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.

A venal monster by any other name …

I have taken to calling the president “Caligula.” Seth Meyers put this in my head by referring to him a few weeks ago as “our drooling, potato-brained Caligula.” It felt perfect. I used the whole description for a bit, but have given up the adjectives. They offer too much cover for evil.

At the start of the administration, I refused to put the word “president” beside Caligula’s name. Also wanted to avoid using his name. I started calling him “THOTUS” instead: Titular Head of These United States. (I was pretty proud of that one, I have to admit.) THOTUS worked for me on many levels. It gave a nod to the man’s baseness by including “tit.” It acknowledged the obvious fact that the decisions he was making were guided by his masters even as he wore the crown. And it let me bypass saying his name or calling him by the office he held.

Eventually, I had to give up THOTUS. It still worked for me, still felt satisfying, but the damage being done to and by this country was too great to be tossing around a cutesy name for a greedy, self-aggrandizing, painfully unintelligent, insecure, hate-monger bent on theft and destruction. And so I finally succumbed, began calling him both by his title and his name.

But now the power and horrific majesty of “Caligula” has been presented, and I find it too fitting to pass up. I’ve been using it almost daily, and it satisfies utterly. Or … almost utterly. Sure Caligula’s rep is that he was a monster and a sexual predator who thought he was a god. That all tracks. Yes, the homework I did that turned up questions about the accuracy of those accounts, but it still felt right. But somehow not enough right. And, of course, that’s because of Caligula’s grand-nephew, Nero.

Nero keeps getting in my way. Famous for “fiddling while Rome burned,” which definitely feels right if you sub in playing golf for fiddling. But “Nero” doesn’t feel as right for me, and “Caligula-with-a-side-of-Nero” is just ridiculous.

And, too, there is the concern that saying anything other than his title and name is just repeating the mistake of THOTUS, the mistake of being funny when there isn’t a single funny thing happening.

I’m sticking with Caligula for now, despite the inaccuracy of the comparison — the Romans at least got one good year of not-insane rule before Caligula turned into a horror legend. I’ve dropped the almost cutesy, doddering-old-fool additions of “drooling” and “potato-brained” and settled fully into this usage. Hoping that I only need to use it for the next seven and a half months.

Hoping.

The shock of the mundane.

So much going on today, so many people trying to find their way with all the craziness we’re caught up in with this pandemic. I had a long and stressful day at work — working and also setting up to work from home, which I’ll be doing starting tomorrow — came home to an evening meeting (on Zoom), only to have to duck out of it because the ceiling in my kitchen started leaking.

I was ready for so many things today:

  • I installed a bunch of those bulb thingies in my work plants so they can self-water. I ordered them last week when I knew we were about to start working from home. I can’t bring all of my office plants home, so they need to shelter in place in my office. This way, I can leave them and only have to check on them once every week to 10 days.
  • I had a slew of meetings around implementing the contingency plans we came up with last week.
  • I made sure I’d be able to get my team paid without having to be in the office.
  • I put out a couple of stress-induced fires.
  • I canceled some appointments, the better to facilitate my social distancing.
  • I washed my hands. A lot.

I put in a solid 10-hour day. I felt pretty productive. I felt pretty capable.

And then I was totally thrown by a leak. I mean, a leak is never fun, but it’s pretty regular. I’ve had any number of leaks, so many that I feel they are the particular curse I bring with me to each new home I live in. But tonight, I just couldn’t. I had fully exhausted my ability to be calm and capable in the face of a challenge. I just stood and stared at all that water, listened to it rain down over my freshly-washed dishes. I was undone.

Okay, that didn’t last forever. My brain snapped back into position, and I set about stemming the flood and calling the super and cleaning. It’s just really interesting to me that something so basic, so everyday, was the thing that flummoxed me, that almost made me lose my … ahem … ish.

And it’s only day one, friends. How are you doing? How ready are you for these sweeping lockdowns? Wishing us all well in the time of COVID19.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Reverberations

So last weekend the news was about Elizabeth Lederer’s decision to stop being a lecturer at Columbia University Law School. It’s a little satisfying, seeing people put in the spotlight, seeing the (at-long-last-and-finally) negative impact caused by the harsh lens of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the Central Park 5, When They See Us. I am glad enough that Lederer won’t be a vaunted lecturer at Columbia’s law school anymore. I am, however, totally not here for her effort to control the narrative, saying she stepped down because she doesn’t want the distraction of publicity to affect the college rather than acknowledging that she has culpability. Notice that the weekend’s headlines aren’t about Lederer being fired.

I read a NYT article from a few years ago, an article written in 2013 after the airing of the Ken and Sarah Burns documentary about the jogger case, and after Frank Chi created an online petition demanding that Columbia fire Lederer from her teaching position. The article acknowledges that Lederer was involved in the perpetration of an injustice, but it clearly faults Chi for wanting her to have to pay any consequences for that involvement.

The five boys who’d been sent to prison were still trying to build lives after the justice system had done everything in its power to destroy them, and the writer of that Times piece was upset that anyone should point a finger at Lederer for her part in that heinous miscarriage of justice.

The writer, Jim Dwyer, says: “The petition against Ms. Lederer, in part, reduces her life in public service to a single moment, the jogger case. In fact, she has a lengthy résumé of unchallenged convictions in cold cases, having pursued investigations of forgotten crimes. No one lives without error. And designating a single villain completely misses the point and power of the documentary. The jogger case belongs to a historical moment, not any one prosecutor or detective; it grew in the soils of a rancid, angry, fearful time.”

