Not the Band

One of my favorite weekend treats involves black-eyed peas.  With a father from South Carolina, some of my earliest memories involve soul food.  As a present-day vegan, I eat a lot of beans.  That’s why I was disappointed to learn that Goya’s CEO, Robert Unanue, continues to be a big Trump supporter.  Shame on you, Goya!  Lest you get the wrong idea, we generally buy the store brand beans.  Of all the legumes, however, it seems the humble black-eyed pea is difficult to get right.  The generic brands always end up with the bottom part of the can being a kind of beige sludge where the beans have broken down and lost, as it were, their individuality.  The dish I make (one of my own invention, also featuring grits and hot sauce) requires that the beans maintain their integrity—take note, Goya!  Said brand seems to be the one that understands this aspect of canning beans.

For many years I avoided Bush beans for fear that they might be enriching the other *ahem* Bushes.  Right now, however, I’d rather have W run for a third term than the specter of Goya-supported Trump.  When did legumes become politicized?  Why can’t I sit down to a peaceful Saturday morning breakfast without a hideous four-year nightmare coming to mind?  The perils of being vegan!  In any case, I recently tried Bush black-eyed peas.  They weren’t as good as Goya, but I think I need to make the switch.  I’ve never had my somewhat simple culinary tastes disrupted by a president before.  Generic would be fine, but why, o why can’t they get the black-eyed pea right?

Image credit: Jud McCranie, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps somewhat oddly, I really like beans.  There are about 400 varieties and each has its own personality from sassy edamame to staid kidney beans.  I’ve even reconciled myself to the childhood nightmare of the lima bean (alien, without a hint of lime).  Now, I’m no foodie.  I eat to live rather than the other way around.  Whatever I do, however, I search my conscience.  Raised evangelical I know no way around it.  My conscience is the main reason for becoming vegan—I can’t support animal cruelty, especially for an industry that is the largest environmental polluter in the world.  So when I’m standing in front of the bean shelf, thinking ahead to Saturday’s breakfast, I’m struck with qualms.  I stare at the black-eyed peas and they stare back at me.  It’s a kind of test of the wills.  I see the Goya and decide to try something better for the world.  


Come People and Consider

“Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.  This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.”  So Daniel answered the megalomanic king Nebuchadnezzar, according to chapter 2.  This is some Scripture that CPAC has chosen to ignore, or at least not bothered to read to the end.  In truth I was always bothered when Daniel said “Thou art this head of gold”—which seems to be more brass-kissery, if you get my drift, than prophecy.  But dear CPAC, the statue of Nebuchadnezzar crumbles when the kingdom of God arrives, unable to stand on its feet of clay and iron.

Image in public domain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I’m not one to tout Daniel as prophecy, but seldom have we seen such things come true so literally.  If we turn to the other testament, in a somewhat politically incorrect aphorism a personage of the gospel of Matthew quoth, “they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”  Funnily, those who claim to support a “Christian” America have failed to read even the surface of the Good Book.  Without the Bible what is fundamentalism?  That image in Daniel 2 is considered an idol.  After all, when the Trump of antiquity built a statue all were required to fall down before and worship it.  Those who didn’t were thrown into the fiery furnace.

The Conservative Political Action Conference has sent shivers down the collective spine of our nation.  Even as it was going on I was standing in the rain signing petitions for local Democratic candidates because going inside meant being potentially infected by the Republican disease known as Covid-19.  Apparently half-a-million dead is never enough for those who believe in a social darwinism although they claim to base their lives on the book that says all this took a mere seven days.  Although Daniel gained great fame and wealth by telling the king what he wanted to hear, during a party a few short chapters later he saw a hand writing on the wall.  “And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”  And although given a third of Belshazzar’s kingdom that very night it was all lost to Darius.  “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”


One Day or Another

Although normally a time for celebration, Mardi Gras, I’m told, was subdued this year.  Today is Ash Wednesday but many of us feel like we’ve been living a year of Lent already.  I once told a fellow office worker on Ash Wednesday, “I think about death every day, I don’t need a yearly reminder.”  Looking out at the old snow, melting, freezing, refreshed with occasional flurries, I’m reminded of the cycles of nature.  I’ve been watching the turn of the year’s wheel.  Over the solstice I looked into Yule, and just a few days ago considered Imbolc.  The wheel of the year is a symbol for modern earth-based religions seeking to be kept in sync with nature.  It is a cycle, slowly turning.  Death, in this way of thinking, is part of a larger system.  It seems appropriate to consider it this Ash Wednesday.

