01 March 2018

Every Day

In the film Every Day, ‘A’ awakens every morning in ‘A’ new body. (Me too, but that is another story.) The first body he occupies is that of Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Justin, who really doesn’t treat her well. He is neither physically or emotionally abusive, but he just doesn’t pay her much attention; almost every day he takes Rhiannon for granted, offering himself to her when he has nothing else to do. But on the day that ‘A’ wakes up inside Justin, the latter becomes attentive, warm and caring. Rhiannon recognizes the difference in Justin, and I guess she assumes that her boyfriend has changed. On that day Rhiannon enjoys ‘A’ happiness she has not yet known, and she anticipates Justin to be every day as he was on that day (unknown to her) occupied by ‘A’. Alas, on that next day, when ‘A’ has again awakened in ‘A’ different body, Justin behaves again as the somewhat insensitive boy he was the day before.
     Every day ‘A’ reaches out to Rhiannon from whatever body ‘A’ has that day occupied—’A’ has found in Rhiannon ‘A’ sympathetic soul--and Rhiannon out of her own curiosity and emotional need continues to meet with and engage ‘A’ wherever ‘A’ seems to be located. This is ‘A’ film adapted from ‘A’ Young Adult novel, and so the extent of sixteen year old Rhiannon’s necessary travels is relatively small—she travels once at least an hour from her relatively middle-class neighborhood to meet with ‘A’ in ‘A’ distant diner—and these assignations are essentially platonic—once ‘A’, occupying ‘A’ girl’s body asks to kiss Rhiannon—and until the film’s conclusion this is the only sexual contact between Rhiannon and ‘A’. And since ‘A’ occupies both male and female bodies, since ‘A’ occupies bodies of all races, since ‘A’ occupies bodies of all shapes, and since ‘A’ occupies bodies of all sexual orientations, I can’t say that ‘A’ has ‘A’ definitive gendered, racial or sexual identity, though the film concludes in an emerging heterosexual relationship. Nevertheless, clearly ‘A’ has fallen in love with Rhiannon, but more important for me, Rhiannon has fallen in love with ‘A’. And so, I wonder what it is that Rhiannon has fallen in love with when she chooses ‘A’-- at some point she rejects her callous boyfriend Justin telling him that she believes it is time to take ‘A’ break. Her love interest has become ‘A’. But clearly it is not ‘A’ physical attraction or some sexual attraction to which Rhiannon responds, nor is it ‘A’ particular race, gender or sexual orientation that draws her to ‘A’.
     I think I know about adolescent longing, though I can’t say I know very much about adolescent love—the feeling and expression of love changes every day. That is, I have felt what is called love, but the word itself as ‘A’ container is empty. I know how the word is defined but I don’t know what the word means. I remember the girls for whom I longed beginning all the way back to the fourth grade—then she was Marjorie Eisenberg—but I don’t know that I ever would have honestly used the word ‘love’ for any of those relationships, nor known what the word meant if I had then uttered it. Nor after all these years can I say that that what I felt was love after all! I guess I have been often ‘in love’ but I can’t even now say what I meant by my use of the word. I think ‘love’ is an overused term for ‘A’ very complex phenomenon—certainly how I feel about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is very different from how I feel about my children, but I use the same word to express my serious attachment to both. I can do without the ice cream but not without them.
     At some point, Rhiannon tells ‘A’ that she loves him. And I think that what Rhiannon might mean when she expresses love for ‘A’ is the reflection of herself that she comes to experience in her relationship with ‘A’. Every day ‘A’ occupies another body, and so every day he is changed; and her willingness to accept ‘A’ regardless of ‘A’’s externality—gender, race or sexual orientation—requires that Rhiannon change as well. It is change that Rhiannon learns to accept and her strength to tolerate, to use, and even to enjoy that change grows every day. Because every day ‘A’ is different, and her willingness to fall in love with ‘A’ accompanies Rhiannon’s acceptance of herself and allows her to expect and enjoy change.  It is not ‘A’ narcissistic, self-absorbed love that she expresses in her statement to ‘A’ (well, maybe all ‘love’ enjoys ‘A’ certain narcissism), but an expression of her own desire (always unrealized) that is made valid and accepted by ‘A’’s ‘love’ for her. Rhiannon values herself because she is valued.
     Every day we make ourselves anew. Unlike ‘A’, we remain the same physical body, but we are every day different. Rhiannon inhabits the same body from day to day with its mostly normal individual and species-particular growths, of course. But Rhiannon’s relationship with ‘A’ changes her every day as in her interactions with ‘A’ she matures (Kurt Vonnegut said that maturity is a disease for which laughter is the only cure, if laughter can be said to cure anything) in her willingness to accept and enjoy difference and change, to develop ‘A’ core sense of personal strength and insight, and an awareness of those qualities that she had ignored in others. Her capacity for what is called love has grown every day.

