I’m a slow reader. It’s one of my personal challenges. As a child, I could read easily, but I didn’t take to it naturally like a fish to water. Instead, I took to water. It was Phoenix and over 110 degrees. I thought why find out about life from books, when you can have first hand experiences, like for instance, water? Besides learning the 3 Rs in school, my mentors were gaggles of neighborhood kids playing tag, kick the can, or some version of softball in vacant lots. Or jumping rope if there were only 3 or 4 of us. Tree-climbing or jacks if there were only 2. Alone, I walked to the public swimming pool to swim and practice my dives for a whole summer day, most summer days. Or, sat mesmerized in front of the latest technology, a TV set (Howdy Doody and Pinky Lee). A few years later, The Mickey Mouse Club (Cubby, Darlene, Bobby, Annette), then American Bandstand (Kenny and Arlene, Bob and Justine, Pat Molitari, Carol Scaldeferi). This is what I did instead of reading.
My first “grown-up” book I remember feeling proud of having read was “Gone With the Wind”, when I was sixteen. Then, for some reason, “Crime and Punishment”. Still, I didn’t read much. By the time I was nineteen, and active in the anti-war movement, it was suggested to me by fellow comrades, that I should be reading Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao. God knows I tried. I loved Mao’s short pamphlet “On Contradiction” (and still love paradox) and the even shorter – one page – “Combat Liberalism”, which my parents were horrified to find tacked to our kitchen wall when they visited.
It was 1970, and our funky, but cool apartment on Castro St. cost $240 a month (kind of a high rent at that time, but since four of us shared it, it wasn’t too bad). In the verdant and private back yard we smoked marijuana and sunbathed in the nude with members of the famous San Francisco performing troupe, The Cockettes, one of whom lived upstairs. I looked like a hippie, but thought like a radical, or tried to. I was in one or two Marxist-Leninist study groups over a few years. I don’t know how I managed to read through these books. Maybe I didn’t. I do remember two books I enjoyed about the anarchist Emma Goldman (her autobiography “Living My Life”) and Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife).
Always I opted for direct experience over books. I’d rather be out demonstrating, or volunteering as a nurse in the Los Siete free medical clinic, or having wildly free sex with my 60s & 70s era San Francisco friends and comrades who were also having wildly free sex with each other, supplying chaotic meaning to the-then feminist slogan “smash monogamy”. Not that many of us were married yet. (Later on, my now ex- and I would “smash” our own monogamous marriage the old-fashioned way, a result of drifting apart and poor communication. Hmm, is that too specific, or not specific enough? The truth is after 30 years, I still don’t understand what happened. The mystery remains, and thankfully, we remain, friends.) Direct life experience!
I was fully engaged in the proposition that we were casting off the oppressive, illogical, and unkind ways of the old order, just as surely as a fully formed butterfly casts off a chrysalis. Not that we knew what to do with our newly emerging selves. If the means becomes the end, endless meetings, marijuana, sex, book study, and demonstrations were what we did most, maybe best. I don’t have serious regrets but I do know our revolutionary zeal did not always protect us from racism, sexism, illogic, and unkindness from within our own ranks.
I probably would have been better off reading more.
On the other hand, maybe we helped end the war in Vietnam sooner rather than later. I hope so. We also participated in raising consciousness about racism, sexism, and homophobia. We supported Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers, including not eating a single grape for years. We tried to take responsibility for our interdependent world and to fight against certain things — US military aggression, racism and sexism — and for some things — solidarity with those fighting for their own liberation —wrongly incarcerated individuals and nations.
Cuba was one of those places I/we stood in solidarity with. I lived and worked there for a year, a year that coincided with the horrific Pinochet regime seizing power in Chile and torturing and murdering thousands of Chileans. Similar atrocities were being perpetrated in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua — all military dictatorships with relationships with the US government. What a terrible time that was!
Cuba was not without its own issues. But Cuba provided education to all children, free universal health care to everyone, and was providing free medical school to young people from many poor nations, as well as teams of Cuban doctors going to help in other needy countries. Cuba was also fighting its own history of racism and sexism. While I was there, the Federation of Cuban Women came out with a document “The Family Code” which everyone was seriously discussing, at workplaces and in the streets. One of its main premises was the sharing of household and childcare responsibilities between husband and wife. In Cuba’s hyper-macho culture, this was revolutionary. They also had a literacy campaign like no where else in the world. They were teaching every one to read!
Last week President Obama established full diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of the US having a stranglehold on that tiny nation. The wheels of progress turn slowly, but still turn. As we used to say, it being more true than we could possibly have imagined it would need to be, La lucha continua!
ps. sorry this is so long. It’s my short version. next post, more on Reading.
8 thoughts on “(instead of) Reading….”
I keep hoping that someone will write a book about this time (60s, 70s) that I too was deeply marked by. What I want is not a political analysis, but a book that really brings the reader back to what it felt like, what our hearts said, what our bodies did. You may be the someone I’ve been waiting for, Gayle! Thanks for taking the plunge.
Interesting place to start from. . . . reading. Lately I’ve been reading books that have been on my shelves unread for years. Interesting to reflect on What If I’d read this then. . .as well as What If I had read instead. . .
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Dear Anita, I’m sure there are thousands of “heart and body” stories that people have to tell about these very powerful politically and personally transformative years. Mine could be one of them; yours could too. It’ll be interesting to see if/when they start getting written. I think a lot of people remember these times with nostalgia, but I think there was also a good bit of trauma in them too. The mix of highs (literal and figurative) and lows (lostness and unkindnesses) is dizzying. Inbetween, somehow, an awful lot of work toward peace and justice got accomplished (and not). I don’t know if/when I’ll be ready to take it on. This year, my Jubilee year, the only writing commitment I’m taking on is to post here every week. Turns out I was right about that. Like my “avatar” Goldilocks would say, not too much and not too little. I’ll probably write more about those times this year, but in essay, not book form. xo, g.
It’s not too long; I loved reading it and for me so interesting as I was moving from childhood to adolescence at the time you are writing about and trying to see your world through my cloistered and innocent filters. I looked up to you with all my heart and picked up only on all the good you were doing and thought “I’ll never be as smart or as intellectual as you, but I will try” and you were a role model for me in every way during that time. Even though there was some crazy stuff, I did not even see that or was aware of it. You were just cool to me and my big sister.
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Your post brings tears to my eyes. I SO wanted to be that big sister to you, but I felt I never bridged the chasm that was you-living-at-home, (especially knowing how our parents felt about me — highly critical), while I continued trying to hear my own drumbeat of truth, figuring out my life here. I didn’t know you felt all those things about me you just wrote. You were such a dear girl, but shy, quiet. Maybe you communicated that to me then; I don’t remember. It makes me sad I didn’t see you more. I wish I could have been there more for you, but I was pretty lost in the crazy whirl and world of what was going on here. I’m happy that even though I wasn’t there enough for you, that you found your own path to being an amazing, wonderful, and creative person, and that there is mutual love and respect in our now grown up sisterhood. Thank you for writing Terri. xo
Not too long when you like to read! Keep them coming!
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Gayle! I LOVE this!!!!!!!!! xoxoxoxoxo
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I so appreciate that you know how to write and I get to READ it. It made my day….and it’s just starting., and it gives me something to chew on.
Thank YOU Paul! It’s my pleasure, and my challenge, and a relief to have begun putting my thoughts into writing and out into the light of day. I hope you have a great day! xo,g.