Turnabout, fair play, etc.

31 05 2009

Amy Welborn asked those of us who are pro-choice why we bother worrying about reducing the numbers of abortion.

It was a fair question. (My reply, here.)

So now a question for those who think abortion is murder: If abortion is murder, and those who perform abortions murderers, why is the murder of a murderer abhorrent?

Rod Dreher and Robert George (who is quoted at Crunchy Con) each condemns the murder of Dr. Tiller, and George offers the most the conventional rejoinder to those who believe that this is a just killing: We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life.

It is a reasonable response, and one which likely covers many who call themselves pro-life.

But it does not cover all. It does not cover those who, unshackled by any sort of seamless garment argument, seek justice by any means necessary.

I’m a leftist and not a pacifist, and think there are some necessities beyond morality; thus I, too, have to consider the ramifications of the ‘justice by any means necessary’ argument.

But not today. Today, a man was killed in the name of life. Today, it is the turn of those who proclaim their fealty to that cause to answer the question.

*Update: I’m not the only one asking this question.





Who’s the victim here? (pt I)

31 05 2009

George Tiller, who was one of the few doctors who performed third-trimester abortions, was shot to death today.

At least one anti-abortion activist worried about the backlash:

“I’d hope they wouldn’t try to broad-brush the entire pro-life movement as some sort of extremist movement because of what happened in Wichita,” [Rev. Patrick] Mahoney said. “That’s really important — don’t use this personal loss for a political gain.”

Uh huh. Because there’s nothing political about the assassination of an abortion provider.





(Almost) No comment

24 05 2009

Why Gay Marriage is BadBadBad, from one of the (multi-married) geniuses at The Weekly Standard:

Consider four of the most profound effects of marriage within the kinship system.

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood–and sexual accessibility–is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. This may seem a grim thing for the young woman–if you think of how the teenaged Natalie Wood was not permitted to go too far with Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. But the duty of virginity can seem like a privilege, even a luxury, if you contrast it with the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world. No wonder that weddings tend to be regarded as religious ceremonies in almost every culture: They celebrate the completion of a difficult task for the community as a whole.

This most profound aspect of marriage–protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex–is its only true reason for being, and it has no equivalent in same-sex marriage. Virginity until marriage, arranged marriages, the special status of the sexuality of one partner but not the other (and her protection from the other sex)–these motivating forces for marriage do not apply to same-sex lovers.

Uh huh.

Two (more) words: Fucked. Up.

(Tip to Chris Bodenner’s Sullivan Bait, sub-posting for Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish.)





For she loves you for all that you are not

23 05 2009

I love a good ruin. They rarely disappoint.

Buildings, I mean. Edifices. Material constructs: walls, gates, jetties, fences. Anything built to last, which crumbles.

I was perusing a book today on abandoned places—factories, mostly, but a few schools—and all I could think was slowly flipping through the pages was Oh, I want to go there.

Not that I have anything against visiting functional places. Or living in one: I like having heat and hot water and plaster which stays on ceiling and walls rather than spitting down on my head. And if you buy me a ticket to the Tate or the Louvre or the Prado I will very happily mose my way through them (tho’ a ticket to the Hermitage? I’d take that one first of all).

But after making my way through what I could of the Hermitage, I might ask if it’d be possible to check out Chernobyl. Suit me up and lead me through the plant itself, then mose with me through the near-empty streets and in and out of abandoned buildings. Let me see the overturned desks and pictures on the walls of the schools, the dust on the windowsills and the paint peeling up in waves.

Let me see all that is no longer there.

Do I find ruins romantic? Not exactly. Haunting, perhaps. Thrilling. A little spooky. It’s as if by everything being laid bare, something even more is hidden. There is the evidence of stories, with the stories themselves—gone. The silence whispers.

I remember as a kid going to Disney World and wanting more than anything to explore the castle at the center of the Magic Kingdom. A castle! What could be better!

Castle—pfft. It was a big damned hallway. I still remember walking into the joint and looking around and looking around and looking around and thinking. . . this is it? This isn’t a castle, this is just. . . a big building. A big damned disappointing building.

