Mary Sojourner responds:
In response to John Y. Torres’s letter in the April 1997 issue, in which he asks, “Would [Sojourner] marry a man who was destitute? Would she work to support him?”: I wouldn’t marry anybody. I see marriage as an attempt to freeze time, a way to infantilize both parties. I have loved many men, all but one of them raggedy-ass hippies and anarchists, poets and musicians, Earth First! troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells. I’m deeply proud of that record. I’ve supported more than one lover. More important, many of my lovers and I have shared our poverty equally.
I live in a cabin with no running water and a wood stove for heat, with the astonishing forest at my doorstep. As time goes on, I own less and less. The one quality in a man that absolutely repulses me is wealth. Any man who’s got more than he needs to live on should give it away. That Range Rover, that Rolex, that first, second, or third TV is somebody else’s food, shelter, or medical care.
Women who want rich men get what they deserve. As far as personal loneliness goes, in it I find the fuel for my politics, the heart for my writing. And the men who look past my aging face, who cannot see my fire and beauty — they get what they deserve, as well.
Last week, I explained in depth to my boyfriend what I really wanted from our relationship and what I was willing to give. He hasn’t called me since.
Last night, with swollen eyes and puffy face, I picked my son up from a birthday party and we drove home in silence. Waiting for me at home was the April issue of The Sun. Without bothering to clear the clutter off the kitchen table, I tipped my chair back, put my feet up, and read “How I Lost My Mind, and Other Adventures,” by Poe Ballantine. Taking a silent cue from me, my son cleared a small space at the table and, with pens flying, drew a masterful T. rex, singing the entire time. It was a perfect moment.
When I read The Sun, I feel as though all the stupid things I do, all the pain I feel sometimes over trivial matters, all the not-knowing that lives within me next to the knowing is somehow OK. And as much of a junkie as I am for purpose and meaning, it is a relief to read plain honesty for honesty’s sake. Thanks for saying it all so well.
Will you marry me?
In your April 1997 Correspondence, Margaret Brye asks, “How can we best educate our own children, who are part of a society in which often both parents work, people are removed from the land, and friends and family are spread all over the map?” There is no simple answer to this question. Any solution, however, will come not from top-down school reform but from the heart of each parent. Public schools cannot be reformed because the system is fundamentally flawed; the seed energy is one of coercion and conformity, and diametrically opposed to freedom of choice and individuality.
What can parents do? To start with, we can assume responsibility for our children’s education. This could mean home-schooling; it could mean hiring tutors; it could mean paying for private school; it could mean visiting our child in school as often as possible. The bottom line is that we have a choice when it comes to our children’s education. If we decide that money and career come first, then we are sending the message that kids aren’t as important as making money.
Our experience with home-schooling our five children has brought us a greater sense of community and a deeper relationship with our children, and with each other.
After surviving another abysmal Nebraska winter, I spent a week in Honolulu, Hawaii, to thaw my body and mind, and to visit my sister, Phoebe. Just before I boarded the return flight to Nebraska, Phoebe handed me a few magazines, the bright pink March issue of The Sun among them.
Somewhere over the Pacific, I read Loraine Campbell’s story “Poof,” and began laughing out loud, something I almost never do. The man sitting next to me was curious, so I gave him the story to read. Soon he was laughing with me. The other passengers must have thought we were a couple of escaped lunatics. It was the perfect ending to a perfect vacation.
Too bad Sy Safransky’s “One Man, One Vote” [March 1997] couldn’t have appeared before the election. I am disappointed, though, that he mentioned Ralph Nader but not the Green Party, whose candidate Nader was. It seems that Safransky fell into the personal-savior trap, voting for the candidate without taking into account the platform and integrity of the candidate’s party. Having lived abroad for several years, I’m struck by the degree to which, in American politics, the candidate’s personality dominates over policy considerations. I remember once reading about a poll that showed a majority of people who voted for Reagan disagreed with him on most policy issues. The candidate is cut off from the party, just as politics is cut off from the populace.
