Saturday, June 20, 2015

The family we choose

I've written various things here talking about good and, unfortunately, more often bad things about my family.  The people who I love unconditionally mostly because if I had conditions most members would have failed them long ago.

I started writing about them and the preamble threatened to take over the post.  The short version is that while I never would have abandoned them, if I'd had a choice going in I would have opted out of my screwed up family.

It is a disturbing fact that my depression, something that has held me back at every turn and screwed up my life in ways beyond counting, probably protected me by insulating me from the toxic environment I grew up in.  There were things that did leave lasting effects, scars I still carry, and a lot of it was very bad at the time but placed in context most of the terrible was fairly ho-hum because depression made everything suck anyway.

Eeyore never really has things get him down.  Eeyore is already on the ground so there is no down to go.  No matter how bad things might have seemed at the time, it all blended together like that.

And I kept to myself.  I was never outgoing, never good at making friends, never much of a human contact kind of person.

For the longest time the family I was born into and stuck with was the whole of my world as far as human contact went.

But eventually I went off to college, which was technically a university that contained colleges, and quite by accident I started to form relationships.

I still kept to myself, I didn't see the people outside of school, but in the same way that I lived with my family, I schooled with this other group.  They started to become a part of my life.

I was a math major, no minor.  I earned a degree as a math major, no minor.  But all the time I was taking electives with this other group.  Nothing wrong with the math majors, there's a big crossover between math and classics students in fact, and the two tend to mesh well, but I was taking math because that was my major, that was my plan; I was taking classics for no reason I could put a finger on.

I liked the classes, I liked the teachers, I liked the students.  I liked being there, with them.

I earned a minor without even trying, and when I went to apply for the minor I had earned I was told it wouldn't take much more to make myself a double major.

I did that and kept finding reasons to stay.  To have the same people in my life in the same way.

I would oversimplify if I said that the only reason I stayed was the connections I was making with others in classics, but I would be lying if I said the desire to be there in those classes with those people wasn't part of the reasons that I stayed for so much longer than I ever needed to.

I haven't graduated, in spite of having earned two degrees that I simply need to ask for, but classics is gone now, the only reason to stay is something that I need to do for myself for closure.  This coming school year will be my last, assuming I can find a way to pay for it.  I'll graduate and put the tragedy of USM behind me.

And it is a tragedy; the story of a great university with students, staff, and faculty that were peerless and, logically, had no reason to be at a low prestige underfunded public school but had administrators who were incompetent, maliciously lacking in scruples, or both.

I didn't go to USM because I knew that it had somehow managed to acquire people it could never afford if they were paid what they were worth.  I didn't know that students who came from Harvard (yes, fucking Harvard) would comment on how much better the teaching was at USM.

I went because it was close by, within my price range, and accepted me.

And, essentially, I rolled a natural twenty in doing so (assuming I got the reference right.)

Now we've gained notoriety. The classicist from from Homeland Security (we are everywhere) talked about how the reception she got in DC had changed in recent years from not recognizing the name but assuming USM must be good (it comes from the land of Bates, Bowdoin, Colby) to being, "Isn't that the place that fired all its teachers?"

Now we seem determined to destroy everything that made ourselves good.

But what I found at USM was an incredible group and what I found in the classics department, without realizing it, was a second family.

A family that I had chosen without even realizing it.  They became a part of me, and I've spent almost a third of my life being around them.

In some of my deepest depression in high school I just shut down.  In some of my deepest depression in college Jeanine Uzzi* pulled me through I think without even really trying or knowing that it was what she was doing.  She did know that I had depression, she did know that I struggled, but the fact of the matter was that she probably would have been as compassionate and helpful if she didn't.

And so it was that I ended up forming a group that wasn't exactly friends, and in many ways more like family, by choosing, and choosing, and choosing again, to immerse myself in the classics program at USM.

Every year there was a school year end get-together and barbecue.  Being without a car I only managed to make it to two before.  Last year, and three years ago.  I had forgotten that they alternated between Peter's** house, which meant that I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was in walking distance.  Google says 40 minutes on foot.  I didn't time it.

