#MatteredToMe - January 29, 2021
It is Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently.
- This past weekend I watched Princess Mononoke with my son—his first time seeing it and my first time since it first came to US theaters in 1999. It felt different to return to this movie in the current climate of deep division and political violence, and in particular the way that the main character, Ashitaka, refuses to hate anyone, works for peace, but also doesn't treat the two sides of the conflict as equivalent. I was reminded of Ian Danskin's video essay "Lady Eboshi Is Wrong," which does a great job of digging into the nuance the movie's morality.
- The latest episode of Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice is called "My Car Plays Tapes," written and read by John Osborne. It's a lovely piece about aging, nostalgia, what we can and can't and should and shouldn't hold onto.
- Esmé Weijun Wang wrote about seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story shortly after the 2016 election, about resistance and sacrifice, and about what that election brought out in much of America. I related to it quite a lot.
- Sabrina Orah Mark’s “We Didn’t Have a Chance to Say Goodbye” is about fairy tales and grief and what is lost. It has heartbreak in it, I think, but what is remarkable is the way Orah Mark writes the piece into its own (her own?) redemption.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. However you’re feeling right now, it’s okay to feel that way. However things are for you right now, I hope they are better tomorrow.
Thank you, and take care.
All We Can Do
(CW: animal mortality)
There’s no good way to say this. My dog is dying.
On some level, we’ve known this was coming for a while now. I’ve even been saying that it’s coming for a while now. He turned 14 years old in October. It’s been getting harder and harder for him to walk or even stand in some parts of our house, and his energy and mind have been declining for months. This week we got the diagnosis: cancer. We are doing our best to make his last days or weeks comfortable, but it is hard to know that our time left with him is short. Somehow, part of me still thought we had more time.
The kids have each been taking it a bit differently. Our middle child was shocked by the news. Our eldest took it more stoically at first, having expected it, but he cried later that evening. Our youngest goes in and out of paying attention, sometimes sad that he has to go, sometimes looking ahead to getting a new dog. This is all normal and natural given each of their ages, I think. They’ve all known him for their entire lives.
Cooper—that is his name—is the first living thing that I was ever fully responsible for. My family had cats when I was growing up, but although I loved them they were mostly my parents’ responsibility. For fourteen years, J and I have cared for Cooper and loved him, and we’ve done our best. Now we have to be responsible for the end of his life, too.
I knew in the abstract that we would have to make this decision some day, but now it is here and it is even more difficult than I expected. He’s not as strong or fast or steady as he was, and he gets confused or forgetful. But we still see glimpses of his old self each day. He can’t walk very far anymore, but he still wants to go out to smell the fire hydrant and the neighbors’ fences. He still has good days, or at least parts of good days. I want for him to have as many good days as he can. I want for him not to suffer. I worry that we will make the wrong decision, either too early or too late. I already feel terrible guilt over it, and it hasn’t even happened yet. I feel guilty for wanting him to hang on as long as he can. I feel guilty for wanting him to go quickly.
(I’m not looking for advice. I hope that is not ungrateful of me. I appreciate you letting me work through this with you.)
Wednesday night after we got the diagnosis, when I was putting the youngest to bed she said “I don’t want Cooper to go.” I put my hand on her head and stroked her hair. “I know,” I said. “I don’t want him to go either. But all we can do is try to enjoy the time we have with him.”
I’m trying my best.
New KTCO: KTCO Book Club - Tender (with Wm Henry Morris)
On this week's episode, the KTCO Book Club returns with a conversation with writer Wm Henry Morris about Sofia Samatar's 2017 story collection Tender. The stories in this collection range from fairy tale and folklore to dystopian sci-fi to (almost) contemporary realism, but all have in common Samatar’s impeccable prose, attention to detail, and exceptional readership.
Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:
You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript at the episode page at the KTCO website.
You can purchase paper copies of Tender at your local independent bookstore, or you can purchase a DRM-free ebook version directly from the publisher. You can find links to Wm Henry Morris's work at his website.
