Saturday, December 3, 2016

Before the flood

Going to steal a minute to write. I can finally do that. For the past month any stolen moments went to one of two pressing freelance projects and having just finished the last one Thursday, I can go back to guerrilla journaling.

It was not an insurmountable, punishing amount of work lately. It was an amount I could manage and still hang out with the kids in the afternoon, collect leaves in coat pocket and the next day forget them, find them days later dried and crumpled.

I haven’t gotten to the step of ironing them in was paper –that was going to be the one easy fall project I’d do with them this year. Forget swooning over watercolor leaves and gratitude trees in various magazines, snapshots of other peoples’ lives. Why attempt something so unlikely? Stick with one simple thing and actually do it.

But I didn’t manage that. Collecting the leaves was as far as we got. And even that process was not one of the wonderful, inspiring, simple life, nature-kid—This is what matters—kind of moments. It was me rushing through it. The kids not paying much attention, picking the ugliest leaves. You could argue they were picking the ones that appealed most to them and that’s of course what matters. But it had a perfunctory feel. And that’s probably because I was rushing them along. Or maybe it’s because Petra’s too obsessed with singing Moana songs and Wally’s too intent on dissecting the electoral college. Hamilton was specifically worried about the cult of personality, cautioned against an overzealous mob carrying someone unqualified into office, warned about foreign governments tampering with the election. That is why we needed the electoral college. Sounds so very reasonable, so prescient. But he was an elitist, too. Wary of true representative government. Wary of “others” and not a fan of a free press.

So the kids picked dried leaves. Lackluster ones. I found it maddening.

It shouldn’t have been maddening. Just like it shouldn’t be maddening to let them make flat and chalky cupcakes. To smile when they pick the bruised and stem-less pumpkin from an enormous pumpkin patch. To watch them grow a tangled mess of a garden. To bite my lip as they make ridiculous nonsensical hors d’oeuvres (Wally’s latest flash of brilliance was croutons on top of little dried toast crackers. Alex tried to revise them quickly before the company came in, but I said, “Leave them. Who cares?”) All of that I’ve never minded. All of it I encourage, usually. But leaf-picking this year was so unsatisfying.  

Was it just the cruelness of this November? I haven’t sorted through it yet. Or was it just the amount of work that meant I stopped jogging. Stopped writing. Stopped folding clothes. Piles everywhere, mostly clean enough to wear again. Truly clean ones all mixed in. The constant slight knot in the stomach, made worse when a grocery line was too long, when Petra wouldn’t go to bed, when Alex needed the computer. No, no no. Can’t you use the laptop? Can’t you use the laptop? I can’t deal with these giant Excel spreadsheets on the laptop. I need to upload stuff from my phone. First world problems. Way beyond first world, really.

It’s hard for me to know the difference, because without the time to write, to sort, to think in my own head, I can’t make sense of much.

The constant noise of this dystopian election. The climate change deniers taking charge of the EPA, the assaults on voter rights, the Republican dream to privatize destroy Medicare, the fear that people may not understand that privatizing it, giving vouchers which will never cover the expenses especially on the open market, with no bargaining power, is the same as destroying it. You cannot privatize—you cannot make a profit, you cannot prioritize your shareholders, without cutting services or not paying people enough. It’s so simple. How is privatizing education even a thing? Privatizing water? It never works. It never has.  

Then there will be a moment of disconnect where you sort of resume full and normal functioning. But even that feels dangerous. You can’t be normal when the point is this is all #NotNormal. Attacks on the free press. A Kleptocracy the likes of which we have never seen. Conflicts of interest doesn’t begin to describe it. A man with no qualifications, no policy, no impulse control, no desire to govern chosen over the woman who spent her entire adult life serving. The one who had the qualifications, the judgment, the tenacity. The one who would have helped most of the people who rejected her. Raised minimum wage. Expanded health insurance. Fought for family and medical leave.

And the horrifying realization I’ve had that some who didn’t vote for Trump, but are in the “Let’s wait and see category” are not only okay with the racism, misogyny, hate and the KKKabinet, they are—part of them, in the darkest maybe inaccessible through language, reptilian part of their brain—relieved, that their power as white men is so great, so assured, so unthreatened that literally the worst among them can beat the best women we could offer.

