We don’t need no thought control

29 05 2013

Does it infringe upon the rights of parents to raise their children to insist that they educate their children up to a certain point and to certain standards?

Yes. So?

We in the US (and most other places on the planet) sensibly grant parents the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this particular right is conditional, not absolute. If they neglect or abuse or deny medical treatment to their children they will lose those rights, and once the children reach certain ages (these vary depending upon the circumstances), the parents lose those rights, regardless.

(“Right” is an awkward term to use in this case, largely because rights are assumed—not by me!—to be absolute and inalienable, such that to speak of “conditional rights” seems nonsensical. “Privilege”, however, seems too cramped a term; “authority” works pretty well. . . so, ah, yeah, I’ll use authority here on out.)

In any case, what I now call “authority” and what others might insist is a “right” has nonetheless come to be seen as something which, unfortunately unique among our understanding of rights, is paired tightly to “responsibility”. The default mode is parental authority/right/responsibility for children, such than an abuse of authority/failure to meet responsibility leads to loss of said authority/right.

Christ, I’m really talking around the issue, aren’t I? Nothing like spending two days in a writing seminar to unmake one’s ability to write.

Anyway. That we as a polity might infringe upon parental authority is neither new nor necessarily unjust. We might have good reasons to be suspicious of state mandates regarding children—see the history of removing Native American children from their homes, as unjust a policy as there was—but it is also the case that, absent state action, children suffer at the hands of their parents.

I can’t really object to religious or cultural communities wanting to instill their values into minor members of their communities (even though I do), because as deep a civic republican as I am, I am also a narrow civic republican who thinks pluralism is the bee’s knees (even if I am occasionally exasperated by those bee’s knees).

I”m losing the thread again, aren’t I? Shit.

Okay, I’ll just skip to the conclusion since I”m obviously skipping all over the place anyway. Requiring parents to educate their children is not an unjust limitation of their freedom to raise their children as they see fit, because parents ought not have the freedom to deny freedom to their children.

And the parts I skip over? All of the tough balancing between parents’ rational desires to pass their values along to their children and what to do when those values hinder their kids’ abilities to make, when they come of age, their own decisions. Amish and Satmar and FLDS children are not just Amish and Satmar and FLDS members, but individuals who, like every other individual, deserve to be recognized in and covered by the law, and not merely covered by their parents.

Or something like that.





We don’t need no education

27 05 2013

If your local  high school students thought Martin Luther King had something to do with slavery or never heard of Abraham Lincoln, you’d probably think, Huh, that’s a pretty lousy school.

And if those local school students attended a school  in a community in which education is required only through the 8th grade?

Would you think, My, isn’t it wonderful that the oppressive state isn’t forcing that nice community to teach anything contrary to their values?

Or maybe, How marvelous that parents retain the right to so completely control their children that those children are utterly unequipped to find their own way in the world, and are thus effectively prevented from ever leaving the community?

It’s even better when they get state support for such community-building. . . .





Let it be

4 08 2011

I always call on birthdays. And this was a big one.

No, not the president’s (tho’, since we’re here, happy birthday Mr. President); my mom’s.

She’s seventy.

That could be old, I guess, but it’s tough for me to think of her (or my dad, 73 in December) as old. They golf and take vacations and go swimming and take walks and work out and play cards and watch movies and, I dunno, do all the stuff they’ve done for the past thirty or forty years.

Maybe more slowly, but, hell, a couple of years ago they went to Costa Rica and whipped down a zip line.

Anyway, my pop got my mom a Nook for her birthday. I told her about The Unexpected Neighbor.

Which was unexpected.

I didn’t think I’d tell ‘em because I thought, well, they’re not going to read this thing on their computers. Plus, there’s the link to my profile, which includes a link to this blog.

My family doesn’t know about this blog.

Now, it’s not a problem if my mom follows the link and finds this blog. When I started the blog it was VERY IMPORTANT to me that I retain my pseudonymity, but over the years I’ve loosened up a lot. (And, obviously, in posting the link to The Unexpected Neighbor I made it very easy for anyone to find out who I am.) Since I had decided that I wouldn’t say anything behind my big red cube that I wouldn’t in front of my name, traversing the distance between my given name and my absurd one isn’t that great.

Still, I like that distance.

