Once upon a time, I lived in a river town (humorous now, because in “Mantorville”* and Quetzal County, the river towns are especially vile, rundown, terrifying and inbred, although we wonʼt be getting into that in the current tale). I spent two years in Ft. Madison, toward the bottom end of Iowa, my first two years teaching. That period of my life concluded with my job being staff reduced (these are not the only hard economic times we have faced, children), even though I used my association/union right of a hearing before the board (held brightly early on a Saturday morning, of all godawful times for a 22-year-old slacker lad — that would be me — to raise himself from the depths of Morpheusʼs amorphous empire) at which I infuriated my representative by speaking on my own behalf repeatedly, excessively — a totally unhelpful maneuver, as the other, less experienced teacher theyʼd also dropped got retained eventually (he didnʼt seek his own hearing and was still teaching at FMHS a decade later, having briefly become their large group speech coach and thus an amusing encounter at state contest for me), even though an (well, I thought) elderly lady (who was probably younger then than I am now) in the English department exercised her right to retire that spring in my favor.** (At least I got to use and abuse my knowledge of the words antepenultimate and penult in the daily bulletin and thus frighten the administration into thinking I intended some kind of of Righteous revenge for my sacking, which I truly did not, although I still savor the sweet taste of their desperate, misinterpretive coddlings afterward.
But getting fired (all right, to be accurate, “reduced”) isnʼt what I wanted to talk/write about today. I want to tell a story about my consciousness getting raised (such a Seventies bit of jargon now, but so very, truly accurate and descriptive).
Lots happened to me and to my psyche in those early years of my teaching career, predictably so, me being such a callow cad (perhaps then and now). Iʼll make you search back through the post archives to find out, but I have talked already about fragile and breaking affairs of the heart in those years (try clicking the “Poetry” category to simplify your search). In the end, I left the Fort sans my longtime college girlfriend but temporarily in a new relationship that would founder within months of my move to Maquoketa (perhaps because the lesson I am about to recount hadnʼt fully altered my behavior or being yet). And although I recoiled from the knowledge then, I know now that I deserved both blows.
I recall me sitting in my upstairs apartment, having watched a television show, which one I no longer possess even a glimmer of a guess. But the episode (probably of a situation comedy, to be honest) left me puzzling my noodle over the issue of feminism. The broadcast wasnʼt the only stimulus to this perception-shifting session of sweet, silent thought, but it was the straw that broke this camelʼs stubborn back. Through a long evening, or even a longer weekend, I wrestled with myself over the genuine equality of the fairer sex. Naturally, being the age I was and accepting the freewheeling socio-political outlook that I shared with my friends, I paid lip service to this ideal and sought to fulfill it in social, employment and financial terms. What I had to grapple with that night was the actual, personal reality of the idea and how it would forever alter my relationships. And I didnʼt like that notion one little bit.
I cannot any more resurrect the pros and cons and emotional wrangling that I endured. Our human brains are wired, after all, to forget painful experience. But I went to bed at last having persuaded myself that I had to perceive (and treat) women differently than I had grown up doing (and I had grown up with a strong mother and a clever older sister — if that informs you sufficiently). What did I have to determine? I didnʼt come first (or solely) in romantic relationships (a really tough one for a boy whose hormones were still erupting powerfully). I didnʼt even matter in some extremes (no matter how my raging inner self might feel). Any she was as or more important than me (and of course, that insight has multiplex ramifications for us all). In some ways it was probably a pretty masochistic moment, but the lessons were vital and I hope inspirational for me, regardless how little I wanted to experience and learn them.
The Lovely One (and others between that day and my meeting my future wife, if not since) probably would assert I have never mastered that set of lessons even mostly, but I have tried. Still do. And the fact that what I had to learn was unpleasant, disorienting and even denying something of myself is the key element for today.
We all have to learn that what we hold dear (even dearest) and take most for granted might be wrong, and probably is if it harms, hinders or manhandles any other person. We must wrestle daily, moment to moment, with every notion we have never really considered or else we are making less of ourselves, of our humanity, than is required of everyone for the gift of life itself. Socrates*** and the Temple at Delphi had it right long ago: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And those who do not examine and re-examine and live willing to change in honor of others… ? Well, the old Greek saying made it clear.
* — golly, I donʼt like that as a title; itʼs worse than if Lovecraft had denominated one of his stories “Arkham” or merely “Dunwich” —
** I may have just composed my longest bit of periodicity, in that immense sentence, yet.
*** Another in my small symposium of personal heroes, by the way, not that it matters whatsoever here and now.
In case the powerful (astonishingly christian) radicality of this position is not clear, this postʼs for disreputable Rep. Steve King, among so many others.
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.