Friday, April 06, 2007

Things that have scared me

and scarred me. I've been thinking about writing about this ever since What Now's fabulous response to a meme circulating which asked people to list ten things people don't know about them. Somehow What Now's ended up being, in part, about several of her (delightfully eccentric) childhood-into-adulthood anxieties-everything from doing time to being whacked by the mafia. I've wanted to do a similar post for a while now.

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1. BYU. Just when I've coaxed myself into believing it only exists in my distant past, there as a rich source of anecdotes with which I can amuse friends and colleagues, something reminds me that it's still there, still educating LDS youth, matching them with their eternal mates, and sending them (the men, or priesthood holders, in Mormon-speak) off to law and mba programs among the "gentiles," as Mormons call anyone who isn't Mormon, including, you got it, Jewish people. Today it was this link, courtesy of The Great Whatsit.

It's been twenty years since I started school there and I still can't wrap my head around the version of Mormonism I found there. For example, Mormons being predominantly Republican. Who knew? I never got that memo, and neither had any of my dyed-in-the-wool Democrat relatives. Honestly, I didn't even have an inkling until a new college friend gasped in horror as I pretended to tear up her Elect George H. Bush bumper sticker. I just assumed she had it as a joke. And don't even get me started on the time I found out Mormons aren't allowed to be pro-choice. . . (p.s. The school's logo has been changed since I graduated. It no longers says "The Glory of God is Intelligence," because, you know, many are learned who think they are wise.)

2. Monstro, the whale from Pinnochio
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I found better representations than this, but this was the most I could handle. Even image-searching Monstro freaked me out, and my heart is pounding and I feel the familiar dread resting across my shoulders even as I write this. This is one of my oldest and most lingering fears. (Old women and the wolf from The Three Little Pigs are older, but I got over them.) I never even saw the movie, only a clip from it at Disney on Ice, but that was enough. Nothing could talk me out of my fear, not explanations that whales don't hurt people, and that even if they did, they couldn't hurt you on dry land, or talks about the difference between real life and a cartoon. When we went to Disneyland (several times a year, since I'm from O.C.) my dad would spank me and force me to look at the giant cement Monstro which served as the offical gateway to Fantasyland, believing that if I faced my fears, I could conquer them. At four, this was a pretty ineffective strategy, and I'd wake up more nights than not screaming about whales. My parents had a big coffee table book of The Art of Walt Disney which had a two page spread just of Monstro's eye, with Jiminy Cricket floating past it with his umberella. One of my babysitters used to taunt me with that. He'd say, "come here and look at this beautiful picture of Cinderella," and then when I got near him he'd flip open to the picture of the eye. Cool that he got paid to do that. This has been on my mind a lot lately because of a chapter in Jacqui Alexander's newest book, Pedagogies of Crossing. I have an epiphanic, spiritual post brewing in me, where I'll explain the connection, but not today.

I used to have a reoccuring nightmare that I was sitting on my dad's lap watching Pinnochio, and when it got to the whale part I would realize that everyone in the theater had turned into a whale. Then I'd turn to my dad for comfort and realize that he was a whale, too.

Which brings me to . . .

3. My father. I'm really not interested in using this space to talk about my relationship with my dad. Like so many people, it's fraught and complicated and impossible. I'm the only one of my siblings who currently talks to him and that's because I just think it's easier to have an amicable, shallow phone relationship with him than to be involved in a drawn-out not-talking-to-him drama. I talk to him several times a year, he tells me about Rotary Club and the goings on at church--assiduously avoiding asking me anything about my life--and I listen and laugh politely and go back to my life. I think my sisters are really invested in this idealized image of what a father should be, and they can't stop being hurt that he's not like that. I just don't believe in it, probably because I'm the oldest and remember the best what life was like when he was around. Sometimes men ejeculate sperm, and it makes a human. Period. End of connection. Get over it.

