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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Electability

Could a Catholic ever be elected president in the United States of America? Not until John Kennedy.

Could a divorced man win the U.S. presidency? Not until Ronald Reagan.

Could a black man become president of our country? Not until Barack Obama won -- two consecutive terms!

When a woman wins the presidency, we will have a woman president. Nothing, it seems, is possible until it happens -- and then, clearly, it happened because it could.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Looking for Healing in a Magazine

Two people whom I love very much, two people who were once very close to each other as well as to me, have been estranged now for a full decade. It hurts.

You’d think I would have had plenty of time, in ten years, to become accustomed to and accepting of the situation, but I’m not, because one of the people continues to feel great pain over the lost relationship, and I am in permanent relationship with both. What the second person feels now, I don’t know. I probably should know, but it’s hard at a distance to find out, and for fear of the one rupture triggering others, I have not addressed the issue face to face or voice to voice when a rare opportunity presented. In fact, I must admit that, painfully disappointed myself, I have scaled back communications with the second person in general. Not a solution, I realize. I haven’t found a way to a solution. Before the holidays, hope surged and crashed.

First person is he; second is she. Although they are not a divorced couple, you can think of them that way, and it might help make sense of what I'm saying. 

In her behavior relative to the situation (very limited words and near-complete lack of action), her responses to attempted communications from the first person and from me, all I can see on the surface is avoidance. But now aow all three of us are in avoidance mode, and two of us, at least, feel stuck there. 

Meanwhile, what does she feel? Satisfaction? How is that possible? Nothing? Hard to believe. I try to imagine how it is for her on the inside. Perhaps a bit of embarrassment, maybe a touch of shame, and probably (I can only guess) some resentment over the embarrassment and shame, irritation at having any feelings at all for a situation she would rather not have to acknowledge at all? When three people have been closely connected, can two feel pain and a third be immune, unconcerned with the pain of the two others and free from any pain of her own? 

But why, in the first place, did it come to be the way it is? What is behind it all? 

My loved one in pain also feels anger and confusion (as do I). What did he do or say that was so unforgivable that he has been “shunned” (his word) so completely for so long? He hoped the two of them could meet and clear the air. I hoped that could happen! So far, though, the air-clearing, one-on-one option has not even been acknowledged as being on the metaphorical table. Instead, all that has occurred (I was going to say “all that has been accomplished” but have to wonder if “accomplishment” is the right characterization) has been a single occasion of sitting around a literal table, pretending that nothing is wrong, and then four individuals retreating from even that superficial engagement with no real improvement in the underlying dynamic. 

Lots of avoidance going on, from four people, not just three. What does everyone fear? 

This situation has been daily background for me for so long it is like my life’s wallpaper. How I would love to redecorate! But I can’t do it singlehandedly. What I fear is worsening the relationships that, so far, remain intact.

There may be more here than a simple parallel to our nation’s deep social divisions — and I use the word “social,” because “political” could be taken only to indicate voting patterns, and what I’m thinking of is the more total avoidance of “others,” in town and country, that so many Americans practice these days. Tara Westover, author of the bestselling memoir, Educated, said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that the nation is divided into regional pockets of city and left-behind country, but she also acknowledged that parochialism cuts through cities, as well. (I would say it cuts through country and small towns, also. Anyway, an edited interview appears in the December 2019 issue of the Atlantic magazine.) When Goldberg asks her if she thinks of the place she grew up, rural Washington state, as parochial, this is her response:
It’s astonishingly difficult in this city [New York City] to be truly close to someone who is not in your same socioeconomic group. For me, it’s the single most striking fact about living here. Meaningful interactions are difficult to engineer. The divide is deep. And it is largely between those who sit in the front of the Uber and those who sit in the back of it. 

The Uber driver and his unemployed counterpart back in the county seat of Preston, Idaho, near where Westover grew up, share experiences that successful urban and suburban Americans do not share and do not understand. Across the divide, there is no longer a common language of experience. 
There are places in the United States where the recession never ended. For them, it has been 2009 for ten years. 

Traveling across the Midwest and Great Plains and now, here in the Southwest, I have seen this again and again. (There are a couple of examples in this post.) When I recently visited the website of the Safford Public Library, up in Safford, Arizona, county seat of Graham County, I found one of the FAQs is, “Why is the library closed on weekends?” and the answer is that the community has not yet recovered economically from the crisis of 2008-09 and cannot yet afford personnel to staff the library seven days a week. It is open Mondays through Thursdays only. In Safford, then, you might say that “it has been 2009 for ten years.”

Westover may, however, in making her case , somewhat overstate it. She cites statistics showing that the Democratic Party is most successful in successful and prosperous cities and suburbs, but it is not only impoverished communities and individuals left behind in today’s prosperity who support the current Republican president. There are plenty of millionaires, numbers of well-to-do and well-educated senators, and many ordinary people happy with the present performance of their stock portfolios in the same camp. And so, just as socioeconomic divisions run through communities, so do political divisions run right through neighborhoods. And both the socioeconomic and the political divisions have fast become social divisions, the latter probably more consciously chosen, as if it means some kind of adherence to principle. 

