27 November 2008

Thanksgiving, 2008

Thanksgiving, 2008. On the national level, there is a great deal for which to be thankful. We have, after all, a new President—Barack Obama. A sense of hope in the midst of real crisis. A silver lining in a very dark cloud.

Professionally (which I am arbitrarily distinguishing from the personal), I continue to grow in the classroom, and to even receive satisfaction from my engagement there. My writing proceeds, albeit slowly and fitfully (it is my thinking that is fitful—if I could only repair it then the writing would occur more facilely, but then, I suppose, it wouldn’t be my thinking at all), and I publish regularly and cheerfully, remaining still, relatively unknown.

On a more personal level, though yes, the annual paranoid Death Watch continues, I have a relatively clean bill of health. I am experiencing episodes of idiopathic hemolytic anemia. This is an autoimmune condition in which antibodies attach to the red blood cells and kill them. This leaves a depleted level of red blood cells with all the attendant consequences of this lack. Apparently, this version of the anemia is very idiosyncratic—hence the descriptor, idiopathic, and therefore, there is no known cause and therefore, no known cure. Though medicines were prescribed, and my health improved, the doctors don’t know if the medicines actually treated the condition, or if the anemia just cleared on its own. Relatedly, since there is no known cause, a reoccurrence might happen at any time for reasons unknown. This prognosis reminds me of weather forecasting: there is a great deal of science behind the crap shoot. One theory the doctor proposes is that the condition is triggered by the change of seasons and the onset of cold: cold agglutin, he calls it. I remind him that I live in Wisconsin, and am not inclined to move to Hawaii. He smiles patronizingly. He prescribed folic acid, which I can get in the Health Food Store. However, I am comforted that the condition is not at all life threatening, and so, I intend to write in this space regularly and irregularly for the next year at least. I may run less miles, but I hope to continue to spend two or three mornings a week with Gary out on the trail. But at least now this idiopathic hemolytic anemia gives some substance to the neuroses, which is always a relief.

And from where does the paranoia derive? Ah, many places, but I can honestly point to Yossarian, in Heller’s Catch-22. You might recall how the book begins, “They’re trying to kill me!” Yossarian complains. “Who?” “Everyone!! Every cell in my body is just waiting to turn traitor!”

That said, there is a beautifully set table, my beautiful daughters in attendance, a full house of friends, and a filled cornucopia of food and drink. It’s a good life, finally.

Happy Thanksgiving.

23 November 2008

Luddite Leanings

The ire of the Luddite in me has been rising, of late. Though I adore my technology—the computer, the cell phone, the PDA, the stereo, the flat screen television and my KitchenAid mixer—I am more and more troubled by the subtle (and not so subtle) changes this technology makes not only in my life, but how I think about life. I’ve been thinking about emails today. And what disturbed me was the impermanence of the communication. Oh, I know that in a pinch all emails are recoverable. I know government officials who despair of this reality; there are not a few congress people whose jobs have been lost when their emails would not disappear. Roth’s novel The Human Stain turns on an irrecoverable, embarrassing, and incriminating email message which must be explained because it will not simply go away.

But, really, what we write in an email disappears by a thoughtless (or even thoughtful) mouse and/or key click. Though I carefully craft my words (we carefully craft our words, don’t we?), so are they disappeared with absolutely no real physical trace. Not the smoke of a burnt page, or the violence of crumpled pages, or the air-splitting tear of paper into smaller and smaller remnants. No confetti to litter our floors or our hearts. Indeed, this reality leads me to care cursorily about the messages I compose in the first place: someone is going to delete it all too quickly! Oh, our email messages exist somehow as excited electrons somewhere, but there is no physical file into which the message goes for the sake of posterity. Oh yes, as I have suggested, government emails are probably more sacrosanct and recoverable, but what will the rest of us do now that letters have ceased being a primary form of communication and been replaced by ephemeral emails. What will historians do? Will there be no ribboned bound boxes into which letters are put, no stuffed filed drawers filled with correspondence stained by coffee, ink, fingerprints, and tears? What if I get a lovely email and wish to return to it again and again: I can save it, I suppose, in some file on my computer, but there is nothing to touch, no physical evidence onto which I can hold of the reality of another human hand anywhere. I can’t carry the message to sit with before the fire sipping tea or brandy and desiring some sympathy. Rather, if I want to savor the message, I have to sit in front of this bloody screen in order to even see it, and here there is no romance or feeling. And to get here I have too often to sludge my way through the cold and snow.

