S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you. Hello and welcome back to Big Mood, Little Mood with Daniel M. Lavery. With me in the studio this week is Rebecca Carroll, the author of several books about race in America, including the award winning Sugar in the Raw Voices of Young Black Girls in America.. She recently published her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, which has received widespread critical acclaim. Rebecca, welcome and thank you so much for being here.
S2: Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
S1: I can’t tell you how much I have been looking forward to this really since your event earlier this year with Nicole Chang, who has also written a memoir about adoption and race that I think is genuinely genre changing.
S2: That was one of my absolute favorite conversations. She’s so fantastic and so bright and gracious. And and also I just feel like she and I both, I think, are able to use our stories and our experiences as transsexual adoptees and and build it into a bigger, larger conversation because our stories of adoption are bigger than adoption. And I just really value and appreciate that about her.
S1: I you know, you are very much preaching to the choir on that one. I also admire her tremendously and I think she does something that almost no other writers can can pull off in quite the way that she does. But I’m also just especially excited what both of your books seem to have done in terms of I don’t know how to say this without using a phrase that I hate, which is like changing the conversation because what on earth does that mean? But it does seem like at a really general public level, like mass conversations about adoptions. There seems to have been a slight crack in the door, whereas five or 10 years ago it did not seem like you could discuss it on a national level without just sort of going with the party line of isn’t it great? Isn’t it wonderful? People want to do nice things. End of sentence. End of discussion. And I’m so moved and energized, by the way, that you two have been able to change some of that.
S2: But the fact that you that in that sort of packaging of language, that that the phrase people like to do nice things was part of that as if adoption is intrinsically nice is like is this idea of doing something that is for the good or for the betterment or for where? It’s actually it’s actually a deeply confounding, complex decision and choice with, you know, lasting, sometimes devastating, sometimes glorious repercussions and ramifications. But I just was so struck by using people like to do nice things, like as if adoption can only be a nice thing.
S1: Yeah. I mean, really my hope for so much of this and this is where I think my own experience with families of origin come into play, although I myself was not adopted and did not live in a family where anyone was adopted either inwardly or outwardly, but rethinking ideas of the family as a site of people doing nice things for children, which is just self. Evidently not true, I think, which is not to say that families aren’t capable of doing nice things for children, but that generally speaking, I think it does more harm than good to think of the family as a place where adults make good decisions based on their child’s best interests, and then the child is grateful and that’s how things ought to be. I think that’s in fact, deadly dangerous.
S2: So I could not agree more.
S1: I’m excited to then with and I’m also glad that we agree on that front, although I’m sure it would be interesting to have someone who disagreed with me, maybe a future episode on that subject. But I think this will be good as we go into sort of ideas of as a person who was once a child, must I be unendingly grateful to a parent for the rest of my life?
S2: Let me just I just want to say is like an in-between like a connector between the this idea about family. And then the first question that you’re going to read, and that is that in in my research preparation for our conversation and I listen among the episodes I listen to the one with dear Alexander Chee and the fact that he referenced Summer Lovers, the movie, I just want to tell you, put me in such a state because my father’s lover of 10 years brought me to see that movie in the theater when I was Dwil. So let me there’s just that. Let me just put that there and then let’s go into the next question.
S1: That is a complicated sandwich that requires a fork and a knife to start dressing.
S2: Yes, indeed.
S1: Would you please be so good as to read our first letter?
S2: This one is called Maternal Meltdown’s. I’m a woman in my late 30s and I’ve always had a fraught relationship with my mom. I’m her only child and she treats me like I hung the moon, but also constantly infantilizes and criticizes me. She always has to be the center of attention and sees herself as a victim. She can be very difficult, but whenever someone tries to call her out, she acts as if they’ve blown up out of nowhere, especially me and my dad. I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that she’s been emotionally abusive my whole life. But whenever I try to talk to her about the hurtful things she’s done, she tries to rewrite history. I love my dad, but he enables her. This all came to a head recently when I visited her home for her seventieth birthday. I had been short with her, not ideal, but my guard was way up and she screamed at me so loudly I thought she was going to collapse. She screamed that she doesn’t understand why I hate her so much and that I’d ruined her birthday. And if I treat her like this, she doesn’t even know why life is worth living. It was really scary and I made the choice to leave. She tried to physically block my path, demanding I accept her apology. I no longer feel safe around her, but I feel terrible at the prospect of cutting her off entirely. My dad, meanwhile, has placed himself in the middle and he’s making himself physically ill, acting as a buffer between us, something I’ve assured him he doesn’t need to do. She’s never met a boundary she doesn’t view as a threat. Even though I’ve tried to explain many times before, I feel guilty at the prospect of cutting ties with her. But I also need to take care of myself. How should I approach this?
