Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Incalcuably Diffusive

I'm nearing the end of this vacation and am writing this in a state of profound exhaustion. Honestly, this has been the most tiring vacation! We walk and walk and walk. And there's just SO much to see. But, despite the fatigue and sore feet and kidly whines, I think every American should come to DC. The things you see here are inspiriting and powerful. They point out how everything good in America (and I think these things are manifold) have all come through hard fought fights. Through wearisome, soul-crushing forays in bureaucracy and politics. People have sacrificed their lives and seen their fondest dreams go unrealized. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabth Cady Stanton were both dead before women got the right to vote. But, they had abiding faith in America and Americans, and it paid off, even if they didn't live to see it. I get all teary and moved when I see memorials to their activism. I get teary and moved when I see a lot of the memorials here. Basically, all of them.

But amidst all these glorious stories, I may remember this most from this vacation: I was walking down Constitution Avenue with Laney and (let's call her*) my niece, Lexi, in desperate pursuit of a McDonald's. I had two hungry girls who were both picky about what they'd eat and would happily go hungry and be cranky if not presented with food that fit their narrow dietary preferences. Courtesy GoogleMaps on my iPhone, I'd found a McDonalds and we were on our way. But navigating DC was proving taxing, so I stopped and asked three on-break sanitation workers if I was on the right way to 7th Street. Here's the conversation:

Them: Yeah, it's that way. What are you looking for? [See 7th Street was farther than I thought]
Me [wry smile]; McDonalds
Them: Is there one there? Yeah. But, wait...

And then they had this confab and, after some discussion, directed me to a much closer McDonalds. It would have been nice enough to let me know I was on the right path. But, instead, they took some time and really helped me out.

Today, Laney and I were walking through the Museum of Natural History and I was marveling at the delicate balance animals and earth manage and how much we human folks have fucked it up and I got to wondering what is it about us that's superior to animals. Would the world just be better without people? But then I realized that there is one thing we're capable of that animals aren't and that is kindness. Decency. Concern for other people. McDonalds might be one of the great evils of the world, but the willingness of those three garbage men to spend two minutes helping me out is, not to get too grandiloquent, everything great about people and is what makes us worthwhile.

There are very few people who've walked the earth who are capable of the grand acts that have thrust us forward in huge steps (even while they're also painfully incremental). We can't all be Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Abraham Lincoln. But we can all be decent people. We can all take a second to just be nice to someone for no other reason than because we can. I think this is manageable. And I also think it's beautiful.

A couple of quotes:

We're born, we live a little, we die... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift my own life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that
- E.B. White from Charlotte's Web

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
- George Eliot from Middlemarch

Here in the middle of my life I figure I pretty much have two choices: give up because we can't fix it and no one seems to be able to or just try to be a decent person and have a little faith that kindness not only matters but is the thing that matter most. I'm pretty sure the latter is true.

* Lexi is my cousin's daughter, But, you know, small families. She's a niece.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Nostalgia Paradox

It's scary out there. A whole school of fish seem to have committed suicide in Delaware. No one has a job. The weather keeps getting more and more extreme. A loud, fringe element in America is noisily racist, paranoid and proudly ignorant.

It's hard not to hearken back to my youth, when the air was probably cleaner, everything didn't come wrapped in 8000 layers of non-biodegradable plastic, and we were all free to be you and me.

The problem with that is that this is clearly the best time in history to be a woman. We enjoy more liberty, more freedom, more respect than we have at any other point in history. This is true for most minorities and gay people too.

Knowing this, it's hard to be entirely hopeless.

The good old days were really only good for folks like Rush and Glenn, who are comfortable as bullshit lord of the manor types. But I like living in a world that's getting more and more open. Which is, of course, the same thing that freaks out the retrograde right.

Things may be really scary out there, our government might be broken, planet earth may be getting rid to kick us all off; but, I have to be glad that my opinion on these matters is afforded the respect it's due (which might not be much, but that's not down to my silly, girly brain). Also: I can freak out over it in MUCH more comfortable underwear.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I've lost my passion for online political argument. It used to be my life blood, but the internet sucked it out of me. Arguing on the internet is the most pointless, enervating, frustrating thing out there. And, I've gotten to the point where I find it honestly upsetting.

I was recently engaged in a discussion on the internet with a person I don't know. He said he thought Mike Huckabee was OK. I said that I think Mike Huckabee is a colossal asshole. He told me that gay marriage is a wedge issue and he resents being tossed around like a football.

Fortunately, I was on my way out the door and didn't have time to put together a response. Instead, I thought about what he said. Kind of a lot. At first I was really pissed about it. And then I'd kind of get his point. And then I'd get mad again. And then I'd think that this would be an interesting conversation. Then my dander would go back up. After a while, I hit on what made me so angry and it was that he seemed to be accusing me of using gay marriage as a weapon in some larger battle of playing "j'accuse" with the right.

But, I don't think is a fair estimation of my position at all; which is, in short, that gay marriage (or, more to the point of why Mike Huckabee is such a colossal asshole, gay parenting) is a civil right. I think those of us, both homo and hetero alike, who feel strongly about this, do so because we want it to happen NOT because it's a convenient way to separate us from the right. I think we come at this genuinely. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, may honestly believe that gay people adopt children because they couldn't find a puppy that matched their drapes. But it's far, far more likely that he's trying to appeal to people who think gay people are immoral and that the children must be protected from them.

Shutting up about gay marriage isn't going to make Mike Huckabee stop campaigning on how icky and scary the homos are.

But, I didn't write that down. Because, I just didn't think I could take another one of those shitty facebook exchanges. Honestly, they make my stomach hurt.

So, instead, I wrote it down here. And now, hopefully both of you have enjoyed my musings on Gay Marriage: Not My Wedge Issue."