Twas the night before..

Flying out tomorrow to Massachusetts.  Have most of my stuff packed.  Am looking forward to a nice visit with family for Christmas.  It’s always weird “going back.”  There’s all the questions it raises — the question of belonging, as in where do I belong, where would I be happiest.  There’s the question of me — who am I?  Texan or Massachusetts guy?  This open question thing has been there awhile.  Before Texas and the doctorate and teaching and research, it was Iraq and Germany and the Army and deployments.  What is home?  Before that it was switching towns, switching schools, new this, new that.

The answer I settle on is it’s all water flowing in the river.  There is nowhere to “go back” to, because that place is gone.  The longer I live the more I believe that.  And it isn’t just “out there” that is changing, it’s also inside.  I’m not the same, and couldn’t have stayed so if I tried.  Can’t even remember that much, sort of like a comet with pieces flying off the main body and drifting out into empty untraceable space.  Just have a few things that come to mind if I try to remember.

What do I remember?  I guess usually the same few things, with the occasional recent addition.  Sort of a candidacy period with a new memory.  See how it hangs.  Anyway, the standard memories are shameful things for the most part, sort of a moral to-do list, though for most of them there isn’t any obvious thing I can do to fix.   So they linger there.  Some of them will be reinvigorated, more up-close-and-personal, being back in Massachusetts for a bit.  One thing that draws me back more than anything is a hopeful curiosity that something in these visits will change or transform these lingering memories into something different, less dead-end.  Probably won’t even notice for some time if that ever does happen.  Hard to separate it all out.  Lots of moving parts, when a part of your perspective is altered, and something that used to bother you doesn’t as much anymore.

On a brighter note, going back is an in-between-chapters-of-real-life sort of experience.  In that sense, it’s a sort of freedom, similar to Schiller’s idea of play being a sort of freedom.  It’s when everything becomes less determinant, less logical and serious.  The flow of “the river” slows down, and you’re suddenly just floating there, a comet coming to rest.  Disorientated.  Out of place.  But also free in a way.  Real yet still, simply, coming into being.

Response to Ms. Ramirez’ “My Family Roles”

I love the topic of family roles for my blog because the family unit is such a fundamental element of society.  Outside of public institutions, the family is primarily where good neighbors, voters, and future parents are formed.  What came through in a conversation with Margarita after she posted “Family Roles” is that the clash between traditional and modern is really a clash over who knows best.  Modern culture suggests that we know what is best for ourselves as individuals.  Traditional culture suggests that what is best for everyone is revealed in the patterns of common experience.  So whereas Margarita’s experience is real and concrete, I just want to offer a couple of thoughts, viewing the issue somewhat more abstractly.

First of all, there should be no denying that older people are more experienced, that they have learned lessons we have yet to learn, and that the knowledge that age brings with it is invaluable.  Yet we often do deny it, and the main reason why is because we younger, more modern, generations believe that their knowledge is unimportant for several reasons.  We think much of their knowledge is circumstantial, and that what worked in the 1970s is not necessarily going to work in the 2010s, yet they push it on us anyways.  Their views are seen as prejudicial, rooted in an older worldview that is insufficiently appreciative of diversity, tolerance, and authenticity.  And they understand life itself incorrectly when they mock the necessary explorations and experimentations individuals must all personally engage in if they are to discover what truly makes them happy.

On the other hand, while these critiques certainly matter, it all comes back to the value of experience.  Yes, experience has to be properly interpreted, and there are quite enough of “old fools” out there to prove that age does not automatically bestow a crown of wisdom and virtue.  But the present also has to be properly interpreted, and there should be little argument that it is the here and now that is harder to understand correctly than is the past, if only because we have had less time to think about it.

The other overwhelmingly important consideration is that in the here and now, our passions rule.  Before the expression “love is love” became so popular, I used to hear “love is blind” far more often.  And there is a tension between the two sayings.  If love is blind, then sometimes love is headed in the right direction, and sometimes it is not.  If love is love, then the implication is either the neutral claim that love has no “right and wrong” to it, or the more optimistic view that love always moves us in the right direction.  Both of these seem off to me.

What our traditional culture is trying to do when it pushes its wisdom regarding love and relationships on us is to impart sight into a largely blind force.  It is to reject the often misleading thought that “love is love.”  It is to save us from our near-sighted, impassioned selves.  And, even if sometimes misguided, it makes sense why it is trying to do so.  It is itself an act of love, an expression of the hopes and sympathies felt by the older for the younger, and especially the good will, concern and protective instincts of parents for their children both young and old.

GUEST BLOG: By Margarita Maria Ramirez, “My Family Roles: Traditional South American vs. Modern”

Three years ago, I went from just being a daughter to being both a wife and a daughter. A few months ago, I went from just being a wife and a daughter to being also a mom. It has surprised me how much these “status” changes got my mind turning on their meaning and what do they entail. That is why, when Bruce invited me to do a guest post for his blog, this was almost the first thing that came to our minds. It is not my intention to make this post too personal, but rather to voice some thoughts I have had lately and some insights from conversations we have had here at home, as well as to hear what has been your take on this matter.

traditionalfamily

 

One thing that has shocked me the most is to recognize the potential for tension between these three roles I now have. Depending on how you view them, they can even be like oil and water. At one point you were only a daughter, and you had some dynamics with your parents. In a matter of seconds, a new person has—or will have—those same dynamics with you. In a matter of seconds, I felt that the role of a daughter that I had was wrong. I felt that I had to re-invent those dynamics that I had with my parents. But to what? For what? It was even more shocking to realize that I was thinking about that. No one told me you get that, but rather I believed it was a process that moves with the same flow of a river. I also had this same feeling, of the need to re-invent myself, the night before Bruce and I got married. Yet, with Magnolia’s birth the feeling returned and stronger. I think the change is good, I believe it is healthy to reconsider points of view and make the changes; yet, changes are hard.

See, I am from South America, where families have a more traditional structure. In addition, I believe I was raised in a very traditional house. The dad is the breadwinner, while the mom stays at home to take care of the kids and the house. The kids are very respectful (and do not speak much their mind) to their parents, and parents have a strong influence on them throughout their life.

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The traditional structure worked well for my family, but being outside the house I realize that these traditional roles can clash with non-traditional approaches. For example, encouraging family members to have intertwined roles and duties in the family, and to be more independent and non-conformist, is the opposite of having clear and separate roles and duties. To connect this with the beginning, the role of daughter, wife and mom under a traditional family, for me have sometimes clashed with the role of a daughter, wife and mother in a more modern structure. I have found them incompatible, and I have personally found it hard to get to the middle sweet spot, where I get the best from both worlds. I really enjoy feeling that I take care of Bruce and Magno, of the food, and of the details from the house. I also enjoy doing things with Bruce, as opposed to alongside him, and talking to him as my friend about my feelings and fears.