Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Chambered Nautilus and Rush Limbaugh

I’ve had a hard time coming out of my shell lately.  Like some of my friends (three that are known to me, but there could be more who cope the same way I do, by self-quarantine), I have been Having Emotions lately.  Hormones?  It’s possible.  At least two of us are in menstrual lockstep.  Sunspots / storms / wrath of Helios?  Who knows.  It might just be Churchill’s black dog.  But poor sleep, bad dreams, nameless dread, and hot-and-cold-running tears are tiresome.  Instead of getting up with Honey to pack his lunch and make him a protein shake and see him to the door (as one does when one is unemployed), I slept.  And he let me.  Dear man.

Which brings me to El Rushbo.

No need to harp on his latest misbehavior, which is egregious; or the damned poor reasoning behind being both anti-contraception AND anti-choice; or the many other differences in our opinions, which are well known to all my friends, family, and passersby within range of my cracked contralto.

What is filtering down to me right now is that Rush and his ilk are widening the rift between men and women.  Whether or not you agree with his politics, Rush is deliberately leading his male viewers to a place in which women are evil.   He may well be leading his female listeners to that same vantage point, even if they only cheer as the men fling shit on the all the women who don’t agree; but in his world, there are sides to take, and they are taking the side of men.

I don’t want to take sides.  I like men.  Aside from my primarily hetero inclinations, I have often gotten along better with men than with women.  Women are wonderful, but the main brands of BS laid on them often make me uncomfortable — they are traits too familiar, too painful, to easy to reacquire after painstaking effort to subvert.  The brands of BS inculcated in growing boys are utterly different from the misery I shared with the ladies, and so are easier for me to identify, acknowledge, dismiss, soothe, get along with at need, and even help undo.  Being able to offer understanding and acceptance, despite the minefields planted in a guy’s youth, is wonderful.  Guys who can do that for women are treasures as rare as the hair of a dragon.

Men and women have wonders to offer each other.  Healing.  Support, without taint of comparison, competition, or judgment.

Straight or gay or traveller, someone who is fundamentally dissimilar to you has the welcome advantage of not having been held to the same BS standards.  Even if we know the friend understands the problem from afar, there will be no mortification by your failure to fit the shared mold that a same-sex friend might have.  This is only one example of the many great collaborations between men and women.  It doesn’t matter if they are gay or straight, and they don’t have to be lovers, or coworkers, or even close friends.

But they do have to be on the same side.  I hate to see antagonism between the sexes.  The accidental misery that occurs when a good surface match turns into a hellish couplehood is bad enough, and the compound misery of closet assholes and crypto-swine (female and male alike) are more than sufficient roadblocks to joy.  Why make things worse?  Shakespeare needed Iago as a device in a play.  Who in hell tries to be Iago in real life?

I’ve known a few firestarters, and they are despicable.  Rush is no different to me.  Men and women have a lot of obstacles in their path.  Why make things harder?   Can a man really experience a joyful union with someone he either views as evil (by virtue of her strengths!) or good, but only if she pours herself into the Stepford mold, and trims away the rest?  Can a woman love a man, any man or all men, if she can only do it from a small pigeonhole, and only if she is not herself?  They grow to fear and resent the other sex, dismissing them altogether, through their own experiences, aggravated by loudmouths who are bent on dividing the sexes.  It’s horrible.  How can that benefit women OR men?

We rely on each other to some extent.  All men are brothers, as are we your sisters.  How can we help each other be our best selves?

Here is some Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

— and back I go, to my shell.

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Overcoming prejudice is easy; overcoming preference is hard.

My mental jungle gym lately has been covered in monkeys, with shrill shrieking and shit flying everywhere.  So much family drama, so much evil in the headlines, and so little joy among my friends.  I’ve been clinging to the rare bits of good news like a serf who has met a missionary promising a gold-plated afterlife.  More, please!

But the perpetual motion machine I keep under my hat has been quietly preoccupied with other matters; specifically, desires.

Big bricks in the pyramid started for me with a saying attributed to the Navajo:  “Longing chains me.”

Then I met the Buddha, who pointed out that desire and ignorance are the source of suffering.

Always, I’ve had the vicious cycle / paradox of my salt of the earth farmer-type upbringing:  (a), you can achieve anything you set your mind to; (b), always try your hardest at whatever you do; and (c), offer much, expect little, and plead for nothing. (Okay…am I supposed to want things, or not?  Goals are the same as loaves of bread, which are the same as loving attention — all things you want.  Yet wants are not the same as needs, and considered shameful.  I’ll leave deeper digging on the shrink’s couch for now.)

And then there was love.  Like champagne, I’ve never had enough.

And then came feminism.  You shouldn’t NEED love, you should incorporate it into your life in the cubbyhole to which it belongs — low on the list, somewhere between getting your black belt and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  I am all about old-school feminism, but like all party lines, it fails.  It’s a mistake to follow the male model of sneering at romance if you are not naturally inclined to do so.

