Tuesday, February 02, 2010

An embodied future

Actually, Kelvline was echoing something that Darryl had said to me, but Darryl’s focus was on the way in which the Wall Street Journal created a fictional character using my legal name, not necessarily an indictment of my participation. But later, in the middle of another dead-end conversation about our relationship, Kelvline went off about how Darryl and I must hate each other. I was certain that Kelvline was just desperate to change the subject -- it had never entered my mind to hate Darryl. But I realized there were times when Darryl and I said things to Kelvline that we didn’t say to each other, shady comments thrown here and there. You remember what I said about that type of communication, right? So I suggested to Darryl that we sit down and talk about all our resentments, no matter how petty, just to let them out.

I know I have a certain model for relationships, one based in those first conversations about incest and accountability, sexual striving and loss, hopelessness and rage and other unwavering queer dreams. This was the model that said: first you reveal everything, and then when you can’t think of anything else to reveal you go deeper. And: we must create our own ways of living and loving and taking care of one another. And: it’s us against the world.

That relationship model was one of the reasons I came back to San Francisco, but then the relationships weren’t there. It’s possible that even the model had burned down in some landlord-induced fire in the Mission, insurance money and new condos. Still there was Derek, emerging from his alcoholism but not from a certain kind of secrecy that meant the safety I treasured often felt elusive. In a way, my friendship with Darryl came the closest to mirroring the beginnings of those foundational relationships, if only because of those first conversations where Darryl and I bonded by sharing our complicated histories, an act of intimacy through disclosure. In public she was shy, distant even, but underneath she wielded a political analysis so scathing; this was another bond between us, but perhaps also a wall: maybe neither of us could ever back away from the critique. Maybe those first late-night conversations where we commiserated over the shock of immediate threats to our shared visions made us feel closer than we actually were.

When Darryl and I got together to talk about our resentments, hers centered around class: she saw my confidence, my ability to walk into a room and carry it, as a manifestation of privilege. While I grew up believing I was evil, believing that I deserved to die, and these were lessons taught to me underneath the mask of my parents’ privilege, it’s also true that I always knew I was smart: at least my parents gave me that. I was the obviously-traumatized child retreating into the relative safety of books -- but I could hardly speak to anyone before I realized the trap of my parents’ privilege, the violence they were enacting, and the lies I was forced to maintain in order to survive. I only started to become confident in the ways Darryl has experienced when I realized that I would always exist outside of the norms presented to me as reality, when I decided to throw that all in the trash.

Even though Darryl and I bonded through a shared experience of the violence of academia, and even though Darryl was as critical of that world as anyone I knew, she was still making a place for herself inside it. Part of this was about a lack of options for maintaining some kind of queer splendor in a world that doesn’t allow you that space. Unlike me, if her life collapsed in a world of pain, she could not attempt to rely on the privileges of her perpetrators in order to endure their harm.

One of the things that scares me the most about academia is the way that it can make anything abstract; I can read a theoretical work about everything that allegedly means something to me, and it just makes me feel dead. I go to that disembodied place where I went to survive my parents. When I heard Darryl utilizing that language it made me feel distant from her too. Even if she would still offer scathing critiques, like when she would question anyone who’d spent decades in academia and still called themselves working class, using the cachet of outsider to maintain insider status.

I felt frustrated by my relationships: they would get to a certain point of political or intellectual intimacy, emotional too but then I was always trying to get to the next level -- I wanted that safety so much that it was hard to feel satisfied with anything else. A physical feeling of closeness, not just the intellectual. I recognized the push-pull of intimacy, but when I felt the other person was doing most of the pulling away, eventually I would give up. I wouldn’t give up on the relationship, but I would give up thinking that it would go further. I was already retreating more into my head, as my pain and exhaustion overwhelmed the everydayness of the everyday and I started worrying that soon an embodied future would feel like a dream of the past.

5 comments:

davka said...

oh this piece is excellent in so many places and all over!

"I know I have a certain model for relationships, one based in those first conversations about incest and accountability, sexual striving and loss, hopelessness and rage and other unwavering queer dreams. This was the model that said: first you reveal everything, and then when you can’t think of anything else to reveal you go deeper. And: we must create our own ways of living and loving and taking care of one another. And: it’s us against the world."