But check this out: the last time my dad and stepmother (who's great, really. I adore her.) visited me was about 13 years ago, when I was in grad school and still married. He often says he's going to come visit. Last fall, for example, he swore he was driving across the midwest to pickup a boat motor in Wisconsin (I don't understand it either. Don't ask.) but fall came and went and he never showed and never mentioned it again. So when he started saying he was coming to visit this spring, I only half listened, assuming a) that it wouldn't happen and b) that if it did I'd have plenty of notice. Yesterday I got an email saying that they were coming the week of the sixteenth and wanted to check with my schedule. I wrote back saying that week in May would work just fine--I would cancel any meetings and start figuring out what kind of things we would do. He wrote back and said, you misunderstand, I mean April . . .

People, that's next week!!!!!!!!!!! I'm mid-quarter, have a formal review due in a couple of weeks, two panel proposals to write, meetings almost every day, etc. I can't even have my house clean by next week! And I don't know if they think they're staying here. They don't usually, but what if this is the exception? I don't know how to ask because if they weren't thinking of staying here, now they will.

What I'm really worried about is upsetting the equilibrium I've worked so hard to maintain over the past several years. When you piss off my dad, he stops talking to you and then there's drama, and if you want to resume contact you have to grovel. I like the shallow, superficial relationship we have. Anyway, the easy answer is, if he can't respect that I have a full life and need more advance notice before a visit, losing him isn't such a loss, and I shouldn't stress about it. Maybe this time I won't grovel. Maybe this time it will be forever. I'll try to make peace with the loss and maybe figure out a way to be zen about it. Acch. Whatever.


Anonymous What Now? said...

Goodness, I'm glad my little ol' post inspired this interesting post!

So, the whole whale eye thing -- The story of your dad's spanking you in the theme park so you could, I don't know, become a better person or something, so reminded me of one of my own formative theme park experiences, when my mom and her new boyfriend took my brother and me (aged probably 11/12 and 13/14 respectively) to our local amusement park. And the boyfriend thought it was ridiculous that my brother and I didn't want to go on roller-coasters, were in fact afraid of the roller-coasters. And my mom was so embarrassed in front of BF that she yelled at us and MADE us go on a roller-coaster, I guess so as to save face in front of BF. (There was a whole class difference issue, and my family were the hothouse intellectual effetes in the equation.) So we waited in a long line and went on the roller-coaster, of which I still have vivid memories because my brother freaked out completely and tried to climb out of the car and I spent the entire time wrapping my arms around him and telling him it was all going to be okay. Yikes, I tear up just thinking about it, and this is more than 25 years ago. Years later, he was diagnosed with major inner-ear problems that make all heights agony for him, so there you go. All of which is to say that theme parks give me the willies even now, and I counter-culturally think of them as family-unfriendly.

Whew. Enough about me. I totally get you on the wanting to maintain a shallow equilibrium with your dad (which is the way I enjoy my own filial/paternal relationship), and for me the question boils down to, How long will they stay? My own father has been known to take me out for dinner once if he's in town, and I've now adopted that model and have dinner with him once whenever I'm in his town, and it actually winds up being fairly little fuss. We meet in a restaurant (no cleaning or cooking required) and then say our good-byes. Is such a model feasible in your case? And will GF be in town, or is that a whole 'nother issue with him?

6:45 PM  
Anonymous What Now? said...

I have realized in the last day or two that I sometimes leave bizarrely long comments, having entirely misjudged the genre of the blog comment. Apologies for the length of the above.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

I love your comments. They're interesting. Don't second guess yourself. And what is it about amusement parks? They're absolutely sinister. The happiest place on earth. Yeah, right.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous DaveB said...

I talk to him several times a year, he tells me about Rotary Club and the goings on at church--assiduously avoiding asking me anything about my life--and I listen and laugh politely and go back to my life.

This line is almost exactly how I describe my relationship with my own dad. I like that you've made your peace with the relationship. I keep wishing mine were not so superficial, but maybe I should give that up.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, tell us what happened....please.

12:15 AM  

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