Hater Tuesdays: I Did It For My Kids

Want to watch some people go absolutely apeshit and foam at the mouth? Suggest that some children behave inappropriately in public while their useless parents let them, or that thrice-daily Facebook updates about a progressing pregnancy might just be a bit much, or that some mothers and fathers use their children as an excuse for why they never pursued their extraparental dreams like writing a bestseller or brush painting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Make one of these statements and then just sit back, pop some popcorn, and watch the fur fly, because all of these things (and more!) will make the breeders go mega-ballistic.

I can go one better.

For the past 48 hours, all anyone on social media wants to talk about is the finale of Breaking Bad, which was, admittedly, awesome. Amid all the brilliance of that episode’s script was one key quote from long-suffering wife Skyler that illustrates this point perfectly. As her estranged spouse, the doomed drug kingpin Walter White, appears before her to say his goodbyes, he seems ready to claim, yet again, that he ‘did it all for her’ and the kids. She looks at him with a weariness and cynicism that made even me shiver and derisively declares, “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for ‘the family’,” and in a moment of transformative and, dare I say, revolutionary raw honesty, he admits, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. “ I wanted to stand up and applaud – no, scratch that; I wanted to set off fireworks. Thank you, writers of Breaking Bad, for having the cojones to let Walt admit that all the destruction and suffering he created wasn’t sprung from nobility or magnanimity – it came from a place of pleasure, power, and selfishness. It’s just that simple.

‘I did it for my kids’ is a phrase that’s right up there, in my book, with ‘it’s just business,’ which loosely and universally translates into ‘I don’t care how egregiously I’m about to fuck you and yours over, Imma get mine,’ or, as my Grandma Dottie used to say, ‘Screw you, hurrah for me.’ Listen, if you’re greedy, just admit it. If you’re out to feather your own nest at the expense of others, just admit it. If you’re about to really hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it to make your own situation better, just admit it, and stop using your innocent children, who have nothing to do with anything about this grimy equation, as the front for your sorry, amoral behavior.

I’d like to suggest here (and let the foaming begin) that far more people than would be willing to admit use their children as an excuse to metamorphose into the avaricious, selfish, scheming opportunists they always were inside but were afraid to act on without the convenient justification of their precious progeny’s well-being as a rationale. For a few among us, reproducing seems to give one license to be as cutthroat and self-serving as one pleases, with a convenient little out – ‘it’s not for me, it’s for the children.’ Oh, please. Save me the song and dance and just admit it – you did it for you. Because you like it. Because you’re good at it. 

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Get Thee To A Nunnery

I’m not a particularly religious person, but there have been times when, sitting the cool, darkened, Frankincense-scented silence of a church, I have instinctively understood why a person might choose to opt for a life of contemplation within a convent, seminary, ashram, or the like. In these moments, I consider what it might be like to turn one’s back on the often-uphill climb of everyday life, with its bills, bosses, and buses, its exhausting search for a soulmate to partner up with, its grocery shopping and credit scores and performance reviews, its dog shit and mortgage lenders, and give it all up for a small room with a chair and a bed, a simple schedule of prayer and housekeeping, some peace and quiet from the endless buzz and noise of the secular world.
There is an invisible, inviolable wall between the world outside the doors, with all its worries and countless petty annoyances, and what feels like a serene simplicity inside, where one need only be concerned with connecting to the Divine. I close my eyes and dream, for a moment, of a life tending roses in a nunnery garden, chopping carrots for a dinner to feed dozens, hours spent slipping beads worn smooth through my fingers, mind still and all other concerns gone, set sail on the ship that was my life outside the walls.

I don’t believe this sentiment unique to the Catholic church. I would wager it’s likely palpable within any religious community that offers the opportunity for sequestering oneself from the pressures and pains of our mundane lives. I can particularly understand why women of eras past would have chosen the convent after a lifetime belonging to a man – father, husband, brother, or son – choosing instead to belong to a long-dead prophet who won’t come bleating for a beer or pork chops or a clean shirt. To be relieved of the chattering demands of family, the crushing poverty and cruelty of the external world, the worries of getting by in those viciously misogynistic times, could prove too alluring to resist.

Of course there is the bloody Jesus thing. The resurrection thing, which I’ve always found problematic. Those power-mad bishops. The corruption of the hierarchy (and I don’t just mean the Vatican; I think pretty much an organized religion – any organization, really – gets pretty grimy at the top) and it’s dirty secrets. The inequality of the sexes. The working one’s fingers to the bone for nothing, the ripe potential for exploitation. So, yeah, there’s that.

