What I Didn’t Do

Content warning: Atlanta shootings

I had a crap day today. I’m overtired and cranky. I discovered a huge error in the big project we’re slogging through at work. There was a worsening of a pain in my right arm that feels distressingly similar to how my rotator cuff tear started four years ago. I left work too late to make it to the UPS store, which likely means it’s too late to return a nonsense purchase I made a while ago.

I had a crap day on Monday when I hurt my hip and smushed my finger in a door and had a snarky interaction with a neighbor who refuses to wear masks or respect socially-distant space.

I could have an entire blog dedicated to writing about the crap days I have. The days when I come home feeling defeated. The days when it’s hard to get out of bed because what’s the point when everything sucks. The days when I’m more sad, angry, lonely, tired, fed up than I am anything nicer. I generally have pretty good days, but I have quite a number of super-bad ones, too.

I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual. Don’t we all have crap days sometimes?

I had a lousy day. What I didn’t do was pretend that my unfortunate day was a reasonable catalyst for terrorism. What I didn’t do was go on a killing spree and explain my actions by saying I was in a bad mood. What I didn’t do was make my victims out to be villains who left me with no choice but to end their lives. Somehow I managed not to do any of that.

I had a crap day and this is what I did: some impulse grocery shopping when I was finally on my way home and got back here with watermelon, tortilla chips, and ice cream (hey, my binge doesn’t look like everybody’s binge). What I didn’t do, it bears repeating, was kill anyone and then blame them for my violence.

I’m not surprised that a police officer (one who has been revealed to be — surprise! — a racist) would talk about Robert Aaron Long’s act of domestic terrorism in a way that offered up excuses for the murder of eight innocent people. I’m not surprised that this racist police officer told the killer’s story and erased the victims from the narrative as easily as Long did with his racist, misogynistic violence. I’m not surprised. But I am, too.

I had a bad day. And it was made worse by the reverberations of this latest act of white male violence against people of color. Robert Aaron Long isn’t some lone wolf, some individual crazy guy who had a bad day, some unfathomable mad man. Long is one more in a line of violent white men we are asked to ignore over and over again. This morning I wrote on FB that he looks like all of his brothers — like Dylan Roof, like Tim McVeigh, like Biggo with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, like every murdering incel. They all look alike, because they are all alike. And we are asked to ignore everything that is plainly similar about all of them, asked to pretend that each of them is a stand-alone case of mental illness rather than force the conversation about the violence of angry white men, rather than act.

I had a bad day, but I’m still here. I wish I could say the same for the eight innocents who were gunned down yesterday.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

When life was slow and oh so mellow …

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no-one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow

Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow

I was talking with a friend this morning. She was telling me about a party she’d been to in the Before Times. We were laughing about the situation she described when she said how much she missed parties like that, how much she was looking forward to being able to go out like that again. And I agreed … but then I realized that I couldn’t actually remember what it was like, going out to parties, getting dressed up to go out, seeing my friends in small and large groups without a second thought, laughing and drinking and dancing and flirting. This afternoon, another friend texted me to ask what things I miss because of Covid. She was missing, among other things, travel. I miss travel, too. When I read her text, I thought about travel and going to the movies and not having to use hand sanitizer and … everything.

And still I am struck by how completely I can’t remember how to do any of the things I miss doing. I can’t imagine planning a trip. Can’t imagine getting on a train or plane. Can’t imagine dancing with a stranger (I mean, okay: I didn’t do a whole lot of that pre-Covid). Can’t imagine sitting in a crowded bar laughing and talking with a bunch of friends. Can’t imagine sitting in a crowded theater and leaning over to whisper snarky asides in my friend’s ear. Can’t imagine holding hands. Can’t imagine kissing.