They cannot stomach that thought, so they will do their best to convince themselves of their flaws. It should have been Bernie or Biden. Or any other woman, really. They would have gone all in for Elizabeth Warren or Michelle? Really? I love them both, but those same critics of HRC would skewer Warren for the houses she flipped for profit, for her multi-million-dollar salary, for being a Republican until she was 46 years old. Those same people who make the "flawed candidate" argument about a dynasty think nominating the current, sitting first lady would not raise even the slightest specter of a one?

In one phone conversation with my parents in those early, shell-shocked days, I said I just couldn’t understand how any reasonably intelligent person watched those debates and thought Trump won. Your bias would have to be so calcified, your hatred so blinding, to lead to the grotesquely distorted perception that you were watching anything other than an incredibly bright and prepared candidate crushing a blowhard with nothing to offer. My mother said maybe some people did see it and they just couldn't stand it. 

An a-ha moment for me. 

I had never thought of that, naively, outrageously. I knew it drove so many men nuts to think of a woman in charge, of course, they cannot stand it, they will not allow it. How many women still to this day change their last names? Strong, feminist women? How few times does it go the other way? (I know of one.) Just as white male identity is so pervasive, so universal as to be unreadable as an identity, so patriarchy is so masterfully embedded in how we think that forty years after Adrienne Rich wrote Of Woman Born, the children born from those women, every single time, take on the last name of the father. And that’s just perfectly okay. Why? What are we telling our girls when we do that? That our history, our heritage, our background, our identity just doesn’t matter as much as that of our husband's. That we have accepted a tradition that would eclipse and erase our backgrounds. That if they grow up and marry a man they can reject that very name—the one that now seems so important, so central to the family identity today, the pictures, the holiday cards, the scrapbooks of this family named for this father—they can reject that name in favor of a new one, with no meaning except as a signal that they have been transferred from their father to their husband. That they accept that lesser role, that lesser identity—you matter less than your husband. That is what the makers-of-laws say, those who have always been men and still are mostly men and have, in fact, crushed, stamped out this brave woman mocked for keeping her own name and history prominently in her public name, her public identity. She who would have given everything for the chance to govern defeated by someone who wants nothing less, someone intent on destroying the system he's been selected to uphold. 

But white men are still on top and that's what matters.

Some of these men, the ones who are all okay with the way this unravelled, with the Russian involvement, with whatever it takes for a man to still win, they saw it plain as day how much better she was and they couldn't stand it.

It is very dangerous to me, as dangerous as it is to dismiss the “whitelash” that happened three weeks ago in favor of the white working class, Americana nostalgia—both are relevant, both have to be discussed—to continue with the Hillary "flawed candidate" theory, Hillary who won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million despite the right-wing propaganda machine, Wikileaks, the FBI and Russia colluding against her. Calling her a flawed candidate" means we don't really have to worry about any of those other variables, because the "right" candidate could have overcome them. The CIA and NSA agree that Russia interfered. Is that a big deal? Maybe it would be, if Hillary had been a strong candidate, but she was flawed from the start, so why worry about it? 
It is not her flaws that really bother many of these people. It is her clear superiority. Not air of superiority (i.e. smugness; arrogance). It is her actual, factual, objective on every measure when it comes to job she applied for superiority to the other candidate, the now-sore winner. That is what they could not stand. A woman that great, and she had to be that great, had to be top of her class at Yale Law, had to have the stamina, restraint and resilience of a warrior, to come close to where she got. A woman that great could threaten their power. The power they have always had. The power that allows them to remove their identity from “identity politics” (see Hadley Freeman in The Guardian for a truly astute discussion of this topic, and by celebrating her article I am not entirely discounting Mark Lilla's controversial piece). The white male identity that is so universal as to now be invisible. You are a white male with real, economic problems or you are someone else who overreacts to microaggressions and needs to “get over it.”

