Sunday, July 09, 2006

Home is Where the Struggles Are

Today I'm finishing a review of Janet Burstein's Telling the Little Secrets: American Jewish Writing Since the 1980s. Burstein is a really great writer, particularly for an "academic": the writing is never purposely dense or convoluted, and though it is critical writing, it is always brilliantly imaginative. Her discussion of Aryeh Lev Stollman's The Far Euphrates is especially interesting. The novel is the story of a young Jewish/Canadian boy named Alexander, who tries to recapture the ambiguous and painful memories of his childhood. The distance, loss, and separation that he associates with "home" subtly evoke the consequences of inhabiting a post-Holocaust world, particularly for a Jewish family.

But I am intrigued by Burstein's suggestion that "from the womb onward, home may be the site of our most desperate struggles -- a struggle first to receive nurture and care, then to achieve independence, and finally to assume responsibility" (108). It gives new meaning to the phrase "dysfunctional family." Dysfunction is perhaps only a symptom of home.

Now I'm going to read a bit into that quotation. In my family, as in my own life, it seems like there is always some kind of drama. Whether it's me getting into two car accidents in one month, my dad walking outside and being bitten by a deadly snake, my brothers being literally jumped by a Samoan gang, or an overly heated family debate over politics in the kitchen, there always seems to be a struggle or conflict of some sort. I've often asked myself why this is -- why our household is more action-packed than most. I have typically perceived of it as a negative (though perhaps beyond our control) phenomenon, but now I'm not so sure. I wonder if it is the existence of struggle or conflict that brings us together, makes us strong. I like Burstein's idea of home as the "site of our most desperate struggles" because it allows me to conceive of my family's predicament from a different, and more promising, perspective: my own personal family life may be full of struggles, but perhaps it's just that we know what it means to be "home," and we're comfortable being there in what it is.

5 comments:

Casey said...

That's interesting to read... I often think, with a knock on wood, at how uneventful and "safe" my life has been. I haven't had to deal with too much death, never even saw a venomous snake, etc. It's almost like there are family personalities that somehow attract or repel "drama." Seems like that word has a negative connotation, though--maybe that's what you're pointing out near the end: "I wonder if it is the existence of struggle or conflict that brings us together." If it is that, then that must be a good thing, whatever we call it.

nedric said...

Great post. Conflict in the home might allow for the development of stronger and more intense bonds, like "scar tissue" (if only the Chili Peppers hadn't coopted that metaphor!). But it seems to me that this can be said of many areas of our lives: our inner conflicts, conflicts in the workplace, etc. Is there some other quality that makes the conflicts in the home especially significant? Their permanence, maybe?

nedric said...

After rereading the post, I see comfortability is key - being comfortable enough to struggle with one another.

Monica said...

Casey, I think you're right that there's something about certain personalities attracting or repelling "drama." People who are non-confrontational, for example, probably have less conflict in their lives. On the surface, anyway. So, I guess I don't mean that violence, struggles, or conflicts are necessarily good, but that they are incredibly human, and can in some circumstances perhaps reflect that "I'm home" kind of feeling. But maybe this doesn't make sense.

Monica said...

Yes, Nedric, I do think that is it -- if home is the "site of our most desperate struggles," I think that it is indeed very much about being comfortable in that kind of definition of home, being comfortable enough to struggle with each other, or accept that we struggle as a family.