Disassociation

images

For C.A.F.

The first time she remembered feeling it was when her older sister leapt to her death from the roof their two-story home. The girl had sort of known it was going to happen, in the way that five year olds know anything: a burst of violent language between bigger people like an explosion of blackbirds from a wire, her sister’s boots thumping the staircase. Eventually, the creak of the eave and the broken cry that ended with a thud. It was in the way that thud shot through the bones of the house, that’s the feeling that carried the girl away. That first time it was parrots and waterfalls, a kaleidoscope of them—purple rivers and a perfect sunset on the hazy horizon. She could float more than fly because she didn’t need to exert any effort and the air was kind around her small body. When she was pulled back into the world by a social worker’s cold, callused hands working her face, into the tumult of looping emergency lights, the screams of her mother, the girl was angry and swung at the social worker and ran to her room and packed pillows around her, praying to return to the world of color, of parrots and rivers.

 

The second time it happened she was a couple of years older, thigh pumping a silver streak scooter down her block on a blazing July day. The SUV with college football flags flying from the antenna rounded the corner with a yip of tires and maybe that’s what made her Labrador yip back and then leap street-ward, as if to defend her. The driver was provoked by this or perhaps merely drunk and put down her beloved dog with a millimeter adjustment of his wheel. The girl sat down on a sidewalk square and soon she was underwater, but could breathe fine, twirling and jetting in the Caribbean blue, being kissed by turtles on her dimpled cheeks and tickled by tiny yellow fish along her ribcage, her legs encased in shimmering scale. When her mother scooped her up from the concrete shouting consolations into her ear, the girl screamed in reproach, broke from her mother’s arms and ran back to the sidewalk square and sat hard, staring at the dog’s broken muzzle, as if she might go back.

 

She did not go back, not again until she was a teenager and a new transfer to a suburban high school, her family having slammed behind them the haunts of their old house in the city. The girl was smart and self-directed and quiet and drew fantastical, breathtaking portraits of beautiful demons in the margins of her notebooks and earned straight A’s. She walked home with her head held high and the stares of hungry boys glanced off her shimmering helmet of jet-black hair. It was strange that she attended the party, stranger still that she followed a boy she barely knew into a basement for a shot of liquor harder than the Riesling she clutched in a paper cup. After the slog of booze—after which she planned to march straight back up the stairs and out into the spring night of manicured lawns and lightning bugs’ performance—it was already done. Whatever the ball-capped boy had dropped into her shot passed through her brain and knocked her knees out. She went that time to a tropical mountainside where she swung in a hammock, gazing out across a hazy valley, smelling orchids and hearing the laughter of children. Because when she opened her eyes all she saw were the slack jaws and cruel, pin eyes of many boys, flashes of canine teeth and tongues, she closed her own eyes again and again and was able to return to the hammock.

 

Nowadays the girl has grown into a woman and lives in the foothills of the mountains, in a large, bright house on a hill where she often doesn’t lock the door. Her twin sons are wild things, already, at the age of five, marked with hard knocks of life: falls from trees, accidentally swung sticks, door-slammed pinkies, etc. She sleeps well and dreams vividly and sometimes is sorry that dawn has come—not because she doesn’t anticipate the day ahead, but because the dream is a shame to leave.

 

Carousel

carousel

 

