Friday, June 09, 2006

The Green Virgin and the Toxic Whore

I have spent the last week driving around Salt Lake City. The streets are wide. Every other yard boasts a half dozen rose bushes in full bloom. Even the most mundane of strip malls is set off against the backdrop of the snow-capped Rockies. Little streams – clear and frigid water just melted off the peaks – course through the gridded streets. I look. I admire. But I'm not here as a tourist. I'm here to support my wife and help her take care of our baby during a crisis. As I wrote in my last post, M's stepmother is in the hospital for a failing liver. This morning she had a TIPS shunt placed in her liver to lower the pressure in her veins and seems to be stabilizing, but she is still very sick.

Most of the day goes by in the ICU waiting rooms. We spread out a little blanket on the floor and L. plays there as if she were at home. She kicks and wiggles. She takes naps and wets her diapers. (Sometimes we practice elimination communication, but usually don't.) L. smiles at strangers who gratefully smile back even though their son is hanging onto his life after a motorcycle accident or their mother is struggling for every breadth. The man in the room next to M's stepmother (at the last hospital) had collapsed during a marathon and survived because a bystander performed CPR. His wife had been crying for a day and a half, but when she found out her husband fully recovered she took a liking to L. "Look at all that hair," she said.

Between the hospital visits, I look out at this beautiful city and I think about the Mormons who built it, and the Mormons who live here now. Frankly, I look down on the rigidity of their puritanical beliefs and I'm repulsed by their evangelism. I especially dislike their patriarchal hierarchies and their notions of gender roles. And there is so much silliness to Mormonism, just as there is with other religions, but with Mormons it is fresh and new, not shrouded with centuries of apologetics, so it is easier to laugh at them. For example, a healthy person who drinks an occasional glass of wine with an organic, vegetarian dinner would be violating Mormon standards by drinking alcohol, but a dangerously overweight person eating two pounds of prime rib and washing it down sugar-laden, syrupy sodas is not. They're a bunch of dupes!

Still, there was a principal behind the ban on alcohol, which is that people should not desecrate the body temple by consuming drinks that stimulate and intoxicate. With M's stepmother in the hospital for alcoholism-induced hepatitis, I've been wondering if we're not the dupes and the Mormons have it right. My own family hasn't had any alcoholism issues (as far as I know), which I attribute to the prohibition on alcohol sales in Gujarat and the general taboo on alcohol consumption among Bunyas, Brahmins, and Muslims. So who should be looking down on who? Something is terribly wrong with secular, American culture or else M, L, and I wouldn't be spending all this time in the ICU waiting room.

I have also noticed the strong presence of punks, slackers, hippies, hipsters, and other social groups who, like M's family, have defined themselves in opposition to Mormons. People who are not Mormon really aren't Mormon and they wear that difference boldly. They dye their hair strange colors with a vengeance. They bare their tattoos with great flare. And they drink with gusto. I would not be surprised if the rate of alcoholism among non-Mormons is much higher here than rates in other regions. In other words, is it possible that one group's valorization of purity can, in part, drive the rest of the population to excess?

I suppose I'm just restating the old feminist critique of the virgin/whore binary, but this time I'm doing so with tired-of-the-ICU-waiting-room feeling. At times, I've caught myself mentally composing a big list of everything that is toxic (alcohol, Windex, plastic water bottles, aromatic petrochemicals) and another list of everything that is anti-toxic (composting, gardening, cleaning with vinegar). I just want to look at these lists and know that I've figured the world out, that everything can be divided up, made sense of, and managed so as to maximize my family's and the world's happiness. But I stop myself.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

I'm sorry about what's happening to Helen, and sorry that you are experiencing pain and anticipating loss.

When you get a chance, send me your address (why I don't have it I don't know). I have a "green homesteading" website that I think you'd appreciate.

Talk to you guys soon,

Julie

Izzy said...

This is an awesome, thought-provoking post (like so many from you and Miah).

I sincerely hope her stepmother's condition will take a turn for the better.