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Life at № 42

Of what we feel – and don’t feel.

After posting that little excerpt from The End of Eddy I ended up reading the English version yesterday. Excellent, although the translation isn’t quite as stylish as the French original; but no less poignant. Here’s part of an article the author wrote about the book:

“Literature was not something we paid any attention to – quite the opposite. On television we would see that literary prizes went mostly to books that did not speak of us, and in any case, just like the taxi driver, we were aware that, prize or no prize, books in general took no interest in our lives. My mother would say it over and over: us, the little folks, no one is interested in us. It was the feeling of being invisible in the eyes of other people that drove her to vote for Marine Le Pen, as did most of my family. My mother would say: she’s the only one who talks about us. The Front National got more than 50% of the vote in the village where I was born, and that vote was above all, beyond racism, beyond anything else, a desperate attempt to exist, to be noticed by others.

Many of the authors who have meant the most to me, such as James BaldwinSimone de Beauvoir or Didier Eribon, wrote about the liberating effect of literature in powerful ways that continue to affect new generations of readers. Yet however different Baldwin’s childhood was from de Beauvoir’s, mine was like neither of theirs: in my childhood, there were no books. My parents have never read a book in their lives; there wasn’t a single book in our house. For us, a book was a kind of assault: it represented a life we would never have, the life of people who pursue an education, who have time to read, who have gone to university and had an easier time of it than us.

The book hit me just as hard as when I read it in French. Maybe a little harder because once you read it in two languages, there’s less room in the mind for that psychological manoeuvring one does to make things seem less bleak or painful than they really are. It wasn’t really that bad, right?

My first instinct reading it was the desire to swoop in, to save him. To go back in time and fix it, to be his friend. And with that I wondered if my swooping is really to save him, or myself. And I wonder if I’m being selfish to think that. In the author’s equation the variable on which he places the most weight is poverty. He feels that is the root of the ignorance, machismo/homophobia and the generalised distress he endures throughout childhood and adolescence. And yet I, not quite the child of the industrial north, but a gay boy nonetheless, hated my childhood and adolescence with fervour as well.

I couldn’t stand most of my family. My parents in particular. I found their presence- their very existence, an inconvenience. And I felt (I suppose still feel) guilty for that. I know just saying that out loud makes people uncomfortable, but it’s true.

And here’s a great interview with him:

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21 comments on “Of what we feel – and don’t feel.

  1. Carmen
    July 17, 2017

    It is, indeed, an uncomfortable space to occupy, Mr. M. Most people don’t react kindly to the words, “I really didn’t get along with anyone in my family. In fact, I resented them, for all kinds of reasons”. I have found that there are few people who identify. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      July 17, 2017

      It goes to show how deeply perception is based on the self. And how indoctrinated people are into believing the social narrative they’re fed.
      You should have seen the reaction to Louis’ book in 2014, it was brutal. With people left and right claiming things as absurd as “he never suffered homophobia, we never knew he was gay.”

      Like

      • Carmen
        July 17, 2017

        It’s so very uncomfortable to have to put someone else’s shoes on.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. coteetcampagne
    July 17, 2017

    Cutting straight to it MM, I admire that.
    I am estranged from my family, mainly through choice, and it truly is no loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Linn
    July 17, 2017

    I haven’t read that book, and I think I would be too depressed by reading it just because of the indignity I would feel that someone grew up in a house with no books. In my house, books were worshipped.

    When it comes to family, I guess I will always have trouble identifying with you and Carmen at that point since I call my mother almost daily and can’t imagine how I would have ended up without my parents.
    Sometimes a difficult childhood can bring about the most wonderful and loving people though. My mom had a difficult childhood but still loved her parents and took care of them until they each died. Since she had to beg for affection from her own parents, she decided to do the opposite with her children and drowned us in love, but somehow without spoiling us. I wonder what she would have been like with a “normal” childhood.
    From the impression I’ve gotten on this site, you also turned out well Mr.M. 🙂

    It’s also important to remember that family isn’t only parents and grandparents. Spouses and partners are also family after all.

    I wonder, in cases like what the author, you and Carmen describe, should it be considered selfish to wish more people would identify with you? Should you be happy that not more people have had those feelings and experiences? I feel like that need to connect to others with similar experiences can be the most difficult line to walk of all.

    It’s like how people sometimes respond to a sad story by telling a sad story of their own: “Oh, your mother died, my condolences. My brother died last year so I know how you feel”. Are you then supposed to feel better because the other person suffered too or should you feel bad that someone else had to go through the same thing?

    Liked by 4 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      July 17, 2017

      It’s incredibly complex. When I started reading the book, one of my first reactions was “why is he doing this?” Almost as if it was the writing down of what happened that made it true. As if he simply didn’t talk about it, it would disappear. It was like he’d kidnapped Schrodinger’s cat and was about to execute it Al Qaeda style, on live television.
      I can’t make my mind up on connecting, or revisiting pain, for that matter. Is closure a real thing?

