Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What to do? Who to be?

There seem to be two models of people I admire, the artist and the activist. The first are the kind who have weaving studios in their attics, play music, go to contra dances, write novels in their spare time. I’ve sort of been resisting this model because I felt it precludes the second model – the type who are active in politics or social movements or what have you. The problem is that while I’d love to live the first lifestyle, to live life for the sake of its own beauty, I can’t justify that in a world where so much is so bad and needs to be changed. Ideally one could do both, but I’ve almost never heard of people who take time and money for beautiful houses and clothes and music and art and still have time and money enough to make the world a better place (in some way more significant than making it prettier.) This month my compromise has been putting up a Pre-Raphaelite poster Ellen gave me on my wall and going to the contra dance in Shepherdstown last Saturday.

Lately I find myself looking for role models – for people who’ve done what I want to do, just to convince myself it’s possible. I can find people who have done each of the things I want to do with my life, but I haven’t found anyone who’s done it all. I hear an NPR story on a white woman who adopts a black baby – but it’s a baby, not a child from foster care, and the woman isn’t doing anything else noteworthy for the world. Or I read the book of interviews with second-wave feminists and their grown daughters that Eli gave me, but most of those women are living in posh suburban homes and sending their children to private schools. Or I read about women community organizers in low-income urban neighborhoods, but their children were stuck going to the worst schools in the country. Or I read about parents home-schooling their children but giving up their own lives and work to do so and ceasing to make much difference to anybody but their own family. (And by “parents” I mean “usually mothers.”)

Probably this means it’s impossible. Probably I can’t have a life’s work that makes a difference in the world and keep only a bare minimum of my income and not turn my kids over to the monster that is inner-city public schools and not go crazy from it all. But I’m sure going to try until I find out for sure.

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