Monday, December 14, 2009
To Jonathan Omer-Man
I stood alone at the foot of Sinai,
A stranger among my people.
There was one who called my name,
And we stood together at the foot of Sinai,
But my strangeness came between us.
I gave him my love on the Day of the Covenant—
He never knew what door it was he closed against me,
Or what was broken with my heart.
I turned away from him on the Day of Atonement,
Not giving, not asking forgiveness,
And away from the shadow of Sinai.
“It was your world!” I told him in despair.
Then there was a long silence.
I never told him that Sinai itself
Was his world, not mine—
I found nothing that day to deny it.
I have wandered now for twenty years,
Burdened with a twofold love and hate,
And God at last has thrown the gauntlet down.
By the ancient right of my people
I answer challenge for challenge,
Daring God to compare the weight
Of my grief against my treason.
Now it is the season of the Covenant,
And I have written him a letter
Not giving, not asking forgiveness;
Only knowing for the first time
That God’s justice and mercy are one.
Now I stand bruised but unfallen,
Awaiting the Day of Atonement,
The gauntlet in my hand,
Awaiting an answer to my letter,
Awaiting the blessing of God
Upon my battered arrogance—
A stranger among my people,
A daughter of Israel at last.
© 2009 by Linda S. Sang
I have had to come so far away from it in order to understand it all.
This poem was written sometime in late May or early June 1984. It has no direct connection with my sister’s death on May 18th of that year, although there are a great many indirect connections. I can’t remember now whether I wrote “Unsent Letters” first or “Gevurah,” but there couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks between them. “Gevurah” commemorates an intense process of reassessment that was going on at about the same time. It’s hard to say when that process began—maybe a couple of months before my sister’s death. Although I wouldn’t have put it this way at the time, I now recognize that period as the time of my second initiation.
Maiden, Mother, Crone: I have experienced three major initiations in my life, corresponding to the three phases of the moon, the three stages of a woman’s life, the three faces of the Goddess. All of them unfolded over a period of about four months. They were not ceremonial initiations, although I’ve also experienced a few of those in more than one spiritual tradition. Judaism wasn’t one of them. But Judaism— specifically, my own experience of Judaism--was at the epicenter of all three of the inner initiations. After a real initiation, you can no more go back to being who you were before than a butterfly can go back into its cocoon. I’m grateful to Clarissa Pinkola Estes for giving me the language to talk about initiations, and for making it possible for me to recognize my third initiation even as it was unfolding. But that was many years after I wrote this poem.
On Yom Kippur 1964, when I was eighteen years old, I stood in the courtyard of a suburban Reform temple and silently made the vow spoken under duress, the Marrano vow. Of course it was many years before I realized I had done that. To this day, I can’t be sure whether what I did was a sin or not, although I’m inclined to the belief that it wasn’t. What still impresses me the most about that moment is its absolute inevitability. I can’t conceive of any alternate reality where something very much like it wouldn’t have happened. At times I’ve said—somewhat melodramatically, I have to admit—that I called down a curse on the Jewish community. But it wasn’t so much a curse as a massive counter-rejection of a world that rejected me—and had recently told me so in the most direct and painful way possible.
I have struggled to understand that moment ever since, although in the beginning I was simply reactive. When I walked out of the temple courtyard with my head high, taking great care not to look at a certain young man as I passed him, mostly what I felt was the grim satisfaction of seeing through a scam at long last. Nobody ever bothered to tell me that being Jewish wasn’t my birthright as I’d always been led to believe. It was something I had to be able to afford. If I hadn’t been such a naïve fool and so madly in love, I could have figured it out myself a long time ago. Oh well, better late than never.
But I’ve never been satisfied with easy answers even if they are my own. Even beyond the desire to avoid pain, even beyond the desire for love and acceptance and recognition, my deepest desire has always been to understand, to explore both wider and deeper, to discover the hidden connections between events and understand their significance. It didn’t take me long to realize there was a great deal of meaning under the surface of that moment when I stood at the crossroads in the temple courtyard. I also sensed there were some meanings that would only become clear as the future unfolded, not only for me personally but for Judaism itself. But it was a long time before I was able to overcome enough of the anger and bitterness to begin exploring those meanings.
