I probably wouldn’t have read this particular Dr. Seuss book, anyway.

There’s this weird place you wind up in when you give yourself permission and have a really lovely relationship with a man in his late-ish 20s, and then things other people did to him for a long time when he was a kid come back to haunt him, and he does something he shouldn’t that’s destructive to your relationship even though it isn’t really about you at all, and he asks you for some time, and in the two weeks after that, you realize he lied about what he did, that it was worse than he made it out to be, and he admits it when he finally calls to tell you he’s moving to another state in 36 hours for a job you knew he was waiting to hear about, but didn’t know he’d gotten.

When Dr. Seuss wrote “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”, I don’t think he had this place in mind. Where was THAT book of wisdom? Hmm?

Look out! Don’t crash!
Your snarfle will hurt!
You’re headed for trouble –
stay out of his yurt!

He’s all the good things
that your whole self can see,
but a trigger’s the problem,
eventually.

His whole self’s amazing –
no, really, quite great! –
but some people before you
created a weight,

And he carries it mostly,
but sometimes, you’ll note,
it will tear him to pieces
– unsettle his boat

– and the next thing you know,
his kersplinker’s kersplat,
and there are no repair shops
for fixing all that.

So he’ll do what he can
and you’ll tinker with bits,
you’ll be quite glad you’ve tried it,
it’s well worth the fits –

But here’s the kerfuffle:
kersplinker and all –
It will loosen your droozle
and throw off your haul.

You’ll wonder if your parts
are working quite right –
or if somehow you could have
unlit what won’t light.

It’s not that it’s your fault –
good heavens – it’s not!
It’s just that his whole self
is tied up in knots

and he wants to untie them –
truly, he does,
but it’s hard to know which way
to get them unfuzzed.

And for all you both do,
his kersplinker’s kersplat
– and there is no repair shop
for fixing all that.

 

A woman is a presidential nominee. I wish I could be excited. But the problem isn’t what you think.

This has never happened before, even if Abigail Adams and Edith Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt did deserve it. I should feel something more than this.

I should be absolutely riveted by this moment. For the first time in American history, a woman is her party’s presumptive nominee for president. But my reasons for being relatively unmoved have basically nothing to do with her. And whatever Americans may think, that’s incredibly unfair not only to her, but to us.

Let me be clear: I do not believe anyone should support Secretary Clinton simply because she is a woman. And I know there are a lot of people who don’t like Secretary Clinton. Those who tend toward liberalism cite the real or perceived sins of her husband, the former president, who presided over the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the seeds of the modern predatory mortgage lending crisis, and the widespread literal or figurative criminalization of poverty vis-a-vis “welfare reform” and/or imprisonment. Those who tend toward conservatism cite Bengazi, a perceived continuation of the Obama administration, the secretary’s emails while she was in the cabinet, and all of the offenses—real or perceived—of President Bill Clinton. Both sides cite her senatorial vote in favor of the war in Iraq. I respect all of those concerns, whether I share them or not.

But for all the weight those concerns may carry for one voter or another, we are brought to this moment by some strange collision of the histories we wish we could rewrite and the futures to which we aspire. We are brought to this moment by divisiveness that pits Sec. Clinton against Sen. Sanders, who, with his devoted supporters, want social and economic change that is more than what they feel is a tagline, and whose convictions have been represented and in some cases rightly or wrongly overshadowed by those who would wish to undo in a mere four years everything on which we are built (very likely without Congressional help). We are brought to this moment by another kind of divisiveness that pits both Sec. Clinton and Sen. Sanders against a never-been-elected, never-lived-as-middle-class, never-known-a-government-official-he-didn’t-try-to-grease blowhard who says what he thinks people will like and turns out to be correct—a candidate who may or may not truly believe his own words, but who has demonstrated an understanding of the simplicity of the galvanized American voter that has made everyone else wonder where, after all these years, they have lived, and what, after all these years, they have known. We are, unbelievably, in a place where some who favored Sen. Sanders may now throw their vote to Donald Trump.

We are brought to this moment in spite of those who rail against Sec. Clinton for concerns that, I swear, they would not care nearly so much about if she were a man.

We are here both in spite of and because of those who believe that this woman did not know her place and stay in it.

I do not want to be here.

When will we come to a time when a woman can find her own ground without a significant portion of the populace believing, deep down, that she isn’t feminine enough, and that, if she were, she would not be fit to lead? Or that they prefer someone who spouts hateful rhetoric in the name of self-promotion because it makes them feel more dominant by association?

After 240 years, we are heartbreakingly short of our greatest hopes and in danger of sacrificing our promise, and it is gut-wrenchingly difficult to know which way we want to go next.