More, the technology has come to mean that I can never be alone, but am eminently findable everywhere. Or worse, that I am eminently alone because my children keep ignoring me to text their friends who are texting them. No matter where we are, there they are, too.

And what about civility? Every time I answer the phone in public, I make a public statement that everything out there can be disappeared at my response to the ring. Everytime I make a phone call, I disappear the world. And everytime my phone rings, like Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s banquet, in my quiet times I am beset by visitations.

I’ve promised myself not to answer the phone when I am dealing with a salesclerk. I declare myself Free to be You and Me. I have begged my children to text me only when there is a ‘crisis,’ a term whose definition we haven’t quite negotiated yet.

15 November 2008

Joan Baez

Joan Baez was in concert this past Thursday evening at the State Theater in Minneapolis. It was a Homecoming. When I was seventeen years old, I picked up Renee Lerner in my family’s beat up gray Chevrolet station wagon and took her to hear Joan Baez at the Hempstead Arena on Long Island.

When Joan Baez came out on stage (my fifteen year old daughter was clearly one of the youngest in the audience), she announced that she was celebrating two events: the first was that our country was clean again; and the second that she had been performing for fifty years. Of the first celebration I have not ceased to speak since November 4: we have indeed entered a new moment in history, and I am glad that I can be a part of it, in a way not at all dissimilar to my great thrill to have lived during the 1960s and the moments of the Civil Right Movement, and Beatles, and Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. I have lived through wonderful moments in history. And this moment is as precious and shattering as are the previous. It is over: the reign of terror, the horrible reign of history and slavery and racism. I walked on campus yesterday behind two African-Americans, and I felt different: they shared the color of the President of the United States. It is a new world.

And the celebration that Joan Baez announced immersed me in that very history. With the first song, “Lily of the West,” I was thrown back to the beginning of my relationship with her—forty-five or so years ago. And all of the history of that past forty-five years stood on that stage with her. Her singing, her activism, her relationship with Dylan, her anti-war stand, her marriage to David Harris, his imprisonment for draft resistance, her retreat to a quiet and relative peace, her regular concert appearances, and now her celebration.

I lost touch with her over the years. I am not certain why—I think I have lost touch with a great deal with what once gave me strength. Perhaps that is a definition of getting old. I’d like to cease that deadly movement right now, and reconnect myself to recovered and new sources of life and sustenance. Joan Baez is certainly one of those sources.

Her last song was an a capella version of “Amazing Grace.” And without a word of urging, everyone in the audience sang with her. It was a prayerful moment. I have experienced such events at Arlo Guthrie concerts, though not with the holy aura pervading the event this evening. Tonight was a moment of Thanksgiving two weeks before Thanksgiving, and one week after an historical moment for which to give thanks. I think Anna Rose appreciated the historicity of the moment, and she allowed me to experience my emotion. I don’t know many people that offer me that respect.

11 November 2008

Last Rights

I’m reading a great deal of garbage about the graciousness of His Royal Highness in his recent meetings with Barack Obama. In the Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon writes, “But no matter what you think of George W. Bush, he is a true gentleman.” Well, in the worlds in which I move, that would all depend on the definition of ‘gentleman?’ I do believe it was gentlemen who colonized India, Australia, and Africa, at least. I think it was ‘gentlemen’ who purchased the slaves captured from Africa. The label gentlemen provides no description, and certainly no answers. A man all dressed up while an American city drowns is not a gentleman. A man who , with pinky daintily raised, drinks his tea and lies to my face, is hardly a gentleman. A man who will not have pizza delivered to the White House, but will torture and starve illegally held prisoners is hardly a gentleman. A man who insists on wearing a suit but eagerly strips American citizens of their civil liberties is hardly a gentleman. The list goes on and on and on, but it sickens me to record it: but, as Rush Limbaugh defined the word, these gentlemanly postures , to my mind, makes Bush a ‘thug.’ And I don’t know what to call the gun-toting Cheney. I read in the press that Rahm Emanuel is noted for his quick temper, his hard politics, and his refusal to listen to dribble. Nothing in these reports about his needing to hunt and kill animals with his friends, some of whom he may shoot by accident.