Anyone runs a search on me, this wouldn’t be the first thing to pop up. (Although I don’t know that I’d be the first thing to pop up if I ran a search on my name: it’s not uncommon. Anyway, I don’t know, because it’s been, mmm, five years? ten? since I ran a search on my name. Some shit I don’t need to worry about.) And, to extend this, I like having that space between my teaching self and my musing/ranting self. Finally, however much I’ve given myself over to the cyber-machine, I still don’t care to make it easy for the Googleplex to connect my absurd self to the rest of my life.

So, what if my mom or pop or anyone else in my family reads my blog? Eh, I don’t know. They’d be bored by the politics and likely put off by the swearing and they might wonder about my wonderings.

I don’t know that I want them wondering about my wonderings but, really, isn’t it long past time for me to stop policing what others may think of me?

I mean, let’s be real: I’m always going to try to police what people think of me, but I’m way past knowing that others will think what they think, regardless.

That’s how it’s always been, hasn’t it? You do what you do and everyone else will do what they do and sometimes it matters more than anything and sometimes it doesn’t matter at all.

So I’ll walk the beat and then let it be.

Absurdly, of course.

______

h/t  Susan Wise Bauer, for this aptly-timed post





On the occasion of emptying my mind and taking deep breaths and otherwise trying to make it through

6 12 2010

Or, my parents visiting:

It was fine.





Quick, breathe in deep

1 12 2010

My parents are flying in tomorrow for a long weekend visit.

My mind is a blank.

I like my parents, I do. And I respect them. I also recognize that on many levels we have little more in common than our genes.

Now, we do have enough in common—chattiness, a penchant for peanuts and beer, a basic degree of courtesy—that we can get along. From a distance of a thousand miles. Or for weekend visits in which I fly to them and then spend half of my time with other people.

But they’re coming here. Because I invited them.

Did I really think they’d come? After their last visit, they said, That’s our last visit. Of course, they drove, and stayed at a hotel in Queens that was near exactly nothing, and I’d only been in NY a short while and didn’t really know my way around, so it made sense that the trip was more hassle than it was worth. But once I moved into own new place—i.e., a place they could stay—it seemed to me that I ought at least ask them to stay.

See, that basic courtesy shit.

And they reciprocated. I don’t know that they really want to hang out in New York City. They see museums as a chore, aren’t into adventures in food, are not aficionados of the avant garde, and don’t really cotton to the idea of ‘just hanging out’ or ‘soaking it in’. No, they’re here to see me.

Again, that basic courtesy shit.

I don’t know what to do with them, and they most definitely are ‘doers’ (see: don’t just hang out). Thursday is set—they’re taking me to the Rockettes and then seeing another show while I teach—but Friday Saturday Sunday? I have no idea.

I sent them a long list of possibilities, figuring it would be better if they’d pick what they’d like to do, and then I’d go with them. Tenement Museum (they do like historical stuff), boat tours, tunnel tours—they haven’t said a word. I am afraid, very afraid, that they’ll want me to figure it all out.

If my folks were up for anything, this wouldn’t be problem. They are not up for anything.

So I’m thinking that we could hit the Craft Fair at St John the Divine’s on Friday, then they could, I don’t know, do something while I teach that night. Saturday, if it’s nice, we can walk through Prospect Park and maybe hit the Slope. Maybe we can dial up a movie to watch Saturday night.

Sunday? Christ. There’s a Packer bar in the West Village—maybe they’ll go for that. I don’t know what time their flight leaves on Monday; I hope it’s not too late.

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I’m girding myself for a visit from two people who love me, a visit I should be anticipating with joy rather than dread.

And so I am trying not to dread. Breathe in, breathe out. Empty my mind, empty my self. No fear, no dread, just being.

Breathe in, breathe out. Let it be, let it all be.





Love me, love me, say that you love me

26 09 2010

Love isn’t really my thing.

I don’t have anything against it, and it’s not that I don’t believe that it exists (whatever that means), but love and I don’t have much to do with each other.

I’m thinking about this because I referred to love in the comments to my last post, asking if someone were told that her belief was hated but that she was loved, would she, in fact, feel loved?

It was not so much the definition of love I was after so much as the question of being, but, nonetheless, it felt a bit. . . odd to use the term.

People have told me they loved me. My parents. My friend M. (who knows how it discomfits me). And I would guess that at least some of my friends would say, if not to me then at least about me, that they love me.

I don’t disbelieve them: if they say they love me, then okay. But I don’t feel it.

