NOT A WINNER IN WRITER’S DIGEST CONTEST   7 comments

So now I am free to share it with all of you — the entry that didn’t win..

ATONEMENT

I didn’t know it then, but it was the day I doomed our marriage.  It was a sunny mid-afternoon in 1958 and I was dressed in the black skirt with a stretchy belly designed for expansion with a cover-up top intended to protect onlookers from the sight of my pregnancy. The living room of our new – to us – three-bedroom ranch house was comfortably furnished in used-in-law period and I had happily entertained my colleagues traveling from Boston to New York to present a paper resulting from our study of “The Role of the Nurse in the Outpatient Department.” Funny the things you remember. Arthur, one of my fellow PhD candidates, complained on emerging from the bathroom, “You put the paper the wrong way into the holder.” (Guess where I remember you several times a day, Art, and I don’t recall what you thought was the right way.)

We were all ABDs (All But Dissertation) at various stages of completion of the last obstacles to the Doctorate in Psychology and I missed the meetings we had enjoyed around the table in the gathering room at Boston University. It would be a few years, two children, family-and in-law-entertaining, a clean house, and soul-gratifying part-time college teaching before I would make my final trip to Boston to pass my orals. But on this day I was still one of them and excited to say “See ya’ soon” as we waved goodbye. I would be joining them the next time they presented a paper.

Until, that is, my husband declared “No wife of mine is ever going to a professional convention.” I retreated to our bedroom, rolled into a fetal ball, and cried, before emerging to serve dinner. It was twenty years later and one divorce initiated by me before I went to any professional meeting not directly related to my local academic career.

“It takes two to make or break a marriage,” I knew, but what had I done? I had kept the house clean because he didn’t want anyone but his wife doing that. I had prepared the meals he wanted for seven days a week. I had accepted that he didn’t particularly like going out to eat, drink, dance, or see a movie. I had managed a teaching schedule that allowed me to be home when the children were because he didn’t want them in the care of outsiders. I had waited through weeks of his not speaking until he could tell me what had offended him. His mother and I had established a loving relationship [that lasted until her death from ALS many years after the divorce.] And his father too. Through it all I loved my work, my children, my neighbors and friends, — my life, really. “Yes, I’m always busy, but the two sides of my life balance out giving joy to each” I used to say.

But the house of deception finally broke down. Two years of therapy later it was over. But what had I done wrong? He knew he had done everything expected of a husband and I knew I had done everything expected of a wife. In everything I knew I had been the person he wanted me to be to make him happy. Then came the day he explained two things. First, no man wants to be married to an executive professional. Second, there’s a right way to be when you’re dating, a right way to be when you’re engaged, a right way to be when you marry, and a right way to be when you have children. The first point evoked that sense of guilt that my conscious self had overcome. The second point was a clarification of what I had known at some level but never fully grasped. Rule-guided restrictions are a terrible way to approach life.

Now, in my final decades, it has finally dawned on me. That was my fault point. Hadn’t I believed the same thing? Hadn’t I believed that marrying meant I would do all I could to please my husband? Hadn’t motherhood meant that I would – no, should – put parenting above all else? Hadn’t I believed that following my career could be justified only by pretending it was unessential self-satisfaction – a little like a hobby for which I was surprisingly being paid and otherwise rewarded?

I had cheated my husband, myself, and my marriage of the person he had dated and married. I had redefined myself as his obedient attachment. Sure, it was the 50s and the culture supported it. But I’m the one who didn’t stand up and say, “Of course I’m going to professional conventions. That’s who I am! I’m sorry you’re not happy with that, and we’ll have to work it out. But I’m not about to give up you, or the baby-on-the-way, or the psychology I love.”

“After all you put us through to marry him” said my Swedish Lutheran mother when I divorced my Italian Catholic husband. (A mixed marriage in those days.) But that wasn’t the fault. Compromising myself was the fault.

Why now am I finally getting this simple point? Love and Hate, that’s why. Trying to understand the hate that currently seems so powerful finds me exploring the depths of its opposite — love. Love was so powerful in our early years together, pouring out like an invisible contagion filling us with joyful though often painful energy? Was there an unspoken love contract functioning as we worked at making a life together? What I give I’ll receive in return? But no, love, like marriage, is too complex, mysterious, and wonderful to be bartered.

