So, What Do You Do With A Broken Heart?

So, What Do You Do With A Broken Heart?

I haven’t written anything of substance for weeks.

I was able to keep going when the prospect of a Trump presidency depressed and frightened me, even when the reality of the Trump presidency turned out to be more chaotic and unsettling than I had imagined.  I can function in opposition to an administration, as I have for most of my life, even recognizing that the stakes are higher than they have ever been; I don’t believe the Democratic Party has the starch to restore checks and balance to American polity, but I can imagine various coalitions that might.

The Trump candidacy brought hate groups out of the shadows; there were more than a thousand hate crimes in the first month following his inauguration.  Even so, I thought the rule of law and the mechanisms of justice would hold.  The response to the assault on what I had taken to be ordinary decency in Charlottesville shook me.  Once again, I heard rhetoric and saw violence that has become, incredibly, almost commonplace in the last year.

Many of the 917 hate groups in the United States identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (Please donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center … they’re on the front line of hate crimes) were represented in Charlottesville, claiming to Unite the Right in order to “take back America”.  They are found in red states and blue, in the North and in the South.  The President’s reluctance to condemn race warriors was more than disheartening, emboldening nativist white supremacists as much of candidate Trump’s rhetoric had and contributed to the perception that for all but White Christian heterosexual Americans there would be “no safe space”.

It breaks my heart to see we are still a nation divided by racial hatred.  I’ll do what I can, but I do despair.

On September 11th, 2001, I was hiking and camping with a group of 10th graders in the Upper Yosemite, on a trail from Glen Aulin to May Lake.  I ran into another hiker on September 12th who told me that New York City had been attacked.  I said nothing to my students; I did not know if the account was credible.  We came out of the woods on Friday of that week, and I saw the news for the first time.

I was shaken then as I am now, almost frozen with despair.  I could not read or write for months, and I had to stop watching and listening to journalists.  I closed down in many ways, gathering my family close and paying attention to my job.

The only safe distraction came in watching sports.  I would have watched strongest man competitions, lumber sports, dock diving dogs, but, thankfully, the baseball season came back to life, and I found particular comfort in watching college football.

All of which is to explain why, after amusing myself by writing whimsically on a daily basis, I am unable to summon much whimsy.  I’ve posted an earlier essay hoping that the center can hold, the rule of law survive, and safe places can be maintained, but, for a bit, I’m writing about sports, and about college football in particular.

I  write about football for Fansided, a blog site operated by the Time Magazine octopus.  The agreement under which I write (for free) insists that I not post on any other site, so the Cogitator may publish infrequently until I am encouraged enough by the nation’s ability to restore itself to post again.  I’ll post the football stuff on Facebook, but expect that all but a few diehard fans of Michigan football will follow me to the rabid fan site.

Thanks to those who have followed me here.




Desperate Times, Moderate Measures

Desperate Times, Moderate Measures

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”  The Second Coming.  William Butler Yeats

In brief: Partisan politics threaten the operation of every governing body; centrifugal ideological forces pull citizens farther and farther apart; the security of individuals and  institutions is in peril.  Those who have longed for the apocalypse  may be cheered by the fragmentation of democratic institutions; those who hoped to simply shake things up may be less sanguine.  Many of us simply fear that we have lost our way, lost our common identity, lost the ability to find common ground.

On the day after the election, we awoke to find signs proclaiming that there was “No Safe Place”, not a warning but a promise, and, as promised, we’re hard pressed to find much that has remained secure.  Two thirds of voting Americans feel that neither political party has shown the ability to govern in the interest of ordinary people.

Stalemate.  Gridlock.  We’re stuck.  And yet, effective government remains the best hope of securing a democratic nation.  What’s a pragmatist to do?  How can deeply held and contending principles be set aside in order to secure the institutions that protect us all?

I’m a progressive with strongly held convictions; I would have been pleased to see a nation as imagined by Bernie Sanders.  And yet, perilous times have forced me to identify primary principles that cannot be abandoned, even as we agree to disagree issue by issue and crisis by crisis.

