No one exists alone at Glacier park. Any single file effort’s regrettable, required by a bushy, skinny path. I’d see groups of twenty pass by while I crouched in thimble berry bushes to feast. Mostly, I saw couples. Not one other soul went solo on the trail I hiked. Maybe forest dangers make coupling necessary: “It was love at first sight—he vanquished in the test where I imagine him wrestling a bear. So far I had loved bears only but now this dude.”
I hesitate to enter Loner Jams 2k16 because that’s tired and embarrassing, but the traditional family model I encounter out here in this Montana town, especially when knocking on doors to canvass, causes pause in me, because it asks me how much I do or will belong to that tradition.
Wives over and over again cannot tell me who they’re supporting in the election because their husband isn’t home. He researches, understands, and prescribes that action. He does the politics. I witness the assumption that what’s political and what’s personal are two different experiences. That the limits of who we get to be day to day aren’t drawn by policy, by representation in government (and representation in media and art, too). But the daily mire is political.
At the same time, I could be comfortable with separating some household tasks along gender lines. Dishes, taxes, cooking falling to one or the other member because of historical trends in skill. But that women still perform, according to the Guardian, 3x the unpaid labor as men, freaks this sister out.
Mental and emotional labor gets delegated along gender lines, too. Last weekend when all of Montana’s field staff joined the governor and his office to grill burgers, his wife’s thank you speech was tearful, rooted in its gratitude. His, though full of pathos, was less emotional, more transcendent.
My basically Aunt, Thedra, “does the emotions. Stephen does the physical labor.” This according to her. As if the emotions aren’t physical labor. This woman and my mom once staged an intervention to persuade me to take antidepressants (I’m happy that at this point a couple years later no one would recommend them for me). They both take them. Thedra insists they’ve hampered her creativity none, in fact took her out of the way of herself so she could form focused visions and execute. My mom insists they’ve dulled her visions and abilities, but she doesn’t mind that she’s making tackier art, failing to see an uneven hem, because it’s payment for evener keel.
Thedra: “Before antidepressants, I would get in these delusion spells where I knew my kids hated me, my husband didn’t love me, the world was out to get me. That’s when Stephen would go to check the weather.” (My first thought: ugh, evasive man and his tics, not diagnosable like his wife’s because they’re “productive.”)
“He checked the weather to see whether an earthquake was predicted. We lived in California then, and in the days leading up the earthquakes my anxiety and depression ramped up.”
Thedra’s body was basically a barometer for the oncoming of natural destruction. Science vids have taught me that animals go nuts before these types of events. Apparently people can access that, are conduits, too, can quake with the same insanity the earth’s about to. My mom’s body lately has soaked up the tragedy of Trump’s rise, the fact that in some ways we’re just so ineffectual as citizens, this mirroring in the bodily arrest of depression. She wants to sleep til it’s over.
Before I go any further, I reject the idea that women possess a unique, feral quality that has them pick up on world vibes. Rather, we’ve been culturally incentivized toward this sensitivity, this perception for atmosphere, especially for moods of people who might—legacy of couple dynamics in perpetuity—demand care in scary ways. Saying, to put it mildly: “Do the emotions, they’re your task. Mine’s to get covered in dirt and oil to make the machines in our life run. You, cultivate Hestia.” I’m so thankful we’re breaking this code down each year and day but it’s still felt.
Me campaigning in the field helps me transcend depressive tendencies that arise from the political state of things (A favorite slogan: “Depressed? It could be political!”). I get to hear in my own ear and at my own face the hostility that many only read in comments sections online. But then I get to stomp off, complain with colleagues, build bright blue yard signs, maybe kinda persuade an undecided voter 10 minutes later; I get to feel effective.