Dhammapada, 1:1-2


All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind,

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led my mind,

Made by mind

Speak or act with a peaceful mind,

And happiness follows

Like a never-departing shadow.

Buddha, Dhamapada  1:1-2

The first verses of the Dhammapada remind us to guide our thinking, because our thoughts inform our experience.  Everything that we go through, every event, we interpret with our minds.  But experience also has a way of shaping the way we interpret our experiences.  The families into which we were born, the people and cultures that shaped us, inform our minds, the ways we see the world.  So, for example, a child who is mistreated from the moment she is born,who is told that she is worthless and stupid and incompetent, nothing more than a thing to be used by others, is likely to grow up with a false understanding of herself.  She will not know her true nature as a being of light and beauty, deserving of all love.  She will have a corrupted mind, and suffering will follow her.

The wonderful knowledge that the Buddha offers to us here is this: no matter what has happened to us, no matter how corrupted our ways of understanding the world have been, each one of us has the freedom and the power to learn, through practice, to step aside, as it were, from the false, corrupt thoughts that have been imbued in us, and to have a “peaceful mind.” This is the only path to lasting happiness.

 

Getting home after a Holocaust: Dream, August 21, 2013


I was at a picnic, and all my neighbors and friends and family were there, even my son’s father.  The weather was so lovely and we were all having such a lovely time, that it saddened me to know that I my son was at home, probably sitting in the dark, feeling lonely and miserable.  So I left the happy scene and headed for the house, just a few blocks away.

Suddenly I was driving our old 1967 white Mercedes, and people started massing into the streets.  I slammed on the brakes, barely missing an old man.  Up ahead I saw tiny grey clouds wafting up from the ground all around us.  A policeman stopped me at an intersection, and, crouching down, shouted for everyone to take cover.  I didn’t feel very frightened as I hunched behind the steering wheel.

The ground shook violently in a thundering explosion. Something had blasted part of the road away.  The policeman stood up and ordered everyone to stay away from the punctures in the asphalt, but I had already started to drive ahead, through the tunnel where I thought I saw enough good road to get me  home, to Brendan, to see if he was all right.  No policeman would separate me from my child.

nuclear 2

But my car wheels grazed one of the steaming potholes and the whole surface gave way, pulling my car down with it!  I scrambled out the window up onto the side of the sinking car, and, using my mountain-climbing skills (which I seem to need in many of my dreams lately), I pulled myself up the enormous, concrete wall and up onto a ledge.  Unfortunately, the earthquake had pushed the road far, far beneath me, probably ten stories down.  Trapped!

The policeman was rescuing a man stranded int about 5 stories down with a cherry picker.  He was directly below me.  “Help! Help! Help!” I shouted at him.  He seemed to ignore me but soon came zooming up to bring me down.

I got into a bus with a number of other women and men, each of them as dazed as I was.  We talked about our symptoms: racing hearts, shaking hands, difficulty moving, hazy, slow thinking.  “We’ve been traumatized. This is normal,” I said.  Brendan’s father was on the bus, too.  I threw my arms around him and cried, “I am so grateful that you are here.  We must always stay together.”  We would look for Brendan together.

They took us to a police station where officious men and women made us take a test.  Each person had to do a different thing. To me, they said, “look into this light and speak as fast as you can.”  They didn’t tell me what they wanted me to say, but indicated that my fate depended on my words.  I burbled out my accomplishments, my virtues, my job experiences, my talents, anything I could think of.  Someone else had to type as quickly as she could on an old-fashioned keyboard that was difficult to operate.  Some people were not allowed to take the test.  I could not see where Brendan’s father had gone to.

I must not have done well because they sent me to a labor camp processing radioactive pigs, where workers typically lasted for no longer than 5 years.  “It’s better than dying now, isn’t it?,” one of the officious people asked me, not expecting an answer.  Less than a minute after I arrived, I stumbled into one of the boiling vats on the assembly line and began coughing up blood.  A man with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes in a strangely puffy, yellow face, held me as I retched.

I learned that the earthquake had jolted me far forward in time, and that the entire planet had fallen under the control of giant casinos.  All other businesses had failed, and now the gaming industry ran all public and private institutions.  Even though I had a Ph.D. and many years of teaching experience, I had not attended a casino-run university, and, therefore, my qualifications had no value.

Somehow I got home to the house, after all, years later, and found Brendan.  “You are safe!  You stayed here!” I cried out joyfully.  “No,” he replied.  “I left.  And I traveled for years and learned many things.

Al-Anon


Just back from my first al-anon meeting.  Mostly women, mostly 40+.  One woman, whom I liked especially, let it be know that her husband was in the next room with 37 years of sobriety.  How depressing.  They’ve been going to AA meeting for 37 years, and that is why they are still married?

What bugs me most about the whole AA/Al-anon program is the god stuff.  Every single person who spoke today talked about god.  One woman said that the only way she could get through each day was by praying, to god.  Who, she then said, has everything planned out, and therefore all she needs to do is trust in “HIM” and things will be fine.

What a philosophy!!! To believe there is a “higher power,” a being, a MALE being, who has set it all up exactly as we find things, and who loves us, and that is why we are all suffering so much.  More unbelievable is the notion that one has only to trust in this god, and “let go” and all will be well.   In other words, one has absolutely no other responsibility for one’s existence and that of one’s children and loved ones but to thank god endlessly for being there.  The utterly illogical assertion that this god has also allowed things to go absolutely haywire intentionally–the wars in the Congo, where children are raped and forced to murder daily; child sex trafficking in Pittsburgh and other fine cities in the U.S.,; wars from which our young people return irrevocably damaged by trauma; the Holocaust; the genocide of the Armenians; the persecution of women who dare to think for themselves in countless countries across the globe; the devastation of the environment and wildlife; the slaughter of elephants for their tusks and wolves for sheer greed and bloodlust–all of this has been preordained and meant to be…and we humans should simply sit back and thank god and feel grateful for all that “HE” has done for us.

There is absolutely no evidence for a creator of any kind, and the concept of a god, or gods plural, is mythological.  So I find it exceedingly taxing to sit among a group of credulous human beings who tell me that all my problems and worries will be taken care of if only I have faith in what I could never possibly believe in.

