The Perfect World We Do Not Have

If I could stand up and say This Is My Right and receive in response agreement on that statement from all who consider it, then I would never need to explain or fight or beg. In this perfect world of imagination, every person would be born with the knowledge of the complete set of rights due to each of us, and each of us would be treated equally, without necessity of debate.

In the world of actuality, we live in a nation of vast numbers of diverse people who do not all agree on basic human or civil rights. Is every one of us entitled to a living wage, to health care, to education? Is every one of us entitled to marry whomever we choose? Is every one of us entitled to relieve ourselves in the public bathroom that best suits us?

We don’t agree on how basic services should be paid for, who should run them, or what those services should include. We don’t agree on who should be forced to live or be allowed to die, or on who should be able to decide these questions.

When we talk about human rights or civil rights, often an assumption is made that these are so basic, so intrinsic to every person’s well-being, that every person should, of course, at least agree on how these are defined. Except, this is not our reality. We do not all agree even at this basic level, and the fact that we disagree so deeply is the reason each of us must fight for those rights we feel should be basic tenets of our very existence as human beings.

Each of has been born into a particular circumstance and raised in a certain way and experienced certain occurrences in our lives, and all of these things contribute to our individual set of values. Each of us sees our own views as being most correct and most just, and this is the crux of the problem. Those who hold views diametrically opposed to mine think their views are most correct and most just. Each of us wants the world to function in the way we think is best, but reality is that we can’t all have everything we think we should have. One way or another, one or both sides must compromise some aspect of our opposing views in order to coexist peacefully in this world we share, even if that compromise is simply each of us deciding we’ll look the other way and choose not to allow the odd behavior of those “others” to bother us or to keep us from enjoying our own lives.

Of course, there are many times when we cannot simply accept an opposing view, because that view has the effect of damaging our lives or the lives of someone we love in a significant way, and then we have no choice but to fight for what we believe is correct and just. Always, though, we need to remember that there will never be a time when every other person will agree with us about what is correct and just, that this is true even when the alternative seems to our thinking to be incomprehensibly wrong or cruel. There is no great truth that every human being on earth adheres to. Not a single one.

It will never be enough to stand up and say This Is My Right because there will always be someone who disagrees and who is willing to put up an equal fight for their opposing view.

In this country of millions of people who never all agree on anything, who will never all want to live exactly the same kind of life, we still need to be able to get things done. We developed a system to accomplish this whereby each of us gets a vote and those votes carry power to achieve goals en masse. We vote to elect representatives, and our representatives vote to make or change or enforce the laws that determine what rights we are granted in this country. We’ve developed complicated procedures in order to deal with the fact that we will never all agree, nor do we wish our country to become a place where everyone must agree in order for important things to get done.

In order to get things done, we must interact with those who disagree with our views. We vote to elect people to represent us in our government, but even these representatives we’ve supported do not always agree with us on every issue. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, perfect representative, perfect official. There are only degrees of agreement with those we’ve elected to represent us. Sometimes our representatives agree with us on very few issues, because those who voted in support of them agree with us on very few issues. This is the system we created. This is the system we must operate within in order to get things done.

This is why progress is often exceedingly slow and is frequently incremental. We often do not get everything we want, nor do we get anything we want very quickly. The millions of people living in this country who do not all agree with each other vote to elect representatives. In order to get things done, we can try to persuade representatives, or we can try to persuade people who vote for representatives. Persuasion can take many forms: evidence, advertisements, appeals, payment, shame, threats. A change in viewpoint can happen naturally or can be coerced. When we fight for a thing we feel should be our inherent human or civil right, we must use some or all of these methods to accomplish our goal because everyone will not agree with us. Those with an opposing view will use the same means to thwart our efforts and to achieve their own goals.

There is no absolute right or wrong, there is only what a particular group of people decides is right or wrong. Every person will not ever agree on what is absolutely right or wrong. If I choose to interact only with those who agree with me, things will only get done within that small group of those who agree with me. Big things that I would like to get done, things that affect the greater society I live within, will not get done if I do not communicate with those who do not agree with me.

