From the Mad Mind
of Anthony Watkins
Me Too, Literature Style
Recent events have bumped some of my more lighthearted threads of thought out of my head. I have been thinking of the Me, Too movement, and what it means for the future. As well as where did it come from and how do we look at it in the rear-view mirror.
A friend of mine has become the victim of a near miss, but many women in my life, pretty much 100% have told me stories of everything from basic discrimination, to abuse and harassment, to childhood molestation by family members to rape by a boss.
The one truth, the “easy truth” is that it is time for it to stop. It is time for women to be treated equally in society, to be protected in the workplace.
The hard questions are:
Who is most responsible? Why have we, as a society, let it go on for 100s, even 1,000s of years?
What is the best way to insure it stops?
This last really troubles me. When I look at the issue of Cops killing Black people most often when the victim of the shooting is not in possession of a gun, I see something that, too, has been going on for 100s or 1000s of years, and yet an extreme awareness has been unavoidable since the days of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Today, cops kill more unarmed black men than they did at the time of Trayvon’s death. We are not making progress. What assurance do we have that the Me, Too movement will lead us to justice?
There are a few darker and fuzzier questions:
What do we do for women (and men) who have been abused?
What is the gradient?
There is murder. There is rape. There are threats and intimidation. There is physical violence that is not exactly sexual. There are people who have been assholes in relationships. The truth, if we are honest, most of us have at one time or another, been a complete jerk in a domestic situation. I know I have. I know every woman I have lived with, with or without the benefit of marriage has been a total jerk to me at some point and I probably have repaid double, which is my typical reaction. To my knowledge, I have never physically hurt anyone with the exception of a few school boys in middle and high school. I have tried and failed to always be nice and understanding and compassionate. I have apologized many times, I have learned. As far as I know, none of my bad behavior has ever led to long term psychological damage to anyone, but we never know. I know I have been greatly harmed by phrases from close family members who probably did not mean to cause me pain beyond the moment.
But, enough about me, except to point out, I think we are in the muddle somewhere. Some people are clearly beyond the muddle. The famous people who have paid a price recently, the famous, most powerful man in the free world is also beyond the pale, but he seems unlikely to pay for it, for some reason. Bill Clinton may or may not have been beyond the muddle. But in any case, my mind goes back to Ted Hughes. Hughes, in case you didn’t know, though you probably do, was Sylvia Plath’s husband, who was a real jerk. I don’t think he hit her, but I know he cheated on her, he berated her, and many people feel like his non-supportive, bullying ways were the main reason she killed herself. Yet, Ted Hughes, with an asterisk, to be sure, went on to be the Poet Laureate….
Times have changed, I am not sure he would be allowed that if he was alive today. But, again, I m not sure he wouldn’t.
I have a friend who is a good poet and something of a rising star at a local institution of higher learning. He comes from a rough background, what one would call an earthy outsider poet, a bit like myself, but earthier, and in my opinion, a better poet. Unfortunately, being extremely rough around the edges, especially a decade or so ago, he readily admits he was a person who had many shortcomings, substance abuse and generally a real jerk.
About a decade ago, he hit some kind of rock bottom, and through a 12 step program, and poetry, began recovery. While I wouldn’t wish this sort of life on anyone, I do believe it has enriched his writing, as most life experiences do, at least for us poets. The thing is, someone from his past has come forward and contacted an authority figure at the institution where he was blossoming, both as a human being and as a poet.
(See Disclaimer Below)
There are no allegations of criminal wrong doing, of assault, certainly not of rape or a pattern of abuse. His was just the general jerkiness most of us have both experienced and behaved as, especially in our 20s and 30s, male and female. I don’t know the woman involved. I daresay they were both pretty rough. I have known folks like that. I have been a bit like that. My 1st wife, who is a good person and has been an excellent mother and grandmother, and I were young, and while not violent we were both unhappyly mean to one another and after about a year and a child, we split up. I hope I am a better person than I was in that marriage, and even though we are not close any longer, from what I can tell, she grew up to be a pretty decent human being. The thing is, in my friend’s case, the sibling of the ex is the one spreading poison about him. I don’t know how his ex feels about it all.
What seems pretty clear, given the events of recent history with not only people whose bad behavior has become public paying a deserved price, but often the institution and especially individuals who are in a position of authority paying with the loss of the position or very nearly the loss of an entire organization (think Michigan State, but of course we have a case of a serial molester of girls and young women, not just the case of this case: too much drunkenness? Unfaithfulness? Loud abusive language? Certainly nothing criminal). To err on the safe side and to protect the institution, this person has severed/been severed from the institution.
Given all the harm done to so many women all over the world, over such a long period of time, through no fault of their own, it seems fairer to err on the overly careful side and let my friend pay for the sins of the world, rather than let another poorly behaved man get off scot free. But here is the thing: his behavior (unless there is more than I am not privy to), is less than Picasso, less than Hemingway, less than a dozen other famous writers, painters and poets, certainly much less than Ted Hughes, should we ban Hemingway’s books? Should we burn every Picasso? Should we posthumously remove Ted from his laurels?
I think we can clearly put certain things, certain acts, and certain people into a category, beyond the muddle. I am not sure what we do with these monsters: Trump, Moore, Clinton, Weinstein, etc., but I think we can agree they do not be deserved to be treated as bastions of the goodness of society. But what of those male, female, or elsewise, who are just a bit nasty, just, as someone said, “shit holes”. Do we banish them? Do we banish their work? Where is the line? As a middle aged white male, I do not feel qualified to sit in judgement. I find that I feel the poet I know is being treated too harshly, but what of the millions of women and girls who have been mistreated? Where is the fence? Where is the path? What is the answer?
Note: given that last month we published a metric ton of my poetry, we are sparing the readers from a "Publisher's Poem" (at least for this month).
NOTE: From the Mind of ... obviously DOES represent the thoughts of the publisher, though not neccesarily the other 6 staff members. If you feel my comments do not represent your point of view, we are very open to a guest From the Mind of column from a reader. Because you would be a guest columnist, the standard of facts and logic will be higher, but we would welcome a printable response.
Better than Fiction is also open to pieces from people with various perspectives on a range of issues. Better than Starbucks does not endorse anything on that page, nor in the Poetry nor Fiction pages, for that matter. We are interested in publishing high quality thought provoking work. If you feel you have a point of view not well represented here, send us your piece. If we feel that both your writing skills and logic are up to our standards, we will publish it. Typically, we publish about 10% of all our submissions. - Anthony Watkins