I tried to open my heart and mind and listen to these people.  When they mentioned “god” I consciously attempted to make the leap between my notion of breath, or ruha, or life-spirit that abides in the universe, being, with their concept of god.  I found many of their comments moving, especially when they referred specifically to their individual worries.  They did not share much in this vein.  Most of the discussion tonight appealed to me quite a bit, since it concerned their thoughts about what the phrase, “one day at a time,” means, and nearly everyone spoke about their efforts to stay in the present and to be happy with what they could be happy about, in spite of all their cares.  I was moved to tears on more than one occasion.

I could not join in with them, not even on this abstract heart-open to open-heart space level, with them, when they recited the Lord’s Prayer at the end.  I know this prayer by heart, as they say, and can speak it without thinking, as I did when I was five.  But now that I am in my fifties, I’ve had a long time to think about it.  Aside from all the “thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” business, which is perfect hogwash, there is also the particularly disturbing line, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those…”, which is often translated as “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  The language is financial, having to do emotional and social/spiritual obligations that have, since the very earliest Church fathers, such as Augustine, been construed in terms of money, property, exchange.  The ancient idea is that god, this mythical deity, allowed humans to live in exchange for their perpetual bond to him (this deity having been imagined as masculine, since the culture that produced this myth was patriarchal), which would only be paid off, redeemed, as the term went, when the human fulfilled his or her duties sufficiently to be reunited with the father, had paid off the original debt, which came about at birth.  It’s a fairly bizarre way to understand the relationship between humanity and a creator, but the concept has been with us for a long time.  It comes from our history of enslaving one another, and selling girls or women to men as “concubines” or “women” (there is actually no word for wife or marriage in the early scriptures). Not a pretty history.

I’ve written extensively about this in my unpublished manuscript, not that that makes any difference right now.  The point is, all of my intellect rebels against the mythological beliefs that underlay al-anon.  Believing in a creator god who has benevolently dispensed all that has come to past, including my son’s tremendous lostness, forlornness, and profound pain, psychological distress…this is not going to help me.  This DOES NOT HELP ME FIGURE OUT HOW TO HELP MY SON OR MYSELF.

Still, I’m not giving up. There are no secular groups in Pittsburgh.  I need to talk to other parents who have gone through what I’m going through.  I need help.  My partner doesn’t want to talk about it.  He doesn’t want to talk about anything “dark,” as though by refusing to countenance grief and sorrow these emotions will simply never occur.  I’m profoundly lonely.

Of Gods and Humans


I’m watching Of Gods and Men.  It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war.  They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained.  Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt.  The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic.   When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks.  When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection.  The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists.   This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace.  It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our mostly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom.  But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility.  The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture.  They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.

Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist.  Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all.  We are not singular and cut off from one another.  We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving.  We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion.   Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.

Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed.  I’m no longer angry.  I still disapprove of the many heinous crimes that Christians have committed and continue to perpetrate against other people.  I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation.  My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury.  As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture.  He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent.  He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people.  They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.

I am learning to separate terrible acts from their agents, who deserves my compassion. Patriarchalism and masculinism injures all of us.  What difference does it make whether we acknowledge a creator or not, if we all honor the essential divinity of the cosmos and dedicate ourselves to loving kindness?

I have felt a great deal of regret for my often disrespectful attitude towards other people’s faiths.  I was not always kind to my former partner Tim, who probably would have been a priest or monk in an earlier era.  He is well named.  Timotheus means lover of God.  His spirituality was one of the things that drew me to him most, so it is ironic that I should have dismissed his belief in Christ as his savior so rudely and thoughtlessly as I did at times.  I do not share his faith, but I respect it and identify with him as a person of spirit, a person who actively searches for deeper meaning.  He understands that we are not here simply to indulge our selfishness, but that we have souls and that our lives have greater significance.  Our different ways of understanding the divine should not divide us.  We are all looking for the same sense of refuge, belonging, and love.  That Tim and I were unable to find it with one another is sad, but not tragic.  Nothing lasts forever, and what we had was very important and beautiful.  Our love has not disappeared, it has only changed, shifted in focus.  It is not always easy for me to hold onto this truth, and it takes real work, prayer, and discipline to get through the tough moments.  I feel sadness, grief, and pain.  But I also feel lighter and freer as I let go of my attachment to him and discover the deep roots of my love for him, my sincere desire for him to be happy and well.   It’s going to be hard to pay my heating bill this winter.  I keep catching myself searching for quick fixes, as though a new romance or compelling passion will soothe the discomfort I feel facing the future alone.  The answer, the solution to my longing and unease in this world is not going to be found outside myself, not in another person, not in a new relationship, not in a new accomplishment, not in a more sculpted body, not in the publication of books, not in the acquisition of a well-paying and glamorous job, but rather only through a slow and steady practice that brings me in tune with my true self.

My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world.  It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being.  This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.”  As he wrote,

Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,

Like the winter just gone by.

Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.

Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.

Be and know at that time the state of non-being,

The infinite ground of our deepest vibration

So that you may wholly complete it this one time.

Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.

Grown-up Breakups and the Green Tara


Shit, that was rough.  It didn’t seem so during the event.  I met my ex-boyfriend for dinner at our neighborhood extra-cool restaurant, ostensibly to thank him for all the wonderful things he did for me before I got home.  He stocked the fridge and pantry with all my favorite must-have items (greek no-fat yogurt, blueberries, pineapple, lactaid, brie, triscuits, whole wheat bread with sunflower seeds, diet iced tea in bottles, veggie burgers…), cleaned the house, left all the expensive appliances that he had paid for, including the t.v..  He picked us up at the airport and was welcomed us home warmly. It was so nice of him.  I am lucky to have him in my life, lucky to have known him.  I am grateful but I am also suffering.

Tonight, at dinner, he told me I looked beautiful and that I was an incredible woman. And that he really wanted to hold onto me as a friend and to be there for me as a friend.

I am indeed incredible.  I strain credibility.  I have let him go gracefully. I have not recriminated, I have not ranted, I have not insulted.  He has been nothing but kind in leaving me.  He remains my best friend, the person who supports and encourages in emails, the person to whom I tell many but no longer all of my concerns.

Sometimes in small moments I wonder if all this niceness isn’t coming straight out a seriously deserved sense of guilt.  Mine as well as his.  I was no wonder of rectitude, after all.  He left me for another woman, after all.  He denied this at the time and I entertained the tiniest shred of hope that this was true.  But tonight I asked him outright if he was dating the women he told me he was interested in before he broke up with me.  He outright admitted that he was seeing her and that it was really nice.