More disappointments followed. I’d see a building with a magnificent edifice and enter and then. . . nothing. Or, worst of all, suspended-tile ceilings, florescent-tube lighting, and gray carpeting. (Ever been though the buildings on the quad at Duke University? Gothic exteriors, seventies interiors.)

FelineCity had a good mix of old, still functional buildings and places going to seed (sometimes they were the same places).  They also had a series of ports, some of which didn’t do enough business to justify more than a chain strung between two rusted poles and a vague intimation that trespassing was not allowed, which I freely explored on my bike and on foot. There were floating rustbins and dilapidated offices and crumbling walkways and not really anyone around to shoo me away.

GradCity was also on a river, and the industries which had clustered along the waterway had largely taken leave of the city, their factories left behind for the homeless, the punks, and restless students like me. City officials have since refurbished these areas, inviting the regular folk to enjoy the scenery. I can’t really complain, not least because I no longer live there, but I do miss the kind of furtive exploration these abandoned spaces allowed.

There are seedy and abandoned spaces all over New York City, but I haven’t done much poking around them. Security is tighter here, of course, and it is more likely than not that these derelict places are nonetheless inhabited. But still, if I could get a guide. . . .

And oh! That place on Long Island, the old mental hospital? Totally off limits. I want to go.

This city is built on ruins. Yes, history is constantly erased in this Land of the Developer, but just as often it is merely hidden, built over or around, odd nooks or old mosaics or peculiar stonework all that’s left to signal that there was once something else, here.

Perhaps this is why ruins exhilarate in ways that Main Attractions! rarely do: The magic castles are so often filled with nothing but the lure of the Magic™, where the excitement is in the anticipation, not the exploration. All pitch, no promise.

But ruins pitch nothing, and that they promise nothing other than ruin is what allows one to consider not what is to come, but what has been. They are literally throw-backs to another reality, and they tempt precisely because they are present markers of the absence of another present, and presence.

Something else, something other, something more.

Gone, but not quite.





This was not helpful

21 05 2009

From the New York Times Lede Blog:

May 21, 2009, 7:38 am

Updated: 7:38 am

Catholic Archbishop Explains Remarks on ‘Courage’ of Abusers

The new head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols — who said on Wednesday that it “takes courage” for members of the clergy in Ireland who abused children “to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at” — tried to clarify his comments on Thursday.

Archbishop Nichols, who officially takes over the post of Archbishop of Westminster at a ceremony on Thursday, told British television on Wednesday, after the release of a 2,600-page report detailing the abuse of Irish children at Church-run state institutions:

It’s very distressing and very disturbing. And my heart goes out today, first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public…. Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage. And also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.

On Thursday, Archbishop Nichols told BBC Radio that his remarks were “perfectly sensible” and stressed that he also said that anyone guilty of abuse should be prosecuted. The BBC reported that Archbishop Nichols said, of members of the clergy who had committed abuse:

It is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses. That is certainly true of anyone who’s deceived themselves that all they’ve been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children.

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Nichols was also asked if members of the clergy should be subject to prosection and that he replied: “Yes, absolutely. If the offenses are such that demand that.”

——

Oh, at least he wants them prosecuted. So what is doing to make sure that happens?





Won’t get fooled again

20 05 2009

I was going to post something light, whimsical, even.

Then I read the paper.

The report on abuse in Irish schools was released earlier today, and offers up yet more horrifying stories of beatings, rape, humiliation, and all-around violence. Unfortunately, the Christian Brothers successfully sued the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to keep the names of the violent criminals its members out of the report, so justice, so long in coming, will be delayed even more.

From the Executive Summary:

More than 90% of all witnesses who gave evidence to the Confidential Committee reported being physically abused while in schools or out-of-home care. Physical abuse was a component of the vast majority of abuse reported in all decades and institutions and witnesses described pervasive abuse as part of their daily lives. They frequently described casual, random physical abuse but many wished to report only the times when the frequency and severity were such that they were injured or in fear for their lives. In addition to being hit and beaten, witnesses described other forms of abuse such as being flogged, kicked and otherwise physically assaulted, scalded, burned and held under water. Witnesses reported being beaten in front of other staff, residents, patients and pupils as well as in private. Physical abuse was reported to have been perpetrated by religious and lay staff, older residents and others who were associated with the schools and institutions. There were many reports of injuries as a result of physical abuse, including broken bones, lacerations and bruising.

