The Rugs Broke Me

I was going to write a post called “Ni hutch, ni Dr. Gayle S. Rubin”* about how the process of moving my parents from their long-time home in Montana to a rented house down the street from us really forced me to take “letting go” extremely seriously, in particular, by letting go of regrets. The hutch in question is a wonderful antique, and should have stayed in the Montana house kitchen to help sell the property, but it was mistakenly given away by the neighbor who is doing cleaning and caretaking for us. I’ve been reading the sustaining and brilliant Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader for months,

and when I finally got around to finding Dr. Rubin on the interent, I realized she’s been a visiting professor at Harvard this entire past year, but is now no longer there. I could have gone to a lecture. I could have told her how much her work means to me, and how sorry I am that we missed each other at the University of Michigan. But, I was going to say, no regrets!

Then the rugs broke me.

The rugs being these incredibly lush, gorgeous goat hair beauties my folks have had for over 50 years. They are soft and lovely, and I grew up walking barefoot on them. Out of the 60 plus rugs my parents collected back in the old days from Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the goat hairs were some of my very favorite.

None of the 60 plus rugs had ever been washed, so when they were decanted from the moving van, Tex and I took them to be cared for. We felt really good about tending to something that had given my parents so much pleasure over the years. When we went to pick them up, most of them looked amazing. The colors were vibrant, the wool was soft, they smelled pleasantly of soap. Except for the goat hairs. They were coarse and matted, the hair patchy, as if it had been scrubbed off. Gone were my lush, comforting life companions. Just looking at them made my stomach hurt.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. For the first time in a long time, I cried in the wee hours, my husband comforting me. At last I fell asleep, only to wake in the morning with a stomach ache. Tex and I talked before she left for work, about how lucky we are in so many respect, how little fallout we sustained despite the really dire health crisis and craziness involved in my parents’ and our recent history. That we are healthy, live in a nice place, love each other, have great kids, do work we love.

As Owen used to say, “I know that already!”

In therapy later that day, I wept again.

Then, last night, Seth came home smelling like booze. Much later, as I tried to sleep, I thought feverishly of the rugs, and how they mean nothing in the face of the health of my children and that it doesn’t actually work that way, that “which parent do you love more” or “who would you toss out of the rowboat” kind of way, that it’s all jumbled up together: childhood memories, physical objects imbued with emotion, living, breathing, changing humans, dear and more dear.

Seth left this morning to visit Tex’s sister’s family, his first solo airplane trip. I dearly hope the rich limbo of time-spent-traveling will give him space to come to some clarity about himself, who he is, what he wants for himself, how best to go about attaining it.

And I know these trials are supposed to be my teachers, according to the Buddhist books I read. I’m feeling close to being able to at least consider that notion right now, with Seth winging his way towards his very loving auntie, with my folks tucked away in their little house up the street, Tex at work, Owen at church camp and me managing to get after another blog post, so:

Thank you, rugs. Thank you, booze. And because her cheerful, graceful aging is also a dear lesson, thank you old kitty who just curled up next to me as I was resting and slept hard, her squeaky purr loud in my ears.

 

*“Neither Hutch nor Dr. Gayle S. Rubins”

 

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 10:32 AM  Leave a Comment  
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I Miss Mark Spitz

Seth had to read Catcher in the Rye for English this past school year.

Catcher in the Rye, Catcher in the Rye. What is it that makes this particular book so beloved? A habit, a laziness, a patina of gold. If the point is to talk about growing up, dealing with the inevitable betrayal of adults as we all must, aren’t there perhaps one or two other books that might fit the bill? Featuring more modern teens, featuring girls, queers, people of color, people from other cultures, other classes?

I recently rediscovered Colson Whitehead, easily as good a writer as J. D. Salinger (oooh, it felt deliciously naughty to write that!!). What about his novel Sag Harbor? The narrator is a middle class black boy from New York City whose family owns a house in Sag Harbor where they always spend the summer. He is an outsider, smart, horny, lost, observant, funny, flawed, lonely, vulnerable, sweet. It’s a story about growing up in America. It’s an anecdote to too much Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace and The Great Gatsby and even to To Kill A Mockingbird. White people holding forth, their stories presented as quintessentially American, the only stories that matter, still drowning out other voices after all these years.

Seth just got his wisdom teeth out, and on the waiting room table was a copy of Essence in which I read an excellent article about Prince and a poignant column by Melissa Harris-Perry about music and parenting a middle school girl, a child of color attending a mostly white school. http://www.essence.com/2014/05/05/melissa-harris-perry-listening-sessions

I pointed out to Seth that the magazine display is a political choice, but this was after the extraction and he may not have been paying much attention. Then again, he probably was, given that this is the surly lad who got a B- on his final English speech for not addressing the topic (“What is the American Dream?” “How do the authors we read this year define happiness?”). Instead, he busted out a fiery rant, challenging the English Department to step up and assign more relevant books, ending by referencing the school’s logo (a stylized version of a sculpture of an American Indian), saying that people are not mascots or symbols, and that if the students read stories by folks other than straight, white men or boys, the hurtful and racist logo might have been questioned and done away with by now.

Ok, to me, that’s a fucking A fucking plus. And the two kids of color in his class came up afterwards to thank him. Double A plus.