In “One Man, One Vote,” Sy Safransky once again assures us that he is a compassionate man who seeks justice. (This is how he and his brethren go about feeling good about themselves.) But what I hear is a resentful man who wants revenge.
Sy Safransky’s essay on democracy inspired me to write and tell you about a nice thing that happened to me lately. Here in Toronto, our neoconservative provincial government is trying to starve and denature the city government. As a result, a genuine local-democracy movement has arisen.
One night, I attended a local co-op-housing rally. A number of politicians were invited to speak to a feisty crowd of co-op supporters. Used to speaking their minds at public meetings, the audience members actively heckled the politicians, some of whom had to run for cover. But our mayor, Barbara Hall, a longtime advocate of co-op housing, held her own, even against a bearded, long-haired, vaguely Christlike fellow who kept encouraging everyone to “vote for Jesus.” To him she replied, “By the way, Jesus was a big supporter of co-op housing.”
Afterward, the women’s choir sang “Oh, What a Beautiful City,” and the mayor grabbed my face and gave me a big kiss. The mayor of Toronto gave me a big kiss! Now, that’s democracy in action.
I hope someday Ralph Nader gives Sy Safransky a big, fat smooch, because he deserves one.
My mother died on February 9. A few days later, I picked up the January issue of The Sun, which I hadn’t had time to read before then, and opened to Lorenzo Wilson Milam’s beautiful essay “Mumsie.” He talks of “doing quality time with her — time we could never do while she was alive.” That was my mama, too. Hugging her was like hugging an ironing board that wanted to spring open, push you away. She didn’t show much emotion; my joys and disasters were greeted with a modulated “That’s nice, dear” or “That’s too bad, dear.” Going through her papers, I read that she thought I had “no feeling for her generation,” but she shared nothing personal to make that generation come alive for me.
My daughter and I play a tape of her voice, muted by years of disintegration. The last words I heard clearly were in the emergency room in 1992, when Mama said firmly, over and over: “I am not the same. I am not alive.” A good daughter would have shot her then. She would have preferred it.
On February 8, the day before her death, I was in San Juan, crying over some little Mexican bird that reminded me of Mama, and thinking how she would have loved it there. All that day and the next, I wished she could be there. That next night, upon my return, I heard that she had died. The doctor had called my fourteen-year-old daughter and said, “Your grandmother has just expired.” (“As if she were a can of peas,” my daughter said.) She’d picked the only day in years that I was unavailable by phone. The hell with this, she must have thought. I’m going to San Juan!
I was touched by the articles on the indignity of prison life in your October 1996 issue [“This Prison Where I Live”]. During my own time in prison, one of the things that most struck me (though I got used to it later — you get used to everything eventually) was the total loss of authority over my own body. We endured strip searches, even “cavity searches,” at the whim of guards who might or might not have had a reason.
Another, less well-known invasion we prisoners suffered was being used as “practice” patients for medical students. I experienced this myself, and have heard the same from inmates at other prisons. The way I understood it, the students were required to perform standard procedures a certain number of times before they could graduate. On some occasions we had multiple vaginal and rectal exams. The students were clumsy, and the exams were longer and more uncomfortable than usual, because there was discussion and teaching going on during them.
Other times, we received more specialized examinations, whether we needed them or not. Most common were rectal exams with the colonoscope and sigmoidoscope. These exams were sometimes painful, and we never got any sedation. Also, we had to have powerful laxatives and several enemas before hand.
Such medical procedures are uncomfortable and embarrassing enough under the best conditions. They were even more so for us, because no attention was given to our modesty, our comfort, or our pain. We had no choice but to participate; it was clear there would be “consequences” for any woman foolish enough to refuse.
I’m grateful that at least they didn’t do drug experiments where I was incarcerated. But I still resent being forced to act as practice dummy for medical students who needed to get rid of their clumsiness before working on patients who “mattered.”