And, of course, these children were rarely believed, or blamed for the torment visited upon them by both clerical and lay authorities. Again, from the ES:

Contemporary complaints were made to the School authorities, the Gardaí, the Department of Education, Health Boards, priests of the parish and others by witnesses, their parents and relatives. Witnesses reported that at times protective action was taken following complaints being made. In other instances complaints were ignored, witnesses were punished, or pressure was brought to bear on the child and family to deny the complaint and/or to remain silent. Witnesses reported that their sense of shame, the power of the abuser, the culture of secrecy and isolation and the fear of physical punishment inhibited them in disclosing abuse.

I saw a clip on the BBC of a man who had survived his years in the schools. He looked to be in his fifties or sixties, but the anguish was fresh.

According to the BBC, ‘The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, said those who perpetrated violence and abuse should be held to account, “no matter how long ago it happened”.’

So tell the good Brothers to release the damned names themselves. Don’t abandon that anguished man again.

I’ve been reading a number of different reactions to the release of the Commission report, including, dishearteningly, those few who argue that the abuse ‘wasn’t that bad’. Many more commentators blame the Catholic Church, with the blame running from the hierarchy to celibacy to gay priests to the heresy of Jansenism.

I’m not particularly interested in defending the Church—goddess knows it has more than enough lawyers to defend itself. But I don’t think the problem is with Catholicism per se, not least when inquiries into abuses in Australia and Canada revealed similar problems in Anglican-run institutions.

It’s not even a problem with Christianity or religion. There was recently an article in the St. Petersburg Times about the abuse, even death, of inmates at the Florida School for Boys. (Go here for the multi-media report.) The state knew there were problems, knew for decades there were problems, but little was done.

No one was charged for the torture and death of these boys.

Should I mention Guantanamo? Abu Ghraib? The prison outside of Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan? Hell, what about prisons within the US?

The dynamics of abuse in these various places is not all the same, but they do share one very important element in common: Unchecked authority.

Both parts of that phrase are important: Many of those [edit to add: who] abused were authority figures themselves, or granted authority to so abuse by those in positions superior to them. And those who didn’t condone the abuse itself nonetheless shielded these men (and in the case of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, women) from the civil and criminal consequences of their actions.

Oh, sure, Lindy England and Charles Grainor and Fathers Geoghan and Shanley were tried and sent to prison, but the problems of unchecked authority go far beyond these few so-called bad apples.

No, the abuse in borne of the righteousness of such authority, be it clerical or civic righteousness. These kids were delinquents or whores or incorrigible; prisoners are the lowest of the low, animals, threats to society; terrorists are, well, terrorists. In all cases ‘harsh treatment’ is acceptable, encouraged, even. How else are they to learn? How else are they to know who’s in charge? How else are they to know what’s good for them?

And it is such righteousness which allows abuse to continue, unchecked. Those in charge are holding the line, keeping us safe, willing to do the dirty work we all want done but don’t want to know about. They are good men and women; heroes, even.

Well, fuck that. I’m not an anarchist—I believe in authority, properly exercised—but if those in authority cannot, in fact, exercise it properly, then why bother? If those in authority escape prosecution (almost everyone), retain their licenses to practice law (Gonzalez, Yoo), remain on the bench (Bybee), get booted upward to a position in the Vatican (Cardinal Law), or get a school named after them (Arthur G. Dozier, head of the Florida School for Boys during the worst of the abuses), why the fuck should any of us respect this so-called authority?

And walking away or getting past all this or not looking backward or playing the blame game? No. Open it up, open it all up, and let those who authorized this abuse justify themselves in public, before the public, and, perhaps, before a jury.

Otherwise we’re just stuck with Meet the new boss, same as the old boss—be that boss a priest, a cardinal, a superintendent, a CIA official, or a president.

Open it up, open it all up.





Why, the little lady can think!

18 05 2009

Enough with the constant bitching about male pronunciamentos on abortion. Not that they can’t have their say, but, really, enough with their privilege.