I say it’s Ash Wednesday but it would be more correct to say “for many Christians it’s Ash Wednesday.”  Cultural imperialism is difficult to shake.  With the pandemic still embracing us tight we haven’t had much reprieve from thoughts of death these many months.  Thinking of the wheel of the year, however, may bring hope.  A wheel in motion spins around to a new beginning that, in the nature of circles, is equally at every point.  New beginnings are offered every day.  While we’ve never been in a year of isolation before, there is nothing that hasn’t been before.  Self-aggrandizing dictators, world-wide pandemics, calls for social justice and fairness, have all come around before this.  They may come around again.  The main thing is to keep it moving.

It moves, in fact, without us.  One of our human foibles is being species-centric.  When we discuss, in a pique of teenage angst, of “destroying life on earth” we really mean destroying humankind and perhaps many other species as well.  Not all.  With a kind of collective insanity we go about warring against our own kind, exploiting all other species we deem valuable, and talk as if that’s all that matters.  Today, for some, it is Ash Wednesday.  For others it is World Human Spirit Day.  For many of us it’s just another workday among many very similar, cut from the fabric of a year that has no even spokes to keep it rolling.  Beneath our feet this orb spins on, regardless.  The cycles continue, with or without us.  How wonderful it would be if we could actively contribute to their progress.

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

 


BLM, MLK, and Justice

Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr.  The word martyr means “witness.”  Given what we’ve all seen done by the Republican Party over the past two weeks, let’s hope they at least know the meaning of the word repentance.  King died trying to set people free.  Half a century later we’ve had to witness a sitting US president praising an armed mob, some of whom were carrying confederate flags, storm the Capitol.  Then, that very night, we watched Republicans still attempt to repress legitimate votes in order to keep white supremacy in power.  The set-backs of the Trump administration will take years to overcome.  King stood for equality.  He called for fair treatment.  He knew his Bible.  Now those who cynically hold the Good Book up for the camera can’t quote it but can tear down everything it stands for.

We need Martin Luther King Day.  This year especially.  We need to be reminded that all people deserve fair treatment.  Justice isn’t a meaningless word.  The color of one’s skin is no indicator of inherent worth—that belongs to everybody.  Throughout the country there are heartfelt memorials to King.  The various Trump towers—often segregated and reserved for the wealthy—are monuments of a different sort.  There is power in symbols.  Those who praise and crave money above human need will ultimately be remembered for how evil seeped into their bones.  How hatred of others and narcissism defined their rotten moral core.  Today we try to focus on a good example, but present reality keeps getting in the way.

Four years ago I joined about 1.3 million marchers in Washington, DC.  The Women’s March, as estimated by government officials on the ground, was more than twice as large as the media estimates still tout.  I’ve puzzled over this for four years—why when an oppressed group makes a stand officials and pundits feel the need to downplay it.  King made a stand and he had a dream that one day we wouldn’t have to make marches on Washington just so that everyone could have the equal treatment they deserve.  Human rights are the only rights we have.  Even as some haters are planning further acts of violence to object to a humanitarian president, we are given a necessary reminder that all people deserve fair treatment.  Black lives do matter.  Why has half a century not been enough to assimilate that simple message?  We need to sober up from the drunkenness of irresponsible power.  We need to learn the simple fact that nobody should be killed for being black.  That whiteness is toxic.  That we need to call out those who would use privilege to claim otherwise.


Turning Point

As the “Keep Christ in Christmas” crowd gears up for another Yuletide season, its capitalistic brother wonders about how good Christians will shop during a pandemic.  We’re not great materialists in my house, and our holiday spending tends to be modest.  Even so, the stocking stuffer is the kind of thing you find while browsing in stores.  I don’t feel comfortable indoors with strangers now.  Apart from groceries and hardware I haven’t been in any kind of store for at least a month now.  How to get ideas for those little, often inconsequential gifts that are demanded by homage to Saint Nicholas?  The holiday season is a wonderful amalgamation of differing traditions that should, in a perfect world, suggest openness to all and inclusivity.  At least this year we have that to look forward to.

