You know that thing we used to have to do at the end of summer, the thing that whopped you upside the head with the brutal inevitability that vacation was over, that tar-bubble popping adventures and rhubarb-sucking loll-abouts were done, done and gone with the finality of a bee between your naked foot and the clover that enticed the insect to its death and you, to your hopping pain? You know, that “What I did for summer vacation” short essay assignment that taunted you from the dusty cool of the blackboard and picked at the mosquito bites oozing down your leg, making them itch all over again — as though defining your youthful joys would pack them away and yank from more distant springtime memories some mythically compliant learning mode?
Yep, that. I really hated that. Yet that’s what I wish I had to do right now. Being over and done with my summer vacation would be far preferable to what I’m actually doing right in the middle of it — studying families and gender and theater and social taboos.
What the hell was I thinking!
Well, what I was thinking was that it would be really cool to cram a cacaload of courses into a five-week intensive session. What I was not thinking about were the emotional repercussions of such an academic extravagance.
I was not thinking about our national descent into the ignominious status of having the highest poverty rates in the Western industrialized world, until I read a chapter from Sharon Hays’ Flat Broke With Children about a punitive welfare system designed to avoid making welfare payments; a system eager to drop families from its rolls and into economic oblivion when mothers are too sick to work or have chronically-ill or disabled family members to care for or they can’t keep jobs in a heartless economy; a system rich in self-righteous moralizing that calls denying aid to the impoverished success.
And now California will add to the rosters of the economically disappeared as mothers and children try to make sense of the 8-percent cut to their welfare-to-work checks, passed by the state legislature in last week’s budget bill. What do you suppose these mothers and children will do to fill the gap between the whopping $700 per month they used to receive and the new rate for a family of three — $640?
Neither was I thinking about the intimate pain of The Laramie Project, until the play unfolded the linens of the town where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left in the darkness of homophobia to die; or the ambivalence of Matt’s fellow college student who played a gay man in Angels In America, yet mimicked the script of his church and parents that “Homosexuality is wrong”; or the 10-years-later perspective of the same young man, still ambivalent.
And now San Diego has a beating victim of its own, but this victim is homeless and gay, not a middle-class college student and gay. Will anyone write a play about Jason “Cowboy” Huggins, bashed in the head with a rock and not expected to live?
Nor was I thinking about wartime rape, until Lynn Nottage’s Ruined played unrelenting scenes of battling Congolese factions making war between women’s legs — with penises, sticks, gun barrels, bayonets, broken bottles…
And now, despite the United Nations’ 2008 resolution declaring rape a weapon of war, the ruination continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo — and the United States of America, where 3,158 incidents of sexual assault in the military were reported in 2010.
And I think I’ll stop there.
Perhaps the season’s joys can be salvaged. Maybe not. Maybe they shouldn’t be. But I could sure use a little break, a wee respite to suck sun-warmed sour from the neighbor’s purloined rhubarb or pop roadside tar bubbles in the summer’s shimmering heat.
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at [email protected].