And I know I’ve already got too much skin in this game, am much too of this world, to turn my back on it. It makes me tired and often it makes me cry, but I’m in. So I wrap up my grandmother’s rosary, light a candle and place it as close to any status of the Virgin Mary as I can find, and I walk out of the quiet dark and back into the chaos, the noise, the everyday search and destroy missions of this life.

Silence Is Power

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about silence, mostly because my drunken-monkey-mind has been in overdrive, to the point where, from the early morning’s first moment of semi-consciousness to bedtime’s last, desperate clinging thoughts of day, my mind has just been going amillionfuckingmilesanhournofasterthanthatfaster! And it’s not just this overflow of the mind that enslaves me; too often it spills from my head to my mouth and I hear myself talking and yoking myself with the legacy of my words (‘We are masters of the unsaid word,’ posited Winston Churchill, ‘but slaves of those we let slip out.’).

As email has become my communication method of preference and I’ve been sucked into the dualistic black hole of Facebook (along with everyone else in the Western world – with a couple of backwater Bolinas holdouts, you know who you are), where communication occurs at lightning speed and unresponsiveness is regarded as an affront, I find the pace of the dialogue in my head has ratcheted up to an almost unbearable speed, one where discerning between thoughtful analysis and mere chatter has become increasingly difficult. I also work for an extrovert in a department full of sociable, extroverted, hyper-opinionated females, and the one time I tried to remain quiet during a management meeting and said ‘I’m just listening,’ I got the suspicious side-eye. Even just a couple of weeks ago I told a colleague, ‘I don’t have an opinion,’ and she laughed right in my face and said, ‘Yes, you do.’ She knows me too well.

I feel required to have an opinion and therefore I spend a great deal of time formulating one – but, and here’s the rub – about every. fucking. thing. Syria? Yep, got one (no war). Miley Cyrus (euw, that ass), check. Gun control. Twerking. The demands of the emerging workforce. Refined sugar. Internet dating. How often to change out the dish sponge. The existential angst of the undead. The willful, elective spinsterhood of Elizabeth I. Our receptionist’s abuse of overtime. What do I think about this? Or this? Or this? ‘That’s why you get migraines,’ my best friend chimed in recently, ignoring decades of neurological research and organic rationale, but he may have a point anyway (am I literally thinking myself sick?).

I had a reading back in June in LA with an exceptionally brilliant Ifa priest, who told me, among other things, that I live too much in my head. You cannot intellectually solve everything, he told me. This was a revelation. What? You mean I can’t always think my way to a solution? Get the fuck outta here!

Along with the thinking comes the talking: the endless deconstruction of a bunch of shit that, in a month or a year or five years, will largely seem meaningless in retrospect, pretty much just a waste of time and breath. If I am tired of hearing myself think, I am doubly tired of hearing myself talk. If only it were just as easy as shutting up, but I’m beginning to learn that the process of mastering the cognitive shift from valuing ‘being informed’ and ‘contributing to the dialogue’ to embracing silence and giving oneself permission to not have – or not express – an opinion is a Sisyphean task.

Last year I stumbled upon a meme that resonated with me deeply: You do not have to attend every argument you’re invited to, it read.

You don’t say.

This is almost anathema to my ‘fighting Irish’/uppity woman’ personal identity. It’s hard work to walk away from the sense of duty to take a position and defend it. Yet all the requests for opinions – at work, on social media, in analog life – have reached a deafening crescendo that has brought me to my knees and leaves me yearning for the blank beauty of silence. Lately I’ve tried visualizing the water beneath the surface of a swimming pool – that lovely chlorinated turquoise quiet outside of time and gravity. For split seconds, I’m able to capture that otherworldly space and empty my head – and I feel sorrow when it recedes, replaced again by the freight train of thought. My hope is that, like a muscle, this ability to descend into disengagement is something that can be strengthened with practice.

And as for my mouth? Maybe we can start there with this silence business. When taking an inventory of all the coworkers and colleagues I’ve had, I observe that the ones I admire the most and the ones I wish to emulate are, ironically, not the fiery orators or showy alphas, but rather the cool, understated masters of their tempers, gliding gracefully down the hall in classy white trousers and well-kept secrets. I want to be one of those people, the ones who understand that silence is power – over both oneself and one’s environment. When one is silent, one conveys a sense of both wisdom and control that leaves others not only guessing but filling the void with their own verbal hemorrhaging, giving away their power with every word.