12 October 2009

How Not To Get Lost

Today is Columbus Day. Some people had the day off from work, and kids from school--to celebrate a guy who got lost.

At least, if any man had an excuse for not asking for directions, it was Signor Colombo. I mean, whom could he have asked? Dolphins? Sharks? Seagulls?

You see, if there really is a master or creator, Columbus would've been wandering the ocean for forty years. And Moses would've made it to Israel in, what, a few weeks?

OK, now I've probably offended half of the Western world, and a good part of whatever readership I had. What'll I do now?

I can understand how difficult it must have been for Chris. After all, I've been in countries that spoke languages I didn't. And, as I like to tell people, I'm a direct descendant of Columbus and inherited his navigational skills!

All right, I'll admit: I have no connection to the one who "discovered" the "new" world--at least, none that I know of, anyway.

How could anyone say he "discovered" a place in which millions of people were already living meaningful and useful lives? In fact, I'd say that through most of the first millenium and a half, they were more civilized--in almost any way one defines that term--than the part of the world whence Columbus sailed.

And how could anyone say that what he found was the "new" world. Now, I know nothing about geological history, but I'd hazard a guess that the "new" world must be as old as the "old" world simply because they share the same planet.

Maybe I should become a geological historian. Then maybe I would stop whining about how old I'm becoming or have become.

So let's see--to become a geological historian, I'd have to take most of an undergraduate curriculum, as I never took a geology course and not a whole lot of science. Then I'd have to get a master's and a PhD. By that time, I'll be old enough that my professors will be studying me!

All to do what prisoners do: break rocks!

This day, at least here in New York, is a sort of Italian pride day. Isn't it strange that we come from a culture that gave the world Michelangelo, Leonardo, Dante, Petrarch, Bocaccio, St.Francis of Assisi, Galileo, Verdi, Vivaldi and Eleonore Duse--and we're supposed to feel pride in some guy who didn't know he landed somewhere near Port au Prince when he was trying to get to India?

At least Petrarch could make the quatrains run on time!

Anyway...I'm thinking now about Lindy, who had an orchiotomy a few days after I had my surgery. She hopes to have the full genital reassignment surgery in a few years, when she can afford it. But she needed that orchiotomy to save her life: Her male genitalia sealed off what turned out to be ovaries and a birth canal that were turning gangrenous and destroying her liver and kidneys. She confirmed what I'd suspected: that she and her wife spent all but their last dollar, literally, to get the orchiotomy. But I have no doubt that one day she'll have the surgery: she and her wife are committed to it, and to each other.

During our conversation, she quoted Oscar Wilde, articles from the New England Journal of Medicine and almost anything you can think of in between. She wasn't trying to impress me: She couldn't, because I was already in awe of her. Rather, those texts she quoted were as necessary to her survival as the air.

After talking with her, I realized why I didn't enjoy that course I took last spring, and why I don't think I'll take any more PhD-level courses in English--or, most likely, any more English courses at all. In fact, it helped me to realize why, as much as I love literature, writing and teaching, I can't stand most English departments--and, for that matter, much of Education with a capital "E." It also underscored why I won't ever go near Gender Studies, or any supposedly-intellectual endeavor with the word "gender" in its title, ever again.

Lindy wasn't trying to one-up me or anyone else by quoting what she read. She wasn't even trying to win an argument, if for no other reason that she has no reason to argue with me (at least not yet, anyway!). Rather, she was using those texts, which had been her guides, to better understand her own situation and to relate it to me.

In other words, she wasn't using those texts as ego-gratification in the guise of intellectual inquiry. Instead, she was using them to help her amplify some very hard-won truths. (If you want to get an idea of just how hard-won they are, check out this entry--and my comment--on Staci Lana's blog: http://www.femulate.org/2009/10/gender-on-my-mind.html)

When a person does what Lindy did in our conversation, there's simply no way he or she can condescend to anyone else. And there's certainly no need to do that after you've found your own truths rather than what merely gives you status. If nothing else, you understand that winning an argument--whatever that means--is nothing more, or less, than that: winning the argument doesn't mean that you're right.

Really, the only victories are in discovering the truth--one's own and that of the world. After that, the other "victories" are just so much ego gratification. If that's not a recipe for getting lost, I don't know what is.

At least Christopher Columbus had an excuse for getting lost!

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