I believed the pen could smash rock, paper, scissors, and injustice.
I signed petitions.
Wrote letters to Congressmen and women.
And the op-ed articles. Five hundred, at least.
I thought I could make a difference, working within the system, a dead end when the system itself is a failure for all but the filthy wealthy.
One of my children, concerned about my cynicism, told me to abandon political writing and, instead, work on family stories. Our family. Our stories. Another son suggested continuing education courses. I made inquiries. The “Creating Memories” instructor wrote, encouraging me:
… provides us with a better understanding of who we are and what our lives have been about. Memoir writing is one of the most effective means to integrate our life experiences and clarify/identify patterns and meaning to guide us.
I look at this and think about words, the nouns, vowels, adjectives, pushing them against each other to integrate life experiences and identify patterns. Suddenly, I hear lines from Amy Lowell’s poem, “Patterns.” Her words are shattering. Could crush rock, paper, scissors. But not injustice:
In my gown.
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?
Yes, I can write about my children, marriage, and an incident one son wants recorded: “Mom, please write about the time you sent Dad off with that leather sandwich.”
Explanation: I was pissed (justifiably) and instead of using lunchmeat, I slapped a piece of leather (a ticket stub from a country and western concert), on a slice of bread, suffocated it under an inch of mayo, and completed the construction with more bread. And I said to my parents, “If he doesn’t think this is funny (he didn’t), I’ll divorce him (I didn’t) for not having a sense of humor (absent that day).”
But what can be more personal than war? The death of a nephew? The thousands of dead troops? The brain injured? The suicides? Those our weapons maim and kill, the babies born with birth defects, the devastation of a civilization? When Chase was hit by a vehicle borne IED and I wrote that first opinion piece, a relative criticized and said, “You shouldn’t politicize this.” I told him that dying in war is political. Not just personal.
Entering political/personal purgatory before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, I’d write “leaders,” questioning and imploring. I remember an email to Sen. Bill Frist in which I chastised him for flipping in support of Big Tobacco, saying that as a cardiac transplant surgeon, he must have advised patients to quit smoking. Hmm, recording that Nashville story triggers another: My husband, on his way home from work, almost ran down Lamar Alexander. Yes, cigarettes, cars, and politicians are pollutants, capable of killing.
John Boehner recently said that the House of Representatives wasn’t designed to work. My immediate thought: This is the house that really deserves foreclosure. Congress has a 10 percent approval rating (never been lower). But drop that limbo stick and these slickos can still slither underneath to pass legislation that’s an assault on human rights.
And despite Wall Street crimes, resulting in the gutting of the middle class, no one has been prosecuted. That’s why the Occupy movement is essential. And must create a new economy. Occupy should open its own stores, starting with one, then, more and more. Allowing Walmart to take over a town is like signing your own death warrant. What happens, say, if a particular Walmart doesn’t generate enough profit, closes, and there’s nothing else within 50 to 100 miles?
Okay, this morning, I enrolled in the writing course. It’s supposed to Calgon me from political reality. But it won’t. And it shouldn’t. Because the suffering among my species, the destruction of our planet, and the carnage delivered by Wall Street and US empire/American exceptionalism are omnipresent. Recorders of inhumanity haven’t disabled inhumanity’s source. Perhaps, Occupy will, by building an egalitarian system. Affirmative family stories.
Missy Beattie creates memories in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.