Sometimes, when I have been in a horribly uncomfortable situation for a period of time, and the moment of its ending seems to be approaching, I gather my energies and I assume a pleasant manner, as if I am sorry the event must end. Oh well, la-de-dah, we must get together again soon. Have you heard the one about . . .?”

The imminent relief is so palpable that I am transformed into an almost civil person. America seems in that state right now: so relieved that the Reign of Terror is over that it looks with some sympathy on the nightmares that have occupied the White House for the past eight years. But really the terrors have been here since at least 1994, when the unethical Newt Gingrich rode to town on a platform of ethics and rightness. And how can I forget Ronald Reagan, though his forgetting is memorable.

No, I will not go gently into that good night; I will not wax nostaligic over the gentleman George Bush, nor forget what he did and what he and his ilk stand for. I will rage, rage, and continue to rage. And with Golde, in Fiddler on the Roof, spit onto my pinkie to keep the evil spirits away.

05 November 2008

The Reign of Terror is Over

The Reign of Terror is over. Barack Hussein Obama has been elected President of the United States, and Joseph Biden will serve as its Vice-President. And despite McCain’s gracious concession speech, the repulsive accusations, and suspicions raised, and lied told during the campaign are not forgotten or excused. They can be forgiven, I suspect, but the bitter taste they leave corrupts everything that follows from them. And Sarah Palin can go back to Alaska and try to learn something about the world she had the effrontery (the chutzpah) believe she could govern. Or perhaps she should pursue what she claims to do best: coach hockey. Her ascension to the Presidency haunted my waking and sleeping moments. I never quite believed we had elected the actor, Ronald Reagan, and I have avoided confronting the reality of George W. Bush for eight years. I have not listened him once on the radio or the television; whatever he says has no meaning because he hardly seems to understand what he is saying. At least I can now listen to the radio again. Once in my voting life (forty full years now) I knew a Republican who earned my vote, and the party drummed him out as soon as it was possible to do so: Charles Goodell, appointed by Nelson Rockefeller to fill the Senate term of the assassinated Robert Kennedy. I hope that the members of this administration—an insult to the party which Lincoln headed and Goodell represented—crawl back into their little holes and disappear from public existence. I hope that their existences become hard and that they know little personal satisfaction for the remainder of their miserable lives. When I think of them, I think of Amalek: do not for forget what Amalek did to you on the journey of the exodus from Egypt. And what Amalek did was attack from the rear, where the elderly and the weak were most likely to be found. Amalek is the perpetual enemy of the Jewish people: his lineage extends forward all the way to Haman and other tyrant’s whose names begin with H.

I awoke this morning to fresh air. I stood the same and taller, and I walked out for my newspaper and coffee with hope that my children will have the possibility of a world filled with hope, and courage, and the world of my children will not be filled with despair and misery. I think my daughters responded the same: the older voted for the first time, and the second texted me late to say that Obama seemed to have won. When I paid for my bagel, the server I regularly see handed me my change and said, “Have a good day.” I responded, I’m going to have a great day,” This particular server is African-American, she broke into a huge smile. She knew exactly to what I referred; she must have voted for Obama, too. The quality of her day, too, was changed by his election.

And the air was fresher for America having elected an African-American forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The catharsis I experienced was palpable; my whole body celebrated this brave new world with such people in't. And how ironic, that to save America, Americans have turned to a Black man to lead them out of the wilderness.

This little light of mine, well, I'm gonna let it shine, and shine, and shine.