today’s prompt: hopeful. This is one of the last pages of my sketchbook, or maybe call it a playbook. Yeah, playbook. It’s an old family finance record book I picked up for a buck at a goodwill. Make art, stay hopeful. Happy new year, y’all.
No, dear, that is too easy.
In the target rich environment of our United States right now, protest is a writing prompt in search of its antithesis, if only to give things a little texture, a little variation.
There is virtually nothing happening these days that doesn’t deserve strong protest. The only decision point is selection. Be selective. Make it count. And keep the faith, baby.
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.
She was the quiet one. The other was the bossy one. There were peaceful days when they got along fine, like good enough friends, each doing her own thing.
Then there were other days. The bossy one acting all private and thoughtful and the quiet one getting more and more anxious, her little world invaded, wrecked. But she was nothing if not accommodating and she tried to adjust. But she didn’t understand. The bossy one had it all, good looks, breeding, friends, grades and the faculty loved her. Why on earth would she want my world too? My quiet, bookish, artsy world?
But the bossy one did. That’s exactly what she wanted. Because she was limitless. She was boundless. If she saw something she liked, she wanted it. And she would have it. So her friends wondered about the whole new book-worm thing, and the writing and all the stuff they didn’t really expect from the bossy one.
One day, the bossy one was in the reading room at the library, staring into space, a book open before her, new reading glasses resting low on her nose, looking for all the world like a deep thinker, her journal at the ready to capture her many insights. And the quiet one happened see her and went to join her at the long polished wood table, the hush of serious study all around them.
The bossy one looked at her with contempt and the quiet one stopped cold before sitting down.
“What’s the matter?” said the quiet one, all innocence.
“Nothing. Just…well, why do you have to be such a copy-cat?”
The quiet one cocked her head, confused. “Me?”
“Yes. You’re such a copy-cat.”
And with that, the bossy one pushed her glasses up on her nose and returned to her book, a barely perceptible smile playing at the edges of her mouth.
The quiet one backed away, and turned to go, head down, shoulders hunched. She felt hollow and uncertain and headed towards a tiny dark corner of the library where she could be alone.
“It’s Erie, not eerie,” she said dismissively.
“I’m pretty sure it’s Eerie. The Eerie Canal. It’s mainly used by recreational witchcraft now, I read it in Wikipedia.”
“Watercraft. It’s used by recreational watercraft.”
“Don’t be silly. What the hell is watercraft, anyway? It said Witchcraft, I’m sure. And also, opponents were executed in 1808 and buried there.”
“Yeah, I read it. And also, the guy who built it went bankrupt and died in an insane asylum.”
“Oh for god sake.”
“Seriously. And Jefferson called it madness and also Clinton was involved.”
“Wait, what? Clinton wasn’t even alive then.”
“She was. She was the Governor of New York and they called the Eerie Canal Clinton’s Folly. So yeah, she was there all right.
And then there were the Irish. This whole Catholic conspiracy and of course the Witches hated that and there were riots, but somehow the thing got built. But not before the Irish put a curse on it.”
“I know, right? So there were leaks and structural problems and then also, the Railway system bought it and then they went bankrupt too.”
“But you make it sound like a disaster. It was a success. Why do you make it sound like such a disaster?”
“Well, maybe it was a success, but it was also a disaster. The Eerie Canal is haunted, everyone connected to it died, went insane or bankrupt, Clinton is at the center of it, and nowadays it’s only used by recreational witches. You tell me: which story is more interesting?”
“I give up.”
“Because I’m right.”
When I think back, the whole thing is a blur. Seriously: a blur. Notable because I’m pretty observant but at time like this….well Heathrow is a world unto itself, right? And there I was, waiting amidst a thousand other weary travelers just like me, anxious to get through customs, unintelligible announcements blaring overhead. My brain must have just gone offline, refusing to absorb any more of this tiresome mix of noise and tension and tedium.
So: one big bureaucratic blur except for this bizarre thing, this bright tiny detail. The woman in the next line, a few steps ahead of me—she held something in her hand and it caught my attention. Whatever it was glinted in the light, like a shiny metal edge but way more intense, unearthly and brilliant, a white light full of color like a crystal but much, much sharper. It seemed to go directly into the center of my brain. What was it? I’ll never know, because her line moved ahead while mine stood still, and the light disappeared. I cocked my head so I might catch it again but all I saw was her charming smile as she handed the customs officer her passport, nodding, making small talk and then in an instant she was on her way, high heels clicking smartly down the corridor.