I don’t expect any presidential race to be a clear choice for the majority of the electorate. I expect it to be a difficult process. It should be; that is the only way we can know for sure that we are seeing the right candidates representing the people in the most accurate ways. I do not think that every person who favors Donald Trump or who dislikes Sec. Clinton has chosen his or her position because of misogyny or racism. But seeing the accuracy this time around is devastating, and watching a woman fight to overcome the forces that empower a horror of a human being to be her opponent is not how I wanted to see a woman finally stand. I would love to say that, if she wins the presidency, it will be a sign that we, as a nation, are ready for a woman to lead. But I know that there are plenty who will vote for her merely as a vote against her horror of an opponent. And I know that there are plenty who will still believe, deep down, that she has not known her place.

I am, guttingly, unmoved tonight that a woman has finally found an America that may support her. But I will stand for her because, woman or not, perfect or flawed, I know what I believe in.

And I have never known my place.

Things You Can Do When You’ve Finished Grad School

After three years, a lot of academic crap, and some very, very intense times, apparently I am now permitted to say I have a master’s degree. (The actual degree is meant to be mailed to me in July, but I have the nice folder thingy they give out to master’s degree recipients at commencement and my unofficial transcript as evidence of things not seen.)

So now that that’s over, I have been struck time and time again by the things I am suddenly able to do, just free as I please. To wit:

  1. Breathe regular
  2. Read for fun. Take no notes.
  3. Buy too many books to read for fun; immediately become overwhelmed by sense of obligation to read for fun due to muscle memory of last three years (OMG, I have to read 100 pages tonight after work…)
  4. Fold laundry
  5. Clean the house
  6. Stare at a wall
  7. Navel-gaze (Sigh… I did not miss this…)
  8. Date
  9. Grow despondent (select topic)
  10. Watch television. Complain that there’s nothing on.
  11. Write for fun
  12. Go out. Do things. With other people, even.
  13. Say yes
  14. Have mild anxiety attacks about having too much free time
  15. Go grocery shopping when needed (no more meals made entirely of condiments!)
  16. Suddenly sit straight up, thinking, I have to find research articles for…! Wait, no, I don’t. Sit back. Return biometrics to resting levels.
  17. Stop constantly mentally reviewing schedule (Okay, if I leave work and sit in the parking lot for an hour before rehearsal, I can study during that time, and then if I get home from rehearsal before 10:30, I can probably read an article and get those notes done…)
  18. Spend an entire Saturday on the internet. Wrestle with self-loathing re: same.
  19. Google “large Victorian house on private beach wraparound porch free rent.” Fantasize accordingly.
  20. Resist propensity for in-text citation

 

 

 

Memo to the Moderate Voter

First, an understanding: The moderate conservative is not the same as the moderate liberal is not the same as the independent. Please know that I’m not taking a side here. This essay isn’t about me. It’s about you.

You must be exhausted.

This presidential election has been a shining study in how to alienate the middle ground. It doesn’t seem to make sense: shoving aside what was long revered as the most significant voting portion of the American population. The middle class is verifiably vanishing, and it feels for all the world like the moderate voter is, too.

It’s no surprise, then, that moderates would feel like a dying breed. Where is your candidate? Are you no longer a vote to be prized, a favor to be curried? As the population’s income seems pushed to the low and high margins, so too are we to be governed by extremes?

To me, that’s the most telling—and most disconcerting—sign to emerge from this election cycle.

When you have no one to vote for, you either don’t vote or you have to choose an extreme you don’t like, thereby contributing to its growth. Either choice makes you a fang in the mouth of a snake that’s eating itself.

The false dichotomy of the election constructs an equally false narrative of the country and forces it in one of two directions that I’m still pretty sure most voters don’t want to go in—a choice that seems, for moderates, to be the ultimate devil vs. deep blue sea. As someone who lived in his Congressional district years ago, and who has close friends in Ohio, trust me: when John Kasich appears moderate, you know it’s trouble. Meanwhile, a former first lady and a Jewish, self-proclaimed socialist are vying for the White House with no other competition from their party. No matter what you think of either of them, that should be holy-Christ quality stuff on any number of levels. Instead, the circus of the GOP makes the Democrats seem dull.

That’s a problem. It’s terminal velocity, the phenomenon in which, no matter how far above the speed limit you’re going, at some point, you get so used to the recklessness and so confident in your ability to handle it that it doesn’t seem like too big a deal to push the needle a little farther, until you lose control.

