Category Archives: Athenae

Solidarity and What It Gets Us

I’ve been thinking about this since reading this tweet:

That every movement turns on itself eventually, that every fire burns out, that nothing can be sustained forever, are I think things we all know. That you can’t stay in the middle of the war forever, or it wins. But Jesus, this, we barely tried. A month ago seems like a fever dream.

I used to go to a long-established gay bar in the town where I went to college (long enough ago that the people inside were more often closeted than out) and a few years back a Facebook group for it sprung up. People would post old photos: Does anyone know who all of these people are?

Yes, someone would answer, name twenty people, and then add that seventeen, eighteen, nineteen of them died. In 1981, in 1986, in 1992.

They were beautiful, in the pictures: Dancing, laughing, their arms around each other back when there were so few places they could be free. I tell people about that world now, about the gaping holes in it, about the quilted names that stretched the length of Washington, and it’s like I’m talking about Valley Forge, it’s that far away.

We have this idea of solidarity, of times in the past when “we” were all united: 9/11 being the one that gets my back up the most, the first Gulf War, when everyone tied yellow ribbons around the trees to show support for the troops. And every time something horrible happens there are these pronouncements: This is what will make us new.

We have this idea that we will come together, change for good, that something will just HAPPEN to MAKE us different, as if we don’t have to decide to be different every single day. As if World War II was over in a minute, one Victory Garden and an episode of Band of Brothers and it was all done. As if we didn’t turn on ourselves then, too.

It seems like it took less time. Like April was a moment ago, May a moment ago. We’re not going to be left with anything from this but photographs with holes in them.

A.

Racism is for the Rich

The reddest parts of any purple state are its suburbs. Fight me. 

Suburbs, and exurbs, really. Not that there aren’t racist assholes in cities, she says, two blocks from the city that perfected redlining. But the white-flighters are something else, not just racial hatred but the very specific fear of a black invasion of “their” neighborhood.

They’ve had stories handed down to them through two generations now about the beautiful places their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in, that were “ruined” by “those people.” That those neighborhoods were ruined by deliberate and malicious government policies to devalue the property, that greedy real estate brokers and reptilian politicians are far more to blame, will never reach the ears of someone who drove past their mother’s house and saw a black family living there now.

They see litter on the streets and instead of wondering why their litter is picked up every night and this neighborhood’s isn’t, they cluck their tongues at closed doors without any idea who’s behind them.

“It was such a beautiful place,” they’ll say, “not like now.” And hey, it’s not like they’re using the n-word, right? It’s just … implied. Until it isn’t.

Until it’s wearing a pink polo shirt and pointing a gun at people marching in the street.

It’s astonishing how little distance there is from the kind of nice-lady racism that is so confused as to why “some of them” just “let their houses go” to the wild-eyed pistol-waving Chico’s kind of day Mrs. McCloskey up there was having.

I mean people have handed down these stories like they’re a secret language, and that language is one of war: This is what happened when “blacks” “crossed the line.” We thought such-and-such street would “hold.” You want to talk about the Confederate states holding onto their lost causes; ask a white man of a certain age in Chicago after a couple of beers what parish his mother belonged to. If only “they” had stayed down south where they “belonged.”

Yes, now Donald Trump is openly stoking the kind of paranoia that leads to front-porch displays of the kind of trigger discipline that would humiliate a bachelor party at the paintball range. But who primed these people to listen? Who made that a story they would find easy to believe?

Who told them everything they had could be stolen at any moment? Did they use an example? Was it their great-aunt’s house, where once you didn’t have to lock the doors, and now you couldn’t walk down the street without getting mugged?

A.

‘As Leadership on Virus Fails’

Jesus Christ, we STILL can’t name the problem: 

Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Cases Soar Past 2.5 Million as Leadership on Virus Fails

With new cases of the coronavirus suddenly surging across multiple states that had low and manageable caseloads just months ago, confusion and anger is swirling among those who obeyed lockdowns and drastic social measures out of a sense of civic duty to help bring the U.S. outbreak under control.

Nationwide, cases have risen 65 percent over the past two weeks. On Friday, the country reported more than 45,000 new infections, its third consecutive day of record new cases, and a number of states have also been seeing record new levels. On Saturday, Florida, Nevada and South Carolina reported their highest one-day case totals. Before this week, the country’s largest daily total had been 36,738 on April 24.

REPUBLICAN politicians. REPUBLICAN leadership. Joe Biden is out here every single day being president, basically, only nobody’s paying attention because Trump shit some racist nonsense out his mouth again and we have to get all sixteen microphones in front of the shitpile.

