Leave it to memory me

21 02 2018

My Aunt Charlotte died today.

She was up and about in her assisted-living apartment, had a chat with her youngest daughter, was a bit winded so took a seat just before or while getting a nebulizer treatment, and when the nurse returned, she was gone.

Just like that, she was gone.

Not “just like that”, really. She’d been in and out of the hospital for the past 6 months, year, and she was in her eighties. Still, I thought I’d see her again.

I saw her at my niece’s wedding this past June, but didn’t get a pic of her; here’s one from 10 years ago, probably at that same niece’s graduation:

She was a funny lady, always crabbing about something but always with good humor. She could dish it out, take it, then dish out some more. Her kids, my three cousins, were terrible with her, which is to say, wonderful. They loved her and she loved them.

I worked for her when I was in high school. She ran a janitorial service, so a few nights a week during the summer I’d head down to her place and we’d (sometimes one of her kids, sometimes my brother) head to some business in Sheboygan—a bank, say, or a law office—and empty trash cans and wash windows and vacuum and clean the bathroom. It didn’t pay much, and she expected good work, but she didn’t didn’t exactly crack the whip with us. Once I went off to college, that was the end of my employment with her, but my brother spent a few years during and after high school cleaning.

Char always had something going on. She worked long after she probably needed to, but she like to get out, liked her independence. She lived in the house where she grew up, one of the oldest ones in Falls, and she was a common sight at the local coffee shops and diners. And she’d always show up to her grandkids’ games and plays and whatnot, griping about the cold or the hard benches—but never about the grandkids. They loved her and she loved them.

I always liked to see her when I was back in Falls. We’d sit down and she’d have a story and pretty soon we were laughing and teasing each other. When I was little I’d sometimes stay over at her house, and I have the vaguest memory of her dog, Schnappsie. Schnappsie was a dachshund, and I liked to sit on her couch with my back slightly out, so that Schnappsie could snuggle in behind me, his head off one hip with his tail off the other.

One more story: her house, as I mentioned, was old, with the requisite gloomy basement. But one year, at a party of some sort or another, the tornado siren went off, so we all crowded down into it with our plates of cake and sodas, folding chairs spread out next to the caved-in cistern. I don’t know if or where that tornado touched down, but we kept on going.

I feel bad for my cousins, losing their mom, but I feel even worse for my mom. Her oldest (half-) sister, Mickey (née Thelma), died years ago, but the age distance was so great that they didn’t have much of a relationship. Charlotte was next, and then Janet (who is ailing), and then my mom. My mom and Charlotte talked regularly; they were close, they loved each other.

Here’s a shot of all of them with their parents and some cousins:

That’s my Aunt Mickey, on the far left, with her son, Ted, my grandpa behind her. Charlotte’s next to Mickey, with my mom right in front of her and Janet next to my mom; that’s my grandma (who died before I was born) behind Janet, and the cousins, Kay and Violet, on the right.

That was almost 72 years ago.

My mom’s the youngest, as I’m the youngest not just of our immediate family, but of that generation of McCues. There are children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these McCues, scattered across the country. I won’t be able to make it back to Wisconsin for the funeral, but many of us will.

Because she was Charlotte, and she was loved.

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Does your conscience bother you

25 01 2018

How do you live with yourself knowing that you at best did nothing to stop a predator, at worst aided in the predation?

The case of Larry Nassar is likely one of the worst cases of sexual abuse by a single individual in US sports, if not US society. The number of victims who testified at his sentencing hearing is 156; about 40 more submitted testimony anonymously, and still others have stated that they, too, were abused by Nassar.

Nassar, justly, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Yes, I believe we incarcerate too many people, for too long and in too horrid conditions. I support sentencing and prison reform. I also believe some of us have behaved so monstrously towards others of us that they have lost their right to live among those on whom they would prey. So, yes, I think it is just that Nassar will live and die a prisoner.

But what of all those who enabled him, who didn’t stop him? Rachael Denhollander, who was the first victim willing to identify herself as such,

said she felt certain the officials had been told. It seemed impossible to her that no one knew about it. From the practiced way Nassar did what he did, it seemed like he had done it thousands of times. (Which he later admitted to doing.) “This must be medical treatment,” Denhollander remembered thinking. “The problem must be me.”