      Like

    • Linn
      July 17, 2017

      Another thing I wanted to add is how the difficulty to identify with another person regarding childhood/family goes both ways (or all ways as it were).

      There’s a tendency among psychologists to believe that all patients have horrible childhood memories. I have a cousin with a lot of mental issues, and she hates how every psychologist she meets assumes she had a horrible childhood. Her problems started in her teenage years and has nothing to do with her childhood, yet that’s all they ask about. No matter how many times she tells them her parents were nice and her childhood great, they don’t believe her.
      I sometimes wonder if those psychologists had a horrible childhood that they’re projecting onto their patients or if they’re brainwashed during their education.

      I noticed this childhood and abuse obsession when I had psychology classes.
      I remember one psychology teacher claiming that the reason for one patient’s issues with her boyfriend being caused by her father abusing her. The patient never mentioned abuse and claimed to have a happy childhood, but the psychologist refused to believe her. Makes you wonder how many innocents are thrown in jail every year because of therapists that projects their own feelings on patients.

      It’s the flip side of the coin. People like the book author encounter disbelief when telling about his bad memories and other people encounter disbelief when telling about their good ones. It’s a strange world indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Carmen
      July 17, 2017

      Hi Linn,
      I’ll be sixty before the year ends so I’ve had a lot of time to process my dysfunctional childhood. My motto has always been to make the best of situations, but I was determined to have a different life (I have memories from an early age of chanting to myself, “I won’t always have to live like this!” over and over) and have always tried to make choices that would lead in that direction. For instance, I married a man who is the complete opposite of my father, I always tried to be very different with my children than my mother was with us (although she was affectionate; it’s just that she became an alcoholic. . ..long story), and I do not speak about this topic to many of my friends, only online. I agree that it’s the kind of thing people cannot respond to with any empathy, as most people had a very different upbringing — good on them! As Mr. M says, it’s a complex subject.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        I hope you don’t mind if I ask, and don’t answer if you don’t want to, but – do you think your perception of history was different from theirs? I think that was sort of at the base of my issues.

        Like

      • Carmen
        July 17, 2017

        Most definitely. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        I find that amazing. How people in a group can in essence pact an alternate reality. And go on to build their lives around that mythology. My father would assure you I had the best childhood anyone could possibly imagine.

        Like

      • Carmen
        July 17, 2017

        That’s the thing, though isn’t it? One of the reasons I don’t share my story with too many people is that most people who knew us – even close relatives – would never have believed what was going on under our roof. My father was a respected businessman, my mother worked outside the home (not many did in those days) so there was plenty of money in the household, we lived in a nice house in a nice neighbourhood. . . etc. Two smart, successful people who should never have been allowed to have a pet , let alone children. 😦
        Here’s the thing, though. I was bitter for a long time and it really did poison my attitude. What changed things for me was reading/listening to other people’s stories. I came to realize that lots worse happened to lots of other people. It doesn’t delegitimize my own story; it just puts it in perspective, I guess. Plus the fact that my life changed . I DID get to make it better, as you have. It has to say something about our characters, eh? (no smart-arse comments here – grin!)

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        I think you’re much more balanced than me. I have recurrent unpleasant thoughts. Like you my story doesn’t fit the typical boxes people understand and can relate to, which leaves me sort of on my own.

        Like

      • Carmen
        July 17, 2017

        I don’t know. Maybe because I’m older I’ve learned to seek out balance? Maybe I’ve just had more positive experiences to draw strength from? Or maybe you’re a much deeper thinker than me? I do know that I make an effort – most of the time – to deliberately not think about things which bring me down. I make an effort to think of something positive, as I have realized that no good comes from dwelling on these things. I’m not trying to talk down to you, understand, I’m just relating what has worked for me.
        In the end, we are each individuals and have unique strategies. You are an intellect and you’ll seek information and analyze . . nothing wrong with that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        I try to do it your way, but often fail. Which is sort of absurd as for the past 20 years I’ve had the life I’ve chosen.

        Like

      • Linn
        July 18, 2017

        Thank you for your response. Your way of processing things seems a wise one.
        And even though I can’t identify with what you went through, I can certainly sympathise.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Ruis
    July 17, 2017

    The details are, of course, painful when we are immersed in them. The overview, though, should be one of shame. Our culture is dominated by Christians whose god told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are not at all close to that state and do not seem to be even working in that direction. This is truly distressing in we still focus on “us” and “them,” pathetically.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. acflory
    July 18, 2017

    Pinky, we are all the sum total of our life experiences played out on the stage of the genetics we were born with. My childhood was incredibly lonely because I didn’t ‘fit in’, but it is one of the many things that made me who I am /now/. And I like who I am now, despite the fact that my marriage failed and I’m facing old age on my own.
    When I look at you, I see a young man with great talent, married to a man who loves him, living the life he wants to live. I also see a young man who is greatly liked by those around him. Would you really want to be anyone else?

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2017 by in relationships, thinking aloud and tagged , , , , .
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