If a martyr died in a forest
or a city or a desert for that matter
and there was no phone, no internet, no tv
did the martyr die in vain?
If a martyr died in a forest
or a city or a desert for that matter
and there was no phone, no internet, no tv
did the martyr die in vain?
It turns out, in another of life’s funny little twists, that sometimes who others think we are is more important than who we are.
Take for example the impact of audience on a performer. It goes without saying that the success of a live performance is relational. The audience matters. I went to a concert recently, I won’t name names, but it was made clear that the singer—accustomed to a warmer, more engaged audience than she was getting that night—was displeased. And her displeasure made for a lack-luster performance. For the most part, the audience did not know her. She was part of a season-ticket line-up. I found her subdued but wonderful anyway and wished I’d seen her in her native Portugal, not chilly, rainy Seattle.
Identity is a strange thing. Often molded by what others see, less by one’s true nature. It is a construct we offer the world. And sometimes, the successful construct becomes the thing itself and is perpetuated, exaggerated and amplified by perception, as in an echo chamber.
And if there really is no there-there, no internal stability, that construct will be vastly more comfortable and vital than the confused, murky, unformed fog that no one really wants. Construct a priori. Works every time.
Right out of the gate, the word makes me wistful. One word. It conjures time, not enough time, too much time, time to go, time to stay, time past, time to come, a point in time, time lost.
But these times, right now, are painful, confusing and frightening. Today’s onslaught is quickly buried under tomorrow’s diem horribilis and the beat goes on, each previous outrage a faded reminder of how unprepared we were and still are for what’s coming next.
The puppy’s name was Vigor. Bob’s neighbor pronounced it Vie-gor which sounded more like a superhero than a puppy, but in fact, Bob decided later, his neighbor was right.
It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously. Bob had meant to prune that oak out front but the wind got to it first. A huge branch broke, falling across the electrical cable to the house. The cable pulled free, snapping and spitting , writhing in the driveway out in front of the house.
Vigor was inside, running from window to window, upstairs and down, whining and barking, growing more frantic in the darkened house. Bob and his wife, enjoying a date night, were blissfully unaware of it all as they were transported by Moonlight, the movie they’d chosen to see after a quick dinner downtown.
Little did they know that at about the same time as the protagonist of the film is transformed by heartbreaking events, the live electrical cable outside their house had found purchase in a box of kindling they kept on their porch, next to the firewood. Sparks smoldered and brightened, died down and picked up again as if deciding whether to go forward with the plan. Suddenly a splinter of kindling caught fire and a flame wavered boldly in the wind.
Vigor was riveted. If Bob and his wife had been there, they would have been impressed with his focus and attentiveness. Perhaps. At any rate, they most assuredly would have been impressed by the northwest corner of their house which was lit up with orange white light, shadows dancing, kindling crackling with fire.
The neighbor, the one who called the puppy Vie-gor, saw the situation and called 911. From his porch, he could hear sirens in the distance, devising a plan for what he might do if the fire jumped to his house in a gust of wind. The chance of this small blaze blossoming into a multi-house consuming inferno was not high, but still, the neighbor liked to be prepared.
And here’s where Vigor proves himself. The puppy ran to his doggie bed and grabbed his much beloved velveteen rabbit doll, floppy eared, loose limbed, low on stuffing but all the more charming for it. That rabbit was his friend. That rabbit was his family. Vigor did not begin or end a day without that rabbit at his side.
Vigor grabbed his friend and ran upstairs, jumping out the only window in the house that was open, landing on the peak of the pitched roof over the front door, slipping down the shingles to the gutter and catching himself, his friend safely in tow, floppy ear in mouth. He teetered on the gutter, his little puppy nails clattering at the aluminum, finally losing his balance and falling, a jumble of legs and ears landing on the hedge of periwinkle below. The sirens were closer now and the neighbor, who had seen Vigor’s heroic escape, ran to the house.
He called for the dog but there was nothing but the sound of the fire engines and the crackling fire. He called again and then heard a rustle of leaves. Tumbling out of the hedge came Vigor and his rabbit. The neighbor scooped them up and carried them to safety.
Then he called Bob and his wife to let them know what had happened and that Vie-gor was a hero.
It was odd: here we were, smack in the flat out center of the country, far from the coasts east west and south, and yet that smell was coast, deeply familiar and buried somewhere inside of me. It was the high-tide smell of wet tennis shoes left in the afternoon sun and sand to dry. It was a smell I knew so well, growing up south of LA in a little beach town back when that particular town was actually little.