Denhollander would later learn that women and girls had come forward before she walked into Nassar’s office in 2000. Four women to be exact. None of them were believed. That’s the reason why Denhollander spent a large chunk of her statement indicting the institutions that enabled Nassar’s abuse to go on, unabated, for nearly thirty years.

These institutions include Michigan State University, which conducted self-examinations which—surprise!—revealed no wrongdoing, and USA Gymnastics, which “kept secret files with sexual abuse allegations against member coaches rather than immediately forwarding those complaints to the police.”

Yes, yes, institutions turning away from inconvenient truths: nothing new about that. But how do you, as a person, turn away? The coach, colleagues, the president of the university: they supported Nassar, dismissed complaints, pleaded ignorance. They didn’t want to know.

Is that it, finally? They didn’t want to know? Because it was, what? unpleasant? a hassle? Because it was more important to think of themselves as good than actually to do good?

I ask because as much as I’d like to think I’d say HEY!, would I, really?

I don’t know that I’d do it out of a sense of Kantian duty—to do the right thing for the right reason—but I think there’s a decent chance that I’d realize that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t step up. Universal law may set the absolute standard, but as a non-absolutist, I’ll have to make do with conscience.

That conscience is not unerring, but it keeps working on me, perhaps because I keep working on it. And maybe because I do the work, it’s possible that I’d think, Hey, and so thinking, say Hey!, and maybe even shout HEY!

Again, I don’t know for sure that I would, but I do know that if I didn’t, well, that would mark me for the rest of my days. I would be diminished.

So how will these enablers live with themselves? Will they, like MSU President Simon, cover themselves in ashes while pronouncing themselves righteous? (You think I exaggerate? I do not.) Will they deflect and deny, or downplay the severity of the crimes? Will they keep themselves whole, and hollow?

