Circus Maximus MMXVI: Hello darkness, my old friend

13 11 2016

So this is the end of the series—perhaps I should be using the Doors’s “This is the end” to mark the occasion.

The weekend after and I am still stunned. I still can’t listen to the news (WNYC & NPR), although I am reading plenty online. Reading is easier: as soon as I see something about THIS is the reason. . .  I know to move on. I laid out what I thought were the possible variables for Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss, accept that there might be still more; I don’t accept that anyone knows yet how to sort those variables.

I don’t. I have been knocked on my ass, and not have not managed to find my footing I don’t know much about the ground, either.

There were things I thought I knew. I thought I knew the extent of white supremacy in this country, thought most would, if faced with it, reject it. I didn’t think so many would just brush it aside, claim simultaneously that Trump was being both honest and that he didn’t really mean what he said, that the toxins he released weren’t that poisonous at all.

Maybe there’s something there, to be grasped: that those who embraced a racist didn’t want to be seen as racist. It is a slender reed.

So, what next? I don’t know.

What kind of president will he be? I don’t know.

Will he stick to his campaign promises? some of them? I don’t know.

Will he take the job seriously? I don’t know.

Will he turn over the day-to-day executive functions to his staff, to Pence? I don’t know.

Does he even want the job? I don’t know.

What kinds of judges will he appoint? I don’t know.

What kind of diplomacy will he conduct? I don’t know.

How will he react in crisis? I don’t know.

What will happen when he fails, as all presidents fail? I don’t know.

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. The best possible answers are bad; the worst, are more than I can now bear to imagine.

But if one is to prepare, to resist, then all possibilities, the worst possibilities, must be imagined.

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La la how life goes on

1 10 2012

Funny how the disappearance of someone you hadn’t seen in 20 years, might not have seen in 20 more, can nonetheless knock you sideways.

I don’t know if I would have seen Chris again, but I took for granted that I could: the possibility was always there that I’d run into her back in a Wisconsin bar, buy John and her a beer, and catch up on the lifetime or two since we’d seen each other last.

Now I know that will never happen.

Chris is not the first person around my age who’s died—an old boyfriend died in a car crash half a lifetime ago, another guy who I partied with in high school was killed in a snowmobile accident—but she’s the first one who I know who died for health reasons. Her death in an accident would have been shocking and sad, but that she died because her body gave out is. . . well, I was going to say incomprehensible, but, really, stunning precisely because it is so comprehensible: this is, in the end, what will likely happen to me and everyone I know.

Are you more prepared in your sixties for this? In your seventies and eighties? Not that you get used to it, the disappearance of people, but is it less shocking? Is it worse for being less shocking?

Chris’s death has meant a peg has been kicked out and away from my own sense of self; I left a bit off-kilter, for she has carried a piece of me away with her.

And that’s how it is, I guess. I mourn the loss of her, mourn the loss of the possibility of her, and mourn the loss of myself, in her.

I can scarcely imagine what her family and close friends are going through, to lose someone so central to them, so central to who they are; they have lost Chris and thus are themselves lost.

So in their grief, through their grief, they’ll try to find their way back, without her.





Voices carry

23 08 2012

It’s a joke, but it’s not really a joke.

The whole Abortion Rights Militantthing, I mean. Yes, the capitalization and the ™  are completely unsubtle winks at my sardonic (re)appropriation of what is meant as a slur, but I ain’t jokin’ in my damn-near-absolutism on matters of law.

This absolutism, however, extends only as far as the law; the morality, the sentiment regarding abortion is another matter. I might recognize the decision to terminate a pregnancy as morally licit, but that doesn’t make it easy.

(In fact, the complications of the decision are precisely why legally it is best left to the woman—but I don’t want to sidetrack myself like I did last night, so I’ll just leave it there. Nor will I stray into a discourse on the evolving status of the blastocyst-embryo-fetus. . . .)

Nope, let me give this one over to sympathy for the beliefs of those who think abortion is always or almost always morally wrong, that the termination of a pregnancy means the killing of a child.

I don’t share that view, but it’s not wholly alien to me, either. No, I can’t get too worked up about embryos, but a fetus, the fetus is something else, and the further along the fetus, the more baby-like the fetus appears.

By the second trimester it’s not yet a human being, but it’s so clearly on the way to becoming one that I understand—I feel—a certain sympathy toward this small creature. It’s not one of us, not yet, but it could be, it could be.

If given a chance, she could become a human being; how could I not be moved by that possibility?

In teaching my bioethics course on assisted reproductive technologies, I cover selective reduction of multi-fetal pregnancies. These aren’t technically abortions—the idea is to kill some of the fetuses in order to save the rest, as opposed to ending the pregnancy entirely—but this procedure, generally performed at the end of the first trimester, seems to me essentially tragic. The woman (and her partner) want children, but their best chance of preserving the possibility of having some of those children is to destroy the possibility of some of those children. Again, how could I not be moved by the intertwined possibilities of beginning and end?

