Sunday, February 8, 2009

Learning From Exes

(President George W. Bush waits behind a camouflage curtain before being announced to speak to the troops at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province 03 September 2007. Photo from The New York Times.)

Learning From Exes

A few days ago, I kept having the nagging feeling that it was a date I should be remembering for some reason. It wasn't until I woke up the next morning that I recalled: On February 4, 1991, my partner of six years left my house (where we'd slept together one last time) to board a plane for the West Coast. Leaving me for good.

It took me years to recover. I developed severe hives, such that it was difficult for me to go out in public for a while. I stopped listening to music because it was loaded with triggers. I lost a lot of weight, I made bad decisions, I blew new relationships. I had to reinvent myself.

In retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She understood, long before I did, that I was never going to become the ultimate codependent she required of a partner, determined as I was to try. She knew I was headed down a road where I would eventually say no to her and demand she do her share. So, a few days late, I'm celebrating. To my ex I say, thanks for walking out on me, finally, after having sucked me dry for two years. I wish you peace. I've certainly found it without you.

I think of the Carole King song: "If it had been as I intended, I wouldn't have the peace I know."

This kind of cataclysmic change, this total reinvention, doesn't happen to us personally very often -- although I don't see why it shouldn't, the opportunity for it is always there. We tend to resist it, because we are easily frightened, soft-fleshed and slow little bipeds who've bought the ability to outlive our intended lifespans without first making sure we've filled in the gaps with art, spirit, and sustainability. So even when we think we're welcoming "change", we insist it be slickly packaged and not actually radical. Radical as in "going to the root."

We resist it even more as members of cultures, tribes, and nations. I happen to believe the current need for change has run us down like a semi approaching an armadillo on the interstate, and jumping into the air isn't going to do us any good. But even with my poet's heart and my appetite for revolution, I have trouble answering the question Billy Kwan posed: What then must we do? Usually when I don't have an answer, I know that's because it is up to more than me to answer it. It will take a lot of us, like white blood cells surrounding a virus and saying in low voices "You want a piece of this?"

However, I keep pushing myself to "remember, or failing that, invent", partly because I am a writer and that's fun for me, partly because this winter is beginning to look like Valley Forge, and partly because I helped elect this current President, which carries with it responsibility. So the last day or so, I've been pretending the old regime, not just Gunner Dick and Chimpy McFlightsuit, et al, but also the broken press mechanism in this country and a Congress whose response on 9/11 was to gather on the steps and sing the national anthem (when I saw that on TV, I knew we were in trouble) -- I've been imagining that the whole ball of wax is a dysfunctional relationship with a girlfriend who is simply never going to change, and the only way I can ever be happy again is to redefine everything I think about love and trust from the ground up.

In the process of this experiment, some interesting elements have emerged.

One is that I realized I am still very, very pissed at all the people who let this happen: All of you out there who were ever taken in by Bush. I've made excuses for you. I mean, I grew up around men who were fuckers of the first degree, vicious little ballscratchers who never ever gave anyone as much as they took and who simply reveled in their own ignorance. So when this kind of photo of Bush appeared

(President George W. Bush has his early morning school reading event interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida. Photos by Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse.)

or this one

(President George W. Bush speaks to reporters after a meeting with members of his National Economic Council in the Cabinet Room of the White House, February 25, 2003. Bush said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will have to fully disarm to avert war. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.)

I instantly recognized the kind of guy Faulkner would write about, except not even that interesting. He's not someone you'd trust to run a forklift, much less anything where considering the needs of other human beings is a job requirement. And yet you elected him President, twice. (Kind of.)

My anger about this has gotten in the way of my thinking, I reckon. Because there's some part of me, deep inside, saying "See what you did, you stupid asswipes, this is NOT MY PROBLEM."

But I live here, of course it's my problem. In fact, since I was never for an instant taken in by this man, or by Reagan, or by any neoconservative lying puke, I'm in a better position to lead us out of the wilderness than most. As Fannie Lou Hamer allegedly once said, "If you can see what the problem is, and you know one thing to do about it, then you're a leader."

So, I have to keep getting over the feelings attached to having been shafted, royally shafted, and get on with clean-up. (On good days, when I have extra, of course.)

And then, Friday night, Bill Moyers had Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald as guests on his PBS show Journal. I watched it with intense satisfaction. I recommend you all at least read the transcript (available here) if you can't find a re-airing on your local stations. Here's my favorite part of it, words spoken by Glenn Greenwald:

"I think that clearly, the opinion-making elites and the political elites are generally insulated from the level of anxiety and economic threat that millions and millions of Americans are facing in the most extreme fashion since the Great Depression, as the cliché goes.

"At the same time, I think the problem is, is that the citizenry has really been trained to believe that they're impotent when it comes to demanding action from the political class.
"I think what needs to happen is there needs to be a sense, as you said, whether it's street demonstrations or other forms of true social disruption that can threaten the people who have an interest in preserving how things are, that until that happens, and whatever form that takes -- (it's hard to predict, it can be spontaneous, it can grow out of real dissatisfaction and anger- -- that more or less, lip service will be paid to the idea that these are significant problems that our political leaders care about, that change is coming."

I began considering the idea of imagining the future two years from now and embracing it, getting ready for it, by (say) tomorrow night. What if two years before my ex left me, I had had the sense to accept where things were headed and said "All right, I'm going to live as if you've already gone." I'd not have wasted years of my life. Sometimes, of course, we have to learn lessons the hard way, the slow bleed, or, my own preferred method, by the Quaker axiom of "Proceed as the way opens." But sometimes we have a chance at quantum leaps. If this is one of those windows, I'd like to jump through it.

I'm only beginning this thought exercise. I have no profound lessons to pass on as yet. Still, I thought I'd share it with you -- possibly some of you are way ahead of me. And we are certainly all in this together. Happy day of rest, ya'll. See you on Monday.

[Note: The photos in this post are from The New York Times photoessay/editorial by Errol Morris titled Mirror, Mirror On The Wall. My deep thanks to Digby for writing about this article and linking to it; I've been studying it ever since. Hat-tip also to Saturday Night Live's Seth Myers whose comment in Weekend Update made me laugh cola out my nose: He mentioned that President Barack Obama had apologized this week for "screwing up" in the nominations of two Cabinet members with tax problems, and responded with "Dude, the guy who had this job before you? He broke the world." Yeah.]