I’m approaching the time when I’ll be able to slowly try anew some of the things I’ve had to go without for the last year. And that feels both long overdue and impossible. It’s certain that I can’t “go back” to anything. There is no “back.” We’ve left “back” so far in the past, isn’t it pretty much in another world at this point? Isn’t there only whatever’s next? Yes, I will start to find a way to do things I used to do, but will I ever do them in the same way? Will it ever be casual and easy to stand next to another person? Will I ever shake hands again?

I keep hearing “Try to Remember” from The Fantastiks. That song makes the past sound like a soft-focus, satin-smooth dream. My life pre-Covid was hardly dreamy, but the cruel space of this pandemic year makes that life feel ever out of reach. So what does that mean? We can’t go back, so what do we make of the future? How do we shape what comes next?

… it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt, the heart is hollow

No danger there, right? Plenty of hurt, so my heart is anything but hollow? Is that a lesson I’m supposed to be taking from the last year? That’s … frustrating at best. No, my heart isn’t hollow, but it wasn’t hollow before Covid, either. Is it all of our hearts, our hearts as a human race, that I should be thinking of? Has the world had to find its way through this horror show so that we can (finally) learn that every single life is “wild and precious,” that we have to fight for everyone in order to save our individual selves?

Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow
Follow

It’s all of it, of course. I (we) need to start figuring out how to live among people again. And I (we) need to find a way to stretch out into my (our) whole self again. And I (we) need to keep fighting for everyone, for every single wild and precious life. It’s the only way.

I still can’t imagine holding hands, still can’t imagine kissing. But I have to figure it out, find a way forward that includes all of that and more because our closeness, in all the ways that we should and need to be close, is what will save us.

__________

* Also, I swear I’m not always trying to put ear worms in your heads, dear reader. I can’t seem to avoid thinking of songs that fit in some way with whatever I’m posting, however. Sometimes I manage not to include the song in the post, but other times …

And more also? It’s Pi Day. Hope you had some. ❤


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

So much for the Emperor.

It’s wasn’t at all surprising that yesterday exploded, that the ceremonial electoral college vote tallying was upended by violent insurrection, by an attempted coup. Mustn’t we all have known we were going directly to domestic terror? Every non-violent attempt at invalidating the 2020 election had failed. Caligula has been signaling his legions of thugs. Of course vote count day would be thrown off course by violence. And of course we should all have known that.

Still … I felt some surprise. I mean, what was up with that bare-chested guy in the pj bottoms and weird-ass horned headdress? Seriously, what was up with that guy? You’re coming to town for armed resistance and you’re dolled up like the love child of a Wagnerian Valkyrie and Max from Where the Wild Things Are? I mean, sure, you would be expecting a wild rumpus, but that get-up was … extra.

And what about the guy with the fist full of zip tie handcuffs? What’s that guy’s story? Who was he thinking he would be taking hostage? Why was he thinking about taking hostages?

Yes, some surprises, but mostly just head-shaking anger. The police opening the barricades and basically ushering the mob into the Capitol, cops yukking it up and taking selfies with the invading horde. The noose hung outside, complete with make-shift gallows. The wanton destruction, carried out by imbeciles talking about “their house.” And, best of all, no arrests, everyone just gently guided out of the building and off the grounds and allowed to walk away. Just like that. So casual. An occupying force, and the cops just let them stroll off.

It must be so interesting to be white.

Clearly America is finally great again. I’m waiting for Susan Collins to express her disappointment. Or to assure us that Caligula has learned an important lesson.

I wrote this at three o’clock this morning, while the House was voting on the challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes. I was watching Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon talk over each other. I was waiting up to see the full slate of votes counted and read into the record. I was tired, and staying up meant that work today would be a bad joke, but it felt important to stay up and watch it happen.

I’m interested in consequences. For the mob and for the Republicans and for Caligula himself.

While I’m not surprised, I am thoroughly fascinated by the comfortable entitlement of the terrorists. They didn’t think what they were doing was beyond the pale. (Sidebar: what the fuck does “beyond the pale” even mean? Where did it come from? Why did I write it when I’ve never said it in my life? I’m guessing I owe that to 3am brain.) One CNN reporter noted how shocked the invaders were when they were met with even mild resistance. Shocked. Because of course they should be able to storm the seat of government, destroy shit, rampage like drunken frat bros … and suffer no ill effects. Of course.

