Escaping the outrage machine

November home life
These are my dumb dogs. They have no idea who the president is.

The truth of the matter: My (formerly beloved) liberal media outlets are making me feel like a conservative these days (don’t worry, never will be, would rather pluck my eyebrows off than vote Republican). The outrage is daily and continuous and we’ve all lost big time, but I don’t think I can sustain this level of indignation for four years.

I feel like I can’t even have lunch with someone without having to append some policy-oriented aside to every comment. “It is a good sandwich, but my enjoyment of it is diminished because, as you know, the lettuce subsidies are getting out of hand, and Trump of course is in Monsanto’s pocket…”

We all need to put our sandwiches down and go outside and pet a dog and spend time with people we love. And not mention DJT even once.

In light of this need to escape the outrage machine, here are some nonpolitical things to enjoy and think about.

I’d love to hear what’s keeping you sane these days.

Wield weekend
Here are some dogs in a field in England. They don’t know about Brexit.

What kind of times are these

Protest at UVA
A protest of Trump’s immigration and refugee ban at UVA.

I am not sure of many things anymore. I want to write something revolutionary and moving, but I am tired. I am so tired. I am tired of the news, of Trump’s face leering behind the desk in the Oval Office, of self-appointed pundits on the left and the right.

I am not sure how to balance this emotional/intellectual/mental exhaustion with the need to fight back. The threats seem very real and yet the actions seem to be merely theoretical in effect.

I have nothing profound to say in response to this new American order that has not already been said. I take refuge in the flesh-and-blood people in my life and in books.

 

Protest at UVA
Fellow protestors at UVA.

In dark times, at least we still have poetry.

I have been enjoying more poetry lately; it feels especially fitting in a gloomy winter, in a political season that seems to only get more evil with time. At least we still can read Adrienne Rich. At least Trump hasn’t taken our books from us yet. And so I leave you with her.

What Kind of Times Are These

ADRIENNE RICH

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

October with Wei
Trees at a nearby vineyard.

We know we are very special

Rijksmuseum
The library in the Rijksmuseum.

One of the few things that makes me look forward to child-rearing is reading to my (hypothetical) children. I am going to read them everything. I think about my beloved Great Aunt Lib, who was my pen pal for many years. She raised these two brilliant children, and family lore holds that she spent a year reading aloud to them from War and Peace when they were still small.

I hope to have children who want to read so much that I cannot keep up with them. That I have to turn them loose in the library, as my mother did, and say, “Good luck, Godspeed, see you in a few hours.”

How many of you have parents who are voting for Trump? Or, how many of you have parents who are not voting at all? How scared should we all be right now?

It’s taking just about all of my willpower to resist the urge to turn this into a political screed. But I am tired. The election is on my mind all day, every day. Before I fall asleep, I turn to Guion and say often, “Guion, fix it,” à la Zuzu to George Bailey. As if he could somehow harness that white maleness, wave a wand, and make it all go away. We are just about a month away from the election, and I feel a plain sense of terror. Mixed also with sadness. How did things get this bad?

At least we still have Lydia Davis. And Goodreads. And Solange Knowles. And dogs.

We know we are very special. Yet we keep trying to find out in what way: not this way, not that way, then what way?

— Lydia Davis, “Special”

An emptiness about the heart of life

I will share a few photos from our weekend in London with Grace and Jack, but I feel like I can’t post anything without saying a few words about Sunday’s massacre in Orlando.

I am so heartbroken and grieved for our country. We are such a disaster right now. I grieve for the LGBTQ community in Orlando and in the United States at large. I have ignorantly and naively believed that homophobia is passé, that we have progressed beyond such hatred and bigotry, and that gay people can finally exist, on the whole, in freedom and safety. Sunday was a horrific reminder that they cannot and do not.

And our country cannot and does not dwell in safety — but rather wallows in paranoia — because we are ignorant. Because the NRA lines the pockets of our legislators. Because we have chosen to believe that more assault rifles, legally, in the hands of civilians is a virtue. Because our elected officials would rather give people on terrorist watch lists access to guns than curtail the expression of the sacred (and I declare, fraudulently interpreted) Second Amendment. Because we would rather prop up a military state controlled by a reality TV star-cum-tyrant than live in freedom. We seem prefer this world of terror to the humanist and democratic ideals that the United States of America was supposedly inspired by.