26 February 2018

Another Goodbye

Another Goodbye. My chancellor (to my mind the only Chancellor I knew and would care to know) died this past week. The notice to the University committee was delivered in this morning’s emails. As I age, I grow weary of the inevitable good byes to those who have traveled with me. Chuck had retired several years ago after having served the University of Wisconsin-Stout for twenty-six years. During his tenure the campus was transformed: no, that construction is too passive. Chuck’s vision transformed the University. Though he and I didn’t always agree on the meaning of a university education or of education in general, he always listened with interest and respect.Occasionally he agreed with me. I understood the work he undertook and that he accomplished at Stout: the University was forever changed during his tenure in a way that affected daily the lives of faculty and students and I suspect altered the lives of those who were fortunate to share the time with him. And I respected the work that he did and that he made possible for us.
     I don’t remember how we met or became friends. We once shared a somewhat short-lived book group; we both held long-standing subscriptions to The New York Review of Books and shared the articles and book recommendation. He complained to me that too often his edition din't arrive and we joked that the journal might not have believed that more than one subscription belonged to this town in rural Wisconsin. Chuck was trained as an historian (ah, he will have his place in Stout’s history); his dissertation we joked, studied some obscure condition in colonial Connecticut. We both had interest in the Puritans and in current politics. Chuck was a liberal in the best sense, and for too many years we mourned the directions our country moved under the course paved by incompetent and ignorant leaders. We read Tony Judt together, and mourned his death; later I sent Chuck a yet unread book (by both of us) by Charles Taylor. He didn’t read much fiction until later in his life, but he allowed me to grandly discourse on the novels and cultural critics I read. He once invited Ted Sorensen to the campus and to him introduced me as ‘the last Marxist on campus.’ I was honored.
     Every other month or so we would meet at a drinking establishment and share bottles of wines and wonderful conversation. Chuck knew good wine and he was generous in sharing it. He invited me often to his Holiday parties, and when I would enter he would pull me aside and whisper that I should inform the bartenders to pour from the bottle kept behind the public offering. The reserved bottle was from his wine cellar—a construction he stocked copiously and with great pride took me down to peruse and partake. We discussed always our work, our ideas and our lives. Chuck never took himself too seriously. Once over a bottle of wine he told me a story with which he identified. The story came from a chancellor at another University, one larger than Stout, who at a conference and over drinks told Chuck that sometimes he would stand at the windows of his office overlooking the campus and say to himself, “I wonder what the hell is going on out there!” Chuck loved that story, and I remarked to him that his office had large windows. It produced for both of us an ironic and satisfied laugh.
     One other thing we shared was heart disease. Chuck had bypass surgery a number of years ago and later had a pacemaker installed. His health declined, and the last time I saw him he walked with a cane. Then after he retired he moved with his wife, Toni to Florida, and we were reduced to sharing emails. In the telegraphic nature of these communications we shared our despair over the state of the nation. We worried for our children. Last week Chuck had a stroke and on Friday he died. And now I grieve alone and mourn his loss.

22 February 2018

Shoot first, Read Later

Remarkable. But perhaps not surprising. Today Trump repeated his call for arming teachers with concealed weapons as a way to fight school violence. Not gun control but gun proliferation is his illogical, bizarre solution! This policy from a man who has no notion of excess. Aren’t guns for Trump just another metaphor for his hands that as he bragged in one of the debates were big—as was other parts of his anatomy—hint, hint! Reported in The New York Times, Trump said, “I want certain highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns” to have a permit to carry concealed firearms in schools . . .” I wonder who it would choose those “highly adept people.” I suspect that Trump and his administration might turn to the NRA. And as an incentive to teachers to carry concealed weapons Trump suggested that teachers who were qualified to handle a weapon — Mr. Trump estimated that this might amount to between 10 percent and 40 percent of teachers — would receive “a little bit of a bonus,” Does Trump even know how many teachers there are in our schools? In the Fall of 2017 in the public schools in the United States there were 3.2 million full time teachers! That is between 320,000 and 1.28 million weapons in the schools! Trump would devote federal money to training these teachers. “I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” the president said.
     This would be scanned! Trump’s statement reveals a depth of stupidity that every morning awakens me with terror. Trump’s equating the contents of a bank—money—with the content of the school—children and adults—is remarkably absurd, though no more absurd than much else that Trump has spoken in the thirteen or so months he has been in office. I can understand why Trump would want his banks protected, but how does he imagine that arming teachers would prevent further school violence. Interestingly it isn’t the workers in the bank that Trump would protect: it is his money! But it would seem to me that unless the now-armed teachers were trained marksman (from where in the budget would money come from to train them) wouldn’t it be tragic if the teacher would miss the shooter and hit a student or fellow armed teacher who was shooting from the other direction. What might students feel knowing that the teacher in front of them wears a concealed weapon? Certainly, classroom management would achieve a new and frightening register!! Pre-service teachers would now enroll at shooting ranges rather than into classrooms and would be rewarded for their marksmanship rather than their knowledge of material and pedagogy.
     It is no surprise that a man who does not read—and maybe only barks at a few words when print is actually placed before him—would offer teachers bonuses for their marksmanship but not for their intelligence and expertise to facilitate learning. Not higher salaries for the remarkably difficult work of the classroom, but bonuses (monies for ‘extra work’ that really has nothing to do with a teacher’s work). This is an administration that takes money away from the public schools and leaves those schools resource deprived. This is an administration that governs by tweets and gathers much of its information from Fox News and that holds education in contempt. This from a man who governs by ridicule, intimidation, bluster and lies.
     Daily this administration terrorizes us with its cruelty, cravenness, and absurdity. I do not think there is anybody governing this country at present. I am concerned for the children. I am worried about the earth. And I am fearful for our survival.