The light of the carousel is not kind. It’s the kind of light you’d expect in a dentist’s office, not searing down onto the fantastical hoop of painted ponies bobbing on brass poles and delighted, red-nosed toddlers. It seems that every carousel I’ve ever seen has one sleigh on it—a flat bench that might fit a small family, just in case someone not able or willing to scramble up the slick plastic side of a horse wanted aboard. I stand between two ponies, my palms on the lower backs of my son and his friend. We are directly behind the sleigh. After the first couple of revolutions, a few dozen squeals of joy from my kiddo and the dozens around us, I finally notice the woman on the sleigh. She’s wide, white-haired, somewhere amid a rocky seventy-something years. Her jacket is cheap flannel and a dusting of what might be flour rides her right shoulder. Her hair has segregated itself into greasy clumps. At her side are the rumpled, hard-held bags responsible for the ugly title that pops in my mind as flashbulbs pop around us: bag lady. She crosses one leg over the other and leans back, her slab of worn face aimed out into the night, over the heads of all the whooping, waving parents. No matter what scape the carousel presents her with—damp wall of a department store, squads of bike cops massing for an impending protest, the sixty-foot Evergreen the mall has garishly decorated, even Macy’s brilliant North Star—her expression never shifts, nor does her gaze. She takes what she’s presented with, every once in a while lifting a thick, ragged thumbnail to her teeth. She’s spent three dollars for this sleigh on this carousel. She’s spent three dollars to go around and around wrapped in cruel light with children’s laughter spilling around her. The thought that she represents the inverse of childhood, of joy feels ugly, but there it is. Maybe the carousel is a reminder to her of a long-lost child—her own, or herself. Maybe her cloudy eyes are seeing something after all. She’s a reminder, maybe, to us young parents to not just let ourselves and our children be carried round and round and round until all we are left with, like her, is memory.

The Therapist in his Garden

uprooting_weeds

To prepare, he drinks a solid bolt of midgrade whisky and pokes about until he finds his daughter’s ganja and clumsily presses in a bong toke, blowing it out the cracked window toward the garden like she must do but, unlike her, failing, half the plume turning back in on itself, stinking up the mussed bedroom, sneaking into the weave of the pink comforter. Nervous but giggling like a teen again, he all but runs to the garden now, work gloves slapping his ass from where they’re tucked in his back pocket and as he feels that, he knows he won’t be putting them on. He lands on his knees amid the wilting rhododendrons and histrionic rosebushes, always peeling brown leaves no matter the season nor the TLC lavished upon them. Rioting up the trunk of the Japanese Maple, he sees, is some kind of white rot that his wife would know how to identify but that he only knows as a mar, a threat that he wants gone. He seizes the wood and rubs up and down vigorously, laughing in an incommensurate way when he realizes he’s kneeling in his yard masturbating a sick tree. He finds the saw-leaved mops of dandelion plants and digs his fingers in beneath the roots ripping, tugging, twisting, pulling up as much soil and frizzy root and wounded potato bug as he can with each arc of his arm. When this is done there is a pile in the center of the flagstone, like a bunch of scalps. The therapist is winded, and thirsty more because of the ganja than the exertion, but he’s not ready for a break yet. This is a break, this Wednesday morning, from what he’d normally be doing and taking a break from a break makes him grimace in determination, hurl himself at the choker vines creeping over his fence from the alley like burglars. He slides out his blade and flicks it open in a motion like he’s confronting the threat, an action so simple and yet so grave, a gesture he’s only had the occasion to truly perform once in his life, decades ago in a Central American capital. It does the trick to his sympathetic nervous system and the fight, flight or freeze juice whirs in his chest; he knows he only recognizes it because of his professional training—otherwise he’d be confused by the constriction of his chest and the increased power in his muscles as they snap to, sawing and hacking through the thick brown vines, breaking them down with long tugs as well, freeing his fence entirely from their grasp by the time he has to stop to shirk his light jacket. Gazing down at the shattered wrists of the deadly, constricting plant he almost regrets his violence. Perhaps he should have been gentler in removing them from his fence, even if it had taken many times as long—after all, the choker vines aren’t any more malevolent than the Maple or the rose bushes. But then he realizes that the rose bushes will require gentleness, patience and finely attuned skill to prune, how with the rose bushes he has no choice but to touch their disease with love and so he’s glad—glad as hell—that he has summoned adrenaline and taken his blade to the stubborn knots of choker vines, that that is precisely what was indicated for their kind.

