Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Maus II

For his enduring love of his wife, Vladek earned my respect, but his faults are numerous. He's not depicted as an angel by any stretch of the imagination. He is racist, manipulative, and at times unbearably rude to those who try their best to tolerate him. I wish the mother's experience could have been included in this book because I am currently writing a book about a 14-year-old girl's survival at Auschwitz. I know the mother's experience would have been more similar to my character's. Writing about hideous acts fuelled by racism is a huge challenge. The racist characters I've read in Faulkner's stories are cretins, if I recall, but the villains I'm describing are more cultured. They have rationale behind their racist ideology, which makes them more complicated and contradictory. Last week I read an anti-Semitic blog for hours, trying to get an idea of why some Norwegian blogger felt compelled to dedicate a whole blog to his hatred of Jews, but he didn't give any personal stories. The blog gave me some good ideas, and I'm glad I read most of the entries in one sitting, because now I can't find the blog again. I keep running into racist people and I am usually quiet when I am confronted with such a person. My most recent encounter gave me some good practice for speaking up when I'm uncomfortable because I couldn't not say anything. I'm going off topic. This was really supposed to be a book review but now I want to tell a story. The story is called: 

Oh, the racists I meet.

This man seemed intelligent, and I suppose he was. I met him at a coffee shop. He was reading a philosophy book. He told me he was from Connecticut, so my mind associated Connecticut with Yale. Then he told me he lived in Boston for several years, so my mind associated Boston with Harvard and M.I.T., even though he did not go to any of these schools. When I met up with him for dinner, he told me about the book he's writing, titled "Confessions of a Racist," which he conceived while working in the Peace Corps in Namibia. He is not trying to reform and he's very satisfied with the superiority he believes his whiteness and his xy chromosomes give him. 

We sat on the floor at a low table and waited for his friend to join us. When his friend, a man I'd met earlier at the coffee shop and nicknamed "Swastika guy" showed up, I knew I was in for an interesting evening. I had nicknamed him "Swastika guy" after he showed me his paintings of colorful swastikas. I asked him if it was the Buddhist symbol or the Nazi symbol, and he said something about there being too many negative connotations with swastikas, so he wanted to make them pretty. 

Over dinner, they talked about electronic music and other boring topics. I wish I had something more interesting to report, but the dinner was boring. 

Later, I told the female group members of my writing group and they thought it was pretty funny. Horrifying, but funny. According to one of the members, Swastika guy occasionally goes to one of the bars English teachers frequent and hovers over the iTunes library, not letting anyone else play a song. I had heard a story months ago about a man hitting a woman for trying to play a song. Now I can put a face to the crazy violent guy in the story and say I even had dinner with him. I never met the woman who got punched and I never asked what color her skin was. 

After my contract is over, I'll go someplace else in the world and probably meet all new racists. I'll try to avoid them, but considering my record, I think I'll have more bizarre and uncomfortable conversations to look forward to.

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