S1: I will say when I got to the line, she’s never met a boundary she doesn’t view as a threat. I just wanted to go lie down with a cold compress over my face for about an hour.
S2: I know. I know. I know. I mean, parent, parent. The the relationship between children and their parents at every step of the way. I say this as a mother of a teenager and the daughter of really complicated parents, a whole carousel of complicated parents, you absolutely have to take care of yourself first and you have to decide the way in which you want to conduct your relationships. While we’re here, I really believe we’re here on the planet to evolve. And if you’re surrounding yourself with people who don’t want to evolve, you’re going to stay in a stunted place or you’re going to feel wrong about who you are. And that’s just not again, it’s not sustainable. And so I think the other thing that’s really important for this letter writer is that you take into account that the relationship between your parents, you know, they live together, they’re partners. They’ve been married for however long. And so whether there’s an enablement happening or whatever that dynamic is, they’ve chosen that. And that’s not going to change. And so first, take care of yourself and then figure out the workaround. Right. If you want to be in contact with one or both of them. But you’re on your own with this because you’re not going to get the work on their part that they need to do clearly. So you need to, as you’ve already stated, self care, take care of yourself and what you can handle and what you can manage and then figure out how to engage with your parents in a way that is not frightening, that is not manipulative, and that’s really hard. I mean, I you know, we all have to figure it out. There aren’t any set of tools that work every time.
S1: Yeah, I agree with all of this, you know, letter writer. I think you already know what it is that you not only want to do, but are going to do. So the question is really simply, what do I do with the fact that I think I’m going to do something that while it’s probably for the best, is going to make me feel guilty and terrible? And so that’s the question you should be asking yourself is how do I take care of the parts of myself that are about to feel guilty and terrible?
S2: That’s such a good point.
S1: You know, there’s a lot of explanation here in this letter. You know, I I relate to this very much of just like I know it’s unreasonable. I’ve been keeping a detailed log of how unreasonable it is for thirty years. And I part of me just thinks if I can explain it in the right way, my mother will eventually say, you’re right, it’s true. And I don’t want to close down completely the possibility that she might someday attempt to change. But I think it’s clear that you’re not going to explain it so beautifully that she has an aha moment all on her own. If things are ever going to be different between the two of you and you can stay connected, it will have to start, I think, because she has displayed independently of you some willingness to stop doing this and you can’t force that. So, yeah, I think, you know, you don’t even have to say any. About it, but if you if you would like to, you can simply say something like, you know, our last conversation went pretty badly, it seems pretty clear to me that based on how the last many conversations have gone, that we’re not getting anywhere helpful or productive. So I’m going to stop having these conversations. I’m going to tap out.
S2: I mean, and I think the other thing and again, we have questioned and pushed back a bit on on what is conventional family value and how you’re supposed to behave in families. But I will say the one thing that I do believe in is parent child kind of secure bonding, which is that if it’s a healthy relationship, you should be able to say whatever you want to say and it’s safe. You all are safe because you are bonded in that connection. Right. So I think maybe about the history of your relationship and whether that ever happened, whether you ever made that secure bond with your parents, where you felt like you could be critical but also still be loved.