I cannot with OUR LEADERS have failed us. The United States of Chicken Fried America has been in the blood-soaked hands of the GOP since 2010 and I don’t think we can give it another decade before we start noticing that. We can’t keep blaming “politicians” and “Congress” and “Washington” and “leadership” if we expect this to get any better at all.

We have a nationwide propaganda network, aided and abetted by nihilistic social media and amplified by the same kind of sociopathic broadcast screamers as inspired genocide a thousand times in history, telling people a million different wrong things all at once, and the money from all of those ventures flows to Republicans.

The NYT can just fuck off all the way into the fucking sea with this:

In recent weeks, some conservatives said they had an additional concern: After weeks of being told that going to church, attending funerals, and participating in protests was a willful, careless spurning of science, political leaders and some public health officials condoned — and even joined — the crowds protesting the killing of George Floyd.

WEARING MASKS, YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKERS, OUTDOORS, NOT INSIDE THE PROSPERITY MEGA-STADIUM OF GAY-HATING, and what’s more, you know the difference, so spare me the fake angst from the fucking exterminators:

“It’s just a real social whiplash,” said Philip Campbell, vice president of a pest control company in Central Michigan, who took part in the first protests against the lockdown in Lansing in April from the cab of his truck. “Two weeks ago you can’t go out because you are going to kill grandma. Now it’s ‘you have an obligation to go out.’ It leaves me feeling that the science and the public health authorities have been politicized.”

Well goddamn, sparky, look at the big brain on you. Could it be that your president has no fucking clue and that the confusion stems from his explicit policy to not do anything that sounds like it might save a few Democrats along the way?

Two hundred thousand fucking people are going to die, and we’re going to act like there is no way any of this could have gone any other way. No clear leadership? WELL I WONDER WHOSE FUCKEN JOB IT WAS TO PROVIDE THAT, COULD IT HAVE BEEN THE PRESIDENT AND THE PARTY IN CHARGE? God damn, what party is that again? I hear its name so seldom I forget what it is.

The confusion you are describing is what happens when there is no national leadership. But maybe while your party was out there with long guns screaming about states’ rights you might have thought about times when we need to be a single country. One would have hoped a few wars would have drilled that into your thick heads but apparently if Japan bombed Pearl Harbor today we’d be having a national debate about how many liberals live in Hawaii and why can’t they pay for their own rebuilding, the lazy fucks.

The GOP has fragmented us day after day after fucking day, it’s been going on for decades now, because they saw a bunch of racists and said, I bet we can ride these stupid ponies all the way to the end of the rainbow. Now, of course, that national action is needed, and the national unity they jizz all over every 9/11 anniversary is actually needed, they’re more than willing to shove the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation in their graves so they can keep clowning on everybody who cares about anybody else.

I am so fucking done not talking honestly about what’s going on here. Obama didn’t unleash the coronavirus and Obama didn’t “divide” the nation by getting elected black and we are not “partisan” because some of us want to be alive and would love some kind of guidance from literally anyone as to how the best way to do that might be. This is what we actually need the federal government to do, people are saying help us,

“It’s all political” is a dumb shrug but it’s the exact dumb shrug with which we’ve been taught to greet every single thing that happens, and as per usual I’d like to reserve the fucking most of the blame for what happens when we act like this for the ones who taught us the words, the ones who cash in when we say them.

REPUBLICANS. God fucking damn it, Republicans.

A.

Not Everything Sucks

Labor is fighting like labor has always fought: 

On June 19, a group of workers plans to picket outside an unlikely location: Union Jacks strip club.

It’s the only club out of nearly 30 Portland establishments that won’t agree to demands to ensure fair treatment of black dancers.

“Who’s gonna cross a strike line of angry-ass strippers?” says Cat Hollis, a dancer who organized the Portland Stripper Strike.

The picket line is a signal that the national movement for racial justice has extended to the quintessentially Portland institution of strip clubs.

More than 100 dancers have issued the following demands to club owners: require cultural sensitivity training on a regular basis for all club staff, owners and management; ensure that black dancers get fair hiring opportunities and desirable shifts; and require owners and managers to participate in listening sessions with black dancers to learn about their experiences working at Portland clubs.

They’re calling themselves the Haymarket Pole Cooperative, which is fantastic.

A.

‘Aggravated Battery’

Of course he’s white, you knew that from the convention of referring to him as something other than a THUG or a TERRORIST: 

A judge has released the man accused of opening fire and shooting a protester. Police say Steven Baca is the man seen on video opening fire at last Monday’s protest regarding a statue of conquistador Juan De Oñate, sending one man to the hospital. Much of the District Attorney’s case was centered around 10 primary witness videos, one of which shows the moments leading up to Baca firing his gun.

While Baca is most known for firing shots, he is not currently facing any charges for it. Baca is facing aggravated battery and two battery charges for allegedly assaulting three female protestors.

