Ink & Penwipers

Scribbles, screeds, speculations, and the occasional reference to Schrodinger's cat.

14 November 2003


That was the label Mom would scrawl neatly in print on the sides of boxes or bag she was packing for storage. It took me a while to learn what "misk" meant; until then, as a child I would go dancing aimlessly through the house singing to myself, "misk, misk, a box of misk..."

I was a strange child.

So I cleaned my storage locker out today. My friend Lisa needed my couch and bed for her new apartment for the time being, and the bills were draining me, so we cleaned it out. In the rain. And the cold. Did I mention the cold rain? It was worthy of Hemingway. Natasha, I'm thinking of you and your brilliant Hemingway parody a few eons back. But I'm too tired to go through your archives right now.

Now most of my stuff is residing with my actual self, and oh dear God it's so good to have my books back! *kisses boxes, wipes dust off lips* I don't have that much in the way of earthly possessions, and once I sit down to it I will be able to throw a lot of stuff away, that I couldn't have done before I moved because I had. no. gumption. Well, I've got gumption now, and there's a whole lotta crap that's just begging to hit the shredder. It's so zen.

But I'm tired now, so I'll cut this short before my coherence stops cohering.

12 November 2003

New Chapter Dance!

Chapter 23

In which the course of true love gets some road work; Elisabeth serves tea by candlelight; and a good time is had by all.

10 November 2003

A Sense of Entitlement

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

The thing about working in a library is that books pass through one’s hands like flotsam creatures through tidepools; it’s difficult not to hold onto the ones that catch your eye. And it was just such a book that has set me off on a rampant case of introspection lately: Why does he do that? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

I found it on the new books cart, waiting to be processed and released to the community. And I used as many of my last few minutes on break to flip through it as I could. Bancroft has been working with abusive men for fifteen years, and he writes in order to dispel myths about male abuse and to provide sources for women who are stuck in/want to avoid relationships with such men. As it transpires, abusive men, whether their behavior takes a physical or a verbal form, are the way they are not because of myths about their insecurity or their own abusive past, or even their difficulty in controlling anger: most men of this type do in fact have a level of control that they choose to exercise, more often with people outside the family. The reason abusive men behave the way they do is that they believe they have the right to do so. And until that precious belief can be changed, they aren’t going to change. All the medication and therapy and accommodation in the world won’t change them unless they can be persuaded to give up the conceptual notion that they are entitled to treat their wife/partner and/or children on their terms alone.

And frankly, it’s no wonder that it doesn’t usually happen. Because this belief of justification, this sense of entitlement, is not just a mistake that needs to be corrected. It’s an almost primal impulse, a foundational belief that the holder builds his whole being, his sense of self, his psychic integrity, around. How do I know this? Because I do it too. My own heart showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly, as C.S. Lewis explained about his mental processes writing The Screwtape Letters.

I’m not at all saying that this means women are just as culpable as men in bad or abusive relationships; I agree with Bancroft that the societal phenomenon of the abusive man emphatically does not have its equally powerful evil female counterpart. What I am saying is that this sense of entitlement is at the heart of human evil, and that it comes out most clearly when it is allied to some form of power.

I got rather depressed thinking about the matter. It seemed to me that I could think of a discouraging number of times that I had inwardly railed against family and friends for not taking me on my terms, for insisting that I give as well as receive, that I accept being wrong about something—anything. I could remember hours’ worth of feeling the utmost level of frustration that my rights were being denied: the right to be left alone, uncriticized, unstirred from my mental repose, not having to deny my own importance or absolute control. And I suspect that the primary reason I don’t exhibit this kind of thinking in actual behavior is that I haven’t got either the cunning or the power to justify it to others.

I’m saying this not because I want to have a Lisa-trashing party with myself as the guest of honor. I’m saying it because I really want to find out, using myself as a specimen, if this sense of entitlement can be altered, and what is the least painful way to do so. They say if you want to change the world, you start with yourself.

