A Belated Brett Kavanaugh Post

This past weekend a couple of things happened. The first is that The New York Times published an article based on a new book called The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An InvestigationThe second is that, in a too-rare attempt to clean  documents from my computer’s desktop, I came across a post that I began about a year ago having to do with Brett Kavanaugh.

I didn’t publish it at the time. It was in need of a time-consuming edit, and also I think I felt that there were so many opinion and think pieces happening at the time that mine didn’t add much to the conversation. So much happens everyday that until I came across the post, I had almost forgotten the furor. Across the country, women and  men who had experienced abusive actions, were speaking out, (#metoo). This prompted a backlash of mothers and others worried about false accusations and how it could affect men’s lives (#himtoo). In the midst of this, what business did I, a mere onlooker, have adding to the noise? A year later though, I’m looking at what I wrote with gentler eyes and figure it can live here on my little piece of the internet:

October 11, 2018.

The other day our roommate told me a story: In between her various work gigs, she’d gone to the movies where she bought candy from the concession stand. As she walked away, she realized she didn’t have her credit card so she returned to the concession stand and told the worker that she hadn’t gotten it back. He told her he didn’t have it.

Their discussion culminated in my friend looking the counter-guy in the eye and saying, “Look, I don’t know your life, you don’t know mine. I can say that I’m going to skip this movie and walk to the bank to de-activate this card, and it’s going to be a big inconvenience for me, and not helpful for anyone else. Or I’m going to walk across the lobby, and then I’m going to come back and find my credit card sitting right here on the counter.

She then walked across the lobby, and when she returned, her credit card was there.

She told me, “He’d taken it. I knew he’d taken it.”

I thought my friend was pretty badass — I am the sort who too often questions my own perception of reality. In her place, I almost certainly would have questioned myself, wondering: Did I drop it? Did someone already pick it up? Did I aim for a pocket and miss? Would I find the card in a hole in the lining of my purse a month from now?”

I asked her, “How did you know?”

“Because if you tell someone—just any normal person–that you’ve lost something, their first reaction is some kind of compassion. Like, ‘Oh, that sucks. I’ve had that happen.’ And then a normal person would say, ‘Let me look around here,’ even if they know they gave it back, because, why not? But there was none of that. This guy immediately jumped to the defensive, he got mad at me for “accusing” him, which, at that point, I hadn’t done. All I said was I didn’t get my card back.”

I  thought about this as I listened to coverage of the recent confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh to become a supreme court judge.

The hearings were contentious because a professor named Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh he assaulted her at a house party when they were both teenagers. He denied these claims and his responses to questions regarding this entire part of his life at the hearing were very impassioned.

People have been talking about how Kavanaugh “lost control” of his emotions as he responded. I actually wonder if Kavanaugh was advised to be emotional, i.e. ANGRY. Righteous anger I’ve found, is a good way to hi-jack whatever topic another person wants to discuss. And also, wrath of a man, especially a white man, commands something from us. I get it. I grew up with it. And we tend to look with suspicion at people who are too calm and rational. I know this too, from having been this person — the same calmly questioning person who would be unable to confidently accuse the candy-seller of taking my credit card.

As this person, I can’t jump on board with the impassioned posts on my Facebook wall with the brightly-colored backgrounds that call Kavanaugh “a rapist.” He is, at most, an “alleged attempted rapist,” which, even believing all of Blasey’s testimony, could be downgraded to a “drunk-to-the-point-of-stupid-violence, assault-est.” She said she was “afraid he would accidentally kill” her, which sounds truly terrifying, but also uses the word “accidentally.”  In a generous mood, recollecting drunken teenaged pile-ons I witnessed in my own youth, I would have to admit to the possibility that he had no intentions at all to harm or rape. I would have to concede to the possibility that he was just stupid drunk at a stupid age where people do stupid things that they walk away from and forget —  if they are lucky enough and usually privileged enough in terms of race and gender and economics to be able to do so.

I am a person who believes in the possibility that some asshole jocks from high school and asshole frat-boys from college grow and evolve as they grow older, that those underdeveloped parts of their brains develop and they become better people. After all, (yes, I’m going to evoke Star Trek: Next Generation) even Captain Picard had a brash and unthinking past, and he became a thoughtful leader of his crew. But Captain Picard also reflected on his past decisions – how they hurt him (and others). He felt regret, even as he came to acknowledge that his mistakes helped him grow into who he became.

Kavanaugh’s testimony, by contrast, was chillingly devoid of self-reflection or compassion for someone other than himself. Like the guy at the movie counter, he  bypassed that moment where one might say, “Oh, did you lose your innocence, your confidence, your ability to feel safe in the world. That must suck,” and jumped to the defensive immediately. He looks back on his youth with glasses tinted rose and shouts “betrayal” at anyone who might look through a different lens.