Jesus Loves You

 

53921ce387c1178a341e3a8bd97922b6

My uncle Pat was one of those guys who stood on freeway overpasses and held huge signs that read Jesus loves you. He wasn’t a batshit crazy dude, either, just seemed to really enjoy his service. My dad used to say to him—my dad being a cutthroat corporate cat, quite distinct from his brother—that from that distance Pat “couldn’t tell if they were honking to thank him or to tell him to jump.” Myself, I don’t think it ever even occurred to Pat that anyone would not like him sharing Jesus’ love with them. It might sound surprising but Pat wasn’t really out of touch or anything. He just lived real thrifty—ate at the dollar store and lived off a tiny pension from a Boeing offshoot where he manufactured something for twenty years. But Pat was one of the first to get the new iPhones when they came out and you’d see him up there, waving his Jesus sign a little wonky because he was checking something out online, in his palm. Well, Pat got so interested in the world of social media that one day he decided to paint a hashtag on his sign right in front of the message–#jesuslovesyou. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that Pat though it would be funny, dynamic and that just maybe he’d get something trending on Twitter that would actually broaden the circle of the Lord’s love. Of course, what Pat got was a pileup of cars just north of his overpass within two hours of painting his sign with that hashtag, a steel pretzel scream of an accident that sent no fewer than three commuters to the love of the Lord. You might think that Pat would be traumatized, or charged with a crime or else just too full of guilt and sorrow to go on. You’d think maybe that he’d take a dive off that overpass after all. But that didn’t happen. Pat whited out the hashtag, put his phone on airplane mode, and stood splay-legged on that overpass, waving that sign at the interstate five days a week for the rest of his life. That’s faith, I guess.

The Traveling Ashes

australia-wildfire-1

 

When the fires began nobody was thinking about ashes. When the fires began everyone was thinking about flames. To be more direct, everyone was thinking about what those flames would do to them or their loved ones or their house or their stash of ganja or fine merlots if given the chance to get that close. And get that close the flames did. They licked towns like dogs lick paws, but with none of the Zen focus. On the contrary, the licking of the towns in the valley—which was formed by a radical V of highly incendiary scrub pine and brush lands—was chaotic and loud. People speak of natural disasters as separate entities: flood, earthquake, tsunami, etc. What only people who have been licked by wildfire know is that fires are more than fires, they are also storms. When the skies darkened more fully at 5 p.m. than they would normally at midnight that July afternoon, the preview couldn’t have been more clear. And that was the horrific thing: dark skies were the preview and before anyone had time to suck one last full breath of summer air, their lungs were constricted by acrid smoke, red hot embers whirled in tornado gusts around their heads and the heat index soared as fast as the hawks abandoning roosts—babies and all—for the east. The hawks were the first ones to carry the ash away.

The Return

searchpongo logo 2 copy

 

October 6th, 2014, 12:03, CSTC

 

On my way down Steilacoom Boulevard, approaching Western State Hospital and CSTC, I was listening to a podcast about a man who discovered as an adult that his mysterious father was most likely the Zodiac killer that rained horror on the country for decades, torturing and slaughtering dozens of people. His story was inconclusive; the man will never meet his father because he died twenty years ago. The soundtrack of the podcast kicked on as I turned onto the campus: the razor wire winking in the middle distance, the dilapidated cottages that front the place, seemingly abandoned, the drab landscape of insitutionalism. Fat Canadian Geese tried to block my way, like protesters but rather poorly organized. Inside of the school, I knew, were children—children with wild imaginations, bright if sometimes shattered eyes, children with stories to tell and poems to write, about fantasies, about traumas and about hopes. The clank and mutter of staff managing the morning’s crises greeted me at the abandoned front desk; a young man shouted obscenities from a quiet room. There is so much life and love to be celebrated here. I can’t imagine the weight of turning keys all day nor of hearing the deadbolt drop. They will kick walls and scream, many of these children, maybe a few less if we can reach back, down, inward, forward or up for the language that will make violence evaporate. For the words on the page that staunch bleeding in the mind. Another life is possible for these children, but unlike the son of the Zodiac killer, they don’t get to grow up in ignorance. Can we help carve the edges off the awful things they already know? Can we pull those things out of them like tumors?

