wrote in an intriguing question about something she found in me, here on this website. I was interested in the letter you reference (that you wrote in 2002), "dependence" and "vulnerability" are spoken of as negative. I'm interested to know if your relationship with those two words/emotions/states of being has changed or grown since then.
At the time I wrote the letter Diana is speaking of, vulnerability and dependence were states I thought were avoidable. I used the words to describe, as well as I could, how the man I was partnered with, and whom I have been raising two children with -- John -- felt after realizing that a masters degree from the Kennedy School was not, as he and many working-class people might imagine, the way to stability and anything that feels like success. John is, from small town rust-belt land, a "local boy who made good" type. Or, at least, that's what he should have been, would have been, in the Hollywood version of how things turn out, and that is something I once responded to viscerally, as I sure as hell am not, and I hated my own vulnerability and dependence. I wanted to believe that there was some way out and I wanted to believe that "good people" sometimes choose those states, like Jesus to the cross, maybe, like ritual suicide, more likely. But, there was a way out, I kept telling myself.
John currently works for a non-profit, and is very much the professional at work he was not at the time I wrote that letter (because eating, healthcare, a home, all these are good things and we have found no viable way, currently, to make them happen otherwise), while at the same time, I respect greatly the huge amount of work and patient time he is committed to, not only for his family (including me) -- even if we are not always the most fun people to be with -- but also in our neighborhood where he is a dedicated transit organizer. His philosophy, which we share, is share The Work -- even with the people you think are annoying or incompetent. That, in my opinion, is more than half of The Work right there. Building solidarity. The Work he does best, in my opinion, isn't the work he supports us all with financially, though I am grateful for that too. And he, and I, are still vulnerable and dependent. We all are. It is an unavoidable state. And I have accepted that.
In Radical Homemakers
Shannon Hayes, the author, talks about the illusion many of us have that paid work is our way to stability. In the book she makes the case that a life of simplicity and community makes us more stable than a job we are dependent upon, especially with the consumption that being away from our homes for most of the day fosters as well as the vulnerability of losing our generalized skills in favor of perfecting only the specialized ones we require to do our paid work. Shannon goes so far as to suggest that we don't really need health insurance, something my own newly founded neighborhood radical homemaking discussion group dismissed as ludicrous in a world where equal health care is hardly a right, remembering our own families' sometimes life or death medical expenses.
Still though, much of what Shannon has to say strikes a chord of truth. As we watch the American industrial, corporate economy collapse and we see people losing their homes, and sometimes their minds or morality, as we watch our schools decay, we have to ask ourselves -- did our jobs make us secure? Fuck no. What is money? It's a made up thing that we have decided is the currency of our cooperation. We can choose to cooperate without it. But, of course, we will still be vulnerable and dependent -- just to a community and its judgments and culture alone, without any hope of buying our way to more liberty than our neighbor may have.
But accepting vulnerability and dependence and thinking of them as anything other than negative are different, I realize. I mean, American culture is about self-reliance. And I am very American. I can't be anything else. Are they negative?
Well, I am currently very concerned about where this whole train of thought about my own paid work is going. I mean, here I am saying, in public, that I have serious doubts that what I have been trained to do is actually good for anyone, including me, except in that I will get to eat and have healthcare and all those good things, and that's a lot. You know, I do not have a martyr complex. Not anymore. I love life. That martyr complex that so many activists, paid or not, have is ridiculous, in my humble opinion. Why would you want to save the world, to put the motivation in hyperbolic terms, if you don't have a strong desire to keep on living in it? That macho crap, or Jesus crap, one, is anti-life, and none of us are going to save anyone with it. Have you ever seen a people's movement, a successful one, that is fundamentally anti-life?
Anyway, I'm concerned. I have no desire to die and yet I feel like I'm falling into a hole and that hole is called -- Solidarity? I don't work for pay right now. I decided to go back to school, to study how to be a therapist to activists. In the meantime I've been diagnosed with PTSD. My biggest solidarity relationships are with John, my former partner and with Sam
, my former partner. I have got to find a way of reconciling myself to my own vulnerability and dependence. And surely, one doesn't have to sleep with someone at some point to have a meaningful cooperation with them, right?
In a world where solidarity is hardly the cultural norm, but mortality is the natural one, what's a true believer to do?Greg Brown
, the folk singer, says: "All this stuff about intentional community is a bunch of crap. You’ve got to need each other."
We need each other. If solidarity is what is good for the soul, as I think it is, maybe that need is a positive enough thing to say our vulnerability and dependence, when seen clearly, is positive too-- for human beings are mystical beings. As for me and my remedial humanity, I'm convinced that in the short term I'm going to have to figure things out as well as I can and try to figure them out with you, friend and reader, and strive for something better, something more real and true, for my soul and for my children's future. You'll be reading more about Sam, John, Diana, and lots of other people I love, with hyperlinks most likely, as time goes on, because, well, I love them, and that is what this is about.