I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breadcrumbs on the Path

My last boyfriend before my beloved husband, T---, is an academic. When T--- and I were newly married (to our respective spouses), we lived relatively close and saw each other every so often. They had a marital moratorium on children in those days, since lifted. So, especially because of that, it was hard not to think of him in comparison/ contrast with the life I chose. Like he’s the breadcrumb I left along the path in case I need to retrace my steps back home.

Sitting in their living room, I couldn’t help but think, this could be me; with dogs instead of children, the blue-eyed Afghan girl on the wall, sharing my husband’s consternation that if Bush steals the election there will be nothing for it but to move to Canada. I would tally the units of L.L. Bean gear and references to the New York Times as “the paper” – all would be exhibits in my indictment for smugmuggery.

Petty, I know. Also pointless. Especially now there’s some time on it; and those of us who came late to backyards have them and those of us who came late to children have them; I’m sure T--- and his wife sometimes feel like drudges or sell-outs or caricatures of themselves just as often as my husband and I feel like vanguards or freaks or catcher in the rye. But they’re who I always think of when I think of “like-minded people.” People who, when you say you’re moving to Canada because Bush stole the election, say Yeah, Man, take me with you.

Like-Minded People

So, I’ve been thinking about this business of “like-minded people.” Everywhere I went, my classmates, especially the young parents, were proudly announcing that they had managed to surround themselves with “like-minded people.” Now, to be absolutely fair to my beloved classmates, when they say “like-minded,” it isn’t Stepford code for the narrow exclusivity and shallow conformity of the bourgeoisie.

I have no doubt that they mean it in only the best Bo-Bo sense. A place where they can raise quirky, free-thinking, smarty-pants kids without too much lowest common denominator telling them to man up, quit dreaming, be sexy, or buy cool stuff; where the neighbors don’t gossip if they recycle their grey water and keep their grey hair; where they can return from their moderately-well-paid but purposeful jobs to do some actual living in their living rooms, shabby chic and overstuffed with books, arguing into the night over good wine and potluck.

On "Mad About You," Helen Hunt (surveying LGBT parade): "Do we have enough gay friends?"
Paul Reiser: "For what?"

Hard to scoff at that. That’s all I want in the world. I have only had a glimpse of it. A few of my parent’s friends early on were quite – what’s the word? -- intentional. I have a friend who spent some time in a commune that referred to itself as an “intentional community.” I like the sound of that.

It was like that -- intentional, full of intent. They were forever forming groups with preposterous names like The Institute for Community Development. The neighbors used to put on one-acts at each other’s houses and we would do the sound effects. We were welcome at anyone’s house and if the finger paint was going to be too messy, we would just paint naked.

Whereas, my life? Has no “intent” in it besides mine.

Dear Reader, if you exist...

It is an indicator of how starved I am for adult conversation that I came back from reunion just spilling over with thoughts I wanted to do something with. Good thing, Dear Reader, if you exist, that I have this blog. It reminds me of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” which I did as a freshman at college. A particularly pathetic moment on the maiden’s journey where she’s got the baby and they’re starving and she tries to nurse him. “There’s nothing there, of course,” she says, “But you think you’re drinking and that’s something.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Archival Minds III: B--- from college

Nowhere were my mental limits more in evidence than at reunion just now. So it was par for the course when my classmate B --- asked me to solve a mystery that had been plaguing him for fifteen years. He was the monkey king of our campus – a trickster with an underground following of rogues and misfits who would commit various acts of hazardous and illicit mischief and derring-do around campus. Apparently I was privy to this information, but when pressed about my source, answered that it was someone who was trying to impress me (Only apparently I put it more, err, explicitly than that.)

Who was my informant? I don’t know. I don’t know that there ever was an informant. One thing about having a memory as bad as mine is that once you learn something, you forget that you ever didn’t know it. You just think it’s common knowledge.

So when B--- asked me, I just figured it was like that. Lo these many years ago, I probably surmised that he was up to something and I was probably fishing and didn’t want to admit I had nothing. Also, if I recall, I was kinda hoping B--- himself wanted to, err, impress me.
But so we’re puzzling over this when another classmate greets me like a long-lost army buddy and I’ve got absolutely nothing. I mean he’s there and he’s saying, oh but I had long hair then and describing himself, and… seriously nothing. And now he’s beginning to doubt himself and he says, you’re from Detroit, right? No, I say with relief. Maybe he’s got the wrong girl. But you’re – awkward pause – you’re Black, right?

