How to write coherently about incoherence? How to articulate a lack of understanding? I don’t have answers to those questions. But writing is what I do, so here I am again, doing it.
One answer to the first question might be that it’s not necessary or sometimes even advisable to write coherently. Coherence, whether narrative or ideological, is an artifact of the human mind, an artifice. On March 31, a good friend who had been reading my diary entries emailed me:
It’s all good writing, all solid, all interesting. If it reads like that throughout, it is worth having been done. But it is highly processed. If you are writing in diary format, it should not be. … The more you process your thoughts, the farther you move from Ethan, my friend and the closer you move to Ethan, the author. … And a diary should be easier to write.
My friend’s words hit me hard at the time, but ever since they’ve remained helpfully on my mind. Part of what I take from them is that it’s all right not to understand fully all that’s going on. But of course – for that very reason, largely – this diary has been hard to write. There’s also a difference, maybe one we don’t yet fully understand, between writing a truly private diary like Anne Frank’s, with no immediate readership and no real hope even of an eventual one, and writing, whether ostensibly with understanding or candidly without it, in the age of instant digital distribution.
This morning I remembered to find comfort, or at least a model, in the novelist Edwidge Danticat’s essay collection Create Dangerously. In the title essay, she speaks of “striking a dangerous balance between silence and art” and recalls the day of the horrific Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010: how “even before the first aftershock, people were calling me asking, ‘Edwidge, what are you going to do? When are you going back? Could you tell us how you feel? Could you write us fifteen hundred words or less?’” And in “Our Guernica,” she writes:
It was too soon to even try to write, I told myself. You were not there. You did not live it. You have no right even to speak – for you, for them, for anyone. So I did what I always do when my own words fail me. I read.
One thing I’ve been trying to read about is the anti-lockdown protests lately sweeping state capitals. They don’t seem to be going away. Today I read a piece published two days ago in Jacobin magazine, titled “The Left Can’t Just Dismiss the Anti-Lockdown Protests,” written by Ben Burgis in Lansing, Michigan. “Even those who belong to thuggish right-wing organizations were in at least some cases motivated by legitimate economic grievances,” Burgis writes.
Christian Yingling, a “former commanding officer of Pennsylvania’s Light Foot militia,” was quoted in one report explaining his willingness to endanger his health and the health of others: “My mortgage payment is late, my truck payment is late, and if I lose either of those I’m dead in the water.”
Legions of ordinary people are in the same situation right now. Things will only get worse as the lockdowns drag on. Steven Crowder may be a clownish reactionary charlatan, but he’s not entirely wrong to say that all jobs are “‘essential’ for those who rely on them for a living.” …
Crowder is only half-right. If you work at a barbershop or tattoo parlor or dine-in restaurant that can’t stay open without endangering your health and the health of the people you love, your paycheck is essential to you. Actually going to work at Applebee’s instead of staying safe at home with your family is not. Fortunately, the two can be separated by means of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) combined with a complete rent freeze that made sure no one had to pay back rent when they returned to work.
Which gets to the heart of the matter: the effects of the pandemic are fundamentally about what kind of society we want to live in. (And who is “we,” anyway?) As an avowed leftist, Burgis has a political point of view and a set of policy suggestions to offer, which is fair enough. And it’s certainly interesting to recall that the things he has in mind would have been widely dismissed as radically unrealistic just a couple of months ago. For their part, the powers that be are brazenly prioritizing the maintenance of injustice and plutocratic hierarchy.
Today I walked Jenny to her acupuncture appointment and, while I waited for her, walked on to the north shore of Green Lake, Seattle’s most popular park. There I sat alone at a picnic table and wrote parts of this entry, despite the strong wind that was making my paper flap around and whipping up waves on the lake. Individuals and pairs of people walked along the path around the lake, in one direction only as is now mandated. Lawn signs had been printed and stuck in the grass, reading on one side:
ONE WAY LOOP
To support social distancing
this path is now one way
And on the other side:
This is now a one-way loop,
and you’re going the
I took a picture of the reverse side and texted it to Dennis and Pete. Dennis promptly replied: “Is this addressed to the entire human race?”
It had rained in the morning, but by noon it was clearing up into a beautiful if blustery spring afternoon. At N 82nd Street and Ashworth Avenue N on my way back to meet Jenny, I walked beneath a row of the later-blooming “pompom” cherry trees exuberantly dropping their petals on sidewalks and parked cars. Apple trees are now blooming too, and within just the past few days lilacs are bursting forth, including three of the four in our own garden. The scent of lilacs reminds me happily of the backyard of my adolescence in Oconomowoc. Jenny likes them too. We stopped to smell every lilac we passed on the way home.
On Friday, April 24, the Seattle Times published a leader editorial about the future of the damaged West Seattle Bridge, closed a month ago on the same day as Governor Inslee’s announcement of the stay-at-home order. Headlined “West Seattle Bridge is a regional crisis,” it seemed to presuppose that the existing bridge cannot be repaired, which was news to me but unsurprising. “Seattle was right to convene a technical panel for advice,” wrote the paper’s editorial board.
But the city has work ahead to assure residents and the region that it can successfully lead the state’s next massive infrastructure project.
Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck, a former Seattle City Council member, made a good suggestion to this editorial board: Form a regional task force to lead the replacement strategy. …
Sound Transit is preparing to build a parallel bridge for light rail. Combining them makes sense if it saves money and doesn’t reduce the corridor’s capacity for either general-purpose traffic or mass transit. … A port contribution might be justified since the corridor is vital to industry, including 100,000 Duwamish area jobs.
But port resources are constrained by the downturn. It’s now considering which of its own projects to defer, including a third cruise-ship facility at Terminal 46. Massive airport projects funded by airline fees are facing a bind with air traffic shriveled.