Three meetings with Lisa
ehrbar at marx.econ.utah.edu
Wed Sep 18 12:35:21 MDT 1996
I don't know if it appropriate to send the following as an obituary.
But in email all rules are reversed. We know each other intimately,
so we may as well face up to it, and use our joint wisdom to move
forward instead of obstructing each other.
Salt Lake City, 15. August 1996
At around 4 pm Lisa calls me on the phone. Although we work together
on the internet and live in the same city, we usually don't talk,
unless we accidentally meet on campus. Therefore her call surprises
me a little, but I don't show it. On the phone, her deep melodious
voice is even calmer, soothing, confident. She sounds like she is
sitting in a leather chair in an orderly office overlooking the city
and has everything under control. We are somewhat in a dialogue on
the internet all the time, therefore it is easy and fun to continue
the threads on the phone. And I am curious about her impressions
about the other Spooners, whom she just had met in New York.
After chatting for 20 minutes, I am getting ready to bring the call to
an end, but she says the purpose of her call was to ask me if we could
meet somewhere. Well, I am game, and less than an hour later we sit
opposite each other in a cafe. Talking to her is like getting a
private tutorial, densely packed with information about anthropology
and genetics. She says, there are so many things to do; she wants to
get done with one and get on to the next.
Her experience of the internet is completely different than mine. She
has lots of private conversations with list members, and a number of
men have confessed to her to have a crush on her. I say, yes you are
very charming on the internet. I am thinking: yes on the internet you
are, but in real life I don't find you attractive.
We get to the contentious issue of M2. I feel confident enough to
tell her my honest opinion about it: it turned out to be a good thing
because it kept people around who otherwise might have scattered in
all directions, but I don't agree with how it was created, because it
was white flight. Somehow she does not get this metaphor. I say
working class people and activists were taking over M1 and the
intellectuals just ran out, hoping their exodus would make it
collapse. But she was working class, she said. I never had looked at
her like that, but of course she is right. She tells me about her
water cooler conversations with her Mormon colleagues.
>From Mormon prejudices it is easy to get to talk about the sexual
orientation of the list members. She tells me about homosexuals dear
to her, but I don't tell her that my older daughter Ingrid is a
lesbian. I also don't tell her why I don't have a car, although she
had expected me to have one: because I am spending all my money so
that the mother of my six-year-old can get an education as a medical
practitioner. She moved to Alaska but I still love her. I offer Lisa
to walk her home, only later realizing that it might be considered
strange if a married woman is escorted to her home by a different man.
But she does not seem to mind. Children play on the sidewalks. A
colleague of mine, famous labor economist and staunch union supporter,
elected to live in this same neighborhood because it was a solid
Lisa gives me again this look when we say goodbye. Later I am
thinking: no wonder so many gay men come out in their older years.
When the intensity of the sex drive lets off, you notice that gender
does make a difference. A few days later I declare on the Marxism list
that I am gay. I don't say that this is the first time that I ever
made this statement in public, but right after this I am sending an
email to Ingrid "I came out!" Intrigued, Ingrid asks about the
circumstances. I send her the message to which I had responded. She
replies that apparently I did not do it because I had to but because I
wanted to. I did it so that Lisa would understand.
31. August 1996
Lisa calls me again. No look this time, and this time we are walking
the very beginning of Thayne canyon trail. She is walking very slowly.
She had said something not very good about her health last time but I
had not asked for further details. We come by a rock and I say: some
kids must have painted it white. She looks at it and gives me a
geological explanation, and she is probably right. She is telling me
about her two years as a school teacher, how the administration was
inert and obstructive to her initiatives, and how some students were
disruptive. It becomes clear how she saw M1 as a re-run of her
experience with the disruptive students, but when I call it to her
attention, she says it never had occurred to her. We get to another
rock and she wants to sit down. She is expecting great things from
her human environmental ecology list. She says "as we are speaking,
people are exchanging messages on the internet to invite the best
researchers to this list."
