Time passing

Warsaw sundial. Photo credit: Andrzej Barabasz

Yanked out of deep sleep by an early morning phone call, always that flash of fear when the phone rings in the dark–was there an accident? a death? is it the hospital? the police?–but it was only a friend of my husband’s, apparently oblivious to the time and the need of others for sleep. Ordinarily, I would have been half-awake anyway, but I haven’t yet gotten used to the change to daylight savings time on Sunday and have been sleeping fitfully.

I was too irritated to go back to bed and puttered about making coffee and feeding cats, accompanied by the mournful wail of foghorns and intricate warbling of mockingbirds greeting the dawn. Every year, I am resentful and angry at the time change, it seems so arbitrary and unnecessary. When I was working night shift, springing forward was a gift, a seven-hour shift instead of eight, but when I switched to days, it was agonizing. The shift started at 6:50 am, but for weeks after the spring time change, our bodies still thought it was 5:50 and shrieked in protest. I wished I could emulate my grandfather who, in his farming years, simply ignored it: “The cows and hens don’t pay attention to daylight savings time, and neither do I!”

When my husband and I were in the southwest a few years ago, I was pleased to discover that most of Arizona ignores it too. An exception is the huge Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, which springs forward according to federal guidelines. The much smaller Hopi reservation, entirely surrounded by the daylight-savings-time abiding Navajos, clings firmly to standard time. It must make lunch dates pretty chancy.

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. —Douglas Adams

Lately,  between snoozes, I’ve been reading a book by Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women. It’s a fairly old book, but new to me, having somehow managed to live through the feminist revival of the 1960s and 70s without being more than peripherally involved (a mistake of gargantuan proportions I have lived to regret). Dr. Miller, a psychiatrist, writes with clarity about the terrible effects of a culture of domination and subordination, how the dominant group legitimizes the unequal relationship, explains it with false premises such as racial or sexual inferiority, and how this then becomes the model. It then becomes “normal” to treat others destructively and to derogate them, to obscure the truth of what you are doing, by creating false explanations, and to oppose actions toward equality. And for the subordinates, it’s a matter of basic survival.  Accordingly, direct, honest reaction to destructive treatment is avoided. Open, self-initiated  action in its own self-interest must also be avoided. Such actions can, and still do, literally result in death for some subordinate groups.

It’s very clarifying to read her writing. She floats above the particulars and sees the patterns, and soon you are recognizing patterns of your own, and understanding why you have them.

…the issues
of how a person is made to feel vulnerable or helpless and what she/he then tries to do about it is probably the basic issue underlying most modern concerns in psychiatry. In its extreme form such vulnerability can be described as the threat of psychic annihilation, probably the most terrifying threat of all. People will do almost anything to avoid such threats.

If one is a member of a subordinate group, it’s no wonder risk-taking is so scary. It took me back to my college days, when prejudice against women in academia not only was overt, it was widely accepted. Smart, articulate women were routinely undermined and treated with contempt. It was generally assumed that the only reason you’d want to advance to graduate school was because you weren’t attractive enough to get married. Women who happened to be both brainy and beautiful were told graduate education would be wasted on them because they’d only drop out, get married and have babies.  It was a given that women would always be second-rate writers, perhaps good in their “genre,” but certainly light-weights compared to the men. Ernest Hemingway was widely admired.

…I learned that I had no genuinely valid opinions, since every view I might hold was colored by my sex, writes Cynthia Ozick, describing her faculty appointment to the all-male English department of a major university. If I said I didn’t like Hemingway, I could have no critical justification, no literary reason; it was only that, being a woman, I obviously could not be sympathetic toward Hemingway’s “masculine” subject matter–the hunting, the fishing, the bullfighting, which no woman could adequately digest. It goes without saying that among my colleagues there were other Hemingway dissenters; but their reasons for disliking Hemingway, unlike mine, were not taken to be simply ovarian. (from “Prevision of the Demise of the Dancing Dog“)

It makes me sad that I didn’t have the sense to join in the actions and consciousness-raising of the women’s movement. Much of it looked upper class and racist at the beginning, not something I wanted to be part of; but later, younger women opened it up to a more diversified group, and they helped each other challenge some of the ideas of inferiority they’d been raised with. How would my life have been different, I wonder, if I’d been part of that? And how would my daughter’s?

