Archive | Past Matters

Traveling Where We Dare Not Travel

This post addresses lofty stuff, but I ask that you hang in with me if you have the available bandwidth.

I woke thinking about my college thesis. I concentrated in gender studies at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges–basically about as 90s identity politics as you can get. My thesis was about the theory of praxis–in particular, the marriage of theory and action in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as it could be applied to Marge Piercy’s brilliant utopian/dystopian 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time.

Wildly on the edge of its own time, the book acknowledged the multiverse and envisioned a potential 2137 in which people lived in communal villages free from capitalism and the blistering restrictions of contemporary gender and racial coding as well as biological nuclear families. It seemed like a softball to receive departmental honors, if I’m going to be honest. But I made a fatal strategic error.

In the oral defense of my thesis, I was asked whether I endorsed the murderous measures that the time-traveling protagonist–a Puerto Rican woman living on the poverty level in her 1970s timeline–had taken in order to rise up against the oppressive mid-20th institutions that literally were caging her and her brethren. Of course, I said. There are times when violence is required–when the peaceful thing to do is dismantle your oppressors by any means necessary.

No prize for me–in retrospect it’s hilarious I thought a Quaker college would reward such a stance–but as I woke thinking about the robber barons committing mass genocide to line their pockets with more bucks and ensure their rule, I flashed fondly on the 22-year-old I was.

“It” of Wrinkle in Time (another crucial interdimensional travel book

There may indeed be a multiverse–as an intuitive I believe this more and more–but in every timeline I can see, I agree with that girl.

After all, who among us has not, in the last few weeks, wished what we never thought we could wish on another human being? Even vaguely alluding to such a thing breaks the law, and yet every moral law I heed has been broken every day of our reality TV dictator’s rule.

Through the Past But Never Over It

This is my mother in 1967. She was 24, which means she had just changed her name from Mary Susan to Sari Musan (true) and married my father the year before.

As a child I thought of my mother as a redwood oak. Six foot tall in stocking-feet, she loomed over everyone else, even my father, who ogled her like the cat who ate the canary even when she was covered in sweat from doing Jane Fonda. Especially, come to think of it, when she was serving him matzo brei. With her blue-gold eyes and curving mouth and cheekbones, I guess I knew she was beautiful. But mostly I read her frustration–stuck in the suburbs, stuck with two screaming brats, stuck in compromises that whisked her away from a city career as an art designer, barely making ends meet but having so much more fun.

My father would tell me, “You’ll never be as beautiful as your mother” while she’d look away demurely, and even when I was small I’d think, What a fucked-up thing to say. But today I was nosing around the recently refinished basement of my apartment building and stumbled upon a box containing old letters and photos from my teens. There gleamed my twentysomething mother in a repose I’d long forgotten–lowered lids, pursed lips, goddess dress and tresses flowing. Venus in your bloodline: That’s something all right.

I find it no coincidence I excavated this image right before revising my book.

Solar Returned in the Mermaid Woods

Today I turn 49. I was born at 4:25 am, so naturally I woke at that exact time. As the moon still shone bright, I sat in the mermaid woods of the Outer Cape and breathed in the briney possibilities of a new year. What I hope to concretize and what I hope to create.

I thought about what I learned in my 40s, which was how to survive as a lone wolf–strong, strategic, resourceful, fierce, sometimes kind but never, ever nice.

And I thought about what I most want to learn in my 50s–which is how to thrive in beautiful collaborations. For even wolves roam in packs–a lesson that I overlooked until this wondrously challenging last year. It was a year I would not have survived without the clear heart of so many others.  My bank broke and you were there. My back broke and you were there. My heart broke and you were there. And because of this unflagging, gorgeously textured support, I did not just end up surviving. I ended up thriving–completing the goal of the girl whose story I was writing. Which is to say: I wrote a whole book, one I pray goes on to foster others as you have fostered me.

Marge Piercy writes:
Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

Today I celebrate the new. And I also bless you who helped me accomplish what I alone could never.

Thank you for granting me what my past did not: faith in others, not just in myself.

Love and light to all today. it’s what we need if we’re going to put this world back to rights. That’s my birthday sermon and that’s my birthday wish. Take it if you please.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy