I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
I have always had a problem accepting that a day is only 24 hours long, and that my body legitimate needs to sleep a fair portion of those hours away. I just don’t understand how one can seriously fit the utmost rewarding days in those many hours. I wake up early to get a workout in for my own health, but I’m also expected to work an 8 hour work day and find time for meals the middle. However, I hate being cooped up inside and I don’t like fast food, so I find myself craving to be outside as soon as I get home – and spending extra time getting adequate meals. I also have a number of activities I enjoy doing like dance and sports and even just going to the beach or trying out a new place in town. Well, how can I do all of these things and still find time to read books and write and draw and…play with my cats? I’m thinking about starting a petition to make the days longer.
All of those things fall under the definition of welfare. Welfare includes health, safety, happiness, and prosperity. I looked up the definition when I finally got a minute to continue reading Custer Died for Your Sins by Vine Deloria, Jr. He’s a humorous and rather crude writer who, in this particular chapter, takes time to blame Pilgrim society for our welfare problems and stereotypes. Welfare, as in the government program. And I got to thinking, wow – I can’t imagine what I would be doing with my time if I didn’t work…except, just kidding. First of all, I’d be constantly looking for work. Second, I never have nothing to do. There’s always something! Always a book to read, a movie to watch, or inspiration to draw or run or…yeah, you get the point.
But then Deloria makes a somewhat convicting point. I definitely do think of people on welfare as being sloths. I know I shouldn’t generalize, but when I think of welfare I just think of people trying to take advantage of the system and live reckless lives at others’ expenses. I’m just going to share a couple paragraphs by Vine:
There is basically nothing real about our economic system. It is neither good nor bad, but neutral. Only when we place connotations on it and use it to manipulate people does it become a thing in itself.
Our welfare system demonstrates better than anything else the means to which uncritical white economics can be used. We have all types of welfare programs: old age, disability, aid to dependent children, orphanages, and unemployment. There is continual controversy in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and city halls over the welfare programs.
Conservatives insist that those receiving welfare are lazy and are getting a free ride at the expense of hard-working citizens. Liberals insist that all citizens have a basic right to life and that it is the government’s responsibility to provide for those unable to provide for themselves.
What are we really saying?
Welfare is based upon the norm set up by the Puritans long ago. A man is define as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, healthy, ambitious, earnest, and honest, a man whom the Lord smiles upon by increasing the fruits of his labor. Welfare is designed to compensate people insofar as they deviate from that norm. Insofar as a woman has an illegitimate child, she receives compensation. Insofar as a man is disabled, he receives compensation. Insofar as a person is too old to work, he receives compensation.
Welfare buys that portion of a person which does not match the stereotype of the real man. Welfare payments are never sufficient, never adequate. This is because each person bears some relation to the norm and in proportion to their resemblance, they receive less.
After reading this section, it struck me that old Christian ideals are really what we use to define “welfare”. Even the government is giving handouts based on those same ideals and expectations. Since these ideals and our democratic society define welfare and happiness, etc., as being able to afford a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear,… We’re expected to fit into roles and family molds, so when a piece is broken and it doesn’t quite fit anymore, the government tries to patch it up. We’re not really given a choice on how to live. (Maybe the one exception to that is the guy that quit ordinary life to live in a cave in Moab, but I think even he has since been shut down by some loophole the government devised.) And it’s not surprise to me that Vine is particularly aggressive against this concept of welfare. I mean, he’s a Sioux writer and avidly denounces any and every remnant of American efforts for Indian assimilation and termination of the reservations. He wrote this book at the end of the Termination Era and during the Civil Rights movement for blacks, so I’d say his candidness is highly justifiable.
A famous quote by Vine Deloria, Jr.
That candidness is what causes me to love Deloria and what causes others (especially close-minded whites) to really hate him. He has a knack for conviction and also for pounding accusatory points home. When the points he make align with your beliefs or the ones you get from reading what he writes, then you can hardly refrain from putting your hands up and shouting
But he also has a tendency to totally call you out on things, like my outlook on welfare apparently aligning with a conservative mindset and his shedding light on my subconscious acceptance of the Christian perspective of welfare and success.