And I don’t feel badly about it. A little bad, insofar as I don’t say it back—this is one lie I can’t quite manage—but I don’t feel this great gaping and gasping pain of the absence of it in my life. Perhaps I can say that I feel the absence, but it is simply absence, something I register, and nothing more.

Have I ever felt love? I don’t know. I remember as a child telling my parents I loved them, and I think I would have said that I loved people (I certainly loved my pets) and meant it, but I also remember feeling that there was something obligatory in the saying: It was always tied, always. . . crimped or stapled into some line of duty.

I don’t remember it ever having been—although it must have been, once, it must have been—free.

And because it wasn’t free, because there was always that stitch in the side of any profession of love, it felt like a lie, a compulsion in order to reassure those around me that. . . oh, christ, I don’t know what. That I belonged? I can’t remember this, either, can’t remember why I felt guilty for saying it, only that I did, that I questioned whether I meant it.

This isn’t about conditional versus unconditional love: conditional doesn’t equal coerced. But I did feel compelled, for whatever reason, felt that there were certain things I must feel about certain people, and that I had to rank these people in a particular order—family before friends, parents before all others—and that to break ranks was a kind of betrayal.

And I betrayed.

Again, I don’t know where these feelings came from. Parents are the usual suspects, but they did (do) love us, and they did (do) try to be good parents. Perhaps it was a matter of their uncertainties and my sensitivities colliding in a way no one intended, but leaving us all damaged, nonetheless.

Damaged, hm. No, I’m not pained, but I do recognize that this absence is, indeed, an absence. And I wonder what its presence is like, and whether I, so long used to living without it, could even ever know what love is.

I don’t know what I’m missing, which makes me wonder what I’m missing.





One thing leads to another

9 10 2009

It’s happened again.

I finish one novel, wait, start another one. Then a new set of characters pushes into my words, and the new idea is set aside as a completely different novel unfolds.

I don’t understand it, but I go with it.

_____

So the President has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’m among those who wonders a bit about this, but I have a hard time seeing a downside.

This nearsightedness would apparently disqualify me from a career as a pundit, insofar as the bright lights of blovi-nation have deemed this as ‘having no upside’ (Mark Halperin, Time), as damaging (Mika Brzezinski), and a couple (George Packer, Mickey Kaus) suggesting he turn it down.

Yeah, because that would accomplish. . . what, exactly?

I’m not much of a nationalist, which, depending upon one’s definition, may mean I’m not much of a patriot, but why are all these ostensible America-Firsters so opposed to having something good come to US president?

_____

Biter Boy still bites. Not as often—not nearly as often—but even as he nears the end of teething (all four adult fangs are now in) he chomps more than he should.

Oh, and he knocked over his first plant this morning. Pissed me off, led to some, mmm, yelling, but as I was plopping the plant back into the pot, I remembered that Bean and Chelsea had their own bad encounters with their leafy co-inhabitants.

Jasper is also in full bathroom-fixation mode. Into the sink, sniffing the faucet. Running into the tub after I open the door after a shower, to watch the water finish its slow slide down the drain. And every time he hears me use the facilities he runs to inspect the process—sometimes to mildly distasteful results.

I should note that his fascination is strictly observatory: he does not appreciate forced participation in bathing.

_____

I hate grading. Have I mentioned that?

That’s the one, big, drawback to working at a community college: no teaching assistants on whom I can offload the papers.

_____

I’m not much either for Twitter or Miley Cyrus, but jeez Louise, even I took note that Stage Dad Billy Ray is pushing for her to, uh, what the hell’s the story? Oh, yeah, she shut down her Twitter account, and Mr. I-Miss-the-Limelight is begging for her return.

Excellent idea, ’cause I’m sure the SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD girl doesn’t have enough to do, what with going to school, starring in a t.v. show, promoting an album, and whatever else an over-scheduled future-rehab patient does.

Now that’s some fine parenting.

_____

Your socialist-feminist-pomo-cranky blogger is. . . looking for corporate work.

Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

_____

C.’s got a new post up at SoundofRain about moving on, hashing out, and forgiveness.

I haven’t yet responded because I don’t know how to respond. Moving on? Check. Hashing out? Check—sometimes. Forgiveness?

Have I mentioned that I can move on?

_____

Newsflash! Migraines suck.

_____

EmH has a post responding to a question I asked: Why support a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians?