S1: Yeah. So you know that for the foreseeable future, you can’t have a conversation with your mom, in part because she has demonstrated she can’t treat you with physical respect, which is incredibly crucial. You need that to be able to have any kind of a conversation, even just a garden variety one about the weather. And so that, I think is pretty straightforward. You know, I can’t keep having these conversations. You tried to physically block me from leaving the room last time. I can’t have that. The stuff with your father, I think might be a little bit more challenging because I picked up some, like real parental vacation on the letter writers part of, you know, he’s making himself ill. I keep telling him he doesn’t have to like there’s maybe a sort of hope on the letter writers part. Again, if maybe if I can just explain to my dad that this is not good for him, he will say, you’re right, let’s go to the nice island and leave your mom alone. Whatever is going on between the two of them, it seems clear that at least for now, he is not willing to separate himself from her decisions to do things like scream at you and block your path when you try to leave a room. So that, again, is really straightforward. He can’t guarantee, you know, general basic fundamental principles of respect and safety. So you can’t you can’t work with that. And I think that just is your is your sort of party line is I can’t work with that. I need to be able to agree on and commit to basic principles of safety and not just agree to them in theory, but carry them out in practice. You can’t do that. We can’t talk you well and give it a while. You know, give that one like a year to marinate. Don’t don’t just like let’s go six weeks and see if you don’t call me up to scream at me.
S2: I want to I want to push back a little on a year only because when your parents are still living and you cannot be in conversation with them, what you end up doing is grieving your parents while they’re alive. And you might find letter writer that after three or four months, you you you miss them more. The power of missing them is more than than your willingness to grieve them while they are alive. But to just give yourself that opportunity to to check in with yourself at four, three or four months rather than an entire year, which is not to say that your parents are going to change in three or four months. But I would say that you this is about your care and what works for you. And so I wouldn’t think that you’d have to to stay to stick to a year, because that’s a very long time to not be in touch with your parents who are alive.
S1: That is helpful, if only because I think this is an interesting site of interesting disagreement. Sorry for saying interesting so many times in a row, but I do see that the letter writer has said the prospect of cutting ties and I simply like added a year to sort of like downplay that, like maybe it won’t be so bad. Letter writer. It seems like at least one of the things you’re contemplating is a permanent estrangement. And I don’t want to say you must do that or you have to pursue it. One of the things that I think is good about estrangement is you can often give yourself room to grieve certain losses or check in or ask, is this still working? It’s not a one and done decision that you can never take back. But if that is what you’re contemplating, you know, and if part of what you just need is permission, like if after 30 some odd years of trying, am I a bad person, if I stop offering successive interventions, you know, I want to give you that permission to say, no, you are trying a reasonable limit and without saying we can predict the future, I think if what you can say is I can’t have safe, healthy conversations with them, if they are ever going to change, I don’t think it’s going to be because I persuaded them to. I might want to remain open to the possibility of hearing from them if they have been able to commit to we are not going to cut you off, scream at you, force you to accept an apology for screaming at you, whatever. I might be open to that conversation someday, but I’m not going to keep trying to beg for it, I think. I would be really, really reasonable and, yeah, just figure out how can I take care of my guilt because there’s a part of you that’s going to feel like I should sign up for another thirty five years of getting yelled at because she’s my mom. And that means the person who’s allowed to treat you however they want forever because of your mom. And I just think that that will cause you a lot of unnecessary pain.
S2: So and I would just say, because I love Danny, how you’re always sort of like, how do I do that? Guilt, like shame is useless. In the end. It doesn’t actually elevate you. It doesn’t change the way that you navigate the world. It doesn’t change your DNA or your your brain or the way that you love. And so just for yourself, a bit, if you can, of your guilt, like like think of it that way in terms of managing it.
S1: Yeah. And I think this is no longer on the subject of this exact specific letter and more broadly on the question of what does or what can various forms of estrangement look like on the other side of the estrangement? You know, I myself am heading into year two of mine and I believe it will last for the rest of my life. I think that would be a good thing if it lasted the rest of my life, not least because it would mean that I had never given into an impulse to say really unhelpful things or to attempt to lash out or cause unnecessary pain. So that would in one sense be a really good indicator that I had been able to stick to a course of action where I take care of my anger responsibly, if that makes sense. And to just say there are ways in which you can have guilt, regret, anger, sadness while talking to your relatives in ways you can have it while not talking to them. And it’s not necessarily that one is the path of guilt and sadness, and the other is the path of repression. But closeness, it can be either one if that makes sense,
S2: since we’re calling up personal experiences. And I just wrote an entire memoir called Surviving the White Gaze, largely because my adoptive parents are white, my birth mother is white, my birth father is black, who passed away. But in terms of estrangement, I extricated myself from my birth mother, who’s extremely toxic for the first time for, you know what? Twenty five maybe. And that or and that period lasted about ten years. And then there was, you know, there was a health issue. Right. And so I think, OK, I can do this. I can just be in direct email conversation, ask her specifically about this thing. But it very quickly devolved into the dynamic that was toxic. And so I have now been estranged from her, you know, for many years. And with the release of my memoir, I’m managing the fallout from my parents and how they have responded, my adoptive parents and how they responded to that. So there’s there are certainly variations on estrangement. I just wouldn’t want letter writer for you to feel like you have to hold yourself to something if emotionally you start to feel degenerative.