So inevitably, my second initiation involved taking a long, hard look back in time at the first one. It was completed when I wrote the last line of this poem. I didn’t know I was going to end it that way until just before I wrote that line. I can still remember the tears streaming down my face when I realized there was no other possible ending for it. There was another quasi-ceremonial ending to the initiation a few months later on Yom Kippur, a small private ritual nobody knew about but me. I returned to the same spot in the temple courtyard where I stood 20 years before and formally retracted the Marrano vow.
That was the beginning of my “re-entry” period, although there was still plenty of leftover bitterness and resentment. It manifested as a hyper-critical attitude, a hair-trigger touchiness, my sensitive radar ever alert to the slightest hint of condescension or condemnation. I probably projected it a hundred times where no condemnation actually existed. A few months after Yom Kippur, I attended the first meeting of a lecture series on the tales of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav at the local Reform temple. I was very impressed with the speaker, but in his talk he used the word “heretic.” I walked up to him after the lecture with a chip on my shoulder the size of a log and asked him what he meant by a “heretic.” He answered thoughtfully, “I would say…someone who mistakes the part for the whole.”
I know he picked up on the Attitude right away, but he also saw past it and through it to the yearning underneath. That’s why “Gevurah” is dedicated to him.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I got myself embroiled in yet another flame war with a couple of anti-Semites recently. Yes, I should know better by now, and I do. The fact that I’m well acquainted with my sparring partners--having crossed swords with these two cranks on a series of discussion boards for almost 15 years now—only made the outcome that much more predictable. I knew going in that I’d come out of the battle angry, exhausted and a nervous wreck. And worst of all I’d still be the loser, because regardless of my historical knowledge and my lifelong familiarity with Jewish culture, I would totally fail in my objective of waking them up. And they would be the winners no matter how false and slanderous their arguments, because they’d emerge from the battle as triumphantly obtuse as ever.
And yet it was almost inevitable that I’d get sucked in again, because this tiny skirmish—doubtless one of thousands of that take place on the Internet every day--was a microcosm of the ongoing war between Judaism and Christianity. That war has been raging for almost 2000 years now, with only a few rare and brief periods of truce. I’m not going to waste my time on the standard qualifiers here or try very hard to spare anyone’s feelings. I am well aware that the majority of Christians in the 21st century don’t hate Jews, but that doesn’t change the historical track record. I also know that the possibility of interfaith dialogue exists, but true dialogue can only take place after a certain very difficult bridge has been crossed. The battles like this flame war I was involved in all happen on this side of the bridge, and on this side it’s strictly a case of irreconcilable differences.
Most of the regulars on the discussion board where it all hit the fan have learned to avoid any topic started by either of these two cranks, except to throw the occasional spitball in passing. That leaves the two of them to what you couldn’t really call a dialogue, although it may look like one on the surface. But it’s actually an endless, droning dual monologue on the subject of biblical prophecy related to the “end times,” or what Christians call the Second Coming. I have no problem at all with the archetype of the Second Coming, and there was a time years ago when I joined the two cranks occasionally in their speculations. For a while, I was an uneasy ally of the female one. That’s because it makes no difference to me or whether you call it the Second Coming, the Messianic Age, the New Age, the Age of Aquarius, the Great Turning or by any other name. I feel the wind in my face too, and I have felt it all my life.
The problem is that these two millennialist whackjobs are Christian fundamentalists. They have decreed unilaterally that there is only ONE acceptable spiritual language for the Great Turning, and anyone who dares to use a different one is an “antichrist.” Worse yet, one of them is a Christian Zionist. The Christian Zionists are closet anti-Semites, and possibly more dangerous than any other anti-Semites for that very reason. They go to great lengths to appear the opposite of what they really are. The most frightening thing about them is that they have a very specific script for the events leading up to the Second Coming. Their script calls for the active participation of the Jewish people, because among other things it calls for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. Even the most rabid Christian fundies know they have to enlist the cooperation of at least a few Jews for that little project, although I really believe they’d build themselves if they could get away with it. But the vast majority of Jews have no interest in following their script because we know how it ends. The end of their millennial spectacular calls for the violent death of most of us and the conversion of the small remnant that remains, traditionally numbered at 144,000.