Inclusivity is a gift worth giving.  Many of us are weary of the privileged “angry white man” who has held control of just about everything for the past several centuries but is still never satisfied.  The holidays around the winter solstice—itself the marker of days finally beginning to lengthen again—should be a symbol of the many traditions that make Christmas what it is.  There is no one “pure” idea of what this season represents (beyond shopping) because people all over have traditionally welcomed the return of light after many days of darkness.  Sometimes that darkness of exclusivity can last for years.  Now that we are beginning to spy a sliver a light on a distant horizon perhaps we can see enough to correct the error of our ways.  Perhaps.

That still doesn’t solve the dilemma of pestilence-filled stores where people want to huddle inside because it’s cold out there.  I can’t seem to recall where they hung the stockings in the manger, but surely they must’ve been there.  It’s how to fill them that’s the issue.  Our world has become so virtual.  How do you put streaming into a sock?  How do you stuff that cuddly subscription service into hosiery?  In a pandemic we’re reaping the fruits planted by a technologically-based society.  The art of browsing hasn’t been electronically replicated.  It’s the moment of inspiration in that curiosity shop that seems to be missing this year.  Most of us, I suppose, would be pleased to find a vaccine in our carefully hung stocking.  At least a government that takes the threat seriously will be something to anticipate.  Just a little longer, and the light will be coming.


Bethlehem

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I guess it’s okay to post about the upcoming.  It’s actually pretty hard to avoid, living so near Bethlehem.  While Easton claims the first Christmas tree in America, Bethlehem was settled on Christmas Eve and named accordingly by the Moravians.  It’s a tourist destination for Christmas aficionados everywhere, and, as my wife quotes about 2020, “we could use a little Christmas.”  So we headed to the Christkindlmarkt over the weekend.  Apart from an abundance of consonants, Christkindlmarkt is a chance for vendors to bring their wares to where tightly shut pandemic wallets are willing to open up a bit.  This year, however, the “markt” was completely outdoors rather than under the usual four large tents with heaters running.

It was an enjoyable morning out, with temperatures near sixty—certainly not something you can count on for late November.  There were fewer vendors here for a variety of reasons.  You get a boost, for example, by getting people gathered together.  Our herd instincts kick in.  Seeing others spending, we decide to take our chances.  Outside the great rusting behemoth of Bethlehem Steel’s famed stacks stands sentinel.  This year, however, socially distanced tents and booths meant having to walk and stay back while others browsed, all while wearing masks so that smiles could not be seen.  Gathering without gathering.  With no interest in leading a charge against the disease on a national level, we’re all left to muddle through.

Several of the vendors had novelties portraying the year 2020 as the disaster that it’s been.  Instead of ending it with wishes for national peace, the incumbent is trying useless lawsuits to prevent the voices of voters from being heard.  Stirring up his followers to protest against frauds that never happened, while having hundreds of lawsuits awaiting outside his own door as his actual deeds have been examined seriously for the first time.  Bethlehem reminds us that peace and hope ought to be in the air at this time of year.  Thinking of others rather than ourselves.  Do we see that being modeled by 45 and his ilk?  Instead I’m standing here outside where there used to be a warm gathering tent.  A place where we each donate our body heat to help keep everyone warm.  Giving, even as the Republican-controlled senate withholds any stimulus package they think is too generous.  Yes, we could use a little Christmas right about now.


Anticipation

My work computer was recently upgraded.  I, for one, am quickly tiring of uppity software assuming it knows what I need it to do.  This is most evident in Microsoft products, such as Excel, which no longer shows the toolbar unless you click it every single time you want to use it (which is constantly), and Word, which hides tracked changes unless you tell it not to.  Hello?  Why do you track changes if you don’t want to see what’s been changed when you finish?  The one positive thing I’ve noticed is now that when you highlight a fine name in “File Explorer” and press the forward arrow key it actually goes the the end of the title rather than just one letter back from the start.  Another goodie is when you go to select an attachment and Outlook assumes you want to send a file you’ve just been working on—good for you!

