Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part One

I worried, as this year's presidential primary season was taking shape. The Democratic field was small and crap quality. Clinton was a center Democrat, with policies identical to Obama's in almost every regard; not brilliant, but someone who at least did her homework. She was of the great networkers and coalition builders of our time: but no talent for retail politics. Then there was someone whose name I could never remember, and still can't: Malloy? Never figured out why he was running. And then there was Sanders, the sort of fluffy-left politician I couldn't stand. He had never changed an opinion in fifty years of public life. He had one speech, which he made over and over, and his solution to any problem was to resurrect the 1970s playbook. Got a problem? Create a large new federal program! He was exactly the sort of politico that ran the Democratic party into a ditch, in my youth, and ushered in the Reagan revolution.

I didn't like any of these candidates very much. But any of them would do. I don't look to presidents for "the vision thing": I want them to take orders from their party and do the slogging administrative duties of the state. They were all neoliberals (though Sanders didn't seem to know he was), and none of them represented any significant change. Fine. With the Republicans in control of Congress, nothing was going to change anyway. Deadlock was the best we could hope for. I planned to vote for Sanders, since Clinton was obviously going to win anyway, and one likes to send a message to the Democratic establishment. ("Hey, there's still a vestigial Left in existence! Hey! Hey!")

But Sanders, improbably enough, started making a real play for the nomination. And I thought he'd be an especially ineffective president. Whereas the more I looked at Clinton the more liked her, especially for the scrappy, ugly fight that the next four years were going to be. I watched myself morph into a Clinton supporter, somewhat to my own surprise.

But my worry became more intense. The worry was simply this: that I knew the Republicans would try to make the Clinton and Sanders people hate each other. And I knew they had a shiny new tool for that: social media. So I resolved not to be played. I would just shut up. I would not argue with the Sanders people. Not a word. I would not open my mouth until well after the primaries, when they'd gotten over it. No wrangling from me.

I did it too. I just shut my trap. 

It was a bad decision, for several reasons. The main one: I overestimated what I could do. I thought I could just hold back everything I wanted to say, and still be the same person. That I could just let the lies and insults go by. It wasn't so. I came out the other end embittered, angrier at Sanders people than at Trump people. The Republicans hadn't just succeeded in making the Sanders people hate me. They'd succeeded in making me hate the Sanders people. I work every day to unwind that, to try to think of them still as allies. It's not working very well. I'd have done better to have brawled with them: I'd probably like them better now, if I had. Or maybe not. In any case, it wasn't worth it. Though I do feel that it gave me insight into Clinton's character. Clinton has spent a lifetime not saying things: I got a glimpse of what that's like.

Monday, September 05, 2016

September: Progress Report

Losing one's identity is, according to some Buddhists, a consummation devoutly to be wished. I have certainly lost mine. I used to be someone who was extraordinarily well-read. Now, well, I read sometimes, sometimes. Often I just look at silly old movies on YouTube, movies from my native country of the seventies, with the sound off. Or I refresh, monitoring my bets. I read 538 and religiously. I wander in and out of Facebook, far less conversational than I used to be: a mostly silent figure. When I do speak -- or rather type -- I am haunted by how often I have said exactly the same things, time and time again: Oh yes, I say that because I am a Buddhist, a Redistributionist, a Literary Man, A Person Who Looks At The Sky. But really, of course, I am a man who looks at his computer, and who feels that all these identities have grown into enormous suits, that dwarf him, like Byrne's suit in Stop Making Sense. And often I wander away now without saying anything, because what do I really have to say, I, this shrunken little old man gazing rapt at the shreds of his native, vanishing world? I have nothing to say. It was all a lot of silly posturing. I am surprised when I find that I can still speak those languages.

When I read aloud, I can hear my voice changing, the sibilants becoming wheezier, less distinct. When my brother, five years my elder, came out to visit, after many years away, that was was struck me most forcibly: he was hale as ever, but he had an old man's voice. And so I have been watching for the onset. And there it is: some faint loss of suppleness or agility in my tongue. No one else seems to notice it, but I do. 

This is real too: the watch I keep on my own physical decay. It is not quite what I would have thought. I welcome every loss: I am comforted by it. I feared I might be immortal, indestructible. I am not.

And, from someone who never gave a damn about money, I have become parsimonious, hypersensitive to the varied meanings of spending and withholding money. This small person I have become, darting from one hiding place to another, realizes only too well how much of his foothold in the world comes from being able to pay his own way.

In the bits and pieces of Spanish that I read, in primers and first readers and such, it is astonishing how front-and-center the passion of parsimonious grasping is. Over and over the lesson taught to the Spanish-speaking child is: the life of the grasping miser is a wretched one. Spend freely and be a man. Generosity is what makes a human life. I tell you, the takeover of American culture by Latinos can't come fast enough for me. Taco trucks on every corner, and a Church that takes its duty to the poor seriously? Bring it.

And I wander, barely here, redeemed by massage and human touch, when I am redeemed. And by the sky above me, when I am riding my bicycle: that still happens sometimes too.


The month of love and renewal, in my personal calendar. I am not sad, though I suppose I sound so: I am happy, confused, and young.