Haven’t yet responded to her (grading: grrr), but it’s a certainly a reasonable position, one to which I am resigned.

Still, even this resignation is studded with uneasiness, insofar as I don’t see how the two states can actually be accomplished without massive—and forced—resettlement. Ethnic cleansing, in other words.

I’m not one to state (to continue the hygiene theme) that ‘we’ should wash our hands of the whole thing, but I wonder if the continued (over?) involvement of everyone and her mother in Israel and Palestine’s business doesn’t simply make it easier for Israelis and Palestinians to avoid dealing directly with each other.

Not that there’s any way to keep everyone’s mother out of this.

_____

I have a decent, if complicated, relationship with my parents—a situation which I’d guess would describe most adult kids’ relationships to their parents.

Perhaps that’s why I find this site, My Parents Were Awesome, so poignant.

Yeah, they once had lives that had nothing to do with us. Lives with their own complications.

And the beat goes on.





That was the river/This is the sea

11 05 2009

Why bother with openness and honesty? Really, what’s the problem with a little subterfuge?

This, from a woman who blogs pseudonymously, who refers to FelineCity and Bummerville rather than the real places—and who’s trying to come to terms with life in general and her life in particular.

I intiated this blog with the notion of playing with ideas, of being able to turn things over in my hand without having to worry about referees and journals and publications. I took myself off the tenure track on purpose (another post, perhaps), but didn’t want to take myself out of the realm of political theory.

And it was to be about the ideas, not about me. But it’s become about me. I’ve set up another blog for my students, and some of my ideas about politics have migrated or will migrate to that site. It’s not that I’ve given up on politics and theory on this site, but my, ah, considerations of existence have become more prominent than expected, which means the considerations of my existence have also become more prominent.

This is not a problem. But there is the matter of my pseudonymity, and of the people in my life. I am protective of both my and their privacy, but the dynamics behind that protectiveness vary. While I don’t reveal my name, I’m more than willing to scrutinize my own actions—camouflage in service to revelation.

But I don’t want to hurt anyone else, and don’t particular want to reveal aspects of others’ lives that they may not want revealed. It’s one thing to relate a story in person to a friend; it’s quite another to send it out into the wild west of cyberspace, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. An empathic conversation in an intimate setting could simply devolve into bloggy fodder for someone else’s machine.

Yet what if your story is intertwined with someone else’s? Lori Gottlieb wrote an essay in this past week’s NYTimes about the complications of writing about one’s mother. If you write about your childhood, she notes, it’s inevitable that parents will make an appearance—and that they may not like it. She quotes Susan Cheever, who edited out a particular anecdote about her mother at her mother’s request: ‘Now I’d probably say, ‘It’s your life, but it’s my book.’ ‘

Does one’s book trump another’s life? Perhaps it would be more straightforward to say It’s your life, but it’s my life, too—and we don’t get to edit each other’s lives.

In Losing Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley writes about his famous parents, Pat and William F., in ways both affectionate and morbid. Given what I had read on Crunchy Con, I had expected a scathing account of their parenting, but the revelations of their, ah, quirks as Mum and Pup seemed to conceal even more. Still, should Christo (as WFB referred to him) have written so expansively of his father’s drug habits, or his habit of unzipping and peeing out the car?

On the other hand, C. wrote a beautiful essay about one of her few memories of her mother, a beloved woman who died when C. was very young. There’s a context to this tale which is not explicitly mentioned (namely, the rest of C.’s life), but the story stands on its own, with a thin and sharp sorrow slicing through the poignancy of the tale. I’d heard it before, amidst a long conversation, but written on its own it’s taken on a resonance I didn’t hear amidst the crowd of spoken words.

I’m so glad she wrote it. It is a story which deserves its flight.

Still. I don’t write about my parents, with the exception of the posts on my dad’s stroke. We’ve had our difficulties, and I have made my own kind of peace with my folks—a peace which would not be served by debriding old wounds. They’ve healed enough; let them be.

Do I betray my writing in my silence? This is something memoirists often cop to: We’re writers, we betray, it’s what we do. I can’t speak to anyone’s sincerity in so copping, but it seems glib, a kind of cheap badge of courage: Look at all I’m willing to destroy in order to create!

I am not at all willing to destroy my parents. I’m not famous, they’re not famous, and the chances of them ever coming across anything I’ve written is very small, but I’m not willing to pick at them publicly. (Privately? Well, that’s what therapy was for. . . .) They’re decent people, and they don’t deserve that.

