It took me at least until Friday to fully absorb the impact of Bush’s “win” on Tuesday, and I was hardly alone. I’ll leave it to others to compile links from the better-known, political portion of the blogosphere. Bloggers of a cultural, spiritual and literary bent have reacted to last week’s election with no less passion. And I think it’s of vital importance that we not leave politics to the political. The price of distancing ourselves from politics and politicians cannot fail to be, as it has always been, an endless procession of snake-oil salesmen and psychopaths occupying the halls of power.
If we want a government that is truly “of the people,” we have to start acting as if we ARE the government. This would mean a huge sea change in our thinking, away from fear and paranoia and toward – yes – faith and values. It would mean engaging in honest and open dialogue with our friends and neighbors about our authentic hopes, dreams and fears – as opposed to the wet-dreams of money, power and alienated so-called freedom peddled by those who seek to keep us forever divided and thus easy to rule. It would mean taking responsibility for our own and each other’s well being. It would mean, above all, slowing down and re-learning how to live.
I don’t want to limit myself to links alone here, because how many people would take the time to click on them all? But by settling for longish quotes, obviously I won’t be able to include more than a small fraction of what’s out there. Please feel free to e-mail me (bontasaurus at yahoo) with suggestions of possible additions to this anthology. And please keep in mind that these quotes, suggestive as they are, represent in most cases just one facet of one argument selected from among several related posts, and that many are followed (and some prompted) by readers’ comments fully as interesting.
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
Looking at today’s front page, I was drawn into an AP photo of a young campaign volunteer sitting, head in hands, on the steps of a rally stage in Des Moines, an “Iowans for Kerry” sign hanging behind her dejected form. She’s not from Keene, this Iowan campaign worker, but in my imagination she could be, an idealistic co-ed in faded, fringe-tattered jeans, sneakers, and a white linen jacket, a curious mix of little-girl dreams and grown-up disillusions. “Nervous Wait,” the caption reads: there’s an entire story in those two words, isn’t there? All that picture and all that caption needs is a storyteller, even a Fucked Up one, to step out of the shadows and get her hands moving. The first 5,000-some words might have been Total Bullshit, but the beauty of writing lies in the next line, the next word, where there’s always a chance to change and start entirely anew.
My America is liberal, tolerant, interested in globalism; in my America religion is post-triumphalist and universalist and coexists happily with science; in my America all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled to the rights and privileges of citizenship, marriage among them. But my America is a marginal America, and the bulk of the nation feels differently. The chasm which divides us is deep and I don’t know how, or whether, it can be bridged.
I’m giving myself the day to grieve, and I’ve been moving steadily through those five stages everybody talks about. I know that despair is neither responsible nor tenable longterm; action and faith are called-for. I hope that by tomorrow, or by next week, I’ll be able to take a deep breath, look at the situation clearly, and figure out what I can do and which stone most needs my shoulder.
It’s tempting to indulge in unconstructive name-calling. Lord knows I’ve done far more than my share. But it is statistically rather unlikely that half the electorate in the US is composed of either the feebleminded or sociopaths. There are millions of good, honest, sincere people in the US who voted for Bush because as far as they could tell, he best reflected their beliefs about right and wrong.
At least a few of these people will have their worldviews shattered due to the actions of the man they voted for in the next four years. They will need us. If there is an opposition to articulate a cogent, humane alternative to the lying and looting that will characterize official US policy for at least the next four years, the screwed-over will have a constructive place to channel their outrage.
There are nice things about this little historical moment, this pause between disasters. On the residential streets of the Castro, strangers usually don’t greet each other, often avert eyes. This is partly an aspect of “cruising” behavior, partly an adaptation by ordinary residents to other people “cruising;” I’ve accepted that it’s not a rude habit, just a big-city inevitability.
But last night, everyone I passed gave a nod. In a subculture often defined by posturing and distancing, everyone was allowed to be lonely, frightened even, just for one night …
Creature of the Shade
Thursday, November 4
I don’t accept a lot of how this looks. It is true that many people in this country voted for Bush. It is true that when you look at the big red states and surrounding clusters of blue we look like a country full of dopes in the middle and the south. But I think that’s too simple. If you look at the numbers on a state by state basis the numbers are close. I don’t accept the idea of a conservative mandate.