FLASH DANCE OF CLASS WARFARE HEADLINES

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.14.04 PM bilde Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.14.35 PM search-1 search

You know how it is (if you’re a distracted political junkie like me): you catch snippets.  A CNN headline while you’re whipping up rice for your toddler or an NPR utterance while you’re merging into the morass of shitty Seattle drivers on Mercer.  Or a more sustained report of outrageous stuff if you’re commuting and listening to Democracy Now!  These things have come to me this way, in snippets:

A billionaire, Tom Perkins, in an op-ed to the WSJ, clearly and shamelessly likens the treatment of the wealthy in America (by the masses and the media) to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis.

Link

A sixteen-year-old Texan teen, Ethan Couch, kills four people drinking and driving and avoids any jail time whatsoever.  The judge insists that the defense psychologist’s “affluenza” argument (meaning the kid always got what he wanted and never faced consequences, so, hey, how could he be held accountable?) had no bearing on her decision.

Link

Robert H. Richards IV, a DuPont heir, pleads guilty to raping his 3 year-old daughter, avoids any jail time whatsoever, and now is coming clean about the likelihood of having raped his 19 month old son.

Link

As a person who grew up with divorced parents—a clever, entrepreneurial father who was nonetheless always living off loans and beyond his means and struggling, and a very wealthy but militantly progressive mother who felt that my privilege meant I should attend inner city schools and get a job at 14—I have some feelings here.

In the past I have considered writing a response to Mr. Perkins, or perhaps an open letter to him.  Because here’s the wildest aspect of it: if you dig deep enough, look hard enough, presume enough good intention and sound intellect in Mr. Perkins, you can cobble together a point—or at least I can: OWS, the 99% and the “progressive moment” (whatever the F that means nowadays) would do well to not demonize the 1%.  They would do far better to identify those in the 1% that are allies and embrace them and to cultivate others who might become allies did they not feel, to some extent, demonized for their wealth.  Don’t like rich people?  Really?  Even if we assume that by some twisty-turny radical logic that’s somehow not bigotry, my mother has done as much for sincerely progressive causes (think the Sandinista Revolution) as any of her working class peers and more than many.  The world needs more rich people like my mother. I won’t bother to address the paranoid and self-righteous absurdity of Mr. Perkins’ intimations that the 1% might be slaughtered by the hordes.  I’m just trying to lend him a hand toward a valid point. Perhaps that is misguided.

More to the point, however, Mr. Perkins and others in the 1% should profoundly consider the effects of high-profile 24 hour news cycle cases like those of Ethan Couch and Robert H. Richards IV.  Because therein lies the most stark correction to their fears: the “progressive movement” or OWS or “the 99%,” inasmuch as they’re “demonizing” the wealthy, aren’t doing so necessarily out of intolerant hatred of “success.”  Or even, necessarily, a sizzling critique of the capitalist system that creates people like Mr. Perkins.  They may be doing so out of moral outrage that we live in a system that not only facilitates the vast accumulation of wealth for those that already have it, but then shamelessly allows them protection for crimes no less than murder and child rape while people who toil to put inadequate food on their families’ tables go to jail for possessing a joint.

Link

RETURN TO PITZER: LA NOSTALGIA ME PISA LOS TACONES

 

IMG_8330 IMG_8336

What is nostalgia?  I’m not even sure I’m trying to define the right word.  It’s the closest that I can come to the sentiment blowing around inside of me.  It could be that I latched onto the concept of nostalgia because I once read in a Spanish novel, “la nostalgia me pisaba los tacones.”  Literally: nostalgia stepped on my heels.  I reproduce that in English verbally as often as is moderately appropriate.  Sometimes people chuckle, sometimes they nod approvingly (or knowingly), and sometimes they allow their bafflement to show.  It feels right to me anyway—this thing, properly identified as nostalgia or not, does indeed step on my heels in certain contexts.  Such as this: a return to my college campus to read alongside the famous poet Amy Gerstler (also an alum) to launch an open mic of faculty and students on a hot February evening.  Fourteen years have passed since I last darkened the doorway of McConnell Hall—or any other doorway of Pitzer College for that matter. 