What will they do?

~~~

Ursula Le Guin died yesterday. I like her stuff, but as a fitful sci-fi fan, have more to read than I have read.

Still, when I was reading all of Dvora Meyers’s and the other Deadspin staff’s reporting on Nassar (and, really, you should follow all of those links I provided, then the links within the links) I did think of one of the Le Guin’s stories I did read: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

Unlike many of you, I didn’t read this in school: I only read it for the first time a few years ago. But it insinuated itself into me, is still working on me.

I don’t know that I’d walk away—I mean, I live in the US: I haven’t walked away—which is why I’m not sure that I’d have done the right thing by all of those girls and women.

Ach, I could say, it’s not the same, not at all the same. But I’m not so sure, I’m not at all so sure.





It’s just a game that can’t go on (pt. 4)

16 01 2018

Cont.

59. I think this’ll be the last iteration of the list. It’ll end on the number it ends on.

60. I was never a super-fan of the Cranberries (although I did have 2 of their cds), but I did like them. Hearing of Dolores O’Riordan’s death has made me more wistful for the time I listened to her music than the music itself—after all, I can still listen to the music—but I’m sorry for whatever she went through prior to her death.

61. No, I don’t know if she killed herself, but, well, it’s a damned shame she died so young.

62. I don’t go out a lot, and when I do go out, I generally mind my sixes. However, once a year or so I light up the night.

63. So, yeah, got that whole lit thing checked off for 2018.

64. I don’t know if Donald Trump is either physically or cognitively impaired and I don’t care.

65. What makes him unfit is not his physique, and it’s not as if he were less self-aggrandizing when younger.

66. His policies are terrible, but there are many people with terrible policies (including slim senator Tom Cotton or Mr. Workout, Paul Ryan) who are not unfit in the same ways.

67. Cotton and Ryan have commitments—terrible, wretched commitments—beyond their own selves. These men should be opposed for their policies, but they do manifest, it pains me to say, some understanding of principle and of public service.

68. God, I think I died a little writing that. But yeah, those two are old-school shitty, terrible in an ordinary way.

69. Trump, on the other hand, untethered to any idea or person beyond himself, is so far out there that the usual partisan epithets cannot capture the wrongness of his presidency.

70. So, no, I don’t care why he’s so wrong, just that he’s so wrong, and all the damage this wrongness combined with his (and his fellow Republicans) old-school wretchedness will inflict on so many of us.

71. In the first installment of this list I noted that I liked Kirsten Gillibrand, and, yeah, I do.

72. But two things: one, the elections this November matter more immediately than who might run for president in 2020.

73. I have no predictions about the midterms.

74. I trust no predictions about the midterms.

75. Let’s see who the candidates are and the races they run and then. . . I still will make no predictions.

76. And two, I’d like to see a big ol’ stuffed Democratic primary, with candidates from all over the country, from both state and federal levels, and with all kinds of backgrounds.

77. I don’t particularly want to see Oprah run, and don’t know why she would—the presidency, remember, is an exercise in failure, and she’s someone who likes to win—but hell, if she wants to jump in, that’ll, huh, that would be interesting.

78. I don’t particularly want to see Joe Biden run. I enjoyed his “Uncle Joe” schtick as vice president and thought he was a pretty good veep for Obama, but, man, no.

79. He’s too old, his legislative policy record isn’t great, and I am not encouraged by what he says today about his treatment of Anita Hill back then.

80. I don’t particularly want to see Bernie Sanders run—too old, and, goddammit, if you want to run as a Democrat, then join the goddamned party—but he has inspired a lot of people with his give-’em-hell approach to econ issues, so having him in the race wouldn’t be the worst thing.

81. I don’t particularly want to see Elizabeth Warren run–she’s veering on too old—but, as with Sanders, her critique of business as usual in the governments—and the Dem’s—approach to the economy is sharp.

82. Again, if neither she nor Sanders were to run, I hope multiple someones with their left-econ agendas do.

83. Back to the midterms: I am deeply ambivalent about Chelsea Manning’s actions, and almost certainly would not vote for her in a primary.

84. I am in general in favor of greater transparency at all levels of government and think far too much info is over-classified and for too long a time.

85. However, I also accept, reluctantly, that some info should, in the moment, be secret.

86. I don’t know where that line is “in the moment”—I think after some reasonable period of time all info should be released to the public—and, honestly, I don’t know enough to know if or when Manning (or Snowden) crossed it. Hence my ambivalence.

87. But I do think that whistleblowers do have to be prepared to discuss this, at some length and in public, with those who can thoughtfully make an argument against disclosure.

88. Man, this is tough: my default sympathies are with the leakers. But. But sometimes leakers may be wrong to leak.

89. Anyway, I’m glad her sentence was commuted and that she seems to be doing well in life: I thought her treatment in the brig and in prison was unjust, so was glad she was released.