But here? Where I lived with my husband and two kids? Middle America at its most middle-iciousness, a life far from the salt spray and waves and desert bright sun?
It made no sense: my husband’s running shoes, pungent with the scent of the pacific. I told myself I was imagining things and yet….
He travels for business but never anywhere near the coast. At least as far as I know. I picked up the shoes and inspected them. God, how I hated that smell, and as I knew, once you got your tennis shoes wet at the shore, they were pretty much shot. Like these. I tapped them upside down on the floor and there I found further evidence: tiny mounds of sand, like an hourglass spilling open.
I stepped back. Just then I heard his car pulling into the driveway and felt a tiny shiver of anxiety rise up in my chest.
I so love the word antici……….pation. The sadomasochistic potential! It’s the perfect word for how we live now, all of us, in anticipation of the next crazy thing the Bad Boy in Chief will do! Never has the highest office in the land garnered such attention, such fascination. This is how we live now.
Someone asked me if I’d heard the latest Warren speech which was supposedly a good one, and of course I had not because…well, because it doesn’t show up in the news. At least not the news I follow–Washington Post, New York Times, Slate, Salon, Politico. Zip, zilch, zero, nada.
But the barest twinkle in the Boy King’s eye gets front page coverage. The latest complete reversal in what he said yesterday or last month or last week, gets screaming headlines because apparently we can’t conceive of something so confounding. But he’s been upfront all along, people. All along when held to something he said last month on or off the record, he simply says, “who cares? Nobody cares except you.”
Do this. Google the following: who cares? nobody cares except you. trump and see how many hits you get. Fox news or CNN or DT himelf asserts that you or I simply do not care. That the news cycle is now less than an hour. That our grasp of reality is being systematically debased. Debased.
Because rather than try to care about fraud, conflict of interest, sexual abuse, demagoguery or the rest, we now have new headlines to gasp about. Headlines! We sit in mindless anticipation of the next outrage.
I’m a progressive democrat. As such, I’ve been subjected to a choir of talking heads saying I need to understand the America that voted for D. Understand their perspective. Understand their grievances. And I’ll be honest, this seems like regular old liberal masochocism, but still….
This morning, prompted by a slew of Two Americas headlines, I thought, yes, indeed. We have two Americas. If you look at the voting map of America, you see very clearly that large cities overwhelming voted for HRC and smaller towns voted for D. But wait, there’s more. And no, this isn’t a scree about social wedge issues. It’s about Regulation.
Because Regulation is one of those issues that the 1% cares a lot about. Regulation elicits a cri de coeur from every corner, whether banking, industry, land use, construction, water, plastic bags and taxes. And while there are examples of successful deregulation, it is at the heart of many of our historic failures such as subprime mortgages and cable deregulation of 2003, oil transport without double hulls and subsequent spills (Cuyahoga River).
Ok, ok. So here’s the thought: Population. In big, big cities, population is an issue. You have millions of people counting on the same water, the same air, the same lane on the freeway at the same hour every day. You have millions of people sharing boundaries with other people and trust me, you in that small town somewhere in the middle of america, you don’t really know how dicey that becomes, or how quickly.
You don’t understand all those regulations about water use and the imperatives to be smarter about something as simple as storm runoff. You don’t understand about the pollution of several hundred thousand cars on the freeway, having to share space with you. You don’t understand that wildlife areas really are precious, seriously precious, because you have lots of them. We do not. We used to, but now we have people and neighborhoods and sprawl.
Don’t get me wrong, I love city living. But without Regulations? I think it would be a living hell taken over by the least attractive elements of our demographic. So instead of us bending over backwards to try to see it your way, maybe in this one area you could stretch a little as well and understand that we are dealing with problems you don’t have to think about. At all. Regulations, rules, guidelines are often there for a reason. A drag, I know. But true.
mythical black swan
ripples on a glassy surface
the sky is shattered.
It’s rumored he has a thing about germs. Like Howard Hughes hiding for months on end in the Beverly Hill Hotel, lights off, peeing into a bottle, watching an endless loop of Ice Station Zebra. Except this guy is no recluse, okay? def not a recluse.
So, he has a thing about germs and he has a thing for glamorous hotels and resorts, especially his own. Also like Howard Hughes!
He’s driven a lot of businesses and ideas right into the ground, too, just like Hughes and that ultra-heavy and impossible Spruce Goose. That was crazy but beautiful, really beautiful, you gotta admit. Like it should be in a sculpture park somewhere.