With Peter retired and Jeanine illegally laid off without cause, classics at USM is dead.  But we got together, most people had alcohol, I had root beer.  There were cookies.  There were chips.  There was meat as well as vegetarian options.

I got to see a future president of the United States on a unicycle (she was in a parade on a much more impressive unicycle in front of the current president of the United States..)  Also stilts.  A little bit of pogo stick.  She's multi-talented.  Obama has never seen her on stilts, so there!  I win.

Anyway, it was time well spent with people I've formed a connection with that, again, isn't exactly friendship.  It really is like family, and going to the get together is like seeing family you haven't in a while, catching up, and hanging out.

Also discussion of vampires, zombies, evolution, dogs, the fact that naked mole rats don't get cancer (which, seriously: awesome), cats, trebuchets, ballistas, (how is it possible that Google Chrome doesn't know how to spell either of those words?  They're basic fucking English and I depend on my spell checker because spelling has never been my strong suit what kind of witless provincial hacks do you think we are, Google Chrome, that you think we will never need to say "trebuchet" or "ballista") Doctor Who, Douglas Adams, various experiences of Paris, surf lessons for people with disabilities (I had to get clarification: mental and physical disabilities, all are welcome), the importance of therapeutic dogs, how while people starting a revolution by pulling out gladiuses would be perfectly acceptable, people starting a revolution by pulling out their "gladiuses" would be a serious breach of all forms of etiquette (I said something and then remembered the double meaning and had to quickly clarify for fear that I might be misunderstood as the most obsecene and inadvisable form of "sexual revolution" ever conceived of), the state of Latin teaching in the state, that type of jellyfish that avoids dying of old age by becoming a larva again and starting life over (repeat as necessary, avoid getting eaten to attain immortality) children in movies, how the increasing use of CGI that has to be planned out in detail is probably changing the way accidents lead to greatness in movies (Jaws would never have been nearly so good if they'd been able to make the shark animatronic work, Indiana Jones wouldn't have been as memorable if Harrison Ford hadn't had dysentery for the sword fight,) Maleficent, and what it would have been like to be in the castle after the entrance was turned into a maze of iron spikes, job offers and housing arrangements, and, you know, stuff.

Good times.

The family I have chosen for myself had a reunion today, is what I'm saying.


* Buy her book, learn about the wondrous world of profanity-laden prejudice-filled Roman poetry and know that this stuff that would make a rapper blush is history.  Fucking history?  Fucking-in-detail history.  I wish I could do an affiliate link so that I too could profit from you buying her book, but Amazon dumped me and they're the only program I was ever in.

Seriously, buy her book.

Know that this is probably the only time I will ever recommend something that contains pervasive blatant homophobia and misogyny.

It is unfortunate (and contributes to present prejudice) that the way Julius Caesar was insulted was to say that he takes it up the ass thereby implying that taking it up the ass is a somehow denigrating thing.  It is, however, important to that we understand that classical poetry could be about that sort of shit.  Catullus has never been out of print.  Throughout history people have been reading this, but we tend to end up with sanitized garbage instead of proper historical profanity.

If you want to understand the past, you have to be willing face the occasional use of dirty words and the frequent, nigh unending, use of obscene concepts.  You also have to face a lot of bullshit bigotry.  Because the people of days gone by were every bit as much prejudiced assholes as we are today.  Hopefully more-so.  If it's not more-so then that means we've made a stunning lack of progress in the past two thousand years.

But, then again, we did invent racism in that time, which didn't used to be a thing, so it might not be that surprising if there's been little progress.

** Peter is the world's foremost expert on Roman aqueducts.  It is possible that you've seen him on Nova, or National Geographic, or one of those things.  It's also possible that, like me, you've missed those episodes.


  1. I'm really glad you found a family like that. :)

  2. The impression I've got is that in classical Greek culture (and to some extent roman) nobody really cared about where a man put his bits as long as he was the one doing the putting.

    For some people science fiction fandom is that sort of family. Probably other fandoms for other people too.