I’m not saying the candidates on either side are reckless—though I think some of them are. I’m saying that while both sides have found candidates who ignite and engage a part of the electorate that has never felt so well-represented before, that galvanizing force, played out over and over again in media, makes everyone who isn’t that extreme feel like they’re either unrecognized or missing the boat. It’s a recipe for disenfranchisement, and disenfranchisement is why you stop voting, and that’s how you get ignored. The fascination at the political process has been replaced by a frenzy over the maddest parts of it—so much so that the nation seems to have forgotten completely that these people will have to actually govern if we put them in the White House.

The presidency has become a cult of personality  and a receptacle for derision that has reduced it, effectively, to nothing more than a figurehead position. Technically, this can be “blamed” on CBS News and the Washington Post with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal… but who could blame Walter Cronkite for telling the nation what he saw, and who could blame Woodward & Berntsein for exposing what their dogged reporting uncovered? Still, those two significantly historic moments in a time of an increasingly global mass media were the beginning of the end for president-worship. Scholars, historians, and journalists generally agree that this was when the presidency was demystified, when the people came to see the humanity of the office and the fallibility of the office-holder.

In the American political system, Congress is where the true power is. When Congress is the only place where things can get done, and the president is a person who a large percentage of Congress will not abide, intractability is sure to follow. Regardless of the positions of the presidential candidates I’m about to name, If you think the last seven years have been bad, you don’t want to see four under Trump, Cruz, Rubio or Sanders. If you think the rest represent the status quo, you almost can’t bear to see the next four under anyone but one of those four, because it seems like the only way anything will change at all is if the highest elected official in the country forces it to happen.

But here’s the thing: The last seven years have shown us that, no matter what we think of what he tried to force, the highest elected official in the country could not make it happen. If we liked him, we believed he was trying to do what was right for the country and was thwarted at every turn. If we didn’t like him, we believed he was creating a national nightmare like nothing we had ever seen, and we were relieved it didn’t go any farther than it had managed to go, which was still too far for us.

Think about the candidates right now and whether there’s a single one of them who won’t match that same description in four years.

Here’s part of what’s doing moderates wrong: “Moderate” has been conflated with “establishment,” creating another false narrative. What does “moderate” mean? Middle. Not extreme. Relatively reasonable, but generally dispassionate. What does “establishment” mean? Old Guard, right? The same people doing the same things, not taking us anywhere. It’s assigned without regard to reason or passion. It’s just normative. Well, Sanders has been a senator for 16 years. He’s more establishment than literally anybody in the GOP field except Kasich. He’s more establishment than Obama. By some definitions, he’s more establishment than Clinton. It’s not necessarily that the majority of American citizens don’t want reasonable individuals in government. It’s that they’re tired of us getting nowhere because the definition of insanity keeps playing itself out in Washington. So, from a purely academic perspective, Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio are legitimate anti-establishment and un-moderate candidates. Sanders is just un-moderate. Jeb! is anti-establishment from a federal government perspective (despite being related to the establishment). Clinton is probably more moderate than we think, and her establishmentism is harder to parse.

You might be able to tell at this point that I believe that if there’s a presidential candidate who truly represents what you want to see happening in the country, what’s required for you to see the change you want is to see it represented in a significant percentage in Congress. Right now, that doesn’t exist for most of the candidates we’re considering.

But there is good news for you, Moderate Voter. You’re still at an advantage. Most of Congress—the quiet section—is still moderate. The intractability of the last seven years was because both parties were houses divided, and the Tea Party took everyone hostage (including John Boehner). They were loud and organized, and they sucked voters in. But there aren’t that many of them. There are about 63, or 11 percent of Congress. The reason someone like Bernie Sanders wouldn’t get his plans through Congress isn’t because the Tea Party will shout him down, although they will. Rather, it’s because there aren’t enough people in Congress who are as far left as his ideas are. But if Sanders supporters get organized at a more local level and find candidates that can generate support, Congress will shift, just like the Tea Party made it do.

It’s easy to blame media for this. To some extent, it’s their fault; entertainment value is part of what they need and go after. But they go after it for you, because you consume it. Being a moderate has always seemed to mean appearing not just reasonable, but rather ho-hum… not reality TV, not opera. You don’t like candidates you find to be insipid panderers and you don’t those you find to be elitists. There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with the in-between. It’s just that the passions are higher on the margins, and people who are passionate and who feel like they’re gaining ground are a powerful audience—for media and for candidates. Both are there only because there’s an active, engaged, demonstrable audience for them. We know the newly long-suffered complaint that the mainstream media tell us what to think, but they show what they show because it’s what you watch. No matter how low the score is, there’s still a high score in the face-off. Sure, there are fewer and fewer people watching television as it happens. More people are nixing it altogether or going with Hulu, Roku, Netflix, Apple TV. But there’s still a No. 1 station. It’s the same way with voting, or worse, uninformed voting. Sure, there may be fewer votes, or fewer votes from less-educated people. But there’s still a winner.

