February 12, 2020

Grief in the face of prosperity

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:32 am by chavisory

The first thing I thought of when I finished reading Alyssa Ahlgren’s essay after it came across my Facebook news feed was this article from the New Yorker this past fall, about the experience of publicly mourning the death of a glacier, about how to collectively  acknowledge grief for losses on a scale that we as humans are just not psychologically prepared to cope with at all, and our own responsibility in the face of them.

And I know that ecological concerns were not really the main thrust of Ms. Ahlgren’s observations, but still, it’s the first thing, somehow, that I thought of, that I wished she would read. It was the first thing I read that articulated heartbreakingly concisely something I’ve been struggling with how to acknowledge.

“This is one of the most distressing things about being alive today: we are witnessing geologic time collapse on a human scale.”

It’s February and I haven’t had to wear a coat more than five or six times total this year. Our blue herons haven’t bothered to leave for the winter. There are daffodils coming up in the park this morning. That would be normal for February if this were Georgia.

But I’m in New York.

I’m not being brainwashed into this. I’m seeing this with my own eyes.

And I’m a little over a decade older than Ms. Ahlgren, so admittedly my frame of reference is somewhat different. I’ve seen things change more. I also know that we didn’t used to have fireflies into mid-September. Perhaps things look fine from her perspective because in her adult memory, this is more or less the way they’ve always been.

But they haven’t.

*

Ms. Ahlgren’s reliance on the apparent ready availability of consumer electronics to prove that we’re all simply ungrateful, that we’ve been tricked or brainwashed into thinking we’ve never seen prosperity is…interesting.

I’m not sure if she knows this, but my generation is actually the first in decades to be projected to have a shorter life expectancy than that of our parents.

Many of us, even if we have professional careers, will never be able to own a home.

I live in an apartment without a dishwasher or washer/dryer or microwave or television. (I haven’t actually owned a television in so long that whenever I encounter one I barely know how to operate it.)

That’s actually okay with me. I don’t really need those things, and I’m used to getting along without them. (I’m also an old Millennial, or a “Xennial,” or a member of the Oregon Trail generation; I do know what it’s like to live without the internet or smart phones.) But it is very much a mistake to assume that standards of living and access to technology are equally high for everyone in this country. Or even that they’re uniformly better here than elsewhere in the world—they’re not. There are still parts of this country where indoor plumbing and access to safe drinking water can’t be taken for granted.

Access to gadgets isn’t quality of life. It isn’t safe and stable housing. It isn’t job security. It isn’t reliable access to healthcare.

It’s not that we’re ungrateful. But we’re anxious and afraid, for our own futures and our world.

We don’t know right this minute if our votes matter anymore, whether if our sitting president invites foreign interference into our elections again, that there is anything that anyone will do about it.

We keep seeing our country refuse to honor the ideals or even the Constitutional protections were taught to believe it stood for. It’s starting to look a whole lot like our laws don’t matter, that rules are considered to apply to Democrats and not Republicans, that members of one faction of our political class can do literally anything it wants, to anyone, no matter how explicitly illegal, without consequences.

We see how our fellow humans are being treated at our borders, our fellow citizens poisoned by their drinking water, and we don’t feel we have the right to say “It doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t matter to my life.”

I was on jury duty this past week, and the sheer number of people I saw being excused, after having to explain to a judge, that we simply could not afford to serve on a trial of significant length because that’s not how the way in which we’re employed works, was a little astonishing, even to me. That’s a problem of justice for defendants who literally cannot have a jury of their peers, because such large swaths of our society cannot afford to participate in the justice system.

I’m 37 years old and it still feels strange and wrong every time I buy a book or a movie ticket, because I couldn’t do that for so long.

*

I’m sitting here in a sunny coffee shop, too, and I am grateful.

I’m grateful to have control over my own life to the degree that I do. I’m grateful to be employed in a career I enjoy, even if it will never give me a luxurious standard of living, because around 85% of people with my disability are unemployed or under-employed (or employed under schemes in which employers don’t even have to pay us minimum wage).

I’m grateful for my union, because of which I have workplace protections and health insurance and a pension plan which I’m relatively confident will survive even if Social Security doesn’t. And I don’t normally buy into Social Security alarmism because I know that it is actually one of our more stable and traditionally politically untouchable government programs, that it’s survived many threats from deficit scapegoating more or less unscathed over the years, but this administration seems unusually hell-bent on setting fire to the stability of our social safety net from the bottom up.