90. But I still think if Manning wants to serve the public, then she needs a fuller accounting of the actions which brought her to the public’s notice.

91. So, how to end this list? How about a plea for recommendations for solid histories on the Hapsburgs, on Napolean, and on the French Revolution? I have Furet’s 2-vol set on the revolution, but I always prefer multiple takes on complex events.

92. Oh, wait, let’s instead end with Henry, my great-nephew: he’s now walking and teething and is a happy, laid-back boy.

93. Chill-baby Henry, yeah, let’s end there.

Fin.





I’ve seen the dead walk among the living (pt. 3)

11 01 2018

Cont.

36. When #MeToo hit I thought, Oh, this is good, that people are talking about this. But I didn’t think #MeToo.

37. I’ve never been raped. I’ve never sexually harassed at work, grabbed on the train, hassled on the sidewalk. Not really.

38. Not really. I mean, yes, I’ve dealt with some shit, but, y’know, not like what other women have gone through. Sure, there some words, some grabbiness, some threats, but that didn’t count, did it? It’s just. . . what happens, sometimes.

39. And I mostly haven’t thought about it: it’s been nothing, not like what other women have gone through.

40. Do I just want to fit in? I’ve never really fit in with women, with women’s experiences. Sure, I feel like a women and other women recognize me as such, but I’ve always felt just off to the side.

41. Maybe I was nudged here or shoved here, maybe I drifted here, but I’ve mostly been fine being off to the side. Mostly. Mostly because I don’t know what it would be to be in the midst.

42. Anyway, I wondered, was I trying to make #MeToo about me when it really wasn’t? Was I trying to horn in on something that, really, wasn’t mine?

43. Or maybe I just stopped paying attention to things that other women, many younger women, have rightly said Bullshit! to. Maybe it’s not (just) about the worst thing happening, but that that petty shit even happens at all.

44. And that that worst thing is always there, the omnipresent threat: watch out and take care and don’t walk there and is it dark and did I latch that window and where are the people and where are the exits.

45. It’s background. It’s normal. Keep your eyes open and ears open and those times you drank too much and made it home safe, you were lucky, you were lucky.

46. I’ve been lucky.

47. Anyway, I don’t know if #MeToo, but I’m paying attention, now.

48. And I’m paying attention to how this is working its way through our culture(s), how the conversations are policed.

49. Some, older women, older feminists, are disdainful, dismissive. I think they’re wrong, but given my own uncertainties about my own place in this conversation, I can’t just dismiss them in turn.

50. This is what they’re used to, this is what they’ve managed, this is how they’ve lived.

51. They may be charged with a lack of empathic imagination, they may have forgotten all of the women who were with them when they were young, who fell away because they couldn’t get used to it, couldn’t manage it, couldn’t live with it, but they are not enemies.

52. Are they to be pitied for what they lack? Oh, no, certainly not: I mean, would you pity Catherine Deneuve?

53. But this moment has a history, and this history has currents, and not all of us are wading in the same river.

54. And, anyway, beyond noting that they’ve said this, what else is to be done with them? They took what power they could, but they were not the ones who shaped power, not the ones who could grant it in turn. Their attitudes may be problematic, but these women are not the problem.

55. So what is to be done with the problem—and, again, the problem is one of a system, of many systems, of men mistreating women? I don’t know, and because I don’t know, I’m willing to say Try everything.

56. Really: try everything. Try the mild and the radical, trying smashing against and working within, try lawsuits and black clothes and pins and hashtags and calling out and standing up and sitting down and everything, everything.

57. Everything, I have to remind myself, includes gentleness and patience and empathy for those who are kicking with everything they have, even—especially—when I think their aim is a bit off.

58. After all, I don’t know what will work, and maybe their aim isn’t off at all.

To be continued.





It’s not a matter of fate, it’s just a question of time, and we all fall down (pt. 2)

5 01 2018

Cont.

23. The ever-present dread: your struggles only matter once you’ve overcome them.

24. Camus, of course, reminded us both that the struggle doesn’t matter and that the struggle is life; there is no overcoming.

25. My struggle is that I’m not struggling: I’ve given up.

26. Of course, Camus might say there is no giving up, either: to live is struggle, to struggle is to live.

27. Of course, Camus is dead.

28. Well. I’m struggling with my struggle, which is nifty meta way to avoid engagement, which was Camus’s real point.

29. It’s not that you can’t contemplate the boulder or wonder about the plague: it’s that you can’t just contemplate the boulder or wonder about the plague. At some point you have to move.

30. That’s where I am, slightly suspended, barely moving.

31. This is my struggle-not struggle—with myself. And that’s what Camus wrote about, the assertion of the self in an indifferent world.

32. But what of this assertion in a mean world? What if it’s not just the boulder and gravity? What if someone or something is trying to crush you?