The main concern I have, however, is that algorithms are now trying to anticipate what we want.  They already track our browsing interests (I once accidentally clicked on a well-timed pop-up ad for a device for artfully trimming certain private hairs—my aim isn’t so good any more and that would belie the usefulness of said instrument—only to find the internet supposing I preferred the shaved look.  I have an old-growth beard on my face and haven’t shaved in over three decades, and that’s not likely to change, no matter how many ads I get).  Now they’re trying to assume they know what we want.  Granted, “editor” is seldom a job listed on drop-down menus when you have to pick a title for some faceless source of money or services, but it is a job.  And lots of us do it.  Our software, however, is unaware of what editors need.  It’s not shaving.

In the grip of the pandemic, we’re relying on technology by orders of magnitude.  Even before that my current job, which used to be done with pen and paper and typewriter, was fully electronic.  One of the reasons that remote working made sense to me was that I didn’t need to go into the office to do what I do.  Other than looking up the odd physical contract I had no reason to spend three hours a day getting to and from New York.  I think of impatient authors and want to remind them that during my lifetime book publishing used to require physical manuscripts sent through civilian mail systems (as did my first book).  My first book also included some hand-drawn cuneiform because type didn’t exist for the letters at that particular publisher.  They had no way, it turns out, to anticipate what I wanted it to look like.  That, it seems, is a more honest way for work to be done.


Raven Wisdom

Just twenty pages in and I was reflecting on how Christianities and the cultures they cultivated have caused so much suffering in the world.  Assuming there is only one way to be, and that way is pink, European, and monotheistic, has led to so many displaced people thrown aside as collateral damage.  Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven is a remarkable book.  A native Alaskan, Hayes participated in the colonialist venture of higher education to try to also participate in the “American dream.” If this book doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, I don’t know that you’re human.  As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a deep interest and lasting guilt to learn about indigenous peoples of the country where I was born.  About the culture that is so Bible-driven it can’t see the human beneath.  The capitalism that takes no prisoners.

The Tao of Raven is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read.  Hayes refuses to sugar-coat the alcoholism, the broken promises, the poverty offered to native Alaskans.  Even as Trump’s final rages go on, he has opened the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for drilling, to the highest bidder.  Apart from those whose wealth will increase as a result, we will all suffer.  Those who lived in Alaska before the colonists arrived the most.  The idea of colonizing, without which capitalism just can’t work, reveals its evil here.  When a voice like that of Hayes is able to make itself heard we cannot but feel the condemnation.  When over seventy-million people vote for a hater, we all tremble.

The book ends much as it begins.  A sincere regret for those who’d been fed the contradictory messages of missionaries.  Those told to accept suffering on earth so that they could go to the white person’s Heaven, while those inflicting the suffering lead comfortable lives with modern conveniences.  The double-standards that allow people to die on the street like dogs.  The double-standards that can’t see that you need not be Christian to upend the tables of money-changers.  Indeed, the last time someone dared to such a thing was two millennia ago.  When Christianity slipped its fingers between those of capitalism a monster would surely be born.  The cost would come in human lives, even as a quarter-million lay dead in this country from a virus a rich man can’t be bothered to address.  Do yourself, do the world a favor.  Read this book.  Read it with your eyes open and learn from Raven.


Aging Music

Poignant is the word that comes to mind.  Perhaps in stark contrast to my listening to My Chemical Romance, I’ve also been listening to the latest albums by artists such as Bruce Springsteen (Letter to You) and Meat Loaf (Braver Than We Are).  And Leonard Cohen (Thanks for the Dance).  In the last case the album was so late as to be posthumous.  Before that I spend quite a bit of time with David Bowie’s Blackstar.  These albums are, at least in part, about growing older and dying.  Now death is nothing new to rock-n-roll, but it seems as if as some of my favorites age they’re sending a message out from the autumn of their careers.  We may still be here, but we won’t be forever.

