I’m rereading this diary from the beginning, in preparation for publishing the entries from March 3 through August 1 in book form, hopefully next spring. It’s a spooky experience. The passage of time is part of the point; one does one’s best to pay attention and jot down notes in the moment, at every moment, and the hope is that later, at leisure (?), both oneself and others will find it interesting and edifying to reflect on how the story developed, how things changed over time.
Except that nothing seems to change. I just read this, for example, from my entry dated March 25: “Yesterday I was lethargic and depressed all morning and didn’t shower until after 2 p.m., but then Jenny and I went for a walk and I felt better.” Six months later, that sentence still describes the parameters of my daily life.
Nothing seems to change, except for the worse. You try to settle into a routine, uneventful and at times dreary though that might be, and then you get walloped by something shocking yet all too predictable, like a full week stuck indoors because of air made unbreathable by wildfire smoke. You gratefully prepare to emerge from that, and then Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. Ginsburg was a remarkable person who did many notable and even historic things over a long life of public service. But it might turn out that the most consequential thing she ever did was to die at this particular perilous moment. As the cliché goes, time will tell. But I’m not looking forward to it.
The one-two punch of the smoke and Ginsburg’s death has thrown our little household off balance. From the start of the pandemic, Jenny quietly insisted that we must take a walk every day, and I was and remain fully on board that. We missed three days when I was in the hospital in late July, but other than that we kept it up until just after Labor Day. That’s when the smoke hit. We walked together this past Friday and again yesterday, but the three days in between we missed or messed up the chance, and not without some miscommunication and hurt feelings. And I still haven’t been grocery shopping.
(Update: I wrote the previous sentence in the morning. As I type this, around 5:30 p.m., I’ve since been to Fred Meyer and Trader Joe’s, and Office Depot, and our friend Pete’s house just in case there were still some plums left on his tree [there weren’t], and the Top Pot donut shop, and my rented mailbox, and the credit union, and returned exhausted. It was raining hard the whole time, and incidentally the rain is supposed to continue through Sunday. At Jenny’s urging I took a nap, but I woke up still tired and out of sorts. Now I feel more “normal” or at least functional, provisionally, for now.)
We look around our house and garden at things we ought to do, like tidying the coffee table or pruning the enormous hazelnut shrub, and sometimes we shrug and say to ourselves and each other: “Why bother? What’s the point?” Never mind painting the kitchen and bathroom or reflooring the mudroom, which would require planning and effort and Home Depot runs. Yesterday I cleaned a gutter and unclogged a downspout, so that’s something.
I’m not sure exactly how such domestic things are connected to the perpetually roiling political dramas centered around Washington, DC, three thousand miles away, but somehow they are. The disconnect I feel probably has something to do with an observation that University of Maine journalism professor Michael Socolow tweeted yesterday: “In retrospect, it’s sort of amazing to consider that television – ‘the idiot box’ – basically held the country together for fifty years. Once it frayed (first cable, then internet) so did our politics and society.” It should go without saying that I despise Trump and hugely resent how he spews his own malformed ego and id all over the lives and livelihoods of untold millions of us. So I’ll just say it and leave it at that, except to note that merely resenting Trump requires the unavoidable daily expenditure of emotional energy that I don’t have to spare. I also resent the totalistic authoritarian wet dreams of the Barrs and Pences of this world. As the Jonestown survivor Eugene Smith said to me on the phone yesterday, “Don’t even waste your time trying to figure it out, because if you figure it out you’ll be as sick as they are.”
At the same time, I remain unsure whether the national Democrats really want to govern or to seize this moment. And the former depends on the latter. (I duly acknowledge, and agree with, Strunk and White’s admonition never to use “the former” and “the latter,” but I just did it, so oh well.) We have to wait until at least November 4 to get any glimpse through the haze.
And, as with the literal haze we just lived through, it feels like the safest thing for me and my wife to do is to shelter in place and, literally, tend our own garden. The outside world impinges mostly in the form of what feel like daily, very personal, almost physical assaults, like my city being declared an “anarchist jurisdiction.” New York City can speak for itself (and does), but Seattle and Portland, nearly off the map as they are for most Americans of all leanings, are treated and discussed as if they were political cartoons, rather than real cities where real people live. The TV series Portlandia, entertaining though it was, fed into this.
From USA Today, September 22:
Romney called it appropriate for a “nation which is, if you will, center-right, to have a court which reflects center-right points of view, which again are not changing the law from what it states, but instead following the law and following the Constitution.”
The rapid falling in line among senators demonstrated the power not only of Trump’s sway over the party, but also the importance of the issue. Many conservative Republicans were willing to look past Trump’s pugnacious style in order to embrace his promise of shifting the federal judiciary to the right, a promise he has honored.
Eight years ago, between Labor Day and Christmas 2012, I spent 3 ½ months driving more than 18,000 miles around the continental United States, starting and ending in Seattle. My purpose was to reacquaint myself with my own country after having traveled relentlessly as a foreign correspondent, mostly in Asia, for thirteen years. I wrote a book about that trip called Home Free: An American Road Trip. The premise that dictated my timing was that that year’s presidential election might turn out to be historic – or at least matters of public import would be on the minds of the Americans of various shapes and sizes I would meet along the way. Little did I know.
Anyway, my dad, who grew up in a white working class family in Dallas in the 1940s and ’50s, accompanied me from Colorado Springs through the desert Southwest. “I think there are a lot of parallels between now and the Civil War,” he said to me over dinner at the Black Angus Steakhouse in Lancaster, California, on our last evening together before I dropped him at LAX. “Not in the details so much, but in the sense of a watershed moment. Now it’s not so obvious, but because of the demographic shifts it’s substantial. I don’t think the Romney types and the white Southern folks are prepared for a brown America.”
“And in a sense it came suddenly,” I suggested.
“Well, in one sense. But if your eyes were open, you could see it coming. The world’s a-changin’. … Grandmother Casey would approve, by the way.”