Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rewriting Rousseau

Let me update Rousseau: Man is born free,but everywhere woman is in chains.

Some days you go into a serious funk, and you don't exactly know why--overwhelmed? Yes, a woman's life is one of being overwhelmed by the ten thousand things that won't get done unless you do them. But they are always there, calling out from the washer, the refrigerator, the answering machine, the obituary page, the e-mail from grandson: the things we women traditionally care for.

So maybe the problem is not all that, but that some days every arrow homes in on the same old wound, the overwhelming truth of being in the underclass, made worse by people loudly protesting that you are equal if you'd only try.

I got started on this really bad mood last week when a Zen master deleted me from his list of Buddhist blogs, just a few days after he had added me to that list. He explained that this was a wholesale cleanup, he was getting down to just those blogs he likes. Ah, for just a moment there I had the illusion (whoops, Buddhist term) that I had been accepted into the online Zen community. God knows (whoops, Christian term), I have not been able to work with the massively male control of the local Zen sangha, and I am lonely.

Being dropped from the list struck me harder than it should have, I thought. Part of slave training is to blame yourself. So I didn't write to him, and I tried to let it go. Talk myself around. This is just ego, etc.

But then other things kept coming in and hitting the same spot until my protective shield crumbled.

I agreed to be in humanist forum a while back, to consider the question, Does a U.S. President's religion matter? I was assured there would be only four of us, but it turned out that the first time we presented, there were seven, and it was exhausting. I told the organizer my health wouldn't allow me to do the second presentation. But he assured me, hand on elbow, all charm, that there were really really only four of us this time, that I gave a really important balance to it, and so on. Well, yes, I thought, a woman's voice is needed.

At the second presentation I found myself sitting at a long table with five men and a woman in traditional Muslim garb, who was married to one of the men. The others had presented their reasoned, informed commentaries. I had talked for a few minutes only about the importance, to my mind, of the president having a spiritual practice. I felt like a cliche, a lead balloon.

As I sat at that table during the question period, the portable microphone passed up and down the table from one man to another, right in front of me. It was a familiar feeling. I had time to contemplate all the energy being expended by some 30-40 people talking about how things ought to be.

The next morning the same teacher who isn't interested in my blog posted a long rumination on the French equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. Ideas, I thought. You guys just love ideas. Most of the trouble in this world is caused by people in hot pursuit of some idea. Idea: we need more lebensraum. Let's take Poland. I know, let's take Tibet.

But this same reckless disregard of individuals takes place on the small stage of our own lives. This forum leader was a case in point. He knows I'm on the kidney transplant list. I told him that I found the forum too exhausting. But to keep me on it, in pursuit of some idea he had about the shape of the panel, he lied to me.

Afterward I said, "You have scammed me for the last time." Oh ho, he laughed it off, he hoped I'd understand. And I do. I understand more than he does. I understand that I as an living human being did not matter; what mattered was that he achieve his goal. Call it an idea or go Buddha and call it a craving. People in pursuit of their personal goals.

Many a person would shrug these events off, but there you are, I am a Poet; we cultivate sensitivity. Along with some other things that went on this week, these events struck me right in the primal trauma. Subtly disesteemed. It happens to women all the time.

What we have to be careful of is that we nevertheless value and protect ourselves. To do that you have to see the truth of the way things are; and the truth, Gloria Steinem once said, will make you free---but first it will piss you off.

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