I’m grateful for the work of everyone who’s helped secure those basic worker protections for people in my profession.

I’m grateful to have gotten a high-quality college education without going into student debt, because a lot of my generation did not, and no, not just because they made bad or lazy choices, but because even state college tuitions have risen completely out of proportion to wages in the past two decades. It used to be possible for an average student to pay their way through state college with a summer job. It’s simply not now. And I support the policies of people like Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren regarding student debt forgiveness because even though my family had the good fortune in many ways to be able to do what many regard to have been the right thing and just didn’t incur any, there are now so many people my age so burdened by debt that they can’t take part in economic life in any normal way and it’s affecting the health of the economy for everyone, including me.

When I walk through my neighborhood, and see the number of shuttered, empty storefronts—of bars, restaurants, stationery stores—where small businesses (and sometimes even corporate chains) couldn’t keep up with astronomical rents… I am not being brainwashed into seeing that.

We aren’t making this up.

I run another, very small blog, where with the help of other readers, I tally up every progressive, environmental, or civil rights victory, big or small, that we have secured in this time despite the depredations of our current administration, and I am grateful for every single one of those events and for everyone whose work and commitment made them happen.

I am grateful. I like my iPhone and my laptop and our easy access to information and media and living in a lively, diverse city with incredible access to music and theater and cultural resources.

And in a lot of ways, living here long term is not good for me. My health and well-being would be better served, honestly, by living in a quieter, smaller place. But I fear the economic and personal consequences of trying to move somewhere and start over, of giving up the theater community and faith community and network of known and trusted employers I have here, of winding up lonelier and poorer and more isolated. I just feel like I’m being pulled apart at the seams sometimes. But there’s nothing really to do except to just keep working until there’s a more viable obvious choice.

I don’t think we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we’ve never seen prosperity, rather than that we have seen prosperity, but many of us have not gained access to its benefits in terms of true freedom of movement or security about the future, for ourselves or for the world we’re leaving our children.

I’ll survive, because it’s just what I do, but more and more I don’t know what kind of a world I’ll survive to live in, and I know I’m far from unique in that, and that the consequences I’ll face, given where I live, are nowhere near as severe as those that people elsewhere in the world will, but it’s still sad and it’s hard, and if Ms. Ahlgren can’t appreciate that..?

After the 2016 elections, those of us who were scared and upset got told a lot that we lived in a cultural “bubble” and had no understanding of the anxieties and fears that would lead so many of our fellow citizens to vote the way they did—

And now to be told, in response to our genuine fears and our responses to them at the ballot box, “You just don’t understand how good you really have it…”

Well, which is it? And also, how dare you?

You can reasonably conclude that I am wrong in my assessment of the facts. As I was saying to a friend not long ago, both the beauty and the horror of the human mind is its ability to assemble narrative out of data in a basically infinite number of ways. It’s a fallacy to think that someone who has access to all the same information as we do will necessarily agree with us about what it means, that if only people knew what we knew, they’d agree about its significance or what to do about it.

(Although I do have to wonder whether Ms. Ahlgren knows that within the lifetimes of some of her peers, America has virtually always been at war. No, this isn’t World War II or Vietnam, but that does not mean that we aren’t witnessing historically consequential events or that we don’t get to respond or have feelings about them.

“The oldest Icelandic texts are a thousand years old,” Magnason said—around the same age as the ice in the country’s oldest glaciers. “In all that time, the Earth has been quite stable, but the Earth will have changed more in the next two hundred years than in the last thousand years.”)

 

But if you cannot look around at what is happening in this country right now, at what is being done to our environment, if you can turn on the news and not at least understand why someone of your generation might be legitimately angry at our government and scared for our future, might not simply be comfortable with what we have—

Then I am not the one who lives in a bubble.

*

There’s a line in the song “Bright Horses,” on Nick Cave’s new album, that goes “We’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are.” Trust me, most of us wish we weren’t witnessing our democracy and our rule of law, along with our natural world, crumbling under our feet. Almost everyone I know is exhausted from heartache, but we can’t pretend not to be seeing what we are in fact seeing, what we are experiencing. And you can disagree with our electoral responses to it, but please do not tell us we’re imagining it; we are not.

No, I can’t look around me and see what I see, and in good conscience decide to just sit here and be happy with my coffee and my iPhone.

I can’t. I won’t.