S1: Yeah, I think that’s really, really useful. I’m also really glad that you brought up your memoir because that was something that I also wanted to spend some time talking about today. It’s fabulous. I’m so, so glad that I got to read it. I’m so, so glad that you wrote it. And I would love to hear a little bit more about what touring on this was like, not least because you toured primarily, if not entirely, virtually during covid, is that right?
S2: Yeah, yeah. It was actually brilliant. And I say that as someone who is like not really into makeup. Not really. I love to dress up, but I don’t love to do TV makeup or do makeup or and I also don’t love to be away from my kid too much. My husband too, but mostly my my family I should say. So what I got to do is pick like an array of phenomenal people to talk with on Zoome for an hour and then I’m done like I go to the bathroom, take off my makeup, and then I put into my, you know, get into my cosies and start making dinner. It’s fabulous. You know, I got to talk to Nicole Chang, as you mentioned, and this is nice. And Gabrielle Union and Christine Vachon and Ellie Mastella. I was just an amazing group of folks who each came with such extraordinary and unique takes on the book and where they were able to enter and and find themselves. And that was deeply gratifying and really heartening, you know, because as I said earlier, it’s like it’s a story about a. No option, but it’s also a story about race and systemic racism and the infrastructures that are in place. It’s about gender. It’s about it’s a it’s a coming of age story. And so my hope is really that people would find themselves where they found themselves. And and that has has happened. So I’m deeply grateful for that.
S1: I’m so, so pleased to hear that. Just not least because it’s a fantastic book that I’m so glad has been meaningful to so many different people.
S2: But I was deeply disappointed that I didn’t get to do Trevor Noah in person. That would have been a moment where I said I would
S1: have liked how you phrased it, by the way, that you didn’t get a chance to do him in person, I think is a shame. I’m sorry you said you went there. In my defense, it was such a low hanging fruit and it was stubby arms
S2: I played myself. So yet just also that I missed bookstore’s, you know, not like independent bookstores. Right. Like you got to do in real life for your book, right? Yeah.
S1: It was about a month and a half before lockdown, so I got in just under the wire.
S2: Yeah. And not I missed, but hopefully when the paperback comes out I’ll be able to go back up.
S1: Yeah, that would be fantastic. I was curious, did you mostly were you mostly able to do events with other people who had also written about adoption from an adult adoptee perspective? Was that something that was important to you or was it more that you wanted like a broad swathe of maybe people who did memoir, people who did adoption discussion, people who did race books like what was the break down there?
S2: So I tried to find folks who, as I said, could find themselves the place themselves in some part of the book. So obviously, Nicole Chang, for the obvious reason that she’s a transsexual adoptee and has written her own beautiful memoir, All You Can Ever Know. I chose Gabrielle Union because she is a black woman navigating America. This is nice, who is just a book person. He loves to read and he’s hilarious. And he’s from the Bronx. And he had some of the greatest questions. Ali Mostow, who has not written a book but is one of the finest critical thinkers and has a fantastic sense of humor and is a black man, you know, who could speak to my ideas about my birth father the way that I envisioned him, you know, and then when I met him and sort of what that relationship was like and what kind of toll that that took on me as I was navigating the white Gaze. So I really you know, I chose Christine Vachon because I’ve known her for a long time and a great admirer of her work. And because I love film and it’s I feel like the book is kind of cinematic. And so it was you know, it was fun to sort of think about matching up with folks who would would oh. Also Gina Prince Bythewood, the filmmaker who is a black adoptive trans racial adoptee. And so that was great to talk with a grown black woman, trans racial adoptee who has also navigated a birth reunion and thought about adoption a lot.
