So after the last, maudlin post, I can counterbalance things by putting up a more celebratory, uplifting post. This weekend, my daughter is in a production of the play Elf the Musical! The company putting it on is Seedling Theatre, a group of performers of “all ages and abilities”. My daughter has CP, a number of the performers have Down’s syndrome, some have autism, one has Treacher-Collins, etc. I’m very proud of my daughter, and I’m also happy to see disabled folks getting a greater opportunity for visibility and representation. As my daughter would say, “It’s a win-win”. Link to their Facebook page below:
So this is the last story that I’m going to revise from the collection. I’ll repost the “The Posted Limit” idea that explains why I’m not revising that one. But my reason for posting is also to reflect upon the nature of this project. The deeper that I get into things, the more that I feel like this project isn’t a success or a break through so much as it is overdue and not catching up.
I write this after reflecting upon the revelations about Louis CK. While the news story confirmed things, Roseanne Barr had talked about these accusations months ago if not a year ago. The point is that I see a lot of posts saying, “I can’t trust anyone now” or “is no one in Hollywood a decent person?” And those questions are logical. The point that I want to make is that it becomes clearer with each passing day that privilege is overwelmingly used for the worst purposes, for exploitation.
This also gets to this particular story. It’s very much rooted in my studies as a math major at UW-Madison. In other words, it’s firmly rooted in my very white guy experiences. It calls into question the necessity of this project. In some ways, it seems necessary as practice and reflection. In other ways, publicizing it seems not necessary. More like the results should become self evident, though, in fairness to me, I’m not sure that many blogs are genuinely productive as opposed to there mainly for the blogger, so maybe the medium is part of the issue.
I hand the peeled orange back to Jack, and I pick up another one from the pile. We’re the perfect assembly line of kids for our father to oversee. And we’re productive little drones, I guess. My mom laughs from her bedroom. Not at us, I know, but it still feels that way, sometimes. If she was healthy and Dad was sick, we wouldn’t be doing this. I’d be in my room, texting, while Mom was with Jack, working on some kind of therapeutic activity. For some reason, Dad wants to see us work as a team. Maybe it appeals to his sense of being in middle management.
“Before all the refined sugar of today,” Dad says, “these used to be some of the sweetest things you could eat.”
Jack nods, though I don’t know if he really even listened to what Dad said. I try not to react one way or the other. People used to have to crap in the woods and bury it so that they didn’t get sick, but I don’t feel like returning back to those “good old days”. “How many are we peeling?” I ask. I know that I can’t say, “Have to”, or I’ll get a lecture.
Dad looks at the pile of a half dozen Cuties. “We’ll keep going for a bit,” he says, “I’ll let you know.”
The idea that I’ll probably end up marrying someone some day makes me a little sad. Like I’ll eventually have to figure things out like what our kids do when one of us gets sick. Though maybe we wouldn’t have kids anyway. I wonder if my parents would have had another kid if they’d had Jack first. I guess that’s a bad thing to think. Dad probably would have, maybe Mom would have wanted another one, too. I wonder if Dad figured out somehow that it’s best to have exactly two kids.
“You can try a wedge, Jack,” Dad says. “Just make sure that you’re careful not to get your fingers dirty.”
Jack looks at one of the wedges he’s holding and shakes his head. He peels them apart and lays them in the bowl. There’s a little white string of skin or rind or whatever. Jack holds it up and looks at it. “Don’t eat that,” Dad says.
Jack smells it, then puts it with the rest of the rinds on a paper plate. I wonder how he sees Dad. I mean, I don’t hate Dad, not like some typical teenager. But I guess I feel protective of Jack, like doesn’t he have enough to deal with? Does he need a parent who’s so uptight that he can’t teach Jack to behave normally. Then again, the normal parent is sick in her bed, watching stupid old sitcoms on an iPad. Is that normal? Is that what I’d want Jack to be?