If  you are ever brought before a judge, what traits do you hope that judge will possess? For my part, I would want intellectual acuity and legal expertise. But even more, I would for empathy, for the imagination to step out of ones own shoes and into the shoes of others – others who might be different in their race, gender, political beliefs, educational background and a thousand other ways. Does Brett Kavanaugh, as he steps into a lifetime position of power, have this ability?  I have not seen it so far.

And that, to me, is chilling.

 

 

When All That’s Left Is Love

February 10, 2019

A few days ago I went to a  memorial / celebration of life service for the husband of a friend who suffered an illness this year and died too soon. It was a beautiful service for a man who was a beautiful soul, and this is a poem that was read at his request.

I had  never heard it before and have been thinking about it, so I thought I’d share it here.

When All That’s Left Is Love

When I die
If you need to weep
Cry for someone
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and
Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.
And when you say
Kaddish for me
Remember what our
Torah teaches,
Love doesn’t die
People do.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.

by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Writing on the Other Side of the World

My first writing group — back at the very start of my transition to being a writer — was in Alice Springs, Australia.  Such groups come and go — when they survive for long periods, it is often on the wings of one energetic person.  The person you depend on to show up with the keys to the building,  who always shows up with enthusiasm and new pages. The person who accepts you and welcomes you when you are new, and whose history is long enough that when someone else new comes to the table, you learn it is actually someone returning.

For our group, Meg Williams was that person, and more.  She was a note-taker, and idea-maker. She was an ex-teacher working on a trilogy of middle-grade books. She was lovely, and though we hadn’t corresponded for a decade, when I learned she passed away last week, it pierced my heart.

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My Friend Tried Shrooms

This past weekend, my friend tried mushrooms for the first time.  It had been on her list of things to try for a while because she was intrigued by reports like this:

Lots of people have advice about how to try shrooms: You should do them in nature–like a national park, but “safe ” nature; you should do them with other, like-minded friends who can babysit you; you should have enough time to get to the nature, trip and come down so that you can drive home. So, like 18 consecutive hours maybe. On top of this, Reddit notes that: you’ll want to be near a toilet, and a source of water;  bring paints or an instrument or a notebook to play or paint or write; bring some food for when you are coming down…

This is a lot of  organizing for someone like my friend, plus, she’s not really in the ‘shroom loop: she only had a little baggie of the fungus given to her many months ago, not really enough to share with all the like-minded friends she might find.

On Saturday afternoon, my friend had her apartment to herself. She was feeling a bit lackluster in her writing, and possibly just in life, and she had quite a bit of housecleaning to do–which she was actually deigning to do since the writing was going so unspectacularly. In the midst of this, she had an epiphany.  She thought “I feel safe in my apartment, it has a toilet and water, and food in the fridge, and I can see trees out the window which is kind of like nature. I will do the ‘shrooms here, now. It might make folding laundry more fun, or maybe I will have amazing thoughts and write them down, or draw pictures. Maybe it will make the same feel different!

She commenced reading advice on how to imbibe the mushrooms… eat them plain and bitter-tasting; bake them into brownies; eat them with dark chocolate; chop them up small and boil them and make a tea. She chopped them up small, and boiled them per instructions, and added some hot chocolate mix, which she thought was pretty clever. She also ate the last mushy mushroom grounds at the bottom of the mug, which according to the internet, was optional.

Then she waited to feel different. She researched a little more: It could take between ten minutes and an hour to feel the effects, said people on the internet. She remembered that music was also advised. She’d been meaning to figure out how to transfer music between computers, so she did this now, hurriedly, figuring it might be more difficult after the ‘shrooms kicked in.  She did some dishes, she finished folding all the laundry and made the bed. She went to the toilet and while she was there and watched a specific tree she liked outside the window.  It was swaying in the breeze. Was the tree more captivating than usual? She wasn’t sure. Did she feel different than usual? She wasn’t sure. She was a little tired, but she had started out a little tired. It wasn’t unpleasant. She sat on the expanse of freshly-made bed, sat cross-legged and rocked back-and-forth and in circles…It made feel pleasantly tipsy. More so than rocking in circles without a drug? Maayyybe?

After a while she went outside to see if what was missing was the nature. It was nice out, but also sunny and a bit too warm and she hadn’t slathered herself in sunscreen, so she went back inside. She didn’t feel like painting, or writing…but she thought she might feel a less anxious about that than usual. Or not. It wasn’t like she didn’t have occasional sober moments of un-anxiety, right? Whatever. She was happy with her made bed. She was happy with the music. So she lay there and listened to the music and rocked back and forth and thought about nothing she could remember later, she maybe took a little nap.