If everyone had to agree in order for things to get done, something big would have to happen to make us all accept the exact same kind of life. Usually this kind of change happens over the course of a very long time and is the culmination of many, many slow, incremental changes that have spanned decades. To speed up this process, we would all have to be coerced in some way to agree to things we didn’t actually believe in. This is how a repressed society operates. A domineering leader decides how everyone will live and demands citizens comply, or else. There is no debate, no consideration of individual desires or values that contradict those held by the leader. No one can even suggest an alternative without serious consequences. This is the exact opposite of the freedom we Americans claim we hold dear. This is why the system we developed to get things done includes complex protections against one side or another always being able to get what they want without negotiating with their opposition. Our system protects against one side or another perpetually being able to force their concept of right vs. wrong on everyone. The millions of diverse people in this country will never all agree on what is right or what is wrong. There is no perfection that isn’t illusion.

If I believe that This Is My Right, I must do my best to persuade as many of my fellow citizens as I can to agree with me, so that they also vote for representatives who agree with me, so that laws are enacted to define this thing I believe is my right. I can never expect that my views are universal or that my rights are permanent. I must always be prepared to fight.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #13 of 52.

Practice

Those who have been following me here this year know that I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challengewhich means I’ve been *trying* to write one essay, no matter how small, every week during 2017. Alas, I have fallen behind, but I’m going to continue this practice regardless. The act of attempting to produce something worth sharing every week is helping me to get into a writing groove that I think is sustainable long term, even though there will be occasional breaks. That’s just life.

This practice is also inspiring me to share essays in places besides here on my personal blog. Today I’ve posted my essay #12, a distinctly adoptee observation, at Lost Daughters. I hope you’ll visit there to read.

Middle Place

The closer I get to turning fifty, the more age obsessed I find myself, including with my own writing progress. I’m noticing how often I read stuff written by much younger people. Twenty- and thirty-somethings are publishing all over the place, in confident voices that make them sound worldly, wise, and fearless. How did they acquire so much swagger, so much knowledge, while I feel perpetually timid and inadequate?

It’s probably not true that everyone publishing anything is younger than me, but sometimes it seems that way, just as it seems that every writer worth a damn is flitting off to residencies or conferences. Either they’re young enough to not yet have many commitments other than to themselves and their work, or they’re old enough that their downsized empty nests and ample retirement income allow them great freedom. I try to push away the nagging worry that they’re more invested in their writing than I am in mine.

Authors I read who are close to my age are well-established. It’s rare to discover fellow middle-aged beginners, though I realize they’re out there. Curious, I googled and found a group over in the UK called The Prime Writers, all of whom published their first book when they were over forty. I’m heartened knowing they exist and that they’ve found each other.

When we hear the word “emerging” though, we picture someone youthful, don’t we? And when we see youthful writers, we accept their beginner status without criticism. On sight, a middle-aged person is expected to have achieved something more, just as my son, who has always looked older than his actual age, has been expected to have already reached certain milestones before people who meet him understand how young he really is. I may look aged, but in terms of my writing, I have a long way to go.

I often think of myself as a beginner, but am I being fair? I signed up for my very first creative writing class back in 2000. That was seventeen years ago. Four years ago, I earned my MA. I’ve managed to publish a handful of pieces. When I’m at my lowest, I chide myself for not being dedicated enough, but in reality, I’ve stubbornly stuck with this writing thing for nearly two decades, during which time I’ve also been doing a good deal of living life. Hmm. How about that?

A few weeks ago, I attended a local, one day writing conference and realized that I wasn’t as much of a beginner as a good number of the other attendees. It’s probably fair to say that I’m at some sort of middle place in this writing journey. I’ve learned some things and developed some skills, and I’m aware that I have more to learn and develop. I can stop thinking of myself as a beginner, despite not yet having published a book of my own. I’m relieved by this realization.

Still, I marvel at the confidence of those younger authors I read. How did they get to where they wanted to go so fast? Some days, I feel as if I’m stuck in a traffic circle, unsure of which exit to choose, which road will lead to a place where I’ll be happy to settle in. Perhaps it’s because I’m older, because I want to avoid a costly detour, that I hesitate to push forward too quickly. Perhaps my life experience is a handicap. I’ve lost all faith in five year plans. I know that life will toss me this way and that, so what use is a firm goal anyway?