So can I bitch about a woman’s pronunciamentos on abortion. . . ?

Let me rephrase that: I take issue with Amy Welborn’s take on abortion, specifically, with her quick dismissal of the question of the status of the [pregnant] woman. In her commentary on President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, she notes

And a subissue – if this is not even an issue for you, if you do not see the unborn as a group in need of legal protection, and if you resonate with Obama’s call for reduced numbers of abortion…why? If Obama goes too far with this, he will run up against what Hilary Clinton ran up against a couple of years ago when she attempted to allude to a moral dimension to abortion. Boy, she had to backtrack, and fast.  The fundamental issue, you see, is trusting women as moral agents.

Why yes, that is the fundamental issue: trusting women as moral agents. Are we able to make decisions about our lives, or not?

I noted in a previous post that I didn’t think that rights language was sufficient to address the moral difficulties and passions of abortion. I still don’t. As much as rights are necessary to procure legal protections, without a sufficient moral and political argument behind those rights the reason for those protections are obscured, and the protections themselves at risk of a hollowing out.

The moral argument may begin at its basic level: survival. If I am to exist as a full human being in this world, then I cannot allow anyone else literal control over my life—whether that anyone else is a member of Congress, a judge, a boyfriend, or the fetus itself.

This is not as simple as it sounds, not least because we do live interdependently, and, in so doing, cede some measure of control to others. Yet even in society we are allowed to defend ourselves—our lives—even at the cost of another’s life.

There is nothing easy or automatic about that allowance, that decision to, perhaps, kill, and some of us are unable or unwilling to choose our own lives over those who threaten us. It is a fraught circumstance, difficult to determine in advance how one would react. My life or yours? I can guess, but I can’t know what I would choose.

But is abortion self-defense? I think it is, albeit of a different sort than that against a ‘outside’ attacker. First, it is an assertion against authority who might seek to prevent me from defending myself—the assertion of a right. Second, it is a self-recognition of a woman’s own worth as a human being, as being morally capable of determining whether to continue or end a pregnancy. It is an assertion of her own life.

But what of the good question Welborn does ask: If I don’t think fetuses as a class are in need of protection, then why bother with reducing the number of abortions?

The immediate response is that, as in other cases of self-defense, it is a fraught circumstance.

To recognize this is to recognize that the fetus, especially as it develops, is itself developing into a being deserving of its own recognition. To end the pregnancy is to end its development, its potential. And while I tend to accord personhood rather late in the pregnancy, the accordance itself is rather ad hoc; I’m not at all certain about fetal status.

Which means that I support abortion even if it could be killing another person.

This is not a politically happy conclusion. But if I am to assert the primacy of a woman’s moral capacity to choose her life over another’s, then I also have to allow that she is, in fact, choosing her life over another’s. It is entirely possible that terminating a pregnancy means killing a person—and if I defend the right to terminate, then I ought at least recognize this possibility. To make a moral decision is not to shirk consequences.

Pro-life advocates often argue that the status of the fetus as a person trumps all other claims, a position which I, obviously, reject. But what of the subsidiary claim of the innocence of the fetus? The Catholic Church, for example, argues that however grievous sexual assault, aborting a pregnancy resulting from rape is nonetheless forbidden, insofar as the fetus is itself innocent of any crime.

True, the fetus may lack malevolent intent, or any intent, for that matter. Yet however innocent the fetus, it still threatens; it is not about intent, but the effect itself. That said, I can still recognize the fetus is simply doing what fetuses do, capturing resources from a woman’s body so that it may develop. Whether this is innocence or simply the fetal condition, there is nothing personal in the fetus’s slow takeover of its immediate environment.

The problem, of course, that its immediate environment is, in fact, a(nother) person’s body.

This, finally, is where one may locate the core of the response to Welborn: When a woman does not want to continue a pregnancy, she sees herself at odds with the fetus, views it as an intruder, even; she aborts it to save herself. She kills to save.

Thus, the fraught circumstance, the one I believe most of us would rather avoid. I would prefer to reduce the number of abortions because even the morally defensible position to abort allows for the possibility of killing a person, and I would prefer less rather than more killing.