Police initially charged Baca for the shooting, but the District Attorney dropped that charge pending further investigation. Baca’s attorneys have argued he fired his gun in self-defense because he was being hit with a skateboard.

In court, Monday, the District Attorney’s office argued that Baca was only at the protest to start trouble. However, with no criminal history and the state not yet finding any of the women Baca is accused of hurting, Judge Charles Brown released him on his own recognizance.

The story is an incoherent-ass mess — police don’t file charges, DAs do, and what does “most known for firing shots” mean, and there are other typos in the parts I haven’t quoted, but …

This guy brought a gun to a protest expecting there would be someone there he could shoot. He showed up at a place where people were protesting, with a gun, to make what point who the hell even knows, to defend the honor of dead conquistador, with firearms. What the FUCK.

There is one intention for something like this and it’s to intimidate people from protesting. From taking down statues. From creating in the world the images of it they feel should be represented. You don’t show up to that with a gun to protect yourself from being possibly hit with a skateboard, come on.

I know it’s tiring to point out how few consequences right-wing white men face for actions like this. Those Bundy assholes, everyone who ever attacked an abortion clinic, who get referred to in the press as acting in some kind of heroic insurrection against an oppressive government. I don’t know if this is a hangover from the Revolutionary War or what, but we keep treating these dinguses like they’re Paul Revere and it’s poisonous.

I went looking for this piece after McArdle opened her mouth hole about something stupid again last week, because it’s one of the most aggressive examples of “my oppression justifies everything, yours is all made up” I’ve ever read in addition to being dumber than a two-day-old tofurkey: 

Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence.  In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence.  Possibly because those fringes have often turned to violence precisely because they feel that the political process has been closed off to them.

Now contrast that compassion and generosity — extended, in the above case, to the murderer of a doctor — to what is generally said among the I’m No Conservative But crowd about the Black Lives Matter protests today.

I wonder if anyone thinks maybe, just maybe, the political process has been closed off to them?

Nah.

They gotta just be doing it for fun.

It’s not like they’re white, after all.

A.

To Rally

We were planning on being in the parade until my husband dropped a whole ass IKEA shelf that weighed about 20 pounds and had a sharp metal edge directly onto his own head somehow. Two hours and seven staples and diagnosis of a mild concussion later, we decided he should not inflict his really gnarly head wound on a COVID-paranoid public.

So, to still participate somehow in the local Juneteenth parade my neighborhood decided at the spur of the moment to throw, Kick and I got busy making signs and recruiting friends to come watch from the sidelines, masked and appropriately distanced.

It was a car caravan, taking off from one corner of town and snaking all the way around it, ending at a local park. Before we went we talked about the end of slavery, about how people were still fighting to be treated fairly, we watched some kids’ history videos, but I think Kick just wanted to do anything that involved at least a couple of strangers for an hour or so.

We heard it before we saw it: horns honking, music playing, people cheering. It went on for a mile and a half.

It didn’t strike me until we rounded the corner and the first cars came into view just how long it had been since our streets had seen any public expression of joy.

juneteenth

At the rally in Oklahoma last night, the Trump faithful on Saturday lined up wearing Trump hats and shirts, and carrying flags — Trump flags, American flags, flags bearing images of Mr. Trump kissing an American flag. A “four more years” chant broke out before 7 a.m. For blocks, the scene was more reminiscent of a sports tailgate than a political rally, as music blared and beer flowed between supporters, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles.

Salespeople set up tents hawking Trump memorabilia, and as attendees began to enter the checkpoint for the rally, they left lawn chairs abandoned on the street.

As the day wore on and rallygoers congregated in line, the group — which was overwhelmingly white — increasingly included both the most die-hard Trump supporters and also more rank-and-file fans of the president. Both sets of voters were skeptical that the virus posed a serious risk to them.

I was trying to follow the Trump event last night and …

During his speech, Mr. Trump delivered a defensive, 15-minute explanation of images that showed him ambling slowly down a ramp after delivering the commencement address at the West Point military academy last weekend. He blamed his slow walk on “leather soles” on his shoes and said he was trying not to fall on his behind.

He also took several sips of water out of a glass after video at the West Point event showed him struggling to bring a glass up to his lips. He said he was trying to make sure he did not spill the water on his tie. The crowd applauded wildly.

I don’t understand what his people get out of this. I honestly don’t and I never have. What help is it, to be this angry all the time? I’ve been angry since mid-March, since kindergarten got cancelled, since we started holing up in our house, since friends started getting sick, since their kids started getting sick.

Since the images of police beating protesters, jailing protesters, at the president’s express command, for doing exactly what we were there to watch at Friday’s parade.