So now, forty some years later, where did our love go – my husband‘s and mine? It’s there. That intangible thing that survives the years and shows up in unanticipated, even unbelievable places. Purgatory. The place where Catholics believe – as I understand it – that one is purged of life’s sins in preparation for the entry into heaven. Purgatory. The creed that was never part of my belief system. Purgatory. The place where I unexpectedly visited him in the middle of one night several years after his death. He was happy, contented, relaxed as I had rarely known him, anticipating the heaven ahead after his life in a dirty little hovel surrounded by garbage, road dirt, and trash. Happy to be overcoming his lifetime obsession with order, propriety, and cleanliness. And he was happy to see me. It was a good visit.

So was it a good visit more years later when, in my dream, he knelt down beside me in my garden to help me clean up the soil by pulling weeds. He who had grown up with a handkerchief of a lawn and little interest in digging in the soil. No words were spoken. Don’t tell my scientific colleagues, but I know he was on his way to a better state of being.

But then, as I always taught, no good scientist ever believes that the last and final truth has been discovered. For me, I am serene in our atonement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted December 18, 2021 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees — Review Just Added on Amazon and Goodreads   2 comments

This novel certainly needs no more reviews, but I can add something of my own reaction on reading this a second time after many years — this time because it was a book club choice. Having just spent a year studying the history of blacks in the U.S. I found myself worrying about where the racism might lead. Would the bee business be so successful that the whites might feel the need to destroy it? Would the potential black/white friendship lead to violent reactions? Would Rosaleen be able to rejoice in finally being a registered voter? Or would gerrymandering and other restrictions disappoint her? In other words, I couldn’t help reading everything with an awareness of today’s progress and regressions. And still it is a beautiful novel. I’m having trouble finding words to describe the joyful comfort of knowing I was in the hands of a master of creativity and craft. There should be a three star category with a halo to acknowl

Posted November 28, 2021 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY   2 comments

I’ll bet most of us remember playing Monopoly – probably late into the night and maybe even into the next day. I personally remember sitting at the card table in our living room playing it with my big brother and sister all evening until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. I remember how comfortable and confident I felt on the occasions when I’d been lucky enough to land on Boardwalk and Park Place early in the game, charging the outrageously high rentals for houses and then hotels on that high class property, And how really great it felt to own Atlantic Avenue and the other two yellow properties so I could add and charge for houses and ultimately hotels. Even better when I acquired Pennsylvania Avenue and the other two green properties on the block. Throw in at least two of the Railroads to prevent anyone else from acquiring a monopoly and I could pretty much sit back and watch my wealth accumulate. I could even afford to sit in jail for three rounds without paying a fine because my houses were still earning me rent. Of course, I felt even more confident as I watched my opponents mortgaging the properties they did own in the desperate attempt to acquire funds to make it past my expensive houses. Of course there was no gain for them if I landed on their mortgaged properties. Only the bank made money. (My mother was often the banker when my children played the game. She kept the bills neatly stacked in proper order.) In every way, playing monopoly demonstrated one of my husband’s sayings: “You’ve got to have money to make money.”

And then there were the times when I wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t long before I knew the truth. No matter how hard I worked I’d never get out of the hole. Sure, I only had to own a block of two – Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue – in order to buy houses, but the rental to be collected if one of my opponents landed on either of those blocks was far less than Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, even though the initial cost of the houses was the same. When luck placed me in the position of owning no good blocks of property my first reaction was to try hard to get out of that inferior spot. Eventually, though, I’d just get discouraged and accept my fate.

But if you are remembering along with me, you might recall acts of charity – those times when the winners didn’t want the game to end so they’d lend money at no interest in spite of the rules, or even give it away. Charity would cheer the poorer members, but only temporarily. There was still little chance of getting out of the hole. And so it would go on, representing the opposite of my husband’s saying, i.e., You can’t make money if you don’t have it to invest in the first place.” And here’s my point. Think of how you felt when that happened to you. There was little joy remaining in the game.

