DRIVEL: Opinions and Reviews copywriter
[On the death of the survival instinct and the birth of the pain fetish.]
Dedicated to children
By the elevator in a small town hospital, this
cheery yellow poster headline: “Divorce Workshops”
Three full-day sessions: The first on managing the couple's
feelings during the break up, the second on managing the children’s
feelings during the break up, the third on raising kids in two different
homes after the break up.
reasoning is heart-boggling. The same reasoning in the world
of pro sports, for example, would advocate scrapping crotch protection
in favour of workshops to manage your feelings about mashed testicles.
In the arts, no one would create art, but would take workshops on
coping with an artless world.
And so, one learns, there are sincere folks who are finally
paying money to sit for eight hours a day for three days—to
learn something about family. Did these wizards ever pony
up for three days of insight into family before this?
Did they even take one workshop on communication, being competent
lovers, being competent parents, being competent humans? Did
they ever read a book? If not, why not?—and
why the sudden interest in arranging dead blooms fallen from an
Come unto me, ye baby-boomers, come
here and put your balding or foil-streaked heads on my belly. You’re
all so smug and perplexed and shellacked and jingly with shiny things.
And you’re well-workshopped, this generation that’s
distinguished itself as what?—the architects of divorce culture.
perhaps it’s the divorce movement. Or maybe,
it’s an industry. There’s enough infrastructure
to support the industry model: Therapists, authors, talk show
hosts, book and magazine publishers, publicists for authors of divorce
books, renters of limos for divorce book launches, vendors of cottages
and boats and cosmetic surgery for divorce lawyers, realtors, travel
agents, toymakers, filmmakers, matchmakers, and makers of IKEA furniture
for divorced dads—all have their own trough and their own
ways of rendering usable lard from the beast.
The divorce movement is the result of the neutered warrior skills
that are woven into our DNA to save families from flaming things
or toothy things. Here’s how far we've come at
this point in the Pleistocene: A woman I know, shouting from
the crest of post-orgasmic endorphins, announced blithely to her
family that she was leaving for her lover and intended to form a
‘blended family’ with his children and hers; –and,
of course, with her now-ex-husband’s new wife’s children
and the new wife’s ex-husband’s new wife’s children’s
father’s new wife’s children…until the hyphens
become choke-worthy and the emotions vertiginous, and we wonder
why don’t we all just pitch our eggs and sperm into a communal
cauldron and stir it up and take pot luck. Or stick with designer
dogs instead of babies. <Deep sigh. >
MORE FLAMING LOGIC AND THE EMPEROR’S NEW ARMANI
another divorce industry consumer readily cops to their inability
to negotiate intimacy with one other soul—and chooses the
brilliant alternative of negotiating intimacy with an endless domino
gang of strangers. “I can’t park my car, so
I think I’ll become an astronaut.” Well,
pin a rose on you, hon.
The abruptly grafted clan showcases their
forced grins through enough Freudian dramas to thicken the air with
suppressed resentment, envy, and regret. (And for variety,
add morbid curiosity, subtle sabotage, and other morsels harvested
from under the soul’s toenails. ) When did baring the
canines pass for a smile?
Down inside, we don’t like this differently-abled team, none
of us does. We don’t even dare acknowledge to ourselves
that we feel an odd drain and Discovery-channel curiosity as we
look at each other and wonder who these people really are and why
we’re shaking hands and baring canines—but it’s
because they’re all wearing the emperor’s new clothes:
They’re part of the New Deal.
bought the story that divorce was magicke, that it would heal all
inward insufficiencies, make gracious citizens out of clods, make
co-operators out of controllers, make uninhibited satyrs out of
puckered souls, turn callow into confident, and give us our due!—the gloriously blissful version of ourselves that only
our wretched ex-mate was preventing us from revealing. Yeah,
And so what? Who cares whether this is true?
Why jabber about it at all? Well, If there are no kids,
then shutting up is perfectly correct. The divorce price-tag
is individual and private—and frankly, it don’t confront
me none because it’s peer to peer. But when there are
children, the couple’s contract is with the children, no longer
between the adults alone. A break-and-enter into a child’s
family by another adult—invited or not—is not peer to
peer, it’s invader-to-child, invader to clan.
There have always been people willing to get it on with those who
already have mates and kids. Duh. When did this
oblige us to consider these volunteers an exotic and irresistible
prize? Based on the inexplicable trophy factor, could it be
possible the whole divorce industry is founded on low self-esteem?
(Golly. I wonder.) “Hey, someone else
wants me, in spite of the gruesome price! Wow, I must really
be something.” Yeah, you’re something.
You’re something looking to be somebody.
