There is a lot of talk on social media about not letting the barrage of crazy shit coming out of the White House overwhelm us into paralysis.
The best of these messages came from my pal Flo, who I will quote here:
“The important thing for all of us to remember is that we must not let our ‘shock’ define the narrative here. That is, the founding fathers had this scenario, among others in mind, when establishing judicial, legislative and other remedies to counteract this type of behavior. Our job is to make sure the checks and balances are utilized to the fullest extent by those we elected to govern.”
Bless Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham for their words on Saturday. Other members of the legislative and judicial branches need to join them in growing a pair. The Legislative and Judicial branches of government standing up to the Executive is our only non-violent alternative to the damage Presidents Bannon, Conway and Trump are working to create.
So, People, drag out your words and start writing. I just dashed this off to Senator Ron Johnson. It might not be a masterpiece, but that is not the point.
Dear Senator Johnson:
I am asking you to remember our system of checks and balances, and to stand up for what is right.
This country was founded by men of their time, men who were forward-thinking, men who had lived under oppression and who came together to form “a more perfect union.”
Their vision was messy, but it has endured (and survived a Civil War) for more than 200 years.
Now, our union is again under attack from the inside. As a citizen, I can raise my voice and stand up for the America I love – the America that provides opportunity for all regardless of race, creed or circumstances of birth. An America that provided public education and welcomed my four grandparents, who fled Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. Family members who did not lie in unmarked mass graves, killed by the Nazis.
You, Sir, can do much more. You are in a position to stand up for what is right and to use your voice to stop the slide from the Democratic Republic envisioned by the Founding Fathers to an authoritarian regime.
I love my country, Sir, and am deeply concerned at the events of the past week. I do not support Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson or Jeff Sessions and am appalled at the lack of forethought that appears to be emanating from the executive branch.
I ask you to think deeply about history and to stand up to the administration around policies and individuals that threaten the future of our country and the world. The recent ill-considered decisions regarding immigration and health care policy would be good places to start.
Any time you want to meet to discuss these things in person, I would be willing, able and grateful.
Ever been told to be careful about that sour expression on your face because “It might freeze like that?”
The truth is actually simpler and more complicated, and I offer up as Exhibits A (male) & B (female) our current mess of a president and one of his “counselors.”
Look at Donald Trump’s and Kellyanne Conway’s faces and try to imagine that you’ve never seen them before.
Now, picture yourself in a situation where you need to ask a stranger for some small thing – standing on a corner in a strange city and not being sure whether to turn left or right to reach your destination, wanting to know what time it is or whether you just missed the bus you’re waiting to catch.
Do they look like people you’d want to ask?
Over the past five years, I have been spending a lot of time hanging out with old people. And by “old people,” I mean the 80-plus set.
Back when 30 seemed like 100 and I blew out the candles on my eighth birthday cake, those people looked unimaginably ancient. Now, those eight and 30-year-olds look at me and see what I saw back then.
[Confession/digression: I kind of like it. Sure, mass media is all about youth and beauty, and it might be fun to be firm and wrinkle-free and all. But the truth is that learning to steer older has been a fairly smooth ride.
Benefits include the ability to call out someone with nothing more than a smile and a kind word or two. There’s zero attitude and the exchange often moves on from there, ending on an upbeat note for everyone involved. Which is, I think, is directly connected to my sense of entitlement – or lack thereof.]
An angry co-worker at a previous job once accused me of thinking I owned the world, and in my head I was l all, “Well, yeah, and so do you!”
Also at that previous job was an older female co-worker whose features could have settled into something pretty, or gentle, but didn’t. She looked mean. Because she was mean.
I’ve spent a lot of time since then observing old people – and that was way before Mom went to the nursing home. The result is my Old People Hypothesis.
Old People Hypothesis: As we age, we tend to look more on the outside like we are on the inside.
In other words, that mean-looking older person (assuming they haven’t had “work” done or been caught up by some disease that changed their physical appearance) is likely to be a mean older person. Conversely, the one whose default expression is soft and kind is also likely to be soft and kind.
I see it with the residents in Mom’s nursing home, and I see it now with Kellyanne Conway, who, at 50, already is well on her way to a truly gruesome old-person face. Then there’s her boss. Who, at 70, looks on the outside the way he is on the inside.
The Old People Hypothesis doesn’t extend to spreading that ugliness around. But after his first week in office, I’m pretty sure of one thing for those of us out here on the ground.
Killing ‘em with kindness has never mattered more.