I’m glad that Seth is proving an ally to the kids of color in his mostly-white school, but even more, I hope he is learning that paying attention to issues of inequity and systemic racism is going to make him – Mr. White Boy – a better person. White people go around acting like fools, and it’s not only embarrassing, it’s soul crushing. To people of color, it goes without saying, but also to the white people themselves. I just read about this exhibit in New York where white people were particularly egregious at an exhibit pointing up the extreme toll the sugar industry took on people of color (http://www.indypendent.org/2014/06/30/why-i-yelled-kara-walker-exhibit). I couldn’t help thinking that those folks all probably read Catcher in the Rye in high school and perhaps truly had no reference point for thinking about an other-than-white life experience or history and no good reason for educating themselves as adults. (Or maybe they’re all assholes, says Tex, also a good point.)

Which (finally) brings me to Mark Spitz. “Mark Spitz” is the nickname of the main character in another Colson Whitehead book, Zone One, his take on the zombie apocalypse. There is nothing more delicious to me than books where my life-long loves of fuck-up-the-man, politics, anti-racism, feminism, queerness, science fiction, post-apocalyptic survival, and horror intersect, and not many people can do it. Fledgling by Octavia Butler comes to mind, and I would have to think long and hard to dredge up some others. But Zone One comes close. For as long as it took me to read it, I lived with Mark Spitz, heart and soul. I miss him so much, even now.

That is the mark of a good novel, of course, that you are left wanting more, and that the characters live on in your heart and imagination. Although perhaps not on the best seller list, those novels really are plenty thick on the ground, novels written by authors who are any combination of not white, not straight, not male, not able-bodied, not rich or even middle class. I’m not holding my breath that membes of our suburban high school English Department will suddenly see the light and kick back against decades of stultifying tradition, but I’m proud of Seth for calling them out. And for continuing to educate himself outside their narrow parameters: he’s about half way through Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as we speak.

Real education for white people is out there, but it’s up to us to do that work. It’s up to us to question tradition. It’s up to us to open our hearts and minds and stop being so ignorant. It’s up to us to keep reading.

Compliment

Last night, me, Tex and Seth went to a production of “Much Ado About Nothing”. The all-teenage theater company was formed by one of the members of the QSA I’m the adult advisor for, and the cast had a nice mix of genders, sexualities, ages and proclivities (now there’s a nice old fashioned word!).

Basel was also supposed to go to the play with us (he’s Daisy’s twin; they’re 16 and live next door), but at the last minute it turned out he had made other plans. “He’s going to a girl’s house,” confided his mom to me, in a meaningful whisper. “I mean, he’s going with a group of friends, but it’s the first time he’s done that!” Everything about her tone and choice of words invited me to join in on the joy of her heterosexual son’s first sweet forays into the world of sex. So not only did I have to manage my annoyance at the rather rude and abrupt change of plans, I had to deal with my neighbor’s oblivious, flippant and presumptive glee at her little baby’s life milestone.

A milestone that, in my life never got any recognition (nor, come to think of it, did I even ever reach it as a teenager). A milestone that queer kids still don’t get recognition for, or joy, or rejoicing, or cute conversations with the neighbors.

So in this very irritating conversation, my neighbor offered Basel’s stepping out to the girl’s house as a sort of consolation prize to me being disappointed that he wouldn’t be joining us for the evening (something we’d been planning for some time). I was supposed to chuckle and shake my head and just bow to het teenage hormones. Think it’s cute. She told me details, I was noncommittal, she apologized, I thanked her, conveying without saying directly that I wasn’t going to accept her consolation prize (the girl, the cuteness, the heterosexuality), but that I did accept her apology even though I was annoyed.

It was a girl thing (Tex hates this shit and would prefer everyone be completely straightforward) and I finessed it, but it put me in something of a mood, not helped by Seth stomping in from the beach and trying every trick in the book to also get out of this family evening. And Tex was late home from work and we ended up not going out to eat, as planned. Not a one of us was at our best when we got to the outdoor venue where the play was being staged, but! we got there and we sat down, and the play started.

It was amazing. Funny, queer, inventive and I can’t even tell you how fabulous the costumes were (a creative and minimal nod to the 70s – brilliant!). I’ve watched some of these kids appear in every one of the five or more plays they’ve put on, and their tenacity and talent and improvement are so heartening. And the 10 or 11-year old who played the prince was exceptional. I don’t think I’d laughed so hard in months than when he flung open his arms and declared, with a manic twinkle in his eye, “We will be the very gods of love!”

I looked over and Seth was laughing, too.

As we were driving home, Seth said, “Mom, everybody there loves you.” I assumed he was, as the Britts say, taking the Mickey, and said rather sharply, “Well, they don’t all know me, so how can they all love me?” but then he said, “It’s just something I noticed. You’ve really impacted those kids’ lives for the good.”

I guess he noticed that the QSA members in the play had come up and given me hugs and preened under my heartfelt compliments of their talent and hard work. I guess it gave him something to think about, a way to see me as other than annoying. I thanked him, and later corroborated with Tex that he actually had given me a compliment.

Seth is out late a lot, driving to the beach with friends, doing who knows what (ok, I have an idea), and he doesn’t talk about it with me. I’m not sharing cutsie-wutsie stories about his sexuality with friends and neighbors, either. Especially since he’s not sharing anything with me. Did I mention? But I try to keep up an ongoing babble about mindfullness and right action when it comes to bodies, one’s own and others. Perhaps he notices.

He is doing in secret (from me) what is condoned by society at large; I am doing my best to mentor kids who are doing, in secret and out in the dangerous open, what society at large condemns. Ain’t that something?

A little Buddhist prayer to finish things off:

May all young things be allowed to enjoy their sexualities in peace, love and happiness.

May all young things be allowed to grow into their sexualities with joy and support.

May all young things be free of suffering and the root of suffering.

May all young things be allowed to just be.

Published in: on July 12, 2014 at 10:32 AM  Comments (1)  
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