OK, well without going into a whole other thing, yes, I am Black. And it’s not as stupid a question as you might think because I don’t look it, but I am quite political about it, or was in college. And now I know he’s got the right girl because he goes on.

You blew my mind. We were in choir together and we were on tour and we played that Black church in Detroit and afterwards down in the basement you were talking with all the people from the church and they clearly accepted you as Black, you could tell by how they were talking, and I thought, I had no idea.

And then he goes on and it wasn’t a DIRECT segue but he’s showing me pictures of his multi-racial kids. Kinda like it was all of a piece, me blowing his mind and him ending up with multi-racial kids.

So, in the middle of it, B--- whispers to me, well that solves our mystery.

I guess this guy who used to have long hair and apparently thinks I’m the bomb used to be one of B---‘s lost boys. But if he’s the one, then that makes me pretty much of a heel, doesn’t it? Because then that would mean I really meant something to him. I mean, he broke a confidence to impress me. and I knew he did. and I still can’t remember his name.

Archival Minds II -- My Spouse

My spouse belongs in this list, as he’s known me since high school. Along with the usual marital mind-meld -- “Darling, what’s that tv show I like, with that guy?” -- he also delights in calling me out on my pretensions. “I like that Billy Ray Cyrus. I don’t know why…” I’ll muse. And he’ll reply, “I know why. You’ve always had a thing for the peach fuzz boys.”

Archival Minds

This is a shout-out to the people in my life with the archival minds. It has been my great good fortune that at every stage in my life there has been one really remarkable person whose memory is good enough and who is interested enough in me that she has borne witness to the little musings and proclamations of my life, and played them back for me.

My memory is lousy. I once had a pen pal in England, and every time I would write her I would say the same exact thing, about this boy I liked, and how he didn’t know I was alive. When she got back to the States, she showed me these repetitious letters, chiding me for my obsession. But really all it was was that I thought it was an interesting thing to write in a letter; and it never occurred to me I had already done so.

The original memory-keeper in my life, and reigning champ, is J ---. She has known me as long as I can remember (Or should I rephrase that, since we’ve established that isn’t much of a boast? Since middle school). And we have kept touch despite boarding school, college, grad school, and various other moves. I have sometimes been a pretty good correspondent, but, as Jane Austen said, “It is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.” More often than not, it was she who tracked me down. Remember, young’uns, this was before google. There was a web of friends to be maintained in order for us all to keep track of each other; and she was its center. With her as Greek chorus, every step on my life’s journey has felt like prophecy fulfilled. “Well of course you’re marrying him – remember what you said about him when you first met?”

How liberal arts grads parent

So I’ve just come back from my college reunion where I’ve discovered that my former classmate has made quite a name for herself on the blogger boards as “breedemandweep.com”

Having graduated in the early 90’s, just about all of us who are ever going to jump in that pool are in various stages of parenting. So the conversation inevitably turned to what we anointed liberal intelligentsia made of the whole business. In the first place, we were pretty unanimous that our liberal arts experience had pretty much given us bupkis to draw on, especially those of us haunted by the specters of our profs shaking their heads at our compromised, gendered, commercial, authoritarian households.

Not actually a bad thing. Not really. College was for me the workshop for my most epic self – my Nietzschean no-compromises, “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” self. It was important to that experiment not to give any quarter to thoughts of a life compromised by material reality or obligations to another person.

But, come on now, we all did find room in our heads for spouses and kids later on. As reckless and solipsistic a girlfriend as I was, I found courtship and marriage pretty effortless when it came time. I remember when I was visiting an ex at Big State U. his evangelical girlfriend took me to see a very popular Christian speaker who was exhorting us to hold onto or reclaim our virginity (Poor ex? Yes, I remember thinking the same thing). The speaker’s point was that anyone you’d ever been with takes up space in your head just as if they were right there in your future marital bed. The girlfriend decided I wasn’t threatening when I admitted being moved by that particular visual image. But really she shouldn’t have because I took a different lesson from it, which is yes, yes, let it be.

Did we – despite ourselves – leave room in our heads for spouse and children? Were we Prince Hal, loitering in the tavern, but somewhere in the back of our minds, drafting our St. Crispin’s Day speech? I think we must have been. Not by living our lives so that we could deliver ourselves unbesmirched on our wedding day. But by living our lives so that we could present ourselves worldly, healthy, and whole.