Wednesday, March 10, 2010

wherein I consider . . .

 I mentioned  assumptions by those who presume they know my story without listening first to me.
Shall I write about this? 
And touch on - oh, two at least of the three forbiddens? (Religion, politics, sex - what are yours?) Forbidden not because they are distasteful or unimportant but because they are, these days, fields taken over by loud machines.  Fields made miry, torn up, compacted, no longer able to support any life but the hardiest and thorniest of weeds.

And my dears, a bicycle is not a bulldozer.  Less destructive indeed and more observant, but also with a strong preference for smooth pavement.  I fear a puncture and a good hour lost fixing a flat if I venture off the paved path I've chosen.

So maybe I will tell you instead about the adult literacy program that has at last begun to roll into motion. 

Before moving here to Oregon I used to be the director - co-director - of a family literacy center.  Though I began simply volunteering as a tutor.  And it is with the one-on-one tutoring that my heart lies.  One of my longest and most rewarding clients was a man in his 50s who had never learned to read.  Intelligent, humorous, persevering - I had to admire the clever ways he'd taught himself to negotiate in a world written over with markings that shone no light for him. 

I thought volunteering might work better with a writing schedule than real (i.e. for-pay) work but there has not been a literacy program here in my town.   So I've been talking to people who have been talking to people and there have been connections made with community organizations.  And now they want me to be the "face" of the effort.

Oh, no.  Partly to protect the writing schedule (heading up this effort could easily swamp every waking hour). Partly because to write I need to be free to represent What Is and not any group or organization.

And mostly because I don't want to be the face of anything except myself.

Which brings me back to what I wasn't going to write about.  Clearly the Muse has it in for me today, flexing her muscles and switching my path so that no matter how I try to change tracks, I'm still bound for the same destination.

I once TA'd for a professor who wanted me to be the "feminist perspective."

As if there were only one. 

I would be the Feminist and he would rebut me by pointing out all the glorious heroism of Beowulf's lone stand against the monsters.  Because he knew my feminist perspective couldn't include an appreciation of male heroics. 

But I'm really not much interested in perspectives that narrow the view like those blinders they put on horses.  What interested me as a woman student looking at this wonderful old poem was the hero's burst of glory and what was happening on the side to the women married off to enemies as "peace-weavers."  I wanted to look at both sides.  Or more sides.  Because it's a blinders' idea that there are only ever two sides to a story. 

Wrong or right.  Yes or no.  For or against.  Enlightened, benighted.

I had had another teacher as a high school senior in the Bay Area (California) who liked to tell me what I believed.  He knew, because his ex-wife's family were or once were members of the church I had grown up in.  I don't know what his estranged in-laws believed (or once believed) but I could not recognize anything in his narrow portrait and wondered why his valuing of the individual voice didn't include letting me define myself.    

But his class was a great training ground for learning to work around the bigotry of those who are, after all, only humans like me and you.  Whether they say things like, "You environmentalists . . ." or "You Mormons . . ., "  they are only other humans with full histories of hurts and losses, fears and hopes that blind them as they can blind us all sometimes.  We are all liable to being bigots - and most of all when we believe ourselves not in the least danger of it.

I love fractal patterns and the idea of an ordering chaos.  I love exceptions to the rule.  I think even the sound of the word anomaly is adorable. I love the shape of coastlines with their secluded bays and promontories far better than international borders drawn with a straightedge.  I am afraid sometimes that I am blinded by my hopes which grow out of my beliefs that our world is not slated for hatred and destruction, that we will actually dance out of the way of the deadly curse of Versus which fuels our wars and ethnic conflicts and bipartisan politics.   That we will awake to the fact that we are we.

I remember standing once outside the San Diego zoo.  We were a small crowd of people of many ages, languages, skin tones, backgrounds, ways of life.  We talked among ourselves, softly, happily, waiting for the gates to open.  The weather was sweet and soft - it was early in the spring - and so I may be forgiven for imagining this was a foretaste of  the peace we all (don't we? in our strangely separate and apparently but not entirely opposite ways?) wish for and even sometimes work for.

I worked for a while at an organic farm. I enjoyed the outside work.  I enjoyed the flocks of birds flying up over the fields.  I enjoyed the wide-ranging conversations with the full-time farmers. I loved their gentleness, their openness, their easy voices.  Their kindness for each other and their patience in teaching me.    I loved hearing their stories from teaching in Nepal to starting gardens in city schools.  I got the idea that to them I was an anomaly - not quite their mothers' age but not young, and not what they expected.  That they let me be what they hadn't expected made me feel that I was among kindred souls.

"Is your husband like you are?" one of the farmers asked me once, a young man with a sweet sad face beneath his dark beard who had recently moved off the farm to care for a dying friend.  

"In what way?" I asked.

He explained and I laughed, "Well, my husband says I am a flaming liberal. But it's okay, I tell him he's a hidebound conservative."

"What? How could you ever marry him?" this was, I could see, from my companion's face, deeply shocking. Cats and dogs . . . living together . . .

I suppose Fritz and I are happy together because we are neither of us so much liberal or conservative as we are curious.  I like that Fritz can't seem to see a person as part of category, that he just sees the person in front of him and wants to know what they do,  what they think, what life is like from over there.  I know I married him because he could see me.

But I am afraid sometimes at the virulence of division in my country and in the world.  Though my actual experiences in the world have mostly all been gentle and full of peace.

But which is real? 

Sometimes I am afraid that my past experiences have blinded me and made me expect more kindness than I can really count on - experiences with the gentle and kind Baptist ladies who welcomed me so helpfully into their homeschooling group the year or so that our local schools were re-arranging themselves, with the two women raising their son together whom we've met with through the years and who embraced me with tears in their eyes when I sang at the funeral of one of their mothers, with Fritz's Moroccan and staunchly Muslim co-worker who came to sit with me once when he saw me waiting so that he could tell me what a good friend, good listener, good man Fritz was, with the young and earnest shopowner Fritz and I (also young, also earnest) met in Mexico who stood talking with us through the evening in the middle of the street about business and ambition and life in general, with the loud laughing group at the front of the bus in downtown Chicago who didn't mind my pale face but got me to my stop safely, calling out advice and giving me a list of must-sees, and then later that day the soft-voiced father on the El train on his way to the airport to visit relatives in New Orleans with his curly-haired son asleep in his arms who talked with my sister and me, also holding our sleeping children, about parenting and our hopes for the future of our children - and I am afraid sometimes that they have all been anomalies. 

Exceptions to a harsher and, by now, unfamiliar rule.

1 comment:

Mrs. Organic said...

Beautiful images. I hope they aren't the exception to the rule. Kind people are everywhere.

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