But anyway, then they’re different. For example, this guy’s can’t focus. Seriously, even he has to tell himself publicly: focus, dammit. But Hughes never had a focus problem. Monomaniacal, maybe, but not ADHD.
And there’s another big difference is Hughes actually knew how to do things. Did you know he made the first motorized bike? With a steam engine! that’s just genius, right? I’d love to see that bike. Apparently anything with a motor got his full attention. But this guy—he lives for love. For adoration. From afar and strictly in the moment. All that connection stuff, the ongoing bullshit, wtf, isn’t that why he’s the boss? so someone else will do it! I think so, buster, I think so.
Apparently he’s been able to temper his thing about germs. But keep an eye on him. Did you notice at the end of the debates how he wouldn’t go down and shake hands with anyone in the audience? Filthy, they’re filthy! a little voice screamed in his head.
Honestly? I’m looking forward to seeing that yearly procession when he has to address the House…and shake hands. A lot of hands. Black hands and lady hands. Asian hands and brown hands. Lots and lots of hands. I wanna see how he gets past through that particular gauntlet. He should start practicing now.
We have an old sour cherry tree out back that regularly produces enough fruit for several pies. I often make one during the holidays and think I will do so this year–a sort of Hello America cherry pie. I’ll use less sugar, less honey so it’s good and tart. Not sour, but tart.
Let me back up. Earlier this year I had brain surgery for a tumor that had grown quite large but was nevertheless, and thankfully, benign. It was unexpected. I was having a blast one minute and the next I was in the emergency room, MRI, surgery**–like when they started offing characters on Downton Abbey that third season, just about one per episode for a while. Surprise!
(Ok, I can hear my partner saying: wait. What about those headaches? And then you started walking funny. Sure, you can point to that stuff now, but who on earth thinks they have a brain tumor? Anyway, not me. I never, ever, ever thought that. Even after the MRI and they showed me pictures of this 4mm black hole in my brain, I still didn’t believe it.)
My partner of 25 years got our papers together, the legal shit that would assert her right to be at my side. As it turned out, no one asked and anyway, no one in their right mind would have blocked her. She was fierce beyond anything I’d ever seen. Even the lady in Pre-Op, clearly a Marine General in a past life, stepped aside and let her stay, against protocol.
But we needn’t have worried. No one blinked twice. It was excellent to feel so clearly that our worries were old school. That we live in a different time now, that not so very long ago the hospital would have been legally bound to block my partner’s access to me, but time’s have changed. Back then, she would not have been considered my family. My family was family, and to be honest, I would have rather gone through the whole thing alone than have my family there. But time’s have changed and on that front, we were deeply happy and grateful.
Things may be changing again, alas. Intolerance, bigotry, misogyny, racism–all the things we thought we were making progress on in our country–may be making a comeback. I still believe the majority of us do not want this to happen, so who knows how this plays out.
But a tart cherry pie seems right to me. Tart because, well, here in Seattle, we live in a bubble. And I believe we will continue to view ourselves as a progressive haven, not matter what. But when the rest of the country does something like what it did on November 11th, bubbly places like Seattle are sort of like WTF? We truly don’t get it.
Interestingly, the bubbles in this country tend to be urban and high tax-revenue generating areas. Life is different here. And for someone like me whose very life might depend on progressive standards and laws, it’s been sweet. I know for others in this country, those for whom my legal rights won’t pay their bills, life has been otherwise. I’ve been on the receiving end of not-fair and I know it sucks every single damn day. But I gotta say, for the last couple of years, for people like me, it’s been unbelievably nice–and new!–to have all the legal rights and protections this country affords its citizens.
So: tart. Without a little sugar, the pie would be inedible and sour. Most of us would like it with more sweetness but that’s just not happening this year. Tart is a challenging taste–sharp, but not sour. Bittersweet.
**PS, a shout out to Obamacare! What can I say? I’m quite certain I was able to get better care, excellent world class care because of Obamacare. I know there’s lots of opinions about it, but when it works for you, it’s hard to diss it.
Dear Middle of America,
We haven’t really met, although I did go to grad school in one of your finest institutions, University of Wisconsin-Madison, but I was mostly in the library or huddled near the heater. It was a cold winter and I’m from the West Coast so you can imagine, I wasn’t prepared.
Just as I wasn’t prepared for last night’s election, in which you played a larger than life role. Seriously. Everyone is talking about how mad you all are about the direction the country is going in. How angry you are that maybe the country doesn’t look like what you think it should. How this vote was a giant middle finger to the rest of the country that simply does not seem to realize how fucking angry you are. Only Trump realized how angry you are. And only Trump was able to capitalize on it.
