Conventionally Sweet

I have recently joined Facebook in order to participate in a local community group.

The thing that has surprised me most is just how many social justice images, quotes and links that can be re-posted by just one person.  Her feed is a sea of liberal affirmations, a never ending fount of emotional rationales, a miasma of quick support bites for what she thinks should be shared beliefs.

I sat in a room tonight with a bunch of women of a certain age listening to writers, mostly women of a certain age, read their works.

And apart from one moving excerpt from a memoir, the taut story of her fifth operation after being diagnosed with cancer, how she surrendered and survived enough to claim back a tiny bit of power as a caregiver, grateful in a profound way, I felt like I was immersed in that Facebook feed.

List poems about nostalgia, deliberate constructions, and a culturally conventional harangue from a tall, shaved head, lesbian of colour, all of these got kind affirmation from the audience, their essential good girl playing now turned into good woman affirmations of socially appropriate work.

I knew I could get the same affirmation for my work if it rang the same bells, hit the same chimes as others did.  Appeal to the liberal and the social justice and the sweet and you can hit this audience right where they coo with a justifiable harangue that plays to the choir of people who all agree about oppression and pink lace.

The conventions of the audience were clear and, at least to each other, sweet.   I get that.

When the Hospice people came in to take care of my mother, they tried being sweet, all cute and coochy-coo.   It didn’t work so well.

In her last week my mother had a massage and didn’t want to get off the bed to get showered, even though the aide was there.  I decided that it was a good time to entertain her with a selection of songs from “Hello Dolly.”

I belted out the title tune at the top of my lungs as the aide watched my mother start to move.  My mother was up and moving past me just as I finished.

“That’s why they never made it to Broadway!” she announced to the aide, who smiled.

That same aide lost her mother a few days after mine passed, and she told me that she had thought she knew what the families she helped were going through, but her own she now knew that she did not.  I was moved that she saw me as safe enough to share that with me.

In the end, the hospice nurse acknowledged that she had never seen anyone more committed to caring for their parents, but I did that knowing that my mother loved savoury much more than sweet, that engaging her mind with sly and subversive wit was much more her style than overly sweet convention.

I chose not to spend the weekend with these women at their creativity conference full of authorized cultural heritage social rhythms conventions, liberal flunk and sweet, sweet tropes.   IHOP may have found that you can’t make food too sweet for most Americans — go Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity — but I was raised with the piquant, deep and robust.

We all need community, no doubt, but my old battered life doesn’t easily get candy coated.   I need time and contrasts to speak about my experience in the world, need to engage both the open mind and the open heart in a way that is deep, rich, and complex, not just one bite of pink glazed fun.

I understand the attraction of the feed full of slogans and rah-rah, cheerleaders for the liberal goodness, but then I understand the attraction of a feed full of slogans and rah-rah, rallying calls for tea-party take the country back convention too.   It just seems to me that pitting these two against each other doesn’t really get us to a balanced table to share with broader community.

Do I get that my resistance to convention means I don’t easily get the benefits of rah-rah?

Sure.   But if trans isn’t about the delight of developed and contrasting flavours, full of contradiction and nuance that challenges the palate, what it it about anyway?