 

I’ve never really been afraid of dying.  In fact, as a kid I often imagined myself as an older man with some anticipation.  Now that I’m approaching that threshold of elderhood the view is just a touch different than it was to a small boy with a lifetime in front of him.  Leonard Cohen, at least, was dealing with aging as early as Various Positions, the album where he gave the world “Hallelujah.”  And Springsteen has toyed with it in various places, such as Devils & Dust.  What I’m hearing in these songs, however, is a kind of acceptance that isn’t really fearful at all.  It’s as if rock suddenly matured.  So many of the original pioneers died young and tragically, and those who survived have been calling to us like ghosts to let us spend our worn-out days in peace.

Perhaps it’s just that it’s November.  Light is becoming a rare commodity, and it will remain in short supply until around the middle of March or so.  Music helps us through the transitions.  There are albums that convince me I’m immortal.  If I weren’t so tired at the end of the day I might continue to believe that.  On a weekend when I had a few free moments I went to a local CD store.  Wearing mask and gloves, I could see that only people about my age were there to buy actual discs.  We’re not the streaming generation.  It gave me some comfort to see the names of bands I’d almost forgotten.  These artists, of course, will continue to live on after they’re gone.  They’ve left us a legacy.  We’d be wise to consider their advice from time to time.  And take a moment or two to reflect on the coming of December.


Favorite Color

Blue has always been my favorite color.  Even growing up Republican, I preferred it.  Like many Americans I awoke last Wednesday to a national map mostly red and pink, and watched gradually as more and more states turned blue.  I don’t mind confessing I wept when Biden took the lead in Pennsylvania.  These past four years have been torture against all that’s descent and humane.  White people killing blacks and being told there are very fine people on both sides of the issue.  Watching a virus run out of control here like nowhere else in the world because one man can’t be bothered with the troubles of 330 million (stop and think about that number) people.  A man personally enriching himself while not paying his own taxes and getting breaks for those wealthy like himself.  Endless lies.  Loud, brash, and crude.  Groping women as if they are commodities to be owned.

We have, at the embarrassingly late age of 244, finally elected a female vice-president.  Many other nations have realized that gender should not be the basis for electing leaders.  Poisoned by various forms of Christianity that assert male superiority, our culture has feared female leadership since it has become a real possibility.  I voted for Geraldine Ferraro as much as for Walter Mondale in that fateful year of 1984.  We’ve actually reached Orwell’s vision of it in 2016, but now it seems there might be legitimate hope.  I could never have imagined a presidency that would make me think Nixon, Reagan, and Bush weren’t so bad after all.  (And they weren’t good.)  This reconstruction of the Republican Party has been courtesy of the religious right, which is really neither.

Today, however, I’m enjoying my favorite color and thinking that hopefully we’ll have some peaceful years to work on true equity and the ideals on which this nation was founded.  I’m hoping it will signal to the other fascists of the world that gaming elections only works if people with consciences are complacent.  I’ve been told that many Trump supporters think Democrats incite violence.  The Dems I know are tree-hugging, owl-saving, vegan types.  We value all people, even Republicans, and ask only that all people be accepted.  We don’t tote weapons to state houses or threaten those who are counting ballots.  Yes, we may fear election outcomes—we’re just humans—but we believe in the process.  The many protests in which I’ve marched over the past four years have all been peaceful.  And I breathe, as I tear up again at the sight of blue, dona nobis pacem.


Wild God

Living with a Wild God, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is one of those books I wanted to put down gently after reading it, for fear that it might explode.  Or maybe it was my head I feared might combust.  Describing it is difficult because it is so wide-ranging.  On the one hand it is an atheist’s view of religion.  On the other hand it is a spiritual biography.  On a third hand it is coming to terms with having had a profound mystical experience.  It is one of those books where, knowing my life has been so very different, yet I feel that Ehrenreich and I have had so much in common that we’d be friends if we ever met.  It is also the work of a woman who is scary smart and whose teenage thoughts were so intense that my own seem puerile by comparison.

But that mystical experience!  I’ve had many of them in my life, but I don’t know you well enough to share them here.  They’ve been recorded in an unfinished book that I may or may not try to publish some day.  (Ehrenreich was smart and took a job as a journalist, which means others assume you know how to write.  Even those of us in publishing have trouble convincing agents and others who hold the keys to non-academic pricing that we understand the craft.)  Mysticism quickly becomes a staid discipline, not at all like the life-directing experiences such encounters themselves actually are.  It’s difficult to explain without sitting down and talking to you.  It’s something academics tend to avoid like Covid-19.