I hear you don’t really support the candidate’s racism, xenophobia, sexism, and complete lack of a seriousness about very serious issues. Campaign rhetoric, nothing more, you told yourself. We’ll see. You voted him in because he best served your desire to break things, kick the whole damn system and resister a loud and clear protest. A protest. You elected a man that scares the holy bejesus out of the rest of the world and repulses 60% of this populace–why? Oh yeah, out of protest.
Of course, not all of you did. I recognize that. But enough. And enough of you didn’t say No and enough of you said Yes. So here we are. You did it! Congratulations! You’ve really shaken us up beyond your wildest dreams. You never knew how strong you were and now you do. Congratulations.
Perhaps you are seeing yourself with new eyes, Middle of America. Perhaps you are primping in the mirror of Activism. Perhaps you are in fact saying, Yes, We Can, but in a whole different way than has been the case for the last 8 years. You’ll show us.
Well, it’s true. You can. You did. This will not change manufacturing or trade or your own economic outlook, however. You need to know this. And for that, I actually feel bad for you, because look, no one, No One, likes to be a fool. No one likes to be a sucker. I’ve been there, trust me. So in a couple years when it’s clear that Yes, We Can really only applied to your protest vote and that your candidate never, ever had any intentions beyond his own self-interest? Seriously, I feel for you. If only because that particular truth is going to do serious and lasting damage.
So okay, Middle of America. Middle finger held high, the world watching, you did this thing. We hear you.
dark roiling clouds rise
the brilliant blue sky retreats
but then: second thoughts.
It was a formality more than anything. The deal was done, all that was required now was a signature on one of those forms that no one ever anywhere will ever check so why bother. Sign here where the little plastic post-it arrow is.
So why the reluctance. I wanted out. She wanted out. We both wanted out out out. We were in violent agreement: Out. But as I parked my car outside the attorney’s office building, I struggled with a strong urge to peel back out into traffic, burning rubber all the way down the street.
I just didn’t want to do it. Sign the papers. It was way past irksome and well on the road to refusal. Because signing the papers meant all kinds of real. Not in the sense that the end was real, because I was more or less okay with that. The end wasn’t hard; it was the idea of losing the beginning and middle that was hard. The good stuff. Somehow signing this form would take that away, too.
That the refrigerator we bought together, the first one either of us had bought, so adult-like—that would become less real. It would mean that color paint we chose for the bathroom was less real, and that’s totally weird because I never liked that sort of cheery yellow bullshit color. But it was real and now it was becoming something else.
It would mean that the long, dull nights of silence towards the end meant about as much as first night in our own home—not much. All of it fading in the bright hot sun of today.
Whatever it was then, it will never be that again. And that’s just weird. It all seemed so real.
Oh well, I muttered to myself as I opened the car door and stepped out. Let’s get this done.
It was a catchphrase. I listened as people would say, Oh, he’s a sincere kind of guy, or she’s so sincere, earnest even, in her dedication. But they weren’t being nice. No. The subtle meaning of the word was locked in the wickedness of the times, the cynical, feckless, rock-bottom nastiness of the times.
The truth is he was sincere, and she was earnest. Nothing had changed for them, although they’d probably both admit to feeling a little uncomfortable, vulnerable even, just being who they were. Sincere and earnest. They both showed up to work on time, performed their jobs to the best of their abilities and didn’t make a lot of noise about it.
But these days those very qualities—sincere and earnest— seem to have lost their meaning, their solidity, their currency, as it were and are instead indicators of a certain dull wittedness or blindness to the rampant and necessary self-interest that is sweeping the land.
He was a sincere kind of guy, they said following his dismissal at the company. Right? said another, and they laughed knowingly, fist-bumps all around, pleased that they could in no way be accused of the same.
Too earnest, said one woman, she just didn’t fit in. And that was the kindest thing anyone in the group would say about her after her termination. That kind of sincerity…well, anyway, she’s gone finally. And I get her office, so yay!
I listened to these conversations from the quiet of my cubicle and felt a bubble of…what, anger? rebellion? Something. But it was probably around that time that I started signing my emails: Sincerely.
And I meant it.
We needed pins and screws to hold us
still and steady as changes were made.
We needed the pin-point accuracy of laser surgery
cool heads and honest hearts
we could do this if we were patient and careful
survive the shift
the new beginning
the tentative steps of a newborn foal
destined to greatness
we needed above all
faith and courage
it is the bludgeon
instead we got
the crushing certainty
of blind, flailing rage.