Under their “Judaic” trappings and their loud and ostentatious support for Israel (translation: the expansionist neocon Israeli right), the true goal of the Christian Zionists is not the coming of the New Age under any name. What they hope to bring about is the end of Judaism as a religion separate from Christianity, and above all their ultimate revenge against the Jews. Revenge for what exactly? For knowing the truth about the origin of Christianity, and being able to reveal it at any time, given the opportunity. The entire blood-soaked history of Christian anti-Semitism can be read as the collective effort to make sure we never got that opportunity.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. What I just said is one of my conclusions, which came into focus gradually (and with a little help from my friends) after the smoke cleared. What I should really be describing now is the path that led to those conclusions, and the revealing little oddities I noticed along the way. I noticed them first out of the corner of my eye, and then front and center as I turned my full attention on them. Even in the heat of battle you notice small details out of the corner of your eye, and noticing those small details can very well save your life.
Last but not least, I should say something about the presentation on Ashkenazi intelligence I attended on October 16, 2009, after my enemies had gone flying for cover. That was when I learned that the sword that sent them flying, passed down to me as a legacy from my ancestors, was forged originally by the enemies of my ancestors in Christian Europe. Out of their relentless efforts to “protect” themselves from us, marginalize us, and above all silence us--the self-appointed defenders of Christendom forged the sword of the Ashkenazim with their own hands. And they couldn’t have done a better job of it if they tried! I’m still laughing at the delicious irony of it all.
This New York Times article was published the same day that a groundbreaking University of Utah study on Ashkenazi intelligence was released--June 3, 2005. It does a good job of explaining as succinctly as possible how the process worked:
Ashkenazi Jews occupied a different social niche from their European hosts, and that is where any selective effect must have operated, the Utah researchers say. From A.D. 800, when the Ashkenazi presence in Europe is first recorded, to about 1700, Ashkenazi Jews held a restricted range of occupations, which required considerable intellectual acumen. In France, most were moneylenders by A.D. 1100. Expelled from France in 1394, and from parts of Germany in the 15th century, they moved eastward and were employed by Polish rulers first as moneylenders and then as agents who paid a large tax to a noble and then tried to collect the amount, at a profit, from the peasantry. After 1700, the occupational restrictions on Jews were eased.
As to how the disease mutations might affect intelligence, the Utah researchers cite evidence that the sphingolipid disorders promote the growth and interconnection of brain cells. Mutations in the DNA repair genes, involved in second cluster of Ashkenazic diseases, may also unleash growth of neurons.
In describing what they see as the result of the Ashkenazic mutations, the researchers cite the fact that Ashkenazi Jews make up 3 percent of the American population but won 27 percent of its Nobel prizes, and account for more than half of world chess champions. They say that the reason for this unusual record may be that differences in Ashkenazic and northern European I.Q. are not large at the average, where most people fall, but become more noticeable at the extremes; for people with an I.Q. over 140, the proportion is 4 per 1,000 among northern Europeans but 23 per 1,000 with Ashkenazim. [My emphasis]
In other words, through a relentless process of natural selection--for the most part imposed upon them by their enemies--the mathematical and verbal abilities of the Ashkenazi Jews increased with each generation. While there are many types of intelligence, these two faculties are the primary ones measured by standard IQ tests and the SAT. At the end of the process they (we) emerged from the evolutionary pressure cooker as the most intelligent ethnic group on Planet Earth, at least by the traditional measurements. We retain that status to this day, both because the process is self-perpetuating and because the direction of evolution is ever onward and upward.