S1: I’m also so curious to I think I believe I’m correct in saying that your earlier book, Sugar in the Raw came out. Is it nineteen ninety seven? Yes. So, you know, a little a little shy of twenty five years separate those two books, both of which have, you know, a great deal to do, not just with childhood generally, but specifically like black girlhood. And I was just curious, did you find yourself in the writing of surviving the White Gaze thinking more back to sugar in the raw. Do you find, do you think of them as being in conversation with each other, as being sort of separate but semi related projects?
S2: Yeah, absolutely. I wrote Sugar in the Raw and Travels for Sugar in the Raw at a time when I was really just cresting at Holy shit, this whiteness is a lot. It’s everywhere. It was right around the time that I discovered the phrase surviving the white Gaze, which is from Toni Morrison, who I heard say it on I’ll say his name, Charlie Rose on the Charlie Rose Show, the now fallen Charlie Rose. I heard her say it when she was a guest. And I remember being in the control room and thinking, oh, my God, that’s what it is. That’s what this is. And I was simultaneously sort of in conversation with black girls all across America who were also surviving and navigating the white Gaze in ways that they didn’t even know how to articulate. So it’s it’s very gratifying to have amplified those voices and to have discovered those voices and had given them a platform way before social media where they could shine in their black girl magic. What would be known now is their black girl magic, where they could just be and exist in ways that we are not allowed to be and exist now, given social media and. Tick tock. And the expectation of black girls and the adult education of black girls and all of those sorts of things that we’re talking about more now, which is a double edged sword, is, you know, having started, you know, you are a child of the Internet. But it’s a I thought often of the girls in that book as I was, you know, sort of interrogating my memory and revisiting my own black girlhood.
S1: I hope so much if you’re ever able to stay in touch with any of them, that you send them copies of this book.
S2: Oh, yes, for sure. In fact, in the Prelude, Felicia is one of the girls in the book. You know who I reference.
S1: Yeah. Yeah, that is remarkable. Yeah. I am so excited to get a chance to read Sugar and the Raw now, having finished surviving the White Gaze and to be able to have those two kind of sitting on my head together.
S2: I love thinking about your reading. Survive the way Gaze just in terms of your own experience. And, you know, like if I can ask, like, where did you find yourself in that book?
S1: You know, I mean, I think there are many ways in which suburban California and New Hampshire are very different places. And yet I also think that my own family was one that was, you know, very much one of the one of the bigger all seeing eyes in that sort of, I suppose, that I’m envisioning at this point, like a series of like compound eyes for the white Gaze, like just one large, large, large insect oId sort of looking out at everything. And I’m thinking of the Ortberg says as one of those facets and particularly the ways in which certain ideas around the sort of like grateful, childlike subject position that is assumed and necessitated as part of the like 80s and 70s resurgence of like white Christian trans racial adoption. So I realize I’m thinking through this for the first time, so I’m not expressing myself quite well. But as trans racial adoption became, let’s say, popular among specifically white evangelical American Christians in the 1970s and 80s, there was this sort of something in between an expansion and something in between a collapsing of ideas around non-white children being enfolded into the white family. That also had to do with ideas about white missions, trips to predominantly non-white countries, and again, ideas of unquestioned goodness on the part of the white people, either drawing something inward towards itself or enfolding and engulfing some things such that it became theirs. And the way it is so difficult for me to separate any of those things from the kind of harms that my own family perpetuated from my brother’s repeated missions, trips down to Mexico that were part of his, you know, ongoing secret compact with my parents to attempt to treat his attraction towards children, that to this day, despite repeated numerous attempts, have never been investigated. And the way that that all just kind of lines up perfectly with we know what’s best. No rules, no limits. Let’s have it. I think it’s monstrous. So that was what was very much was on my mind is like something that happens at every different kind of scale in the white family and in the white church.
S2: And, you know, I mean, we throw this word around patriarchy a lot, but I mean, it really is that right? I mean, this communistic sort of manifest destiny. We will decide what this is and how it will be. And and just hearing you talk about, like, you know, the missions and how to make it good, how to decide that it’s good just with the power that you have that you have made up, that you made up this power and and inculcated it so successfully in this frightening way that you can just decide that things that are kind of evil are good, it’s wild, it’s wild to me.
