Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Politics of the Personal

Apparently "the personal is political" is some catchphrase among some feminists. This is where my ignorance of the undergraduate college polit-pop scene shines through. It was a black goth ex-boyfriend of my now-wife who first mentioned the phrase. Can't remember the context. Only remember my skepticism.

My personal shit had been about power, sure, but politics, in my young(er) life, was something higher and systematic and structural. Personal seemed like a god-damned mess. I still know what he meant, and I know what is generally meant by the phrase. Politics, which is to say "shit that involves power," is of course present in our personal lives. But try to systematize it without being a dickless doctrinaire son of a bitch. Try to come up with a personal philosophy. It is simple to draw straight lines through war and peace and money and property--at least for me. And yet when I deal with a single life I cannot help but leave philosophy behind and enter some flailing, miserable, confused, nihilist state of mind.


She looks at me, eyes brimming, and calls me a son of a bitch. Some word that I remember as "gutless," but she uses something else. We share the same vocabulary, but we have different preferences in anger. She tells me that she would never do this to her worst enemy so she can only imagine how much I hate her.

I sleep that night at a friend's house. We stay up late and smoke cigarettes and talk about relationships. Things have been bad for him and his spouse. They've come close to calling it quits, he tells me. He has some idea of how hard things have been for her and me. He knows us well, knows the stress of working for their employer. Has an observant mind. He's smart and I like him. He makes a terrific advocate for sticking with it.

The next morning I have cried a half dozen times. I barely sleep. I linger and then return. I talk with her. We figure out some kind of peace. When do I have the right to leave? I suppose I have the right whenever. Or, as I've said before, maybe rights don't exist except as assertions. So do I want to? Part of me does and part of me doesn't. Neither part is rational.

In a couple days, I have chest pains. Feels like a panic attack. I'm gasping like Guevara. I try to calm myself, try to breathe deeply, fighting against the impulse to pant. It doesn't work. A big wave crests and I'm crying out.

She drives me to the ER. Almost to the hospital, a terrific calm settles over me, a ruthless, heartless side. I decide with grim determination that life's too short. If this is indeed psychological, then it's a sign that all is not well. Some people get right with their lord. I need to get right with me. I flash back to Peter Krause in Six Feet Under. Am I close to my own personal narm? I certainly feel melodramatic, reckless, and clumsy enough.

I feel guilt from being so selfish while my wife is driving me to the fucking ER, but pain has rendered my mind more intense. When I walk into the emergency room, I am ready to take control, playing every bit the part of a man having an emergency but clearly not letting his chest pain get the best of him. It is interesting, what gives me a sense of power. I'm odd.

When I am presented with the bill, I waltz back into Easy Politics. I am polite to the woman who tells me, and profoundly angry with the insurance company. My wife and I commiserate. I am happy that I have Dead Loved One Money in the bank, but I feel offended at spending it on something like chest pain rule-outs. We head home, nothing resolved but the diagnosis. Not pleurisy or a panic attack, but costochondritis, they think. Acute inflammation. It can be intensified by emotional stress, you know. I don't know what stresses me more, and I don't know what's healthier in the long run. The pain that comes from crossing the threshold, or the pain that comes from staying. She drives me home, and I am still contemplating a life where I have ended the only adult relationship I have ever had.


  1. Now that's a post!

    Not to be to masculine-stereotype & all, but... ballsy. Neck on the chopping block.

    I had a freaky chest pain ER visit the week after I dislocated my elbow. Turned out to be chest wall muscles unused to the weird position my slinged-up elbow put them in. Expensive ER visit for achy muscles that weren't the cardiac muscle. But peace of mind found in the MD's findings.

    Making it more personal: I chalk it up to a living example of why we need a Canadian-style health care system. When scary chest pain attacks at 9pm, where's the MD who makes house calls? The ER is the only solution... and a very expensive one at that.

  2. I am amazed anyone enjoyed it. I thought it might be a little too personal, a little too based in my shit to mean anything to others.

    It's funny. Maybe I'm showing the minor insulation my job and the sliver of life insurance has afforded me; the payment was a damn pain, and still offends me. But it's the relationship woes that haunt me still. Payment is like a slap in the face. Wondering how I'm going to live my life... That hangs over me like debt.