In an era in which all the information you can want is literally at your fingertips, it comes down to three things: your ability to access it (a significant disadvantage for the poor), your tendency to critically analyze it (lower in apathetic and less-informed people), and your willingness to take more of what you feel is crap. The Tea Party came up in 2010 and grew in the Congressional elections that followed because the people who align with them were not willing to take any more of what they felt was crap. They kept track, they held grudges, and they organized around it. They got mad, and then they set about getting even.

You, moderates, aren’t mad enough yet.  Maybe it’s because you’re… well… moderate. Not willing to make a scene. Not interested in a fight. Tired of the mayhem to which you’d feel you were contributing if you stood up and shouted.

I guess that’s sort of par for the course.

Still, moderates are so bad at actively finding candidates these days.

It’s probably too late for 2016, but here’s what has to happen in the next elections, both in 2018 and in 2020, if moderates want to reclaim ground:

Speak up.  Demand someone else. Organize. Find candidates and actively support them from the beginning of their campaigns, beyond social media—but for the love of God, splatter them all over social media. Give them money. Give them time. Volunteer for them. Generate momentum.

And find a conflict to put moderate candidates in.

It seems antithetical for moderates to find conflict, but it’s the only way to get attention. Conflict is what media of all platforms cover. I swear to God, they don’t care who wins the conflict. There’s always going to be more conflict, no matter who wins, because the winner will go on to conflict with someone else. The only thing that’s interesting is the conflict itself. It’s why Jeb Bush has been poking Marco Rubio with a stick since the beginning of the race. He was betting Rubio would emerge as a better option when the Trump/Cruz Show started to fray at the seams. He was trying to create conflict to get attention. (He’s just dull and bad at conflict, bless him.)

Think of it this way: Why do you watch sports? Sure, you want your team to win, but isn’t a runaway victory kind of a bore? Who wants to watch that, really? It’s so much more exciting when there’s something at stake. So find something that’s at stake for your moderate candidate, stick them to it, and yell about it.

The middle class is vanishing. Don’t let moderates disappear, too. Be loud about being quiet. Don’t be milquetoast on issues; it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consider the issues brought up by the extremes. What does it tell us about where we are as a nation? What’s the moderate’s position on that place and where we should be as a nation? Find it. Be passionate. Defend your ground.

Get mad.

And then get even.

 

 

Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

I think I’m starting a series right now. You know how sometimes a political candidate gets a question and you listen to their answer and you’re like, “…Wait, what?” Like, even without considering whether you agree with the candidate or not, just… “What the hell kind of expression of thought was that?”

I just did that listening to Donald Trump talk to Anderson Cooper. Now, I’ve long felt that the basic formula for the way Trump talks is:

superlative adjective + noun + adverb
+ adverb + verb + helping verb + adjective
+ hyperbole + lie + superlative adjective + noun
(all over)
flailing arms

To borrow from his tendency to use an adjective twice, there’s very, very little substance to what he’s saying. But the other element of his speech is that all those superlative adjectives and adverbs and nouns don’t actually go together. It’s word salad all the time. So I decided to rewind the DVR and, in lieu of attempting to diagram that mess, at least transcribe everything he’d said.

Will I do this for every candidate? Well, I’m not going to obligate myself to obsess over it, and a lot of candidates manage to stay on task and not wander off into the wilderness of speech and thought without aid of compass or flashlight, scratching their asses and wearing propeller beanies and mismatched socks. The one and only rule for Word for Word is that the person I quote has to sound to me like s/he went to the zoo. Maybe I’ll do it for non-politicians, too. Hard to say. I’m wildly unpredictable. But consider this paragraph my disclaimer. I tend to pay attention to politics and political speech because, well, I’m a dork and a pseudo-wonk. Trump is by far the most frequent gone-to-the-zoo speaker I’ve ever heard who didn’t have a verifiable mental illness (that I know of). But Word for Word is far less about politics than it is about valuing cogent expression, so fair and equal treatment isn’t really the purpose. The purpose is pretty much just sheer mockery of people who couldn’t form a coherent thought. I’m a writer. That bugs me.

With that, I give you…
Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

The scene:
A voter in New Hampshire, during a CNN town hall kind of thing, asked Trump how he would repeal and replace Obamacare (or, as it’s actually named, the Affordable Care Act). What follows is a transcript of the answer, punctuated a couple of times by clarifying questions or comments from Anderson Cooper.

