Well, I’ve clearly disappointed Rummel & in addition begun to suspect I’m not a baby boomer. It seemed to me I had all the marks: my mother had to leave the Navy because she was pregnant; I’m pretty sure this was a choice because both she & my father (who was in the Engineer’s Corps) saw the beginning of the end. My class was the largest one at Kenesaw High in years; the class that preceded us had only 8 in it, but we were a rather unwieldy 26, so many of our classes had to be broken into two. (Think of that next to an urban school, but we’ll move on from there.) They tried to flunk at least half of us out our first year in college because they just didn’t need all of us around. Anyway, I was born in Dec. of ’45.
Barone 1 – The Personal
“In most books, the I, or first person is omitted: in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.” Thoreau, Walden
I’ve been reading Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America. His subtitle is “Competition vs Coddling.” But he describes quite theoretical & profound differences in weltanschauung. Of course, most agree in some situations (say raising a child) coddling is in order and in others (say training for combat) it isn’t. Statist economics coddle; free markets compete; closed societies protect their people from ideas, open ones let the bad ones compete.
But Barone is also getting at a larger notion – to live is not merely to succeed but often to fail; what we do is often & actually (even if we pretend it is not) irrevocable; that our time is limited and we can not revise endlessly – not acting can mean a choice is lost. In short, Hard America sees consequences (sometimes unpleasant and sometimes even disproportionately bad) of our choices. This is a world where authority is earned by risking one’s own self, money, time, work, future. This is not the world of the hesitant Prufrock nor of modern social science nor of some tort legislation. It is not therapeutic; it doesn’t blink; it doesn’t give quarter nor expect it; in short, it isn’t soft.
The Barrel-Chested House
I’ve been trained to connect dots with words, though I wander quite a bit. But objects – that’s another thing. My sister-in-law & niece & friend joyfully, tactfully arrange colors & textures & shapes. This year, I’ve been awed by a decorator who walks through our rooms which have all the coherence of loose baggy novels, rooms confused & pointless. Then, she edits, she connects the dots, finds a pattern. I appreciate what “works” – I think we all do. But I’m not much good at achieving a “look.” (I find myself putting quotes around words that remain mysteries.) It takes a sense of proportion & mine is always unsteady: afraid I’ll either let the old – tradition – swallow us whole or that we will throw away the house’s essence, what it is, in throwing out what it was.
And so, we come to my personal problem. It is not unlike our local school’s attempt to keep the rituals of “old army” as the Corps becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the students and women outnumber men. How true to this house should we be – how much change can we impose without destroying it, without emasculating it?
Early one Saturday morning in August of 1965, my father left home for work.
He went to work on a Saturday because he needed the extra money. Nearly a year before, an evening of poorly planned passion in the front seat of his Chevy Corvair resulted in my entry into the world that March. My father’s college job as an oil field roughneck suddenly had to support a family, so when two friends of his offered him a fill-in spot on their oil-storage-tank cleaning crew, to take the place of third friend who was ill, he jumped at the chance.
He was 20 years old.
A few years ago, in a personal exorcism I suppose, I wrote a personal narrative that relates to the topic of Ken’s post. All of us, but I think women more, are torn between our will or ego or simple desire to be alone and our need to connect with others in family and community, to lose ourselves (that ego) in something bigger – our loves, our families, our jobs, our religions, even our countries. When we talk about giving life meaning we usually are not talking about pure expressions of will. But, when we talk about being ourselves, becoming ourselves, we aren’t talking about being a part of a whole but being that single, willed self. We know the fear that is central to The Awakening, that the newly self-conscious but generally clueless Edna feels that her children will pull her back into unconsciousness, will compromise her willed self. We may think she is silly, but her experience, told in 1899, really foretells the century rather nicely. On the other hand, we suspect that her isolation from her sisters, her husband, her friends signals that, maybe, her choice arises from something that she has lost, something rather precious. Anyway, so I wrote this ridiculously long and personal narrative because I (and I suspect others) do feel a pull between the individual and the communal, the scholarly and the familial, the ego and submersion in something larger than us. It is a girl thing – I know – discursive, personal. But, still, the article Ken discusses is a girl thing, too. It is just that it is also a guy thing, in the end.
I entertained a college boyfriend with my fantasy: six ancient wailing women in flowing black would accompany me to the altar. Not surprisingly, he, too, became ambivalent about the wedding we discussed endlessly (and, as it turned out, pointlessly). Years later, at twenty-nine, I did marry, having found a good father for the children I intended to bear. Old fashioned, conventional: that was me. Although wary of storybook weddings, I saw transcendence in that ancient institution. Of course, those wailing women meant something; much of my life has passed and I am only beginning to understand what they mourned.