I’m so nice.  I said and meant that I hoped he would find love and that I wanted him to be happy. I do.

It is the oddest experience—to be really angry at someone and yet to forgive instantly, to love someone and yet to know that you need to let them go, to be relieved to have your solitude back and yet to mourn the loss of your former lover, to accept that you’re moving on and yet to keep freaking out about his having left you for someone else.

You say to yourself:

No way is she better than me.  I mean, his taste has really declined.

And then you admit:

…but maybe she’s better for him than I was.

Which leads to the happy thought:

And maybe there’s someone out there who is way better for me, too.

I have been looking for him for such a long time.  This time I’m not settling about anything. I will feel the earth move.  Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for his love is more delightful than wine.  Pleasing is the fragrance of his perfums, his name is like perfume poured out.

I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m so glad and relieved this time to be able to go through this without getting stuck in rigid “he did me wrong” discourse.  Also, I’m glad holding myself with compassion and gentleness and love as I face my suffering. This does not mean I place the burden of my suffering at his feet and demand retribution.  These are my problems.  Look: I choose to respond to this difficulty, this blow to my emotional and financial security with love and grace.  I chose grace.  Why chose anything else?

Suffering, dukha, is unavoidable.  I can’t opt out of the pain but I can choose how I respond to it.  I think writing about it, meditating about it, and crying about it is all an excellent form of ritualized mourning, a kind of kaddish that I am working through.  I’m trying to keep my eyes open.

I was talking to a friend (a friend? more than a friend? there’s always hope!) tonight about how weird it is to be back in the United States.  Everything is more or less the same. The gods dogs are the same, the garden is the same as it always is this time of year, the paintings and rugs and tables and chairs and dishes in my house are the same, the streets are the same, my neighbors are doing the same things, the pile of mail is the same pile of catalogs and come-ons, but I am different.  My body and mind have changed.   I was only there for two months but it transformed me tangibly in a way that I cannot yet describe.  I feel heavier, more rooted to the earth, as though the magnets in my soles had a stronger pull.  If I’m liable to floating off at a momentous breath, then I’m as likely to come come crashing back to the ground again, upright and on my feet.

I like being in my house by myself.  I love it here.  The wisteria and the grape vines are still alive, if parched.  The Echinacea is blooming into the heat.  The rosemary, symbol of the woman’s reign in the household, had held on, a small, scrubby branch.

Today I reclaimed my yoga/meditation room.  I set up an altar with the male and female manifestations of compassionate action—Avalokitseshvara and Green Tara.

For me, Green Tara is the most important deity/symbol in the Buddhist pantheon.  “ The Sanskrit root târ-means “to traverse” or “cross over” as in using a bridge to ford a stream.” Green Tara is pictured rising from her Lotus couch, one foot in the world, ready to help, actively involved in the alleviation of misery in the world.  Her name means what the modern Greek word metaphor means: a vehicle for carrying over, like a dolly that you use to move furniture from one place to another.  Similarly, linguistic metaphors don’t name the things they denote, they only transport meaning and by transporting make those things, those concepts, accessible.

Green Tara

Tara moves from one place to another, transports compassion from its abstract realm to the material realm, putting it into action.  A metaphor reaches out, spans a gap and, by connecting things together, makes the immaterial concrete, graspable.

I have been crying.

Crying releases stress and consoles the heart, they say.  For sure, you can’t pretend you’re not suffering or that you don’t need to be loved when you’re weeping.  But you don’t necessarily feel better afterwards.  You feel wrung out, over-infused with intensity, exhausted.  It is good if you can keep laughing. I often laugh after or while crying.  Joy and sorrow aren’t exactly opposed emotions. When you cry you feel vulnerable, and if you’re at all kind to yourself you will give yourself some slack.  Embrace your suffering with all the love that you would bestow on anyone else you love.

Having taken this advice seriously, I can now announce:

Hey! I just realized that I am HOME.

I’m in my house.  Today is my father’s birthday.  I have a gorgeous, large sepia-toned photograph of him in his prime, when he was still handsome. I’m at home in my father.  My father has come to rest at home in me.  That is a metaphor.

I ADORED my father, and also had a lot of trouble getting along with him.  Many regrets.  Still, I’m hereby honoring, toasting, him, thanking him for all that he gave me, for the skiing lessons, the encouragement, for never saying that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to because I was a girl.

Awesome job, Dad.  And I’m not talking about the money, even though you thought that was all anyone cared about.  I cared about you.

Switching away to JOY!!  I have everything I need right here.  My son is spending the night at his girlfriend’s house and

 I am alone in my own private space for the first time in 2 months.

The bathroom is clean, the toilet flushes without running all over the floor, the shower runs hot and cold, no one is watching me come and go, and I have air conditioning.  I can eat all the salad and fruit I want without getting diarrhea  and I am taking food out of my own refrigerator in my kitchen with its ancient linoleum floors.  I can dance around naked if I please.  It is a delightful freedom. I want to call up my friend J not to gloat but to share with her a delicious independence that she will best understand.

If you cannot find a companion who is better than or like yourself

You should make your way steadily, alone.

In the childish there is no companionship.

From the 5th chapter of the Dhammapada

The Dhammapada, or “Verses on the Way,” is a redaction of the Buddha’s teachings.  By “childish” the speaker, allegedly the Buddha, means something more expansive that the behavior and mentality that we expect from children.  He means people who, for whatever set of reasons, have not yet grown to maturity in their thought or feelings, who have not yet become “skillful.”

Later on the Dhammapada reads,

If one cannot find a mature friend,

a companion who is wise, living productively,

let him go alone,

like a king abandoning conquered land,

like an Elephant in the forest.

A life of solitude is better–

There is no companionship with a childish person.

Let one go alone and do no damage,

Like an elephant in the forest.

It is better to restrain the mind alone than to be restrained by someone else, better to conquer one’s own passions than to live tamed by someone else.  Like an elephant, the wise wayfarer governs her or his own passions, endures the insults and arrows inflicted by others. The wise practitioner does not go mad with rage because she or he keeps watch over thoughts and emotions.  She or he finds comfort in friends and in “contentment with whatever is.”