One of the most important elements of this blog is honesty. And so, I want to be honest here. Over the years, I have been part of the problem. When there were jokes about women and sex, I did not speak up. When I was single and looking for a relationship, I thought about sex as the end goal. There were so many things that I did and so many things that I did not do that make my behavior a problem. It would be a lie for me to pretend that I’ve always been evolved and open minded. Perhaps the most important thing, though, that I’ll say is this: it’s not enough to say that I’m not Harvey Weinstein. It’s not enough to say that I’m not Bill Cosby. it has to be that I’m better each day than I was the day before. It has to be that I’m working on myself continually, or it’s not enough.
The next piece is “Feeling Not So Hot”. It centers on a family, and, as I looked at it again, I was struck by exactly how domestic a piece of fiction it was. It’s interesting to think about these things as I try to decide what the revision will be. It shows me that, while I think a lot about the craft of my work, I often overlook the larger framework of the piece. I don’t think about the theoretical or subtle cultural influences that are behind it. As I move forward, it’ll be interesting to see if this higher level of awareness makes me sharpen my prose, making it more meaningful, or if it just shuts be down with the overwhelming pressure of hyperawareness. Good times.
Here’s a revision of a scene from “Man in a Windstorm”. This revision comes largely out of some discussions that I’ve had with a good friend from grad school who is hard of hearing and can read lips.
I was glad that Jessica had stopped talking. The music was loud enough that it was a little hard to hear Jessica, but I could read some of the dipshits’ lips from across the room. The most annoying of the comp guys was telling his friend, “Bet she loves getting it on all fours.” This was the same guy who would tell us all how important it was to not let students leave class with the same prejudices that they started class with.
My cousin laughed at something, then she told her friend, “The pot would’ve been better at Michelle’s party, but there’s more to get drunk on here.”
I had to admire her. She was actually completely right about that. Or, I assume that she was, as long as Michelle had any decent pot at her party. I had a hard time making the connection between the girl who had been into My Little Pony and the legal-aged woman who was standing naked at a party and talking about pot.
I tried showing just a little courtesy by looking at Jessica. She was looking at my cousin, too. “She seems nice,” she said.
I raised my eyebrows and smiled a little. “Nudity doesn’t run in the family.”
Jessica laughed. “Good to know.”
I looked back towards my cousin. She was talking to a couple of other people. The comp specialists were wrapping up their ogling. “Think she’d do all three of us?” one said. Appropriate to a comp specialist, it was a rhetorical question. The other two laughed.
Jessica tapped my arm. I looked at her. She said, “Don’t let one of those creeps harass your cousin.” It was good advice, though I felt weird. I technically didn’t know that my cousin didn’t want to sleep with the comp dicks. I mean, the alpha among them usually nailed a few new students every semester. But I’d hoped that my cousin wouldn’t be quite so desperate. I guess the fact that I couldn’t be sure was what disappointed me most.
“I have to go talk to my naked cousin,” I told Jessica.
“If I had a dime for every time that I heard that,” she said. It was a god line, even if it was a cliche.
I went over to my cousin, walking in between her and the comp dicks. I said, “Hi, Ann.”
She squinted at me a little, then smiled. I could tell that she had already smoked a little pot. Or maybe a lot. “You’re in town?” I asked.
“Going to the art institute,” she said. I looked at the comp guys quickly (they were already off to check out somebody else), and then back at Ann.
“You should look me up sometime. Let me know if you need anything.”
She waved a hand. “I’m fine. Dad found this weird scholarship. And I have friends here.”
“Cool,” I said. It made me feel old. “Well, good seeing you.”
She laughed, though I wasn’t totally sure why. “Yeah,” she said. “Good seeing you.”
I’m not sure if someone has already coined this phrase or not, but given the events in Virginia, it seems worth tossing out there. Racism in America is systemic, not individual. That means that white people are basically trained to be racist just by being in our culture. For this reason, I think that instead of trying to argue that we’re not racists, white people should characterize ourselves in one of two ways: we’re racists or we’re recovering racists. I’m taking the language for the second category from recovering from addiction. The idea being that racism isn’t something that you get over. It’s not something that you completely close off. It’s something that you have to fight against every day. It’s something that you likely backslide on, and you need to remind yourself to fight. And, when I say “white people”, I’m including myself. How many times do I watch a TV show with all white faces and think of it as normal instead of a problem? Many times. How many times do I take my privilege for granted? Daily. Multiple times. So this is what I need to work on. This is what I need to recover from.