We go for dinner. Lisa had been reading what I had said on the
Bhaskar list about Alice Miller. Sometimes a child is so bright that
the parents think she has no problems and needs no support. Lisa was
one of these children. When I say that her father did not protect
her, I notice by her look that I struck a chord. I am often not aware
of my own look with my distinguished white hair; she must see me as a
father figure too. She is seeking out another father who is not
protecting her. I tell her that she is very stubborn and changes her
mind only when she has good arguments, and that Marxism needs peple
like this. She likes this characterization. It is good to have
someone to talk to about my coming out and my daughter Ingrid.
Beginning of a friendship?
September 10, 1996:
Lisa calls again. She is a little apologetic; she knows that I call
my 6-year-old on Tuesday and Thursday evenings half an hour before
bedtime, but she will have me back before it is 7:30 in Anchorage. I
agree to meet her, but not for dinner, only into the cafe, but I
shouldn't have agreed.
I am trying to find some time to get in touch with my own childhood
traumas, using the Miller/Stettbacher method. It is the reversal of
my usual workaholism in which I bury myself under work assignments so
that I won't have time to experience my feelings. Accessing these
traumas is difficult and protracted work, gently taking down one layer of
defenses after another; it takes many years. I have softened up a bit
over the Summer break and I want to make more progress. The quarter
is starting in two weeks, and I am getting panicky that I am running
out of time.
The child next door is crying at night and during the day I hear
angry, desparate protests. My own daughter Ingrid is studying
psychology, the wrong kind of psychology as far as I am concerned. I
had given her all the books by Alice Miller but she donated them to
the Detroit Public Library. She does not want to hate her parents,
but she said maybe those books will be helpful to others in Detroit.
The mother of my 6-year-old had alcoholic parents and every kind of
abuse you can think of. I myself was an unwanted child, born in
Germany in 1944, and to the horror of my father I was the classic
faggy kid you read about in jokebooks. We are trying to protect our
6-year-old from our own legacies, and I think we are doing much better
than I did with my older daughter Ingrid, where I was completely
unaware of the poison I was full of and that I was passing on. Yet
the only way to do it right is to finally work through one's own
traumas, to confront those feelings squarely, which constantly simmer
in the background and which detract from my intelligence and zap my
productivity. I want to start a pseudonym mailing list for those who
are trying to go through the same therapy, I want to publish my own
experiences; but for this I feel I should make more progress myself.
A safe and effective therapy which people can do themselves can be an
important political factor. I feel I have a job to do, and I am
taking my responsibility towards my children seriously, but mainly I
am looking inward and I have very little extra love to give.
I went, but I was resentful. No wonder we ended up discussing those
issues which we could never agree on, although we had been discussing
these things for years. She *is* stubborn. Lisa said she did not see
that dialectic was necessary; all that was needed was good science. I
tried to bring emergence as an example. I conceded that to my
knowledge no case of emergence has ever been properly explained, but
there must be something like it, the world must be open. Otherwise,
there would be no free will. She says: free will, she went through
that several times before. I am not saying that a person can do
anything they want, am I? Of course not, one cannot violate the laws
of physics. So, she concludes, there is free will, and there isn't.
I burst out in aggressive laughter, saying, suddenly you turn
dialectic. She answers: wash your mouth.
We also discussed M2 again. I am starting it, with an attack: there
hasn't been much traffic on M2 lately. Well, she hasn't had the time
to push the discussion forward. It turns out she felt responsible to
please the subscribers and foster the threads *they* would like. It
seems this was a theme throughout her life.
She mentioned again the love letters she is getting per email. She
even mentioned a name; someone who doesn't seem to think it is worth
our while reading his trenchant observations unless he can insult at
least 5 people from various backgrounds at a time.
Five days later she died. I wish I had been kinder to her. Lisa's
warmth should be an example for us all.
Various people have been hinting lately in their discussions with me.
I have been disregarding these hints because I was quite sure of my
theoretical position and the class position I was defending. I think
now I understand what they want. They want me to join them not only
intellectually but also emotionally. I did not join Lisa although she
wanted me to. Next time I will do better, I promise.
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