There is no doubt that the next four years will be difficult. There is no doubt that this dubious notion of morality exists and that there is a vigourous conservative Christian coalition. But I want to keep resisting ideas that divide things into simple and alienated terms. And I don’t want to be in such a hurry to feel better.
I found myself working pretty hard to keep my emotions from becoming overwhelming all day yesterday. I am too often overwhelmed by my emotions. But I’m certainly not interested in not feeling. There are reasons to be sad. There are reasons to be angry.
The electoral college map is an example of how ideas can be sold. People aren’t that easy to color code.
I never feel fully competent when writing about things like this. I often feel like I’m not being clear. And that may be because I don’t like to take the big stand too often. I like to keep the notion of complexity in play. Part of complexity is that there are moments when things get simple and I have and will take a big stand now and then. I often feel like I’m jumping from the macro view to the micro view and trying to stop and every point in between.
What I can say with confidence is that there are a lot of great people doing a lot of great work. I think a bit of despair is inevitable and not such a terrible thing and I like the idea of us all gathered for a plaintive wail. If you’re wailing, I’m wailing with you. And then we can make a joke and have a giggle and make some plans.
It’s not like Larissa really understood what was at stake in the electionâ€¦but she’d worked so hard for Dunbar, she’d come to believe in whatever it was that he stood for and sincerely believed it was better and more well-intended than whatever it was that the other guy stood for. Larissa had been raised to believe in causes for the sake of belief itself: her father often quoted to her the lyrics of a country song that advised “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Molly, Larissa believed, hadn’t really stood for something: her desire to become a paralegal was motivated by her desire to find a man and start a family, so she’d somehow gotten sidetracked into achieving the latter without any of the former. One day after Dana had stopped working for the campaign, Larissa had sat quietly stuffing envelopes after the other campaign workers had gone home. In the quiet of an empty campaign office, illuminated by a single bare light bulb hanging over the long folding table where she worked, Larissa vowed to Do Something with her life, to somehow Make a Difference.
. . . There are fiftyninemillionseventeenthousandthreehundredeightytwo
People I’d like to condense down into one box,
Down into some three ingredient recipe some
Simple formula for this vote that separates me
Make it small enough to describe, control, dismiss
Language of a sixth grader, language of an election
Language of a soundbite.
As if a page of words can explain the feelings, motives
Histories, beliefs of fiftyninemillionseventeenthousandthreehundredeightytwo
Individuals who are not me.
But what are the chances that one of the fiftyninemillionseventeenthousandthreehundredeightytwo
Is more like me than I dare to believe?
Division. There is page after page of problems in the homework packet
He spends hours putting one number into another, finding remainders
Subtracting until there is nothing left, neatly solved.
We say division is the wake of this election
But this is nothing like the methodical effort of
Dividing one hundred into fiftyone percent and fortynine percent,
Dividing the map into twohundredseventynine red and twohundredfiftytwo blue
Dividing my neighborhood into Bush signs or Kerry signs
The signs no one has taken down because
This is who “I AM” this is who “YOU ARE” this is how we disagree
This is the gulf we have to cross . . .
It’s kinda heartening, though, ain’t it? On the morning after this political disaster, there are people out there searching for beefcake and boobs. It reminds me of that Larsen cartoon where there’s a city in flames and people running and cars jamming the streets and then there’s this dog with his nose to some spot on the ground, with the caption, “And then Ralph found something interesting.”
Friday, November 5
I happen to believe that the liberal choice framework and some form of secularist culture are the better options. I’m cautiously optimistic that secularism is too widespread for any move toward Falwelltopia to ultimately succeed. But the cultural revivals among Native American tribes suggest that all may not be lost for cultural conservatives. What’s necessary is for them to focus on a reconstructed conservative culture that is compatible with and appealing under the liberal framework, rather than seeking to reverse that framework or forcibly eliminate their competitors under it. To do that would require offering an alternative to the weaknesses of secularism (such as the alienation created by consumerism) rather than attempting to imitate secularism’s successes (such as with self-consciously “trendy” pop evangelicalism).