First of all, I have been so against Obamacare from the beginning, as you know. Repeal and replace. I was totally opposed to it. They did the five billion dollar website, five billion dollar website that didn’t work. I have websites all over the place that cost me 15 cents if you have the right person doing them, right? We’re going to have great health insurance. We’re going to bring the private sector in, we’re going to get rid of the borders. You know, I’m the only self-funder in this whole race, on Democrat or Republican. The only self-funder. I’m putting up my own money. When I come up here, it’s costing me. It’s not costing the public. It’s not costing—worse than the public, it’s the insurance companies putting up money for all of these people, the oil companies are putting up money, the drug companies are putting up money. And I’ll tell you one quick story about that in a second. But we’re going to take down the borders because what happens is, the health care companies, the insurance companies, they put up tremendous money for Obama and other people that are running for office. They have total control. When I bid out for my insurance- I have big businesses in many different states, in Florida, in New York, all over the place, California. When I bid out myself, I don’t get any bids, because if I want to have somebody from, let’s say New Hampshire, bid—a company, good insurance company—bid for my New York business, they can’t do it. They just can’t do it because we have these artificial, I call them borders. Our southern border should be as strong as our borders for—what that does is it gives monopolies to these insurance companies inside of various states. When you take that down you will have so much competition, you’ll have phenomenal health care. And the reason they have the borders is because an insurance company would rather have, essentially, a monopoly in one state than have bidders all over the place. (AC: So would he be able to save money?) Oh, he would save a lot of money and he’d be able to tailor it and you’d get exactly what you want. I mean there are things in health care that you’re never going to use and they make you buy. So Obamacare’s a disaster. You know, premiums have gone up on Obamacare 25, 35, and 45 percent. Some even over 50 percent. And just like you, people have been forced—they’ve lost everything because of health care. Obamacare is a disaster, and we’re going to repeal it and we’re going to replace it with something great. And we have lots of alternatives. The problem that this country’s had, until me, is that the presidents and all of the people who are doing this are all taken care of by the insurance companies. Me? I don’t care. I’m a free agent. They didn’t give me ten cents. And by the way, they would. I will say this: I am self-funding. I don’t know that it’s appreciated that I’m self-funding. (AC: Well I was going to ask you that, because you’ve been saying in the last couple of days, you don’t think you’re getting credit for that.) Only for the last couple of days. I’ve put up a tremendous amount of money, I’m spending a lot of money on the campaign, and I said, “I don’t think it’s appreciated.” People have to understand: the reason Obamacare is so bad is because the insurance companies have taken care of the politicians. These politicians are the worst. All talk, no action. I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m putting up my money. (AC: You said you keep doing that but it’s not worth it.) Well, what I’m saying is I don’t think the voters give me any credit for it. Now, I may be wrong, but I think when people—even people in this room, and we have great people in this room—when they go to vote, I don’t think they’re saying, “You know, Trump is the only one out of—now it started off 21 if you add both together. I’m the only one that’s putting up my own money. And it’s a lot of money. Now, I’m an efficient person, so I’ve spent a tiny fraction of what a guy like Bush spent. (AC: You’re getting a lot of free media coverage.) I’m getting a lot free. I was supposed to have spent 45 million dollars as of today or tomorrow. That was my budget. I’ve spent a small fraction of that. Now, that’s also good management. That’s all we need in the country. So I’m no. 1 in the polls, Bush is almost down at the bottom. He’s spent over $100 million and I’ve spent peanuts. Now with that being said, I’m going to spend a lot of money. You know why? Number one, I don’t want to take a chance, so we’re taking commercials and good commercials. And number two, I feel guilty not spending a little money. I actually feel a little bit guilty about it, if you want to know the truth. But isn’t it nice, and wouldn’t it be nice if—So I’ve spent just about the least money and I’m number one in the polls whereas other people have spent tremendous amounts of money and they’re nowhere. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that for our country?

~Donald Trump
New Hampshire
Live, CNN
Feb. 4, 2016

After the End

I remember the times that I lay awake in my bed since May 2, 2014, thinking about the fact that Amanda was going to die. I thought she had two years, but I was wrong. She had 13 months and three days from that day she called me, the day I stood in my kitchen, staring out the window as I held the phone to my ear, speechless, shaking my head as she talked and thinking, Dammit. This what she has always been afraid of… thinking, We are not old enough for this…we are too small, we have not done enough, as her words “it’s cancer” hung for just a second and a half in the almost imperceptible hum in my ear, the words “it’s some kind of cancer” she had spoken in her trademark lilt, as if she had just said, “Oh, look at that flower,” as if she had forgotten that I knew how much the very thought of it had terrified her for years.