The question is, are we no longer willing even to talk to people whose views do not match up with our own? 

I think that’s part of what’s at the bottom of the estrangement of the two people I love, though I don’t know for sure. There are probably other factors. My estranged loved ones, despite the very different life choices they have made, are both in comfortable circumstances (largely thanks to choices made by the generation before them). Neither has much chance of ever ending up destitute or homeless. They have, however, as I say, made very different life choices, and I’m pretty sure they hold very different views on many issues. 

And so many people I know have taken this forking path! One couple actually moved from one state to another so as to live among people who think as they think! 

(One of the things I love about the part of Arizona where I’m spending the winter is that not everyone here is like me, that Willcox, Arizona, is not just a Southwest version of Northport, Michigan. But that is neither here nor there.)

Another article in the December 2019 Atlanticso many good articles in that issue, and I have yet to read more than a couple of them, as I slowly make my way through the issue and try to take in each article, test it against my own experience, and see what I can apply in my life — is about Mr. Rogers. In “What Would Mister Rogers Do?” Tom Junod writes, 
…Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square….

How, I wonder, reading this, can we at one and the same time welcome strangers and reject someone we have known for years? How, if I am rejecting neighbors whose views are not my own, can my welcome of strangers be truly genuine and anything more than superficial? Is it that civility requires only a superficial welcoming and that deeper relationships ask more of us?

Junod reflects on the current popularity of the question, “What would Mr. Rogers say?” of this or that person or aspect in today’s national scene, but then he points out that we already know the answer to the question
…because Fred was the most stubbornly consistent of men. He would say that Donald Trump was a child once, too. He would say that the latest Twitter victim or villain was a child once, too. He would even say that the mass murderers of El Paso and Dayton were children once too…. He would pray for the shooters as well as for their victims, and he would continue to urge us, in what has become one of his most often quoted lines, to “look for the helpers.” 

The question is not what Mr. Rogers would say or do, but what we will say and do. 

I was able to make thrilling progress in a different painful situation by applying the lessons of Mr. Rogers, but I have not yet seen my way clear with this one so much closer to me. How can I be a helper? How can I bring these two people back together if one would rather not be in a relationship at all? 

-- To be continued.... Perhaps. If I don't come to regret saying even this much already.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Screaming Lie

When I was six years old, my best neighborhood buddy was a five-year-old boy named Jimmy. We climbed the apple tree in my backyard together, and we watched television together at his house. (Our family had no TV.) One day Jimmy and I wandered up to little Maureen’s house to play in her sandbox while she and her family were away from home. 

There had been rain the night before, and the sandbox was uncovered, so the sand was soupy and wouldn’t hold shapes well in the rain-filled box. We enjoyed dribbling wet sand through our fingers for a while. Then we discovered — and oh, the joy of childhood discovery, independent of adult guidance! — that if we threw dripping globs of it onto the nearby asphalt siding shingles of Maureen's house, they would stick, like molehills on the vertical surface! Defying gravity! It seemed like magic! Intoxicated with our powers, we soon had a whole section of the lower back wall of the house pock-marked with lumps of sand. It was quite wonderful fun, and when the excitement wore off, we found our way back down the hill (all of eighty feet) to our own homes and thought nothing more of it. 

That was the prelude.

Later in the day — it must have been evening, because my father was home — Maureen’s father appeared at our back door, livid with rage, quivering with rage, and demanding to know the identity of the “delinquents” who had thrown sand on his house. In his rage, he was threatening to call the police and have the miscreants thrown in jail! Terrified, I screamed and sobbed repeated denials! Jail! Locked up away from my family! I knew that lying was wrong but  could not face the punishment threatened and the shame of being branded a criminal

All these decades later (and thinking of Mr. Rogers, too), I look back on that incident and am astonished by the lack of proportion and reason Maureen’s father exhibited. We were such tiny children, Jimmy and I, and we had not thrown paint, only sand. Water from a garden hose would wash it away! Police? Jail? Were these appropriate threats for a grownup to shout at a frightened little girl, his daughter’s playmate?

If anything, Jimmy and I had been guilty of poor judgment. Well, again, we were five and six years old! I don’t recall if “trespassing” was an issue. That would have been strange in our modest, lower-middle-class neighborhood of forty-foot lots, where we kids were always running from one yard to another and “cutting through” from one street to the next. The whole neighborhood was a "commons" for us then, as well as for unleashed dogs and outdoor cats.

What we had done was neither malicious nor irrevocable. We had had fun and made a mess, a mess that could be hosed away in minutes. Maureen’s father could have asked us to clean it up, but apparently he didn’t think of that. Only police and jail. 

So I lied. Now that was very wrong, and I knew it. I lied to my parents and I lied to this other suddenly threatening adult, and because I knew lying was wrong, I screamed and cried while persisting in my lie, both out of fear of discovery, for what had now been labeled a “crime” (the sand), and out of guilt for the lie.

After a while, after Maureen’s father finally left, my parents calmed me down and assured me that I would not go to jail, even if I had thrown the sand, but that I needed to tell them the truth. And so, tearfully, I did. 