The rule of law must remain secure, and the rights of individuals as identified in the Constitution have to be protected.

I am now willing to join forces with people who do not share my conviction that the global environment is at risk, that the disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor is disgraceful, that the best government promotes the capacities of every individual.  I would rather travel and speak with those who share my beliefs, but we are in rough water and need to find a boat buoyant enough to protect us all, a “Safe Place” for us all.

Black Lives do matter, holding an armed paramilitary police force accountable is still necessary, the health care system has to be reformed, religious freedom must be maintained, banks do need to be regulated, the rights of transgender people have to be protected, financial equality for women in the workforce has to be secured, hungry children have to be fed.  But none of that happens in a nation in which bullies are allowed to celebrate hatred and violence, in which race war is the stuff of nightly news.

I’ll stick close to my progressive friends and continue to press for reform, but I no longer believe the Democratic Party has the capacity to offer leadership at this point in our history.  Our best hope at this point is to reclaim decency, and that means finding the ability to identify with people whose experience of the world is different from my own.

With regret, but with hope, I’ll move to the center.

The Centerist Project gained momentum as interest in the “NeverTrump” movement intensified , presenting  Utah’s Evan McMullen’s candidacy as an independent who might gain enough traction  the electoral college to disrupt Trump’s bid for the presidency.  That strategy did not succeed, but the identification of an agency by which candidates running independently might seek political office is interesting.  I do not share McMullen’s version of fiscal responsibility, but I can endorse the principles held by Centerists:

Social Tolerance, Functioning Government, Economic Opportunity, Solving Problems, Environmental Responsibility.

I would rather endorse inclusion than settle for tolerance, but for a while, let’s just make sure we protect tolerance, the rule of law, and justice.  In the interest of endorsing independent candidates eager to make government work, I’ll huddle under a tent that looks big enough for now.

I don’t know if the center can hold; old partisan habits die hard.  It isn’t easy to think of moderation as revolutionary, but perhaps desperate times call for a measured response.




A Misspent Youth

A Misspent Youth

Let’s get this straight:  While I feel not one jot of guilt for the many ways in which the best years of my young life were squandered, I am very much aware of the many opportunities lost as I mastered skills that would serve no useful purpose in my later life and certainly provided no benefit to society.  What in particular was left unattended?

Well, math, polite conversation, wood burning, knot tying, automobile maintenance, maintenance of any sort really, French, practicing the piano, laundry, letter writing, weeding, emptying the litter box, art, thank you notes, sensible eating, flags of the world, patience, and sundry other worthwhile attainments.  Any of which might have profited me handsomely, or at least might have prevented some of the notable failures that haunted me into late adolescence.

There were a few scattered, half-hearted undertakings, but I lacked ambition and grit, and thus rarely stuck with truly challenging enterprises. The Cub Scouts, for example, expected quite a bit from its Bobcats, Tiger Cubs, Wolves, Bears, Webelos, and Arrows of Light.  I can state that with confidence without having actually navigated my way up the food chain.  This partially successful Bobcat (newcomer rank) sailed through the first level of scouting which involved buying the shirt, patch, and cap.  I suppose I should give a parent some credit for the purchase as my weekly allowance would hardly cover the cost of Cub duds, and, as previously outlined, saving up for something I wanted  would have belonged in the general category of postponing gratification, a skill set I chose not to develop.  The next hurdle involved mastery of the Scout Sign, two fingers held aloft, essentially rabbit ears, a physical challenge I managed easily, and the ability to explain the meaning of the sign (“to help other people” and “to obey”), neither of which seemed very interesting but were at least relatively uncomplicated.  The next step was to memorize the Law of the Pack and the Cub Scout Motto.  I never got to the motto, primarily because the Law of the Pack, which begins with the phrase, “The Cub Scout follows Akela…”,  was so puzzling that I quietly shed my blue beanie and left the pack to its own devices.  My subscription to Boy’s Life, the magazine of scouting, followed me into my freshman year at college, but I never earned a single merit badge, no backpacking badge, no dentistry badge, no leather work badge.