If you are reading Buddhist scriptures you are probably trying to wake up, to see more clearly, to understand the world better than you have so far.  You are trying to find your way out of the trance of reactivity, of emotional distress that leads to behaviors you later regret.  You know that dukkha, pain, is inevitable.  You know that don’t need to make it worse by beating yourself up about it.   And yet you do fall back into the trance, all the time, and you do occasionally wake up to yourself beating yourself up.  So you keep to the path, watch over your mind,  and look for people who are more or as skillful at this practice of discipline.

Have you ever been on a trek or a long hike with a really childish person?  Not a really young person.  Young people can be very old, very mature, very good company.  But I mean someone who is continuously grasping for attention, for reassurance, someone who boasts and struts or whines and manipulates or has to fill every bit of quiet with incessant jabber?  After a short while you begin to feel enervated, tired, impatient.  You grit your teeth, you endure.  You are not looking about you.  Your attention becomes very small, very focused on the source of irritation.  The Buddha says, “be compassionate to and with this person but do not expect much from them.  Walk steadily on.”

These are not the Buddha’s words.  I’m paraphrasing the lines above, which differ a lot from the classic masculine stiff-upper-lip mantras that Tupac Shakur parodies in his “Hold On.”

Hold On, Be Strong,

When it’s on, it’s on.

The same speaker who claims that he screwed up by smoking pot but now knows what’s “going on out there” and that “god don’t like ugly,” and that “you got to stand strong,” is getting high at the beginning of the song.  Thus everything he says has a double meaning.  He plays on the meaning of the word “strong” by identifying it with the aggressively self-defensive stance of the “black male” and the “thug for life.”  Tupac is not endorsing this thuggish identity, he’s putting it down. He’s  also saying that it’s not enough to “hold on” and “be strong,” to stoically endure without admitting to pain.  He’s also not campaigning against weed.  He’s observing that we are all vulnerable, we are all suffering, and we might want to think twice about the directive to suck it up and bear it.  We might want to show a little compassion to our own suffering, which will help us to acknowledge others’ suffering, and jolt us out of the fatal trance of the ego.

So when it comes round, Tupac’s refrain, “Hold on, Be strong” means exactly the opposite of what the stoned speaker says it means.  Tupac challenges the whole “black-man-as victim-of-the white-system” and asserts, “be strong” and “hold on” as a message that is far more complicated that its overt explication.  He urges his auditors to have faith in themselves as agents of positive change.  The Buddha says, “hang in there, endure your suffering, but do not discount it; acknowledge your reality, your dukkha”   Tupac says something similar.

To compare dukkha, human suffering, to a simplistic victim/oppressor mode of thought is to get stuck in rigid black/white ways of understanding reality.  You can’t simply deny it or refuse to talk about it.  And there is no point in going around blaming your ex for having hurt you, attacking defensively, lashing out in retribution.  It solves nothing and it’s childish.

No one is coming to save you except yourself.  It’s not a matter of belief, of abstract faith, but rather of action, of wise movement, of practice, of allowing Tara/Avalokitesvara to step off the virtual lotus of heavenly bliss into the world of suffering.  Step off your high horse of militant self-denial into your suffering heart, and find contentment in the movement, in the metaphor. Acknowledge your pain and be with yourself, alone, like an elephant in the forest. Thus you can

Pull yourself out of misfortune

Like an elephant, sunk in the mud.

On the way home, part 1: Nepali Sexual Politics


SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/aamoret/Nepal/25%20July.2011.doc

On my way home, part one:

I have not been able to write for a while because I have had very limited access to the internet.  Also, my last days here in Nepal have been richly complicated and busy, and I have not had the energy or ability to post.  Right now I’m sitting in a delightful garden café at the Shechen Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery near the great stupa called Boudha.  There are magnolia and mango trees, and swooping bushy hot pink and orange bougainvillea vines, hibiscus bushes, marigolds, impatients and countless other shade and sun flowers I cannot name.  I have spent a lot of time here in the last week.

There is much to report, much to record, and much more to consider.  For now I’m going to upload some thoughts that I wrote during my transition from the last post to today.  During that period bedbugs drove me out of Sugandha’s house and into what Sugandha called a palace.  It was a nice, upper middle-class Nepali house.  I lasted less than a week and ended up here.  Brendan moved over with me a few days ago.  We’re sharing a well-appointed room at the Tharlam gompa and have had many adventures and conversations.

25 July, 2011

I’m having a difficult time adjusting to the new house.  First of all, I miss Brendan.  I don’t like having breakfast and dinner without him, and I liked getting to say goodnight.   Second of all, I have a lot less privacy here.  Every move is scrutinized.  Not so much by the wife, Nirmala, as by the husband, Kalidas, a traditional Nepali man.  When trying to make conversation on the first day, I asked Nirmala what she liked to do.  Did she like to garden?  Yes.  She told me about her garden.  Did she like to cook?  She hesitated, and then Kalidas interrupted, practically shouting, “Cooking is her duty!”  It didn’t matter to him whether or not she liked it.   He asked lots of personal questions, as Nepalis tend to do, and quickly discerned that I was divorced, a status that most Nepalis find disgraceful.  He makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t have the nice view from the room that I had at Sugandha’s house, and I can’t hear the frogs chirping in the fields at night.  I can’t sleep because the bed is super-hard and the machine that recharges the battery intermittently fires off a round of zaps like a machine gun.  This noise goes on from about 9 pm to 2 am.

Kalidas does not approve that I get up at 7 in the morning.  He likes to inform me that he gets up at 5.  He plays badminton with three other Nepali businessmen, who come over afterwards and drink tea on the front porch.  They keep the front door wide open so when I come out to take a shower they are all there gaping.

At meal times, Nirmala serves Kalidas, then me, and hovers at the table to see if we want any more vegetable curry or rice.  I am so sick of dal bhat. Somehow I have got to persuade her not to pile the rice into a mountain on my plate.  If I say “pugyo,” or “I am full,” when she wants to give me more, Kalidas suggests that I do not like the food.  Nirmala sits only after Kalidas has had his second or third helping.  I want wait for her to finish her food before leaving the table, but Kalidas gets impatient and wants me to bring my dishes to the sink as soon as possible.  He barks at me to get up, so I do.  He is used to ordering women around.  I find this unsettling.  I like Nirmala and am willing to like Kalidas.