S1: And not just good, but like unquestioning goodness. Right.
S2: Well, that’s the unquestioning is like that’s what blows my mind. I mean, that’s what racism is, right? It’s like unquestioning the inhumanity and denigration of black and brown people, but particularly black folks is like the unquestioning of it is the racism.
S1: You know, I think of the arrests. It was about eleven years ago now. Back in 2010, there was a group of ten Americans who are detained in Haiti for attempting to transport something like 33 children. This was after the earthquake and the sort of statements they gave were something like, you know, gosh, we’re just trying to help.
S2: And oh my God, I remember
S1: arrested for smuggling children out of the country.
S2: That’s right. Because because I mean, I don’t remember the exact warning, but we’re just trying to give them a better opportunity, like just to make to help. We’re just trying to help. Like, the condescension, the power of the patronization is so deep seated.
S1: Yeah. And just, you know, why would you even want to look into this? And so I think to this day, you know, I know that there is an ongoing second investigation happening at my father’s former church in Menlo Park. So there is an investigation, at least in this church, in a predominantly white neighborhood in the Bay Area. And yet the churches that presumably also need to be investigated down in Mexico have not received the same opportunities, have not received the same information, despite our attempts to to get them as much information as we can that, you know, even the sort of two tiered sense of slapdash after the fact investigations, the difference there is really stark.
S2: So I think it’s interesting, you know, for you and for me in terms of these the relationship with with the family particularly and the sexuality bent of it and how funky that is. And also, you know, in my life, there has been some of that, but there’s also been this kind of exotic vacation of blackness. And just the way that that we’ve both kind of made this commitment to sort of be in conversation with it instead of cultivating any kind of shame around it, I think is is worth bringing up to your listeners, because it’s it’s it’s really hard. It’s hard to. You know, go forth in ways that are truthful to yourself, as you well know, that are in deep conflict with your
S1: or family of origin. Yeah, it is. It’s painful and difficult. And I really, really understand the many impediments that face anyone who wants to step out of that family circle or challenge that family circle. It’s not easy. And in some ways, the family trains children up in order to never do that. And so it can feel like trying to move a mountain using your mind. But as you say, it is worth doing and as you say, it is worth doing in a way that doesn’t doesn’t treat the person or the persons who are attempting to step out or interrupt a cycle as simply angry or ungrateful or simply misunderstanding good intentions. It’s like, no, no, no. I’m very clear on what the intentions were exactly.
S2: I’m very clear on what the intentions were, right or wrong or falling out of line or, you know, like that is so important, very clear of the intentions. It’s like for the folks that you are that we are addressing are the ones who are unclear on their intentions or
S1: who just want to sit with who you are, what my intentions were. That’s all we can talk about. And it’s just sort of like, well, I’ll never know what your intentions were. I only know what you tell me of your intentions. And frankly, your intentions are not the issue here.
S2: They’re not they’re also kind of I mean, I’m kind of over intentions, right? Like, I just over people saying, well, that was not my intention. Again, like, OK, you can say that what I know is what I have experienced and the way in which I want to live my life and the morals and the folks around me and the relationships that I’m in and the chosen family that I created doesn’t work with that intention.
S1: I’m curious, did you find that there was a difference and you don’t have to go into deep personal detail about your own individual relatives. But I’m curious, did you find that there were things that you had put in the book that you had already said or attempted to say out loud, but that were received differently once they were in print?
S2: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. So, Danny, here’s the thing. Like all I’ve ever all I’ve done my entire life is have conversations about everything that is in this book. And so I got really tired and I arrived at a place where it was, you know, it was a pivotal moment, the summer that Mike Brown was shot. And my child, my son said, are we going to get shot because we’re black? And suddenly this torrent of rage and protectiveness and anger at the nonchalance with which my parents and my family, my white family had sort of gone through life regarding this issue while I was alone as a member of the family, was trying to figure out how to do this. And so that’s when I knew I was ready to write a book. And I had I don’t know if you can call it naivete or optimism or whatever. I thought I truly thought that they would receive it as a gift like God is. I’ve been saying this my entire life here. It is neatly packaged in what I think is a very well-written book. But that is not at all how it has been received at all. Yeah. And so I keep trying to figure out what the difference is like. Have you not been listening? Not only have I been saying this stuff, but I’ve been writing I’ve been I was a columnist for The Guardian for two years. I was a critic at large. I mean, I’m a writer. This is what I write about. So it’s wild. It’s been really, really wild and painful and bizarre, truly.