Racism, fear, and ignorance will never make America great again. Trump and the Republican party seem to believe that they will.

But I can only hope — with no small degree of desperation these days — that the majority of Americans will look to Orlando, will look to the monthly mass shootings, will look to the faces of refugees and imprisoned black men and transgender people in North Carolina, and say: We reject fear. We choose freedom.

HoodGrace in a windowYoung loversGrace and AmirahRainy Sunday"Ecce Ancilla Domini," Dante Gabriel RossettiOver the ThamesRainy SundayDirty BurgerRainy Sunday

How can you still be a Christian?

Saturday selfie

I ask myself this question quite a bit. And I hear it from others.

Just last week, I met an acquaintance who said she was interested in coming to our church. She implied that she was surprised that I went to church, based on my Twitter feed (which is usually a motley assortment of left-wing propaganda, book reviews, and dog photos). “I follow you on Twitter,” she said, “and I’m…” I interrupted her and finished the statement: “… surprised that I’m so liberal?” She laughed and nodded.

So, how can I still be a Christian? In light of everything that we think we know about Christians today? Some thoughts.

1: The GOP does not own nor speak for Christianity, as much as they would like to think that they do. Republicans and the conservative right have co-opted Christianity for political purposes, and they have wielded it with frightening power since the rise of the Religious Right. This is what most Americans think about when we think about Christians today. An inbred church picketing military funerals and shouting about how much God hates you. Politicians who, in the purported name of Jesus, are proponents of preventing the poor from receiving “handouts,” keeping out refugees, teaching or even learning any science at all, giving everyone access to an assault rifle, and barring women from reproductive rights. This, I am happy to say, is not the universal church, even if the Religious Right may be its loudest and most powerful faction.

2: Christianity is not static, and it has progressed, in various denominations, beyond some of its judgmental, fearful peers. I, for one, am a proud Episcopalian, and I’d wager that I have more in common ideologically with a run-of-the-mill agnostic than your average Southern Baptist. We Episcopalians stand on the “liberal” side of various issues (such as ordaining women and gay people) and yet still believe in Jesus. Imagine that.

3: We are personally so grateful to be part of a church community that believes that we cannot save ourselves. We attend a church that preaches, day in and day out, that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and are all in need of forgiveness. Yes, even us so-called and self-identified Christian righteous. We are no better than anyone else, and judging others is a waste of your wild, only life (not to mention baldly hypocritical). More about how this church saved my faith in another post.

4: The person of Jesus is about grace and freedom, not law and judgment. Don’t believe any Christian or any church who tells you otherwise, because they clearly are not very familiar with the Gospel.

Yes, sometimes it feels like a theological high-wire act to maintain my personal faith amid the din of ignorant, hate-mongering politicians who claim to represent my religion. It is hard. Guion and I talk about this a lot. We sometimes feel very ideologically lonely.

But there it is. I still identify as a Christian, because I still identify with a Jesus who embodied freedom, grace, and no-strings-attached love. He has nothing to do with a close-minded, hate-filled, and judgmental religion. And so neither do I.

Persona

Sky upon leaving work
We watched Ingmar Bergman’s riveting/terrifying film Persona last night. Aside from inspiring feelings of disunity and morbid fear, the film renewed my unending love of Scandinavian interior design. And the perfection of minimalist (primarily black and white) clothing. And how adorable Nordic languages sound when spoken by women. And how marvelous and unusual it is to watch a film in which 95% of the screen time is focused on women. Men have the minor background roles for once. (This never seems to happen anymore. Not even in independent films. We watch film after film that is about, told from the perspective of, and entirely focused on men.)

Donald Trump keeps proving, again and again, that the GOP electorate has unending tolerance for racism, bigotry, and ignorance. I am ashamed of my nation.

I am currently reading Lawrence Wright’s superbly researched book about the rise of al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower. (It won the Pulitzer when it came out in 2006.) Though now rather old, it gives much-needed context to the current, terrifying rise of ISIS (Da’esh), and the history told here clarifies that, really, this is nothing new; this is just an extension of what has come before. We reap what we sow, and little seems to change.

But I am also reading, in a lighter way, The Sweet Cheat Gone, aka The Fugitive book from À la recherche du temps perdu. I found a beautiful red cloth-bound old copy at the library book sale, and I am so happy to be once again bowled over by Proust.