Ahh…and I’ve feel like I’ve done it yet again. I tend to do this to myself, to branch out and read convicting things that sort of knock me flat and question everything I’ve come to know. Then that leaves me trying to sort out what’s the right way to go. I’ve already had a sense that “ordinary” life is contrived, and I’m sure that contributes to my running around like a fool trying to live it to its best and fullest, but now…now I can question my efforts all over again, from a refreshed base. Which won’t be as hard to do if I can convince this Puritan government to accept my petition and tack on a few more hours to this ancient 24-hour-day concept.
I’d heard a lot about Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way. When I tried to reserve it and had to wait weeks on OhioLink, I figured there must really be something good about it. And it certainly proved to have a lot of simple, selfless moments of realization. It got me thinking about how I perceive myself, amongst many other things in life.
If you saw this, you would probably know who you are.
There are so many things I wanted to tell you this weekend, but I didn’t. If I told you those things, they would sound like excuses. If I told you how I felt, that would sound like persuasion. No, I have to wait. I have to wait until you ask the right questions, and then I can only hope that those answers will come as easily as they would when I withheld them previously.
Mister, there are so many things I wanted to tell you yesterday when I finished that book. I couldn’t say them, though. At first, I couldn’t say them because you asked and I was still a few pages away from finishing and I couldn’t possibly have gathered my thoughts by then. Then I finished it, and you asked, but there was someone in the room and I couldn’t say the truth with him there. And when it was all good and I was ready to tell you how, wow, a silly book has…proved me really wrong… well, you never asked. And if I made you ask, it would seem too cunning. I just hoped you would ask. I really wish you would ask. But I’m afraid to answer if you do. I’m afraid to be that vulnerable, to have been that wrong, to say kind words and have you judge them whether deservingly or not, but I’m especially afraid of how it will change the future. My future with those who have suppressed this kind of thing before, as well as my future relations with you, mister. Because I don’t want to come off as ill-intentioned.
Today, mister, I had so many feelings. So much anger. I was so frustrated, I needed comfort, and I was still piling on hurt from yesterday and feeling sorry for myself. There were so many things i wanted you to do, to say, to ask, to whatever…but you didn’t. And so I now feel foolish, because I acted cruelly and you would never be so cruel but you let me be cruel anyway. I wanted so many things, but I got nothing. You left without saying goodbye, not in person at least. I was hoping all week to see you after work, but I won’t have that either. I always think, what if what if what if something goes wrong, with my road trip, with your– no, I won’t even think that. But what if we never got to speak again?
This week I have wanted to start so many conversations. But I think, because I know they’re the conversations that you long to hear, I am avoiding them at all costs. Because I know they are the conversations you want, and that I want because you want, but I wanted them before you wanted them because I wanted to have what I couldn’t otherwise have. And they never happened because I could never deceive or lie like that. But then suddenly everything changed, like I got punched in the face in such a way that it almost felt like a caress. And now I want to scream to you, “I understand! I understand! I was so wrong…I still don’t get it all, and I’m still scared, but I love this too much to let it go…” but I know you probably would rejoice to hear that, yet have skepticism that I’m doing it because I’m trying to get what I want…which is not true…but I would rather never tell you than have you believe that.
I’d rather loose everything than seem false.
Am I foolish? I don’t know. I’m so confused. You’re probably the only one who could make sense of this, yet I doubt you’ll ever read this. Ever. And so maybe an opportunity will slip by because I can’t find the courage to do this. Maybe that’s the test. I’ll probably fail. I usually find a way to fail…
Mister, all I want is some solid time alone with you to work this out. Without feeling deceptive. Without feeling confused. But I think we also have to meet somewhere in the middle…
Last week, I finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And I really liked it. I ordered the movie from the library and am anxious for it to come it.