So I’m looking for some comeuppance for these assholes. Many of them are clearly identifiable, should be too hard for the FBI to find them. The FBI, right? Because they attacked a federal building, because they traveled across state lines to create chaos. That makes them the FBI’s responsibility, right? I want to see a string of news videos of these people led out of their homes and jobs and businesses in shackles. I want to see their stunned, angry, teary faces as they’re led away to pay the piper. (Seriously where are these words coming from? I think I really do have to blame 3am brain … that and the fact that I was forced to watch Louie Gohmert’s lame af objection to Wisconsin’s electoral college votes — did anyone need that nonsense?)

And then I want the Sedition Caucus to get their turn. All the senators and representatives who backed Caligula’s play. Censured and expelled. Every last fucking one of them. They are as responsible for feeding and goading the violent mob as Caligula is for goading and then unleashing that mob.

And finally, of course, there is Caligula. I want to see a fast-tracked impeachment. Because it’s more than warranted. And because a second impeachment has the added bonus of making it impossible for him to run for president again. I want that. I want it desperately. I think I deserve it. I think we all do.

At about 3:35am, the votes were officially counted and Biden was officially-officially set to be sworn in as our 46th president. Done and done.

Today I spent a chunk of time reading the weird, on-the-fly interviews with random terrorists. Reading the words of these violent criminals makes me angry, makes me sad, and makes me acutely aware of my Blackness, by which I mean acutely aware of the fact that White Supremacy has always been this country’s middle name.

When Caligula was inaugurated in 2017, I watched because I felt like I had to. I knew it would be awful, but I wanted to hear him actually say all the terrible things he was bound to say.

I bristled when he thanked Mr. My Forever President and his wife, Mrs. My Forever First Lady … and then went on and on describing how they had taken from the American people to enrich themselves and driven the country into the ground.

And then he described the country in stunningly bleak terms. He described our state of being as “this American carnage,” actually used the word “carnage” in his inauguration address.

It struck me because it showed just how much Caligula didn’t understand the job he’d just sworn to do. Yes, every president-elect who steps up to assume the mantle of state from an administration led by the opposing party wants to show the contrasts, wants to be clear about the ways their new administration will be a dramatic improvement over the outgoing crew.

But in those cases, they look forward and talk about the promise they’re going to flood over the land. They talk about the ways they’re going to join hands with the people, and together walk into a new world of possibility and prosperity. They don’t describe the country people are living in as carnage. They just don’t.

Caligula doesn’t know how to make a comparison other than saying option one is a shithole and option two is excellent like no one’s ever seen before. He has no sense of highlighting something good about option one and then showing how he will build high, higher, highest from those seeds of greatness. No. It’s only ever going to be shithole or glory. There’s no grey. And so we got “American carnage.”

Taking from the American people to enrich himself. Driving the country into the ground. Leaving (American) carnage in his wake. So, in 2017, Caligula was telling us what our future with him was going to yield. There were other eyebrow-raising callouts in the speech, but “American carnage” stood out, likely because it felt like foreshadowing, like a description of the world he would create for as many of us as he could. And by “us” I mean the majority of the citizenry, anyone who wasn’t wealthy and white. Yes, it would be worse for BIPOC, but it was clear he had no interest in or love for poor and middle-class white people, either.

We made it through the firestorm of his presidency in a severely diminished and debilitated state … only to have him try to orchestrate some additional carnage — as if all the lives lost to Covid weren’t a damning enough legacy — inviting bands of thugs to the city, ginning them up, and pointing them at Congress. Four insurrectionists and one law enforcement officer died. And as much as I am angered by the fact of how different the violence would have been if the invaders had been Black folks, I have to be glad the number is so low. I have no love for the people who tried to dismantle what’s left of US democracy, but I wouldn’t have wanted to see them bleeding and dying all over the Capitol, either, and I wouldn’t have wanted that more dramatic level of violence happening while electeds and journalists and maintenance workers and staffers were all sheltering in place throughout the building.