#MatteredToMe - January 22, 2021
It’s Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- José Olivarez's “poem where no one is deported” is what the title describes, and it is more. It is, I think, a poem of grace and gratitude in the face of evil, and I am grateful for it.
- At several points over the past few weeks I have found myself too overwhelmed to read or work or listen to podcasts. In those moments, I found Theo Alexander’s minimalist album Animadversions a big help in re-centering myself. It’s not that the music is soothing, exactly, but something about the repetition and the way the songs build grabbed and held me enough to get me through.
- I started listening to the D&D actual-play podcast Dungeons and Daddies recently after seeing Sarah Hollowell tweet about it, and have been really enjoying it. It’s very funny and usually quite vulgar, with occasional moments of earnestness that are surprisingly affecting. It’s been a nice respite, the time I get to spend listening to these adventures.
- Lyz Lenz’s recent newsletter “Trump Is Gone, But the Era of White Grievance Isn’t Over” voiced a lot of what has been on my mind this week.
- Anne Helen Peterson spoke with psychologist Dr. Rachel Kowert about the moral panic over video games, something that may help ease your mind a bit if you have kids and have been stressing over their pandemic screen time.
- Noah Cho and Betty Kim’s comic “Every Flavor a Ghost” is about the tie between food and memory, and what we carry with us as we grow older. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
- As I mentioned, I’ve been pretty tense the past few days. One thing that has helped me has been reading articles and op-eds that express the same urgency I feel about our political situation. Ezra Klein’s “Democrats, Here’s How to Lose in 2022. And Deserve It” is one. This piece about Charlottesville activists’ message to President Biden is another. I guess I’m just glad to know that people are talking about this.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I hope that this week has brought you some peace and some hope. I’m doing my best to find some for myself, too. Whatever it is you need, I hope you get a piece of it soon.
Thank you, and take care.
Yes, I did cry during the inauguration, which I hadn’t planned on watching. I did watch it, though, and I did cry, in part because of something like relief or catharsis after four years of rallies and marches and meetings with my Congressman and phone calls and text banks and policy research and vote tracking and postcards and, and, and. All of the time and energy and fear and hope I put into trying to make things better over the past four years, or at least trying to slow down the damage being done, all of it came back to me all at once and filled me up until it overflowed out of my eyes. Joe Biden was inaugurated and yes, I cried, and everywhere I looked—which is to say, mostly online—people shared that they, too, were crying and celebrating, finally letting their shoulders come down, their jaws unclench, breathing easily for what felt like the first time. I wanted—want—to join in, to sing along We won! We won! We won! We won! but all I can feel is how upside-down the world is.
I know it’s important to celebrate the wins, even the temporary ones. I have spent the past four years telling people the same. It is surely good and right and sensible to celebrate in this moment, to relax, to revel in hope. We earned it, we did. But I haven’t relaxed, and I can’t celebrate. 400,000 people are dead in the past year of a virus that could have been controlled. And children are still separated from their families, migrants are still imprisoned in camps, police are still gassing protestors, and so, and so, and so. I am pulled not to celebrate but to mourn, not to a festival but to a funeral.
And I am angry, too. I am angry that in his first speech as President, Biden called for unity without saying unity with whom, for what, and at what cost, and who will bear that cost. I am angry that the local newspaper ran an op-ed this week from a rich philanthropist calling for civility and denouncing cancel culture, as though facing criticism for one’s actions is as bad as violent insurrection or virulent infection. I am angry that my senior Senator defended her colleagues’ attempts to undermine and destroy our democracy. I am angry that lying House Republicans are not being ejected from Congress but are apparently walking unchallenged onto the House floor with concealed weapons. I am angry that so many of us are so ready to move on, to forgive, to forget, with no real reckoning, so desperate to “heal” that we will leave our wounds to fester. I am so angry, and I don’t know what to do with it.
