Tuesday, December 01, 2009

health & accountability...some thoughts.

Here I am, sitting in my old bedroom in my parents’ house (a privilege for sure), thinking about “accountability.” Why? I guess because lately, my health has made accountability difficult, even when it comes to the struggles that I see as the driving force in my life (I know, I know, that sounds extreme... but it's accurate).
And because there are certain spaces where the question of accountability is always sitting there, in the room, a frame, a finger tapping our shoulder, whether the word is spoken or not. Except that’s not quite right. Because “accountability” is not a question, it is an aspiration. Not even an aspiration, that would feel more do-able. It’s a requirement. One I often feel I can’t live up to because of my health. If it were a question, the whole thing might be different.
The thing is, something odd happens in terms of health, accountability, diagnosis, and confession. If we get a diagnosis (read: rely on the Western Institution of Medicine) and confess (read: buy into structures of Christian Cultural Dominance) then perhaps we have an “excuse,” and we aren’t unaccountable people, just people struggling with health issues (read: perhaps slightly inferior by nature, but it’s not our fault). It just feels like there has to be another option. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a system where we forget about accountability altogether. I’m just saying there has to be another option. There has to be. And don’t get me wrong about this either: I’m not blaming our movements or organizations, not at all. The structures of U.S. society are infused with these systems, among SO many others. They are insidious. They are difficult to locate. They are even more difficult to challenge.
Sometimes I’m afraid to critique these systems- “Western Medicine” or “Christian Cultural Dominance” (a phrase often repeated by one of my professors that I now find myself using in everything, even my poetry). I fear that my critique of these systems will “take away from” my critique of racism & White Supremacy & Israeli Apartheid. I have to remind myself this is absurd. These systems are all woven together. Sometimes I think capitalism might be the thread…but no. Weaving doesn’t even have a thread, does it? I mean, it’s all the thread. And besides, I think the idea of trying to locate one “thread” is dangerous.
This is conjuring an image for me, of the yarn that changes color as you knit or crochet. It looks different, but it’s all attached, all part of the same ball of yarn.
(I don't know if I could speak or write if there was no such thing as metaphor. The world would be so much more difficult to understand. And it's already really difficult to understand.)
But I wasn’t talking about yarn (or metaphor). I was talking about health, accountability, diagnosis, and confession. How I’d prefer to un-weave some of these.
I was reading Adrienne Rich today. Yes, even though I’m sick. Some authors are easier to read when I’m sick, the ones whose words resonate, make sense on a level that doesn’t require the most apt mental capacity. Those who embed poetry into their prose. Those whose ideas just make sense. Maybe that’s why when I first read Marx with a fever of 102 I still kind of “got it” (to the extent I’ll ever get any economic theory).
Adrienne Rich wrote an essay “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish identity.” I’d like to make an addendum to this essay & talk about Zionism, but that’s a little ambitious for me when I’m feeling this sick. For now I’m just going to quote her. She talks about accountability, and she frames it differently than I’ve heard it framed before.
In her last paragraph, she says:
“This essay, then, has no conclusions….It’s a moving into accountability, enlarging the range of accountability. I know that in the rest of my life, the next half century or so, every aspect of my identity will have to be engaged. The middle-class white girl taught to trade obedience for privilege. The Jewish lesbian raised to be a heterosexual gentile. The woman who first heard oppression named and analyzed in the Black Civil Rights struggle. The woman with three sons, the feminist who hates male violence. The woman limping with a cane, the woman who has stopped bleeding are also accountable. The poet who knows that beautiful language can lie, that the oppressor’s language sometimes sounds beautiful. The woman trying, as part of her resistance, to clean up her act.”
Why does this resonate with me?
I think it’s the embrace of contradiction, the idea of being ‘comfortable’ without conclusions.
The idea that accountability & “every aspect” of identity are inextricable.
And the talk about language, of course, that always gets me too.
But I think mostly it’s the idea of “enlarging the range of accountability.” What does that look like? What does that mean? I don’t know, I have no conclusions either. It’s just something I’m thinking about, despite this incessant headache.