Of course in order to accept this hypothesis you have to accept the theory of evolution in the first place. The two cranks I was fighting with are as militantly anti-evolution as they are anti-Semitic. They refuse accept any truth they dislike in any area, as if truth actually depends on your likes and dislikes or what your church teaches. They refuse to believe you when you tell them what the Hebrew really says, as opposed to what they want it to say. They put forth a tremendous effort trying to make true appear false and vice versa. That’s the real reason they can never be a match for any smart Jewish girl who has just had her turf violated. But it doesn’t hurt to have the added advantage of the sword of the Ashkenazim. That’s one thing I’m grateful to Christian Europe for--although not for a whole hell of a lot of anything else
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Sonnet: Unsent Letters
In Memory of Jantha Rachel Siegel, 1949-1984
I have a whole black notebook full of these
Letters addressed to absent friends and lovers;
Unsent letters. In them one discovers
Traces of them and me, the hidden keys
To the past. And some are to her as well--
I cannot say why they were never mailed;
I only know how shamefully I failed
That bitter lovely girl at the gates of hell.
This one is the last. I will write no more
Unsent letters to her or anyone…
Here are my last pathetic words to her, unread.
Would they have kept the demon from her door?
Would they have kept her longer in the sun?
I wrote them three days after she was dead.
I wrote this sonnet in memory of my sister Jantha a couple of weeks after her death in 1984. I was originally planning to post it later on as the introduction to a longer piece about my sister’s tragic life and death. She died in her apartment in Jerusalem of an overdose of Valium and other drugs, about a month and a half short of her 35th birthday. It’s an open question whether it was an accidental overdose or not, and I still prefer to keep it that way. There is no question that she was suicidal. I can still remember her desperate transatlantic calls and how helpless they made us feel—my cousin Alice and my husband and me--because we were half a world away and couldn’t do anything for her, no matter how desperately we wanted to help her. But no suicide note was ever found, and it wasn’t like Jantha not to deliver her final parting shot to the world if she really intended to take her own life. About the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that she wasn’t trying very hard to stay alive.
I decided to post this memorial sonnet today instead of waiting to use it later to remind myself why I’ve been laying myself on the line in such a personal way here. I did this because of a comment from my friend Lynne after my first blog post. Lynne actually posted her comment on September 6th, but I didn’t realize it was there until yesterday (September 9th). She told me about a young girl--a friend of a neighbor’s daughter--who took her own life at the age of fourteen. Yet another young and beautiful and gifted misfit, another victim of the world’s misunderstanding and cruelty.
"From all appearances, a lovely, talented child who should have been popular and well-liked, but the popular people shunned her and made her their object of ridicule."
It’s impossible for me not to relate to that, considering my own miserable childhood and adolescence. For Jantha the burden was somewhat different but ultimately heavier than mine, and in the end it crushed her completely. She wasn’t quite as obviously weird as I was, and so managed to escape being bullied and taunted as far as I know. It also helped that she was beautiful, with her clear, catlike green eyes and wonderful thick chestnut hair. She had a striking, classically Hebrew kind of beauty that I envied intensely. I always felt so mousy and washed-out compared with her. And yet she told me she didn’t feel beautiful and had never felt beautiful. She only believed it because people kept telling her she was beautiful, so she had to take their word for it.
And she was as gifted as she was beautiful. She had an IQ of 154, and she skipped a grade—I’m pretty sure it was the 5th grade, although I really don’t remember. From then on she was a year younger than her classmates. And she was at least as good a writer as I am, if not better. But years after the fact, I realize that she hit the trifecta: ADD + anxiety + depression, and very likely borderline personality disorder on top of all that. With me it's "only" ADD + anxiety (panic disorder), which hasn't bothered me all that much since I went through menopause.
So that’s why I’m blogging and why I’m making it so personal. I hope others will see themselves and/or their loved ones reflected in me, and that something I say here will help them find a way out of the labyrinth I know so well. I wish I could have said or done something to help that fourteen-year old girl Lynne told me about, even though I didn’t hear about her until after her death. And if not her, then maybe the next one, or the next one…or the one after that. Sadly, it isn’t an uncommon story by a long way, even now that so much more is known about ADD/ADHD and its co-morbid or complicating conditions than when Jantha and I were growing up. The fact that such tragedies are so common only makes them more tragic, not less. Every time I hear a story like that I’m outraged all over again at the appalling waste of life and possibility.