Nepali sexual politics are difficult for me.  There are four ways to address a person in the language: the very, very formal “You” (hajur) used for kings and magistrates; the ordinarily formal “You” (tapaai); the very familiar “timi” used for children and between friends; and the very low “ta” which is used for dogs, lower beings and between intimates.  Kalidas says “ta” to his wife but she says “tapaai” to him.  He addresses her by her first name.  She always and only says “tapaai” to him.  “The husband dominates the wife,” he explains to me as she sits beside him smiling and agreeing.  Nirmala never leaves the house.  Her sister-in-law comes over with her 18 month-old during the day and they watch t.v..  Nirmala keeps a relatively clean house—but the bathrooms are not nearly as clean as mine back home.

They are Brahmin and not particularly religious, which is somewhat of a relief after Sova’s morning puja, which began loudly at 5 with the same version of “Om Nama Shivaya” on the stereo, and concluded at about six with a long and vigorous ringing of a bell and the blowing of a horn.  I will try to adjust to this new dwelling.

Monsoon Season in Nepal


The monsoons have started.  All the trash-filled fields have turned overnight into swamps or lakes.  Some kind of bullfrog sounds like sawing wood or braying is under my window.  It and the frogs seem to have fallen from the skies.  They weren’t here before, were they?

When Brendan and I live in the same house, I am much happier.   The keening ache  that has become so habitual, I don’t even notice it, stills at last.   I become aware of it only when he comes back into my everyday life.  Like the summer rain and the sun that returns, he nourishes.

You don’t live apart from your only child from the time he is six and not suffer serious damage.  Not if you have a heart, I think.

Many sources of love


Street in Kathmandu

June 13, 2011

9:30am

Just back from the orphanage. There are currently four orphans there, Anura, who is 10, Gorima, 8, Khrisala, also 8, and Nirmala, 5. Two more are coming. We played a lot of games because they wiggle and squirm a lot and it is hard for 5 and 8-year olds to focus their attention on one thing for more than a few minutes. Unbelievably, children as young as five years are forced to sit very still for long periods of time in school. Nepali educational philosophy, as far as I can tell from the other volunteers working here and my teacher, Bishal, holds that children should be rigidly disciplined and made to memorize great reams of material. They are very good at listening and rote learning but not at creating or innovating.

I taught them Ring-around-the Rosy today, and we all laughed a lot when we hit the floor on “down.” This is how I am teaching them “down” and “up” and “around.” When they begin to get too excited, I have them breathe “in” and “out.” Poor little Nirmala was completely unfocused by the end, and I really can’t imagine how the children sit at attention for hours on end in the schools. They all waved goodbye to me very affectionately, and I was glad that I could tell them that I would be here for a long time. Working with loving and beautiful children, children who would otherwise almost certainly end up trafficked and enslaved as prostitutes, fills me with light and happiness.

One of the things I meant to mention in earlier posts is how wonderful it is to be here with Brendan, who is very good company. He still gets mad at me occasionally for treating him like a child (in his opinion), and I am trying hard not to “matronize” him. I take great comfort in his presence here. He loves me, and is unlikely to announce, out the blue, that he is finished with me and will be looking elsewhere for a more suitable mother. This alone is quite reassuring in light of recent events.

He started working at a different orphanage today. He and the two German girls, Sarah and Eileen, will be painting it in bright colors over the next month. He has already met the children, and on that day he came back from them as radiant as I felt this morning. Now I must return to my Nepali studies. The second book of the Dhammapada begins

Diligence is the path to the deathless

Negligence is the path of death.

Those who are negligent Are as the dead.

Understanding this distinctly,

Those who are skilled in diligence

Rejoice in diligence,

Delighting in the pasture of the noble one.

I could easily spend four or more hours a day studying the language, but in fact have only one or two hours to devote to it. I am getting better at asking for things in shops, and the children are also teaching me. They find my Nepali accent utterly abominable. There is much work for me to do here, and if I work diligently, I believe my heart will grow lighter. What I am trying to express is, there are more than one kind of love, and I look forward to a period of sensuous but not sexual connections with other people.

Good Morning Nepal


This little boy, who is probably older than he looks, demanded that I take his photograph. He lives near Durbar Square.

Today is the first of my real working days here in Nepal.  For now, my schedule will be:

7am  Orphanage—where there are six children who have been rescued from the street.

9am –Breakfast of dal bhat and water

11am—Women’s Center, where I will be teaching very poor women how to speak conversational English

1pm—short break

2pm—Teaching at a local private school

As most of you know, I feel passionately devoted to working on behalf of women around the world, and my goal here is to make a small dent in the lives of Nepali women.  I had a conversation with the director of the program (Volunteer Society Nepal, or VSN) yesterday, and it seems that he would like to develop the women’s center.  I asked him if he would be interested in starting up a microcredit loan program, and also if he had interest in expanding the Women’s Center, which is currently housed in an orphanage (and that is why it only runs for two hours a day), into a full-fledged shelter for battered women and their children.  He sounded very enthusiastic about these ideas.  I have decided to stay for five months in order to help to expand the women’s portion of their program.  They already have started a sewing class to help women learn to become self-sufficient.  I have bought material to have two kurtas made by a seamstress who works there.  Half the proceeds she receives will benefit the women’s center (WC).

One of the women who attends English classes at the WC also works here, for Sugandha and Sova, as a cook.  She just brought me a cup of delicious Nepali tea, milky and sweet.  This was very sweet of her since usually the volunteers do not get their tea until 7am.  It is now 6:30am.  She speaks very little English and I speak very little Nepali, so we mostly smile broadly at one another to express our affection.  Last night she gave me a delicious hug in the kitchen.

Pittsburgh to Doha


I’m taking my son, Brendan, to Nepal, for two months this summer.   At first he was really excited, but now he tells me that he does not quite understand why he feels so miserable about leaving the United States and going to teach English in a Buddhist monastery.  He worries that he will not know what to do in the classroom, and it does not help that he has received very little information about the age his students will be, or which monastery he will be teaching in, or what he will be expected to do.  He is afraid that he will not enjoy the work,  that he will be lonely, and that in the two months that he spends in Nepal the world that he knows at home will go on without him. I suspect that he unconsciously fears that he will be different when he returns.