The books that mean most to me are like conversations with an absent author.  Drawn in by an openness, or perhaps by the fact that we’ve lived in a few of the same places over the years, perhaps passed one another unknowingly on the street, you feel that they’ve invited you into their very head.  What you find there has a strange similarity to what is in your own head, while being completely different at the same time.  We should all strive for such honesty in our writing.  In the end Ehrenreich, with a doctorate in science, suggests we need to be open.  That kind of validation is important for those of us who’ve poured our lives into the study of religion.  She was drawn in from atheism, and I have been trying to escape from literalism all my adult life.  We have ended up in places not dissimilar from each other and I’m glad to have met her through this profound book.


October Reflections

The people are dressed in their finest.  The best food and drink available are spread on white tablecloths while rats scurry underfoot.  The feasters invite Lucy to join them.  “It’s the last supper,” they say, hoisting a glass, knowing that they will soon die of the plague.  This is one of the most powerful scenes in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.  It’s October and we’re in the midst of a plague.  The wealthy retain their fortunes while the poor die in the streets.  Do I really need to explain why someone so focused on religion and social justice finds horror films as able conversation partners?  My two books that relate to the topics don’t come outright and say it, but there are spiritual lessons to be learned here.

Genre is a convenient, perhaps even necessary, means of making sense of the vast creative output of humankind.  We write fiction, poems, and songs.  We film movies.  We produce these forms of entertainment at a stunning rate, especially when we consider the large number of pieces made that never find official publication.  Genre helps us sort through—this is like that, etc.  Still, some of my favorite pieces of literature, and movies, don’t really fit into neat genre divisions.  Take Herzog’s Nosferatu.  There are definitely horror elements here, but it is also an art film.  Some scenes, like that described above, are suffused with religious meaning.  When circumstances align correctly we can see it and say, “ah, now I understand.”  That was what came to me recently.  I haven’t seen the movie for years, but circumstances with Covid-19 brought it to mind.

October is a month of poetry and transitions.  We turned the furnace on only to find ourselves in the midst of a string of days reaching near 70.  The cerulean sky which looks so different this time of year suddenly disappeared with nearly a week of heavy cloud cover.  There’s beauty in the daytime and monsters in the night.  Outside lurks a plague.  Lacking the willpower to overcome it, people are growing weary of the restrictions.  We’re not used to being locked up.  The thing about the last supper is that life goes on even after it’s over.  Changed, yes, but October is all about change.  We’re anxious, wondering if it was indeed a vampire that bit us.  Meanwhile the leaves continue their journey from green to yellow, orange, and red, their litter becoming the food for next year’s growth.  Yes, there are spiritual lessons here.


Moral Imperative

It was a walk up a long, steep hill, but it was worth it.  Last Saturday my wife and I voted.  It had the feeling of accomplishment.  The long, steep hill was also a symbol.  Wearing masks, sucking breath in through fabric in the single nation hardest hit—this great rudderless ship—we went to say “enough.”  The clearest indication of evil in the present administration (and here we’re starved for choices) is the open attempt to sabotage voting.  Some GOPers are placing fake ballot boxes in public locations while the pretender-in-chief has encouraged his followers to vote twice and has tried to prevent his “fellow Americans” from having their legitimate say.  Sometimes you have to climb a high hill, but the view from the top may just be worth all that effort.

We are a suffering nation.  Not only have we become divided, that division has been stirred, and prodded, and poked by a man who knows the only way to win is to divide and conquer.  Untie what used to be the United States for personal aggrandizement.  Voting is more than a right, it’s an absolute duty.  All who do it are patriots.  In this we can be united.  Perhaps a bit winded, stop to take a look at the trees on the hills showing their true colors.  We woke up stuck in a nightmare four years ago.  We’ve lost four years of our lives.  We’ve climbed so many hills and sunk into dark, deep valleys.  Does that flag look a little tattered to you?