And I guess that’s where I both sympathize and part ways with those who are pro-life. I look at a fetus and see possibility; they look at a fetus and see a child, already here. I wonder at what could be; they wonder at what is.

Sometimes I can glimpse what they see right in front of them, sometimes I can imagine that the fetus is a child reacting in terror and pain to the ending of her life, and I can understand why those who are pro-life see abortion as murder, and its legality as a kind of sanctioned genocide. How horrible to think that we in the US allow over a million babies to be murdered every year.

But then I blink and what I see is not a child but the possibility of a child—and the actuality of the woman. And I think how horrible for the state to take away the control of her life, how horrible for the state to treat women as if they don’t exist.

Thus the final sympathy with those on the other side of the issue: we are each genuinely horrified by the state-sanctioned disappearance of human beings. We just don’t agree on which human beings.





Wishing like a mountain and thinking like the sea

6 10 2011

I have no hope.

The reasons for this are entirely personal, and entirely related to events in and leading to a couple of stays in a psych ward way back yonder. It was a relief to shed all hope, and gave me some much needed breathing room, and I can’t say that I miss it.

Still, that hope is gone for me has created some awkward moments: I hesitate to use the term hope in even the most banal of circumstances (hope you feel better!) and I don’t always know how to respond to people who do hope. I don’t think they’re wrong to hope—that hopeless-ness is better than hopeful-ness—but I what does someone for whom hope was a burden say to those for whom it’s a blessing?

It’s also an impediment to political action. Most political action is a bother, requires enormous effort for incremental payoffs, and often takes place in inconvenient or uncomfortable locations, so if you’re going to get off your ass to do anything, it helps to have hope that you can, indeed, make a difference. I have rallied and knocked and doors and waved signs since I ditched hope, but more out of a sense of grim absurdity (why the hell not?) than anything else.

And so it was when I joined the Occupy Wall Street rally-and-march today. I no longer have the heart for direct political action, but my head is able to direct me toward action: given my political beliefs, does it not make sense act as if things could change? Shorter version: quitcherbitchin’ and get moving!

It was a big—tens of thousands, I’d guess—and included a nice cross-section of New York City. I marched under the banner of the PSC (the CUNY union) and fell in with a math professor from another campus. We talked of our reluctance to be there, and why we came anyway. We talked about what these protests meant, and what they could mean. We talked about marches in other cities, in other states, and why this movement, that of the 99 percent, contains possibilities not found in the Tea Party.

Possibility, yes, I still hold to that. I may have no hope that anything may change, but the possibility, well, that’s still there.





If green pears you like. . . why nobody will oppose (pt III)

26 06 2010

It’s been a long time since I believed in my own life.

This is a problem.

Yes, I know (as well as anyone) that I exist, that others recognize me as [absurdbeats], that there are things I can and cannot do, and I claim my rights as a person and as a citizen. Human status is not enough, as Arendt pointed out, for one to be treated well, but in most matters it is necessary for one to claim it—and so I do.

But I haven’t done well in claiming the full range of human possibilities as possibilities for me. My belief in possibilities is so strong as to be fantastical, but belief in making the possible real so weak as to be self-erasing. (Bad dichotomies!)

This isn’t, really, about hopes-and-dreams, but about stating ‘I can do this’ and then acting as if I can do this by actually doing ‘this’. I think about ‘this’, worry over ‘this’, work my way around ‘this’, but truly and practically believe that ‘this’ and me have anything to do with one another? No.

Pathetic.

It drives me crazy, this passivity, but I don’t know how to get past it—even as I have evidence that I have done or accomplished various ‘thises’: I went to college, worked for the college newspaper, demonstrated competence in a variety of intellectual pursuits, was admitted to grad school, FINALLY finished grad school, taught, moved around, and (also FINALLY) moved to New York City. And then, completely unexpectedly, I wrote not one but two reasonably good novels

These were things I wanted, thought about, and did. Evidence, it would appear, for my ability to create my life.

But somewhere along the way I lost that ability to translate my imagination into practice, to shape speculation into something concrete. I have evidence of ability, but fear a reality of inability.

In my two previous posts I mentioned both (internal) dichotomies and structured externalities, each in their own ways markers I could use to track myself. I need. . . something to get my ass moving, but I don’t know what that something is.

One something is financial need, which does work, tho’ not necessarily in the most productive direction. I need to make book, I’ll take a job, any job, just to get through. So, driven by anxiety, I can bring in paychecks, but because I’m driven by anxiety, I’ll take the first thing I can get—which usually means small paychecks which don’t do much to relieve said anxiety. I then may pile on another first-grasp job, which may help me to run even with but never to get ahead of myself.

