Borges was a racist. And Borges wrote beautiful things. The latter does not excuse the former but I struggle to live in a world where both of these things can be true. I’ve always struggled with it, in fact.
Read The Book of Sand and try to walk away from it without higher hopes for us all. It is pure electric; the kind of writing I aspire to. If I could write anything half as good as this I would die happy. But it doesn’t stop the fact from being true: Borges was a racist.
I struggle with this. Namely, how do we confront our heroes when we discover that they’re monsters?
Where do we draw the line?
If I was the kind of writer to give advice I would sit back, smoke a bubble pipe in my leather chair and, after a hearty and world-knowing laugh, I would confidently announce: “Bury your heroes, because so many of them will disappoint you.”
But I’m not that kind of writer and I certainly don’t have any answers. I’ve just noticed that as I’ve gotten older there are so very few of my heroes left.
It’s difficult to see the worst qualities expressed in the people you admire the most. And that becomes exponentially harder when the people that disappoint you are your parents.
With mine these were not small or meager quirks, but the big stuff; homophobia, racism, xenophobia, nationalism, fetishizing the monarchy. These disappointments are not easily forgivable; you can’t just shrug them off every birthday, Christmas, and New Year. You can’t just say “yes, my parents are racist and they voted for Farage and Boris. But I still love them.”
Because do I still love them? Love should be about mutual respect, and if someone is not capable of that for someone else then how on earth do they deserve my love?
And so should you love your parents unconditionally, regardless of how toxic and vile their opinions might be?
Well, no. Because there are some acts, some beliefs, that are inexcusable. People say the quiet things loudly, they tell you who they really are. And some things can never be forgiven, nor should they.
Becoming an adult, at some point or another, you have to decide where you draw that line. It requires courage and it’s the fucking hardest thing to figure out.
Is it okay if that one friend is funny but openly sexist? Is it okay if your mother believes that Brexit was right and just, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Is it fine if you just don’t say anything when your uncle is belittling you and says that poetry is “super gay”?
I realize this now: standing up to your heroes is one of the most courageous things you can do.
I want to be petty and I want to be mean. It’s a week before Christmas and she texts me for the first time in seven months: “Is there any way we can possibly be friends?”
My hands begin to shake, I want to scream and curse. “This almost-ex of yours called you fat,” I tell myself. “She dated someone else whilst dating you. She is a sociopath and she is worthy of your vitriol. Go ahead, light her up!”
So I want to be petty and I want to be mean but I don’t have it in me. I want to say “I lost 50lbs since we last spoke but you’re still an asshole.” Of course I don’t. I ramble something incoherent and small instead.
It’s in moments like this where I realize I have read way too much Alexander Pope. There were a few summers where I read basically everything he had ever written and a lot of it seeps into how I speak sometimes. Little phrases will slip out that are pompous and silly and grandiose. And something of that kind slips out as I text her back:
“I was nothing to you. You can just go ahead and add me to your catalogue of broken hearts.”
I laugh after I write it because of how powerfully obnoxious it is. And I feel stupid of course but then I realize there are no words, no coherent sounds that can make all that pain go away. The only thing left to do is draw that line.
And then cut her out my life forever.
Borges once said that writing was like revenge but I can never muster any ounce of wit in moments like this. I am the anti-Cicero. I am Bertie Wooster waiting for an absent Jeeves to deliver the final witty blow.
My point: when it comes to love it’s always an awkward clown show from start to finish with me. I never really meet the moment and it’s always a bit of a farce. I idolize the people I love and it makes it impossible for me to confront them.
But now I’m left alone with discarded heroes all over the place and I’m still wondering where I ought to draw that line. I struggle with this when it comes to my parents and literary heroes, musicians who are assholes, web designers who are toxic, but with my almost-ex now I’m certain.
This is the line. It’s right here.
Behold! My newsletter—sent infrequently—about new things that I’m working on. Every so often it’ll contain notes about web design and publishing things that I’m interested in, too.