Post-Election ~ Apocalypse ~ Descent
Understanding that human beings are “meaning making machines”, (as I learned from my participation in Landmark Education from 2005-2010), or said another way: Understanding that humans will make up a meaning even in the midst of utter chaos because their internal drive for order and purpose, and their need to soothe themselves and seek equilibrium drives them to create meaning in the face of the existential void of “Nothingness”, I find myself wanting explanations for what happened in the recent election.
My first post on FaceBook after the election was “ The word Apocalypse means “the great unveiling”. There is no man behind the curtain. The man is in front of the curtain screaming, snarling, spewing hate and promising vengeance and many people support him. In the past people with hateful malicious racist and sexist views have tried to appear to be other than what they are. In the past people who ran for president felt the need to appear rational and loving.
It is completely astonishing to me that Donald Trump is the president elect of the USA.
I am not a liberal, nor a democrat. I usually choose to vote independent. I am who and what I am which is evidenced by the work I do in the world and my attempts to create new cultures that are a reflection of my own values. Though these values reflect ways of being that are not limited to the following phrases and adjectives, because our common shared language is too limited to adequately describe me, and I want to live into future cultures which are more rich and elaborate in their languages, I will share some of the descriptors of some of my identities: poly-normative, queer-centric, kinky, pansexual, pollen-amorous, anarcho-socialist communitarian, visionary, non-binary, radical, witch, magician, queer, ecosexual.
The world I live in is largely intensely and intentionally insular because I knew that the world I was born into in North Ridgeville, Ohio was not big enough for me to be myself in. I left at the age of 18 to go to a private women’s college in Columbia, MO. I met a group of radical professors there who inspired me to get a degree in Human Ecology in 1983. I met a lovely gender queer feminist man and we married and moved to Eugene, OR together in 1989. While completing our graduate degrees in MO we build a shanty town on the front lawn of the UMC campus Administration building with a group of other grad students and occupied it for 9 months. This protest included two arrests: One from campus police and one featuring strip searches by a county sheriff. This protest included sleeping in the cardboard and wooden shelters we built, while fraternity brothers beat down the shanty walls with baseball bats as we slept.
In 1989, my new partner; Larry Scott Williams and I took our newly gotten Master’s degrees in Sociology and Social Work to Eugene, OR to begin our newly married lives together in the Pacific NorthWest. In our first years I taught at the University of Oregon Human Services Dept and was, at the age of 28 the director of a Group Home for adults with “Chronic Mental Illness”. Larry worked on his Phd and was a graduate teaching fellow who worked in the union office of student teachers. We were 2 of the 9 people who founded the Duma Intentional community in 1991. Things moved on and evolved from there. We were happy to have moved from a place where our radical politics made us a clear minority of what we assessed as less than 100 people in “Ol’ Misery”, to a place on the West coast where our views and dress were possibly a bit conservative or old fashioned. We passed through the white Arch sculpture of St. Louis and followed the old Oregon Trail, as settler’s of the last century had 100 years before us. We got out of the midwest “just in time” before it became the “rust belt” that it is now.
Educating yourself out of your class background is both liberating and incredibly painful. It is very rarely written about. Class, that is. I have only found a few places in books where it is recognized as something that occurs. The writing of Dorothy Allison, Michael Schwalbe, and Judy Grahn are three of these places.
One of the first significant influences I discovered at Stephens College, in my first months there, was the Women’s Mythology section in the library. I found the book “The Descent of Inanna; A way of Initiation for Women” by Sylvia Brinton Perera, a Jungian analyst. I found images of deity who looked like me. I found women poets and writers who interpreted these myths and contemplated them. I found Judy Grahn’s book: The Queen of Swords and her reinterpretation of the Descent of Inanna as the story of Helen, “the most beautiful woman on the world”, a middle class housewife who leaves her husband in the suburbs and wanders into the underground of Lesbian BDSM culture in San Francisco.
I also found in that book and others ( “A Woman is Talking Herself to Death” comes to mind), poetry that used the themes of the myth of descent to talk about race, class, and psychological trauma. I found myself in the wake of the election results ruminating about the Judy Grahn poem “Descent to the Roses of the Family” Click to open an audio file of me reading this poem to you.
Trigger warning: The “N word” is used repeatedly in this poem, and here it represents the realm of Erishkigal, the repressed psychological underbelly of American culture, the daily racism, sexism and violence that is responded to with all of the responses to trauma that victims of war exhibit. While my father was not an alcoholic, he certainly was violent. And the sentiments in this poem ring very strongly for me. I think the sentiments of this poem are relevant to the tenor of the lives of people who found Trump to be a viable presidential candidate.
It is “a hook that I am hung on” the experience of deeply loving my family but having to leave at an early age in order to survive. This is not a metaphor or a dramatic turn of phrase. I know that if I had stayed in North Ridgeville Ohio that I would have killed myself for there were no people whom I met there who reflected positive and loving responses to queer intelligent women. I was incredibly grateful to my father for the fact that we attended the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church from the time I was about 8 years old onward. It was in that church that I met my first gay and lesbian people (it was 1969 people, there were no queers yet). It was as a member of that church body and the Junior Church groups that I attended that gave me access to people from other class backgrounds, other nationalities allowed me to see that there were in fact “other ways to live” than what I experienced in my own household.
