Monthly Archives: July 2013

I Got Mine

An acquaintance is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.  If she was a family member I would have researched and could have provided the actual stats– since she’s not, I heard “pancreatic cancer” and thought, oh, that does not sound good.  I took her flowers, said the right things, and then changed the subject in my head because I can’t bear to think about what will happen.  Not because she might die or be in pain; of course that will happen.  The scenario I’m talking about is the one I’ve run through in my head hundreds of times– change the disease or circumstances slightly and I’ve been there, if only in my mind– this is where she loses the house, and the custody of her grand kids (to foster care, not to the parents {jailed, on drugs, I forget} who should’ve been raising them).  She and her disabled husband then live in a one bedroom crap apartment on his disability check (because up until now she worked full time and they had an actual house with a mortgage, that needed a bit of work but had flowers outside, a porch, it was HOME) until she dies.  So I know this song because I’ve hummed it many times– just haven’t had to sing it as my own– YET.

I used to say of Republicans that “they have no imagination.”  They can’t imagine being poor or black or a woman raising children on her own.  They can’t imagine being gay.  They can’t imagine being just one damn paycheck away from losing the house.  They might say of my acquaintance, Y, “You should’ve planned better, had some savings for a rainy day.”  OK, let’s review tape: Pregnant in and dropped out of high school.  Disabled husband.  Grown kids unable to care for their own.  A  job paying $8.25/hr, 35 hours a week.  In this life, 1.) she did not have an abortion, 2.) she worked her whole life, 3.) she took in her kids’ kids and did not leave them to the foster system, 4.) she bought a house, 5.) she did not go into debt– a single time, –until cancer kept her from working.  She built a life quite aligned with GOP ideals– but without the GOP resources (a living wage, a chance to put by).

I made some phone calls– it’s somewhat in my line of work to do so– to see if there was help available.  Guess what?  NO.

I thought about calling the mortgage company, or writing to a celebrity, or doing one of these kickstarter/give forward things, where you build a page to raise money for a cause.  You have to make the page super appealing to catch the attention of bored, inert givers, who might not look twice at the agony.  Fuck.  Like a fucking bake sale for wounded vets, a Beef n Beer for a kid with leukemia.

It’s like we all are saying to her, “I.   GOT.   MINE.”   And I’ll give you a couple of pennies if the production value of your life crisis makes it compelling.

What I realize now is that it’s not that Republicans have no imagination– it’s that they have too much fucking confidence and optimism.  It’s not until it actually HAPPENS, like Rob Portman’s son coming out as gay, that (surprised, somewhat defeated) they realize there’s a need for compassion here.  The “I Got Mine” aspect of it is this:  “I have a lovely wife who is disease-free or with the help of the best health care is in remission, I have 2-3 kids who are not gay, not diagnosed with a mental illness, I have savings and a pension, health insurance, total income security (if I lose this gig there will be others): I Got Mine.  When confronted with how painful life can be for others, they choose to look away– “la la la la la,” they plug their ears.

I am a pessimist.  I assume life will be hard at times, that cancer is in the offing, a job will be lost, the standard of living will be less.  If my will alone was enough there would be resources available to Y, just the $20,000 or so she needs to get to the other side of chemo, to keep the house until they have a plan, to figure out what to do with the children if /when she goes.  But my will does fucking nothing, and my voice is a mouse’s fart.  I’m the fucking Who in Whoville and Horton is nearly deaf, and that it’s me who’s appalled and not someone with a louder voice is the stuff of my nightmares.  And Y’s.

You Don’t Know

When I was 15 years old my friend R made a disparaging comment about gay people.  This was back in the 70’s and we were both good Christian girls so it was so totally OK.  She’d said “it” was disgusting, gross, and defied God’s law.  I said—  “mmm, if you’ve never been attracted to a girl how can you say it’s disgusting?”

I’m not attracted to girls– I’ve always looked at men as the object of my possible desire since I first saw JF’s biceps– I would have been thirteen, I suppose, and JF was older, maybe 16.  My eyes were glued to those biceps, those deltoids, the sharpness of his jaw– I thought he was the yummiest.  So, nope, never a glimmer for another girl.  That’s a life experience I can’t know, so I defer to gay and lesbian people to describe to me what that’s like.  Now, if I follow the bible (and I no longer do), I understand it’s considered an abomination, as was (key word, there, “was”) having sex while on your period and jerking off.