January 5, 2020

Conscientious objector resources & alternatives to military service

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:09 pm by chavisory

I did not hope for this to be my first post of the new year, but as the situation in Iran and Iraq has quickly become more volatile and concerning, this is courtesy of a friend of mine who wanted to put this information out there without being credited by name.

If you are currently in the military and concerned about deployment or considering claiming conscientious objector status (which I did not know, but apparently you can pursue even after you have enlisted), or you are not currently enlisted and seeking alternatives to military service, below is some information that might help.

With hope for a more peaceful new decade for us all…

***

“If someone you know is in the military and wants to make sure they’re not hauled off to kill or die to boost Trump’s approval ratings, here’s some basic info and a hotline # for pursuing a conscientious objector discharge:
https://girightshotline.org/…/conscientious-objection-disch…

“If you know someone who hasn’t enlisted yet but is considering it as a way to get healthcare, free college, job training, etc, the Quakers have help finding other ways to get those needs met. We need Medicare for All and free college, but in the meantime, scroll down for free downloads and regional guides on what’s out there now: https://www.afsc.org/resource/alternatives-military

“And if it comes to it, while the maximum penalties on the books for going AWOL are brutal, but they haven’t been used since 1945. In practice the Pentagon only charges 5% of soldiers who quit, and only 1% receive any sentence. Compared to being asked to kill innocent people or get killed in pointless war, getting out is both the right and the smart thing to do. http://nymag.com/…/…/what-happens-to-most-awol-soldiers.html

January 11, 2019

Lessons learned watching The Neverending Story alone in a bar on a night in October

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 11:06 pm by chavisory

Not long ago, I watched the Neverending Story alone in a bar.

A friend and I had planned to meet up for a drink after we both got out of rehearsal, but she wound up having to attend to a work-related emergency at the last minute, and so I had some time to sit and write over a cocktail until she got back. An amount of time which turned out to be the length of the Neverending Story, which the bartender had turned on the television above the bar.

Though still fairly early in the evening, it was already noisy enough that the closed captions were on.

I had loved the movie as a kid. We had a bootlegged VHS copy a babysitter had left behind, to which a prior owner with a deaf child had somehow added homemade captions using label tape. But I think I hadn’t actually seen it since college, when the Tate Student Center movie theater at UGA had one night held a $2.00 midnight showing.

A couple of friends and I went. I didn’t expect the showing to be sold out—I don’t think I’d ever really known the movie was a cult classic and not just some obscure curiosity due to my only experience of it having been a glitchy secondhand VHS and not having had much in common with the pop culture tastes of kids my age when I was growing up—but there wasn’t an empty seat in the theater.

And then they couldn’t get the projector to work.

An hour went by while they tried.

No one left. No one.

Probably they were hoping that we would eventually give up and go home and they’d get the projector serviced later and reschedule the date. But no one moved. We were there to see the Neverending Story, damn it, and we were going to see it.

Two hours went by. Up on screen, we occasionally saw flashes of hope in the form of the computer desktop, screensavers, and glimpses of the SETI search program that evidently the booth’s computer had running in the background, but no movie. Eventually people started acting out scenes down in front of the screen, Rocky Horror style. This was 2002 or so, so it wasn’t even like people had smart phones to amuse ourselves. Everyone. just. waited. It was probably the most astonishing demonstration of group solidarity I had ever seen at that point in my life.

The projector was finally induced to work. It was around 2:00 in the morning. I actually don’t remember clearly, but I’m sure cheers went up.

What I do remember with almost painful clarity was the dawning realization of how different the movie was from my childhood memory of it. I know I’m by far not the only person who has this experience; I’ve had this conversation with multiple age-peers since then, but it was truly shocking. The writing was awkward and goofy. The low-budget special effects were awful; the story trajectory didn’t really hang together. The whole thing came off as laughably, vaguely amateur. It was jarring.

A younger friend who saw it recently for the first time said “I feel like I hallucinated that whole thing,” and I said that was probably the correct thing to feel.

Fast forward to one night this past October. I’m writing alone, waiting for a friend, having a Jack and Coke by candlelight, when the Neverending Story comes on the bar television. It’s now been a longer time since I last saw it in college than it had been then since I’d seen it as a kid.

And maybe it was that I was very exhausted and a little bit drunk by then. It had been a long couple weeks of rehearsal and maybe I was just hungry for some fluffy escapist fantasy. Maybe this bar is actually slightly imbued with magical qualities, a position I don’t become less convinced of with time.