So, how did I spend those formative years?  I read quite a bit, evading the school’s assigned reading almost from the start, lolling happily with Frank and Joe Hardy and their chums, Chet Morton (i.e. “me”, chunky and dim) and Biff Hooper (i.e. “my inner jock” – six feet tall, blonde, and athletic).  Disorganized in every other venture, I began with The Tower Treasure and read the books in order until the start of the eleventh grade, when I found The Viking Symbol Mystery less engaging than I had hoped.  I read books about baseball and football, books about space and time travel, books about lost civilizations, and books about knights and dragons.

In what may have been the most curious impulse but perhaps the most profitable, I read the dictionary and the World Book Encyclopedia.  Had I made the final cut for Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, I might have been able to monetize the hours spent poring over accounts historical, scientific, and technical.  On the other hand, I only had access to the edition of the World Book published in 1917, so some articles probably called for updating.  On the third hand, the descriptions were delicious and far more evocative than those appearing in the 1950’s and ’60s, as was this description of the Basque.

“Basque – a brave, proud, and independent people whom no invaders have ever crushed or expelled from their native province in Northern Spain and the southwestern corner of France, near the Pyrenees.”

Upon consideration, perhaps these were not the most curious of occupations.  I’ve written elsewhere of my fascination with professional wrestling and dissection; as Stan Lee might put it – ‘Nuff Said.  So, yes, I read comics by the truckload as well.  And then …

It pains me to admit that I spent a great deal of time perfecting sound effects of all sorts, many of which punctuated instruction in the classroom, most notably the long whistle of a bomb falling from great height, exploding on impact with at least four separate sorts of concussion.  Impressive but not appreciated.  With regard to impressions, I did a fair Bela Lugosi and Donald Duck, but the sole effect I employ even now, a hair-raising and spot-on evocation of a cat in terminal battle mode, continues to go unappreciated no matter how often I trot it out.

There was no merit badge for the mastery of the “rat tail”, a towel moistened at the tip, curled and snapped in one fluid motion, but it was an entirely necessary protective measure as ten or fifteen boys, a considerable number of whom were hormonally challenged and eager to express their sublimated vitality with aggressive manoeuvres of various degrees of intensity, were herded naked into a shower room each afternoon following required team sport.  I was among the smallest and certainly among the two or three chunkiest, an obvious target, easy to corner, clumsy enough to fall against the bank of radiators.  During the subsequent summer, a well-meaning but likely insane relative thought I would find a visit to a tannery jolly fun.  I did not, and the stench of flayed animals remains with me to this day.  I knew something like that smell, of course, as my wet buttocks and flanks had been frequently pushed into the steaming radiators, leaving vertical burns of varying sizes.  I was reluctant to show these burns to the school nurse, but they were increasingly angry as they went untreated.  I finally swallowed my pride and bared my backside, but I determined not to put myself in danger again.

Thus the rat tail.  Yes, I had to enter the shower room, but carrying a towel, I had a weapon at hand.  I pictured myself Zorro or Lash LaRue, an artist with a whip.  I was and am able to twirl a towel and snap it with precision in a single motion.  As I am rarely assaulted in showers these days, I have to content myself with idly snapping a magazine from a shelf or a toothbrush from the side of the sink.  A dry towel snaps, but a moistened towel delivers a stinging slap, as my toothbrush can attest.

In recent years, I have found that I can kick-start any conversation by asking if my companion has a hidden or secret talent.  It is my experience that everyone does, from the ability to belch the alphabet to the wiggling of ears.  I’ll offer the yowling cat, but I long for the day when a stranger asks if anyone in the room can snap a rat tail with a pop so loud that it sounds like fireworks.  I may have to wait for some time.  Disappointing.

My brother posts frequently on Facebook and YouTube.  Perhaps the time has come for me to offer my own instructional videos.  I have this heavy yellow towel with exactly the right heft;  check local listings.