On Not Knowing Where it's Going to Take You ...
When I began my memoir about 4 years ago, I had no idea where my ideas would take me… All I knew was that I had to tell a story and get it into book form. My first instinct was to write a series of travel essays that would tell the world what my eclectic and cultured life looked like. Before too long, I realized I had to allow members of my family, people who had populated my childhood and so on, to make an appearance. It seemed that they were asking for it. What was really happening was that as I looked clearly and carefully at what I loved and valued in my current life, travel being the most significant, I saw that it all came about because of the accumulated causes and conditions of my 70 year old life, which meant that my family and my past played a big part. And so it evolved… Chapters became little mosaics of present and past experience as I tried to communicate just WHY I found myself in Bhutan, or Paris, or Vietnam… Such an adventure that was - and is.
I have been thinking a lot these days about women and sexual harassment. In particular I have become distressed that our male dominated culture trivializes the oppression of women, even though we have a number of grand examples of powerhouse women out there in the public sphere. We have been a patriarchal society since the days of the Founding Fathers, after all. Right now there is a smug, ruddy-faced man being considered for the Supreme Court who is accused of attempted rape in his high school days. And yes, he is smug - and smart. And yes, we do not know right now what his story he might tell about this particular occurrence. What we do know is that he has been less than open and generous with his responses so far, and occasionally has lied under oath. A young woman has been gutsy enough to come forward and share an excruciating memory from her past, to tell the honest truth about it, and for that she is being handled in what I would call a less than respectful and compassionate way. I have learned that anyone’s experience of past trauma becomes an indelible memory in the psyche. You don’t forget these things though you may forget where and exactly when they happened. I believe this.
Why do I believe it? Because I experienced trauma - not of this sort, but trauma nevertheless, and my memories of being abandoned by my mother at age 7 or 8 are deeply and vividly engraved into my consciousness. As I have come to understand the ramifications of trauma, my heart has opened wide to embrace those who have suffered deeply as children. The children separated from parents at our border recently are some recent examples of serious trauma; they will never escape from that sense of abandonment and cruelty for the rest of their lives.
What does all this make me think of? I am remembering living in Taos, New Mexico in the late 90’s, a time where women were routinely brutally abused by men, sometimes left to rot on mountain hillsides after being raped and stabbed. Taos is a small town, it was born out of the Latino culture, one in which women were often treated like possessions. Taos is also one of the poorest communities in the United States, where young people drink themselves into oblivion because of their feeling of hopelessness, and where property owners randomly shoot and kill domestic animals for sport. The judicial system in this town was controlled by such men, as was the police force, so there was little opportunity for justice to be done in the case of these brutal events. I lived and worked there for over 12 years, and because it was a small town, and because I was a woman, I felt hugely vulnerable. I didn’t know how to relate to men I ran into at the gas station or the hardware store or at the local tavern. I told my partner how I felt about it, and he responded that it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it was. BUT, he was a man. Of course. On the one hand, I loved this community for its artistic heritage, openness, Indian culture, and its magnificent physical beauty, but in the end I needed to leave because I felt I was not safe there.
Women need to think of safety. And so do men. But for women there is a disadvantage: the cards are stacked against us still, all these year after women’s rights have enabled improvements across the social spectrum. Dr. Ford, the woman who claimed that Judge Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school, is taking a courageous step which puts her at serious risk — risk of condemnation and ridicule by portions of our society, and risk of hatred coming her way for being the brave person she is. Having revealed her dark story, she can no longer retreat or move away, she must stand up and offer the truth in the hopes of opening the door for so many women like herself. I send her prayers and blessings, not only in my own name but in the name of all women who feel or have felt at risk in our authoritarian and judgmental society.