Maybe I’m tense and anxious and sad and angry and tired because after all of it, I still love this country. I’ve always loved it, even knowing for my whole life that it didn’t love me back, even knowing all the ways it has never lived up to its promise, all the ways it has failed and been cruel and terrible. Despite everything, this is my home—and look what they have done to my home. I feel like I’m looking at a house that was destroyed by an arsonist who took the time to piss on the ashes before he left, and, yes, it is good and important that he’s gone but there’s still so much to do just to clean up, let alone get started rebuilding. The embers aren’t even done smoldering yet.
(I know, too, that consistent anxiety doesn’t just disappear when the immediate threat passes, and that it often just transfers to something else. I know that however well-reasoned I may think that my worries are, I’m not immune to the ways my brain works.)
But, look, I am trying. I see, too, the acknowledgements that the work isn’t done. I see the organizers rolling up their sleeves, I see the people who are writing clear-eyed analyses of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I’ve been watching the Executive Orders and memoranda roll out, and I saw Schumer say no to McConnell this morning—I know this is in large part due to the work of activists all over the country. I’m trying to take heart from all of that, and to turn toward the opportunity we’ve made. I’ll get there; I think I will.
New KTCO: Kazim Ali
This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer Kazim Ali. Kazim’s latest poetry collection, The Voice of Sheila Chandra, uses sound to explode meaning and explore silence and voicelessness, bringing together history, philosophy, spirituality, and personal experience to create something truly profound. In our conversation, Kazim and I discussed the divine in art, what the sound of poetry can embody and enact, and the fundamental oneness of human life. Then for the second segment, we talked about music.
Here are some links where you can listen to the episode:
You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript at the episode page on the KTCO website.
You can purchase a copy of The Voice of Sheila Chandra directly from the publisher, or at your local bookstore. Kazim's new memoir, Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water, is forthcoming in March 2021 and is now available for pre-order.
#MatteredToMe - January 9, 2021
I’ve been a bit distracted and didn’t read much this week, as I imagine might be true for you as well. And that’s okay. Still, it’s Friday—or was when I started writing this letter—so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- I often find success harder to accept than failure, so I appreciated and related to Sarah Gailey's recent newsletter about their garden.
- From Alexandra Petri's latest column: “it is amazing, after all, what you can do, if no one bothers to get in your way.” People, including her, have been saying this for years. I'm sad and angry that it still needs saying, but I am glad that people are still saying it.
- If you want something fun and light to escape into for a minute, perhaps a Scottish sea shanty might be the just the thing.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. What I'm thinking about is how decency is necessary but not sufficient, and how empathy isn't the same as a lack of accountability. I appreciate all the people I've seen saying the same.
Thank you, and take care.
Necessary But Not Sufficient
It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?
It’s scary enough, of course, to watch a group of traitorous insurrectionists violently take over the seat of legislative power in your country. It’s scarier still to consider that this week may only be a prelude to what’s yet to come. What’s making me feel all the more uneasy is that at least some of our leaders still seem not to grasp the gravity of the situation or the nature of their responsibility.
Look, I’m not saying there’s been no response. Nearly 200 House Democrats and more than 30 Senate Democrats have called for the President’s immediate removal, and signs are there that impeachment will move quickly in the House next week. There will be investigations into law enforcement’s inaction during the attack, and the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Capitol Police Chief have all resigned under pressure.
Nevertheless, I’m concerned that this will pass without serious consequences for most of the people responsible. Asked in a press conference whether he thought Senators Cruz and Hawley should resign, President-elect Biden said only that he thought they should be beaten the next time they run. And this was after he spent a good three minutes praising Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney and talking about how the Republican Party is going to have a come-to-Jesus moment.
A goodly number of centrist Democrats seem to be working under the fantasy that all it will take to meaningfully change the hearts and minds of Republican politicians and Trumpist voters is a show of decency from the top. Indeed, this was the fundamental message of Biden’s campaign: unity and a restoration of decency. But if the past 10 years have shown us anything, it is that reaching out in compromise to the Republicans and giving them room to build power can only result in them continuing to destroy the institutions that we depend on for our way of life.
