Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Educated | Lefsetz Letter

Educated: A Memoir

Every family is a cult. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to break out of it.

I grew up fifty miles from New York City. My mother was the life of the party, my father expounded upon truth every day. It wasn’t until I went to college that I discovered they could be wrong.

They were preparing me for the future, when they were no longer around, it didn’t occur to them that there would be a cost to this education.

I’m still paying. I look back at previous relationships and wince. How could I act that way, why did I believe that?

But that’s also about change, growth, things many are afraid of, because it will take them too far from their roots.

We all have a desire to stay in the garden.

Tara Westover was brought up in a survivalist Mormon household in Idaho. Although it seems foreign to you, it’s not that different from what we all experience. A tightly-knit unit which will make you pay if you stray from it. And when you do leave, you’ve got guilt, you’re always going back, expecting it to be different.

You can read this book as a demonization of Mormonism, as a demonization of fanaticism, but when it’s over, you can’t help thinking of yourself, your choices, your struggle, your journey.

“Educated” is a hot book. Google it and you’ll learn all about it.

I knew nothing. My brother-in-law bought it on a communal Kindle account. Felice read it, I was avoiding it, I’m staying away from non-fiction, I find more truth in made-up stories, where no one is pulling any punches, where no one is telling you what to do, how to behave. Kind of like Andrew Martin’s “Early Work,” which is about the struggle to grow up, to leave an initial relationship for something better, whether it ultimately is or is not. Our lives are like “Let’s Make A Deal,” how much risk do you want to take? You could fail, but you cannot get ahead without jumping into the fire, the unknown.

Tara Westover was home-schooled, without much book learning. I’m against home schooling because it removes children from the environment, the same way I’m against parents interfering in the social life of their children, re bullying, etc. Now I’ve crossed a line, I know, but my mother insisted I fight my own battles, stand up to those attacking me, it was scary, but she was right, because that’s how life is, the decisions come down to you, how are you going to make them?

And Tara Westover decided she wanted to go to college.

Good luck.

She had to study, be tutored for the ACT, and when she got to BYU…

She had no idea what they were talking about, she’d never heard of the Holocaust, although her father said the Jews were evil and brought the consequences upon themselves.

That’s right, all parents tell stories. Friends too. It’s how you sift through them that determines whether you learn and go forward. Most people don’t. They don’t get the opportunity, or squander it. Tara Westover fought for the opportunity.

She couldn’t take a grant from the government because the government was evil.

She couldn’t go to a doctor because aspirin would poison you.

If there was an injury, and there were many severe ones in the Westover family, you prayed to God and consumed and soothed yourself with oils. It was all about belief.

Can you challenge your beliefs?

It’s much harder than you think, change is nearly impossible.

It happened to me in psychotherapy, I learned how to stand up to the family system. But you find even though you’ve been through battle and believe you’ve won the war it’s like Afghanistan, it’s never-ending. Furthermore, there are good elements of the family, its members know you, but at what cost?

At first I was turned off by the style of “Educated,” it was a bit too flowery, there was too much description, when done right a writer should not be thinking of the audience, its judgment of him or her. But then the writing becomes more sparse and the story starts to twist and…

It doesn’t matter if Tara gets everything right. She is the brother and sister who has been wronged, who has her own personal vision of what went on. You either respect it or…

You’ve got to listen to people. Correct them at your peril. When their facts are wrong, let them know, but never mess with their emotions, those are real and oftentimes more important.

Who was there for Tara Westover?

Ultimately nobody but herself.

But she didn’t want it to be this way, she wanted the family support.

But for that you pay a price.

“that never again would I allow myself to be made a foot soldier in a conflict I did not understand.”

Like all those kids for Trump, really?

“Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure: my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns, such as the exact balance of my bank account, who I owed how much, and whether there was anything in my room I could sell for ten or twenty dollars.”

Twenty dollars, that’s more than I had in my bank account, never mind the bad checks I’d written for rent. My parents would not send me money, I was in hock to the banks… You can never understand being broke until you are. If you’re expecting people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you’ve got to realize they’ve got to have the mental space to be able to do this.

“I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.”


“What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations – to friends, society, to themselves?”

Ultimately this is the question, whose answer only you get to decide. You’re a part of the universe, your actions have consequences, be narcissistic at your peril, and learn to sift through and evaluate truth, it’s the only thing that’ll save you, allow you to emerge whole on the playing field of life.


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