Maybe it’s that in the intervening years I’ve become much more able to see and hear with an uncritical heart again (and that’s another, longer, story).

But somehow it was every bit the most beautiful movie in the world that I remembered. I kept waiting for its faults to show themselves, and watched with astonishment equal to that I felt sitting in the UGA student center theater 16 years ago as they didn’t. It looked entirely and luminously like the movie it was meant to be.

I also thought I remembered the movie’s thesis. I didn’t. Or at least, I remembered the one that’s made explicit throughout the movie, that children’s imagination and creativity are necessary to the sustenance of the world.

But I realized it had another one, implied but never articulated, like a secret flip-side to that one, undiscoverable without being on the other side of a certain amount of life experience.

On this night, in the week after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, an outcome which we’d thought we were powerless to prevent and then for weeks came to believe that maybe we could, that maybe the revelations of one person ultimately could, only to find that they would not. After weeks and weeks and months and months of ongoing horrors emanating from the White House, which in so many ways we hoped we could alter but could not, not because we didn’t care or try but because really, they were out of our hands, I felt for Atreyu like I never had before, who actually looked like the child he was to me for the first time. Who tried so hard and yet did not prevent the collapse of Fantasia under the power of the Nothing. How he blamed himself for failing, when really, he alone could never have defeated it.

The reason why it happened wasn’t because he failed, and it wasn’t his fault for trying and failing.

And that even in failure, his effort and loss weren’t wasted; the fact of his being willing to try wasn’t pointless.

For he actually brought Bastian all the way to the Empress, without even knowing.

We won’t always be able to win everything we imagine. A significant percentage of the time, in fact, we probably won’t.

We still have to be willing to try.

November 21, 2016

Snow and comfort

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:39 am by chavisory

I’ve been wanting comfort food, well, all week, to be perfectly honest.  And then I stepped off the subway tonight into the first snowfall of the year.

Climate change doesn’t quite have us yet, I told myself.

I have one pork chop, and I just dredge it in flour, salt, and pepper like I usually do, along with the whole rest of a bottle of oregano I’ve been trying to use up, and pan fry it in a little butter and a dash of olive oil.  (The mother of one of my college roommates was the person who I first saw use butter and olive oil together for really good pan frying.)

With the pork chop done, I deglazed the pan with a dash of (really cheap) white wine, and when it mostly quit bubbling, just poured the result over the pork chop.  (There’s probably a cooking term for what I did wrong there, but I don’t know what it is.)  I added some more butter to the pan (I don’t know how much, sorry.  Some more), and cooked about half a sliced plain yellow onion and half a thinly sliced pear in the butter and browned bits, with some crushed dried rosemary, and about two dashes of cinnamon, until it was all soft and slightly caramelized.

And ate the whole mess with a glass of the cheap wine and some Doctor Who, whose writing quality has really recovered well in season 9.

(I forgot to take a picture of the food like a proper blogger or a Millennial, but it tasted prettier than it looked.)

“The Zygon Inversion” feels particularly important this week.

10/10 stars, would recommend.

April 18, 2015

Hair color, hypocrisy, and warped priorities

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:05 am by chavisory

So my school district had this policy, too–no unnatural hair colors, including red that was too bright. Kids were sent home under this policy a fair bit and it did not make international headlines.

Emily-Reay_1_3268848b

But aside from just thinking it was unfair and stupid when I was in middle school because I thought people should have a right to self-expression in ways that are harmless to other people, I actually just realized something, while commenting on a Facebook thread about this particular instance, about why it inspired such intense contempt in me for the school personnel upholding it.

The adults making and enforcing policies like this were people claiming that we should look up to and respect them, that they were entitled to our mental time and attention and a huge degree of control over our lives.

But supposed adults who could not deal with a child having green hair…were no way, no how, going to be people who could teach me how to survive in this world or make a life that I wanted to live.  That was a huge signal that the challenges relevant to our lives were…on a different order of magnitude.

Something in me was going “You cannot help me, if you seriously think that this is a big deal and expect me to as well.”  If a student’s loud hair is way outside the range of your ability to cope, if that is what bends you out of shape…you don’t have the maturity or adaptability or the ability to teach them that I need, to put it somewhat mildly.

It really undermined my ability to take those people seriously as grownups, let alone as teachers or authority figures.  It also really put the lie to the claim that so much of what happened in school was necessary to teach “social skills” or ability to work with people different from yourself…when how much clearer could it have been that tolerance for difference was for some people but not others?