I am not sure what the best response is or will be. The petitions, the calls, the letters, the donations, the boycotts. Signing up for newspaper subscriptions, realizing we can’t criticize the media for chasing sensation if we’re not willing to pay for real journalism. There is something absolutely frantic about it. A constant panic - What is going to fix this? Quick, quick, what can I do? I guess somewhere I know the slowing down, simplicity, appreciation, gratitude, true connection and conversation—those are equally important antidotes to this calamity. They feel slow and it feels like right now we need to hurl sandbags against a flood.

I’m caught because I haven’t gone back to extirpate that original inverted scream. Sarah from One Blue Sail in one of her comments here to my post Primal Scream wrote how she told a neighbor on election night:
“if she heard a long, loud scream later in the evening, it would be me running out to the garage to shout my joy at the top of my lungs. I was waiting for the moment I could release it. So much joy. Unrealized. Swallowed. Instead, a different scream.” 

Yes, that was it—not only the primal scream of horror, the I-cannot-believe-we just-elected-that-man-to-the-nation’s-highest-office—but also the inverted scream of joy. The joy we were all waiting to release. The pots and pans we were waiting to bang. The cheers we were waiting to scream from rooftops. The woman in her 70s in my building, to whom I’ve never spoken, on the way back from the voting booth, who cried November 8 as she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to see a woman President.” All the women whose faces in Pennsylvania showed a searing pain and beauty of finally, finally, after a lifetime of being lesser, being disregarded, being overpowered, being talked over, after giving up their names, their dreams, their identities, subsumed into wife and mother, after being called “shrill” or “overly emotional” now represented by this brilliant woman, a woman relentlessly attacked because she was not emotional enough, finally they would on that November morning witness that woman take her rightful place as our elected leader, at last shattering that glass ceiling, and instead waking up November 9 with the ceiling intact, their worst player beating our best, the shouts of joy silenced, not the ceiling but the dream now shattered. 

Every time we walk past the school across the street, Petra says, “Remember we voted for Hillary there?”  

Yes I remember. 

We went out early. The line wrapped around the corner and halfway down the street.


Monday, November 28, 2016

A lovely piece I have to re-post here as I struggle with what to write myself. Straddle fear of going on too much about the election (after having been accused, on Thanksgiving, of not being able to talk about anything else) and fear of complacency, business as usual, daily offerings, even inward focused, art-making and what that might signal, the danger that might be contained there, even in gratitude. I have found myself wondering if gratitude is even okay but then reading One Blue Sail I remembered, became convinced or remembered or both, that art and gratitude are always okay.

Here is A Call to Make Art by Sarah Bousquet. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Church Bells Ringing

I read way, way, way too many articles these days. 

Some favorites:

Gloria Steinem "We Will Not Mourn, We Will Organize"

Kirk Noden Why Do White Working-Class People Vte Against Their Interests? They Don't.

 Damon Young "I will Never Underestimate White People's Need to Preserve Whiteness

Baratunde Thurston "Empathy isn't a favor I owe white voters. It has to go both ways."

Ezra Kelin "The hard question isn't why Clinton lose - it's why Trump won

Joy Reid President-Elect Donald Trump Gets to work Betraying His Backers

Mark Lilla The End of Identity Liberalism

Joan C. Williams What So Many People Don't Get About the U.S. Working Class

Neal Gabler Farewell America

Brian Phillips Shirtless Trump Saves Drowning Kitten

Some of the articles contradict each other.

I argue with people in emails. I change my views. Revise those changes. 

I see people drop off from the email conversations to pursue the conversation where they have a bigger audience (i.e., social media).

I spend way too much time on Twitter, RT-ing articles like the above.

I call senators and representatives.

I donate to Foster Campbell, our one last chance to flip a senate seat.
I sign petitions (not sure if they really do anything) to get Merrick Garland appointed, to make Election Day a public holiday, to denounce white supremacist Bannon.

I join the #GrabYourWallet boycott and keep writing @TJMaxx and others, hoping they'll drop Trump products asap. 

I wonder if we will be so busy denouncing every Trump pick that we will miss it when multi-millionaire Paul Ryan follows through on his dream to destroy Medicare.

I work, less productively than at other times in my life, but perhaps on par with the sluggish pre-election pace when I kept telling myself "Come November 9, everything will be settled and I'll be back." 

I feel so very sad. Furious sometimes. Then back to very, very sad. 