This hardly comprises a comprehensive defense of abortion, reproductive rights, and sexual expression; indeed, there are any number of pro-life advocates who consider pregnancy a just punishment for sex. But the position of those who seek to defend the life of the fetus is a morally serious one in a way that misogynistic screeds against women’s sexual personality is not, and, as such, deserves a similarly serious response.

It is not a nice response, and, I imagine, it’s bluntness might offend even some on the pro-choice side. But it is necessary to admit to what one defends, however unpleasant that defense may be.

Nobody ever said moral agency was easy.





Ghost in the machine

17 05 2009

She’s been gone two weeks and I don’t feel her anywhere.

I choked up as this photo loaded on to the page, but it’s been been awhile since tears could be prompted by the thought of her.

She’s slipped right through and away from me.

Grief may be about the recognition of absence, as I mentioned previously, but what of the absence of the absence?

I can tell people I mercy-killed my cat and move on. I pull FatCat close to me and wonder how she is as an only cat. I think about getting a kitten in July or August.

I don’t think about Chelsea.

There’s a photo of her propped on top of her empty food dish (a small pot I threw and glazed in her tiger-striped coloring; FatCat has a similar black-and-white dish), but I rarely slide my eyes over the shelf on which the dish sits, so I don’t see her. Out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a relief not always to be verging on tears, but I’m discomfitted by my relatively smooth transition to post-Chelsea life. I was worried about the grief taking me over, but now I wonder about the easy sequestration of that grief.

I thought she’d be here. Yeah, I know, I’m an agnostic about all things supernatural, but I liked the idea of her, somehow, hanging around. Ms. Blithe comforted me with the words ‘Travel well, Skinny Cat,’ and I like the image of her continuing on, somehow.

Somehow. I was worried that my own disenchanted naturalism would dissipate into a cheap spiritualism, that I would be unable to deal forthrightly with Chelsea’s death and thus retreat into a moony ‘when-I-see-her-again’ wistfulness.

This is not a slam against belief. My friend and colleague J. is both ‘an orthodox Marxist and an orthodox Catholic’ (she pronounces this with her finger raised) says that ‘unlike those goddamned Protestants’ Catholics believe that animals have souls and I’ll see Chelsea in heaven. (Which is sweet, really, that she thinks I’ll make it to heaven.) I demurred and noted that some Protestants allow for this possibility, but, as with Ms. Blithe’s comment, I didn’t really take it in. It’s a nice idea that I don’t quite believe in.

I ought to be relieved: my agnosticism is not as blithe as I worried it might be! My beloved cat is gone and I don’t experience her as anything other than gone. She’s dead, as FatCat will one day be, as any other cats I take in will one day be, as my friends and family and I will someday be. Dead is dead.

Curiously, however, I am not eased by the fact that I am not eased by any post-death possibilities. I ought to be pleased with myself, insofar as I sometimes suspect that my agnosticism is little more than cover for lack of commitment. I am committed to doubt! I say, even as I think I am merely keeping all of my options open. Don’t want to be caught out a fool, doncha know.

So the unbelief side of my agnosticism holds. Whoopee.

Another stage of grief? Bargaining or whatever? ‘I want my cat back. I want her here, with me.’ And that she’s not, in any way, is a kind of small desolation which confirms the possibility of universal desolation. Is this the movement out of bargaining into acceptance? That death really does mean separation?

And then wrap this whole situation in the that whole over/underreaction dynamic I have going on, and it would make sense that I lurch from constant sorrow to a certain stoniness regarding her absence, and from there to a cosmic absence for everyone everywhere, forever.

I want to be clear-eyed. I want to remember. I want to keep open possibility. I want to commit. I want to make sense.

So Chelsea’s gone and I know that. I know that too well. I just want her here, as well.

I want something more.





No one is alone. . .

13 05 2009

. . . Oh yes, we are. Or is that ‘Oh yes, one is’?

Anyway.

Many of us to choose to live alone, and we cultivate our solitude even as we cultivate friends. Some of us would like to marry or attach ourselves to a intimate companion, but we’re not necessarily distraught over the lack of such a companion.