Joe Biden should know this better than anyone. In 2008, as now, the United States voted Obama and Biden into the White House, and Democrats into control of the House and Senate. After two years of attempting to work with Republicans and offering compromise, treating their opposition as legitimate and principled, Democrats had little to show for their efforts and lost the House because of it. Four years later, after being continually stymied by both Republican obstructionism and their own fear of overreaching, Democrats lost the Senate as well.
I’m not saying that decency isn’t important in a President, or in any politician. Indeed, the past four years have shown us exactly how necessary simple decency is. But it is not sufficient. You cannot reconcile with people who are determined to continue opposing you. You cannot unify a country while also giving power and legitimacy to people who are determined to divide it. You cannot heal when your opponents haven’t even stopped attacking you. And you cannot keep yourself and your party in office without concretely demonstrating that you deserve to be there.
Later in the video clip I linked above, Biden compared Senators Cruz and Hawley to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The rhetorical point was apt enough, but if we are going to be making comparisons to the Nazis, we must also keep in mind the ineffectiveness of appeasement. Republicans like Cruz and Hawley—and they are far from alone either in Congress or among the public—are without remorse and are perfectly willing to continue inciting the kind of violence we saw this week. If we are truly going to restore American democracy, Biden must take care not to become the Neville Chamberlain of a second wave of American fascism.
Scattered, vol. 5
- Last night, J asked me, “Can you believe it’s already New Year’s Eve?” and I answered, “Yes.” She smiled and rolled her eyes, “You always believe it is the day it is.” I suppose that’s more or less true, but on the other hand sometimes I get so distracted by the weirdness of existence that I can hardly believe in days in the first place.
- After a couple of years of seeing people I like and admire talk about how much they love their Hobonichi planners, I broke down and bought one a few weeks ago. I’d been excited to start this year’s journal, but this morning as I sat down to write in it for the first time, I realized that what I actually wanted was a notebook, not a planner.
- I started off this year thoroughly insulated with a thick layer of “wearable blanket,” fluffy to the point where my arms don’t even touch my sides when they’re at rest. I feel like there’s some kind of metaphor here but I can’t quite decide what it ought to be.
- J and the kids and I played the cooperative board game Pandemic last night, losing the first two games almost immediately before finally winning a third game pretty easily. I can’t decide if this is on-the-nose or just a non sequitur.
- Usually by now I’d have decided on some goals for the year but somehow it’s just not feeling terribly pressing, at least not yet. I think there’s something hopeful about setting goals or picking a word or intention for the year, and I’ll get to it. For now, I’m feeling content just to be where I am.
#MatteredToMe - Jan. 1, 2021
- Lyz Lenz wrote about running through 2020, finding a new stride, and settling in for a long run.
- Sarah McCarry's latest newsletter is about one of her shipmates and it's just a lovely bit of writing, the product of the kind of getting to know someone that comes from sharing a small space with them.
- I recently read Kazim Ali's 2018 poetry collection Inquisition, and quite enjoyed it. One poem that particularly struck me, "The Astronomer's Son," came toward the end. In the end notes, Ali points out that some of the star facts presented in the poem are misremembered by the speaker. For me this adds an extra layer of bittersweetness to an already emotionally complex poem.
- I finished reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series with my son recently, which made the recent Backlisted podcast episode about the series' title book particularly timely. If, like me, that series was important in your childhood, I think you'll appreciate this conversation.
- Finally, I recently read Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s novel Starling Days. The book has some heavy themes, dealing with depression and suicide but it is sensitively done, intimate and often tender. It has one of the best portrayals of what depression feels like that I’ve read recently, and also one of the best portrayals of the feeling of infatuation. I appreciated it.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm glad we got through last year—me, and you too. I hope something wonderful finds its way to you soon.
Thank you, and take care.