Ephemeral

The Grays at Pollak
Pollak Vineyards, this past weekend

(I never have any good ideas for blog post titles, which is why they are always so inscrutable and senseless.)

I am looking forward to being with the family this week, but I also feel a lot of anxiety and sadness about the pending visit. I keep crying in public when people ask me about my grandparents (so, fair warning if you see me). I cried yesterday at work, in our department meeting, when our boss asked us to go around and say what we were thankful for. “My family,” I said. “And how dependable… and loving… they are…” And then I dissolved into ugly tears over free bagels.

The US political field is so ugly right now, and I am so ashamed of the surge of hatred, fear, and bigotry that the GOP candidates have inspired among the public. Whenever a candidate says anything, I visit FactCheck.org, which has become one of my sole barometers on the validity of political pronouncements. I have been astonished at how many blatant lies are circulating.

I am thankful for

  • the opportunity to be with Mom, Dad, Kelsey, Alex, Sam, Ma-Maw, and Da-Dan this week;
  • starting a Five-Year Diary;
  • sweet friends;
  • cataloging photo archives;
  • Guion, always;
  • my calligraphy studio;
  • kind colleagues and perceptive managers;
  • This American Life keeping us awake and inspired on road trips;
  • dogs who patiently wait outside the door while I nap off a migraine;
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus; and
  • a clean house.

Hope those of you in the US have a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday thoughts

Flowers from Angela

Piecemeal thoughts on a Wednesday:

“Like” and “like” and “like”—but what is the thing that lies beneath the semblance of the thing?

— Virginia Woolf, The Waves

It is easy for me to forget that God cares about little things. I’m a little thing, after all.

Even though I very much hope one of the candidates loses, if I am really being honest with myself, I don’t think much will change at all, regardless of the victor. Such is the nature of the American political machine. It has made me an unapologetic cynic with regard to all politicians everywhere. Machiavelli was the one to convince me not to become a political science major during my freshman year and I still think of him when I watch the debates or muddle through social media posts; it’s all a farce, all a dirty game.

I miss my family.

I need to read some lighthearted, dreamy fiction. Flannery O’Connor and Jesmyn Ward and Samuel Beckett all back-to-back = Violent, dark times. I need some fluttering, social web-spinning, 19th-century British ladywriters, STAT.

Lately, I have been so thankful for my job and for the work that I do. I am grateful for my coworkers, for the camaraderie that we have, for the rarity of our very happy workplace coexistence. I love being an editor. I’m so glad I found this profession.

New Life Goal: Read 100 books a year for the rest of my life.

What you do not know

Click for source.

[Faith] is not a conviction based on rational analysis. It is not the fruit of scientific evidence. You can only believe what you do not know. As soon as you know it, you no longer believe it, at least not in the same way as you know it.

— New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is what faith is.

Thoughts, at the close of this very, very busy week:

  • Daniel and Lauren Goans are such beautiful and consistently intentional people. They are also, of all the couples I have met, two people who are utterly meant to be together. God made them for each other, in that classical Plato’s other-half kind of way. They couldn’t possibly be married to anyone else.
  • The thought of welcoming a new coworker to our small, close-knit department feels akin to welcoming a new family member. Feelings of anxiety and trepidation are dredged up.
  • Jill Stein for president! According to I Side With, I agree with this crazy lady on 97% of the issues (and with Romney on approximately 0% of major things). What is a thinking person to do, in a two-party republic?
  • Every time I’ve made up my mind never to read any more British literature, because it is so tired and predictable and snobby, a specter of Virginia Woolf floats in front of my mind and I back away from that proclamation.
  • Kelsey and Alex are getting married in 15 days!

A cathedral and a physics lab

“What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.”

Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Annie Dillard knows all the things.

Who’s really ready for this election to be over?? I am! I am! I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted by politics and its relentless charade. Someone on NPR referred to the Republican National Convention as “theater,” and I thought, Yes, that is what all of it is, regardless of your party. One big performance, predicated on fear.

I am going to the mountains this weekend to celebrate at Kelsey’s bachelorette retreat! Hard to believe lil sis is getting married so soon. Can’t wait to see her and spend some time in the Blue Ridge, hanging out and teaching her how lingerie works.

Talk to you later.