I haven’t been posting. I’m busy with school and life. But I wanted to post something I wrote for a class. I’m pretty proud of this essay and just wanted to share. The assignment is from English Comp. (a required course) and we were directed to write a “Literacy Memoir.” Bascically start off with a personal narritve that demonstrates our “literacy quality” (whatever that is!) and end in an essay form, with commentary about said quality.
I hope you enjoy!
On Reaching Out and Letting Go
Scrolling through Facebook, a status from my father appears in my feed. Before I can even read the words, just seeing his name causes an immediate tightening in my stomach. It’s that feeling your muscles make when you’re preparing for a punch in the gut. I know this feeling well by now; It has come over me countless times in similar situations. As my abdominals are clenching, I mentally steel myself against the garbage I will undoubtedly encounter. And suddenly there it is: “If you voted for Obama twice, you’re too stupid to argue with.” I feel the heat rise to my face while a combination of soul-searing anger and despondency course through my body.
It’s 2014, Obama is well into his second term, congressional midterm elections are fast approaching, and the partisanship in the country is becoming increasingly stormy and ugly. Fox News has continued its crawl toward becoming a permanent brainwashing earworm embedded in the minds of previously functioning human Republicans, and the rise of Breitbart and Info Wars has started to compound this effect. The discord is also inflamed by the simple fact that we have a black president. That is really all it took to push this country over the precipice from run-of-the-mill social and political divisions into this black chasm of senseless hostility and irrational fear. Formerly lucid people seem to morph into mindless zombies, lured into the mob mentality by extremists.
Every time I see my previously semi-sane father’s posts on Facebook my blood pressure skyrockets, I brace myself for the offense I will undoubtedly feel, and I pull emotionally further away from him. He’s a serial sharer of bullshit propaganda, much of which either has no basis in what most of us experience as reality or is simply some flavor of bigoted hype. It’s like I’m spinning the wheel of misfortune every time he posts. I’m waiting to see if it’s the Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, or women that I’ll be defending, or whether to hold my tongue instead and avoid conflict. They usually sound something like this to me: “Why should I have to press 1 for English?! We’re in ‘Murica don’t cha know!?” Other times he’s passing along a completely baseless claim about some politician, making some cold-hearted generalization about Democrats, or just spreading outright lies about policy, laws, or whatever the Orwellian-meme-generators made up that day. He never has anything original to say about these posts; He’s just another link in the chain of hatred and misinformation. And this chain is slowly squeezing the humanity and critical thinking ability out of him.
I had recently gotten into quite an argument with a friend of my dad’s over one of his posts. I challenged him to produce sources, facts, or any other support for his posts and suggested that it’s not difficult to do these days. His friend jumped in to defend him, accusing me of disrespecting my father, who she seems to think deserves some pre-set level of respect simply because he sired me and sacrificed a portion of his paychecks to rear me. She wrote “you make him sound like a stupid uneducated individual that doesn’t have the brains to check the facts before he posts, likes or shares a post” and went on to call me “disrespectful” and “nasty.” She was defending a person who has no qualms with regularly sharing all manner of bigoted, violent, degrading, and misleading squib, and who also seems to believe facts are unknowable, heavily guarded secrets held by the Illuminati. But I’m the one who is disrespectful and nasty because I don’t let those things go by unexamined.
This ultimately unproductive, yet maddening quarrel is fresh in my mind as I see my dad’s name in my feed and the eventual Obama meme about voting and stupidity. This gem comes only days after he had shared: “That Obama sticker on your car might as well say ‘Yes, I’m stupid.’” So my father, who knows full well that I supported Obama in both elections and still do, shared these posts on his wall and didn’t prevent me from seeing them. Whatever the actual truth of the situation, I feel purposefully wounded. My insides burn from the red-hot dagger that has been thrust into me by my own father.
That day was the beginning of the end for my dad and me. I hoped it ultimately wouldn’t be, but it felt inevitable. That post was a tipping point for me. Our family is not one I’d ever describe as “functional” per se, but it was really falling apart now. The political differences and views on social issues was a major concern, but what it really did was shine a light on a lot of other unresolved issues I had with my dad. All the nights I cried because he didn’t come home were once again blazing bright in my mind and an awareness of the lacking intimacy between us had been resurrected. The old feeling that I could never be good enough at anything to receive (and in my mind, deserve) genuine praise, was making an unwelcome reappearance. I heard the harsh words that would come out during one of his mercurial downturns and realized I couldn’t recall the last time I had a real heart-to-heart with my dad, or even if we’d ever had one.