Although he was thrilled and enthusiastic when I first proposed the trip, he has balked every step of the way since it started.  After he packed his bags, he sent me a text saying that he did not want to go.  We talked about it and he felt better.  He even returned to his silly self when he filmed me at the airport:

We flew to JFK .  Over a very nice, very expensive dinner, he tried to talk me into letting him fly back to Pittsburgh.  His distress was real, and deep, but I knew he would regret not going ahead with the trip in the long run, and I could also see that he wanted me to hold firm and help him keep to this path.

Sometimes the path is very painful, frightening, and hard.  Two weeks before departure, my boyfriend Tim, who has lived with me for the past three years, abruptly broke up with me, out of the blue.   I was driving on Route 8 North at the time, with two loose dogs in the back seat, and I only managed to keep the car safely on the road because my biological response to profound and catastrophic situations is to shift into a robot-like rationality and calm.   Later on, when the initial danger has passed, is when I fall apart.   I am still falling apart a little bit.

I knew we were going through a rough time, but I also thought I knew that we loved each other dearly and would work through it.  I didn’t understand how unhappy he was because he never told me.   Looking back on it, I cannot say when he changed, or when what had been abiding love for me transformed into courtesy.  He says he still loves me, but that he only now realizes how important it is for him to be with someone who is more like his mother, a devout Catholic and avid sports fan.  I’m an atheist and I can’t stand American football.  I thought the fact that we loved each other in spite of our differences was the important thing.

He has been very nice about it all, very sincere, very courteous.  He will stay in my house while I am gone and look after our dogs.  He drove us to the airport and told me I could ask just about anything of him.   My mind boggles.  What had been a certain reality wavered and evaporated, like a mirage in the desert.

He berated me!  He hurt me!

He beat me! He deprived me!

For those who hold  such grudges,

hostility is not appeased.

He berated me!  He hurt me!

He beat me! He deprived me!

For those who forgo such grudges,

Hostility ceases.

So reads the first chapter of the Dhammapada, Buddha’s teachings on the way.  No good, no peace, no happiness will come to me if I complain and wail and moan about what my boyfriend, whom I loved very much, did or did not do to me.   I am suffering, yes.  My heart aches.  But how I respond to this particular experience will determine how I will feel in the next few months and the more distant future.  I choose to let go lovingly.  As the Buddha says,

In this world

Hostilities are never

appeased by hostility.

But by the absence of hostility

are they appeased.

This in an interminable truth.

I am here on this journey with my son, my only child, in order to give back to him some of the attention and care that I could not give to him for most of his life.  His father and I divorced when he was six, and due to a set of unfortunate circumstances Brendan spent all of his school years in his father’s house.  I lived far from him and saw him only once a month, sometimes for only a few hours, during that period.  When I dropped him off at his father’s house, into which I was rarely invited, I wept at the side of the road in my car.  Because I diligently worked to have a relationship with him, we are very close now.

We had a very easy 13-hour flight to Doha in exit row seats on Qatar Airlines.  Best airplane food I’ve ever had.  Both Brendan and I slept most of the way.  Then we took a taxi to our elegant hotel, an old-fashioned Arabian manor with hand-carved mahogany doors and marble floors, right in the middle of the souq.

Shortly after this video, Brendan broke down again.  I thought he was having an allergy attack, but he was crying.   We are both limping along at the start of our journey together.

He needed some time along so I wandered out into the souq, a warren of covered walkways and open air courtyards, cafes and shops.  I quickly came back because I didn’t feel comfortable walking alone at night, and a few men had made comments to me.   I asked Brendan to come out  with me.  I wanted him to see how beautiful it all was–the men in long white robes and headdresses, the women in sleek black abayas sitting in the outdoor cafes smoking hookahs—the coffee shops and the spices in bulky burlap bags, the men lounging over their dinners and beautiful women in turquoise headdresses.  Our hotel sits at the edge of the souq, where the bird-sellers hawk feathered and furry creatures, stacking cages of chicks on top of kittens.

He came out and we walked here:

Then we settled down into an outdoor cafe, where I ordered hummos and tabbouleh, which were delicious and fresh, just as spicy and lemony as Tim’s concoctions, and maybe even a tiny bit better.  I also ordered what I thought would be a minty-apple drink, but which turned out to be a hookah.  The smoke made me light-headed and slightly sick to my stomach.  Brendan sank down into his funk again while I prattled on about how lovely it was to be out in the Arabian night admiring the parade of tourists and locals.  We came back to the hotel.  Brendan retreated into the familiar comfort of the internet and I wrote this blog.

It is now 3:22 am, Qatar time, and the muzzeins are singing beautiful prayers into the darkness.  Brendan has scrambled out the door to look over the balcony towards the sound.  Here is a video of the view that he is looking at.

The first lines of the Dhammapada are:

Preceded my mind

are phenomena,

led by mind,

formed by mind.

If with mind polluted

one speaks or acts,

then pain follows,

as a wheel follows

the draft ox’s foot.

The words are profound and simple.  Our minds–both our individual consciousnesses and the ancestral/cultural consciousness that we each inherit–shapes, forms, and interprets the mental objects, the phenomena that we encounter in this life.   It is not the other way around.  We are not blank slates, not clay tablets that life writes itself upon, but rather intelligent and emotional beings who interpret everything that we encounter.  Therefore it is important to free ourselves from the bad habits that we have inherited or learned.

We unlearn bad habits–delusional thinking, hatred, violent, attachments to passions–by meditating and becoming more conscious of how we respond to phenomena, and more conscious of how we wish to respond.

Both Brendan and have begun this journey in pain.  Some of that pain is unavoidable.  The Buddha taught that all beings experience pain.  He also said that he taught one thing and one thing only: pain and its cessation.

The first of the four noble truths is that we cannot avoid pain.  What we do have some control over is how we respond to the pain that we feel.  We can either behave and speak in ways that will prolong the pain and increase our suffering, or we can behave and speak in ways that will lead beyond the pain to a sense of ease.

The Buddha said,

If with mind pure

one speaks or acts

then ease follows

as an ever-present shadow.

Neither Brendan nor I know what we will encounter on this journey.  We know that we will be living with a Nepali family, but we do not know where that family home is, or how many people are in it, or when we will begin living there.  Tomorrow we fly to Kathmandu.  We are scheduled to arrive at midnight, and our very kind Nepali host will meet us there, so late at night.   We have much to learn, but we also have much to unlearn.