            I arrived early to stalk the commons and stare in stupefaction at the dorm I lived in, which remains unchanged.  The odd desert tree that I once spent hours in the limbs of, wonked on a pill of unclear origin, shouting at classmates below to “cut off their thumbs and get back in the trees!”  The fountain, spouting faithfully over the naked torsos of young people as it ever did.  The color shock murals of ethnic and psychedelic celebration.  The clock tower, now adorned with a long banner of a photo of a beloved professor—for the occasion of the schools’ 50th anniversary (which accounts for my invitation here). 

            It’s easy to conjecture that the sweet, haunting pain I felt was due to the fact that I was to read from my memoir, which chronicles the decade of friendship I shared with a woman whom I first met not 100 yards from the lectern I stood at, that this place is so hopelessly imbued with her.  I read passages that took place in the acres surrounding us, to at least three professors who also loved her deeply but knew little of her end. 

            But it’s something more than that.  As I strolled with unspent tears in my chest and a strange half-smile on my face, watching impossibly young liberals flirt and Frisbee, taking photos and texting them to my equally ancient friends—some still close and some not so—the feeling spread and bloomed, invisible spores floating on the Santa Ana winds.  So, it’s also this: that I was back in a place where I was young and my friend who shared this place with me just left his wife.  I was young and now I have a four-year-old son, 3,000 miles away and as unreachable as the moon (only for a few weeks).  I was young and now I have two Master’s degrees, neither of which I am certain will guide me to a sense of home as strong as I felt sitting again on the quad.  I was young and now I hadn’t seen the girl I loved most (in a traditional, romantic sense) back then in nine years.

            I called her and she answered.  She was kind and quiet and somehow knew, as if my voice banging off multiple satellites and hitting her ear across the bulge of America communicated all that I’m failing to on this page.  I caught my tears in my throat and told her I loved her and spoke of a future reunion where she would meet my wife and child.  And then I erased my cheeks with a handkerchief, turned my back on the glorious, poisoned sunset, and went inside the hall to resurrect the past, to excavate it for the explanations of my tears and smile. 

imgres IMG_8333

 

Richard Sherman & Macklemore: Seattle Raises Race

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 8.59.15 PM

You can’t tell me otherwise—I’ve lived in and traveled through too many other sections of this nation: people think of Seattle as a “white” city.  And with good reason.  In 2010 the census put as at 69.5% whitey—though 33.7% people of color, however that works.  Secondarily people think of Seattle as Asian, also with good reason given our historical influx of Vietnamese, Japanese and Pacific Islanders and the robust and colorful “Chinatown” they brought with them.  But for white boys like me who grew up attending inner city schools in Seattle, it’s always been a little bit schizophrenic to consider our city “white” because our experience was anything but.  Even if the majority of Garfield High was white in 1995, for example, Garfield was considered a “black” school—in large part due to its location in the Central District, its fierce athletic and music departments, etc.   It was also known—and still is to some—as “the slave ship,” due to the AP and predominately white classrooms located on the top floor.  More to the point, inasmuch as hip-hop culture is identified with black culture (much more so when I was a kid) that was the dominant and “cool” culture that we all came up with.  By definition, being a white boy and being popular in the schools I attended presented challenges (I don’t mean to imply that it presented more challenges than being black in America).  So there was always something that bugged me about the impression of Seattle as a white city, awash in sonic waves of Nirvana, packed full of limp-wristed, pale people that inhabited dark coffee shops (where I sit right now typing).  I don’t think I was the only white boy to come out of that academic/social experience constantly managing the temptation to say, “not the Seattle I know” when people generalized or guessed at our culture in far-flung cities. 