Could he really have been serious? Does he really believe that, because she tried other cases that didn’t involve harming innocent people, that we should forget about what she did in this case, in this case in which she participated in the destruction of five innocent boys’ childhoods, in this case which impacted the families of each of these innocent boys? He says “the jogger case belongs to a historical moment,” as if we weren’t, at the exact moment he was writing that line, living in the reality of a system that regularly brutalized Black and brown people. Ferguson wouldn’t become a national flashpoint for another year, but it’s not as though anyone actually trying to look would have been able to miss the simple fact that the justice system treats Black and brown folks unjustly on the regular.

And even if we really could consign the jogger case to history, why should that mean the people who carried out that hideousness should be allowed to thrive and make money, in part because they point to their success in that case? Chi was absolutely right to call for Lederer’s dismissal. Columbia didn’t listen, though. Not then and not in the years since then when students at the school made the same call. Only now, in the wake of When They See Us being the most streamed show in Netflix history, are any dominoes falling — or, more accurately, are some dominoes falling and a few others removing themselves from the game.

 

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch When They See Us. I knew a) it would be painful, b) it would be enraging, and c) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep well after watching because d) my brain wouldn’t be able to stop running through the story, through all the moments when people in power could have decided another way, through all the moments when one or another of those innocent children was harmed.

I finally watched on Sunday. I went to a friend’s house and we watched together. We watched two episodes, took a short break, then watched the final two. She drove me to the train and I made my way home. I stayed up awhile, even though it was already late and I had an early meeting Monday morning. I was afraid to go to sleep, certain I would dream the worst parts of the show.

I didn’t dream the show, but I didn’t fall asleep right away, either. I couldn’t … because, every time I closed my eyes, my brain did what I’d known it would: began running through the moments of choice in the story, through the moments of casual brutality. I tried thinking about other things, tried reading a book, tried playing games on my phone. No good.

I did finally sleep. I had an equally hard time sleeping Monday night. I’m practically a zombie right now, running on a combined total of about 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours. I will probably have this same issue for several nights to come.

If I can’t sleep, and I am 100 percent not culpable of anything in this case, how do the people entirely responsible sleep? How have they been able to live their lives without remorse? I don’t make room for the possibility that they honestly believed they had served justice. There is no chance they aren’t guilty of pushing children into harm’s way to benefit themselves: to resolve a terrible crime … and to feed a popular narrative that enabled them to build and strengthen their own careers by showing how tough on crime they were, how skillfully they could win high-profile cases.

I don’t feel any kind of sorry for Fairstein or Lederer. I’m also not surprised that the primary fallout from the show (so far?) has centered on women. That’s predictable and problematic, but it doesn’t make me feel sorry for these two. Not at all.

Rather, I want everyone with dirt on their hands to suffer blowback. All the cops who beat and lied and terrorized confessions into those children.? The cops who decided to scoop up Korey Wise because he was 16 and they could do what they wanted with him without calling his mother. Every person along the way who saw lies being constructed and put their heads down and let it happen. Every prison guard and inmate who harmed Korey Wise during his years of incarceration. I want every single last one of the people connected to the criminalization and brutalization of those five children to face consequences. It’s good that Lederer and Fairstein don’t get to keep making money off the unforgivable thing they did, but it’s not enough. Do I sound like some raging angel of vengeful retribution? I am truly okay with that.

After Chi’s online petition took off six years ago, Chi asked Ken Burns to sign on. That was a no-go: “Burns said […] he and the other filmmakers wanted nothing to do with the campaign. “It is just simple retribution, and we are appalled by it,” he said. “We don’t subscribe to any of it.”” It was simple retribution. Yes. Exactly. Why not? Lederer had used her success in that trial to burnish her reputation. She benefited directly from the harm done to those boys. Retribution sounds entirely correct. But Burns couldn’t let himself get too close to that. It might get in the way of his ability to keep making documentaries and winning accolades for his compelling historical narratives. (He’s made 10 documentaries since 2013. That isn’t a gravy train you’d want to stop.) I obviously have no idea what Burns was thinking when he made that comment about the “fire Lederer” petition, but how could he have dug into the case and seen what was done, yet not felt that Lederer and everyone else involved had a price to pay?

And now, in response to When They See Us, New York City’s Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and the New York County Defender Services have called on Manhattan’s District Attorney to a) fire Elizabeth Lederer, who continues to work as a prosecutor for the City, and b) reopen and re-investigate sex crime cases that were handled by Lederer and Fairstein between 1976 and 2002. The Manhattan DA has said that the jogger casewas a profound injustice” … but he has no intention of doing anything about it, at least not anything like holding “an attorney in good standing” on his team accountable for her part in that tragedy.

Lederer won’t get a bonus check for lecturing at Columbia anymore. Her choice. Columbia didn’t fire her. She still has her well-paid job with the City. She’s fine and she’s going to be fine. Fairstein can run around slandering Ava DuVernay, skating on the edge of calling that woman out of her name. Her books will still sell. She’ll write new ones and some publisher is going to pick her up. She’s pissy right now, but she’ll be fine.

Yeah. I mean, I’m not at all surprised, but I’m entirely disgusted.

Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam. We don’t call their names at Black Lives Matter events. Of course not. They are all still alive. They have all managed to grow up and make lives. Thank God. But there’s no question but that the child in each of them was killed in 1989.

 


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 decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Click over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!