See Infra

Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else

Tag Archives: memoirs

It Has All Been For This

I try to tell the truth. I don’t just mean “don’t lie” and I don’t mean “preach the good news” or even “speak truth to power”. I mean that I’m constantly trying to understand the world and then convince other people to understand it too. I’ve been doing it for a painful lifetime. But what has it all been for?

Truth telling is one of America’s great fetishes. Mind you, this is not the same thing as actually valuing and rewarding truth telling. No, plenty of research has proven that truth telling is worse than useless. In fact, it repels people away from you and your ideas. So while I’d love to believe that my truth telling comes from pure motives, I am certain it does not. Maybe it’s a desperate grasp for power in dangerous world. Maybe it’s self-destruction, Churchill’s black dog now hunting me.

I remember meeting the black dog for the first time. It was after one of many sleepless nights at my first undergraduate college. My sleeping patterns had gotten so bad that my biology professor (bless his heart) had to call and wake me up so I could take an exam. Finally, I decided I couldn’t, wouldn’t live like that and I walked over to the student health center. While in the waiting room I look for more truth to assimilate and pick up a pamphlet on depression. I force myself to check off my symptoms. I check off all but two boxes. I see my black dog for the first time, promising the comfort of self-destruction. My past takes on a new cast. My new thoughts cannot be trusted. The black dog is always with me and speaks with my own voice.

* * *

I’m in my first elementary school. I’m perched alone on the smaller of two metal slides, with my feet planted on the top step. I’m watching my classmates run around the field. Someone asks me what I’m doing. I tell her I’m trying to understand why the boys are chasing the girls. I shift my posture and keep watching. They call me Mr. Detective. I’m outside, looking in.

I’m in my middle school. I’m talking to one of my few friends. I brag about being able to talk to almost all of the cliques in the school because I’m not part of them. But inside I know I’m an outsider everywhere and always will be.

I’m in my second elementary school. A special place for children like me, with brilliant but fragile minds, in love with the world. I recognize myself in all three traits. I open up so I can join the Community that will take me to high school and beyond. I have hope.

I’m in my high school. I’m nudging a friend to make the decision that will make her happy. I’m getting worse at listening and better at talking. I wonder again if I’m manipulating people or doing what’s right. I forget to wonder why I don’t take my own advice.

I’m in my room. My dad and I had another fight yesterday. Today he brought me Spider-Man. We don’t talk about yesterday. I read about Peter Parker failing his father figure, about him being hated by his city. I embrace the pain, the power and the responsibility.

I’m in a psychiatrist’s office. It’s been years since I beat back the black dog, but it’s back. I beg him to get rid of it. He tells me a truth: I want to change the world so I can be happy. I cry because then I can’t be happy.

I’m in my first elementary school. Someone is doing a presentation. The scotch tape and rulers holding up the prop stand keep falling apart and I keep scooting over to fix it. The teacher tells me to stop. I don’t. They call me Mr. Fix It.

I’m in a Christian home. I’m still not comfortable being one of them. I’m telling them that I’d be bored in heaven. I’m here to fix things. It’s my calling.

I’m in my home. I’m trying to save a friend again by typing the right words or making the right late night phone call. I know that there is a price and it may be her friendship. I can’t think of a reason it shouldn’t be me that pays it.

I’m in my high school. We’re asking if the Community and respect or the individual and self-actualization is more important. I say the right answer, that each serves the other. I instead try to love without being loved.

I’m in my room. I’ve been crushed by my consistent failures. My parents hate me. I’m angry at them for hating me. I’m angrier at myself that I have given them good reason. Then something touches me and I feel totally and completely loved. I call it God.

I’m in a psychologist’s office. I dropped out of college last year. The fog is lifting. I did the right things, wrong. I start to do the right things, better.

I’m in my second college. A long string of failed friendships-turned-romances is behind me. A cute stranger is in front of me. I do something new, something better. I ask her out on a date. I love her. I ask her to love me. She loves me. We get married in a house, in a church, and in a field. Friends and family tell me I finally did it right.

I’m in a physician’s office. A week ago she told us my wife probably miscarried. I don’t dare to hope. The physician spins the ultrasound’s display towards us. There is a heartbeat.

It has all been for this.

* * *

I have never in my life done something for a pure reason. My virtues have served as apologies. My generosities have been desperation. My love has come from self-hatred. But I’ve still done good. I’ve still loved the world. Purity is a crock anyway. Without purity I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve grasped what power I have to change things and tried to change things for the better. I have engaged in the noblest work of lifetimes.

So here, now, I make my claim against the world, and announce my gift to the same. His name is Franklin, due in the second week of February. Take care of him, for I will raise him to take care of you. Let him be born free of kings and bound by righteousness. Help him serve and be served. Help him change and be changed. Help him love and be loved.

All that I am has been for this.


The Futility of Fairness

My last post, a jumbled memoir covering my failures with foreign language and how that affected my relationship with my grandfather, left me in an unusual place as I committed the post Thursday night. Normally I go through the fairly cliched self loathing, and then either miss the deadline to clean up the piece, or simply commit and walk away. This is the first time in a long time I wrote something that was obviously inadequate, but I felt a responsibility to post as is.

Despite having a healthy ego as part and parcel of an otherwise unhealthy mind, I have a hard time calling myself “a writer”. Something about the words implies a level of both pretension and responsibility that I’m not yet prepared to face. There is no denying however, that I am engaged in the act of writing, and that does come with certain responsibilities. A typical memoirist differs from the typical autobiographer in that we are not important. We are not at the center of great events or public figures whose very nature is interesting. Instead, the memoirist uses writing skill to mine their own experiences, cutting a fine gem out the could-be-beautiful unhewn potential that all humanity shares. That, or you’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes, this time, that means exposing a lot of raw emotion. Writers are great charlatans, you see. No one talks with the clarity and artistry that you find in a good piece of writing. Not without preparation time and not when faced with something that truly matters. The experience of the moment is to be exposed, scattered and hurt. Humans, while being humans do not have the wit of a Aaron Sorkin character. Words tumble out, some brilliant, some terrible, some so very raw. They um and they er, and the err.

I erred quite a bit. Not just the quality piece itself, plenty of uncorrected moral errors abound. Many believe that the responsibility of a writer is to use their influence to promote fairness, or at least not to harm it. But what hold does fairness have over the truth? The truth is that the death of my paternal grandfather mattered more to me than the death of my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother. It isn’t fair. By an objective measure my paternal grandmother did at least as much for me, loved at least as much, tried at least as much, and died much more tragically. It isn’t just a personal unfairness either. No, my adoration of my grandfather is colored by deep cultural imperatives, gouged into my thinking. Is isn’t right to admire the scholar more than the housewife just because my cultural programming tells me to. There is a grave injustice that I value my grandfather more for fulfilling the gendered role expectations than I value my grandmother for doing the same. It isn’t fair that I love my paternal grandfather more than the others of his generation, but it is true.

This is where I am supposed to have some sort of prescription going forward. All I have is emotion in response to the demands for as all to be more just and more fair. In the the face of futility, all I have is despair.