 

Anyway, I say all of this just to frame the irony that Seattle, in the last ten days, has produced the two individuals and the two incidents that provide the most useful fuel for discussion of race—particularly racism against blacks—that I’ve seen in a long time: Richard Sherman’s interview after the Seahawks’ win against the 49ers and Macklemore’s commentary about walking off with all the Grammies last night.  More to the point, I’m proud—proud that these two famous Seattleites (ok, I know Richard Sherman’s from Compton) have led the way in pushing hard on the nuances of race and racism in their respective industries. 

 

Sherman’s inspired soliloquy after he outclassed the San Francisco offense as well as his eloquent press conference have been properly dissected in the media already, most impressively, I think, by Dave Zirin.  I love it: Sherman doesn’t waste any words: “thug” is the new way to use the N word.  And what better evidence of the broad blindness of American racism than the fact that this man who’s being called a “thug” is a Stanford grad and deeply invested in service to his community, in addition to, as he said in his moment of thrall, “the best” at what he does on the field.  The fact that a broad swath of America could watch Richard Sherman celebrate the win with panache and joy and see only an angry black “thug” underlines either how unfamiliar most of this country is with black culture or points to the fact that any “black” behavior is “thuggish.” 

 

Macklemore was polite at the Grammies last night and he failed to make any political statements under the limelight.  But just after he texted and tweeted and did all those things he does so well about how Kendrick Lamar had been “robbed.”  Implicit in this message is that Macklemore understands that his race had more than a little to do with the sweep of awards he made. When Macklemore released “white privilege” all those years ago, some people yawned, some people snickered, some people hated, some people nodded.  And I admit that I was suspicious about the transparency of what he was doing on that track—standing on white privilege to decry it seemed  ideologically tautological.  But then again, how else do you do it?  Make an indie-alt record?  Dude is a b-boy, by any measure.  At any rate, at least to my mind, Macklemore’s messages on social media last night mark his integrity and his awareness of the mindfuck of racism in the hip-hop industry more fully than any track he could write and sell about it. 

 

So it’s a validating if frigid and foggy January morning for me—to see that at least for the moment national conversations about race are emanating from Seattle, and they are not laced with the inoculating agents of political correctness or expediency.  Go Hawks; rock on, Ben (Macklemore).  Maybe at this rate Garfield High School won’t always be known as “the slave ship” in the neighborhood.  

MOONLIGHT FALLS, TOO

search

 

I walked out of Antioch University about 45 minutes ago, for all intents and purposes, a Master of Psychology, insofar as many thousands of dollars and books and lectures can make you one.  It was nice, though, to sit in a room one last time full of colleagues—some ten of us out of the fifteen in the consultation were finishing—and feel it.  What I mean is that it’s not the dollars spent and tomes read and penciled through and lectures duly short-handed.  Mastery is a fallacy, an antiquated choice of words that confers something both more than and totally different from what we have acquired.  What we’ve acquired is mostly understanding of ourselves and our relationships, especially of how pain works.

 

Our instructor asked us to share pieces of wisdom with the two people in the room who were just this quarter starting their clinical work.  What I found myself saying, after I ducked the pressure to say something clinically “useful,” was that you start to look at pain differently.  The same horror and trauma that devastated me the first quarter inspires me, if not in equal parts to the devastation, than at least to some measure, now.  Sitting with kids’ agony and legacies of abuse and maltreatment calls my attention now to their resilience.  To their pride.  To their strength and survival.  The debilitating sadness—or anger—that played behind the stories of abuse and shame has been cut down by another sound that comes at a different pitch but is unmistakably, irrevocably present. I realize how naïve it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how useless it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how unethical it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how inevitable it is to look at people as victims and to feel like victims ourselves. I realize how indispensable it is to change the way we look at people, at ourselves.  And for me that has only come from the mandate to sit face to face in small, airless rooms with troubled people for the last sixty-five weeks. 