S1: It is kind of astonishing. And I think that’s why I was a little more direct about pushing for that second letter writer to consider just taking a long, long break, because I think so often in that kind of dynamic, the person who says eventually, boy, we just keep having these same conversations over and over again. And I don’t know what your intentions are. All right. But it’s not working. Things aren’t changing. And so I just want to stop. You know, I don’t want to keep hurting ourselves and each other in the same way. I think it can often get framed by the people who aren’t pursuing estrangement as punitive, like, oh, you are withholding access to you as an act of punishment, which again, I think has this really extractive permanent Parent-Child permanent claim on somebody else’s interiority. Then I really bristle at this idea of I have a right to your interiority, regardless of how I treat you. And if you try to take that, you’re you’re taking something away from me by not coming to these events, by not picking up the phone, by not having these conversations. You know, I think that’s where you get the line perceiving boundaries as a threat. That’s mine. That belongs to me. I’m entitled to it. You’re taking it away to punish me. That must mean you’re having a tantrum or acting out or behaving like a child when I think instead I feel a little bad because it’s not like I’m I don’t want to recommend estrangement for everybody. It’s not like. Take two Tylenol, like Tylenol will fix everything, just get a strange and that’ll make everything better. I just think, you know, when somebody says after 30 years it’s never gotten better or we’ve tried to have this conversation three times. All you’re saying is this is so clearly not working. If we can’t agree on basic principles of safety and respect, then we can’t have conversations. I would do the same thing to a stranger or an acquaintance or friend. That’s not punishment. That’s not punitive. That’s not acting out. That’s just
S2: sense. And I totally agree with that. And I think all of what you just said is so, so smart. And I and it made me realize that I was thinking about it more on an emotional level. Right. Which is that, you know, my parents created a bubble in rural New Hampshire, a bubble that I left intellectually and physically a long time ago. But in writing this memoir, I became emotionally exiled from that bubble. So my parents love, particularly my father’s still exists in that bubble, a bubble that I can’t survive in. Right. But I miss my mom’s love. And it’s in that bubble. So I’m just saying that in terms of grieving that. Not having access to that love, right, because she’s she’s the only relationship that wasn’t toxic. You know, you have to give yourself give yourself some grace or else what the what the estrangement will look like, that is all. I’m pro estrangement for sure. But I do think that there are components. There are, you know, the physical extrication, the intellectual understanding, which we are very clearly mapping out here. But then there’s the emotional right, like how are you going to feel?
S1: Of course know that’s so true and that’s so crucial because I sometimes if I’m not careful, I sort of make it sound like a series of math equations, which just like X, many conversations by bad consequences equals Z amount of estrangement. Just do it and deal with it afterwards. But of course, as you say, the reason people often put that off until things reach a horrible fever pitch is because there’s that great fear of what will I do without that? And part of the answer, I think at least some of the time is. You’re not really getting the thing you want now you have the illusion that you’re about to get it or you’re about to get it without incredibly painful side effects. But, you know, you have to find real ways to mourn the loss. And it is, as they say, deeply sad and complicated. But you know what’s not complicated is our last letter o good, which we’re going to answer in a lightning round,
S1: which for some reason, I think my last guest thought actually involved like getting struck by lightning. So I just want to make it really clear. It just means we each have a minute to answer a question that we have not previously seen. That’s all I think. John Darnielle actually I think he said something like, do we stand outside? That was very, very appropriate. So I will read this letter and I will give you a minute on the clock. You know, you have ten seconds to start wrapping it up. OK, that’s it. Just one minute.