Tossed in the Waves: Bikram Day 38


Oy!  Yoga kicked my asana today.   I did two classes in a row, beginning at four this afternoon.  Throughout the first part of the first class, I felt sick to my stomach, but found relief by finding my eyes in the mirror and repeating my mantra, “I am.”  In the second session, I felt so dizzy that I had to sit down several times.  Again I found my eyes in the mirror and said to myself, “I am.”  It’s a pretty powerful mantra, as Nisargadatta Maharaj found out.  (And no, I’m not religious.  I agree with Christopher Hill that God is Not Great and that religion poisons everything.  But I also find peace in this simple, secular statement.)

Why was I so tired?  Getting up at 4:30 this morning might have had something to do with it.  Only one train travels non-stop from Pittsburgh to DC and it leaves at 5:20.  My son needed to board it, so I drove him down there.   It wasn’t so bad after we got out the door.

Toxins, mostly residue from sugars, probably also slowed me down today.  I missed yoga yesterday because I had to drive my son’s friend down to McKee’s Rocks in the morning. And since it was my son’s last evening in Pittsburgh, and I don’t get to see him very often, I chose to have dinner with him instead of going to the night class.  I knew I could do a double today.  It was nevertheless not wise to eat mashed potatoes (his favorite) and pasta (my favorite) instead of green vegetables and fish.  Nor was it sensible to indulge in the candied nuts I make very year, or in two glasses of wine.

I don’t regret the wine.  It was a marvelous Bordeaux, dry and round and musky in the mouth.  I do regret the carbs and the sugars.

It’s true what my yoga teachers say every day–that daily practice helps the digestion and keeps the blood sugars regulated.   But it also helps to settle the heart and emotions.   According to my teacher this evening, stress is harder on the body than sugar and other not necessarily healthy things that we ingest.

Today was stressful.  Not because I got up well before sunrise; not because I haven’t been sleeping well for a week.  Not because I’ve been indulging my love of fatty, starchy, and sugary food.  Today was stressful because I parted–only temporarily–with my son.  He’s lived far away from me since he was six years old.   We have a good relationship because we have both made an effort to know each other.   He seems to have adjusted fairly well to the separation, and now that he’s in college it is obviously common and normal to live on his own.   I, however, seem to have a deep wound.  Like an old war-injury, it aches and troubles me, sometimes more, sometimes less.  I know the pain is old, not really relevant to the present.  It’s an emotional reflex, a resurgence of sadness, of loss, of inconsolable heartbreak remembered, that triggers when I have to let him go again.

This dark wave that breaks over me brought me under in yoga today.  I am not talking about something that exists only in my head, in thoughts, in memories, but rather a physical experience, a somatic condition.  The mind and the body are connected.  What makes it bearable, insofar as it is bearable, is that I know that it is just a wave.   I know that I’ll go under and that the current might tumble and toss me more wildly than I might expect.  I also know that if I just go limp during the worst bits, and swim when the surge begins to abate, that I’ll come up and through and out.  The wave will recede, and I will get back on my feet.

I’m feeling rather beached now.  But I still love the ocean.

So I’m thinking about my cat


while sitting outside my kitchen on the porch in my garden that I planted myself with peonies, roses, lavender, sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, greek oregano, lilies, lilac, irises, baptista, or false indigo, and morning glory, and basil, cilantro, and white wisteria.  And tulips and hyacinths in the spring, when you can’t believe that anything is flowering because it has been dark and cold for so long you forgot what green looked like.

And I’m thinking that I love him, of course.  He’s the first being who came here and stayed, and only after much upset and dissatisfaction on both sides.  We never seemed to be able to please each other utterly, even though we called one another “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” and had not made such a serious commitment in years, and it has lasted way longer than we ever thought it would.  And neither one of us is even considering living somewhere else.

Sometimes he seems so aloof, so who-gives-a-shit-about you, and at other times he’s so needy I feel like I”m suffocating.  You know?  I mean, I adore him.  But he’s so difficult.  Every man who comes over, it seems, gets the royal treatment.  It’s as though he cares more for them than he does for me.  I understand that it’s just an act, a form of politeness, and that finally it’s me he loves best.  I’m the one.  And  I even get something out of the arrangement because he makes the guy feel really good, and when I say, “o, he loves you best of all,” the guy always falls for it and starts to thinking that he’s the shit, that he’s got me, that he’s in control.  When actually it is I who am manipulating him.  The cat helps me with this.

Peer Gynt Considers His Next Move

He’s big and orange and stripy, like a mini-tiger, and fat, and lazy, and lazier and fatter every year.   He complains loudly when he wants attention, or when breakfast isn’t served promptly enough.  Sometimes he even paws at my bedroom door.  Drives me crazy.  Not in a good way.  Sometimes I just don’t seem to have the energy.  I love him and think he’s gorgeous, sexy, but I just can’t go there tonight.  Thank you so much honey for understanding.  I’m soooooooo tired.  Then there are other nights when HE (can you believe it?) just couldn’t be bothered.  I mean I know he knows I’m here,  that he sees me, even wants me, but god damn if he’s going to show me that.  No.  It’s I’m just gonna sit here in this chair and stare at the wall as if you didn’t even exist.  And see how that feels.  Yeah.  That’s what he’s doing right now.  Sitting on the chair, looking off into the night, ignoring the airplane whooshing by overhead, the cloud of gold where the streetlight hits the trees, my fingers clicking.  But we sense these things and one another.  We know we’re ignoring one another, the bus roaring down Negley, the silence on the grass.  It’s too early in the summer for cicadas or crickets.  Just the dull irritation of a motorbike in the distance, the sea-shell sound of the city behind it.

Writing


Well, this is a relief.  I’ve had two good days in touch with my so-called real self: the scholar-writer person. I’ve been wondering about this particular persona for a while, since she’s been so out of touch.  Did she still live, after all this time?  Could we still talk, hang out?  Would it feel the way it used to? And what about her dearest companions, our books? Would they  still reassure me, communicate their serious love?  Would I still feel serious love for them?

