Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I have a soft spot for Wordworth's poem the Idiot Boy. That's where my blog ultimately finds it name. In a roundabout way to be sure. Early in my graduate school career I wrote a paper on Wordsworth's poem that I liked a lot--and it was pleasant that my professor liked it too. That paper ended up getting me into a surprising amount of trouble. I chose to read the paper at a professional conference in a Wordsworth session rather than another paper I had written on a woman writer named Ivy Compton-Burnett in a session on feminist writing. That decision was read as anti-woman by some of my graduate school peers, and that was the beginning of my own private version of culture wars. I felt my reading of Wordsworth was as critically sophisticated and as "feminist" as my reading of the woman writer. But of course that opens up a whole other story. Just another lesson in how easy it is to end up on the outside.

A good part of why the term and the poem has such deep meaning to me, why it was the sentimental favorite in my choice that fall, has to do with my own "Idiot Girl," my last daughter. She is now in her early twenties and still understands the world much as she did when she was one or two. She just came to visit me for the week--so this is in celebration of my own beloved Idiot Girl in Seattle.

Friday, October 10, 2003

My husband recently posted an American flag on our front porch. Quite a few things you need to know about that flag. First of all, he didn't ask me if I wanted it there. Second, I have a house in Seattle and my husband has a house in Sacramento. That we have two houses certainly isn't an accident. Almost six years ago we were separated. A favorite thing I like to say (and it's pretty much true) separation saved our marriage. I got a job. I got my own place at a distance of 140 miles plus from Sacramento. And I decided, for better or worst, that I love him and would stay married. I often revisit that decision. But I made that decision. And at least for the time being, I have no interest in going there again. I'd rather spend the energy making my peace with that decision.

So the point. We survive to this day because there is distance. At one point the distance was the 140 miles between Sacramento and San Jose. For almost two years now it's been the distance between Sacramento and Seattle. And that's been for the better from my point of view. I have enough distance to win some distance, think about things a bit, and survive.

The flag in a way signals the very complex patterns of that survival. The flag is there because he's here in Seattle and I don't want to fight. The flag is definitely a statement. If I fight against the flag, it really is war, for us. I'm still thinking about the flag. And frankly waiting for him to leave so I can probably take it down--though I haven't totally decided yet. That flag does "flag" a new tear in our relationship. Here's what happened.

I can't even remember what started the struggle. But I said something about my frustration with the whole discussion about "patriotism," flagging someone as an enemy because of criticism about America. My husband is very much in the middle of the conservative talk radio scene. And I have to say little before he's angry at me. It's always a little difficult to figure out why, to figure out what I've done. That's the way I feel about this particular discussion. It's out there in something of a blur. Not sure what I said. But it was enough to start the free associational slide that leads him to a sense of high anxiety, frustration, fear. About America, about it's danger from socialism, about all the things that threaten freedom, life as it is now. I can't even make sense of this. But it makes him crazy. And before I could do anything about the slide, he was there. . . . Where I'm the threat, the enemy. And in that place he says things I can never quite forget or forgive. And this time he was going on about how he shouldn't associate with someone with such dangerous ideas. He should catch a plane a fly back to Sacramento. I cried. Mourned yet again my wishes, my hopes, my disappointments. And of course he didn't leave.

What he did do is buy a flag. And while I was away from the Seattle house, he put the flag there. It wasn't worth a question about why, what it means, the agression of putting it there in the wake of those words to me. But it's been flagging there for almost two weeks now. Us not talking about it. He'll be on his way to Sacramento again next week. And then I'll need to decide what I do with the flag.

Again, I find myself painfully in a place by myself. I'm very uncomfortable with what that flag means to him. I don't like that, and there's a great deal of anger in me that will come out in the vicinity of that flag.

But I'm also thinking of a conversation I had with a friend back last winter. The sense that the flag means something bad. How can that be? That seems really negative. It's like my husband hating to go to coffee houses because negative people go there. Being frustrated with listening to a favorite musicians because suddenly he's favorite with the "unwashed." How can I refuse to love the flag, love my country because it means something particular to the left, something particular to my husband. Where do I stand. Am I intimidated by his anger, his judgment, the negative things that happen between us because I refuse the either/or (that's a whole other discussion)? Or am I intimated by the man across the street with his Impeach Bush sign in the window. I'm so alienated by both.

So what do I do with that flag??
Still struggling with the war, obviously.

But now I'm trying to go back to a previous place--and move forward. I have five weeks off from my technology (software job). I'm using it to go back and do excavation of a previous life. That was where I did historical research and was an "all but dissertation" graduate student. I'm reading, writing, trying to get back to where I can do work on this. I'll feel very sad if I come to my old age or my death and have nothing more than a software manual to show for it. Even a photoshop software manual. . . .