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What I learned this summer

July 25, 2013

I guess my summer began in earnest when I broke my face.

It was really weird. There I was, after a wild and super fun night with lots of good friends and music at a bar down the street from my house, riding home on my bike. Fast. I always ride fast; it’s an outlet for aggression, or something. On my bike, I feel like a badass. I feel silly saying this, after smashing my face on the asphalt, but riding quick and sure makes me feel cool. It’s sort of a kid moment.

But I’m not a kid. I’m a grown woman with two kids of my own, and I have no business riding that fast, standing up, acting like a thirteen-year old boy. I guess I also had no business riding down the giant hill in Prospect Park standing up with outstretched arms either, but I used to do that about twice a day. I’m glad I didn’t kill myself any of those times. But I’m also glad I had those experiences. It was stupid, but it was fun as hell. It felt like flying.

My face is fucked up forever now, but it’s not that noticeable, everyone tells me. I notice it, though. I am asymmetrical. And that’s just how it is for me now. My only consolation came when I was reading about American movies in the seventies and came across the phrase “the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino.” I have reframed my disfigurement as broken-faced good looks. Framing is everything, I have always found.

I have learned a couple of things from my accident. The first is about pain and trauma, which I didn’t understand before. But in the days afterward, the pain was unbearable when the pills wore off. And it wasn’t just the intensity of the pain. I mean, I’ve borne children. No, it’s the fact that after trauma, the pain holds the experience within it. It’s incredible, actually. But the pain is the feeling of the event. The pain in my face was one with the feeling of the impact, the bones breaking, over and over. It’s intense, and terrible. So I’d like to take this opportunity to give a little shout out to painkiller. It is merciful and good.

But another lesson came my way too. About attachment. I have tried for so many years to be zen and non-attached, to lose my hooked-ness, my neurosis, my inability to just let life be. I’ve made some progress, but I’ve never lost it. Until, it seems, now. I don’t know how long this will last, but for the very first time in a long time I actually feel free.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. The last entry on this blog was my take on capital’s attack on Greece, told through a discussion of the image of one of its islands, Ikaria. Through the magic of the internet, my essay got me invited to a conference on that very island. I’ll have much more to write about that conference on these pages. It was one of my very favorite experiences, ever, and the whole project is overflowing with inspiration and ripe with possibility. For now, remember this word: Mataroa.

Anyway, I was thrilled to be invited, but I was scared. I am generally scared of flying, and I’d never traveled by myself before. Much less to a place where I knew no one. But after my accident, something changed. I got on the plane and, as is my wont, ordered two giant glasses of wine to numb my terror of takeoff. I had a couple of sips, but I stopped. For some weird reason, I couldn’t feel my fear. Where the fuck was it? Shit, if I wasn’t afraid – maybe I was going to die. I think I used to see my fear as protective. Like, if I worried enough, I’d be safe.

But this time was different. The plane started moving, fast, and it felt – shockingly – exhilarating. I was in the back, so I felt the immense power of the engines under me, lifting the plane into the air. It was awesome. As in, I felt awe. And I stopped fearing my own death. For the first time in my life, I knew in my gut – and not just my head – that, in Jim Morrison’s immortal words, “no one here gets out alive.” We’re all going to die. Worry all you want. You can’t change it. Looking down at the Atlantic, and then later at the Aegean over the Greek isles, I felt not afraid but privileged to be up there. Shit, I thought, even if the fucking plane does go down, this is still amazing. Why waste this? Enjoy it.

So I did. I also enjoyed the bumpy landing in the small plane on the windy island. And the winding bus rides on skinny mountain roads, even at night, with no streetlights. Everyone else was fine, but ordinarily I would have been shitting a brick. Not this time. I felt lucky to be driving on those roads, looking down those deep ravines, lucky to be alive.

Being me, I can’t help but see the politics in this. Fear and attachment impede radical politics, as the Man is well aware. For example, the Federal Housing Administration offered cheap home loans to returning (white) veterans in the post-World War II period in the US. Why? Because before the war, during the Depression, the American working class had been getting pretty anti-capitalist. American culture had never been so communist before or since, and we all know the story of the sit-down strikes and the unemployed marches and all the rest.

The welfare-warfare Keynesian response of the postwar US state had a lot of moving parts, but the example of pushing mass homeownership is a key one here. The strategic idea was that homeowners would be less likely to strike, because they’d be afraid to lose the homes that were now “theirs.” To some extent, it worked – the American working class has, since that time, been arguably less militant than its European counterparts, who tend not to own. Property is a form of attachment. So is nationalism, and the new favorite, debt. There are others.

So the Man knows that attachment and fear of loss encourage a docile working class. That means, I think, that an existential being in the moment, a fearless presence with the world and with one another, is a big part of what our side needs to cultivate. (Not least because what we are up against, in terms of the repressive apparatus of the state, is scary as hell.)

I am extra neurotic, but you all don’t need to bust your pretty faces to do what I’m doing now. Take a deep breath. Listen. Feel the breeze on your skin. Vibe the vitality of the people around you. Stop thinking I’m corny. Just do it. It’s so precious, this moment. Defend it.

That, I’m thinking now, is where we begin.

postscript, from late summer 2013: check out Eleni’s Blog in Ikaria, where she wrote this beautiful response, by which I am very touched: http://islgr.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/my-dear-blog-ツ-summer/. Read all the other posts, too… this is one super cool person.

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