My title is the first bit of a quote from Suetonius. The full line: “So much for the Emperor; the rest of this history must deal with the monster.” Suetonius was talking about Caligula, and so … Caligula’s reign only has a couple of weeks left. I’m holding out hope (a hope that feels more like wishful thinking, but still) that he’ll be removed from office in the next few days. I’m not surprised that we’ve wound up here. But whether he leaves office or is removed, we still have the monster to deal with. The mob we watched yesterday was small. There’s plenty more where they came from. Caligula might be exiting stage left, but they will all still be our neighbors and coworkers. This is who we are as a country. It’s for-sure who Caligula is as a person and who he’s been as a leader. Can we do better? I choose to believe we can. Will we? Guess we’ll all have to stay tuned and see.

__________________________________________________

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Flying Off at the Handle

Here’s a little truth-telling from me, the Queen of Oversharing.
 
I write a lot about my growing relationship with my anger after decades of being afraid to express it or even to allow myself to feel it. Anger and I are still in the early stages of what I hope will be a solid relationship that spans the rest of my life. I need her and appreciate her, but I am still unfamiliar with the full breadth of her range.
 
Saturday, I had a stunning flare-up of extreme rage, something that has happened a couple of times during quarantine, and seems directly connected to my struggle with months and months of isolation. Saturday’s flash fire was alarming in the speed with which it came on and its ferocity. It left me shaking and physically ill.
Each time I’ve experienced one of these rage flares, I have been shocked by their suddenness and ferocity, and distressed by the physical toll they’ve taken on me. As I write that, it occurs to me that my experiencing this rage so completely in my body is for-sure connected to the fact that I turned my anger inward during all those years when I was afraid to express it, swallowing it rather than letting myself feel it.
 
Saturday’s rage blew up and blew out fairly quickly. But even after the shaking and nausea passed, I was flattened for hours, not feeling like myself until I woke up Sunday morning.
 
So why is this happening? I blame COVID and quarantine because I’ve never experienced anything like this until now, until spending all this time mostly alone. I lose my temper, of course. That’s not new. What’s new is going from zero to critical mass in a second.
 
When quarantine started, I thought I was pretty perfectly suited for self-isolation. I’m extremely comfortable staying home, comfortable with my own company, comfortable being away from people. I have about 10,000 distractions in my house — hundreds of books, materials for at least four different crafts, coloring books, art supplies, notebooks and pens … Being home is easy.
 
I was pretty fine with self-isolation. I’m still fine with isolation … And, too, I miss the world. I miss people. I miss physical contact. I am a hugger, a hand-holder, an arm stroker, and I haven’t touched another human being since March 8th.
 
Yes, I am angry about what COVID has stolen from me, angry at the ways it has shrunk my world and my life. More, I’m angry at the way COVID has been allowed to ravage this country, angry that almost 145,000 people have died, angry that BIPOC are disproportionately impacted by COVID, angry that this country has no interest in protecting people and saving lives, angry that Caligula is more concerned about lining his pockets and destabilizing our democracy so that he can strong-arm his way to re-election than he is about a single human life, let alone the tens of thousands of human lives already lost and the millions more currently at risk.
 
I am angry. I am furious. I am so engulfed in anger that I haven’t been able to see it because it’s everything, it’s the air I breathe. And these rage flares I’ve experienced are maybe my system’s attempt at release, at lessening the pressure that has been building up in and around me since the start of our colossally horrific response to this pandemic.
 
I need a different release, a better one. The physical toll Saturday’s rage had on me isn’t something I care to deal with again. Time to ease back into that long-ago-discarded meditation practice? Maybe so.

Notes from a Slide into Totalitarianism

The snatch-and-detain situation in Portland terrifies me. This practice run for terrorizing Americans and seizing power is playing out in real time on our social media and in the news.

