Thursday, October 27, 2016

Taking Down the Patriarchy

Ocean Park Beach
photographer: Carl Jackson

I've been reading Nobel Prize winning writer Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Yeah, light reading. Just kidding. I'm reading it in Russian, too. Just kidding. Actually, I'm not into the light reading thing. Light reading makes me feel anxious and depressed, seems to exacerbate my feelings of there never being enough time to read all the books. I feel the same about movies. Reading "light" or watching crap makes me want to throw myself in front of a train. Getting through my days, sometimes, is only possible because of the art of others. Right now, speaking of trains, I'm listening to Anna Karenina in the car as I drive around the shitty. Dang, ya'll. That novel is relevant, and it's not about throwing oneself in front of trains. It's about love and bullshit, about peasants and patriarchy. There's even a passage about doctors and their uselessness that yours truly could have written!

Reading the extraordinary accounts of survivors in Alexievich's book doesn't just give me perspective but highlights just how resilient and dogged and strong, human beings can be, not to mention black-humored (the best humor, at least to me). The oral histories aren't for the faint of heart, though, as you can imagine. They're as much about vulnerability as they are about strength, and that's why, I think, they appeal to me. I have been feeling particularly vulnerable and fragile of late, for obvious reason. Not a day goes by that I don't have some sort of fantasy of fleeing in either body or mind or both, and whether it's because of the poisonous political atmosphere (don't pose false equivalencies to me: #Imwithher), or the thought of living in the same country with those who support or make excuses for you-know-who or struggling with caregiving and Sophie's epilepsy, acknowledging that vulnerability and fragility restores me. Really great literature -- whether it's fiction or non-fiction or poetry -- restores me. Not long ago, a relative accused me of having my head up my ass as far as my politics go. I think she was also pretty disdainful of the poetry that I put up here. I really don't think it's one or the other. For me, the personal is political and the political is personal and the only mitigation is art.

I got distracted. I was going to make this post about my optimistic feeling that despite all the acrimony in the country, I honestly think the patriarchy is coming down. It might be messy, and it might get even messier, but it's coming down.

Here's some "poetry" from Alexievich's book:

Bulgakov writes in A Cabal of Hypocrites: "I've sinned my whole life. I was an actor." This is a consciousness of the sinfulness of art, of the amoral nature of looking into another person's life. But maybe, like a small bit of disease, this could serve as inoculation against someone else's mistakes. Chernobyl is a theme worthy of Dostoyevsky, an attempt to justify mankind. Or maybe the moral is simpler than that: You should come into this world on your tiptoes, and stop at the entrance? Into this miraculous world...
Aleksandr Revalskiy, historian 


  1. I'm reading a book about the plague. It's horrifying and comforting at the same time.

  2. God, i hope so. I've never read Anna Karenina; I think I want to now.

  3. Bring down the patriarchy!! I've read War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I will not read Moby Dick!


  4. I tend to alternate between light and heavy reading. I think it's a bit like exercise -- a heavy workout one day, a lighter one the next, then back to heavy. The result being overall improved strength! Well, that's my theory, anyway.

    My current book, "Swamplandia," which I have been reading for approximately 147,000 years, sits somewhere in the middle on the light/heavy continuum.

    The patriarchy IS falling. That's why white males all over the country are in a state of electoral panic! (Well, SOME white males. :) )

    1. Steve, I agree with you about certain white males being in a panic. I heard someone (can't remember who) say that when an entitled group feels that they are losing their entitlement, they see themselves as oppressed. Some women fall into this category as well--remember Phyllis Schlafy? And they get scared, which they cover with anger, and then they strike out.
      Verna Wilder

  5. I like to think you are right about the patriarchy falling. SOMETHING's happening here.

  6. Interesting, but I am reading a "survivor" book as well, Auschwitz, a New History by Laurence Rees. If you ever want to learn more about how a death camp is created, this is the book for you. It is eerily and disturbingly relevant to today's political dialogue and one of the few books I've read more than once. As you mentioned about your book, it is not for the faint of heart particularly in its discussion about "undesirables" including and beginning with the elimination of children diagnosed with disability. Like you, I also enjoyed discovering a new perspective and the juxtaposition of vulnerability and strength/endurance.

  7. I don't know what kind of music you like but Pussy Riot makes good fun of the patriarchy and adds lots of vaginas.
    They are also brave survivors.

  8. I love that line, "I got distracted." I'd follow you on any tangent. And yet this post feels anything but distracted. It feels urgent. Resolved. Weary yet hopeful.

  9. Strangely enough I just had a patient who grew up near Chernobyl and has cancer, lymphoma I think.

    I'm the opposite of you, I need light when things are tough. My last good read was "The Ferryman Institute" about death obviously. Enjoyable. I need another holidays already:)

  10. I have those relatives, too, Elizabeth, but they haven't been that outspoken. Their style is to talk behind my back. So we keep speaking out and we keep posting poetry and we keep talking about books. Thanks for all your wonderful writing on all of the topics you take on. Love you!

  11. AHHHH! I love everything about this.

  12. Just finished listening to 'The Valley of Amazement" by Amy Tan and loved it. I know, there are too many books and I'll never read them all.

    I still want EVERYONE to read Far From the Tree and I hear they're making a docu of it. The author actually replied to my email thanking him for writing it.

    You're in love?? Next time I'm visiting my kid in LA, we gotta meet. K?

    XX Beth



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