When I was in first grade I got sent to the counselor because I refused to play with a girl named Zaj at recess. Maybe it was her name or her lack of electricity or interesting things to talk about or maybe it was just me expressing my free will, but whatever the reason refusing to play with someone was not acceptable in Eugene, Oregon in 1989 and so I was forced to sit in a room with Zaj and the school counselor and talk about my feelings with hand puppets. If there is one indignity that no human should have to suffer, it is being forced into talking about your feelings with hand puppets. I could take or leave Zaj, she was barely on my radar, but that school counselor, so condescendingly giving me that mangy bear hand puppet as if I was an infant, I could not abide by that. I was 7, not a baby, and I knew it was well within my rights to express myself as myself, not through the mouth of a stupid, raggedy bear, through my mouth. Just thinking of that woman fills me with rage. Who did she think she was, treating me like that, minimizing my experience, my life and my choices? More importantly, who did she think I was? A doormat? A wet blanket? Fuck that school counselor. She had no right to tell me what to do.
Clearly, it’s time to forgive her.
Of all the personality problems I have–and believe me, there are many–my inability to forgive my enemies is probably almost the worst, right behind the having of enemies.
Besides the school counselor from first grade, there is a day camp counselor who unfairly put me on time out, my third grade teacher who spoke down to me, the leadership teacher who let the rest of the class harass me until I cried when I campaigned to get girls into the Mr. Spartan Pageant. There is a fiction teacher in college who accused me of lying in front of the whole class, a nonfiction teacher who the year before called me into her office and told me I was a slut (not her word EXACTLY) and tried to get me to go to the school counselor (to talk with hand puppets?). There is the former coworker who tried to tell me how to write and what to write. There is the person who called me a racist on Facebook. Some days I wish my parents had raised me differently, or at least in a different place, somewhere you could slash people’s tires like in a country song. I dream of the days of vengeance, back when someone did you wrong and you got to steal their horses and burn their castle down until it was ashes.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
But we don’t live in the Old Testament and even though retribution might be something that all humans ache for at certain points, we’ve decided, as a group, it’s safer for our species to outsource those feelings to crime shows and Game of Thrones. We’ve decided on forgiveness. And because I am pretty down with living in our society, I work on it every day. But still, it is very, very hard.
The common theme that unites these people who incite this kind of rage in my heart (and yes, let me acknowledge for the Buddhists among us that I am aware I am actually inciting the rage in my own heart), is that they have all somehow curtailed or impaired or challenged my ability to express myself honestly as myself. I think most people have this same experience. There is nothing that is as consistently awful–ranging in strength from aggravating to disempowering to total oppression–as being told you have no right to speak. And yet, we do it to each other all the time. Of course there’s the internet; there is a cottage industry (Gawker) built around finding things people say and calling those people stupid for saying them. But the internet didn’t create this culture of silencing people–humans for probably all of human time have been silencing each other creatively and horribly just fine without the tubes. I mean, in a lot of ways I am the first generation of woman in my family that has really been able to speak up and talk about what is good and bad about being me, about the world as I see it. My grandmas sure couldn’t, even the atheist communist one, and my mom wasn’t even allowed to express herself by wearing pants to school.
So why did I want to start this whole project with my smart and interesting friends? Because forgiveness isn’t the whole story. Yes, I need to work on forgiving the hand puppet school counselor, but I also wanted to create a place for people to talk about the complicated ways they see the world without getting shut down by any of the forces that like to shut down personal and complex expressions of things.
The thing about letting a lot of different types of people speak about their experience is that it’s going to get uncomfortable. But that’s why this is important; we have to be able to differentiate between things that make us uncomfortable and “bad things,” things we disagree with or experienced differently and things that are actually damaging. We have to be more flexible, more open, more forgiving. And by “we” I mean everyone.
I want The Tusk to be a place where smart, articulate people can express themselves however it works for them, even if it makes me uncomfortable. Especially if it makes me uncomfortable. And then: I want to practice detaching from their stories and my stories, accepting they might be figments of my imagination. I want to detach from the hurt feeling a lady caused me 24 years ago, stop letting the anger I feel when I feel powerless be a defining part of me. Because all of the stories are just stories and when anyone expresses themselves honestly it’s all true and all not true too. So I guess that’s what The Tusk, for me, is all about: talking about how we see the world while learning to take the whole thing a lot less personally. I think it’s going to be better than revenge.
Want to be part of the internet revolution? Send me an email. We need more people like you.