Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crying for Allen Ginsberg’s Mom

I cried in class last night: tears streaming down, ugly face crying. At least I didn't make any noise. It was awful. My only consolation is that I didn't cry because of some self-righteous orthodox argument. I didn't cry because of their stupidity or meanness. In fact, the boys were on their best behavior. Black Hat spoke to me for the first time and Crazy Chaim followed me around like an overly excited puppy. I was half-surprised he didn't try to follow me into the bathroom. And Curious George—who knows. All I remember of him last night was his confused comment to the Cultural Historian that he'd read for the wrong week. His lack of sachel is almost starting to concern me.

Frustration 1- Work: I walked into class already filled with frustration. Earlier in the day, I had conferences with my writing students. For the first time in many semesters, almost all of my students are great. They come to class, they ask questions, and best of all, they write well. Of course, one student is the exception. He's missed many classes, he's always late, and he's changed his topic three times! Any piece of work he hands in completely wrong. It's not that he can't write; He simply refuses to follow directions. The beauty of the class is the straightforward directions and endless examples. He has every excuse in the book—I'm hindering his creativity (it's technical writing—there's no creativity in Tech Writing), the writing center was mean to him, he was taught in the French and British school system (what that has to do with following an example, I'll never know), on and on and on. After missing his conference because "he had to take a test or study for a test or whatever," he brought me his "paper" (and yes, I mean to put quotations there). It was professional, a bit out of order, and well-written. However, it wasn't the assignment. I gave very strict instructions (instructions, by the way, created by the college), and I gave example after example. I read through it rather quietly, trying to decide if he plagiarized. I say nothing about my suspicions. I need proof before I can have that conversation. Beyond completely ignoring the assignment, the order is all wrong: Introduction—Results—Research—Conclusion. "Why is research after results? I don't get it." I ask him.

"What do you mean? How do you not get it? You hate me. You're always singling me out. I try and I try and I try for you, and you're so mean to me. I've been educated in so many places. My dad works for the UN…" (oh, then by all means, if you're dad works for the UN, then do whatever you want)

Frustrated, I stare at him. I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. Nothing I say will make any difference. He will end up failing. He will make a huge stink. I will have to speak to my boss, and then the Dean…

I want it to stop. He spends more time complaining then he does listening. If he just followed directions. GRRRR. Semester after semester frustration follows me. It follows all of us. They use up all their energy complaining. They expect to be passed along. They expect that looking busy automatically gives you an A. It doesn't! The final product gives you an A.

I carry this frustration on the long drive (in the pouring rain) up I95 and through the city streets of northeast Philadelphia. I carry it with me as I get out of the car and walk onto campus. I carry it with me as I set my books down and get out my computer and listen to Crazy Chaim bark happily in my ear.


Frustration 2- Hypocrisy: Surprisingly (to me at least), women want to talk about this blog: Jewish women. Women with their own frustration. My ortho boys have hit a nerve. Suddenly, women are telling me stories. Most of their stories revolve around sex, not just any kind of sex, but sex (or at least heavy petting) with confused orthodox boys. Sex with a man they met in Israel. Sex with a man they met at study group. Sex with a boy they met at Chabad on their University Campus. It is sex filled with guilt, and tzittzit, and black hats. Sex in emails, text messaging and phone conversations. It is secretive. The women are Jewish, but not religious. Thankfully, the men are (at least in these stories) single. In every other way, they follow Halakah (Jewish law). They pray when they are supposed to pray. They eat kosher food. They wear the right clothing. They follow the rituals. They won't pray with a woman. They won't shake a woman's hand. They won't speak gossip. However, they simply cannot help themselves when it comes to sex. They fall down the endless ladder of redemption over and over again. Do they think their God does not care? If you can't be virginal for God, who can you be virginal for? Usually, they place their guilt on the laps of the women. They beg them not to tell. They harp about ruining their reputation in the Jewish community. They hang up phones, they walk out on secret dates, and they keep coming back for more. I'm all for people having sex with whoever makes them happy. However, the hypocrisy is ridiculous. These orthodox men scream from their soapboxes about the impurity of women, but what about their own impurities? What would they do if they knew their future wives were having secret trysts with men? What would they do if they found out their wives weren't virginal? Would that be forgivable? Now, I admit, I have no idea what would happen to these boys if the community were to find out about their sexual misdeeds. Nonetheless, I'm guessing the old Jewish men with their long white beards and big fury hats, might just pat them on the shoulder, wink, and say, "Good job."