A couple hours later, she had the coming-down-munchies…or maybe it was dinner time, so she got up and looked in the fridge and ate something.  And then she felt a burst of creativity… or maybe not, but she opened the computer and wrote something anyway. Was her concentration better than usual? Possibly? She worked until it was time to go to sleep.

The day of magic mushrooms was over.

 

Eclipse, August 21, 2017

August 21, 2017

5:40 AM
I open my eyes and squint at my glow watch in the dark. 5:40 am. No Paul in the bed. I make my way downstairs to where he sits on the couch with his laptop.
“Are you and Mom ready?”
“No. Getting ready was supposed to happen after you wake us up when there’s a plan.”
“There’s a plan.”
“I’ll wake her up. Where are we going?”
“Kentucky.”

Our original plan, to depart the previous day for Columbia, Mo, was thwarted when the weather forecast shifted to mostly cloudy.
“And they’re saying maybe a thunderstorm” said cousin Jan on the phone, morose.

Carbondale, IL was also mostly cloudy. For a while Benton, KY, a mere two hours away from my mom’s house in Terre Haute, was a contender, until it also succumbed to a forecast of partly cloudy.
“So where, exactly?” I ask, as we assemble food–egg salad sandwiches, bottles of water and cookies–for the car.
“Hopkinsville. It should be mostly sunny, and the Waze says it’s a three-hour drive.”

Yes, we are chasing the eclipse.

8:30 AM
There were concerns that the traffic would be impenetrable, that the gas stations might run out of gas, but except for a stretch of single lane traffic near some bridges under repair, the traffic flows, plus, we realize midway there, Hopkinsville is on Central time, so instead of arriving after nine, we’re in town by 8:30.

Handmade signs advertising $20 and $30 parking in people’s yards dot the road into town, but as early birds, we get a free parking spot on the curb just a couple blocks from downtown. There are just the beginnings of a crowd. Pedestrians emerging from hotels around town, others arriving by car and marveling at their parking luck. A line of people gathers at the 6th Street Café, which I assume is a breakfast spot. According to news reports, 25,000 people are coming for the eclipse, and the town has been celebrating through the weekend,with live music, food trucks and eclipse swag. But these festivities ended on Sunday, so although we see many eclipse-themed T-shirts, we see none for sale. The trucks with ice-cream, tacos and the like are not yet open, although the lemonade truck is doing brisk business already.

With the temperature rising, we wonder what we might do for the four hours until the celestial moment. The public library looks like a good prospect—especially since I have write a pitch that will be due soon after our return. (As Paul likes to say of our freelance life, “it isn’t a vacation if there’s not a deadline at the end of it.”) But approaching the front door, we see a sign saying the library is closed for the day.

I wander behind the building, and see a small valley with trees that looks cool and shady. It’s a trail that is part of the the town’s greenway. My mother and I take the path,  which turns out to follow a slightly stagnant creek, and emerge at the end into a park that boasts some play equipment, a picnic area with three tables and a view to the street and a Sherwin-Williams Paints. It seems less-discovered than some other places, and there’s  a place to sit, so we decide to settle in.

11:00 AM
We’re sitting at a picnic table under a shelter. Next to me, my mom reads a book. Across from us, Paul plays on his new ipad. On the table, some potato chips and egg salad sandwiches, and, fluttering in the light breeze in a way that is slightly concerning, our cardboard solar glasses. I’ve got my laptop open, with hopes that the right words for my pitch will magically flow from my fingers, but I’m distracted, not unpleasantly, by the world of here and now.

The tables around us are occupied by a Spanish speaking family who I judge to be from Spain. Have they come all this way for the eclipse? Behind us is a very talkative teen. Non-stop talkative. He’s talking about how he purchased the biggest snow cone from one of the trucks. I can’t help but turn a sneak a look. It is large and every color of the rainbow. The pineapple section is sweeter than he’d expected, he notes, striking up a conversation with a couple perched on a cement barrier nearby. We had offered to share our table with the couple when they arrived, but they’d declined, perhaps wanting to avoid conversation. If that’s the case, their strategy has backfired. Where are they from, the teen asks. Indiana? He’s from Louisville, but he lived for a few years in Indiana. It was a fine place, in terms of the buildings, but over-strict laws. In elementary school his parents had spanked him—not abusive, he wants them to know, just the kind of discipline that was normal in Kentucky. But at school he’d told his teachers, who flipped out and started a year of oversight with a social worker before life could go back to normal, he said. The couple nods politely at this disclosure, and makes an excuse to relocate to a bench across the park.

A lone man comes and asks if it’s okay to sit at our table. We say of course. He is the first Asian man I’ve seen in the town beside my husband. I wonder if it’s coincidence that he would choose to sit next to my husband.