In our vows, we ask the Deity of our choice to give us
the guts to do right by the babies we inveigled Him/Her for.
If there are children, the divorce price-tag amortizes over generations
until it’s a ragged brown-edged stain on the collective soul.
No one is untouched by it.
TOO POSH TO PUNCH
spawned divorce culture (and now share custody of it) out of
fear of our own survival instincts. Think about it: As
soon as we felt the horizon tilting, the cracks spreading underfoot,
the invasion of detachment into intimacy, we could have mobilized.
But it would have taken acknowledgement of the primal stuff.
It would have taken the kind of all-out group guts that we now think
it's prudent to save for post-divorce workshops.
We’re afraid of our own adrenaline. We shrug
suavely and “share” with our comrades in victimhood,
while allowing our children no firm ground to stand on, no horizon
that isn’t in sudden danger of tilting. Instead of using
sacred ferocity when it correctly presents itself, we go all passive
and puny and suppress the juice to be spewed away later on petty
metaphorical battles over who sits where at the kids’ concerts.
The divorce industry flourished
amid our distrust and our discomfort with the fiercely instinctive
stuff in the belly and in the belly’s belly. The survival
stuff. Whoever doubts this should only creep toward the babies
of any warm-blooded creature—and see what mama does. Try
it on a sparrow first; then work up to a leopard. Start
with a chirp and a peck; end up blood rare.
The origin of this warrior instinct is sacred and
the main reason not to piddle it away is just that: Profaning
it makes it something not worth honouring or mastering. Ain’t
gonna study war no more? Darlins, you need to study it big time.
act out beautifully choreographed metaphors of the original and
the only worthy war—the one that keeps invaders away from
the babies. Men make big machines and loud machines and belch
blood up to the sky and are saluted and decorated for it.
But when their woman bolts for the guy next door, they pretend
that fighting is beneath them. They’d now prefer to
at least be admired for being urbane cuckolds.
And when men bolt, women have no choreographed metaphors because
we wage war only when it counts, in front of the hearth and bed;
so we startle our men, un-nerve our men with our
innate ferocity. "Hell hath no fury"? Children hath
no army. Women are the species’ militia.
"My dad was too much of
a babe magnet for the marriage to have worked."
fight for the right to have our creations honoured and sheltered
from fear and grief. One woman I know kicked through her tomcat
husband’s windshield, leaving him as unprotected as their
babies. Another raked her long nails down the tom’s
chest and left him decorated with her betrayal. Another confronted
the mistress and sent her scuttling back to desperado singledom.
These three women had two children each. Perhaps without
the kids, they might have moved on without confronting the windshield,
the chest, and their understudy.
Study war. Study it until you can practice it with sincere
and swift elegance. (Those with no grasp of what the
warrior instinct is about — being the life-honouring guts
of the mother – will act out clever steps that they hope will
look like the real thing. But they fail as soon as they
put on uniforms and add the soundtrack of fife and drum.
They also fail when they muffle and translate their warcries
into legal prose. That’s the honesty of
the jungle losing out to the entertainment of theatre.)
Picture a mama critter in the midst of an
authentic battle to protect cubs from assault, being asked which
side she’s fighting on? Side? The same
side your mama fought on so you could hang around long enough to
read this. The side of Keeping Stuff Alive.
Give me the uniform of WMD, Weapons of Ma’s
Destruction. [sorry, couldn’t resist. ] My brain, my
womb, my labour pains, my scarred body, my sharp eyes and keen ears
and tall antennae, my truthful tongue, my unsheathed pen, my dreams
for my babies that you dare not violate. Ma don’t tolerate
no fools. And she deeply resents having her time wasted. She
directs tactical manoeuvres only at those who are directly between
her and her babies’ wellbeing. (Real men do the same
you cast a shadow anywhere on that line, you’re not the enemy—you’re
gone. She doesn’t regard you worthy of a smartly butch
uniform to smite you in. That’s something only boys
have time or need for. You won’t catch her painting
her face in the babymaker’s official team colours and screaming
from the bleachers. She’s on the field, eviscerating
the foe. Circus maximus, mama’s version.
Why then (when most of the penthouse
residents of the food chain know this is true) do we have such a
hard time with the spiritual skills of war? Why are we a culture
that’s been gutted by divorce instead of an honest and square-shouldered
culture that don’t let no one mess with our cubs? Why
can’t we just use what we were given at birth to make sure
that natural selection isn't over-rated?
(And when it must be fought, war must be fought
with zero Collateral Damage. As in “less than any.”
Collateral Damage is a guy thing. It’s guy code
for “We Missed.” Mama never misses.
If she don’t know exactly where the bullet’s going,
she don’t waste the ammo.)