I’m not sure why I chose the sonnet form for Jantha’s elegy when I usually write free verse or prose. It seems strange that I imposed such a strict discipline of meter and rhyme on myself at a time of fresh grief. It could be that the first couple of lines came to me that way, so I had to be consistent and follow the form all the way through. But it seems very appropriate somehow. To me the sonnet form is a kind of funeral urn, a fitting and beautiful marble container for my grief and regret.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Bennie lives around the corner from me on Arrowhead, and since her yard sales are her only source of income she has them practically every weekend. Most of her neighbors understand her situation. They not only don’t harass her but are actively supportive in a number of different ways. The only exception is the busybody troll down the block, who calls her “white trash” and complains about her frequent yard sales to Code Enforcement. We haven’t learned the precise identity of the troll or her address yet, but we have a lot of creative plans in the works for when we do.
Yesterday I planned on bringing a couple of crates of my small plants over to Bennie’s to sell for a dollar each, but I was late getting over there. I was at the computer trying to revise my second discussion board post, and also anticipating my third one. And that meant looking back…taking a long, long look back into the past. Pretty soon I was in over my head—not in a painful way exactly, but in a much more intense way than I really wanted to deal with yesterday morning. Still, there it was. However it gets out of the bag, it can be hard to stuff it back in sometimes.
I had been mulling over the idea of starting my third post with a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It was the same sonnet I once read out loud to a sixteen-year-old boy in my bedroom in Redondo Beach, when I was also sixteen years old. The words of the sonnet started coming back to me, and the intense emotions carried on those words came flooding back also—along with sharper, more concrete images, visual images. I didn’t realize there were so many of those left in the storehouse. I remembered the turquoise-painted walls of my bedroom in the house on Marshallfield Lane, right down to the hole in the particle board that for some reason never got fixed. I remembered how much I hated that hole, and the longer I had to live with it the more I hated it.
My old copy of Millay’s collected poems is one of the treasures I lost in storage after I lost my house in Montclair. Over time that book became as personal as a journal, because of the little notes to myself I wrote in the margins of the poems—dates and initials and short, poignant reminders like “On Dec. 13th I cried over this.” That was all I needed. Reading over the note and the sonnet, I knew perfectly well why I cried over it on that particular night.
But I no longer have that treasured book, so yesterday morning I set myself a little challenge. I decided to write the sonnet down from memory in my current journal, to see how accurately I remembered it after all these years. Then after I had given it my best shot, I went online and did a quick Google search [Millay’s poems are public domain] so I could grade myself. If anything, I think I was more afraid that I would remember the sonnet word-for-word than that I wouldn’t.
It turned out to be not quite word-for-word, but pretty damn close! I only got one short phrase at the beginning of one line wrong. I had written: “If you were not lovely I would leave you now…” instead of “Were you not lovely I would leave you now…” which is how Millay actually wrote it. Considering my intensely nostalgic mood, I think I can be forgiven for not counting out the beats on my fingers, which would have helped me avoid even that small error.
So yesterday afternoon after I brought my crates of plants over, the four of us—Bennie and Tony and Jean and I—were all sitting on Bennie’s lawn eating sandwiches from the Subway over on Highland. Tony is Bennie’s partner, who lives with her and collaborates with her on the yard sales. Jean is Bennie’s next-door neighbor and friend—and my good friend also. The yard sale stuff was set up in Jean’s driveway instead of Bennie’s, so the troll down the block couldn’t complain to the cops or Code Enforcement that the yard sales are on the same property week after week, because technically speaking...they aren’t.
Things were kind of slow yesterday afternoon, and nobody was stopping to look at the yard sale stuff. I was beginning to give up hope of selling even one plant, but at least we could relax and eat our lunch in peace. I had brought over some homemade potato salad to go with the sandwiches.
I began telling my friends about what I had been doing in the morning—the challenge I had set for myself and the results. And I also told them about the note I wrote in the margin of the Millay sonnet, the note I cried and laughed over so many times in later years: “Read this out loud to L. on [don’t recall the date] but didn’t tell him at the time that I applied it to him.”
I started laughing again when I told them about it, even though I was embarrassed as usual. It’s hard to accept that I was ever that naïve, even at sixteen.
