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February 5, 2009

scribby draft about genealogy and loss

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 9:13 am

i’m 1/4 jewish, but i wasn’t raised with that as part of my identity – it’s one of the things our family Doesn’t Talk About. well, to be fair, my understanding is that my grandfather, who grew up jewish in manhattan in the 30s, Doesn’t Like to Talk About It – i heard this from my mother – and i’ve never had the nerve to broach the subject with him because, despite being his namesake and his oldest grandchild, despite knowing he adores me and that i admire him and am totally fascinated by him, he is still this severe and imposing (from my mom’s stories) and taciturn, saturnine, quiet force in the background, army general and i can’t imagine prying into his personal life. it makes me sad because i’d like to know him better, lost that part of our history in the space of two generations, blah blah blah.

regardless, all i remember about this is that we were going to visit my great-grandma (my grandad’s mother) once, she owned this apartment building on the upper east side and i was probably all of four years old, so i had no idea what any of that meant, i just remember going in and being awestruck by this person – i have a single memory of my great grandmother ruth (i have lots of really jolly memories of my great grandma alice), but meeting granny ruth is sort of like having met queen victoria (which one of my great grandfathers did once, and that story has been passed down for generations because she subsequently subscribed to his newspaper :P).

remember my mother telling me before we went that she had a maid or a butler or someone who had lived with her there for decades, and that i shouldn’t talk about jesus around granny because she was jewish. i don’t know if i had a particular penchant for talking about jesus when i was a kid – i don’t remember much about my youthful experiences with religion except that it involved animal crackers and apple juice and that going to church, especially after my dad left, always made mom mad.

i do know that when, years later, i told this ‘don’t talk about jesus’ story as kind of a “hoho, kids say the darnedest things” tale in a family setting, my mom got all shocked and offended and said, “i never said anything like that!!” i can’t imagine why though – and i’m sure she did because there’s no way i would have come up with that on my own. i had no idea what a ‘jew’ was when i was a kid, except that they were apparently people who didn’t like you to talk about jesus around them. (by that definition, almost everyone i now know is a jew. :P)

my mom was terrified of her grandmother. i think my mom was terrified of my dad’s mom, and of her own dad and, well, honestly, my mom is scared of a lot of people. and you know what? actually, that sucks. it’s not fair that my mom had to grow up in fear within her own family. i don’t understand what caused it, but i don’t doubt its reality. like i said (lower down), my mom’s about as black a sheep as you can get in our family – and i don’t think that’s a recent thing. and i think part of it is that, she was trying to do the same thing i’m trying to do, which was to get outside that sheltered privileged bubble and connect with the rest of the world. i think my mom’s like me in that, despite all the fear instilled in her by her family life, she’s inherently xenophilic. she’s excited by and drawn to diversity, creativity and difference. i don’t think she has any articulated politics around it, i think it’s just this deep emotional gut level reaction that she doesn’t know how to explain to herself, much less her parents.

this is what a lot of the class-related tension of my childhood was related to. when i was growing up, my mom had a lot of working class friends and dated working class men and…i don’t know, sometimes i feel like it was almost a fetish thing for her, some kind of act of desperation, a fuck you to her parents…but i also do think she was just genuinely more drawn to them, or that some aspect of her was, than she was to “successful” middle-class corporate men like my dad and her second husband chuck – and the one thing i *did* learn from hanging out with mom’s working class friends and the people i’ve met subsequently is that, yeah, the working class people i’ve met have generally been less uptight and have better senses of humor about themselves and everything else than the rich people i know. but maybe that’s a prejudice on my part…i dunno.

and she didn’t really seem to understand what she was doing, because she’d be so excited to date these guys who weren’t like the men she was ‘supposed’ to be with, but then she’d get all upset that they didn’t want to invest in stocks and buy houses with her and felt like they were using her for money and couldn’t commit and blah blah…but we were definitely raised with this weird conflicted view of like…working class people are morally superior to rich people but also you can’t actually trust them…

but anyway i guess my point is that my mom was trying to do this thing unconsciously but couldn’t really manage it and so it just kinda fucked her up a lot…but that from that what may have come is that, at great personal sacrifice, she managed to get *enough* distance from the family that keenan and i have had the opportunity to do what she wasn’t able to – and maybe the best thing i can do for myself and for my mom is to do that thing, whatever that thing is, she was trying to achieve – and have the strength not just to pull away from the family, but to come back to them and say, “Look, this is how things are going to be now and THAT’S OKAY.”

that said, i shouldn’t let my mother’s fear of her family and all the stories she’s told me about how scary they are infect me. it’s given me the distance to feel disdainful of them rather than afraid, but that’s not cool either. i think i’m gonna write my grandfather a letter.

and sometimes i think i don’t have to worry because, honestly, my family knows me really well. part of it is love and part of it is scrutiny – as the oldest child, grandchild, and great-grandchild in three generations of a large and comparatively matriarchal clan, my family has paid a lot of attention to me for my whole life… and they’ve sort of always known that i am…how i am. an iconoclast, or an artist, or crazy or whatever. this isn’t out of character for me. i am my mother’s daughter. and my mother is as black a sheep as you could possibly be in our ‘we pretty much embrace you in a big and boisterous way no matter what – we’ll just refuse to acknowledge or talk about whatever parts of you we don’t want to embrace’ family.

on the one hand, i want to run away from this privileged thing, move to the west coast and immerse myself in radical community.
on the other hand, i feel like maybe the best thing i can do is stick around my family and love them but be noisy about rejecting their oppressive shit, because part of my privilege is that i have access to these very powerful people and that could have a really huge impact.

it’s scary though because i’m afraid of both being rejected by them and of turning into them.

there’s a way in which this sort of means i have to have kids.
i don’t know about that. pregnancy scares the living hell out of me.

sometimes i feel like i’m trying to singlehandedly excavate my family history as if this will tell me who i am. it all seems to be about my mom’s side though…so much glamor. don’t know much about my dad’s, and don’t know many people on my dad’s, and i wonder if part of it is simply that my crazy mother and brash maternal grandmother just make better stories than my quiet, steady, stoic dad – but wonder also if the stories about my dad’s family have been silenced because they just weren’t as glamorous (aka wealthy) as my mom’s side.

i’ve never really thought about class-related tension between my parents. it seems obvious now, on some subconscious level, although i don’t understand enough about their backgrounds to articulate it…but it seems relevant especially considering my relationships with eric and august, where there’s some similar tensions.

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