I want to form better replies to some of the wonderful, generous comments from readers here, but I haven't been able to.

I talk to so many people who are as crushed and heartbroken as I am. I recoil at the fact that the most immediately sanguine of all my friends about the results of the election are the white males, the whitest of the white males.

For them, an ignorant, hopelessly unprepared, bigoted, bankrupt, non-tax-paying supposed billionaire without any policies defeating a brilliant, dedicated public servant, by many accounts one of the most qualified people ever to run for president, is not so bad. Business as usual. Let's wait and see.

I listen to people talk about privileged whiny white women who "didn't get their candidate" and think -- is that me? 

I talk to a woman who hasn't stopped crying since November 8 and watch as her two very white, bright-blond-haired toddlers tug at her skirt and beg for gelato. 

I think -- is that me?

Couldn't I be upset that this awesome candidate--yes a woman, yes that was amazing that the best prepared, the smartest, the most devoted was a woman--lost, but also genuinely sad for the people, all of them, who will suffer, including those who voted for Trump, who voted like they so often do for the party that wants to take everything away, who is planning right now to destroy health care? Can't I be both? Like Baratunde Thurston

"So I am both empathetic and angry. I get to be both. We all should be able to be both, but as we discuss the need for empathy, let us remember it needs to go both ways. It is not a cross solely to be born by the oppressed in order not to hurt the oppressor's feelings. It is not just for liberals and Democrats to practice toward conservatives and Republicans." 

I feel discouraged as again and again a man talks over me, with a louder voice, with more conviction, with a patronizing tone, while my voice is open, while I am willing to shift my position, revise, reflect. His view--it may have changed from yesterday, it doesn't matter--is now firm and unbending. He may be the one who swore, based on even Nick Silver's pessimistic polls, that this would never happen. He may be the one who swore a year ago that Trump would never be the Republican nominee. Never, ever going to happen.

Whether he is further left, or further right, or more upset or less. Whether he insists, the most infuriating of all that "She was the wrong candidate" (the that was so "wrong" it took Russia and the FBI to take her down?), or whether he demands we pay more attention to the white working class or whether he demands that we stop worrying about white people or whether he insists that this was all expected and was simply a "change election" -- it doesn't matter. Lots of points I agree with, others I don't. The point is whatever the man's damn position, his position is absolutely unyielding. His tone is superior. "This is just how it is, Rachel. Eventually, you'll get it."

I listen to lots and lots of Etta James. No books. No internet. No phone. No reading the lyrics even. Just me with my headphones and a few candles lit and my journal opened before me but I cannot write.

Pressing the headphones harder against my ears, heart pounding, listening to Etta wail. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Primal Scream

For a few days (hours? weeks? lost track of time) I've been thinking -- pull it together. "Don't Agonize, Organize" (Florence Kennedy) kind of thing. Buck up. As my Physics Friend M. and others have said, put on my pantsuit and get out there and keep fighting.

But no. 


Not doing that yet.  

Still in "primal scream" stage.

I'm not going to give up, but I'm also not going to normalize this with business as usual. 

I'm not going to continue on as if this is okay. This is way too catastrophic on every level. It can't be normalized that quickly. We cannot listen to the MSM that gave free publicity to Trump all along, that told us he was never going to win, that she had an electoral firewall, and now wants to tell us "Okay, calm down. It won't be so bad. Let's tell him to renounce the hate and get on with running the country." That will just allow this to keep happening.

We can't calm down.

The hate has come out of hiding. 

Let it stay out there. Let's deal with it, not let it crawl back and continue on with the exact policies that have stirred up so much anger in the first place.

Yes this is the "primal scream" from everyone who is f&cking furious that a woman as smart and qualified as Hillary was passed up for...who even needs to say it? We all know how awful he is.

We know the woman who dedicated her life to helping children get medical treatment was passed over for the man who denied medical funding to his nephew who needed treatment for cerebral palsy. That says it all.

I don't think I've ever even sworn on this blog before (in our house we are giving a week free pass post-election on swearing).

Yes this is the "primal scream" and yes it's still going on and millions are still screaming, voices hoarse, and I hope the whole world hears it.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016