I'm still working on it. My commitment to a weekly essay coincides with an unprecedented flurry in my dayjob, which I can't complain about but is making me tired. I'm aiming for tomorrow.
Dinner with friends last night, in between hilariously bad round of charades, whipped cream mishaps, and really good food, I remembered I had long-ago promised to lend Bill Vikram Seth's Golden Gate. It's Seth's Stanford PhD, a glorious novel about 1980 Bay Area contemporaries, 20-something engineers, lawyers, a drummer, and an ornery cat, fighting angst and finding love. Written in poetry.
I keep writing, inbetween (finally) reading Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope, inbetween fighting back inaugural tears ... inbetween finding wool socks and snow pants for all the children sledding down our street on this snow day ... inbetween dishes and work and making the bed ...
Maybe the critics are right. Maybe there's no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempt to alter the rules of engagement are futile ... But I don't think so. They are out there ... those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way -- in their own lives, at least -- to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves ... I believe they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don't always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting. They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them. pp 41-42.
If we Americans are individualistic at heart, if we instinctively chafe against a past of tribal allegiances, traditions, customs, and castes, it would be a mistake to assume that this is all we are. Our individualism has always been bound by a set of communal values, the glue upon which every healthy society depends. We value the imperatives of family and the cross-generational obligations that family implies. We value community, the neighborliness that expresses itself through raising the barn or coaching the soccer team. We value patriotism and the obligations of citizenship, a sense of duty and sacrifice on behalf of our nation. We value a faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that something expresses itself in formal religiong or ethical precepts. And we value the constellation of behaviors that express our mutual regard for one another: honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy, and compassion. p. 55.
A funny thing happened after the election … all those emails I once relished throughout the campaign … from David Plouffe, David Axelrod, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama himself … enlivening support, announcing rallies, offering t-shirts if I donated $25 by midnight (which I did) …
They irritated me on November 5th.
I’m stunned by my sudden change of heart, especially since I remain wildly excited about Barack Obama and his unfolding presidency. His image still brings me to tears. I bought my parents commemorative champagne glasses (shush, don’t tell!) And I may even go to DC for the inauguration.
Why, then, am I deleting all those emails?
I understand my financial gut reaction: My family didn’t starve the few months I forked over $25 or $50 a pop. But my budget will break if I continue the frenzy another four to eight years.
John thought maybe Obama’s leadership selections – the return of so many political veterans – dampened my enthusiasm. But I genuinely like his picks (and his guts for going with an experienced brain-trust despite potential flack).
Maybe it’s because a campaign is so captivating. It’s a battle, after all: two opposing forces, ferociously loud spectators, blow-by-blow commentary, and an ultimate winner. It engaged me with feverish momentum. The more I saw, the more I wanted to join. By tracking polls, following pundits, and donating money I became a player, part of the strategy and, as a result, equally victorious in the end. Joining the campaign felt historic. And really cool.
But post-election there’s something unseemly about typing in my credit card to purchase “governing” from my shopping cart. I know technically I’m supporting an inaugural event or an effort to enact the economic stimulus package. But it feels weird. Election won, I thought somebody else (ie experienced professionals) would handle all that governance stuff.
Truth is, I’m finding governance much more difficult to grasp. I miss the consistent stump messages that were as clear as they were inspiring. The election process only expected one thing from me: to learn about the candidates and choose one.
I chose Barack Obama because I believe he can handle the post-election complexities. But I’m not sure I can.
And, yet, I appreciate that I also chose Barack Obama because he asked me to stay involved, long after the campaign fades and the voting machines are packed away. He invites me – implores me -- to keep learning about the problems we face, as complicated as they are. To study our options with focused and deep reflection. To flesh out our opportunities.
And he asks us to keep talking. To him and his staff, who are diligently crafting initiatives and policies to help solve our problems and recast our future. (See change.gov) And, more importantly, to each other.
I keep hearing a campaign echo: our shared values far outweigh our disagreements. And true governance begins where those values intersect. Democracy was rekindled these last eighteen months on front porches, community centers, school auditoriums … on Facebook, blogs, and chat rooms. Governance, it seems, wants the same renaissance.
That’s why I’m still getting those emails, even if they’re momentarily annoying. I’m being reminded -- nagged really – to stay engaged. To rise to our new challenges, despite feeling confused and overwhelmed by their complexity. And to keep talking. To lay our differences aside and join our neighbors, our colleagues, our family and friends – tangible and virtual -- in conversation and collaboration. To transcend from Who do you want to win? to How should we recreate our nation together and make it work for everybody?
I can’t afford a new t-shirt every week, but I will try to do what that t-shirt implies.
I just took the girls to their first psychic, my Christmas gift to my daughter, my niece, and my daughter’s best friend. But let’s dispel any misconceptions that the trip started in some sacred way, complete with Enya music and New Year’s affirmations shared blissfully while passing a carved ceremonial totem. Instead, the day began trying to roust three teenagers way too early on their last Saturday of vacation. (Laurie went to bed at 2:00 am, Maddy and Lindsey even later.) Maddy’s last-resort jeans (“Why can’t someone do laundry in this house!”) were evidently so baggy her “whole ass” showed if she bent down, which precluded her from cleaning up the mocha latte she accidently dropped to the floor. Lindsey said breakfast was the second worst omelet she’d ever eaten in her entire life. Laurie later complained I was asking her to get way too many things from my disorganized bag, that I should’ve pulled them all out before I started our two-hour drive. Evidently, I took the mountain curves too fast, making them all nauseous. Which made Maddy’s jeans feel too tight …
Thank god they fell asleep.
Of course, they turned angelic once we arrived: polite, interested, engaged, a bit nervous and eager at the same time. As I suspected, despite their adolescent bitching they were genuinely into this.
Just returned from Asheville, 45 minutes longer than usual, out the wrong direction on 240, eventually via 17 miles of a pitchblack, windy, muddy, unpaved road up & over a large dark mountain that prompted the girls to tell serial killer stories ...
Happy 2009! In our house that meant watching the last 2 minutes of the Times Square ball drop, carrying a sleeping Alden to bed, and a flurry of funny texts & talks with daughter Maddy & niece Lindsey at 1:30, then 2:00, (and a not so funny "you really need to be quiet now" at 3:30) who had gone to a party.