It was, I am happy to say, very much a good experience.  I love to be in the library, especially when it is empty, as it is during spring break and summer.   The elevator always comes promptly, and I don’t have to wade through the hordes of students draped all over the the place like seals on the way to my blissfully set-apart study.  And there I find these things, bound in cloth or, lately, plastic and string and god-knows-what kind of glue, that have carried me through these years.  My friends.  There is that one, who, like the other dear ones, has been with me through the whole terrible broken-from-the-start love-affair with X, and then after that through the heartache of Y, and then my father’s death, and the strange eye-in-the-storm calm that followed, when I was so busy with the estate, and felt, for a change, important, respected, needed.

I’m tempted to go into some inquiry about what precisely it is that makes teaching so horrible these days, so impersonal, so mechanical.  Not that I feel like a machine.  No, that’s the problem.  It’s not just the institution, but the students, who want me to be like a machine.  They want me to be like a tv program, or, better yet, like a music video, that fascinates and manipulates them, that robs them of their subjectivity.  They only seem to experience their subjectivity these days when they are feeling outraged over having been denied some service that they are convinced they have already paid for.

Having to read, discuss and write thoughtfully about feminism is definitely not what they signed up for.  And I’m not quite as trim as I used to be.  I no longer wear those killer tight miniskirts and high heels.  No, these days I’m more likely to show up in the only pair of jeans that still fits, a ski vest I’ve had for 12 years (Patagonia), and a long t-shirt.  I think my ratings used to be higher.

Okay, so it’s true, Peter Weddle, this workplace has been making me sick for a long time now.  And I certainly have been guilty of not taking care of myself by forgetting that it is up to me to care for the fitness of my career–not my academic department or mentor.

Why has it taken me so long to “stop drinking the koolaid,” as Sabine Hikel so wisely advises? There have always been a few, wonderful students who have made it all worth while.  They are usually women, gay men, and black men, but there have also ben some fantastically alert and open-minded  heterosexual white men in my women’s studies classes.  There’s no reason to trash the entire genus.  As I as saying, there are the few students who make it all good, who not only do the reading and follow what I’m saying but who for some totally inexplicable reason seem to live on the same planet as I do, and who, like the few people left who seem to be willing to declare themselves feminists, grasp how important it is to understand how we all participate in a world of predictable gendered patterns, and that we step outside of the normative patterns at our peril.

Not just the people who don’t fit into the heteronormative paradigm, the resolutely heterosexual people in the J. Crew catalog, are hurt by sexism, by narrow conceptions, rigidly enforced, of gender.  No, even the pretend-people’s earthly representatives, the really, really, really, you-can’t-even-imagine-how-rich rich people, who benefit from these crude stereotypes, are limited and depressed by them and the system that they perpetuate.   Okay so the pretend-people in the J.Crew catalog are better off than the women in Snoop Dogg music videos, and the men in those videos.  At least the crude stereotype that they are personifying do not depict women as universally nymphomaniac, narcissistic slaves or black men as thugs. (On this, see the entire brilliant documentary Dreamworlds 3)

Ja, even the guys at the various apex points of the multi-dimensional power-grid that we all inhabit, unequally, are damaged by these narrow visions of sexual identity.  Because these are so incredibly limiting.  Men have so much more to offer than they are represented as offering in the media.  And so do women.  Obviously.

Right.

Yep.  Think that’s where I’m gonna end this one.

Writing


Well, this is a relief.  I’ve had two good days in touch with my so-called real self, the scholar-writer person. I’ve been wondering about this particular persona for a while, since she’s been so out of touch.  Did she still live, after all this time?  Could we still talk, hang out?  Would it feel the way it used to?  Would the books still reassure me, communicate their serious love?  Would I still feel serious love for them?

It was, I am happy to say, very much a good experience.  I love to be in the library, especially when it is empty, as it is during spring break and summer.   The elevator always comes promptly, and I don’t have to wade through the hordes, more like seals draped all over the the place, on the way to my blissfully set-apart study.  And there I find these things, bound in plastic and string and god-knows-what kind of glue, that have carried me through these years.  My friends.  There is that one, who, like the other dear ones, has been with me through the whole terrible broken-from-the-start love-affair with X, and then after that through the heartache of Y, and then my father’s death, and the strange eye-in-the-storm calm that followed, when I was so busy with the estate, and felt, for a change, important, respected, needed.

I could go in to some inquiry about what precisely it is that makes teaching so horrible these days, so impersonal, so mechanical.  Not that I feel like a machine.  No, that’s the problem.  It’s not just the institution, but the students, who want me to be like a machine.  They want me to be like a tv program, or, better yet, like a music video, that fascinates and manipulates them, that robs them of their subjectivity.  They only seem to experience their subjectivity these days when they are feeling outraged over having been denied some service that they are convinced they have already paid for.

Having to read, discuss and write thoughtfully about feminism is definitely not what they signed up for.  And I’m not quite as trim as I used to be.  I no longer wear those killer tight miniskirts and high heels.  No, these days I’m more likely to show up in the only pair of jeans that still fits, a ski vest I’ve had for 12 years (Patagonia), and a long t-shirt.  I think my ratings used to be higher.  But I really don’t give a shit.

Yes, there are the few students, usually but not always women or gay men–sometimes heterosexual white men really come through, you know?  There’s no reason to trash the entire genus.  As I as saying, there are the few students who make it all good, who not only do the reading and follow what I’m saying but who for some totally inexplicable reason seem to live on the same planet as I do, and who, like the few people left who seem to be willing to declare themselves feminists, grasp that this is it, this cause, gender: understanding how we all participate in a world of predictable gendered patterns, and that we step outside of the normative patterns at our peril..

Not just the people who don’t fit into the heteronormative paradigm, the resolutely heterosexual people in the J. Crew catalog, are hurt by sexism, by narrow conceptions, rigidly enforced, of gender.  No, even the pretend-people’s earthly representatives, the really, really, really, you-can’t-even-imagine-how-rich rich people, who benefit from these crude stereotypes, are limited and depressed by them and the system that they perpetuate.   Okay so the pretend-people in the J.Crew catalog are better off than the women in Snoop Dogg music videos, and the men in those videos.  At least the crude stereotype that they are personifying do not depict women as universally nymphomaniac, narcissistic slaves.

Ya, even the guys at the various apex points of the multi-dimensional power-grid that we all inhabit, unequally, are damaged by these narrow visions of sexual identity.  Because these are so incredibly limiting.  Men have so much more to offer than they are represented as offering in the media.  And so do women.  Obviously.

Right.

Yep.  Think that’s where I’m gonna end this one.