Hmmm.  Let’s think about why those three rules would come about, and why one might be vilified more than the other two.  Could it be that the writer of Leviticus (don’t think it’s known for sure, could be Moses but maybe not), back in 500 or 600 BC (a LONG TIME AGO) was exhorting the Levites to be fruitful– to increase their numbers–because back in that day, tribes survived or did not partially based on the health and number of their members.  So if you have sex while on your period, chances are good you won’t conceive (but your husband will maintain his interest in you so it’s likely when you have sex next week you could produce another tribe member).  If your husband jerks off, chances are really good you won’t conceive (and shame on your husband for spilling the seed– this was the valuable potential tribe member– but your husband has maintained interest in you so it’s likely when you have sex next week you could produce another tribe member).  But for the gay tribe member, because Moses (whomever) knew there were gay members –because there have always been gay people, people! –for the gay guy, Moses (whomever) knew the gay guy can’t act on his impulse because it won’t produce another tribe member.  Not surprising here.  Religious rules have always protected the group that “has God’s favor.”  If we’re to keep the Levites going (in deprivation, on journeys, against other tribes), we need every gay guy planting seed.  Period.  Just as they always have until recently, gay guys, –and lesbians-, have been forced into marriage with straights because of societal rules– if you want sex at all, you must have it with someone who doesn’t attract you, because we say so.  And because the tribe was the only means of surviving, that’s what you did.  That’s what you did until the 50’s, that’s what you do if you’re a member of a cult church even today.

We eat pork safely, shellfish too.  We have evolved to the point that women can have their long hair and most or all of their bodies exposed and remain free of molestation;– we are not barbarian, we are as civilized as our temperate brains and hearts can muster.  The tribe no longer needs this archaic help to grow, the tribe is TOO GODDAMNED BIG as it is.  We don’t need gay guys to marry women, we don’t care if you jerk off, and in an irony lost on cult church members, we need gay people to de-closet themselves more than ever to reduce our rate of re-population and in some cases to adopt all these babies we’re saving from abortions.

When cult church members use the word “choice”  I’m repulsed by the arrogance of it.  You  don’t know what that experience is like.  You don’t know how unfair it is, to awaken at 6 or 10 or 13 years old and realize you have to swim upstream.  Bear with me for a fucking second: pretend that when you first discovered you were attracted to the opposite sex, someone said to you, “sure you can date but it has to be within the same sex.”  Followed by “sure you can marry but it has to be within the same sex.”  Followed by “Okay, you can furtively have sex with someone of the opposite sex, and very very very much under the radar you can build a super quiet life with that person, but it will never be legitimized, it will never be public, no one will ever say, ‘good for you for hitting this grown up milestone!'”  Who chooses that??!!

We are told by cult church members that to equate this struggle with the civil rights battle of the 60’s is to belittle what black people suffered.  No.  No belittlement whatsoever.  The civil rights struggle is testimony to white arrogance; white people telling black people they should know their place and be content with a small life and diminished status.  The push for civil rights for gays is a testimony to the arrogance of the cult church; people who presume to know the will of God (presume to know God at all!) telling gay people they should know their place and be content with a small life and diminished status.

To assume that you know another’s experience and to pass judgment on the choices that come from that experience is ignorantly horribly smug.  You call it sin, and by doing so you look like a dinosaur.

Life Is Not a Dress Rehearsal

David Foster Wallace’s speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, “This is Water,” has been reprinted in part on the web, set in part to music and video on youtube, and is now published and available on Amazon.  The speech is the impetus for today’s post.

In my dream this morning, I was wearing my prom dress and carrying Mom.  The other elements of the dream are too boring… when I woke it was to this one arresting image of myself in my prom dress, which Mom had made, carrying her.  The sense I had of it was that of being able to go back and do it again.

It, of course, is her dying.  I was 26 when she died, so 24 when she first got sick.   Impossibly young.  And so self-absorbed; this is where DFW’s speech comes in.  My mom’s dying was something happening to ME, and I wish I could go back and make it about her.  I wish I could’ve carried her, as in my dream; I wish I could’ve honored her more.

But that was life, that was the water in which I swam, unaware that you get just the one pass through, the one attempt, no do-overs, no mulligans, and that the best movie of my life very often will not star me.

Which is why it’s important to be as conscious as possible right now.  How is the water in which I swim now?  The minutes tick by as I pay bills and clean the toilet and prepare another grilled cheese and drive 35 minutes to work.  It’s not a question: “Is this living?”  Rather, it’s a statement: “This is living.”  This is life, this early Saturday morning, this list of chores (“library, K-Mart, Hummer’s for chz, make PB pie”), this cup of coffee, this cat Grim needing attention.  This is my water, and not paying heed to this minutiae is like holding my breath.

This is not to say that I should be content, but rather, simply, aware.  Life is rooted in its context: of other people and their experiences, of the demands of daily life, of the learning curves and the million endless bits of patience required to live a day, days, weeks, months, decades!  And it zips by just that fast.

How often I say, if I can just make it: to the weekend, through the end of school, until husband’s schedule changes, past this heat wave, beyond this stressful time at work…. but, what about NOW, what about this minute, this boring or hard fragment?  Is this not life?  Is this not water, no matter the stagnancy temperature clarity or color–?