reflection

The personal is political.

Personal Is Political - Exhibition

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. Even a few doctors had their way. 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 if it is emotional violence, are incapable of seeing the humanity that animates their victims, and they lack the capacity for self-awareness and self-honesty. How else could they justify the pain they inflict?

I grew up in an extended family of arrogant, self-deluded misogynists not unlike Donald Trump; even the women hated women (or, more precisely, they hated themselves). So when I listen to 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 days. 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.

Image

Apocrypha

Codex_Tchacos_p33I have been thinking about my father, who died when I was twenty. Nothing that has happened in my life from his death until now can compare with the terrible sorrow I felt, although certainly there have been competing blows.

Back then, though, before I had thickened with callus, it swallowed me whole, that grief, and there was no one in the extended family, not any soul, who even took notice of it much less tried to salve it. I was the frailest of ghosts in a collective of vapors.

Rita, my mother, divorced my father when I was six, presumably because of his philandering. I remember just a very few fragments from that story, which came to me through her. Since she lied more often than not, I do not know for certain what is true here: 1) He had been doing his big-breasted secretary on the west coast while she had been setting up a new house for him some 3,000 miles away, her addled children in tow. 2) She had listened nonstop to Ritchie Valens’s “Donna” and had wailed all the livelong day. 3) He had thrown a heavy glass ashtray at her when the children were sleeping.

I knew my father for just a handful of years—from zero to six, say. After that he was out the door with another secretary, whom he met at a New York City cosmetics company while an advertising executive there. She had recently arrived from England; was some twenty years younger than he was; had become a bottle redhead, like my mother; and was more an athlete than an intellectual. Soon enough they married, and off they flew to Southern California—ostensibly to rid themselves of his verbally violent, alcoholic ex-wife but also, I think, to offload the two children: one an odd and lonely kid who cried all the time; the other her older brother, who by then had become a real rotter.

Through middle and high school, during my winter and summer vacations, I would visit my father and his young bride. I confess to having worshipped her then, and for many years after, though it turns out this devotion was undeserved. Although I have relatively few memories from that time, I can call up several stray fragments from the earlier years. Perhaps they, too, are part fabrication:

1) At a weekend party of adults, except for me, I am sitting at a round table next to my father. Several other grownups are at the table with us. My father has been drinking heavily, and I lean over to tell him he should go easy on the booze. Laughing and glassy-eyed, he turns to me and says, “I can drink you under the table.” I am ten.

2) I am in the bedroom of the party-givers, alone and rifling through a night table drawer. I find a small comic book and discover it is porn: Inside the booklet a hand-drawn couple is going at it in a car parked at an overlook. A police officer shines a flashlight in on them and sees the man’s outsized penis. I see the outsized penis, also. “We’re just necking,” says the man. “Well, put your neck back in your pants and go on home,” the officer tells him. I continue to be ten.

3) I am in a room with one of my only friends. We have come from New York to spend the summer in California with my father and stepmother. We are smoking, and my stepmother walks in on us. “Smoking!” she exclaims—then turns and leaves. I am thirteen, as is my friend, but by then I had already been smoking for four years.

Image

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.

Image