SURVIVAL SKILLS AS ENTERTAINMENT
though we can’t seem to bring it forth at the right time—and
are despised or shamed for it if we do—we remain drawn to
the warrior spirit. Media culture sells us theatrical versions
of it, which millions are addicted to; they can’t get enough
"action’"dramas or intense personal encounters involving
trembling chins and snot and tears.
The spiritual skills of war, the sacred warrior
instinct, should be allowed up only in genuine, life-threatening
emergencies. It's more potent and more compelling than the
higher emotions of dignity and grace. It’s Gauloise
versus Alpine air. Bourbon in a dirty glass versus Perrier.
Raw steak versus crudités. Breastmilk versus
Cadbury. It tastes powerful for a reason: It keeps life
At the same time as we’ve let the family be gutted by whatever
comes along, we’ve become ultra-violent in our entertainment
tastes. Why? Because we’d like to see someone having guts, that’s why. We’ve diverted our talent
for courage into surrogate experiences—which we have a revealing
Instead of learning to use our own shock to
save what’s irreplaceable, we’ve developed some strange
taste for our own shock as entertainment. Rehearsing rehearsing
rehearsing ... and never lifting a finger.
We’ve increased our tolerance for the spectacle of conflict,
but not our knowledge of strategy and manoeuvres. We’ve
simultaneously given the world the divorce movement, in all its
splendid carnage and inefficiency, and—unshockingly—created
a media culture in which the moment is all, the context is nothing,
the future is an arrogant assumption.
We have some nerve.
Newfound freedom from ex-family
is celebrated by 6-12 months of sexual and social diversion and
a perkier wardrobe. For men, there’s the added glamour
of outfitting the bachelor pad in all that mismatched, left-over
dinnerware and bedlinen from the basement. (For women, more
chintz and lace--camp it up, girlz!) I’ve seen men using
fast-food plastic promo drinking glasses. Hardly the scene
they were picturing when they were planning shwing-ins with the
office's erectile function fieldworker. To suggest that this
justifies gutting children’s trust, is the tawdriest gesture
that a grad-schooled generation has ever offered up on the roof-rack
of an SUV. If this is greener grass, then that explains
the thick layer of fertilizer.
we persist. After the divorce-bent citizen admits that they’re
not up to one other person in their life, they imagine that salvation
lies in the arbitrary crew known as The Steps. I’ve
not yet met one person (including my post-divorce therapist) who
had the emotional sophistication needed to deal with the Steps.
[also known as the Hyphens]
The Steps are nothing less than relentless, unsolvable, Freudian
dilemmas. Once our children learn to replace my mother
with my father’s wife and my father with
my mother’s husband– all hell breaks loose
in the psyche. Freudian dramas coat the consciousness like
oil spills; lineage returns to the lower primate lifestyle of seasonal
Drama X: The
woman who never got enough attention from her daddy, fills the void
in adulthood by winning some other daddy away from the mommy, resolves
her early childhood drama—and then tries to become a ‘step’parent
to the cubs that she’s orphaned by her triumph over their
mama. Drama Y: A man who never
successfully detached from his mama, marries a woman and then escapes
(But wait!--there's more!) The
interaction between the neuroses needs a PowerPoint™ presentation
to sort out...
Divorce culture, for all its resourceful spin, never managed to
come up with dignified titles for the domino gang of strangers.
“The Ex” (ex’s spouse, ex’s spouse’s
kids, ex’s spouse’s kids’ other parent’s
ex…) has a vaguely industrial sound to it, like a corporate
org-chart. So the movement commandeered the word step.
supple reader, the word ‘step’ defines only people who
replace dead parents, not living parents. But it’s
just too pathetic and silly to introduce someone by saying “This is my husband’s children’s mother’s
husband”--it’s just too lumpy and embarrassing
and indicting and we gratefully snatch an illiterate substitution
and pray for an audience that’s too embarrassed or charitable
And so we have step-parents, step-grandparents, step-aunts, step-siblings,
step-cats, step-hamsters, step-stuffed-toys, and on. And in
the quietest marrow of our bones, we know that we screwed up when
we’re cuddling babies that we’ve learned to love even
though they smell all wrong and always will--because they’re
our "step" children.
By that time, it’s too late.
So the metastasizing limbs of the step-family tree--The Frankenfamily©2004--are way peachy-keener than watering the original tree, treating
it to a little sun, a little daily kindness--a little workshopping?
Wow. Brilliant. No wonder we encounter clumsy
gestures, misunderstandings, veiled barbs, and hurt feelings.
have zero training for the Frankenfamily©2004—nothing but reflex
ambition and an engorged sense of entitlement. Nothing in
four million years of DNA has equipped us for this in the slightest.