Car after car, people leaning out the windows, up through the sunroof, cheering. Flags of African nations, signs that said CELEBRATE FREEDOM and END POLICE BRUTALITY. Black Lives Matter. People on the street watching had noisemakers, tambourines, cowbells.

In these stilted, inside times, that’s what a rally is for: To make some noise. Remind people that you’re still here despite everything that’s tried to kill you. Stand up for the world you want to see, vital and alive. Inside that hall in Tulsa, half-empty though it was, people showed the world they wanted to see.

They roared with approval when he called the coronavirus “Kung Flu,” a racist nickname even one of his own senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway, once called “highly offensive.” Chants broke out of “lock her up,” evoking the 2016 presidential campaign, even as the Democratic Party has moved on from Mrs. Clinton. Some people wore Confederate flags. Others brought signs that supported the QAnon conspiracy theory that claims a “deep state” plot against Mr. Trump and his supporters. (One of the president’s sons, Eric Trump, posted a QAnon image to his Instagram page Saturday afternoon before deleting it shortly afterward.)

Trina Moore, 61, drove 10 hours from Denver to attend the rally. Her children are essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, she said.

“I’ve been home all myself during quarantine and I wanted a reason to go somewhere,” Ms. Moore said. “I just don’t believe in the virus thing. I’d go to Europe. I’d get on a plane. I’d do whatever.”

Out on the street, around the corner from my house, things looked different.

People came to watch, in masks, and people drove their kids, holding signs that said “my life matters.” No one declared their intention to die in order to prove a point or defy science or make liberals angry. No one mentioned making anyone angry at all.

juneteenth2

A.

Not Everything Sucks

Nina Simone existed, and her music still does: 

Looking at Nina Simone’s statue in downtown Tryon, I recite the end of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” which reads, “for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life.” Rilke wrote the poem while staring, entranced, at a headless statue from Auguste Rodin that dazzled him to the point of imperative transformation. Now, almost exactly one hundred years later, I am standing in front of the eight-foot bronze statue of Nina Simone.

I find most of the music I really love through books or stories about it online; I found Nina Simone through Joyce Maynard’s book Where Love Goes. As with everything Maynard writes, the book isn’t great but parts of it are. It was a review copy sent to the paper where I worked; I ripped out the pages I liked and kept them. They’re in a box somewhere. Maynard’s main character loves Nina Simone, and since I loved the character, I went looking for what she loved.

(I found Leonard Cohen through fanfiction, read him as a poet before I heard him sing.)

The first time I heard Sinnerman I listened to it on repeat for four days. Then I watched the documentary about her life, I watched her interviews, I watched every performance I could find. We find the words we need when we need them and oh, we are going to the devil and he is waiting.

A.

Fox Gonna Fox

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA:

They really, really don’t have to “follow the ethical norms.” This is the goddamn problem. We’ve been over here having a journalism seminar, a well-catered affair with skirts on the tables and nice labeled name tags, and they’ve been having a dogfight.

I am not DEFENDING the dogfight, mind, but let us please in the year of our lord 2020 surrender the idea that anyone HAS to do anything to preserve, like, manners when it comes to their business. Journalists have been bitching for years that Facebook and Google don’t want to HELP THEM, as if that’s Facebook and Google’s job or something. Why won’t Apple invent a thing to give individual newspapers all the monies? Why won’t anyone act in our best interests but us?

Because they don’t HAVE TO, JESUS TITS. Fox is not required to do anything other than what helps Fox, and right now what helps Fox is to make shit up because after 40 years of implications the audience needs MOAR mental crack. And Fox is not there for journalism, it’s there to gin up rage and fear and make money. I can’t believe people are dumb enough to expect anything else.

Like how does it benefit genuine news orgs to pretend that Fox has to adhere to some rules? They’re not going to, so we keep having this pantomime of “ooh, it’s so transgressive,” and then everybody goes back to the buffet.

A.

Just Stop It

I’ve had it.

I’ve had it with arguments over “defund the police” “no, that’s a bad slogan” “no it’s not.”

THE GOP IS FIGHTING OVER HOW MANY MORE WATER CANNONS AND “RUBBER” BULLETS TO SHOOT AT PROTESTERS.

I’ve had it with white liberals clowning on Nancy Pelosi for wearing kente cloth. The Congressional Black Caucus gave it to everyone, it’s not like Nance went to JoAnn Fabrics and decided to make herself a costume.

Should she have refused to wear it on the basis of Red Rose Twitter being primed for dunks? Where does THAT end? there anything we’re NOT primed for dunks on?

THE GOP IS DRAPING ITSELF IN THE STARS AND BARS, IN CASE YOU DIDN’T NOTICE.

Look at this picture:

Then read every third comment under it calling Joey a child molester or suggesting his mask doesn’t fit right or saying it’s useless for him to show up or arguing he has dementia.