(As a sidenote, most of this anxiety can be traced to debt incurred in my moves both to Somerville and even more so to Brooklyn. If I could just get on top of this. . . .)

In any case, having two or three jobs and living to work works, in its own way, for awhile, but then I say I moved to NY for this?

Which tells me that even beneath my passivity and anxiety is something which is holding out for a real and not merely simulated life.

It’s there; I just have to find it.





The planners get embarassed when the plans go wrong

14 04 2009

Do you remember the story ‘Harrison Bergeron’? A dystopian bit on an egalitarian future in which every, last, bit of life was planned and coordinated by, hm, I guess the government.

I think I read it for an undergrad pol sci class; I probably have the story stashed away somewhere in my files. (Yeah, I know: hanging on to undergrad files. Well, I did. Some of them. So fuck off.)

Twenty years, and that story stuck with me—perhaps because of the finale, in which our hero skittles a bucket of marbles across a crowded platform or sidewalk, disrupting what should have been an orderly commute.

At least that’s what I remember. Why bring it up now? Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con had a bit on ‘Nemesis Visions‘, i.e., a great anxiety about what could happen. He cribs from James Poulos (no, I dunno who he is), who states that To qualify for nemesis status, a vision must be coherent, compelling, and viable on a mass scale. Rod feared the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (don’t ask, but if you want to know, check out Philip Rieff), and others worried over the loss of Absolute Truth or the triumph of Absolute Truth.

My Great Anxiety/Despair? I offered my worries over the closing of the society, that is, that unpredictability and uncertainty will fall to ever-greater administration and planning, and a sense of wonder or unfolding or just not knowing will be snuffed out.

As I noted, I’m not against planning for specific programs—hello, universal health care!—and I’m the kind of chica who, for example, created a list on tasks to finish before her spring break concludes. I like to be on time for appointments, carry a Swiss Army knife, and am the person who will always have band-aids, ibuprofen, acetominophen, and tampons on her, just in case.

Still, there’s a difference between trying to keep my shit together and, as I noted, a general ethic which requires that every aspect of life be managed. I try to keep my shit together precisely because I expect things to go to hell, and I want to be prepared. And while it’s annoying as hell to have one’s plans fly apart, it’s good to be reminded that just because one’s afternoon or whatever went off the rails, one’s life continues, unabated.

Or, to sum up all the wisdom that can be contained in a bumper sticker: Shit happens.

The general ethic of planning, however, is designed to forestall any kind of shit happening. In fact, a sense of moral wrongness attaches to not knowing exactly what is to happen next.

What are you going to do with your life/When are you going to get married/When will you settle down/What about a pension/What about kids/How are your kids spending the summer/What about building a resume/How will you ever get into college/What do you mean you don’t know/don’t care/it doesn’t matter. . . ?!!!!!

I hope you know that this will go down/on your permanent record/Oh yeah/Well don’t get so distressed/Did I happen to mention I’m unimpressed?

Yeah, I could have gone with a disquisition on Arendt, but I think the Violent Femmes struck exactly the right attitude.

There’s a longer post lurking within this one, on the melancholy proposition that, maybe, this long moment of openness, begun around the time of the Scientific Revolution, is coming to a close. And perhaps it is. But as long as there’s a world, there is possibility.

And marbles. Damn, I really should rifle my files for that story.





She’s got a new spell

11 02 2009

It happened again. Again on the train (tho’ not at midnight): time-warp backwards.

This time it was a Sundays song, ‘Here’s where the story ends,’ and I flew back to high school, not college.

I didn’t listen to the Sundays in high school. I doubt I knew who the Sundays were. So the question is not Why was I pulled back, but why too far back?

Maybe because that song reminds me of a type of song, (post) new-wave (ish) Euro alterna-pop (got that?) that was a fixture of early MTV. The Sundays. Cocteau Twins. Berlin (mebbe). Nena (definitely). Kinda synth, kinda sad, kinda odd.

And then I remembered: the AFS students! AFS was the local student foreign exchange program, and SmallTown was very active—a center for the region—so AFS students stationed elsewhere would occasionally gather in SmallTown. I remember meeting one Danish girl, and was so impressed with her. She seemed very confident in herself and what she wanted, and while somewhat detached, was not unkind in her observations of the US in general or the state in particular. She seemed. . . sophisticated, mebbe? Worldly—definitely.

I wanted that worldliness. It was my last year of high school, and amidst all the general partying, what I wanted more than anything was to Get. Out. I wanted what was beyond, whatever was beyond. There had to be something more, right? Weren’t these students, with their different names and different languages and different lines of sight evidence that there was something Out There?

I’m sensing a theme. . . .