33. Kelly Stout, who wrote that line quoted in #23, also quoted Zadie Smith: I remember there was always a girl with a secret, with something furtive and broken in her, . . . I often thought I saw her again, this girl who lives everywhere and at all times in history, who is sweeping the yard or pouring out tea or carrying somebody else’s baby on her hip and looking over at you with a secret she can’t tell.

34. The secret she can’t tell: the harm and the hurt, inflicted. Not indifference; malevolence.

35.There are (at least) two struggles, then, which I’ve been collapsing into one: with gravity (too much and not enough), and with all that wouldn’t mind crushing us.

To be continued.





It’s just a fire thrown across the wall (pt 1)

1 01 2018

Scattered year, scattered thoughts; let’s see how well I gather them up this new year.

1. I don’t really buy or even listen to much music anymore (don’t know why, don’t, . . . , just don’t know why), but this, from Erik Loomis’s best listens of 2017, is somethin’ else:

2. Got restless, reorganized my work space by turning my desk and assembling some disassembled shelves. Didn’t like it, so disassembled the assembled disassembled shelves, scooted around some other things, and now it’s fine.

3. I like to say I’m not much for magical thinking, but I just know that this reorganization will increase my writing by 1006.34 percent.

4. I don’t know what I can do for the 2018 elections but I have to do something.

5. I have combined the words “president” and “Trump” exactly twice: both times in a classroom when I had just referred to “President Obama” and/or “President Bush” and/or “President Clinton” and thus felt there was no way I could avoid saying, you know.

6. I will usually just refer to him as “Trump” or “the president” or, more rarely, Mr. Trump. I don’t want to deny reality but I’ll be goddamned if I grant him. . . anything.

7. Still, I don’t regret the two times I did say it. However awful is the current part-time occupant of the White House, I thought not saying it would have been about me rather than the point I was trying to get across.

8. Not sure if I’ll keep my Twitter account. Against expectations, I don’t tweet that often, but I do regularly pop open the app and scroll through the timeline—which, entirely in keeping with expectations, really is like snackin’ on chip after chip.

9. I mean, I’ve gotten some good sources and leads for my own work, but, honestly, this really is the equivalent of getting protein from Doritos.

10. And I could really do without the endless (ever-fuckin’-lovin’ ENDLESS) Bernie vs. Hillary debates. JFC.

11. I should also point out that I have become more sympathetic to Hillary and less to Bernie. This sympathy is completely about them as personalities, not at all about their policy orientations—which, in the end, are remarkably similar.

12. This is somewhat surprising to me, this sympathy. I’m not quite sure where it comes from.

13. Okay, it’s partly a feminist sympathy.

14. Oh, and also impatience with those who dismiss (still!) Clinton’s work-horse sensibility, not least because they don’t understand the work itself.

15. In the legislative sphere, there are process folks (e.g., Schumer), policy folks (Clinton), and passion-istas (Sanders). There are also those who just like being members of Congress, and whose function is largely to vote for party leadership and party initiatives.

16. Good legislative leaders are often process-ors who are able to herd the wonks, the bomb-throwers, and the generic MCs  through the legislative rapids to victory (or, alternatively, to dam up the other party).

17. Competent processors are often irritating (sell outs! why didn’t they do more! what’s the hold up?!) to those of us on the outside who could give a shit about procedure, but shit doesn’t get done without them.

18. Also: they rarely run for president. (Yes, I know: LBJ, but he ran for president as president, not as a legislative leader.)

19. Executives (governors, presidents) have to have some competence in all three areas, although some are stronger in one area or another; the best master all three, the worst, none.

20. Draw your own conclusions re: which presidents are masters and which, incompetents.

21. Did you notice that I left out what’s necessary for a good candidate? Because I’m damned if I know.

22. That said, I’m likin’ Kirsten Gillibrand for 2020.

To be continued.





All the drunks they were singing

24 12 2017

Christmas Eve we’d alternate going to my mom’s Episcopal Church and my dad’s Lutheran church. There were more Lutherans in Falls, so the church was bigger, and with a pretty good choir; it was always a lovely service.

Still, I preferred the Episcopal service. I loved that church: its wooden pews, worn by decades of congregants resting their arms across the tops of the backs in front them as they prayed, the stained glass all around the nave, maybe some kids in robes in the chancel, ready to sing the children’s songs, and the altar, with Father Kaiser, the kindly priest of my childhood, there to greet us all.

My favorite part was the singing: Glo-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-ria, in excelsis deo, and, at the end, in a darkened church, “Silent Night”, a beautiful hush to a small girl in a small Wisconsin town.

I still like “Silent Night”, tho’ it’s been many years since I’ve sung it in St. Peter’s; my tastes as an adult run more to the rough and bitter-sweet.

So, the annual tradition:

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a happy, raucous, bittersweet, beautiful peaceful to us all.