For those of you who don’t know, The Help is about life in the south during the Civil RIghts movement. There is a click of white women living in Jackson and there is the community of black women who serve as maids for them and their friends. One of the white women starts to drift away from the queen bee of the click as she begins seeing more and more things that are horrible to her about racism, despite her upbringing. She starts to see her other friend’s blind obedience to the queen bee and how willing she is to give up other friendships for it. The girl who drifts away from the pack is nicknamed Skeeter, for her being “painfully tall”and thus unattractive to men, and she suddenly begins seeking out the comfort of the maids and the stories that they eventually tell her. A journalist, she finds a job but ultimately gets her satisfaction from writing a controversial collective of anonymous maids’ stories serving white women and raising their children who inevitably forget their childhood loves and become just like their parents.
I see myself in Skeeter in a lot of ways, like how she wants to understand other people and isn’t afraid to say something’s wrong when it’s not right. One thing that doesn’t match up with Skeeter and myself, however, is the fact that she’s still so dependent on her parents. For example: “Goodbye, Miss Phelan. I hope you make the deadline,” she says, but before she hangs up, she mutters, “and for God’s sake, you’re a twenty-four-year-old educated woman. Go get an apartment.”
Another passage that stood out to me that I really liked at the time:
I slam the tennis ball into the blackboard, trying my best not to think about anything. Lately I’ve found myself praying, when I’ve never been a very religious person. I find myself whispering long, never-ending sentences to God, begging for Mother to feel some relief, pleading for good news about the book, sometimes even asking for some hint of what to do about Stuart. Often I catch myself praying when I didn’t even know I was doing it.
There was just something in Skeeter’s religionless-ness yet tendency to seek consolation in such a way that reminds me of myself or really anyone who feels weak and confused.
I also found The Help inspirational, like What if someone wrote a book like this about my own causes on the US Reservations? Maybe one day that will be me, that someone. Either way, you should check out the book. It’s long, but it goes by quickly and I think it offers a really unique perspective. And you know how obsessed I am with perspective.
I’ve been reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story focuses on an extended family and surrounding people living rather isolated and somewhat primitive in Colombia. The patriarch of the family is transfixed with the ideas of science and invention. In fact, he founds his own village, Macondo, on an island so he can spend his life entertaining his curiosities. What’s particularly interesting about this man and his village, though, is the fact that the both are so isolated in only the familiar and with little contact to the outside. For example, some gypsies bring in a large piece of ice to the village as a “demonstration” – not of science, but of magic. The man is transfixed by this enormous diamond and pays for him and his sons to touch it. Because he sees things in one light and one light only.
I’m still reading the book, but that was the gist of what I’ve gotten from summaries of it and what I’ve read so far. But what really stuck out to me was that ice scenario. I started thinking about the life that family had, isolated in one of the last regions to be explored. In fact, Colombia is still heavily avoided, perhaps due more to violence than environmental concern such as the Amazon in Brazil.
I see ice every morning during this time of year. There’s ice on my windows, ice hanging from my eaves, and ice on the sidewalks. We go to the restaurant and we’re served water with ice. We buy bags of ice for coolers to pack samples in the lab. We have ice for injuries whenever we need it.
There are people in this world who have lived their whole lives without ever seeing, feeling, tasting, knowing ice. They might know steam and not recognize it as water. If they saw ice, they surely wouldn’t first guess water, would they? Could they say ‘diamonds’ if they knew diamonds? And how could you ever explain that feeling of such coldness? So cold, it seems boiling hot if you have only ever known boiling hot.
I’m not just thinking about the materialistic things we take for granted in our daily lives, like heat and air-conditioning. I’m not just talking about the people we take for granted in our daily lives, like friends and family. I’m talking about the science we have come to know and how it has changed our lives as we’ve learned to manipulate it.
Medication. Transportation. Entertainment. Those are some of the big ones.
But even something as simple as ice. Phase change. Think of how many things we have that rely on phase change: cooking, engines, pumps,…a lot of little things that make up much bigger things. Science, knowledge….the ability to share that information – it can so easily be taken for granted.
How different would your life be if you lived in a place where no one knew ice?