But of course I didn't have to. That may be the one advantage I have as a result of growing up here: I've never had to claim privilege; I've never had to pull rank on anyone. At least, I've never felt any such need. You might say that I'm not impressed with people or with anything they do; I'm even less awed by men and their stories. That isn't to say that I fear no one: I simply have a pretty good idea of who can or can't, or who will or won't, do what, and to whom or what.
So there're lots of things I've never had any use for. Like most of the things they tried to teach me in school--or, more precisely, most of the things they were supposed to make gestures of teaching me and I was supposed to make them think I'd learned--and everything I heard in church. The canons of the academies and monasteries echo thousands of lies and even more exaggerations and misrepresentations. No one you will ever meet is like anyone you read about in any history book or any epic tale, whether it's Beowulf, The Deerslayer or All Quiet On The Western Front. The ballads I had to hear and the paintings we looked at in textbooks and school trips to museums were all about generals, emperors or mystic visionaries: all about solitary men leading lonely young men to their deaths, in the fields or in the trenches, or at their own hands. No man like any of those characters or figures ever came from this block--or, for that matter, any other blocks like this one that I've seen or heard about.
Who's ever written an opera about a woman and her cat? Or a woman and another woman, or a woman and her children? About the latter, there's the story of Mary and Jesus. Of course!: two people who never could have existed on this block. Not only is he too good to be true, she...well, let's say she contradicts one of the few relevant facts that's ever been taught in any science class!
Why can't we have a religion--if we have to have one--based on the story of a woman and her cat? At least someone could get that one right, I think. I don't believe anyone could set down the story of a woman and her child, and whenever anybody's set down the story of a woman and a woman, it sounds like a man's fantasy. (Trust me. I know the difference: I've had lots of time--and more opportunities than anyone should have--to learn.)
But about a woman-and-her-cat tale: If someone could write it, that person is not me. I've never kept a feline, at least not long enough to have such a relationship. The one time I had one--a gray, smoky shadow I never named--I ended up giving him to an old woman. It just didn't seem fair to make that cat dependent on someone like me; it was no more fair to the cat than my dependence on my mother, for so many years, was to her. Since then, I've done my best to avoid creating any need for me in any other living being.
Even if I'd had a cat, a child, or any other permanent companion, I couldn't have written about me and him, her or it. Maybe, as people have told me, if I'd stayed in school, I'd've learned how to put some experiences--my own and those of others--on a page, or even between the covers of a book. There's so much I never learned. As a kid, I asked myself, "Why should I?" "So I could write the kinds of things they made us read?," I wondered. "Or to play what they taught us was music, or how to say their prayers?"
So now I have practically no education and, as far as most educated people are concerned, I'm illiterate, or close to it. Still, I've managed to read a bit since I stopped going to school. I've even finished a few books, a couple of plays and a whole bunch of poems: something I never accomplished when I was in school. I'm not going to explain or analyze anything I've read: Anything I could say about them isn't that important and probably has already been said. I don't know. Maybe I'd've stuck with school or "done something with" myself if I'd've known, while I was still in school, that such pieces of writing existed. Let's just say that they're not about war heroes, and they're not the sorts of things that give men excuses for belieiving that women are neurotic.
I don't think anybody on this block has read them. Living on this block isn't like being in one of those neighborhoods where people spend their Sundays talking about what was in The Times Book Review over brunch. (I had never heard of brunch when I was growing up!) I don't think even Mrs. Littington--who'd seen more of the world than most of us and spoke at least two languages--had ever read them. (I can only hope that she didn't have to read some of those really awful books and even worse translations they tried to shove down my throat: their Bible, for instance.)
As far as I know, the male gender has produced three real poets--at least, when it comes to writing about other men. One of them--who actually could create convincing female characters, too--wrote Othello, The Tempest and Macbeth, and of course a whole bunch of sonnets. Another wrote some fine poetry and Les Miserables. And, finally, there's the one who wrote about Don Quixote. I'll pass on the rest. Just for once, I want a story about a woman opening--or closing--her window.