FOR GOD’S SAKE TRUMP IS RETWEETING THAT THE ONLY GOOD DEMOCRAT IS A DEAD ONE, HE’S SUGGESTING A 75-YEAR-OLD SCHOOLTEACHER IS SOME KIND OF ANTIFA SUPERSOLDIER. HE CANNOT GO TEN SECONDS WITHOUT MAKING THIS WORSE.

Make. It. Stop.

Joey B. Biden is gonna be our next president or we’re all gonna die. Nancy Pelosi is gonna stay Speaker of the House and we are going to get a Democratic Senate Majority Leader who will also probably not satisfy anyone. Or we are all gonna die, all of us, either of this plague or whatever Trump decides to fuck up next. That’s all there is to this. And yet we seem to feel compelled at every turn to show how not-in-the-tank we are by making it loud and clear that Democrats, Also, Are Bad.

I want Democrats to be good at the things they say they want to do. And I think they can take us giving them ideas and urging them to fight and rewarding them when they do. But I’m done listening to carping every time Nancy claps back at Donald, I’m done mocking every single symbolic action as awkward and wrong. Jesus, is that really what we’re mad at? Is that really what we want to, and pardon me for saying this, police right now?

You know what? GO BE AWKWARD AND LOOK DUMB, JOEY. WEAR A MASK THAT MAY LOOK SILLY WHILE YOU MEET WITH THE FAMILIES OF THE DEAD. Do some normal politician type gaffes and kick a couple of reporters who bug you off your plane so that everybody can have something normal to be mad about. I swear we should elect him just to give people who need a tan-suit scandal can have one, they NEED it so badly.

The GOP’s brightest lights are running op-eds that are like “what if we did war crimes to Americans because they piss us off,” can we please keep our eyes on the ball here?

A.

The Courage of Republicans

Wow, Bush and Romney won’t support Trump for re-election: 

WASHINGTON — It was one thing in 2016 for top Republicans to take a stand against Donald J. Trump for president: He wasn’t likely to win anyway, the thinking went, and there was no ongoing conservative governing agenda that would be endangered.

Yeah! Why bother calling out fascism if it was just gonna go away by itself? That’s usually how that kind of thing works, and better to hide in a conference room and pretend your party isn’t burning around you.

The New York Times cannot get over the courage of these people:

The 2020 campaign is different: Opposing the sitting president of your own party means putting policy priorities at risk, in this case appointing conservative judges, sustaining business-friendly regulations and cutting taxes — as well as incurring the volcanic wrath of Mr. Trump.

POLICY PRIORITIES? Like fucking WHAT, exactly? Apparently it’s no longer a policy priority of the GOP to keep large numbers of American employed and alive, is what we’re saying, so what do they have left? Abortion and guns and humping the flag, the latter quite literally. That’s what is at risk here. That’s definitely worth the lives of a hundred thousand of your countrymen.

And oooh, the “volcanic wrath” of Mr. Trump! The big bad bunker baby might say mean things about you on Twitter. Christ, Bush was PRESIDENT, you’d think at the very least he wouldn’t be scared of people calling him an asshole. You think, given his actual presidency, he’d be used to it.

Former Republican leaders like the former Speakers Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner won’t say how they will vote, and some Republicans who are already disinclined to support Mr. Trump are weighing whether to go beyond backing a third-party contender to openly endorse Mr. Biden.

Yes, heaven forfend they actually vote for the guy who is most likely to keep the country in one piece. That would be a major, major, major act of courage, not unlike parting the Red Sea. What the fuck is wrong with political journalism that its practitioners think stuff like this is real? The cities are burning, a hundred thousand dead of a pandemic that didn’t have to run rampant here, he’s still ripping kids from their parents’ arms, but however will Paul Ryan dig deep enough to buck a movement that threatens to unleash the riot control bees?

Yet it would be a sharp rebuke for former Trump administration officials and well-known Republicans to buck their own standard-bearer. Individually, they may not sway many votes — particularly at a time of deep polarization. But their collective opposition, or even resounding silence, could offer something of a permission structure for Trump-skeptical Republicans to put party loyalty aside.

A permission structure. The fucking earth is caving in and Bush and Romney and this entire cavalcade of pussies are waiting for a PERMISSION STRUCTURE to oppose violations of every article of the Constitution and all 27 amendments.

You know who didn’t need a PERMISSION STRUCTURE not to be fucking fascist? The goddamn majority of this country that voted against this shit without waiting for a Zoom call outlining precisely how and when NOT TO BE A FUCKING NAZI. Nobody came around and led us by the hand and told us it’s okay, you’ll be fine, the mean man won’t sic his followers on you, you can not be A STUPENDOUSLY HUGE BIGOT, I know you can do it.