Yes, loving radically- this is my model. I have found so many people not only share this model, but react very angrily against it. Some people treat me as if they want to reveal it all and then, later, I'm a weirdo who got them naked or something or "get the fuck out of my head," wow. You worded this perfectly and I wish I had this last night when I was trying to explain to someone how I feel relationships have to be deep and raw and real. If our dreams are where we can experience frightening and taboo things safely, our relationships and friendships must be where we find refuge and safetey and a space to show our real faces, our histories, our differences.

"It’s possible that even the model had burned down in some landlord-induced fire in the Mission, insurance money and new condos."

Wow. God that is heartbreaking and powerful.

"When Darryl and I got together to talk about our resentments, hers centered around class: she saw my confidence, my ability to walk into a room and carry it, as a manifestation of privilege. While I grew up believing I was evil, believing that I deserved to die, and these were lessons taught to me underneath the mask of my parents’ privilege, it’s also true that I always knew I was smart: at least my parents gave me that. I was the obviously-traumatized child retreating into the relative safety of books -- but I could hardly speak to anyone before I realized the trap of my parents’ privilege, the violence they were enacting, and the lies I was forced to maintain in order to survive."

Oh, my. So important.

"Unlike me, if her life collapsed in a world of pain, she could not attempt to rely on the privileges of her perpetrators in order to endure their harm."

Did not have the privilige to rely on the perpetrators, a reliance which means reliving while simultaneouly denying incest and violence. Woah.

Lately my language of privilige is just collapsing with steps toward really engaging with individuals and realizing the terror that takes place in so many homes. Not to say you are trying to dismantle definitions of privilige or denying yours at all, but for me, probably because of what I am going through and where I am, this piece challenges so many of my definitions and models of reacting, relating.

You really are such a precious voice. Thank you for writing this!

all my love, davka

davka said...

Also, in so many of these pieces I see these kids, or very young people, carrying so much weight because the dominant culture and world around them refuses to acknowledge it entirely, and these kids are carrying it all around breaking their fucking backs just trying to function as whole selves and create spaces where others can do that- the striving is so acute and admirable, but also the frustration. With everything, any intimacy acheived, any reality maintained and fought for was miraculous.

Have you ever seen R.D. Laing's Asylum?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Davka, "If our dreams are where we can experience frightening and taboo things safely, our relationships and friendships must be where we find refuge and safety and a space to show our real faces, our histories, our differences."

Yes yes yes!

Oh, and this:

"Did not have the privilige to rely on the perpetrators, a reliance which means reliving while simultaneouly denying incest and violence. Woah.

Lately my language of privilige is just collapsing with steps toward really engaging with individuals and realizing the terror that takes place in so many homes. Not to say you are trying to dismantle definitions of privilige or denying yours at all, but for me, probably because of what I am going through and where I am, this piece challenges so many of my definitions and models of reacting, relating."

Thank you so so much for this understanding -- it made me cry, what could be better than crying from such understanding? It makes me so glad that I have this blog!

And, "carrying so much weight because the dominant culture and world around them refuses to acknowledge it entirely, and these kids are carrying it all around breaking their fucking backs just trying to function as whole selves and create spaces where others can do that" -- so true, I still feel that way...

And I haven't read R.D. Laing's Asylum -- I will look at up...

So much love --
mattilda

davka said...

yes it's a documentary about a community for schizophrenics started by r.d. laing who believed the schizophrenic is actually undergoing a journey toward health (and it is healthy, well understandble and natural, to be disturbed and out of your mind in such a disturbing culture) and needs a safe place to freak out, completely disintegrate before rebuilding, much like traditional shamanic initiation- but this documentary shows these people trying so hard to love each other and understand each other, straining to the point of exhaustion trying to expand their codes of language to understand the "insane" talk of their housemates and friends. i just must find and keep the friends i have that are dedicated to loving through the lies and total alienation we live in. to being honest and vulnerable and subversive creatively, lovingly. i don't know.

r.d. laing once wrote of a girl who, during wartime, kept saying she had the atom bomb inside her. she believed it and freaked out and tried ot get it out and was institutionalized, but if an atom bomb is going off killing so many, causing so much suffering and destruction (i believe william burroughs wrote a short story in which only a nuclear bomb can destroy a soul, could be wrong about who wrote it)- then isn't it inside all of us, shouldnt we all be sick with it.

i know so much that i have to constantly supress in order to function. it's a balancing act.

lovelovelove,davka

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oh, that documentary sounds amazing, I will search it out!!!

And so true about how "shouldnt we all be sick with it," all of it and how much we have to suppress in order to function, what a nightmare...

Love --
mattilda