To step away from the game for a minute, think about the advice financial planners will give you in preparing for your retirement. “Home ownership is your best investment.” And our laws do everything to support that with deductions for mortgage payments, improvements on the property, etc.

Now – back to Monopoly. Try accumulating enough cash to pay the cost of the properties you land on without owning any valuable property. I’m not a statistician, but I have been a player, and I’m pretty sure you’ll still end up at the burned out end of the candle if you have nothing going for you but cash.

  1. Now let’s see what would happen if you added two new rules at the beginning of the game. First: redlining. After you’ve chosen your token you draw a card that says you can’t buy anything but Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue if you should be lucky enough to land on them. Second, inheritance: You draw a card saying you haven’t inherited any property while your opponents gain ownership of Atlantic Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue plus the four railroads. How eager would you be to proceed with the game?

And there you have it. Real life Monopoly.

(The British version has different names, but I hope the point will still be clear.)

 

 

I’M PRO-LIFE, THEREFORE I’M PRO CHOICE   4 comments

There’s nothing so beautiful as a happy, thriving child. And nothing so sad as a child born into poverty, neglect, and even abuse. So why am I pro-choice?

#1. I am not in favor of condemning a child to misery and a tragic adulthood which might well ultimately negatively affect the surrounding society.

#2. The person carrying the embryo/fetus/ultimate child is not an empty box just carrying a load. That person is a host whose body functions change to supply the necessities for the potential life within. Indeed, the life within may cause severe health hazards for the bearer. Consider, for example this observation to be found on p. 43 of the September 2021 issue of the Scientific American.

Autoimmunity may be an unfortunate by-product of the

Complex immune response women need to bear children

And that’s not the only health danger — even to the point of death.

#3. The life of the pregnant one is every bit as important as that of the potential child. In fact, given life circumstances, may be many times more crucial to the goodness of life.

#4. For all these reasons the decision to birth a child is one that belongs to a woman, her doctor, her relationship to others, and her spiritual advisor.

THE VALUE OF MONEY   4 comments

Yes, I love my Movado, but the point I wanted to make a couple of blogs ago was the wild discrepancy in the meaning of money. For example, today on the consignment web there was a “Chloe small toss shoulder bag” available for $1,195.00. Or you might have preferred the “Balenciaga neoclassic city mini bag” in pink for $1,645.00 (estimated retail value $1850.00.)

Do I need to point out what either of those amounts would have meant to a family about to be evicted?

That’s all. More thoughts tomorrow.

Posted October 2, 2021 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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James Robert Kane, “No Escape: Long Journey Back from Nam”   3 comments

I just finished reading these 123 pages. A small package of powerful words, quick to read, but long in the impact. This book should receive so much more attention than it has. In well-designed powerful writing the author sends the chill of terror as men fight a war they didn’t ask for and don’t understand. If only more of us were exposed to the horror and its aftermath how different our choices might be! Yes, it’s mostly fiction, but, based on the author’s time in drafted service, it is also powerful reality, including the ravages of the PTSD experience. If you have the courage to experience the message in a short period of time, then you must read this novel.

MY MOVADO WATCH AND SOCIAL DISTANCE   3 comments

Several years ago I saved up enough to buy myself a Movado watch at their store in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a simple classic design as they made them at that time. Mostly black, of course, and I loved it. So much that I had it with me on a cruise. I can’t even remember which cruise it was, though I do know it was the Holland America line because every evening before bedtime I’d enjoy a visit to the steam room, the whirlpool bath, and a rest on the heated recliner. When I returned to my cabin at closing time and readied for bed, I remembered I had put my Movado into the pocket of the terrycloth robe they provided in the ladies’ locker room — the robe I had left hanging there. No need for further detail. I never did recover the watch. Maybe – I hope – someone checked the pockets, found it, and enjoyed it over the years. More likely it went into the ocean with the laundry water. At any rate, it was gone and I grieved it. I thought of buying another one, but by that time watches had gone all big and fancy. On occasion I’d check, with no good result, to see if one was for sale somewhere until I finally gave up. I have two other watches that family gifted me hoping they’d replace the Movado. They did replace it on my wrist, but not in my heart.