“Can you believe that?” I said. “Didn’t tell him I applied it him…good grief! Like I really needed to tell him after I read him that poem. After all, the guy wasn’t stupid!”
And then I recited the sonnet out loud. Again I stumbled over the line “Were you not lovely I would leave you now…” but I corrected myself.
All three of them stared at me in amazement, as though I had just performed some dangerous high-wire trick. It’s possible that none of them had ever heard of Millay before, had never read that sonnet even once, and had no idea whether I was getting it right or not. But they probably sensed that I knew—and they were right.
“She’s a prodigy,” Bennie said. “Do you know what she did? She quoted the other part of the inscription on the armoire in my living room. What was it again?”
She wanted me to prompt her, which was so easy it was almost embarrassing. After all it’s only two lines, and one of them is already inscribed on the armoire.
“It’s from Shakespeare,” I reminded her. “It’s from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on/ And our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ The second part, ‘our little life is rounded with a sleep’ is the line on your armoire. All I did was quote the first line, because I recognized the second one.”
I never know quite how to respond in these situations. False modesty makes everyone uncomfortable because it indicates either phoniness or insecurity. At the same time, I know I can’t take credit for what comes naturally. So the following has become my standard approach, which at least has the virtue of being true.
I told them that I memorize poetry easily because I’ve always loved it, and read and wrote it compulsively when I was younger. Occasionally I would deliberately set out to memorize a poem, but most of the time I did it unconsciously. I would read over my favorite poems so many times that I committed them to memory without realizing I was doing it.
Jean took me aside and said to me very quietly, so that Bennie and Tony couldn’t hear: “Please don’t be offended if I tell you this, but Cheryl offered to clean your floors for you.” Cheryl is Bennie’s next-door neighbor on the other side, two doors down from Jean.
“I’m not offended,” I told her. You think I don’t know my floors are filthy? You think I don’t know how to clean a floor? That’s what it means to have ADD. Things that are so hard for other people, like memorizing poetry, are easy for me. But ordinary, mundane things like keeping the house clean are next to impossible. It’s because I can’t prioritize, and then it all gets away from me and becomes overwhelming. I can’t decide what I need to do first, so I end up not doing any of it.”
She seemed to understand and accept that even before I said it. “You wouldn’t have to move your boxes or anything. Just get rid of some of those bags. Cheryl says she’ll bring her cleaning stuff over and only clean the part that shows.”
I thought it was interesting that Cheryl was so afraid I’d be offended that she couldn’t make the offer herself, but had to ask Jean to do it for her. “Tell Cheryl to give me some time to at least make the goat trails between the rooms a little wider,” I said. “I won’t try to reorganize everything. It’s not like I don’t see all that clutter. It’s not like I don’t know the paths between the rooms are getting narrower. But I wake up in the morning and I see that horrible mess and it just depresses me no end. And then you know what I want to do? I want to get on the Internet and tune it all out…which is usually what I end up doing.”
Again she seemed to understand that before I said it. She probably doesn’t understand why I’m like that, but out of the goodness of her kind heart she saw my situation for what it is.
“If I ever say something like that and you feel insulted, please let me know,” she said. “I don’t mean it like that. We love you and we want to help you.”
“I know,” I said. Which was probably the biggest step forward of all. Not to turn away from the help I so desperately need, not to see it as condescension and reject it almost as a conditioned reflex, not to retreat into a cocoon of shame as I’ve done so many times before—that’s progress of a kind most people will never understand.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
It didn’t take long for me to find my cyber-home: the Prodigy forum on Religion Concourse 2 called “Debates – Religious Issues.” This was the most raucous and confrontational of all the Prodigy religion forums, and I guess there was something about the supercharged atmosphere that resonated with me at the time. I got into countless arguments, but I also made some very good friends on that forum. Sadly, I have lost track of many of those friends over the years, although I’ve remained in contact with others who have recently become my Facebook friends.
I probably made at least as many enemies as friends on that board, though. I’m an unabashed liberal when it comes to both religion and politics, and I’ve always been very outspoken about it. For several months, my signature line was: Everyone is entitled to my opinion. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is not an exaggeration!
