vendredi 19 novembre 2010

A wandering mind is an unhappy mind

The Apollo fountain as the morning fog lifts

When I work I relax; doing nothing or entertaining visitors makes me tired. ~Pablo Picasso


I vacuumed and -- I -- did something else. What was it? I have forgotten already. That's normal, though. It was yesterday, and it wasn't very important. It was useful, however, and it made me feel rather important (but mostly righteous) for about 5 minutes. I had done something.

Some force had come upon and pressed itself over my weak psyche of late, or for awhile if you ask some, such as my husband about things like the progress on the house and other ambitious projects I claim to be competent to undertake. It might be depression.

O! Do not worry, Sisyphe is not in need of electroshock therapy or pharmaceuticals. Non. She is in need of reigning her mind in and keeping a close watch on it. But, this does not surprise Madame Sisyphe; she has noticed this in the past.

She also suspects that her namesake was given his unending task as a way of showing humankind that even the most unbearable of repetitive and unsatisfying labor is more likely to make it happy than sitting around thinking -- about anything at all. In fact, if this journal is eponymous, it is obviously (at least Sisyphe hopes you have understood this by now) intentional, right down to Camu's quote at the very bottom of the page, The struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Let this be my epitaph, should my son decide to bury me. When I am dead, of course.

The moment I became Sisyphe was during the time I sat on the top terrace and sifted the parched and sandy, worm-free soil, preparing it for seeding after the workers had completed the trenching for the sewer connection, and filled those wounds with the chunks of chalk and what passed for dirt that they had dug up and piled into a mountain and a ridge along the fountain. When I first arrived, I saw brambles, suckers and a patch of dandelions in the place of what had been intended as a lawn. I asked my husband to show me the store where one acquires gardening tools, and I discovered that the French do not know what a dandelion digger is.

This left me perplexed. I was faced with the option of which most people would think instantly: chemical lawn treatments for dandelions and other unsightly weeds. I don't even know why I thought a dandelion fork would be most appropriate. Only habit of thought could make that possible.

An image of my smallest childhood was of my father in his camouflage-green trousers, his dandelion fork sticking out of his rear pocket, at the ready for the appearance of the offending dandelion. It hadn't occurred to me that my father had not attacked every dandelion with this specially designed fork. No, bien sur he had not. Rather, he sprayed early in the season, and then he removed any dandelion our more negligent neighbors' lawns' dandelions sent seed wafting into our property.

I sat on that dirt and sifted it because I believed (rightly, it turned out) that such poor, stone and chalk filled soil was the reason that dandelions and other weeds, and, later, moss thrived. I became a person obsessed. The piles of stone and chalk I removed grew around me. I moved them to the second terrace, and my husband pitched in, carrying pails of them to the trailer to take to a place where we could, then, dump them, down by the closed branch off the Seine. I came to dread his glance as he came to dread my continuously refilling piles and his pails.

It was about then that someone reminded me of what Mao had said about manual labor, which, it happens, is not exactly what I had been reminded he had said. In fact, I am not sure that Mao ever said that people require manual labor for their happiness and sense of balance.

No. It wasn't that of which I was reminded. It was merely that Mao said it was generally good for people, and to break down the classic channels of power and control and get the intellectuals in line, while he was at it:
Chairman Mao also launched "The Socialist Education Movement" in the early sixties, whose primary purpose was to restore ideological purity. This movement was designed to stir up excitement and ardent support for the revolution, while at the same time intensifying the class struggles which were already prevalent. The drafting of intellectuals for manual labor was part of the party's plan to inspire professionals and intellectuals to develop a higher regard for the party's objectives. Anti-Maoists were especially annoyed with Mao's relentless efforts to promote his propaganda, which not only served to reinforce the party's ideologies, but to slander the priority system and beliefs of the intellectuals.

Here was I, a highly educated former member of the professional class, sitting in the dirt, tirelessly sifting it for rocks and chalk in my mason's sieve until my gloves wore out at their tips, making piles of stone for my highly educated actual member of the professional class to cart to the dumping grounds for stone, dirt and pruned branches, down by the Seine.

He was especially annoyed with this accidental Maoist's relentless efforts to create the perfect lawn and stave off, unbeknownst to herself, thoughts of her change in status and possible dissatisfaction with certain choices she had made and how they had, actually, turned out. If she had no power any longer over many areas of her life, having moved far from her previous life to this one, she had power over the dirt and the stone, she could cause her husband to submit and to haul it away.