More and more I think I’m doing this less as a means to an end than as a way to become more myself. Perhaps that mindset is the guide that will point me to the right road. It’s true, I’m envious of those younger writers so sure of their own voices. I wish I had been so sure at their age. I’d like to be so sure just once, if only for a moment.

I saw a piece yesterday in which a writer lamented her own lack of patience with the process of learning and practicing writing, and I think I’ve had the same kind of impatience. So I’ve been trying to breathe more, to relax and to allow my writing to wander wherever it wants to go. I’ve been reminding myself that, for me, writing isn’t so much a career choice as it is a lifestyle. I’ve always written and I will continue to write, regardless of any outcome. It’s just what I do.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #11 of 52.

 

 

 

 

Correlations

On a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Erika had a full-on meltdown during dinner with the other ladies. Unlike most of the housewives, she has been very reserved—not unfriendly to the other women but not chummy either. Throughout this season, she’s clashed with a newcomer to the cast, though she kept her feelings mostly to herself until this particular evening. In a deluge, all the hurt she’d held inside came rushing out. When another cast mate tried to say something helpful, Erika overreacted, lashing out at her, too. She reminded me very much of myself.

Forty-five-year-old Erika Girardi joined the cast last season. She’s a self-described homebody and tomboy who’s married to a high-powered lawyer, but she has an alter-ego—she performs as the dance club musical artist Erika Jayne, wearing ultra-sexy, ultra-glamorous outfits during her somewhat risqué shows. It’s a seemingly crazy contradiction: quiet, shy Erika Girardi vs. flamboyant Erika Jayne.

Recently on the show, she revealed that her mother had been hard on her while she was growing up. She called her mother a “disciplinarian” and said her mother had been very critical of her. She pointed to her mother’s treatment of her as the reason why she seldom cries and finds it difficult to connect with other women. Others have described her as cold, but she sees herself as tough. She was forced when very young to buck up, to handle things on her own, and she’s carried that directive inside herself all this time.

I can’t help wondering about the link between the child Erika not having a mother who was a solace to her and the grown Erika who tries to conceal her vulnerability from other women. This makes sense to me. It’s something I’ve recognized that I also do. Vulnerability often feels to me like a weakness that shouldn’t be revealed, and other women feel the most unsafe to me, probably because I want to avoid experiencing again the pain of motherly criticism or rejection. Continue reading “Correlations”

I Told Myself I Would Be Real

I never felt known as a child. When people looked at me, I felt they saw the shell but nothing underneath. I became what people wanted to see when they looked at me; in this way, I created the shell of myself that no one could see beyond.

I hid inside the shell. Instinctively I protected my tender core, the real part of me that I felt was not known. I wanted to be known. But being known felt dangerous. Yet over time, not being known also hurt me. I felt intensely lonely. Alone in the world, as if no one could understand my language.

I believed that my real mother would understand me. This was the story I told myself: My real mother somewhere out in the world loved me, and one day she would find me. She would know me without my having to explain anything at all about myself. She would know the colors and flavors I liked, she would know why I needed to have long hair, she would know why walking barefoot outside was the best thing and why I couldn’t see the world the way the people I lived with did. She would just know.

I didn’t have to create a fiction for myself because I knew somewhere in the world there was a woman inside whom I had become real. It was just that we weren’t together. I told myself we would be, and then I would become real again. I didn’t come from thin air, I couldn’t have, because I couldn’t fly. I came from water, just as everyone did, and I would swim again.

I didn’t want to be this mystical creature inside my shell. I wanted to be normal. Normal seemed good to me then, desirable. Born of a body. How odd I must have seemed, without a solid form. Without matter. I wanted to matter.

I knew my mother was somewhere out in the world loving me because I could feel it. We had a bond that could not be broken. And if I was with her, she would care about the core of me, the real me that no one cared enough about to even miss. I would be important to her, I told myself over and over, and this story gave me hope, and hope kept me going all the way out into the real world.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #9 of 52.