If the US had been invaded by a powerful enemy and was now under siege, I would expect to hear stories like the ones coming out of Portland. But, then, I shouldn’t be surprised because that is exactly what has happened. The US has been invaded by a powerful enemy … they just happen to be the ruling party in Washington. Caligula and his masters and minions are taking what little is left of our democracy and grinding it under their heels. Well, not really, though. They’re far too weak to do the grinding. They are happy to sit back and let the military do it for them.

Unidentifiable military police are disappearing people off the streets of an American city … and we all just go on with our days — place another Amazon order, wonder if the Key Food has toilet paper, hope we can get to the bakery before the baguettes sell out.

Not that I have any kind of idea about what to do. Yes, write to my senators, post rants on FB, rock myself to sleep in fear … beyond that, I’m at a loss. What can I do?

Portland is just a test run, a dress rehearsal. There are, as I see it, multiple goals:

  • See if Caligula can get away with laying siege to a city within our borders.
  • See if this terrorism succeeds in shutting down protests.
  • See how easily people can be swept away … and what it would take to sweep up large numbers of people.
  • Make people think twice before speaking out about anything.
  • Testing the will/strength/capacity of the opposition party and the courts to see how the situation might play out in other cities, in November.

Is there anyone who doesn’t think Caligula has an encyclopedia of dictators in the residence … or, well, board books with one brightly-colored tome for each despot? He’s clearly been captivated by the volume on Pinochet.

I don’t think I’ve ever kidded myself that the US is the “more perfect union” the founders dreamed of in the Constitution’s Preamble, but I never thought we’d be here, either. Never thought I’d have to think seriously about dictatorial rule in this democratic republic I call home.

I’m puzzled by one thing, though. How are the military police okay with carrying out these orders? How are they not standing in support of the freedoms we’re all supposed to enjoy, the freedoms they’re supposed to have enlisted to uphold? How are they so comfortable and casual about enacting violence on their countrymen? How is this possible?

I am, actually, this naive. Yes, it turns out that I am. I wouldn’t have thought it so, but here I am.

Who fights for us, the fools like me who thought we had a firmer grasp on how things could work in this country? Who fights for us if the people who signed up to defend the country are now actively fighting against us?

Turns out, I’m even more naive than I just realized. After federal law enforcement attacked the BLM protesters in Lafayette Square in June, General Mark Milley acknowledged that he should have participated. And lots of folks saw that as a signal that we could count on Milley to side with the country and not the titular head of the country. I let myself be lulled, figured all those people who make a living analyzing this stuff must know what they’re talking about. And Mark Esper said some words, and those same thinkers papered those words over top of Milley’s statement and said we should all feel a little bit of optimism.

And I grabbed onto that optimism. So naive.

And here we are, on the knife’s edge, watching people who could so easily be any one of us grabbed off the street, bundled into unmarked vehicles and taken away.

As I said, Portland is a dress rehearsal. Not a full dress rehearsal, though. This is a first run, a chance to see how everyone reacts. The disappeared have been released (so far as we know), and they have mostly been unharmed. In the next run-through, there will be far more violence so that Caligula can see how we respond to that threat. And then, in the full dress rehearsal, we’ll see the kinds of for-real disappearances the people of Chile could tell us stories about. Where will the mothers of the disappeared gather in this country? Who will create the American version of Madres de Plaza de Mayo?

Yes, yes, yes. Maybe you’re thinking I’ve gone from dangerously naive to histrionic. But have I? Have I really? Does what’s being done in Portland seem like business as usual to you?

And I sit here, choking on my impotence. Because, really, what do we do? I have been able, until now, to convince myself that my pen is my answer, my weapon in this fight. But what can my pen do for me now? My minuscule readership isn’t likely to mobilize and take on the anonymous troops in Portland, and I wouldn’t want them to. But there has to be more I or any of us can do other than look on in horror.