That incident came back to me yesterday as, one by one, so many members of the House of Representatives lost control of their emotions and yelled and screamed in rage. At first I thought, they have to know [the truth], so why this  lack of self-control and dignity? That's when I remembered my six-year-old self, caught between lying and fear of punishment, screaming and sobbing uncontrollably. Oh, yes, I thought then. They know, all right. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Je l'accuse!

If there is one single individual I hold primarily responsible for Congressional gridlock and the awful, yawning chasm of partisanship that divides our country today, for the deterioration of political civility and the abandonment of Constitutional duty by elected officials, that person is Mitch McConnell. I know many of my friends would give the current president shame (not honor) of first place in such a contest, but I see things differently. The current president would never have been a candidate had the divide not been already so deep. And even elected to the highest office, he could never single-handedly have achieved the levels of destruction we have seen without a Republican party united behind him, united for the sake of their party rather than the country, led in the U.S. Senate by Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell’s reprehensible and indefensible machinations began long before the current administration was in place. Never in my life (there may have been instances in history but never as long as I have been alive) has there been such disrespect for a sitting president as McConnell showed President Obama. Others in his party and in the Senate fell in line, but McConnell was the ringleader. Anything President Obama proposed, McConnell was against, not because any particular proposal was against his “principles” but simply because Obama proposed it. He made it plain from the very beginning of the Obama administration that he did not intend to let the president have a single “win” on anything, and the shameful culmination of this campaign of partisan Congressional dereliction of duty came when the Senate refused to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, a moderate admired by Republicans as well as Democrats. Blocking those hearings was an egregious slap in the face to the president, and I call it a dereliction of the Senator’s duty under the Constitution, as well as a mark of disrespect I have yet to manage to forgive.

Now that there is a putative Republican in the Oval Office, McConnell has generally continued his lockstep partisan strategy, putting party ideology over ideals, principle, and even Constitutional duty. To bring civility back into our national discourse, we need to get rid of uncivil, power-hungry partisan ideologues in government and replace them with men and women of decency and dignity who will fulfill the duties of the offices to which they are elected.

Robert Reich has written a piece asking who is worse, Trump or McConnell, something I read it this morning while searching online for other opinions on the Senate Majority Leader. As I see it, the president is the Great Oz, a little man behind the curtain. McConnell is the curtain.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dream #1: Choir of Wind-Blown Voices

It seemed to be a kind of music festival, but with band members milling about aimlessly, some in blue and gold uniforms, others in street clothes, some holding brass or woodwind instruments or drums, others empty-handed. In the background voices were singing. But was a choir performing or practicing? 

Either the piece was experimental — I found the music jarring and irritating and wanted only to get away from it or have it stop or at the very least cover my ears — or the conductor and various sections had completely lost track of each other. Musical phrases that sounded as if they should be sung in interlocking beats and measures were ahead of or behind each other, so that instead of harmonies the sounds came in unexpected, overlapping discords.

In a moment, then, my hearing of the choir changed, and the music came to me like ocean waves in a storm, each wave crashing over another before that other had reached the shore, although these waves of sound, being airborne, while still commanded by the winds as are ocean waves, were being blown about yet more haphazardly, and I realized that this was the intention of the music. And now I wanted the voices never to stop and never to sort themselves out and come together, because for now they were an entire universe of breezes and zephyrs, trying out what worlds they might make, and for now all was possibility, all was freedom, all was whirl, and no beauties had been foreclosed by the actualization of any others.


11/19/2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Looking Back Can Be Fruitful

Recently on my Books in Northport blog, I added a new layout item, that of the "Featured Post." It's a way of not only looking back but inviting others to look back with me. Perhaps they missed something along the way that I believe deserves attention.

I am added a "Featured Post" to this blog as well. If you're viewing on a phone rather than a larger screen, though, you won't see the right-hand column in my layout, and I don't know how to adjust for that. Maybe you do. In any event, the "Featured Post" highlighted today (in future others will take its place) is this one.

Thanks for taking the time to visit.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Nature Owes Us One



After the leaves have turned beautiful colors, and after the first hard frost, we are supposed to get a stretch of mild, shirtsleeve weather. We expect it as our due. But what to call that late grace period that didn’t come (yet?) this year? 

The term “Indian summer” gets mixed reviews these days. Not all Native Americans find it offensive, but since it falls into a general kettle of questionable phrases, what else might we substitute?

As decades go by in my life (with increasing speed), the meaning of “old woman’s summer” becomes clearer and clearer to me. Old people want to be warm! Not all old people want to be called old, though. Anyway, old woman's or old wives' summer is European terminologyIn England and also in Europe the welcome warm spell following frost is sometimes called St. Martin’s or St. Luke’s summer, but we are not in England, and those names have no familiar connotations for us.

Last chance summer” works for me. In wintry northern Michigan, it sounds a especially poignant tone. Though "halcyon days" is awfully nice, too.


Please, Mother Nature, please give us one last chance! Even if we have no intention of raking leaves until spring, it would be good to get that lawn furniture put away!