And we realize it when a single blundering utterance of some step-thingie
produces explosive, primitive emotions and boots our behaviour down
the food chain in seconds flat. We hiss and declaim and try
to restore control of a team that’s, by definition, controlled
by no one--not by biology, nor community, nor logic.
It’s more like a game of precarious truce among naturally
warring forces—it’s love/sex/family versus love/sex/ambition.
The natural warring has gone underground, but is never totally absent.
And we finally realize with a chill, that the creepiest conflict
is still to come:
After the Steps congregate around the arbitrary
altar of ‘blended family’, out comes the warrior
spirit—too much, too late, and too far from its original
purpose of saving the clan from any of this atavistic farce. It’s
all twisted and awkward and snarling at paper tigers.
If you thwart the sacred warrior, the life-preserving force will
insist on its day eventually, no matter what. And so sundry
exes and step-whatevers fritter away away the passions and instincts that
could have been used to bring trust and security to their shared
"Gee, I'd love to,
but that's the weekend my father gets me."
sniff and snipe over U.N.-level issues like who’s in which
pew at the wedding of some step-person. Who attends a baby
shower? What time will the children be volleyed across the
DMZ on Christmas day? Who attends a recital? Where do they
sit? Where do they sit? Have we all done a
triple back-flip up our own butts? We’re talking about
the GPS of butts on chairs here, not nuclear silos.
A 30-year old friend of mine got married and her dad’s second
or third wife pouted and sulked through the whole thing and finally
became "ill" so her husband would have to leave. She
was well into her fifties but had no training for witnessing the
fruit of her husband’s loins walking down the aisle, nor could she bear
being squeezed into a hall for 200 with the bride’s mother.
Another friend had to make several calls before her baby shower,
to arrange for the arrival and placement of her mother and her dad’s incumbent wife. These elders should have been thanking her for
putting up with their butts – not asking her to spend valuable
time on the politics of positioning their buts in her home.
WAS THAT YOUR BELLY OR MINE?
up when the sacred warrior spirit roars at a legitimate moment,
heed it and act on it, use it fearlessly, unapologetically—or
you, too, will end up listening to a child you birthed saying,
“I'll call you from Dad's/Mom's place...”
They’re calling from the rear end of divorce culture, where
no holy wars are fought for their peace—just ritual parrying
and chest-thumping and implant-thumping among neurotic boomers.
We’ve devolved to the least-sophisticated relationships
with each other, the ones that our DNA gives us no manual for.
We’re parking by ear. And it, um, shows.
do no disservice to my post-divorce partners when I say that both they and
I would have preferred not to have to find each other,
because we would have ideally been bandaging the wounded families that now
live in the next area code. ( Look, aren’t we all smart enough by this time that we know we can find The One True
Mate on any continent whose shores we might float up on? The
One being just-around-the-next-corner-- is a meaningless Harlequin
truism. It can never not be true.
I’m so lucky
because my smart mama said to 16-year-old me when I was weeping
over a boy who’d dumped me, “If we’d moved
to Japan when you were a baby, you’d be crying over a Japanese
boy right now.” Apparently, there are lots
of folks whose mamas never explained this to them, poor things.)
We’re all making the best of our chagrin, but what a glorious
legacy our children would have had if we’d fought as hard
for their happiness as we have for our own (and with such a low
return on investment. ) We invested the kids’ trust
in our sexual ambition. What dividends can we possibly offer them?
just one big, trashy, mall-style, daytime TV, breaded, deep-fried,
sugar-frosted, visibly-liplined, stale-smoke-reeking, tabloid-headline
embarrassment. On behalf of boomers (everyone born
between 1946 and 1966) I apologize to the species.
We blew it. Big
time. The gen-X types are just miming what we’ve done,
cuz it’s monkey-do time; so Britney Spears will
be married for 55 hours, cuz that’s about all that’s
left in the way of one-upping the previous generation’s, like,
Kids, forgive us and try to do better. We respectfully stand
by as your sadder and wiser counsellors, whether we’re cuckolded
spouses, invasive "other" lovers, or consolation-prize
subsequent mates (those who are under the impossible pressure to
‘make it all worthwhile.' ) It’s
no longer up to us to make it worthwhile to each other; it’s
up to us to make it worthwhile to our kids.
forth, kids, and listen to your belly’s belly. Be brave
and act decisively and authentically and let no one take your hearth
and bed for granted.
Gays, please give marriage your best shot. Heteros everywhere
are counting on you to restore meaning to the family that's been
auctioned off for a cruise ticket on the good ship Greener Pastures..
cartoons from www.cartoonbank.com]