Date Rape and Vegetarianism: Writings of Lisa Brennan-Jobs

November 2nd, 2011 § 3 |

Steve Jobs was given a strange family life. Given up for adoption himself, his biological parents had another go at it and a sister was born Jobs had a sister he met only as an adult, Mona Simpson.

In his own life, Jobs had a daughter born out of wedlock with artist Chrisann Brennan. For some reason Jobs rejected Lisa Brennan for a few years before finally naming a computer after her.

lisa brennan jobs
Writer Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Curiously both sister and daughter are writers. A high level of verbal communication appears to be in Jobs genes. As Jobs is biologically half-Syrian, the entire Jobs family are a poster child against the absurd jingois against the intellectual abilities of the Middle Eastern peoples. It really makes wonder if Nobel peace prize counts are not more a question of the restriction of opportunity to those from Western countries.

Brennan-Jobs writing is splendid. Her treatment of the complexities of the Ivy League and fraternities in a story about date rape is spot on. Brennan-Jobs describes eventual acceptance into the special circles of the Ivy League and how it seems like another, better world to an outsider:

One weekend that summer the four of us went to Avery’s summerhouse in New Hampshire. She drove her father’s red MG with the top down and it was just right, just how it should be, I thought, on the East Coast during college in the summer with friends. The house was small, clean and furnished beautifully, expensively. The walls were thick. Vintage quilts spilled over antique four-posters.  The house was two stories, rectangular, with a patio and a lawn in back that sloped down and ended at an inlet of the Atlantic ocean. There was no beach, just a little drop down. I didn’t understand that the water was ocean, and not lake, until we jumped in and I tasted the salt and felt the sharp cold. It had a power that a lake didn’t have, too, even though it was calm on the top. Lake water seemed thinner. I had never seen this kind of ocean before, this domesticated version of the Pacific. Later we made dinner together and ate on the patio as the sky darkened. I extrapolated, watching the ocean from the porch, sitting with my friends, eating: here with these people, even wild and violent things were calm.

I began to wonder whether I’d been wading too deeply through my life, hampered by unnecessary seriousness. Maybe life could be lived more on the surface layer, where the sheen is.

Later Brennan-Jobs reveals the friend who introduced her to these perfect circles had a dark streak and had destroyed the life of the young woman she had just met in London:

“There’s something I want to tell you,” she said softly. Then she hesitated. “Maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all.”

I had a feeling this was about Cole. “Cole and I are just friends,” I said. “You don’t have to worry. We’re not a couple or anything.”

She began to tell me her story.

It was not, I learned, a crush at all. She had met Cole at a party at one of Harvard’s final clubs. She had a few drinks there, but didn’t remember anything after that. She woke up the next day in an unfamiliar bed, knowing that she’d had sex, missing her underwear. She went to the hospital and tested positive for the presence of Rohypnol—the “date rape drug”—in her blood.

I’d never heard of Rohypnol before. Emily said it made you cognizant, even excited or blissful, in the moment, and then you forget everything the next day. She didn’t know who had slipped the drug into her drink or who had had sex with her. Several people told her later that she and Cole had sex that night in the club in front of a group of people.

At the time, I learned, she was training to be a doctor at Harvard and had almost completed her course.  She dropped out after the incident with Cole and returned to her native London.

Here the banality of evil resonates quietly. This is what the Ivy League is about. The propriety is all surfaces, underneath which a morass of Kennedy ravishments and careless murder. The same dangers F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in The Great Gatsby:

I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

In another essay about abandoning vegetarianism, Brennan-Jobs nails the paradox perfectly in describing her first baked chicken. The human body is very unhappy without meat over time. All the frustration at the murder of animals for food does not change the underlying cravings of the body for flesh.

I felt unfastened, too, roasting the chicken today, eating it at night with my boyfriend. It wasn’t my first time eating meat – but it was my first time eating meat as a meat-eater. It was moist with crispy skin and there were vegetables, too, cooked in the juices in the same pan: beautiful white beets with red veins, shallots with burnt and twisting stems, sweet potatoes – all upstaged, though, by the flavorful meat that sat between us, glistening. It collapsed the space between us, brought us closer, I think, with comfort and normality; it also collapsed time, made the vegetarian years fade.

The very word vegetarian has so many different meanings, one can never be sure what someone else means or even what one means oneself.

I grew up, left home and traveled farther and farther from California to the East Coast, then to England, then to Italy. I slipped through holes in understanding and language: in Boston one can be vegetarian and eat fish; in England a vegetarian may also eat fish, and rarely objects to the meat that flavors a dish; in Italy una vegetariana may sample everything, as the population is perplexed by the concept of meatlessness; little exceptions seem unavoidable.

I absorbed the excuses and ate. I strayed as far as I could safely stray into the universe of flesh, emboldened by anonymity, right up to the point when I would be questioned, and then stopped.  And if I was troubled by the difference between what I said I was, and what I ate, the taste of the tender, flavorful meat seemed absolution enough, as if the spiritual problem was mitigated, the animal suffering alleviated, the question of my identity (a vegetarian? who eats meat?) obfuscated by my pleasure.

I deeply sympathise with Brennan-Jobs. I loathe the idea of eating meat, consuming flesh. I wonder about the health of the activity given the tortured flesh from modern day factory farms, pumped up with fatteners and hormones. Or even the terror of transported animals forced into slaughter houses. Consuming their death throes cannot be good for us.

Most people in the West eat far too much meat. The human body needs meat about one meal every two days. I try to restrict myself to that rhythm and make fish one out of every second meal. But abolishing meat altogether creates a slow decline to weakness. I know, I’ve been vegetarian for as long as a year at a time.

It could be worse. Fijans ate other humans like we eat beef. And when one sees what Westerners have done to Fiji or to the Philippines one can hardly blame their blood thirstiness.

Brennan-Jobs essay takes us deep into the riddle of flesh eating in delicious prose. Alas, it would be wonderful if she would post more prolifically to her weblog. There are only four or five posts for the last two years.

While I am far from convinced that Steve Jobs and Apple have done any good in the world of technology in the last five years (I share Stallman’s walled garden and privacy concerns), Brennan-Jobs fine writing is enough to take the sheen off my dismay.

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§ 3 Responses to “Date Rape and Vegetarianism: Writings of Lisa Brennan-Jobs”

  • John Cusak says:

    You wrote “Steve Jobs is half Syrian” no man! Steve Jobs was 100% Syrian because BOTH of his parents were immigrants from Syria who could not get married because they belong to opponent clans. Then you can define Jobs American because he grew up in California but his blood was 100% Syrian.

  • Robert Parma says:

    @ J. Cusak
    Where have you found that nonsense-story? His mother was Joanne Schieblie, born in Wisconsin, in family of German origin and the father was Abdulfattah Jandali, Syrian.
    Maybe they belonged to opponent clans because one was American and the other Syrian… ;)
    But the first reason they had to give out Steve for adoption was disapproval of Joanne’s father.

  • Julie says:

    Read Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Tobias Wolfe, and then tell me whether or not you think Lisa Brennan Jobs is great writer. She is a decent writer, not a great writer. The title of her story is poetical, and writ better than the story itself.

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