By this time tomorrow, a Giant Bowl of Id and his minions will be running the country. I’m anxious and I know I’m not alone.
We need to band together and work to make sure this doesn’t happen in four years, including making sure mid-term elections head us in that direction.
But demoralized, depressed people don’t band together. They isolate. We can’t afford that.
So here are five ground rules for living in the orbit of a volatile, inconsistent narcissist who is doing his best to implement a system that has the power to mess with your equilibrium and potentially derail your life – without letting him.
1. If you don’t already have a support system, find one. Friends make a difference.
2. Choose at least one thing that is entirely yours and guard it with all you’ve got. It can be as simple as a 10-minute head-clearing walk every day, keeping a journal, joining an athletic team or learning to play the ukulele. Something small, simple and sanity-inducing that is completely within your control.
3. If engaging with someone difficult or toxic, keep communication simple. In a potentially adversarial or threatening situation, the smartest and best thing is to listen carefully, then RESPOND ONLY TO WHAT WAS ASKED OR STATED as briefly and succinctly as possible. Do not color outside the verbal lines.
4. Be water. Water can reshape itself, moving into places where other things can’t go, seeping unnoticed into corners and crevices and, over time, cause irreversible changes.
5. Above all, be kind to yourself.
2016 is in the rear-view mirror. Last night, we attended a New Year’s Eve party at a house we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to for the past several Dec. 31sts. The host (a guy about my age) remarked that, “We’re old enough that the people who influenced us are starting to die off.”
The observation was his response to my sharing that William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the sitcom “M.A.S.H.,” had joined David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Pfife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and others in wherever it is we End Up after we’re Not Here. (I am not discounting that we simply become ash or worm fodder, but given that death remains a Great Mystery, remain open to any and all possibilities.)
Which is one reason (shoutout to Eddie Izzard), I baked and brought a cake to the party.
The others were:
- At last year’s party, I didn’t have a job. This year, I do. That alone is worth cake.
- My first run at this particular cake – four layers with lemon curd filling, covered in seven-minute icing – was a month ago for my book group. It turned out well, but I wanted to try it again with a few tweaks. (ie: Upping the tart factor to showcase the lemon and getting the icing to not be so runny. I succeeded with the former, not so much with the latter.)
- There’d be a guaranteed gluten-free dessert, which could be my little secret.
The party seemed less crowded this year. One difference was the absence of vote trollers. Last year, going into an election season, there were a lot of “bright young things” (quotes intentional) sparkling up the front room, willingly engaging with anyone they considered worthy (each other) and pretty much ignoring the rest of us. I’m not entirely sad that the only bright young things there this year were the regular wonderful ones, and not just because (huzzah!) it meant more grilled tenderloin for the rest of us.
Tenderloin and cake aside, it’s good to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s happening around us at various points along the way.
Which, for those of us old enough to have children in their 20s, 30s and 40s (whether or not we actually do), might be causing a few … twinges.
Those children are adults, with all the responsibilities and privileges that word carries. And, at the same time, as Kevin wisely observes, the generation-up people we saw as heroes and role models – and some similarly-situated age peers – are dying within the time frame of a normal life span. (Some are at the younger end of that spectrum, but still within the boundaries of “normal.”)
Getting old enough to die at the point where no one is shocked at how “too young” you were is a strange rite of passage. I don’t spend a ton of time brooding about what that means, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about it at all.
As what is shaping up to be a surreal and potentially interesting interval in the life the world as we know it, or to put it more succinctly, 2017, commences, I’m trying to keep an open mind about things.
One certainty that is becoming clearer is making the best use of the time I have in front of me. Part of that involves making more words, more cake, taking the best possible care I can of the people I love and of the world in which I live.
Regarding that last, loving the world in which I live means doing my bit to create the one I want to leave for everyone else. Seeing the world as it is and not as I want it to be isn’t easy. Talking honestly about it isn’t always politic. But unless you’re willing to look at – and call by name – what’s happening in front of you, you’ll never be able to change it.
So, 2017, here’s a toast. L’Chaim and no bullshit.
This morning, I woke up to the Facebook village and Twittesphere going nuts over what happened when Vice-President Elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton” last night.
My first thought was “Geez! If I’d known becoming vice president would have helped me get ‘Hamilton’ tickets, I would have applied for the job.”
But who am I kidding? There’s no question that my political leanings, vagina and average looks would have completely disqualified me from consideration.
On a more serious note, there were a couple of FB posts calling what the cast did “rude and out of line.”