Now I lie in my bed and think, She’s gone. She no longer exists. She does not exist, and it makes no kind of senseI see my ceiling fan and my recessed lighting and they are so solid, so real, and she is not, even though she used to be. Now everyone who never met her will never meet her, and she cannot be real to them, and it seems like such a ridiculously large proportion of humanity that will never know the gift of her. They will never know her wide-eyed, blinking expression of fake shock, or the way she threw her head back when she laughed sometimes, the way she could cover venom with her Southern drawl, the way she ferociously defended everyone who ever tried to do the right thing. They will never know the way she turned to stare, unblinking, at me as I took her pulse without wanting her to know I was taking her pulse, even while I thought, She knows I’m taking her pulse, as she lay in the hospice bed in the living room of the home she bought just six weeks before her diagnosis. They will not know her faint freckles, a bashful kind of Irishness that may have hidden beneath the English of her long-ago bloodline, before she’d been born to Carolina. They will not know the watercolor brown of her eyes. They won’t feel the coldness of her skin that I felt the day I walked into her condo one more time, to find her with her watercolor eyes still open, and to leave them that way.

I lie on my bed, staring at the ceiling fan and recessed lighting, remembering all the loved ones I lost before her, whose coffined bodies I had knelt beside on prié dieux, thinking through my prayers, willing myself through my aches, whose cold skin I feared to touch. For her I had hardly prayed, my faith a little shaken well before her illness took hold. But for her I did not hesitate to grant a kiss, to lay a hand.

She was 44.

“I don’t want to be one of those sad women who dies of cancer in her 40s,” she had said to me the summer before. I can still see her saying it, wide eyes searching for assurance, mouth trembling. I can still feel the sickening, mind-dulling anticipation of something that has now passed by, as though I am still dreading that it will happen.

It has been more than seven months since the day I walked in to find her cold, without surprise. More than seven months since the morning I woke up in my friends’ guest room to grab my phone as had become a habit, and this time to see a message from her brother: Give me a call when you wake up. To know what that meant. To call and hear his voice tell me, “I have bad news,” as though we had not been there by her side together for days, as though I had not known for 13 months what this news would be.

It seems like yesterday and it seems like a year ago. I can still feel that tachycardic pulse thrumming vivaciously and valiantly against the pads of my index and middle fingers (not the thumb – one feels one’s own pulse in one’s thumb) while my mind whirred with thoughts of when it would slow and why it was so fast: She’s hot. Fucking air conditioner. Breaking on the hottest day so far. Adjusting the sheet and fetching the wet towel from the refrigerator and the ice pack from the freezer, willing it to stay cool a while longer as she closed her eyes and sighed in relief when it covered her forehead. I can still feel that cold skin against my glossed lips at 9:40 in the morning on a Friday as the air conditioning repairmen, in what I hope was the worst job they ever took, worked in her bedroom and she lay there, gone, in the living room. It feels like yesterday, and it feels like a year ago. But it does not feel like real time.

The rest of our small clutch of close confidants in this crisis had thought she could have 10 years. Eventually I realized that not all of us had read the research and known the odds we implored Amanda not to find. They were not at the appointments where the doctors all first told her, “Yes, you could have a few years,” in tones of conciliation with expressions of agonized sympathy in their eyes. No, it’s not impossible. The relative swiftness of Amanda’s dying was as much a shock to them as it was to her.

But In those overheated or overcooled doctors’ offices, in those moments when her comprehension switched off and mine sharpened, I learned. I heard a blunt force in the softened honesty of the medical oncologist, a woman whose decades of experience and expertise in this particular kind of cancer made her a researcher first and a treating physician second. Her manner reflected years of work at being warm, rather than a natural inclination. “Some women who come to me at this point have a few months,” she had said. “Others have a few years. Most are in-between.”

When I look back, searching for the moment when my gut told me the time, I think it was then. Six months later, when there was something strange in a scan, my gut knew that knew there wasn’t much time left. It knew that we should take her on a trip, that she should come to Beethoven’s Ninth when my choir sang it just two weeks later, so she could hear the soaring sounds she called transcendent. It knew there would never be another chance.

She hadn’t wanted to come.

And six months after that, the doctors had gathered in her hospital room and told her there was nothing more they could do and that hospice was next. She hadn’t been ready for that, hadn’t been completely cognizant thanks to inflammation in her brain from radiation. The radiation had been a last-ditch effort, one we later learned had been debated rather than easily concluded among her treating physicians. It helped to know that when their experience said it was over, something else had said, “Just try.” The research-focused medical oncologist came softer over the phone, “Amanda was the most wonderful patient I have ever had.”