I was also incredibly angry and frightened of my father who was a complicated mixture of sexually inappropriate, rage-fully violent, incredibly handsome, narcissistic. He was dedicated to drag racing, Frank Zappa music and getting stoned. He was also a very hard worker who did concrete construction, bartending, truck driving and more. He worked until his physical body was broken and diseased. He smoked until he had to use an oxygen machine. His death from heart failure in 2005 is still a deeply emotional trauma in my family’s constellational field. If he were alive, I feel fairly certain that he would have joined his siblings Nina and Marc in voting for Donald Trump and “gloating” about it on their facebook feeds.
My summer was strangely prescient, as I visited my family of origin in Ohio for a full week in the month of July, just before the start of the Republican National convention that was held in Cleveland, OH. I saw politicians coming into the airport on the Monday that I flew out, the first day of the convention. This family visit marked the first time in more than 20 years that I had chosen to visit of my own free will, not because of a wedding or funeral and for more than 5 days. I had come to talk about my blood line and to do ancestral research and to have a wake for my father with my siblings that honored him and became a foundation for the Ancestral Medicine work I had committed to doing in order to not only make peace with my family of blood, but to begin the process of elevating my dead ancestors so that the hungry ghosts amongst them might become bright ancestors.
The visit had a few highlights: speaking with my three siblings alone and simultaneously about my experiences of sexual abuse by my father. Being authentic about how it impacted me, then and now. We also got my father’s ashes out, spoke to him, toasted him. I shared Daniel Foor’s video about hungry ghosts and bright ancestors. It helped them a lot that Daniel grew up in North Ridgeville and that they were familiar with other members of his family and the house he grew up in. Small world. I deeply enjoyed several of the late night talks I had with my brother. Sheri and I got a few moments to exchange kind words. I greatly enjoyed recording the narratives of my Aunt and Uncle about my father’s ancestry and getting new photos of them. I am always deeply moved to be in the presence of my mother who gave birth to me, who sacrificed a lot in order to ensure I went to college. Who frequently at 77 still appears to be a bit naive and needs help interfacing with technology and other “new fangled things”.
The majority of the time there, however, was fraught with intense poverty, real struggles over basic resources like housing food and transportation. Desperate poverty, severe trauma responses, constant emotional reactivity, indeed every response of DTD elaborated by Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score”(more below), is active and alive in the behavior of my family. Shouting, screaming, name calling threats of physical violence, bulimia, secret drinking and drinking until passing out, workaholism, emotional manipulation, getting stoned upon waking and staying stoned for the entire day until you get high again in order to fall asleep. All of it. All there in my family, all there in me. My own reactivity reaching a fever pitch of threatening to call police, or helping my mother write eviction notices for my niece and nephews or yelling at my sister “Shut up! Shut Up! Shut Up!” etc etc.
I was relieved to leave and head back to Cascadia. I was almost home too, just 8 hours left in my 3 day journey of driving from Boulder, Co to Portland, OR, when I was slammed into on the highway and the physical world began to demand all of my attention if I wanted to have control of my bodies functioning again. Ah life, so precious, so sweet, so precarious. How we descend so quickly from comforting delusions of progress into the bowels of unveiled racism, sexism and nationalism.
So I understand why people who live like my family members back East voted for Trump and I do not like it. They are angry, they are frightened and they want someone to blame and someone to make it better. They have not received the reward promised to them for the sacrifices they made, saving money and scraping by so their children could get college educations in the hope that those children would them support them financially in their old age. I have not been able to return to my parents the financial support they gave me by helping me pay for my college education ( they mortgaged their house a second time to help me pay for part of Stephens). No one else in my immediate family has a master’s degree. My sister liked to tease me about the fact that she makes more money as the only female millwright in the GM plant than I have made as a social worker, teacher, activist, artist, poet or store manager. Their lies are not full of art and great outdoor hikes and trips to the ocean and the time and ability to read books, go to beautiful expensive meals out on the town, see plays, dance, etc. they do not have time as they are still busy working to make enough money for rent and food. They do not have health insurance. Our oldest nephew died of a drug overdose in 2014 at the age of 30.
Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D. The Body Keeps the Score : Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
This book is one of the many therapy books that helps me make sense of myself, my family of origin and an America who is filled with people who voted for Donald Trump. Bessel Van Der Kolk is working to change our understanding of trauma. he has proposed a new category of diagnosis for children who have experienced more than 3-5 deeply traumatic experiences in their environments before the age of 18. The new diagnosis is Developmental Trauma Disorder. He believes that our world is full of traumatized people who are locked in a state of reactivity. He is working towards reframing mental health and petitioning to reclassify childhood “mental illnesses” as DTD. It is my personal belief that as a person with DTD, (self diagnosis after reading the book and looking at Dan Seigel’s works as well) that most members of my family also suffer from this severe and persistent form of PTSD. I also believe that many many people whose basic needs were not met or whom have been in wars or who are in or have survived domestic violence and other war like settings are also in a trance induced by surviving traumas. Do you personally know anyone who has not experienced some of these traumas? So my theory and the meaning I make of the recent elections results (not going into the bullshit of the electoral college and the Russian internet hacking and fake news interference), is that our nation is filled with traumatized people who desperately want change but can not gather together in a loving and rational way to do it. Hurt people striking out, that pretty much sums it up.