Christ, if we’d known Republicans needed a fucking sticker chart, I could have made one, I have some left over from when Kick was learning the intricacies of the potty.

Put your shoulders into it, Republicans, and every time you’re not a racist I’ll give you a green M&M as a reward!

As for Mrs. McCain, she has sought to stay out of partisan politics. “Picking a fight with Trump is no fun,” said Rick Davis, a longtime McCain adviser who’s close to the family.

You know what else ain’t any fun, Cind? A knee on your neck. Dying alone on a respirator. Watching your toddler and ten year old through the bars of a cage.

But maybe that’s not worth making book club awkward this week.

A.

The Riot Control Bees

From Paul Ryan’s old stomping grounds comes today’s example of someone who has, and I do not say this lightly, COMPLETELY LOST THE PLOT: 

Greg Hoeft of Janesville brought 12 boxes of bees to the event.

The bees were on a trailer that he towed into the post office parking lot, just behind the protestors.

Hoeft, whose name was on the side of the bee boxes, posted his plans on Facebook: “The riot control bees are in their holding yard waiting to clear the streets of Janesville and keep peace to this county. I’m willing to bring them in and kick them over if things get out of control.”

A photo shows Hoeft loading the boxes of bees on a trailer.

Police learned that he planned to release the bees if the protest became unruly.

What the CHRIST, the riot control bees. What went wrong in the raising of you, that this is what you think is a good idea? Forget if there were actually bees in there — now the dude’s friends on Facebook are all pretending it was a huge hilarious joke — the hell is the matter with you that you think like that?

It’s all just bullying, that’s all it is. The alliance of cops and Trump supporters worried about government “tyranny” — I’ve been seeing posts all week about how hypocritical it is and dear Lord above, people, it’s not hypocritical or nonsensical at all. They like bullies. They like beating up on people. Black people especially — the GOP has been screaming for 50 years that the city’s brown hordes would soon overrun the borders of the white-flight suburbs and “ruin” them the way black families “ruined” the places they fled.

Activist Ja’Mal Green organized a rally on Sunday in the 11000 block of South Kedzie Avenue, where protests emerged the night before. The group was met with a large crowd of counter-protesters, which numbered in the hundreds and at points shouted racial slurs, according to DNAinfo. “The other group, which was mostly white, chanted “Blue Lives Matter” and “Trump, Trump, Trump,” reported WBEZ. “They held signs that read “Go home animals” and “You ruined your own communities, Don’t ruin ours.”

This was in 2016, in a neighborhood that is 90 percent white, surrounded by communities that are far more diverse, and where the city’s cops cluster.

This Red State article made the rounds of white complacent Facebook this week, see how it echoes: 

You’re far more likely to die in the suburbs than in the city in this situation. You may think moving the riots into neighborhoods is going to play out the same way. It’s not. You’re at a massive tactical disadvantage. The residents know these streets, the layout of their homes, and the defense capabilities of their residence and themselves.

You don’t. Each home will be different, each resident will have different approaches, and each home may have more than one or two gun wielders inside. The goal isn’t non-violent control of the situation now. It’s not about tear gas and high-pressure hoses now. Now it’s deadly force. You can’t just wash a bullet wound out and keep going. Even if they don’t have guns, they’re not going to stop hitting you with a heavy object or stop stabbing and slashing at you with cutlery until you’ve either been chased out or you stop moving. Understand. The chances of you dying are incredibly high.

Suburbanites have a lot more to lose and are going to be a lot more apt to go to extremes to make sure no harm befalls what they’re protecting. Too much rides on it. In the city, you were the pack of lions seeking whom you may devour. In the burbs, you’re the gazelle.

If government tyranny is an excuse to wave guns and threaten people, they’ll oppose government tyranny. If looters and riots are an excuse to wave guns and threaten people, they’ll cheer as the National Guard rolls in. It doesn’t matter as long as they get to yell really loud that they’re strong and you’re not. Stop looking for consistency and coherent political thought. Start looking for the guns and threats.

This is the stronghold: bullying. Not law and order, not even support of police or the military. The military said Eddie Gallagher shouldn’t be a SEAL anymore and ought to be in prison — we saw what Trump did with that finding. The minute a cop or member of any of the armed or civil services says hey, this isn’t cool, they become a liberal abortionist peacefreak instead of one of the Thin Blue Line.

Research what happened to Cindy Sheehan before you profess shock at what happened to the Khan family, please. Max Cleland left three of his limbs on the ground in Vietnam and he was compared to Bin Laden in an ad by that hero of the resistance, Rick Wilson.

