Rebecca Walker decided to have a baby.
I'm not sure how old she was when she did, but it was a very difficult decision for her. You see, Walker is a lesbian. Or at least one can say that she was in some sense of the word. Things are only so simple for people who cruise bars.
I finished my bar hopping for the evening and ambled into the bookstore on Rittenhouse Square looking for a hardcover copy of Harlot's Ghost, or a copy of The Satanic Verses, the next books on my reading list. I didn't find Mailer but I did stumble upon this leg of Walker's book tour. As I stood in the rear of the small gathering of quiet voices and anxious questions I found myself becoming more intrigued by the scene, first out of contrast to my previous encounters, second out of nostalgia for the days I regularly attended such soulful gatherings and thirdly out of genuine interest.
The subject was one which I regularly state as one of the axiomatic pillars of the difference between liberalism and conservatism. Conservatism protects the family from corruption of the state. Liberalism uses the state to protect from the corruption of the family. One can almost equally consider it an axiom that emotionally mature conservatives of this sort come from very well managed families. A well-managed family is not necessarily a good or great one, but it is one from whose strength one can reliably depend. Of course in every society families break, some tragically. In a highly individualistic society as ours, folks can depend on long, ugly streaks of isolation and longing when one is damaged in the home. I have a lot of respect for that healing process which is why I recognized the tough love behind Walker. Yeah I'm a bit more experienced as a dad, but I hear her mom vibes loud and clear. It is a secret language understood only by initiates.
Walker's audience was largely comprised of women who have not suffered through the cleansing agony of childbirth, and one could sense their conflict and ambivalence from a distance. Walker is a master of talking to them straight and guiding them gently. She's got a writer's honesty and self-knowledge. As I surfed her website and perused her bio, I found she's got much experience talking to young folks such as these.
There is genuine confusion and empathy. A thousand conversations that cannot occur in bars await the patient author on book tours. I could feel the tender tendrils extending as each young person walked up to the table after the talk. With one in particular whom I seem to recall in a denim skirt, the two women reminded me of my own two daughters whispering to each other. Oh how women talk. And where else could they go but to each other?
They can come to me, because in the end, big brother that I am, I spent most of the evening acquainting myself with a universalized version of this ritual. How can I protect this, I kept asking myself. How can I keep this part of society working? How can I recognize this from the fraud of eclexia? Walker invoked he who is Chesterton in my mind when she expressed that family works and has worked for hundreds and thousands of years, and 'we' shouldn't be so quick to dismiss its value. She recognizes what era she's living in, and said that those are dangerous words in some quarters. I imagine she would know that very well.
What I didn't really know then as I well as I know now is very much the same thing that these young people don't know. That is that the sexier you are and the more you recognize that free instinct, the more you will recognize your nature to be a parent. We just have lives that are so interesting and compelling outside of the basics of childrearing that to sacrifice our personalities and lifestyles seems such a leap. You get fat. You get tired. You stop experimenting with and 'experiencing' life. Instead you start living to protect life. But surely there are many who have grown up in ways that defy that basic element of humanity. And for those whose tastes and fears get the best of them, Rebecca Walker has written a book called Baby Love.
I love babies so much. I love babies so much. I can just write a whole paragraph about loving babies. But I won't. Still, I was distracted by the 14 month old at the back. That's my guess, anyway. He's an adventurous and curious boy. Loving babies is easy, directing children is hard. It takes dedication, but it also takes the mature realization that you have no choice. It's a job you must grow proud of no matter how painful it is. Everyone knows, no matter how many prize winning and brilliant authors we grow, our society cannot endure massive distrust of the business of raising children properly. I expect and hope the young people who heard Walker out will see through their fears. Their children will thank them. They will know.
As for me, my problem is not children nor families. I grew up straight with some very deep understandings about family that became roaringly self-evident to me despite my fascinating young lifestyle. I am completely given over to family and feeling nicely righteous; extra strength is what I feel. I am compelled to protect and serve. It is why I am Conservative. I don't love humanity generically, I watch and respect what people are capable of. I recognize their strengths and weaknesses, in what they do and what they fail to do. People are capable of enormous acts of heroism and tenderness. People are capable of absolute terrifying butchery and savagery. So I'm willing to be bold enough to suggest that the choices many see as their inheritance is not indeed liberty, but unhinged freedom. That knowing what people can do determines some things that some people must do. More heroes please. More tender, heroic parents and leaders please.
I listened to the lyrics to Salt & Pepa's "None of Your Business" last night and I was reminded of the rejection of the idea of a purity ball. I hear that 'It's my life' thing loud and clear. I know why people reject society's opinions. It's a cold, impersonal society out there. People seem to be caught up in minding their own business. But then again a lot of us are minding our own families. There's only so many football games, beach parties, protest marches, shopping malls and book signings you can go to. Public life has its limits; you're not going to get sustaining love out there. That, you have to build yourself.
For all my lefty friends out there, you know this to be true somewhere in your misty minds. You know that there's something awesome about the indigenous woman who gives birth without prepaid health care and prescription drug benefits. Go ahead and admit it. She's more courageous than you. She's more family-oriented than you. She has resisted all of the compelling lifestyle choices you have. She's not trying to juggle the kids, and the Xs, Ys and Zs of your bourgie desire. She falls in love and has babies. Its a good thing. She might even be illiterate and incapable of having a nuanced conversation about a fascinating book about family. But she's got family.
Maybe our society creates the market for psychosis and psychiatry. Some of us are really crazy. But I think most of us just need a shove in the right direction, and assurances that everything is going to be alright. I watched Latigo Flint take himself metaphorically out of the equation. I read about John Perkins' 20 year suicide. I know there are many many young Americans peering into the pool of parenthood, shivering on the deck and deathly afraid of jumping in. I don't want you to take yourselves out. Do it. Give your kid a freaky name and encourage her to pierce her finger-webs and heave a flying bird to the System. Make her even crazier than you, with all that love and sensitivity you have for Gaia. See if you can stand it.
In the meantime the world keeps turning. With or without the healing powers of a thoughtful and generous soul like that of Rebecca Walker, the beat goes on. We brave the dangers and get strength by giving it to our children. My children make me extraordinarily courageous in ways I never imagined I'd be.
Rebecca Walker had a baby. Aren't you glad you can have a baby?