Amanda had turned her head toward me after staring blankly at the wall at the foot of her bed. “Am I being weird about this?” I had told her that she couldn’t possibly be weird about it; there is no “weird about it” when the battle is over before putting down the sword and shield. I’d told her that if she wasn’t on top of a building with a flamethrower, she was doing fine. It had been my response for 12 months and 25 days.

“We always knew it was going to come down to this,” she had said to me.

She hadn’t accepted it until then. That moment. And it was just after that when she told her brother that she wanted him to take care of their mom, and when she told me she was worried our friends’ boys wouldn’t remember her.

I still see her in her last weeks. I can readily conjure times before her diagnosis, but when photos from then appear, they surprise me; in my older memories, I conflate her healthful body with her ill one. My immediate memories of her as sick, as wasting away, don’t spark heartache. That her nose took on the characteristic form of a dying cancer patient’s, that her skin turned so sallow that her pale freckles stood out, that her shape changed before my eyes, does not change her to me. They are facts, and facts to which I am humbled to have borne witness. I am grateful to have been there in those waning days. She was so loved that people flew across the country or drove hundreds of miles to spend an hour or two saying goodbye, and then came back for the service, just days later. That she asked me to be one of the few by her side all the time in her last year, that her final week filled my days, is an honor for which I cannot grant words, a kind of feeling that should have a color, a scent, a tangible weight. Her dying, her death, was tremendously real.

But her being dead is impossible to fathom.

Dying is an action. It is a role one plays. It was a thing she was doing. I can lie on my bed, staring at my ceiling fan, and think about when she was dying. I can think about who that dying woman was, how her voice and its trademark lilt may have quieted, but never changed. I can think about all of that and be fine, because it was a fact, a phase, a part she played with knowledge. Living and dying are acts. They take shape. They change. They advance and retreat.

Dead is an unmitigated state of being. There is no action in it. There is no agency.

My friend, my sweet friend, with whom I laughed for years, with whom I shared unspoken things, whose memories intertwined with mine, is dead, and I am not. We share nothing now. I am left without her to carry her life in my head and my heart and to speak of it to others. I am gifted with an unfolding promise of memory while I struggle to make real her life to those who never knew it.

It is the greatest and most terrible gift she ever gave me.

Legacy

I wonder why I’ve never been assigned to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons and speeches and letters.

I’ve spent some time today reading a few of them, and I’m embarrassed at never having done so before.

I was reading King’s now-historically titled “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” because I went looking for some quotes from Dr. King that are lesser-known to the masses. (I do this every year because I shamefully do little else in recognition of his influence and the sacrifice of his life, and I feel like I can at least take some time to reflect, since that’s much of what he was asking us to do all those years ago.) I had found one such quote, and sought its source for context. In part, the reason I went looking for the source was because the quote, in juxtaposition with present-day electoral politics, seemed to have gained new life.

This is where I stop to think of whether it is fair to apply more universally a sentiment about the struggle to end the oppression of black people. In doing so, do I diminish the call that is unique to that people? Do I, essentially, usurp “black lives matter” in favor of “all lives matter”? Do I, as one does when espousing all lives, blunt the power of the voices raised for the 400th year against oppression of one people that still has not seen justice fully realized? Do I imply that the injustices their people have suffered are equal to injustices done to me?

I’m going to risk it with the clear implication that it is not my intention to detract, but to recognize that Dr. King, I think, would have raised his voice a lot in the last year or two to support others who are struggling for freedom and understanding.

“…The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
~Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

One of the greatest things about this country is that we’re free to say whatever we want about its government and its people, but there is now an abuse of that freedom that makes some of us think it’s right to stand in our insistence and shout that dissenters are more than wrong, that they’re idiots, devils, communists, socialists, lunatics and trolls. This nation’s freedoms of speech and expression have been twisted into a compulsion to berate without conscience, and to spread it in unprecedentedly broad swaths with a keystroke. We’ve been fostered in our misguided belief that freedom of speech equates with encouragement to spout opinion at every opportunity. In the old rally cry that warns, “Don’t tread on me,” we have become the snake that eats itself.

There are no saints in a culture that champions schadenfreude.

Nowhere has this seemed more obvious than in the presidential race we are currently enduring. I am struck by how tired the spectators have been made by the marathon. We have a field of Republican candidates so pushed to extremes by its perception of a shifting base that those who were dismissed from some circles years ago for their own extremism now seem perfectly reasonable and measured. We have a field of Democratic candidates who bore us in debate because there is a less belabored circus, even while no opportunity is missed to fling bile on absent dissenters.

It is tempting, and has always been, to hate politicians for the way they spar, for the way they turn what we profess to love as a governing system into an intractable mess of complexly woven and codependent governance by spite. It is, at worst, a spiral into hell that destroys democracies. At best, it is a horror show. It’s a show of extremism and rancor directed at all who are “other.”