Telling yourself how you should think is easy.  Telling yourself how to feel is hard.

You can unlearn racism, and most other prejudices, by thinking logically.   Shylock’s speech from The Merchant of Venice is a good place to start, if you’re a kid who has begun to think for herself.  It may be phrased in emotional terms, but the reasoning is fair and solid. We can understand that normal acts, such as discarding oddball navy beans from the pot (because they might be wormy or moldy) can lead to biases toward attractiveness that should not be applied to human beans.  I mean “beings.”

But since we’ve gone back to high school, let’s continue with Brave New World.  When we read 1984, it didn’t scare me a bit.  Hard times, but authoritarian oppression makes people want to revolt, or die trying.  Brave New World, however, projected a time of peace and prosperity, when everyone’s needs would be met and people would be too comfortable to resist.  It scared the bejaysus out of me.  It’s easy to resist oppression, but damned near impossible to resist comfort.  We’re not programmed for it.

Comfort equals survival, and so comfort is what we crave.  Safety, plenty, and a non-threatening environment do not excite the reflex to self-preservation.

Part of the reason we are attracted to beauty and luxury is not just because we are greedy pigs; it’s because they signify security, safety, protection, and unblemished health.  But if we were fully focused on survival, smallpox scars would be much admired — that person lived through the plague!  But no.  In part, we are also submarined by our love of youth.  The best babies are made by the youngest adult bodies, at the peak of health and just done growing.  I don’t blame men for their programming. I don’t know how to overcome it, myself.  I’m not even sure I should.

One of my friends has had a string of men who are best described as Boy Scouts.  Middle American types who never got into fights, never got into trouble with the law, never thought of NOT going to college.  Very importantly, they matched her own background; but they were also attractive because of their survival quotient.  Good family bonds, good community connections, wanting for nothing in terms of food or shelter — it seems reasonable to consider these men as potential mates, able to provide for their families and be protected by their own root safety net.

But guys like that scare me.  They are so untested by life that I don’t feel I can trust them.  Not that they are bad, but that they might be weak through lack of experience, and unreliable in a pinch.  It’s one reason why I’ve so often been attracted to older men, older houses, and cars that are used rather than new.  A new model might be the next Ford Exploder.  But a well-used, properly maintained vehicle has a beautiful patina that means more to me than shiny paint.  Maiden voyages, first marriages, and taking the show out of town before the Broadway premier help iron out the bugs and season the timbers.  But a man who has never been tested has never had a chance to hammer the dross out of his metal, and all his good manners and spotless record and high grade point average denote is that he’s a nice guy.  Whether or not he’s a good man, even he may not know.

But I have zero attraction to boys who haven’t been around the block, broken a few fingers and kept playing, or married a girl with gusto and had the guts to leave after giving a best effort for long enough.  When I meet people who married young and never divorced, I think of my grandparents, who didn’t believe divorce was an option, and I think of my mom’s generation, whose lifelong marriages often included periods of hiatus, from sleeping in separate rooms to temporary separation.  My own folks actually divorced and remarried, though they didn’t stay together forever.  But so many older ladies I’ve met lamented that they never divorced.  Some even divorced after their golden anniversaries.  It wasn’t time wasted; it was people changed; and I can’t view it as a tragedy.

But back to preferences.  I don’t think my friend should change, and I don’t think I should change.  We each have our buttons, our needs, and our wants.  Can you tell yourself to be attracted to someone if you’re not?  I can’t.  “Every girl is a something girl,” as my beloved Adam Ant once said, and I believe the same is true of boys.   I love being able to tune in to whatever mojo someone is broadcasting, and show my appreciation.  I also love kissing, and in my pre-monogamous days, would kiss anyone who would let me — “‘Jes to realize the effects,’ as my uncle Bill used to say about spekulatin’.”

But forming a primary bond with someone, feeling that deep devotion, loving them whether or not they love you, finding their health and happiness is crucial to your own…that can’t be cultivated, enforced, rationalized, or adopted as policy.  It’s either felt, or it isn’t.  At most, we can try to eradicate our bad habits and unhealthy tastes.  But we can’t pretend to feel an attraction we don’t.

Part II of this episode:  how this applies to food, i.e., how I can’t pretend to love wholemeal loaves that are not baked with molasses and smothered in butter; I can’t pretend that I don’t love bacon, charcuterie, and everything in the deli case; and why my practical needs for a low-calorie, low-carb diet must supercede my tastes, preferences, and joy in food.  I must force myself to reclassify food from the Love department (subject only to honest attraction, and its ability to satisfy me emotionally) to the Medicine category, which is not expected to taste good, go down easy, or exceed the recommended dosage — only to make strong bodies eight ways.

I take it back.  I’m not going to write more about that.  I’m just  going to keep reading and re-reading the last line of that paragraph until it sinks in.