05 March 2009

No Escape and No Luxury

Getting closer and closer...

Didn't accomplish much today. Got up late, but I probably needed the sleep, as I'd been up late the last couple of nights.

I suppose I shouldn't beat myself up over my non-productiveness. At least a couple dozen people I know would tell me that. But that won't stop me. If you've been reading my entries, you know me well enough to know that.

The doctor told me there'd be days like this. So did my therapist and my social worker. Much as I esteem them, their seal of approval doesn't quite work for me in this case. Then again, I know a few things now that I didn't before I met them.

It's funny how men--some men, anyway--think women are being frivolous when we sleep late, go out shopping (whether or not we buy anything), read romance novels or watch soap operas. I must admit I still haven't developed a taste for the last two. I had the TV on today as I was reading e-mail and doing some paperwork. I think the midday news was on when I started; by the time I looked at the TV screen again, a soap opera--or what is now known as "daytime TV"--was playing. I caught the program just in time to see a doctor preparing to remove the bandages wrapped around some female patient's eyes. Of course, whatever caused her to get eyefuls of glass shards had to do with money or sex, both of which are--as near as I can tell--the same thing on those programs. And, I must admit, I stopped what I was doing to see if that woman could see when the doctor removed the bandages. Alas, she couldn't. Bad for her, good for the plot, I guess.

I used to think that housewives liked those programs because they were bored. Of course, it's not hard to understand how they would be: If she has more intelligence than he does yet she is relegated to changing diapers and cleaning furniture, what else could she be? If she's lucky, that's all she'll be.

But, years later, I found out that a lot of gay men watch those programs, too. And I'm not talking only about the "kept" ones: I've talked to an advertising art executive, a man who travelled the world in the employ of one of those firms that's gone bust in the last few months and an engineer who taped those programs and watched them at the end of the day. Why did they like such programs? For that matter, why do they like Susan Lucci, or Joan Crawford?

Not so long ago, I would have felt superior to all those soap opera fans because I could finish the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. Lots of people think that's a waste of time, too, but I always rationalized that at least those puzzles were developing skills. Yeah, just like Renaissance scholars read Latin, Greek and Hebrew literature so they could better understand the Bible.

And you know what? I still am superior because I can finish the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. Yes, I am. How, I don't know. But you know, once you become a snob, you've got to keep it up. Just like I had to keep up my misanthropy and my disdain of scholars and academicians. And you're soooo convinced of that, right?

OK, so I'm not so superior to all those people who "waste" their time watching soap operas. Or the ones who go to escapist movies and amusement parks. Or the ones who go fishing or to football games. Or who golf. (I don't think I'll ever understand the attraction of that.)

And there are plenty of people who think that poetry is a waste of time. Or playing with one's cats. Or having cats at all. Even if one of those cats is named Jeffrey. The man who had such a cat was Smart. Really! With a name like Christopher Smart, how could he not be smart? Or, how could someone with a name like Angelina Jolie not be beautiful?

I'm starting to realize that everyone needs to do at least one thing that's gratuitous, or even excessive. It's not a luxury; it's what someone whose life is confined by the written or unwritten prejudices against who and what they are through no choice of their own. You can be the most wonderful mother or anything else but, at the end of the day, you're just a woman in the eyes of those who set the rules. And that art executive, and the others I mentioned are, in this world, just gay men, whether or not they're in the closet. The only difference is that, if they're closeted, other people gain power by their complicity in keeping the secret; if said gays are "out," they are labels and targets. No matter what he does, Barney Frank will probably always be known as "the gay senator." And those who don't like him will use that fact before any other, or even the fantasies they've built around that fact, to rationalize their disdain or hatred.

I think that the professor of the class I'm taking was making that point when she unabashedly confessed that she loves Uncle Tom's Cabin. I agree with most of what James Baldwin said about it in "Everybody's Protest Novel": It does considerable violence to the English language with its melodrama and sentimentality. I'll grant that it certainly influenced people. But I'm not yet ready to be convinced that it belongs in the canon as much as Moby Dick does.

By the way: One way you can tell whether someone has actually read Moby Dick is to talk about the story line of The Old Man and The Sea. After all, they're both about a guy trying to catch a fish. All right, a sea creature: I know, a whale isn't a fish. At any rate, if you recount the plot of Hemingway's novel, the person who's lying about having read Moby Dick will go along with whatever you say. Trust me, I've done it.

All right, now I can say it: I have read both Moby Dick and Old Man and the Sea. And I have no particular desire to read either again, although if I continue my studies, I'll probably be reading MD again. Ditto for Uncle Tom's Cabin. What will I think of it.

Back to women, gays and soap operas: Just as playing is part of a child's development--and sometimes part of an adult's creative process--I'm starting to think that lush, florid things serve some sort of purpose for those whose lives are truncated by bigotry. If poetry is not a luxury (which I know it isn't), maybe "camp" is not excess after all.

OMG...What did I just say? Every time I turn around, I'm becoming something else I never imagined I would, or swore I would never allow myself to, become.

Could it be that when you're poor or oppressed, there's no such thing as a luxury, or of frivolty? And does this mean that when there's no escape from your condition, nothing is "just" an "escape?"

Or could it be that it's simply getting late and I'm getting tired again?