I wrote my dad a letter. A long letter. It addressed several issues including the Facebook interactions, more general observations, concerns, and yes, criticisms. But the real purpose of the letter and the note I ended on was a much more personal one. It was a plea for a different relationship. An expression of my need to have him know me, love me, and move forward from there. It was an airing of grievances I had never expressed before but that were important for me to say and for him to hear. I really wanted to work on things. I wanted to find a comfortable spot that we could coexist in that would foster love and encourage growth and acceptance. This was the appeal I made to him. It took me hours to draft, edit, and adjust the letter. Because I felt I needed reassurance, my husband read it before it was sent. He provided the comfort and encouragement I needed to proceed.
After sending the email, I waited…and waited….and waited. Instead of the love, understanding, and new beginning I was yearning for, I got the cold shoulder. As I pressed for a response, what I got (in order of appearance) was sarcasm, malice, accusations, and non-sensical predications. These jabs stirred up a range of emotions for me including crushing disappointment, but surprise was not one of them. I believe he was too far gone to respond any other way. But I don’t regret what I did or the way I did it. If I could go back, I would change a few minor things in my letter (adjustments that would make it sound less adversarial), but it would still be the written word I would turn to. What I expressed to him would have never been said any other way, and it needed to be said. I wouldn’t have been able to communicate all of that to him over the phone (and with 3000 miles separating us, that would have been the other option). Although I can’t know for certain if he ever actually read the whole thing, it was cathartic for me to get it all out and know that he had it. The ball was in his court and he chose not to return it. It meant I could move on with my life knowing I had tried to reach out. I also decided that I would no longer subject myself to toxic people or situations. I was letting go.
This encounter with my dad illustrates how important literacy is in my life. I would feel like a deaf mute without it. I’ve always loved reading and writing and it’s become increasingly more important and even central to my emotional survival over time. Writing is how I feel most comfortable expressing myself. It’s an unexplainable phenomenon how different writing and speaking are for me. I have a lot of trouble being truly expressive and confident through speech. Perhaps it’s the ever-present thesaurus or the always-an-option delete button in writing that give it such power. Whatever it is, to say it’s integral to my life is not quite hyperbole.
It’s in the context of political and social issues that my literacy is most expressed and important these days. The emotions raised by these topics often result in an outpouring of written words. I tend to feel like I will burst if I cannot release the tension created by holding in those views and feelings. And while I desperately wish I had a greater audience, it’s the process of writing that provides much needed relief and clarity. I hope to reach people one day with my words and maybe change some minds or provide motivation. For now, however, just being able to say what I mean and put it out there into the universe is good enough.
I would not be able to do those things if I did not have the literacy skills needed to understand the issues and to evaluate and analyze information. Choosing relevant, reliable, and well-written news, reading or listening to it, and fully comprehending not only the literal meaning of what is being reported, but the implications, possible consequences, and how it fits into a larger picture can be daunting. Without a solid literacy foundation, it would be nearly impossible. At times I use my literacy skills to fact-check, perform basic research, or source information for one purpose or another.
Based on what I learn, I construct possible realities in my mind of what I think the “real world” is. I try to connect things that may seem separate, find underlying motivations or goals, look for explanations for what seems wrong, etc. These constructed realities are not always fully fleshed out and they change and morph into new things fluidly. But they are how I make sense of the world around me. It may sound like my house is plastered with papers tacked down and connected by incoherent webs of red string, like you might see on Homeland, but I promise it’s not.
I’ve vacillated when it comes to life goals, commitment to higher education, participation in the political process, and any number of other factors that determine the life I’m living. Literacy, however, has always been part of me. It is perhaps more prominent now than ever before. I’ve returned to college after a long dry spell, which was preceded by several halfhearted attempts at obtaining a degree. I am majoring in political science this time and feel a real drive to complete a program. My need to understand the world and communicate about it and with it is stronger than ever, and I hope to eventually use that desire and my literacy skills to do something rewarding and contributory. I don’t know yet what that will look like, but I can’t wait to find out!