After Prodigy Classic folded in October 1999, I became the co-moderator of a short-lived interfaith forum on the now-defunct Delphi service called “Conversations About God.” But the gravitational field of Prodigy (its second incarnation was known as Prodigy Internet) sucked me back in again and I began neglecting “my” Delphi forum. Again I gravitated to the Interfaith forum, and again I got into more than my share of raucous arguments. And I made new friends who had either never been Prodigy Classic members at all or who I never had occasion to meet there.
The forum where I am currently a regular could be considered the third and final incarnation of Prodigy, since it’s the brainchild of a former Prodigy administrator. A few regulars from the old days (both friends and foes) still hang around there. A couple of days ago I addressed a version of the following post and two others to my friend Sean on the Religion & Spirituality board. It is autobiographical in nature and doesn’t have much to do with religion except peripherally. I guess it’s become second nature for me to spout off about anything and everything on religion forums, and that’s what I did here. I found myself writing these posts almost before I realized what was happening.
Reading them over a day later, I decided they weren’t too whiny and self-pitying to be my first blog posts after all. And if they are...too bad! A certain amount of whining is to be expected or at least tolerated on any personal blog. I’ll try to keep it to an absolute minimum, but don’t ask me to make you any promises!
I was an intellectually precocious child who finished high school far too early and nagged my poor, but pliable, parents until they let me, aged 15, go away to college on the strength of an insufficient scholarship.
WOW!!! I am truly impressed, even though I'm also gifted. This was noted early on, both by me and by my parents and teachers and everyone around me. After teaching me the alphabet when I was three, my mother was able to convince the school authorities to let me start kindergarten at age 4 1/2. After that head start, I was always six months to a year younger than my classmates, although I never officially skipped a grade. (My sister did, though.) When I was in the fourth grade, my reading skills were tested at the 10th grade level, the equivalent to a sophomore in high school.
Unfortunately, this amazing potential was never matched by any significant academic achievement, due to the genetic booby prize that went along with it. I have Coyote the Trickster in my DNA, commonly known nowadays as ADD or ADHD, depending upon whether hyperactivity is present or not.
But in the old days (the 1950s and 1960s) they didn't call it anything--or if they did, they called it "what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?" A question I couldn't even begin to answer until I was 57 years old. Or worse yet: "You have so much POTENTIAL, Linda. If you would only APPLY yourself, if you would only FOCUS." As if "focusing" were an act of will! Everyone believed that, including me. They all acted as though if I couldn't focus, it was simply because I wasn't "trying" hard enough, or because I had some mysterious phobia about success or “will to fail.”
Occasionally, some of the more charitable school counselors got a clue that one reason for my lack of focus was the fact that I was utterly miserable. Because I was shy and self-conscious and perceived as "weird" by my classmates, I was bullied and tormented nonstop all through school--from the first grade almost to the day I graduated high school. By then I was a confirmed Outsider, with a volcano of rage inside me and boundless contempt for the Establishment.
It got to the point where I absolutely cringed when anyone brought up the subject of my "potential." I reacted to that word as though I'd been slapped in the face. The guilt was just that overwhelming. NOBODY was more aware of my potential than me, and it was a standing reproach to me that I was apparently doomed to never actualize it.
Worse than that, my chronic underachievement often seemed like an insult to God who had so gifted me. I knew I couldn't claim credit for what was innate and inborn, but only for what I did with it. And I was seemingly unable to do much of anything with it, or only in fits and starts if I did. It wasn't until I was 57 years old, when a book on adult ADD practically fell into my hands in a library, that I finally learned the name of that nameless curse I had been aware of since I was five or six years old.
What I have just inflicted on you is the old tape, which I am in the process of replacing or at the very least revising. I guess it's painfully obvious that I haven't replaced it yet, but I'm working on it. But my wretched childhood and adolescence are one of the main reasons why I threw myself into the Sixties counterculture with a vengeance, including the "free love" aspect of it, and why I have absolutely no regrets about that to this day. I'll continue with that in another note, though.