We’re alone, and we’re all right.

And yet, even if we’re—oh hell, lemme switch to the (duh) singular—even if I’m okay with my solitary existence, I’m okay because it is not only solitary. Among the main reasons I left Bummerville was the difficulty in finding friends—true friends, people with whom I’d share ideas and embarassments and beers and tears, not just folks with whom sharing went no further than ‘What’s new?’ There were a few people, here and there, but I lacked that gathering of intimates, the jumble of personalities who, collectively, form a kind of thick weave of comfort around oneself.

I can’t say I’ve fully cultivated those rich layers of friendships in New York City, but I have discovered some people who I hope to spend the rest of my life getting to know, and some of whom I already consider good friends. This is a tough old broad of a place, and as much affection as I might have for tough old broads, I also need trusted allies in dealing with her. Hence, the friends.

That works for regular life. What, however, of the ruptures of illness or trauma or disability of whatever sort? On her NYTimes blog, The Well, Tara Parker-Pope highlighted a report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation on the difficulties same-sex couples may encounter in trying to care for their partners in hospitals. She notes that

While heterosexual couples typically don’t have to provide marriage licenses to hospitals in order to prove they are husband and wife, same sex couples often must document their relationship to hospital officials before being allowed to take part in a partner’s care.

In some cases partners and their children were barred from the bedside, and their beloved died alone. Even when they had documentation of their relationship, including legal papers in which they were designated as health proxies or given durable power of attorney, the partner often had to fight to be able to care for his or her companion.

I’m not going to go into the idiocy and brutality of exclusionary policies—commentors on the blog do that quite nicely—but instead will simply note that same-sex couples and single people are in many ways in the same unseaworthy boat: We’re screwed when we need help and institutions won’t recognize those whom we would like to help us.

Even when I was straighter than I currently am, I believed that single (straight) women should unhesitatingly support gay rights. Control over one’s body? Check. Control over one’s sexuality? Check. To live outside of normal sex roles? Check. To choose to have kids or not, and in what circumstances? Check. To live one’s life in a way that makes sense to her? Check.

Attacks on LGBT folk for their (our) allegedy degenerative effects on the rest of the healthy, wholesome, heterosexual social body can, without much imagination, morph into attacks on single folks themselves. Marriage is sacred, marriage is the foundation of society, heterosexual commitment is required for stable communities, sex outside of the bonds of matrimony is empty and selfish and dangerous, blah blah. There is One Right Way To Be, and to Not-Be that way is to be, well, ‘that way’.

Fine, so I’m ‘that way’ in more than one way. But this is how and who I am, and I’d like some security in my lonely and alienated unpredictable and gratifyingly cobbled-together life. And as much as I support same-sex marriage, I want to make sure that those of us who choose not marry don’t get left behind in that leaky boat.

Queer folk have (along with feminists) questioned the boundaries of matrimony and family and rightfully demanded reconsiderations of those boundaries to include a panoply of orientations and identities. This is good. But if the efforts to broaden the definition of marriage serve only to reinforce its privileges, well, that’s not so good.

So what do we single folk do? Do we follow the route taken by domestic partners and file paperwork designating friends as health care proxies? Do we give a list of approved visitors to any hospitals we use, so administrators don’t have to worry about violating HIPAA [privacy] regs?

If I’m in an accident or get sick, I want my friends to know. (Well, honestly, part of me wants to tough it out alone, the same part which is berating me for saying I want my friends to know. But hospitals suck and they suck even more when you’re in one alone. So Shut up, me.) I want them asking about my care and in my room and, if necessary, kicking someone’s ass on my behalf.

I want them to do what my family, a thousand miles away, couldn’t do. I want my people, here, to be with me.

Maybe this starts in conversations with friends. We talk to one another, find out what kind of support we have and don’t have, want and don’t want. Tell each other what we want from each other, what we’re willing and able to provide to one another.

I’m still assembling my life, and while it’s possible that at some point I could meet someone who could be a lifelong companion, I’m not waiting for him or her.

This is it. I am alone in this city—except for my friends. That’s a damned significant exception, and I’d like these folks to be able to act as my Significant Others.





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.