How is everyone holding up out there? It's August. Yes, it really is. August is the pause before the whole back-to-school, back to a normal routine thing that comes with September. I don't have kids keeping me on track but that doesn't matter, the school routine is a part of my DNA. In August I always want to get away, squeeze out a little more fun before September kicks in and I have to go back to the normal routine.
Yeah, this August is really different. This comes with the reality that there is no going back to the "normal routine". Not this year. And probably not next year either. And I don't know about the year after that.
As I watch schools struggle to open, and the attendant outbreaks that have already happened, I am filled with dread. The push to try and proceed with life as normal despite the implacable realities of the virus seems to me a very specific expression of the American character-- we are exceptional, we can overcome all obstacles, we will not succumb. And yet, succumb we do.
Then there is the experiment with sports. I'm not a big fan and I am not interested in watching sports on television, but I have followed developments as pro sport leagues have tried to cobble together a fall season, with differing levels of success. I ran across a quote from Sean Doolittle, a professional baseball player, who said "Sports is the reward for a functioning society", the implication being that the US is not holding itself to that standard before sending players into the morass. Again, it's a feature of the American character playing itself out, an entitlement we feel to having our entertainments despite the danger to the people providing this entertainment. Both of these examples are putting people-- students, teachers, administrators, players-- into terrible positions with few good choices.
Another source of the pit in my stomach is the end of the extra unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. I feel it every time I become aware of my personal comfort, my security, my relative ease through the pandemic. I worry that we are carefully cultivating a huge class of people who will never bounce back fully, the size of which will dwarf our current population of people living in poverty, who will have even less access to the few resources we give to people who have to suffer the indignity of not being lucky enough to be wealthy in this country. The fact that Washington D.C. emptied out of its lawmakers last week for a recess says just about everything that can be said about the indifference toward our people who are suffering from lack of employment.
All of this is a lot. A lot of negativity, fear, and more uncertainty. And meanwhile, I just have to deal with my own self, and the work that I do. Which, by the way, is ceramics! Since the beginning of the pandemic, I've let myself get tumbled by the chaos and not held myself to a high standard of either productivity or creativity. I have been getting paid making and doing for others, and that has been fine. As the situation continues to settle itself into the new normal with no clear end point, I'm working on building up my resilience to the turmoil so I can focus back in on my creative work and pursuits. I need to start navigating it, or being off my game could become a permanent feature of my life.
In the interest of building resilience and some much-needed stoicism I started reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Pre-pandemic one of the things I disliked the most to hear people saying as an excuse for anything was "I'm too busy!" Here is a quote from the book that made me think human nature has not changed much in the last 2,000 years:
From Alexander the Platonic [I have learned] not frequently nor without necessity to say to any one, or to write in a letter, that I have no leisure; nor continually to excuse the neglect of duties required by our relation to those with whom we live, by alleging urgent occupations.
My urgent occupation has been following every twist and turn of the pandemic in the political and social realm, and I do believe it's time to turn it down a notch. Or ten.
As I write this I have recently heard the news that Kamala Harris was nominated at Biden's vice-president. The feeling that swept over me was unexpected, a little overwhelming and in these times, almost unidentifiable: I was utterly thrilled. And I reveled in that moment. There are so many elements, known and unknown, that can make a successful campaign, and I hope with all my heart that the elements are aligned for both of them. I want them to win.
We know what's coming of course, and this knowledge makes me wish that someone could put me into an induced coma for the next few months so I don't have to witness it. Harris, being a woman and a woman of color, is going to face the most thorough and complete tear down she has ever endured in her life. It is as predictable as it is vile. I don't care about the political attacks so much. If you enter the arena of politics, this is the game you have agreed to play. It's the personal attacks, the questioning of her integrity as a person, about the very nature of who she is, her legitimacy as a human. She will be subject to this because she is Black, and she is a woman.
This leads me to a slight tangent, something I've been thinking about lately. There has been a lot of talk in the media froth lately about "cancel culture". The only thing new about cancel culture is that very word. The idea of completely ruining someone's reputation and isolating them from their peer group is a long and ongoing tradition. Social media has simply made it easier for the world to participate. The process of "cancelling" has been getting held up for more scrutiny and analysis in our current milieu, and it's a fascinating and deeply complicated issue. While attempting to "cancel" Harris will be an impossible task, she will be called out not just by right-wing representatives. She will be attacked from the left as well, as she already has been.
This leads me to an article that was published in Ms magazine in 1976. The writer, Jo Freeman, describes what she calls "trashing" which is essentially driving prominent women out of the feminist movement through ongoing and repeated character assassination. Freeman left the movement after repeated trashings that left her psychologically wrecked. As she puzzled on the self-destructive nature of trashing and why is occurs, Freeman wrote:
...trashing does not occur randomly. Not all women or women's organizations trash, at least not to the same extent. It is much more prevalent among those who call themselves radical than among those who don't; among those who stress personal changes than among those who stress institutional ones; among those who can see no victories short of revolution than among those who can be satisfied with smaller successes; and among those in groups with vague goals than those in groups with concrete ones.
I have been pondering how this description may apply to the current debate of trying to convince Bernie supporters that it is in their self-interest to vote for Biden. It has also led me to inquire within myself what I want and expect from leaders when it comes to change, what I can accept when it comes to incremental change and how I can be persistent in calling for larger and more systemic changes.
Here are a few interesting sources that I read or listened to that are helping me think about this topic, as well as how the Left is thinking about Harris as the VP nominee:
A Letter on Justice and Open Debate Harper's Bazaar
Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood Jo Freeman aka Joreen
Why We Can't Stop Fighting About Cancel Culture Aja Romano, Vox
Making Sense of Cancel Culture On the Media podcast
Canceling Natalie Wynn, ContraPoints YouTube channel
We Can't Cancel Everyone For Harriet YouTube channel
So You've Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson
Joe, Kamala, and the Fissures in the Base Code Switch podcast
Kamala Harris Did What She Had To Peter Beinart, The Atlantic