And what frustrates me is there are still cops who think that if they keep the faith, the faith will be kept with them, as if our ‘roided up cop-culture isn’t littered with stories about corrupt cops getting each other killed to keep secrets. There’s no right way to be here if you aren’t a bully.

They don’t give a SHIT about you, and the way you know that is that they are deliberately creating situations that put cops in danger so they can yell things like LAW AND ORDER and LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT. That’s all they care about. If this was about supporting cops somebody would have said a long ass time ago that the easiest way to keep cops safe is to deal with the cops that keep provoking these situations by KILLING UNARMED BLACK PEOPLE.

But they don’t want to keep cops safe, the Trump administration and its allies in the FOP and other police-adjacent lobbying groups. They want to bully. They want to yell. They want to knock over a box full of bees, let it loose into the crowd.

They don’t care how many of their own get stung.

A.

A Product of Their Times

Apropos of being reminded of the existence of an acquaintance I’d memory-holed but apparently forgotten to unfriend, nothing makes me crazier than the idea that someone was just A PRODUCT OF THEIR TIME. Oh, he’s an old man, let him be racist and sexist and garbage and shitty to you and in front of you, he’s a product of his time.

You know who else was a product of their time?

Sophie Scholl.

Sojourner Truth.

Fred Hampton.

Every single goddamn Freedom Rider.

Ida B. Wells was a product of her time.

Nellie Bly, too.

Every last one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Dick Winters was a product of his time.

Crispus Attucks was a product of his time.

My friend Bob is 100 years old. The last time I saw him and we talked about current events, he stood up and said, “I was antifa before Hitler came to power.” Also, a product of his time.

The problem with the story that we are helpless in the face of the events that shape us is that there have always been people who can see through that crap and who have said that’s enough. That’s why we get better, Jesus, because people decide they’ve had it and want change.

When I was researching one of my books (more on that later today) I came across people who protested for open housing and what we now call marriage equality — in 1910. There have always been people who realize there’s only one rule and it’s if you have power you can use it to crush or you can use it to care for.

We just don’t usually idolize those people until they’re dead. Until WE need them, to make ourselves feel better or justify our complacency because they already won the fight we’re still in the middle of.

Everyone is a product of their time. That’s not a validation of us, it’s an indictment of the times, and it’s never, ever, ever an excuse to hurt anyone else, in word or deed. Because if people could stand up for one another when it was necessary, not just when there was a critical mass of people to protect them, then what is our excuse?

A.

The Sound of Kids on the Streets Outside

I know people who were there in ’68, and not just there as in lived through it, but THERE there. A friend who spoke at my wedding was in the National Guard during Kent State, left soon after. Colleagues were in the streets, getting beaten and gassed.

I know people who fought in Europe in World War II. I knew, many years ago, a man who went to Spain to fight the fascists there after writing about it for years.

Their eyes go somewhere else when they talk about it. When they gather, and someone takes a photograph, it’s not of the wrinkles and bones and bent backs. It’s of the children they were, the years falling away from their faces.

People who fought through something together are, in some sense, always together, and always the age they were when they were fighting.

What if the night just keeps coming down? How do you stay who you are when the fight never ends?

There is a great deal of necessary writing about what has happened to George Floyd and why, but two stories pulled me out of the whirlwind this week. The first was from a friend, who lived next door to us for years. She’s beautiful, accomplished, by any measure of America wildly successful, and her son grew up before our eyes: kind, funny, unfailingly generous, brilliantly smart. She’s afraid for him. He gets stopped in the street and the alley and the neighborhood we used to live in, and I cannot fathom, most days, the restraint we ask black people to practice.

The second, speaking to the first, was R. Eric Thomas: 

You learn, at some point, how to perform being non-threatening and you learn that often it matters less how well you perform and more whether the audience for said performance believes it. Or wants to believe it. Or is in the mood to believe it. Or woke up that morning and made a conscious decision not to believe it. And you think: “If it’s futile anyway, if I am powerless over the reception that I get, what does it matter how I approach the world?”

And there’s a freedom in that, for it allows you to prioritize your own voice over the scolding one that speaks nothing but fear. It affirms that the voice asking to see your papers, or calling those in Minneapolis “thugs,” or shouting out a warning “Move along now!” does not belong to you. It belongs to individuals who have been made minuscule and sharp by their addictions to white supremacy and systems of oppressions that are ambivalent about your goodness.

A memory from the video of the shooting of Philando Castile: His girlfriend, sitting next to his bullet-ridden body, called the white police officer who just shot him “sir.” He was screaming at her and her young daughter, she was covered in blood, and she called the officer “sir.” That’s how deep it had to go, the training to be polite. That’s how little it mattered.

The human body isn’t meant to live in fear forever. The response, the coiling of muscles, the pounding of the heart — that isn’t supposed to be a permanent state. Hypervigilance destroys your mind. There’s supposed to come a time when you’re not afraid anymore.

