Interview Meme

I asked Bon to ask me some questions, following a meme that’s currently
circulating. You can check out her responses to the questions another
blogger asked her here. As part of the deal, I should offer to
interview any reader on their blog. I’m willing to try – and would
enjoy the distraction – but given the state of my life I can’t promise
timeliness.

Bon: what’s one book that impacted the way you see the world, and the good in it?

Me: This shouldn’t be such a hard question for an academic. I’m tempted to
answer in four directions: a book from my childhood, a book from my
undergraduate life, a book from my religious life, and a book from my
life as a grad student. For each of those phases, excluding my
undergraduate life, however, the one book restriction is tough and I
don’t want to wiggle out of that condition by listing a bunch. But to
mention my undergraduate life now seems ridiculously intellectually
immature. I’m sort of embarrassed in retrospect by my idealism and
naivety.

Nevertheless, here goes. Rhy Isaac’s Transformation of Virginia (the
link is to a 1999 reprinting) made me want to be an historian and
fundamentally changed my understanding of social, economic, race and
class relationships in America when I read it as an 18 year old. He
argues, among other things, that Bacon’s Rebellion was a turning point
in the history of slavery and race relations in colonial North America.
(He wasn’t actually the architect of this idea but I didn’t know that
then.) Colonial officials destroyed any possible alliance between poor
whites and poor or enslaved blacks in the South by codifying race as a
legal category. For me, it was an epiphany – race is socially constructed.
I then became idealistic about how it could be deconstructed – it
seemed so easy back then. If everyone just understood that these rich
planters had created racism, well, people would see how silly it was to
think it exists really in biology and thus how silly it is to be
racist. How nice it would be had that worked out. Alas that’s a glimpse
into my mind 12 years ago. I won’t be cheating if I tell you that
another book, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches and Anxious Patriarchs
by Kathy Brown develops this thesis further with gender also in mind
for Virginia. Or that Isaac’s book is also well-matched with Ira
Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America.

Bon: what place does anger have in your life right now?

Me: Fast and more frequent than before yet not so prevalent as in the first 6
months. It burns out quickly. I find it’s more focused . That’s the
answer right now in any case. Could be different tomorrow. I do have a few people I’m angry at now for how they’ve responded and treated us. I struggle with a lingering feeling that some want to think I’m somehow responsible for Natan’s death – cosmically or practically – and I’m learning to live with that since I don’t think I can resolve it with them.

Bon: will you tell us the new baby’s name, when he is born? do you have one chosen, already?

Me: We are thinking about names but not certain yet and yes we will tell you.
I am torn, however, regarding when because tradition is to hold a boy’s
name secret until circumcision, 8 days after birth. More than that,
actually, it’s traditional to not name a boy at all until 8 days after
birth. I’ve transgressed that tradition, however, already by naming
Natan. I’m not compelled by arguments against naming a child when he’s
born, because having lived a tragedy, I feel left out and even betrayed
by the exclusion of younger babies who may not survive. Without being
too specific, it seems this tradition in part denies my son personhood,
and while I’m not threatened by that, it comes in tandem with the
feeling that some of my more strictly observant friends don’t want to
accept the enormity of my loss.

That said, there’s no point in criticizing too heavily, because our
congregation has allowed us to and helped us in mourning our son. I
just have some surviving issues with particular folks who don’t grasp
how profoundly Natan’s death has affected and changed us.

There are two more questions left for me to answer, and I will. This was just all the thinking/typing I could handle for now.

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9 responses to “Interview Meme

  1. I love the questions, and your answers. Very thought provoking.

    I am starting to wonder if those outside the experience can ever understand the enormity of someone else’s loss? At first, I thought it was a phenomenon limited to infant loss (and I still believe it to be more prevalent in that category of loss), but I am realizing that the tendency is to minimize any loss- in order to make those outside the loss feel more comfortable. I don’t think many people realize how affected I continue to be by my Dad’s death. Somehow because he lived 62 good years, had a full life etc… and since I myself am a adult, his death carries less weight. It’s an odd thing I am learning… death, grief, and how we respond to the grieving.

    I can’t wait to know this little guy’s name, and to hear that he is home safe and sound.

  2. I love the answers — and the questions.

    To go off topic a little: I think Lori is making an excellent point about people’s need to minimize losses. In fact, (and I’ve thought about posting about this at some point) there’s a woman at work who, about 3 years ago, lost twins at 23 weeks. While most of the people at work were extremely sympathetic to me, this woman has never said one word to me about my twins. Maybe it brings back her own loss too vividly.

  3. Niobe, I think you have hit the nail on the head.

    I like the Questions and Answers, and I do find it interesting about the delay in naming children who don’t live long. This happens in many cultures, usually springing from a time when infant and pregnancy loss was common, and while still painful was expected with every woman. In Africa, it is current practice, and is actually a problem in tracking maternal health outcomes worldwide because the stats end up skewed.

    Do you see the theme with two of responses by the way? In the first instance race is “given a name” and an identity, and “poverty” or “wealthy landowner oppression” is not discussed because it goes unnamed. It’s like if we don’t name something, we don’t have to care about it.

    But of course, reality still exists, and pretending won’t make it go away. Hmmmm

  4. I can’t help but wonder if the practice of delaying giving a child an “identity” really helps the mother at all? Or is it one of those traditions that sounds like a good idea in theory? It wouldn’t surprise me if throughout time (including now), there have been countless supposedly unnamed babies, who were secretly given names by their mothers (and maybe fathers too).

    Actually, I have a good friend who had to make the agonizing choice to terminate a pregnancy at 20 weeks because of severe birth defects. She once told me that her husband did not want to name the baby (a girl), for fear that it would only compound his grief. She confided to me that while she understood and respected his feelings, she went ahead and secretly gave her daughter a name. I think I might be the only person who knows what it is. I consider it precious, and deeply treasured knowledge.

  5. Lori, I agree completely that it doesn’t help the mother, and I’ll bet that lots of them named their babies anyway. Traditions quite often seem to be invented by others outside the situation.

  6. i think this is the most interesting conversation i’ve ever read in someone’s comments section. 🙂

    ah naming…the name nerd in me believes it’s the key to everything. at least in terms of socially constructing the possibility of identities, both at the macro level in terms of potentialities of race and gender and all those things, and also in terms of emphasizing individuality and for many of us, honouring the existence of children others may not know how to acknowledge.

    great thoughtful answers, B. i’m looking forward to the next questions.

  7. Wow. Good stuff here. Aurelia, that was a really astute connection – I didn’t notice it, but now I definitely see it. Very anthropological of you.

    I bet you’re all right – Niobe about her coworker and why she couldn’t say anything. I find that so sad. And A & L that women have probably named their children despite tradition. I doubt the tradition had the mother in mind at all.

  8. I didn’t know about the tradition of holding a name secret for the first week after birth. That’s so interesting.

    Is there an official religious explanation for this? I’m guessing that at least some roots must come from practicality — Infant mortality in the first few weeks after birth was extremely high until very recently. Perhaps the community felt the need to differentiate very early losses from the rest because of that?

    And of course, the difference between what is “good” for the community and what is good for the grieving mother can be very different.

  9. You know, Wabi, for once I have no answer. No idea. I’m sure practical reasons exist, but I don’t actually know what the “legal” answer is from the rabbis. And for once I’m not particularly interested. Maybe later, when I’m less vulnerable. Right now it would hurt too much.

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