Then one day a few weeks ago I woke up thinking of the watch, headed straight to Google and there it was. A used one for sale at a price I could afford. ($135.00). I am so enjoying my “new” Movado, but that’s not why I’m telling you this story. It turns out the sale site was a kind of consignment shop for the 1%. The RealReal. I now get daily emails with the current offers – clothes, shoes, bric-a-brac and other etceteras. Not everything is out of range, but, for example, you could buy a Louis Vuiton vanity case for $1495.00, or Chanel boots for $1295.00. Or there are Gucci sneakers at $595.00. Today there weren’t many handbags offered, but they are often available $1000.00 plus.

That’s why I’m writing this blog, to make real the difference between the two (or more) Americas. I don’t know how to say it, how the languages of money are as different and difficult to comprehend as the difference between spoken languages, with all the errors of understanding that follow – a lesson in social distance.

There you have it – my Movado watch observations.

“THE ART OF GATHERING:” RECOMMENDED FOR ANYONE WHO INTERACTS WITH PEOPLE   Leave a comment

If I like a book, I want to share it. and I enjoyed reading this one.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

Basically a “how to” book, I read it as our local social justice group worked on firming up its method of conducting meetings. As it turned out we chose to follow The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea as more appropriate to our needs. But I enjoyed The Art of Gathering for a few reasons. First, it is well and interestingly written, second, it had suggestions that would have been fun to follow in the days when I still gathered larger – or even smaller – groups such as informal dinner parties or even therapy groups. But mostly it turned my memory back to my days as professor and workshop leader. How neat it would be to go back and do some of those classes and presentations utilizing some of this book’s suggestions. It comes as a surprise to me, but I feel free to recommend it as a good read for anyone who deals in any way with structuring groups for business, professional or personal social needs. That, I think, includes almost anyone who interacts with other people.

 

 

REVIEW: Christina Baldwin & Ann Linnea, The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.   2 comments

I just reviewed this book on Goodreads and Amazon

 I suspect I’ve read this book with a different eye based on the fact that I spent a whole semester studying groups way back in the late 50’s (1950s that is) in my PhD program at Boston University. I was an academic then, reading and practicing with an analytic eye. Now I am warmly appreciative of this living, organic approach, so detailed in its coverage and yet so versatile in its application. I’m anxious to see what our social justice group does with it as we leave Zoom mode and move into circle mode. (Though Zoom might be said to encourage much about circle.)

It’s not a book to be read like a novel just for the fun of it. It is a book with wide application to respect for process and respect for each other.

Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds. Theme: the present. Location: the past   4 comments

An excellent novel makes one think, and think I did as I read this one. The story covers the early period of my life – the great depression. and how different My Father’s House was from what Elsa and her family experienced. While my mother fed the hoboes who came in from the street, and the town provided some part-time jobs for them, Elsa encountered cruel mistreatment from the “good” people who defined the sufferers as lazy, dirty, illness purveyors ruining the economy of their small town. One suspects that the “good” people of my town would have been no kinder had the number of migrants been larger. In my innocent, fortunate childhood I experienced no destruction of Hooverville’s, the temporary “homes” of the dispossessed. But I can’t fail to see the same things happening today in only slightly different circumstances

Enough of what the story activated in my private awareness. What about the writing. This is a long novel, as so many are recently. And I wondered whether, if I’d been an editor, I would have recommended eliminating some of the “unnecessary” detail. Why so many words to convey the basic impression of land and dreams literally blown away in the wind, of lives lived in day-to-day misery, of friendships and kindnesses, of familial love buried in the rules of propriety, of gender restrictions. By the end of the book, I realized how important all the details were as I experienced the frustration of day after day of hope followed by disaster – of disaster followed by hope. I felt the frustration, the suppressed anger, the cruelty, the love.

And, to return to my original point. To recognize that this is the story of today, wearing different details, but still the same.

I confess it took me a bit to get caught up in the story, but once I did I couldn’t put it down. That’s what I don’t like about a good novel. It interferes with my sleep. But I thank Kristin Hannah for the experience. Obviously this is a book many have read and recommended. Now I’m joining the parade.

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