Back in high school we all wondered how autocrats like Hitler and Mussolini came to power.  We’ve watched it happen in a nation that was the avowed enemy of fascism within living memory.  And for what?  The right to wear red baseball caps that claim our nation wasn’t great to begin with?  Great is not the same as perfect, to be sure.  We were producing the technology (that is by definition “progressive”) that the world craved.  We were ensuring the rights of all people.  We were cleaning the environment.  What within all of this isn’t great?  How has it become better in these four misspent years of worry and weariness, bringing us to the brink of nuclear war without a thought of the incredible effort it took to build all of this.  Or the effort it took to walk up this long, steep hill.


The End of Snow Days

It’s a chilling thought.  An article in the New York Times said it, but we were all thinking it.  Snow days may well have become another victim of Covid-19.  No, it’s not snowing yet (but give climate change a chance!), but New York City schools have figured out that if students can learn from home then one of the truly treasured memories of our youth may no longer be necessary.  In fact, snow days ended for me when I began working remotely.  My supervisor had suggested, even before that, that I take my company laptop home daily, in case of inclement weather.  The idea of awaking, wonder-eyed, at the world covered in white—that cozy feeling of knowing you had no obligations for the day but to enjoy the pristine world out your window—is a thing of the past.

Technology has changed our lives, and some of it is even for the better.  It hasn’t made work easier for some of us, but has made it longer.  We used to talk about kids and their continuous partial attention, but now work is always at home with you and that time signature on your email says something about your work habits.  As the days are now shorter than the nights, as they will be for six more months, finding the time to do what you must outdoors (it may be cooler, but lawns still insist on growing) is always a bit more of a challenge.  And when the snow does fall you’ll still have to shovel the walk.  All time has become company time for a truly linked-in world.

The real victim here, it seems to me, is childhood.  Snow days were a reminder that no matter how strict, how Calvinistic our administrators wanted to be, the weather could still give us a smile now and then.  A legitimate excuse not to have to go to school and, if parents couldn’t get you to daycare, a day off for everyone.  The strict number of limited holidays allotted by HR had limited power in those days.  Although we all know that well-rested, happy workers tend to do better jobs than those who are constantly stressed out and who have trouble sleeping, we’ve now got the means to make the sameness of pandemic life the ennui of everyday life, in saecula saeculorum.  Thanks, internet.  At least now we work where we have a window and can look out on nature and can see what we’re missing.


Tooth Less

The words “difficult extraction” are not what you want to hear, seated in a dentist chair.  Fortunately mine was not difficult.  I’m squeamish about most things, and like many kids raised in humble circumstances, experienced dental care at the largess of various government programs.  I remember going home nearly every time in a state of shock regarding how much it hurt and what he had done to us.  It has taken a lifetime to get over the fear of the dentist.  Now I patronize a local female dentist who is gentle and caring—something that didn’t exist, and we couldn’t have afforded anyway, when I was a child.  Even so, she’s telling me a tooth has to come out.  I’m being stoic and starting my meditation mantra.

Health care in the United States, as Trump’s recent treatment for a virus to which he carelessly exposed himself shows, is horribly uneven.  Those who are systemically kept poor—especially those who are “of color”—often have few choices and die younger.  Yet supporters of 45 see no problem with this.  Now, I wish I weren’t in this dentist chair right now.  I’m not looking forward to the novocaine shots or the tugging on my jaw.  Or the hours of gauze in my mouth afterward.  But at least I can afford this.  It pains me even more that there are others who can’t.  And that those who claim to follow a man who healed for free are voting for a man who has pledged to keep inequality as “the American way.”

I grew up taking care of my teeth the way the poor often do—that is to say, not enough.  The solutions involve education and empathy, both of which our government has chosen to eject for jingoism and bravado.  I’m not so much worried about having one tooth less.  I am worried about a government that feels it has the right to oppress the poor so that the wealthy can continue to gain more money that can, in turn, be used to control the government.  This is wrong.  There’s no way that it can be made to be “Christian,” no matter what evangelicals may say.  I’m sitting here in the dentist chair and the needle’s getting closer.  I’ll have a mouth full of gauze for the next few hours and I’ll be on a soft food diet for a while.  I may be in some pain.  But still I know I’m one of the lucky ones.