I have far more in common with those evangelical Christians than I have in common with my parents, with most of the professors who taught me, or with most of my political allies. I don’t believe that life is about maximizing wordly pleasure. I don’t believe that this world can be fixed (though I believe, maybe inconsistently, that it’s our duty to try to fix it)….
But there is a way in which I think they are wrong. I don’t think the hollowness is out there, in some parcel of wicked politicians or biased journalists or rancorous academics. It’s in almost all of us, and it won’t be fixed by just voting in people who stand tall and say that they pray a lot. The problem is not — particularly — that our leaders are hollow. It’s that we are.
Ship of State
The red Valdez breaks through the shipping lanes
advancing towards Bligh Reef while Hazelwood
vacations on his ranch. His crude oil drains
the wilderness of soul and livelihood,
past Rocky majesty, from western sea
to bright blue liberal Massachusetts’ coast.
We question constitutionality
of missions not accomplished in this most
protected ecosystem, question spills
of cargo–not just business enterprise,
but hearts and minds, endangered blood, free wills,
and meant for more than suits to televise.
Remember cutthroat trout, the common loon–
you can’t impeach this fucking mess too soon!
Since about Halloween, I have been on a sugar binge. Then, today, the bread was definitely like adding insult to injury. Already lethargic from the sugar, I now also feel achy in the joints … and I won’t even go into the other symptoms … from the bread.
I also feel dulled, as if I had lost a few IQ points myself in the process. And yet, I haven’t been able to stop eating. That, and reading blogs all afternoon and evening.
All this gluten and glucose … I think this might be the secret recipe to get with the program, to join that majority in front of the TV set.
alembic [ellipses original]
I am horrified and frightened by the emotions I have raging inside myself, emotions that I have clearly been caging in my heart for years. I am profoundly disturbed that my writing flows most smoothly when I write as a screaming, bloody raven instead of a peaceful, happy frog. The frog was boring, but pleasant. The frog was safe. The frog was being boiled alive in her own complacency, but she was happy and she had friends and safe, easy friendships. She posted silly quizzes and pictures of kitties and chirruped happily about the lovely world she lived in. Her sorrows on the whole were small ones, or her own personal burdens to bear. Occasionally she would stamp her little frog feet in anger, but this entertained her friends and charmed them.
Now I am a black, bloody raven, beak dripping with gore. And I wonder if that gentle green frog will ever return. Somehow, I doubt it.
The game was called “five good things.” The object was to come up with five good things about George W. Bush. It was harder than I thought it would be! I recommend it to any Kerry-supporter, or anyone inclined to think of Bush as “pure evil.” He isn’t. No one is.
the vernacular body
One reason I stopped blogging at the end of the summer was in great part because of this sense of something in myself dissipating into the light of the screen and my muscles forgetting the stop-motion of walking and immersing myself in the arms of other living things. I had found myself following one contention to another through the cerebral world of blogs and the internet, arguing and sitting alone fuming and gradually darkening my mind with clouds of imagined wrongs. I wasn’t dealing with real people or learning more about living in the real world of nature. The very purpose of my feet and fingers, eyes and ears escaped my notice.
So I must stop myself here before I dive back into the water; I do not want to live my life fighting ghosts and demons. I want to learn to engage them and talk. I want to discover what it is that binds us all together and actuates language. Bush preaches hate and warmongering and revenge and absolutes. He refutes the mystery. And so many have fallen in step behind him, taking up his chants and marching to the beat. That is not how I want to live my life. That is not how I see the living things around me or how I want to greet other people. Not in the language of defeat and bloodletting.
I don’t want to think any more about the election. I’m grateful for the disaster, insofar as it disrupted me, and put my own small life into perspective. It temporarily threw me into a state of confusion and anger and fear. It made me want to rage against the decision, to do something huge, to scream and rant and fight and cry.
I’m feeling more settled now. It’s not apathy, or despair, or resignation: rather, I’m remembering what I’ve written here before. The most radical thing one can do is to stay present. There is nothing so important as remaining grounded in oneself, in being compassionate, and understanding, and wise. This does not mean doing nothing. It means doing everything. It means being human.
Nomen est Numen
Finally, one of the most eloquent reactions is completely wordless, just fifteen stark photographs gathered under one title, Into the Night, from Paula’s House of Toast. Check it out.