And here she was an even truer Maoist student than ever she had suspected, never having fallen to the temptations offered by the student socialist groups on campus at Columbia. She was acting out her Barnard feminism in a truly perverse and Maoist way. Take chapter 31, entitled "Women", from Mao's Little Red Book:
A man in China is usually subjected to the domination of three systems of authority (political authority, clan authority and religious authority). As for women, in addition to being dominated by these three systems of authority, they are also dominated by the men (the authority of the husband). These four authorities -- political, clan, religious and masculine -- are the embodiment of the whole feudal-patriarchal ideology and system, and are the four thick ropes binding the Chinese people, particularly the peasants. The political authority of the landlords is the backbone of all other systems of authority. With that overturned, the clan authority, the religious authority and the authority of the husband all begin to totter. As to the authority of the husband, this has always been weaker among the poor peasants because, out of necessity, their womenfolk have to do more manual labor than the women of the richer classes and therefore have more say and greater power of decision in family matters. With the increasing bankruptcy of the rural economy in recent years the basis of men's domination over women has been undermined. With the rise of the peasant movement, the women in may parts have now begun to organize rural women's associations; the opportunity has come for them to lift their heads, and the authority of the husband is getting shakier every day. In a word, the whole feudal-patriarchal ideology and system is tottering with the growth of the peasant power.
http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Mao/Mao-31-Women.html

I think Mao did not have enough respect for the OpEd columnist's sense of paragraphing to make his ideas stand out. Let us do it for him and bring attention specifically to my central point:
As to the authority of the husband, this has always been weaker among the poor peasants because, out of necessity, their womenfolk have to do more manual labor than the women of the richer classes and therefore have more say and greater power of decision in family matters. With the increasing bankruptcy of the rural economy in recent years the basis of men's domination over women has been undermined. With the rise of the peasant movement, the women in may parts have now begun to organize rural women's associations; the opportunity has come for them to lift their heads, and the authority of the husband is getting shakier every day.

Mon Dieu! I thought, is this not exactly what I needed, married for the first time in my life to a man who had never realized that he had been asked to question male hegemony? Or, actually, who had never been.

Is this not also exactly what Nicolas Kristoff -- who grew up on a sheep and cherry farm in rural Yamhill, Oregon -- and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn -- who is of Chinese ancestry -- and who together won a Pulitzer for their coverage of Tiananman Square protests (wait, this counters my developing line of argument) --, reported in their Half the Sky, just has Greg Mortensen these past 20 years, building schools for the education of girls in the remotest villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan, that women through their very great necessity in rural communities and the work they do make themselves powerful to get the men in their communities to join in educating and advancing themselves to the betterment of their society?

Mao's wife, by the way, was very beautiful. He would not have appreciated the Benedictine's motto, however, unless you could equate meditating on the ideals of socialism with prayer:
To labor is to pray. ~Motto of the Benedictines

And, Marie-Antoinette, restless and depressed in the relentlessly, oppressively impressive chambers and halls of the palace, grandest proof of the absolute patriarchic power her life was to serve and to promote, did she not create a miniature country hamlet on a far corner of the park, a place where she could at least play at milking cows and making cheese, gardening, and could escape and enjoy her own freedom of will to raise her children in an image of normal life?

She did.

Did not Thomas Jefferson make an appeal for an agrarian America, and would this not have been a fairer one to American women, who as true partners at the sides of their husbands would have raised a society of men and women who worked toward a common purpose, together, rather than seeing Man return from work, clad in suit and trench coat, briefcase in hand, to kiss Woman and ask, "Did you have a nice day, dear?"

"Yes, darling. Why don't you have a drink. The children are in bed, waiting for you to come and kiss them goodnight."

"That's nice, dear. Where did you put my paper? And, who finished the scotch?"

And what if she says, "Well, I cleared the ivy off that bottom wall and split a meter square of that firewood you found so difficult, and the lawn is coming in nicely, and I made a transfer to the joint account to pay for a new outfit. Oh, and pour yourself a scotch, too, while you're at it, why don't you, and join the children and me by the fire."

The salary she accords herself and the appreciation received for labor provided.

It is when she sits and broods, worries over her situation and her future, whether her promise has been wasted by her own choice, that she is oppressed with her thoughts, most depressed.
A lot of what passes for depression these days is nothing more than a body saying that it needs work. ~Geoffrey Norman

Well, the conservatives can't be wrong about everything, and a team of Harvard psychologists must concur after their latest study of 2,200 people and a quarter of a million responses to their questions about their activity, mental wandering and happiness throughout the day during the period of the study, according to an article in today's New York Times of a study published in this month's Science magazine, When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays, which D.H. Lawrence knew more than a century before.

I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor. ~D.H. Lawrence

I think I'll go read. It might not be as good as having sex or exercising (see the article, sheesh), but I need to work my way up to the big leagues.
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