Frustration 3- Allen Ginsberg (or what sent me over the edge): When we finally started class, we analyzed Allen Ginsberg. We listened to him read from his poem America. I've never been a fan of beat poetry. My mind wandered as his drunken high as a kite voice filled the room. I think I may have laughed once or twice…Then we listened to:

A Supermarket In California by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whit-
man, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees
with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images,
I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of
your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole fam-
ilies shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives
in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you,
Garcнa Lorca, what were you doing down by the

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old
grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator
and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed
the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of
cans following you, and followed in my imagination
by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in
our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every
frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors
close in an hour. Which way does your beard point
tonight? p
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets?
The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses,
we'll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming ofthe lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-
teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit
poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank
and stood watching the boat disappear on the black
waters of Lethe?

Berkeley 1955 (reblogged from poets)

I dug it a bit more. I loved the thought of wandering the aisles of the supermarket with my favorite literary figure. Of course, when I imagine great intellectuals that appeal to me, they start fighting. Usually, it's just one figure: Hannah Arendt in her later years- dark hair pulled back, cigarette in hand, judging everyone in the room. "That Peretz thinks his stories are so smart; He knows nothing of Politics my dear. He's too confused."

We moved onto a selection from Kaddish. I'd read it over the weekend. It deals with Ginsberg's mother Naomi.

She suffers from schizophrenia. She has hallucinations of the government out to get her. She bounces from one place to another. He must watch his mother fall deeper and deeper into madness. "The enemies approach—what poisons? Tape recorders? FBI? Zhadanov hiding behind the counter? Trotsky mixing rat bacteria in the back of the store? Uncle Sam in Newark, plotting deathly perfumes in the Negro district? Uncle Ephraim, drunk with murder in the politician's bar, scheming of Hague?"

When I read it at home, I wondered, "How did he survive such horror?" However, in class, I was struck by his physical description of his mother. It was…grotesque. I want to find an example that doesn't make me feel sick and uncomfortable. (even I have my limits) " dress up round her hips, big slash of hair, scars of operations, pancreas, belly wounds, abortions, appendix, stitching of incisions pulling down in the fat like hideous thick zippers…"

To remember your mother like that and I don't just mean emotionally, but physically. To describe one's mother in such a sexual way was too much for me. I said, "I'd rather not be remembered than to be remembered like that." The older gentleman in my class (a psychologist in the prison system for over 30 years), turns to me and says, "But he can't forget."

Maybe it was my frustration from earlier. Maybe it was the fact I have a young son of my own, and I can't bear the thought of him ever speaking about me like that. It overwhelmed me. As the boys sat their staring into their books, tears started streaming down my face. There I was, crying over Allen Ginsberg's dead mother.

The boys kept stared at their books. The Cultural Historian looked over at me then looked down again. Stop crying stop crying stop crying. The tears kept coming. I had to get up and leave the room.

I'm a crier. I've always been. However, this was different. As the only female in the room, I hated exposing myself. I hated feeling like the GIRL—the silly emotional weak girl.

When I came back into the room they were still talking about Ginsberg. I jumped right back in like nothing happened. And no one said anything to me…

I'm sure their talking about me right now.

Now, I'm the punch line.


1 comment:

  1. Oh Shosh....the way you write! You touch my soul. I could feel your frustration, and then your tears welling up-and then mine. Touching all those buttons. I too am a crier...and I hate it for the same reasons. Trying so hard to be taken seriously in the workplace, and then crying for reasons that are impossible to explain to the people around.
    G-d bless.