Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creating Meaning

Since my trip to see the Drawing Surrealism exhibition at LACMA, I have been thinking about Apollinaire's calligrammes, which aren't surrealism proper but are so fraught with curious meaning. They have been talked to death; earnest people make calligrammes for their loved ones all the time. They're the poetic equivalent of Monet, really. But still I love Apollinaire's originals.

They're dark and can be quite nasty, despite their outwardly cheery, pretty facades. The political and emotional messages are fabulously pointed.

As in, how can a horse be "all horribly/dreadfully/terribly"? Think about it. Fantastic. Of course, now thinking about it, it's a juxtaposition of the horse, and a description of himself, his signature. I wish I had that kind of deprecating humor and moxie. I might say it, but I wouldn't write it.

And speaking of the French, I recently discovered a group that has revived the old song tradition that I so love. For some reason, blogger won't let me use accents, which is embarrassing, but they're called the "Tetes Raides." They appeal to the nostalgic nerd in me who idealizes the 30's and 40's. I especially like this collaboration with Jeanne Moreau.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Competing Memories, Persistent Memories

I went to the ballet last Friday and saw a production of "Nijinsky," John Neumeier's take on what went through Vaslav Nijinsky's head during his last performance in 1919. It touched on the highlights of his dance career, his loves, war. There were moments in which persistent memories abutted competing memories; Nijinsky would be torn away from one lover by remembering another, for example. Or he would remember dancing Le Sacre du Printemps while a passage from La Sylphide would glide through.

It resonated with me. As well as Nijinsky's madness, of course. Always the madness. But is it madness, or is it simply trying to make sense of things that don't made sense, that cannot make sense? When does reverie bleed into trauma, pleasure turn into self-hatred and doubt?

I have been thinking quite a bit about the past, and mourning, and remembering, and revisionism, especially in trying to make sense of a relationship of mine that failed sixteen plus years ago now. I am finally seeing that I was rather doctrinaire, and different things are coming into focus that are helpful.

What does it mean to put someone first, to love them? Does it mean that they have to be with you all the time? That others cannot love and appreciate them, too? I was so very young and scared. I remember, in particular, when I was planning to walk to receive my master's degree. My then-boyfriend was going to be the best man in a college friend's wedding, in Idaho. My graduation weekend conflicted with the wedding, which meant I could not attend the wedding: all my family would be in Berkeley and had to be entertained. My guy really wanted to be in the wedding. I felt horribly betrayed by this preference, although he made it back in time for my actual graduation ceremony. In retrospect, his choice seems like such a petty thing to worry about, but at the time, it felt HUGE, absolutely as though he didn't love me at all. (I was 25 at the time, with not that much else to worry about.) Shouldn't I come *first*? Looking back, I see that I spent so much energy in that relationship being highly anxious about whether he loved me, when now, being secure in who I am, I can see that he really did love me all the time--just perhaps not in the all consuming way I wanted then. It's very sad. I might have been a very annoying girlfriend, I realize. I am sorry now that I was so insecure and lost that I spent New Year's Eve in Provence crying; that I moped in Scotland; that I didn't have it in me to be, to enjoy the moment. Especially because we were so alike in very many ways. But somehow I think that learning to live in the moment is something that had to come with age, at least for me.

I cannot say that our relationship would have survived had I been more secure in myself back then (I was the one who ended it, eventually), but it would have probably made for many fewer nights spent crying and singing to Gloria Gaynor.

The strange thing is that I always think that when I exit someone's life, I am erased. I remember them, but they don't remember me. I am like a ghost. Or they hate me, or some other such extreme thing. Especially because I have been in relationships with people who resolutely cut off contact without a word, and when I try to approach them even decades later--some of the ones I have truly cared about--they are still and silent as a tomb. I figure that either they continue to see me as the crazy fool I once was, or, as a wise friend recently suggested, they are unwilling to go bumping around in the basement of their feelings. Blinders and complacency do have much to say for themselves in terms of self-preservation.

I am therefore pleasantly surprised when people who clearly, truly did once love me are receptive and warm and kind. They are validating me outside my own mind; I mattered to them, as well. That is an amazing feeling.

My recent excursions into the past have thus been fruitful in that I have discovered some compassion for myself. I was so lost, so blind, so insecure. I created disasters in my head that weren't real and then possibly made myself live them, over and over. People do love me, even if it isn't exactly the way I might have imagined or hoped that they would.

That's what I've been missing: faith in myself and in others. Not faith in everyone, but faith in the right people, without willfully misreading the signs. I welcome those memories, competing and persistent, as they help me to learn new things about myself.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Is the Starting Point?

I was thinking recently about the notion that adoption exists, that it simply is, and that we must deal with it. That we must find our home within it, as it is, or make pleas for small changes in the name of social justice, and be happy with glacial responses ("Hey! It's progress!). That if we're polite enough and use the subjunctive case with precision, "the powers that be" will grant us a seat at the table, and we can effect change. To be joyful with acknowledgments of small change; to accept everyone's opinion as "only their opinion" as though that isn't dividing and conquering in one fell swoop.

Well, adoption simply hasn't always existed the way it does today. To take adoption in 2013, and say that I must be polite to those suffering from Adopter Savior Syndrome as the starting point (offending them only scares them away!) is granting those in power the parameters of the discussion. I am angry. I don't want to be a house slave. I am well trained enough to be one, but I don't want to be one.

I work every day with people who are more disenfranchised than I am. Who live on the margins of society, and who are denigrated for being there, who are blamed for their "problems." No, American culture is far, far, far from equal for all. Even given the same education, some people are disadvantaged. They don't know that they're entitled to the same funding and concern as upper middle-class students of the dominant culture. I read an article in The Times in December, about three young women of color in Texas who did not manage to make the big step up in class, even given their considerable brains, because they lacked social and institutional supports. Another man I know is a professor at a local community college that used to provide services primarily to minority, low-income populations in the Bay Area. Many of these students lost their financial aid, however, because they didn't know how to ask for help with forms; because they had questions but didn't feel entitled to go to office hours, and so on. One particular student failed a required class called "Career Planning" and thus lost his grants: otherwise he had straight A's. First of all, who among us privileged people ever the hell had to take a class called "Career Planning" in college? What the hell is it, anyway? Why would that even be required for an A.A. degree? [Please don't answer that: it's a rhetorical question.] Second, if he'd felt entitled to more (which he didn't, sadly) he could have gone to the professor, or the dean to argue the decision. That's what all the people who went to college with me did when they were unhappy with anything; then again, their parents were paying $25,000+/year. Entitlement is taught as part of social privilege; it is an invisible cloak for those who have it, and it can be devastating to those who don't have it. Anyway, the local community colleges are now filled to the brim with middle-class white kids who are deferring entrance to four-year schools to save Mom and Dad money. Their parents pay the bills on time, they come to school reliably, etc. Who do you think has been squeezed out by this influx of middle-class kids? Yes! You're right! The very students whom the community college were supposed to be helping in the first place.

Then I was mulling over, again, this idea of the history of adoption, and of culture. I was reading a friend's blog and his thoughts on how the West projects onto Islam its worst fears. It scapegoats Muslims for what it fears most in itself, and within that unadmitted conceit, the notion of "saving" children is even more repugnant. His writing on adoption and the power of language here is particularly powerful, although he is always worth careful attention for his insights.

I suppose I am a socialist at heart, at the very least, maybe even a communist. I am coming out the closet. I do know that I am sick to death of totalitarian regimes, adoption included.