’t do this, I was aware of a dark compulsion urging me to do so. Later that day, I also noticed an emerging desire to throw away every plate, bowl, glass, and mug I own because a few are chipped and cracked.

Increasingly, I see that I have had a limited tolerance for imperfection, which of course means that I have had little tolerance for all the world, including for myself. In trying to manage this entrenched self-contempt, I learned when I was a young girl that, if I impetuously cast out everything I regarded as flawed (and also threw in for good measure some things that weren’t flawed, at least from my perspective), I would be granted the chance to reset my life to zero so that I could start all over again.

Photo credit

Ten years (with audio clip)

Margo Banks’s mixed media piece (shown above) is intriguingly called “Keep Your Heart Open to Everything.” The image itself is a mystery, at least as it relates to the title, yet the animal’s kinetic energy, however contained it might be by four sides, somehow reminds me that in the years, or seconds, that remain of my life I must proceed as fearlessly as I can. It has been a decade since I started this blog, but when I try to remember who I was back then I am not able to see myself clearly. I can recall that I careered often between despair and hope, dread and equanimity, longing and indifference. Loving and not wanting to love. I can remember, too, how skittish I was about offering up what seemed at the time the very smallest of voices.

Artwork credit

The personal is political.

Digital painting based on Based on The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, Tongerlo Abbey.

Generally, I do not write about politics, but my often deeply personal writing is always deeply political, if by “political” one means rooted in larger forces, both seen and unseen. That is to say I am incapable of separating who I am, what I believe, and what I have lived from the historical, social, economic, and cultural influences that have shaped me.

As a young girl and then as a grown woman, I suffered considerable emotional, sexual, and physical abuse — perpetrated, also, by a few doctors. Yet, while it is true that I have been badly wounded by these abuses, my deepest scars come from the violence my soul has had to endure. Those who are violent, even (or perhaps especially) if it is emotional violence they inflict, are incapable of seeing the humanity that animates their victims, and they lack the capacity for self-awareness and self-honesty that would enable them to do so. How else could they justify the pain they cause?

I grew up in an extended family of arrogant, self-deluded, cruel misogynists; even the women hated women (or, more precisely, they hated themselves). So when I listen to Donald Trump speak hatefully and cruelly about women — and speak grandiosely and with high regard about himself — I have to admit that I feel right at home. Although he is as much a victim of history and culture as my family is and was, he nevertheless is a bankrupt and soulless human being who, if elected president, God forbid, would have me waxing nostalgic about those very dark Reagan and Bush years. And, while I am as left of left as they come, last night I was giddy to learn of Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa because perhaps it means that Trump will soon be down for the count — though Cruz is only slightly less reprehensible than his rival.

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Happy birthday to me ♫

birthday-hat-with-flowers

Today, September 17, I received birthday emails from my dentist, my eye doctor, my everyday doctor, and my bank. In the past, I have sneered at these types of marketing ploys and have inwardly labeled them as ungenuine and self-serving.

On this day, though, and in part because these emails were the only birthday wishes I had so far received (with the exception of a text from my daughter), I noticed the sneer was nearly gone. I attribute this softening in part to my age (which is older than it used to be) and to my slowly growing acceptance, it seems, that the world—including its marketing arm—is what it is.

While showering, I also noticed I was thinking about the word “grit.” It is one that is bandied about these days in education circles, and it has to do with a recognition that students not only need academic skills to succeed but also need “noncognitive competencies” to have a successful launch. Those who possess grit, then, have developed the inner resources that enable them to persevere even in the face of significant suffering. One of the many reasons I prefer working with community college students to working with students at four-year institutions is that so many of them have had to overcome great hardship to get to college, and they show their “grit” in all that they say and do.

I can relate well to the many struggles of the students I have known. When I look back on my years, I see that I, too, had learned to rely on my inner strength and on my sense of purpose when it seemed there was no one else to support and help me.

From childhood, mine has not been an easy life: Broken home. Broken marriages. Broken heart. But, I have more than survived the many difficulties, and I am still here, on September 17, to wish myself a happy birthday and to be grateful I have been given the possibility of one more year.

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