Friday, February 10, 2006

The identity questions

Edited (version of private) correspondence
A reader asks practically:  Who are you…?  Whence the audacity to…? 
Your vitriol directed at…?
Fair enough questions. Nothing that complicated, though! And the “who” is no one anyone would know and certainly not “hermetic” or claiming authority on much of anything. The answer is quite a bit simpler than you think.

I have been doing for some years what some people do in museums. I pay attention. And when the vases begin to look alike, I go home and return the next day. At this point in my life I have many more questions than I have answers.

I have a brilliant, strong and loving mother who was not allowed to attend university even though she was a top ranker. And I love her. She has been bitter and sick for a long time. So I am sensitive to bitterness and sickness. I don’t like to badger my mother nor to see her badgered. So I dislike mean-spiritedness.

My family has never gotten over my father’s death. So I am sensitive to deaths. I don’t like it when people die. We all must die though. So I’ve settled for dislike of policies that inflict premature deaths on people.

I once caught my sister in front of the bathroom when she was visiting-- naked and shaking like some autumn leaf at four in the morning. I could smell fear as if fear smelled. It was raining and there were loud thunders. She was having a flashback to war years. People don’t get over traumas easily. I don’t like wars. I dislike people who habitually promote wars.

My passion from my childhood was literature. Later philosophy and languages. In those years, though, everyone was to be an engineer or a physician. Money was in. And later activism and changing the world. So I got badgered for my passions, humored and lectured. I lived through it. Struggled to find my way and voice. So, I don’t like it when people have no respect for other people’s passions. I try to encourage it in others. Remain respectful. And I persist in pursuing mine at whatever cost.

But there is that cost. So I meander doing whatever jobs that might come my way. I am not particular within those constrains posed by personal ethics and self-respect. Just as long as I ultimately get to do what I must. I meet many different people.

I can spot vibrant minds stuck in sandwich shops. That’s what I am good at. And it breaks my heart when so many people don’t make it while only a few actually do. I do what I can to help some of the better ones. And absorb whatever I get from other people’s lived experiences. But always, I remember my mother and her bitterness. So I try to avoid rubbing anyone’s face in anything.

I try to visit my mother every chance I get. But she gets on my nerves. As most of our mothers do. Some things never end. When we are together, we still fight the same fight we fought over breakfast on the first day of school on first grade. I don’t like eating breakfast. She thinks I should. It has been decades. It is endless. It will never end. So I trace breakfast arguments or variations thereof among other Iranians.

It is everywhere. And it remains mostly breakfast arguments. No rhyme or reason. You and I might fight until the end of time over the Shah, but in a way it is just as senseless now as my mother and I fighting about breakfast. But it will never end.

I see it in the traffic jams as well. Some one has looked at some one else “funny” [Chap-Chap literally askance] while sitting in a car. Then the other guy has gotten out and they are beating each other senseless. And there is a crowd. And a more miserable traffic than usual. It is all over the place. And in front of the bakery as well and the video shop and the butcher shop. And I mean Endless. So I try to avoid it. I don’t like perpetual, mean-spirited fights and violence.

I like languages. But there is that cost. So I move from city to city, work, and go to the places a language is taught cheaply. There are eclectic communities in the margins where you can live with like minded people. That’s how I meet a lot of different people. And travel with them to wherever life leads. So I’ve visited countries in different continents. I also have relatives in a lot of places.

I have ended up studying quite a few different languages. I am not good at any of them. But I am now able to find my way. I also have many different friends worthy of the name. I keep in touch with those I meet. I feel closer to some of them than I do my mother. I don’t like it when people demean my friends. So I don’t like caricatures that demonize any of them.

After a few different languages your memory dims with time. So you can’t memorize words off the dictionaries like in those early years. But you’ve learned to become sensitive to rules, roots and connections. You’ve learned to automatically discern the familiar in the seemingly alien. So you pay even more attention.

But time is limited. We all die. Some more quickly than others! So you learn to juggle. There is so much to read. How do you decide what to read and what to skip over?

You encounter Derrida, for instance. Fancy moves! But you’ve studied as well some of the languages he has studied. And you know some French. You know about elisions and liaisons. Your neighbors pun all the time as well. You can appreciate plays and free plays. There is backgammon everywhere. And the kids you like play ghayem mushak (hide and seek) all the time. But even that has rules however creatively interpreted. Most things ultimately have patterns. If you pay attention, there is always hope of figuring them out in due time.

But there is not much of a time left. And if you must play, you choose to play only in ways that might enable you to listen more attentively to the voices you would normally ignore all the time.

I don’t like seeing my mother’s bitterness because others didn’t want to listen to her voice. So I move right past Derrida to someone else whose hermeneutics might give me a better chance of being able to listen more effectively to others if I must finally bring myself to read some of our more hip contemporaries. Life is too short to ignore other voices just to play and pun.

So to make this short, I don’t have many answers these days. Just many questions that come with paying attention! And angry reactions when people try to pass off something familiar as alien.

And the people I am most mad about these days appear frequently on the blog as well. Those are the ones like Kristol, Gerecht and Ledeen and the mullahs who’ve now taken a page from them and a host of others I keep notes on. Or some of the more petrified and conceited ones, intransigently unwilling to listen, on a deluded mission to bring civilization to the uncivilized.

And with a lot of likes and dislikes that I am aware are subjective which I try to be as honest about as I possibly can given how we all naturally suffer from our blind spots.

And there is also one fundamental belief that I can neither prove nor disprove.

The melancholy, belligerence, bickering and the endless puns in our society are partially the echoes of the voices of our unhappy mothers passed down generation after generation.

Mothers whose lives tend to go nowhere. The dedicated, doting mothers who live vicariously through successful sons, and dutiful daughters/wives! And mothers who see even that come shattering down with each murdered son and abused daughter.

So the kings, presidents and mullahs will come and go. If there is to be any hope, it remains in listening and doing what we can to help ensure that the next generation of mothers ends up being less embittered.

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