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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What the Party Can Do For You

The first poem I ever wrote was about the Communist Party. I was in second grade. Because of the compositions I wrote for literature class -- laden with similes and metaphors stolen from the books I was reading -- my teacher thought I had a way with words. So he asked me one day if I wrote poems. I said yes, although I never had before. That night, after I finished my homework, I scribbled down two stanzas about the glorious Communist party that took care of me and all the children in our country. It rhymed! I was so proud of it. I fell asleep reciting the poem in my head again and again. I showed it to my teacher in the morning. He smiled. And he told me to write more.

I tell myself -- insistently, stubbornly -- that growing up under a totalitarian regime didn't affect me much. I had a regular childhood, I say. The usual tribulations of school, a younger and much more beautiful and popular sister with whom I didn't get along, books instead of friends, a father whom I worshipped because he understood my love of reading, a mother who out of passionate but blind love chided me for eating too much. But then I remember the summer when the president planned a visit to our city and children from all the schools in the county practiced marching in formation and chanting "Ceausescu and the people! Ceausescu and the children!" while twirling ribbons with red, yellow and blue stripes, the colors of the Romanian flag. We practiced for months on soccer fields under a blistering sun. Some children fainted from the heat. My sister was one of them.

I was sturdier. But also more permeable. I absorbed the propaganda like a sponge. I copied down rhymes from Communist poems and songs in the rhyming dictionary that my father suggested I start putting together if I wanted to be a poet. The red flag with the yellow sickle and hammer was a powerful symbol for me. I can't say a symbol of what. But I was moved by it. I listened to Ceausescu's speeches on television and discussed with my father what the "new man" was that Communism was trying to create. I was earnest; I was driven by intellectual curiosity, by pride.

This is deeply disturbing to me now. I can't shake off my mortification for being taken in by party propaganda, no matter that I was young, no matter that I grew out of that naivety. I was swallowed for a while in the great belly of the Communist party machinery, burned by its digestive juices. When I applied to become a U.S. citizen I had to answer the question if I had ever been a member of the Communist party. I checked the no box. Literally, that's true. But that doesn't exonerate me. I just can't forget that poem I wrote in second grade. I don't remember the words any more. But the poem still lives in me, in a dark corner, empty but indestructible, like a ghost.


Blogger madness rivera said...

This is great. You need to read it. Write more about it! SO GOOD.

If the dogma was askew, your sincerity as a child indicates such intelligence. You are special, C.

And you accent sounds nothing like Dutch. What the--??

December 09, 2005  
Blogger Rebel Girl said...

Yes - it's great -write more. This is an essay, really that needs to stretch out more.

December 16, 2005  
Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

I agree with the commenters above. This would make a great personal essay, especially if you could expand it. Andrew Tonkovich (Lisa's husband) teaches a great class in first-person essay writing, and, if he offers it in the fall, you should definitely take it.

December 16, 2005  

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