My question, voiced to those posters, was this: When would they have been able to have that kind of access and opportunity to be heard? And that doesn’t just go for the cast of “Hamilton,” who, once the makeup and costumes are off, are just ordinary working Joes and Janes like the rest of us.
Their 90-second address, delivered by Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, was a respectfully-delivered request. He spoke to the fear and anxiety many people are feeling about their well-being and that of people they love and care about. He refused to let the audience boo Mr. Pence.
It was a heartfelt speech, a request for reassurance in a situation where it is becoming increasingly apparent that reassurance is needed.
From all I’m seeing, the Trump/Pence administration is going to do everything it can to limit access to anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they believe in or want to do. This includes the press, which they seem to want to keep in the dark as much as possible. That scares the you-know-what out of a lot of us.
So Friday was a singular chance to be heard, and the cast seized its moment.
I’ve been seizing display space at the library, and, because of it was able, yesterday, to seize my own “be heard” moment.
The morning after the election, I cleared out my “He said/She said” display. This (below) is what I put in its place.
Then, this past Wednesday, one of my favorite recent reads, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” received the National Book Award. So Thursday, I made a display. It was an Oprah’s Book Club picture, so I didn’t think she’d mind me borrowing this 2004 shot of her looking extremely happy (she was giving away cars). On Friday, a woman came in looking for the book. I felt just like Oprah when I handed it to her. I also seized the opportunity to recommend “Underground Airlines” by Ben Winters and “The Sellout,” by Paul Beatty, which just won the Man Booker Prize.
I hope that woman likes the book and comes back for the others, but even if she doesn’t, seizing a moment to share something valuable is a valuable thing to do.
So go out there and seize your chance to be heard. In the face of uncertainty, a little love and reassurance (in many forms, including between the covers of a good book) can go a long way.
Kudos to the “Hamilton” crew for showing us how to do it with grace and dignity.
Dear American Muslims and others feeling unsettled by the possibility of no longer being safe in your own country:
There is no delicate way to say what I am about to say, so I am just going to say two things that have been running through my mind since Tuesday night.
- I am so sorry for what you are all going through. My heart is with you.
- You now understand, in a way more visceral than any Jew of my generation, the reason for the creation of a Jewish homeland – which, although originally posited for anywhere available, ended up as the State of Israel in the Middle East.
Regarding the current state of Israel, its prime minister, its issues around settlements and all the other complications and messy realities of statecraft and daily life, please set it aside for purposes of this discussion. Not because those aren’t valid topics for conversation – they absolutely are – but because it’s not the issue I’m addressing here.
In 70 CE, the Romans dispersed most (not all, but pretty much all but the equivalent of a tiny rural village’s worth) of the country’s Jews. From then until 1948, we were an itinerant crew, depending on the hospitality and governmental vagaries of the countries to which we managed to hie ourselves.
It’s not a happy history. There’s a joke that so many Jewish kids played violin because you could pick one up and run when you got kicked out of whatever country you were living in. Jews got really good at languages, because they had to learn so many. When we were allowed to live in a place, we were often made to keep to a restricted part of town, and wear visible clothing that marked us as different. (Note: It was a thing WAY before Nazi Germany.)
My lifetime has been a period of what is best described as a golden age for Jews. I live in a country where, for the most part, we’ve been pretty welcome. (Exceptions exist, but again, not the issue I’m addressing here.)
Some of that is due to what happened in 1948, when the Jews got what no generation for more than 1,000 years had had – a place of our own, a country of refuge in which we would never be “other.” A country where national holidays would be our holidays, our shared culture and religious observance would be the norm and not the exception, where we could raise our babies and care for our elders without having to explain what “kosher” entails. Most of all, it was a country where we never wondered when a mob would burn our neighborhood, round us up and run us out of town, arrest and/or kill us.
Everything else aside, it’s a terrible thing to feel unsettled in your own home, whether that means the space on the furniture-filled side of your front door or the space beyond it, the public space.
I live in the United States because my grandparents fled Russia and Ukraine. I don’t want my country to be a place where those of us who are different are made to feel “less than.”
That said, I’m not gonna lie. Knowing what – and that – my forebears sacrificed to try and create a place that would take me and mine in without question gives me a sense of place and security.
It requires something else too. Because of my history, I have an obligation to do as much to ensure the physical, emotional and moral safety of those around me. Whatever happens over the next four years, for better or worse, I’ve got your backs. We’re in this together.