Would I write about them after they die? And would that be better or worse? After all, it is precisely because they’d be beyond my words that they’d be unable to respond to them. I don’t know what I’ll do, not least because I don’t know who I’ll be when they do die, and what I’ll need and want when they are gone. It is entirely possible, however, that I’ll never write much about them.

Is that protectiveness? Cowardice? Exhaustion? Yes.

But what of my own life? Why not reveal myself? Here, again, I refer to a post C. wrote, on self-stories which include ‘too much information’, in this case about an incident at a museum in Amsterdam. It’s funny. But it’s more than funny; it’s also a light she shines in her own face:

The reason I used my real name on that story is because I wanted to commit myself to being who I am, no matter what that means. Now I look back at myself 10 plus years ago with affection and exasperation. Can I really follow through? Can I really be that brave?

I don’t know that I can be that brave (even if no one is reading me). Oh, I could dismiss it all as ‘rash’, but I think C. is right on the need to commit oneself, no matter what.

This, after all, is the ancient understanding of courage: Not the exposure itself, but the willingness to stand fast, to hold to the courage of one’s convictions.

Eh, maybe I’ll half-ass it, no longer patrolling the perimeter for security breaches, allowing for the possibility that my identity will sneak across the border.

Not brave, not courageous, but a start.





Everything in its right place

18 11 2008

So when my mom got to the hospital this morning, my pop was sitting up in bed and talking to the speech therapist.

Good news. Gooooooooooood news.

He’s not all back, but enough that he’ll be going home Tuesday.

I spoke to him a few hours ago. It was good to hear his voice. He asked me how I was, and I told him how I get into Manhattan early on Mondays, and like to take pictures. Well, he said, New York seems to suit you.

So even though he doesn’t know I blog, and even though he doesn’t particularly like New York, these pics are for you, pop.

0021I do like those tall buildings, I said.

039

And this one is for a site he did appreciate on his last (and, he told me, it would be his last) visit to NYC:

038

Be well, pop.





My father’s waltz

16 11 2008

I didn’t have access to the Internet for a few days, and I thought that was a TRAGEDY!

Then I got a voicemail from my mom, telling me my dad had had a stroke.

Ah.

He’s in the hospital, has a slight weakness in his right hand, but otherwise retains his large motor functions, still has his gag reflex, and is able to walk, go to the bathroom, and eat. (He did need assistance to get to the bathroom, but this may have been due to the pre-MRI sedatives.) He was supposed to have that MRI today, but was still too agitated even after sedation that the docs had to call it off; tomorrow, with the help of stronger drugs, he’ll get his noggin scanned.

He’s not talking much, but, again, he’s been drugged up. It’s clear to the docs, however, that the stroke occurred on the left side of his brain, so that his speech has been affected is unsurprising. He was, at least, able to respond to a nurse who asked him some basic questions about eating.

And you know the whole hide-the-pills-in-food thing pulled on children and pets? They do it with adults, too, in my pop’s case, applesauce. (The nurse noticed he was tucking the applesauce into his cheeks, but he did eventually swallow it.)

I get along with my family, but in many ways we are not close. As I’ve joked with friends, there’s a reason I live a thousand miles away. Still, when one gets a voicemail informing one of a parent’s medical crisis, well, one feels every mile of that separation.

I’m worried about my pop, but I’m worried about my mom, too. They are extremely close: they met when my mom was in 8th grade and my dad a sophomore; began dating two years later, and married two weeks after my mom graduated high school. My pop was in the Air Force then, so they spent some time apart, but for the past 50 years (yeah, they celebrate their 50th anniversary next year) they have been inseparable. There’s no one the other would rather be with.

They are also very clear about wanting to preserve their independence, and to live their lives as fully as possible. Some years ago they filled out living wills, authorized my sister to carry out the terms of those documents, and have told each of us (sister, brother, me) that they have no desire to have their bodies preserved beyond what they would consider a decent life. My siblings and I respect that.

So while it’s too early to form any long-term prognosis for my pop, I am concerned what this stroke means for that decent life, for their shared life. I use the singular deliberately: they became adults together, became the people they are today together, so while they are most definitely individuals, I think they understand themselves as a necessary, beloved, part of the other.

I hope that will be enough to pull them through.








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