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

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8 Responses to Time passing

  1. cleo says:

    What a lovely post. And Robert Frost’s poem always gives me goosebumps. the thought of what might have been. I live in a racially divided country. I am constatly amazed at how the previously politically dominant group have so little consciousness of their past privilege and domination and the dreadful legacy that has left on other communities. We are outraged at the level of violence we experience, but where did it all originate? In the past attempts at psychic annihilation perhaps?

    • sswl says:

      Thanks so much, Cleo. I think attempts at psychic annihilation are right on target as a source of violence and rage. When I think of the racial history of the US–genocide, enslavement, exclusion–and the vicious stereotypes that were used, and still are, to justify it, it’s hard to imagine what it would take for people to put it behind them. What I liked so much about Miller’s book was the damage she saw to both the dominant and subordinate groups, the dishonesty of the relationships, love and friendship replaced by power and subjugation, competitiveness on one side and dissembling on the other. No wonder we’re all so screwed up. An egalitarian society would make life better for everyone.

      How are you, anyway?

      • cleo says:

        Hi Susan
        It’s of course South Africa where I live. I know from past posts that you are pretty well informed on the subject. Such a complex, hopeful, troubled, blessed, violent, wonderful place. There are many SA writers who capture the issues – not least of all of course JM Coetzee – especially in his highly controversial novel Disgrace. But another writer I love is Antje Krog – her 3 “memoir” books capture so much of what its like to live here (she is a white Afrikaner poet) – if you have a highly refined sensibility! And you are right of course the dominator and the dominated both suffer a loss of humanity through this injustice.
        I am doing well – so happy to be back here. This early stage of not drinking feels pretty easy so the biggest thing I think I need to guard against at the moment is complacency!

      • sswl says:

        Yes, I figured it was South Africa, such a fascinating and turbulent history and I gather still suffering greatly from the effects of colonialism and apartheid. I was completely enthralled by Waiting for the Barbarians and have requested Disgrace from the library. Will look for Antje Krog’s books, as she sounds like a writer I’d like and being an armchair traveler these days, it’s how I see other parts of the world. Thanks so much for the suggestions.

        Glad you’re doing well. For me, the hardest part was getting past the longing to be a ‘normal’ drinker. When I finally could see that I’d NEVER be able to keep it under control, no matter how much I wished I could, it felt like the war was over and I was more at peace with sobriety. But it took awhile. Listening to others’ stories helped, all those people who’d been sober for years, convinced themselves they could drink again, and gone straight back to the miserable hell of addiction. It’s one reason I stay involved in recovery stuff, to get those reminders, since I’m as capable of self-delusion as the next drunk. Sigh.

      • cleo says:

        I always get anxious after i recommend books – what if they dont like it? what if they think I’m mad for liking it? need to get over it and let you take reposnibility for that yourself I think! I am thinking of starting at the beginning and re reading all Coetzee’s books. Some I have loved and resonate so deeply with me, some I never got the point. But maybe there are more riches to be had if I start all over again. Maybe there is a new goal in the making. Would love to know some of your favourites some time. C xx

      • sswl says:

        Yes, well, me too! But you’re right about each of us taking responsibility for what we read. I read some of the reviews of Disgrace, and you ain’t kiddin’ about it being controversial! Made me want to read it just to see what side I landed on. Anyway, I put in a request at the library and will give it a try–and I’m looking forward to reading Krog, as I’ve read pitifully little South African fiction. When I was actually studying literature, South Africa was completely omitted, except of course for Alan Payton. But then so was all the rest of Africa. And Latin America. And Asia. Ahh, the fifties. I’m still catching up.

      • cleo says:

        Re Krog – There are 3 books (i know of anyway – I must check and make sure I am not missing anything else) besides her poetry. Country of my Skull – very much focussed on the Truth and Reconcilation Committee and a rather “challenging” read. If you are interested I would start with A Change of Tongue or Begging to be Black. Re Disgrace in my bookclub it caused heated conversations for months – and still would if the subject came up. It was made into a film with John Malkovich – who was brilliant. I see Coetzee has just published a new book last week. Isn’t it so exciting when an author you love does that?? All I want ot say to them is thank you thank you. I then I hope hope hope I am not disappointed!

      • sswl says:

        Country of my Skull’s the only one I’ve been able to lay hands on so far. I’m pretty interested in the T&R Comm., so I’ll give it a try. But good to know about the others. I really like John Malkovich–hope Netflix has that film. That way, if I don’t get through the book I can still participate in the raging arguments, right?
        Know what you mean about new books from favorite authors. You rejoice, then hold your breath.

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