S2: Like Family Feud
S1: or as much nuance as you can fit into a minute, and then it’ll be my turn. So the subject is not sitting well in Wisconsin. I had made a new friend or so I had thought, we agreed on many things, but also agreed to disagree on many things. I’m a married woman in my 30s, and he’s a single Christian man in his 40s. We worked in the same building, but not at the same company. And we often got lunch together or chatted in the halls. During the pandemic. We’d call each other about once every week or every two weeks and we’d occasionally take a walk together. After about a year, he ghosted me after a phone conversation I can’t stop replaying. We’ve been talking about politics and he kept insisting that I and liberals in general need to compromise. I asked why I should compromise my solution focused, data driven stances when he couldn’t offer me reasons to change my mind in the scenarios we had discussed, like abortion, immigration, homelessness. I was offering hard data and focused on solving problems. I understand why politicians might have to make deals in order to get things done, but we were just talking as two individuals. He kept insisting that I compromise. I know data isn’t everything, but I think when it comes to solving problems, even if something seems uncomfortable or unusual, if it’s more effective than the alternatives, then that’s all that matters. I get that offering safe places for drug use with medical staff or sex education and the distribution of condoms might seem like condoning problematic behavior. But if we’re talking about solving problems, those solutions make the most sense. His insistence on compromise when he never offered another solution still doesn’t sit right with me. I respect his religion, but I don’t think his being more religious than me gave him a moral high ground. I was raised Lutheran and I know the scriptures better than most. I wonder if there’s something I did wrong. But I feel like compromising on a matter of basic human rights with no alternative solutions just makes me feel ill. I tried to call after our last talk, but he never responded. All right. I’m putting a minute on the clock and I’m going to start it when you start talking.
S2: So letter writer, you use the word compromise a bunch here. And I’m just sort of wondering if you know what compromising means or if he this this friend of yours knows what compromising means, which is that there needs to be an alternative suggestion in order for you to make a compromise or agree upon a compromise. And so if there is no offering of said alternate suggestion or data point or opinion or expertise, then compromise is off the table. So you are clear in your thinking and I’m sorry that he goes to you, but it seems like this is for the best.
S1: Great, you finished with twenty seconds to spare. I’m going to try to see if I can just use those remaining 20 seconds, get us out of here a little faster. Yeah, you used to talk a lot to somebody who was not a colleague, and you guys used to argue a lot. Now we just want to talk to you anymore. I get why it feels weird, but all you can do is say this guy doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. He’s not returning my calls. Don’t call him anymore. Find somebody else to fight with. Oh, that leaves us with five seconds. We’re both great. We finished. All right. Easy, easy problem. Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. I’m so, so glad that I got to talk to you today. And thank you so much again for for being willing to go into such thoughtful detail about some very thorny issues.
S2: Well, it’s been a complete joy. You are wonderful in conversation, which is why this podcast is successful and wonderful to listen to. And so I will come back any time. I just I just invited myself to come back any time.
S1: Please do invite yourself over, frankly, for dinner any time. I would love that as well. I’m just pleased as Punch. Have a great rest of your day.
S2: You too.
S1: Thanks for joining us on Big Mood, a little mood with me, Danny Lavery, our producer is Phil Surkis, who also composed our theme music. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Had to slate dotcom mood to sign up to subscribe or hit the subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using right now. Also, please leave us a review on our podcast. If you get a minute, we’d love to know what you think. If you want more big mouthed little mood, you should join Slate. Plus Slate’s membership program. Members get an extra episode of Big Mood, a little mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations and interview questions with our guests. And as a Slate plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show, Go to sleep dot com forward slash mood plus to sign up. It’s just one dollar for your first month. If you need some little advice or big advice and you’d like me to read your letter on the show had to slate dotcom mood to find our big mood, little mood listener question form or find a link in the description of the platform you’re using right now. Thanks for listening. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday.
S2: I encourage you to look at your other friendships, your other relationships and what is valuable to you and what is important to you in those friendships. Are they mutually respectful? Are they people with whom you can have honest conversations, people who are not defensive when you call them accountable? And so look to the relationships that have been sustainable as sort of help in going forward with this relationship with your father?
S1: Yeah, I mean, I think what I see here so much is we’re fairly close now and I don’t want to cut him off. I can appreciate that letter writer. I can appreciate in some ways, it must have just felt radiantly good to reconnect with your father and not get abused. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate. Plus now at Slate, dot com forward slash mood.