 

I want to say some more about this.  I want to say some more about why as a society we need to see people as victims.  For a very long time I saw myself headed into human rights work but was somehow waylaid by the siren song of writing, which produced a spectacular stumble, from which I recovered to find myself standing semi-upright in the world of psychology/therapy.  And for a very a short time now I’ve been able to see that I am in human rights’ work—that abuse, addiction, mental illness and the traumas they produce are very commonly about oppression.  If we hurl this into the political realm, we hear right wing politicians talking about “entitlement programs” and people looking for “handouts.”  What they mean is that people have a “victim mentality,” which, by implication, is simply un-American.  If we jump over to the progressive side, we encounter people who would never use the callus language or strike the callus pose of their supposed ideological foes, but people whom see a world rife with victims, too.   Victims of genocide, slavery, institutional racism, police brutality, educational inequity, imperialism and colonialism—in short, of oppression.  And of course it is true that people are victimized by these savage legacies their vicious ghost dance in the midst of which we all live. 

 

But I’ve come now to ask myself whether one conception of victimhood is any better than the other.  Insofar as reality is interpersonal and transactional, very empathic, progressive people can easily reinforce internalized notions of victimhood by overemphasizing the trauma and injustice that others have been subjected to, whether in a macro way—slavery and its legacy—or in a micro way—an abusive, disturbed mother and absent father.  When I look at a kid like S (one of my most maltreated clients) now, I don’t see a victim and I don’t think it and I don’t, therefore, communicate that to him.  He has taught me that, like all of us, he contains multitudes, but more importantly that the identity at the forefront is survivor.  He has taught me how to look at him and as a result I can serve him and build with him on his resilience and strength to a far greater degree than if I were straight-jacketed by the horror and injustice he’s been subjected to.  (Of course, on a macro level, reactionary ideology will all too easily manipulate anecdotes like this to their benefit by insisting that cutthroat policies of “entitlement programs” (social service) slaughter is aimed thusly: at the notion that people can’t be coddled, lest they internalize victimhood.  We must remember that reactionaries are not interested in liberation and therefore have ulterior motives). 

 

But both ends of the spectrum need victims—that’s what I was starting to say!  The ideology of the right needs victims because they need someone to blame, the need for an “other” to galvanize the increasingly fractured ranks.  The Mexican that steals your job and the black man that ogles and perhaps rapes your wife and the Arab that attacked your way of life and the queer that wants to tutor your kid.  There has never been a society that existed without leaders’ effective use of this “other” strategy.  And the ideology of the left—especially the most privileged left—needs victims because it gives us a way to feel morally superior—as long as we can identify the impacts of oppression, we are more human than those who would deny it (which is true, but being more human than right wing reactionaries isn’t a very high bar).  And at least some portion of us will therefore take action—even if it’s only by voting—to kick some ballast into the picture, support programs and policies that benefit the oppressed.  Which also, then, allows us to shudder and close our eyes and wave our hands in front of our faces when we hear of the horrors of oppression—we don’t have to hear it, we know, we know, and that’s why we support Obama and a hike in the minimum wage.

 

So I guess maybe the “progressive” conception of victimhood via oppression is the best we’ve got.  It’s better than seeing the inheritors of oppression as inferior, weaker, less than or deserving of their lot.  But it’s not the best conception we could have.  A better conception, maybe, has to do with recognizing that moonlight falls, too.  As I walk away from this chapter in my life, which I thought was about learning how to identify mental illness and “treat it,” I realize I’ve learned, mostly, one simple cognitive lesson: When we hear horror stories of abuse, trauma, oppression in all its forms, we must recognize that the fact that someone is alive, right there in front of us—in our therapy session or on CNN—to tell us about it is in fact the luminescence of resilience, pride, survival, strength and, yes, beauty.