But what has dawned on me more and more as we watch it all unfold is that the actors take the stage for us. We have settled into the certainty that we deserve to stand firm in our thoughts with ears closed to disagreement rather than open to understanding, and hands clenched into fists rather than clasped in handshakes. We have acquired some misguided sense of having been persecuted for our perspectives, when we have suffered no indignity approaching what we inflict on others in our intransigence.

This is where I believe Dr. King’s voice would have been raised. Whether it’s those who disagree with sentiment or those who seek asylum on our shores, those who haven’t followed whatever path we presume to prescribe or those who don’t fit a 200-year-old perception of the Judeo-Christian mold, those who are criminalized for believing in a different creed or those who are hated in general for the most tangential association with the evil deeds of a most specific group, we have once again proven ourselves a nation consumed by refusal to hear and understand, so that we may preserve a status quo because to do otherwise would force us to question our self-assurance.

Politicians, after all, seek the votes of those who agree.

This election is not about politicians or politics. It is about Americans. It is about for what this nation truly stands.

And isn’t that the most terrifying thing of all?

 

 

 

Tito and the Internet

I’m 38 years old. In the last 17 years, I have learned a pretty valuable lesson, and it’s one that contradicts conventional wisdom:

It’s probably best for me to just drink alone.

As we all know, alcohol lowers inhibitions. For me, that sometimes means a New Year’s Eve that extends entirely too long into New Year’s Day and involves a significant amount of someone else’s saliva, but that’s not why we’re here today. The other thing it means is that I am much more likely to say what I think. I don’t say it unkindly. But I am much more likely to translate thought into expression. Whereas, in situations wherein I have not had a martini, I just don’t speak.

Or type.

So, alright, amendment: It’s probably best for me to just drink alone and not log on to the Internet.

Now, before you make assumptions: I didn’t get drunk, I didn’t get into an argument, and I didn’t damage a relationship of any kind. No regrets, Coyote. I merely answered a question with respectful and careful honesty where I otherwise likely would not have answered at all.

As opposed to just, you know, quietly moving along in my Facebook travels. Which, perhaps, would have been the better decision.

The irony of this, of course, is that I am frequently the person who says out loud to the people who appear in social media places on my laptop, “You know, it’s okay to just take something in as information and then go about your day. You don’t have to offer your opinion EVERY BLESSED CHANCE YOU GET.” It’s just that this was an area in which I have a certain amount of expertise, and the question was posted by someone who also has a certain amount of expertise, and he seemed a little proud of something I thought was just nauseating.

I did not say that.

I can be diplomatic even when I’ve had vodka. I’m actually really good at it.

Wait… is braggadocio at odds with diplomacy?

Anyway, the point is, I should not be online when Tito has joined me on the sofa.

And we won’t discuss who should join me on the sofa, instead.

A New Beginning

So much has happened.

It was a year that both raced and plodded, with highs I hadn’t felt in ages and lows I hope to never feel again. I don’t suppose the generalities defy custom; I made new friends, lost track of old ones, and watched a dear one leave the world too soon. My heart expanded to welcome a new niece and tightened to finally evict an old love. In some ways, ghosts were finally released. Realizations dawned. Struggles tested. Worries became realities. Romances bloomed and withered. Academia endured. Challenges forced refinement of character, and frustrations—sometimes unrelenting—revealed new understandings. Things I thought I knew either shifted or turned out to have been different all along. Tears came more easily. Life’s mess and complication insisted on winning the day.

For a woman so keen on protection, it was a year of exposure and rawness, of ache at the slightest touch and ecstasy at unexpected provocation. It was a coming out, a time of permissions, of letting feelings surface and learning lessons that I hope will lead to greater grace.

I missed writing. I missed connecting at the soul with people whose faces I had never seen but whose hearts I felt I knew well. But occupation and obligation rarely relented, and when they did, I found my musings so muddled, so tangled, so exhausted or so banal that words were either insufficient or grandiloquent, that to reach for them would have seemed an injustice to their spirit. I wanted to write, but I wanted to rest my mind more.

This post is not a new year’s resolution; I don’t believe in those for their own sake. It is not a clarion herald. It is not a promise to anyone—not even myself. It is simply an acknowledgment of sorts, head bowed, thoughts clouded, that I have been away for a long time, and that I have ached to connect again. The shape things take from here is uncertain. There are ideas, but there is no plan. There are only my fingers on the keyboard and my thoughts on the screen, taking shape in letters after a year full of blurry lines.

Hello again.

kind of day

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on cocktailsandchemo.com that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1’s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.