We debate our plans for the next couple hours. Should we stay in the park for the big moment, which is scheduled for 1:23pm? I lean toward this, liking the idea of viewing the event in a leisurely manner from the grassy field. Paul is of the opinion that we should make our way to the car before the eclipse, so that the moment after the moment of totality we can beat the rush to the highway back home. We leave it undecided.

11:55 AM
This is the official start time of the eclipse, and everyone looks through their glasses at the sun—a glowing sphere that through an E15 filter looks like a glowing moon. The change in shape is not yet apparent. The moment of totality is almost 90 minutes away. Glasses come down, but the chatter gets louder and more animated. The Spaniards talking in Spanish, the talkative teen reciting every European and Slavic country where his various relatives are from.

12:10 AM
“It’s there in the upper left corner!” someone says.

I step out from under the roof, and look up through my glasses into the sky. It’s black. Black. Through the glasses, I can’t see anything but the sun. I finally get my head turned in the right direction, And there it is,—a bright sphere with an circular corner obscured. Exactly what you would think one spherical object moving in front of another would look like.

We finalize our plan. Paul decrees we shall stay at the park until 12:45, and then spend the last 40 minutes of the event near the car. And if it gets too hot, we can get in and turn on the air-conditioning.

12:20 PM
Paul sees a bug crawling on his bag. It is pale, has pincers and is the size of a small ant.

“Scorpion!” he cries. He shakes it off his bag and announces that the time to retreat to the car has been moved to now.

We make our way back along Main Street. On our right, we pass various government buildings and churches, their parking lots full of cars, their lawns full of people with chairs, blankets and canopies. It’s like a pre-football tailgate. Across the street, in a residential yard, we hear the gulp of a speaker being plugged in, and then, loud enough to provide party for the whole block, Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” begins to play.

12:40 PM
We’re back at the car. The sun in the sky looks almost, but not quite, like a crescent moon. The proportion and arc of line aren’t quite right. It’s more like if a Pac Man had a curvy mouth instead of straight angles.

We cross the street to the county clerks office.  Paul and mom sit on a bench in the sun, while I, always deferring to my paleness, retreat under the awning into the shade

1:00 PM
Although there are no shadows, the sun feels less bright. I can join my family on the bench. There’s a faint cool breeze. I look up through my glasses: The sun is a quarter full. It now definitely looks like the moon –but like a moon in a children’s book, its corners a little more acute and C-shaped than the moon we see in the sky.

Small clusters of people walk past away from the main crowd. Maybe they’ve had our same idea of avoiding the crowds, or maybe they are locals who have realized that the sky is visible from anywhere in town.

A tall lanky man arrives crosses the intersection toward the crowd.

“Oh yeah,” says Paul, “I’d forgotten that Kentucky is an open carry state.”

For a moment I look in the guy’s hand for a beer then realize that Paul is referring to the large handgun nestled in the holster on the man’s hip. He’s wearing dark jeans and an oxford cloth shirt. No uniform. No jacket. It’s jarring to see the gun on a civilian walking toward a large crowd of people.

A group of teenagers approach, carrying the inflatable air loungers. They set up on the brick walkway next to us, lying back and gazing upward in a way I’m too paranoid to do. There’ve been enough rumors of fake glasses and news stories about waking up partially blind that I limit myself to quick glances, even through my glasses. I wish I had their seeming peace of mind and lack of worry about the future.

1:20 PM
The breeze kicks up and the sky darkens, like before a summer storm. The streetlights start to come up, activated by the false dusk. Above us, the sun is a sliver in the sky.

1:23 PM
In the distance and the nearness, whoops and screams. I let myself watch the whole transition as the light becomes a line, then a shorter line and then a dot. And then—nothing. I remove my glasses and look up. A circle with a white fiery ring around it.

Around us, the world is not as dark as I’d expected, partly because the streetlights and the large LED screen blinking through the windows of a bar across the street. The horizon is purplish. I take more glances at the orb in the sky. I’m not sure how long its been. I put my glasses back on and wait until on the opposite side of the sphere a spot of light appears, then a line. The sun is coming back. The world around us seems a different color than it was before. Pinker? But not pinker. Yellower maybe. Warmer.

1:26 PM
“Ready to go?” asks Paul.
I am taking notes, trying to make a memory.
“Seems like you could do that in the car”

That’s what I do, trying to get the details down before they are gone.

1:39 PM
In the car, we’ve already turned north onto the Pennyrile Parkway out of Hopkinsville. In a few hours, I will read the Facebook statuses of drivers trapped in the bottleneck and Paul will be vindicated. For now, the traffic is slow but moving, we’re headed home. I crane my neck to look out the sunroof. The sun is a 1/8th crescent. Removing my glasses to look out the car window, the world looks normal, like any other day when a thin cloud passes in front of the sun.