Saturday, May 9, 2009

Me, My Mother, and I

Therapy this past Wednesday was intense work. Quite a lot of time was spent in a postmortem of the disastrous date with Cal. (As you may recall my last therapy session was to get ready for my date with Cal). See Cal, we're still trying to figure out what went wrong, and how to make it right.

It seems there are times I channel my mother and not in her finest moments. But she was fierce and honest about her feelings. She was opinionated and forceful, always direct to a fault. And she was mischievous in a mean and teasing way I always hated. The flip side of not liking that is the wit in her barbs. She was quick and sometimes glib. And though I saw her as my tormenter when I was young, she was also my mother whom I adored.

Everything that I have said about her that you would think of as clearly cruel and careless has a flip side. She said she wanted to make me tough. She has succeeded. I'm not only tough, I'm strong and, so I'm told, intimidating, scary. I have her voice, her vocabulary, her taste in clothes, esthetic, intelligence and hunger for knowledge.

She was the very picture of Ms. Robinson--older woman seduces younger man. She had an almost inextinguishable sex appeal even into her 70s. And she was a political operative and leading edge feminist organizer in the 1960's in Salt Lake City, an inhospitable environment for the women's movement. She organized and led pickets of the Mormon temple on the weekend of General Conference which is when the temple grounds are packed with the faithful who have come from across the country and from other countries. It's like a biannual trip to Mecca. I have never been so scared protesting for anything anywhere in my travels, as I was marching with my mother to protest the Mormon Church's apposition to ratification by the State of Utah of the Equal Right's Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We were threatened with death by young mormon men and we were spat upon. Never have I felt so vulnerable to violence. We had a permit, we were outside the Church's property on a public sidewalk, but I felt scared. That was when I first realized my mother's power and strength as a woman with a cause.

My mother organized the Utah Chapter of National Organization of Women, the Utah National Women's Conference. Gloria Steinem slept in the bed I inherited. So did Betty Freidan, and Andrea Dworkin. Every famous feminist who came to speak at the University of Utah was picked up at the airport by my mother, driven to this house, partied at this place. My mother was a woman with a rich and interesting life. She sat on the Board of Directors of the Utah Chapter of the ACLU and board meetings were held in this living room. Our last Mayor was Rocky Anderson and I knew him during his days as an ACLU attorney.

When Maggy lived in Santa Barbara she served two terms as a member of the Santa Barbara Grand Jury. Right up until the end of her life she was still flipping people off and saying "Fuck You." Fierce spirit. A savage woman, unwilling to live a life without breaking all the rules.

And what does all of this have to do with therapy? I will now acknowledge the gifts my mother gave me. They are undeniable and not all bad. But I would rather be gentler than my mother, more sensitive to other peoples feelings, especially if they are kind, well meaning, generous people. I have seen my mother hurt someone else very deliberately. And I have asked her, "Why did you do that?" And she has answered, "Because I could." I do not want to become that woman. So I must take care.

So here's to you mother. It's late in coming, but I do forgive you. I did admire and adore you even as I feared you.