But I also can’t help but think about what this phenomenon means for world change. I’m thinking for example of changes in the church (the Episcopal Church being for me the new yardstick)—women’s ordination in the seventies, the blessing of homosexual unions now, the racial civil rights movements of the twentieth century. Arguments for these changes, and I’ve seen a variety, seem to center around a sense of entitlement—i.e. it’s fair for these changes to take place, that such changes ought to go uncriticized, and should be accepted on terms other than one’s own. Strident voices. Aggressive chants. It has always seemed to me that unless these changes could be justified on a self-evident (or at least reasonably evident) basis rather than a mere claim for even-steven fairness, the changes would be weak choices rather than morally courageous ones.

I still think that. But I now also think something else. It occurs to me that any request, demand, or call for a social change of this type has been met with a sense of entitlement on the side of those in power—a sense of entitlement that is greater precisely because it is allied to the power of authority: “those uppity Negroes,” “those harpy women,” “those militant gays.” In other words, by the time the debate takes on any practical significance whatsoever, it’s no longer at all about a moral conundrum, or a practical solution, or a definition of terms; it’s about power. It’s about who gets to decide whose importance is in the ascendant, whose valuable time will be wasted, whose self-definition will of force be altered. And woe betide us if we decide out of hand that we are the ones who will remain untrammeled, no matter which side of whatever debate we are on. Because that is where moral disingenuousness begins: at home.

Meanwhile, at home, I fight my everyday battles, both against myself and against others, and pray for a blessing.

03 November 2003

Cake and Death

According to Eddie Izzard, the Church of England isn’t cut out for Inquisitions of the Spanish variety. You walk into an Anglican church, you find people with no muscles in their arms who sort of flop around goodnaturedly and say “Hiiii.” You make a confession to your vicar: “Vicar, I have done many bad things.” He makes a your-point-is?-face, says, “Well, so have I. Drink five Bloody Marys and you won’t remember anymore.”

According to Eddie, if the Church of England did an Inquisition, it would be along the lines of: “You must have tea and cake with the vicar, or you die!!”

INQUISITIONER: YOU! Cake or death?

SOME GUY: Uhh, cake please.

INQUISITIONER: Very well. Give him cake. YOU! Cake or death?

…And so on…

ANOTHER GUY: Cake please.

INQUISITIONER: Well, we’re OUT of cake!

GUY: …So my choice is, ‘or death’?...Very well, then I’ll have the chicken.

So anyway, I got confirmed in the Episcopal Church this past weekend, and despite all the mumblings and grumblings over Gene Robinson’s installation as Bishop of New Hampshire on the same day I was confirmed, it’s still a part of the Anglican Communion. Which means I now have a direct link to the Church of England.

The church was packed for All Saints’ Day and, not incidentally, the Bishop’s visit. We were all crowded into our pews; it was a good thing they were still running the air conditioning in the sanctuary. The Bishop’s sermon was simple and solid; he spoke in praise of saints recognized and unrecognized, and encouraged everyone to understand themselves as growing saints.

There were a lot of confirmations, most of them young people, with a scattering of adults like myself. The Bishop sat at the head of the steps up to the chancel, each confirmand came forward with his or her supporters to kneel before the Bishop’s chair, and with the supporters’ hands on them, the Bishop laid his hands on the confirmand’s head and spoke a prayer over them. Afterward we were all given a certificate and a Prayer Book.

It all happened very fast.

I didn’t expect there to be some halo of epiphany surround my head when the Bishop laid hands on me, which was just as well, because a great many things seemed to be happening at once. I just held on to my namecard and the embroidered bookmark Virginia had given me for dear life. I used my new Prayer Book for the rest of the service, and shepherded Jessica’s parents through Communion, which they’d never done in a high-church setting before (I had taken care to warn them before the service that the wine was real wine and not grape juice). They seemed to make it through okay; at least, they said they liked the experience.

After the service there was a potluck lunch with a big sheet cake proclaiming welcome to Bishop Howe and congratulations to the confirmands. As we were eating the cake Jessica turned to me and said, “So: cake or death?”

I said, “Both. I got cake, and I got the chicken.”

I guess I’m really Church of England now.