You already know all the things to be said about what Trump has said and is saying, that he knows what he’s doing, and it’s obvious and awful, and I have no more patience for the shock of anyone who’d call themselves a journalist, who still thinks there’s any way out of this but through.

I just … What do you think they say? How do you think this ends? B. Barry Bamz and Dubya come out here and say, “lads, that’s enough now” and all the protesters go home, their heads hung down and chastened? Do you think that’s what it’s about? Like people are marching in the streets because they just haven’t heard the right words from the right men? Men who, let’s be honest, were president when a lot of what’s being protested was happening day in and day out?

Since the pandemic started, and Trump’s administration did what it’s done with every crisis, which is to say some stuff and then fall on its keys, we keep hearing that if only someone would SAY or DO something, this would all just … stop. Joe Biden, who’s another statesmanlike man with a past on these issues, has been out here every day acting like the president we don’t have, saying the things we say we wish someone would SAY.

That’s not what this is remotely about anymore.

This ends when the people in the street say it ends. They’re in charge. That’s what makes all these MAGA jackasses so crazy, that’s what’s got the cops all roided up in every town in the land, and it’s what the president knows and can’t let go of. There has never been a bully on this earth who was able to take it when the punch comes flying back.

You cannot subjugate people forever, and you cannot plan for what happens when they decide they’ve had enough.

Michelle Goldberg, who has been following the right-wing thread of our undoing for so long I can’t believe she’s okay: 

Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s progressive attorney general, told me that lately, when he goes out walking or running in Minneapolis, he feels a “coiled sort of anxiousness ready to spring.” Many people, he said, “have been cooped up for two months, and so now they’re in a different space and a different place. They’re restless. Some of them have been unemployed, some of them don’t have rent money, and they’re angry, they’re frustrated.”

That frustration is likely to build, because the economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon. The expanded unemployment benefits passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act run out at the end of July. State budgets have been ravaged, and Republicans in Washington have so far refused to come to states’ aid, meaning we’ll likely soon see painful cutbacks in public jobs and services.

People keep saying, oh, you’re mad now, well hold onto that anger and vote in November. Hold onto that anger, as if there’s anywhere to put it down. I do not want to ask anyone to hold this anger for another second. It’s been a sickness inside us for longer than we can name.

The pandemic and the protests, the stay-at-home orders and the state-sanctioned murders, they’re the result of our actions. This isn’t the weather. All week long I’ve been reading stories that back into this, our weakened and passive journalism describing a man’s deliberate killing as a death having occurred following an officer’s knee being placed on his neck, and other such nonsense. I’ve been reading about protesters “clashing” with police, as if they are two equal and opposing forces meeting on neutral ground. A “wave of protests swept over American cities” and “a firestorm was ignited.”

I scream about it on Twitter every time I see it, every time I see “a man is dead after an alleged officer-involved shooting” because: No. A cop fired a gun and killed someone. You’re making value judgments by the words you use and you are placing responsibility, every single day … nowhere.

We did this. That’s the shame of it and always, always, it’s the hope. We look at the hell around us — the sickness, the shutdowns, the deaths in a custody that never needed to be exercised — and don’t see that it presumes the existence of a heaven. That if we made this, we can unmake it.

That’s what people in the streets right now are saying, with as many different voices as they can. We don’t have to live like this, any of us, so let us make the world we want to see.

My old-hand protester friends, the people I knew who were antifa before Hitler came to power, they all had stories about coming home or leaving, about the moment when the struggle seemed to stop or fade away. They got to lay their burdens down when the war was over, and some of them come back to it when they’re needed, and some of them never have.

Not everyone could do that. Everyone’s war doesn’t end. And I don’t think white America has ever thought of what it does to you, to make every cell in your body the record of brutality, a daily reckoning that goes on out of sight. Where does this end, we ask, and the selfishness of it, to ask that.

This is just beginning.

A.

 

The Long Tail

One legacy, leading to another and another: 

The era of slavery was when white Americans determined that black Americans needed only the bare necessities, not enough to keep them optimally safe and healthy. It set in motion black people’s diminished access to healthy foods, safe working conditions, medical treatment and a host of other social inequities that negatively impact health.

This message is particularly important in a moment when African-Americans have experienced the highest rates of severe complications and death from the coronavirus and “obesity” has surfaced as an explanation. The cultural narrative that black people’s weight is a harbinger of disease and death has long served as a dangerous distraction from the real sources of inequality, and it’s happening again.

Reliable data are hard to come by, but available analyses show that on average, the rate of black fatalities is 2.4 times that of whites with Covid-19. In states including Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C., that ratio jumps to five to seven black people dying of Covid-19 complications for every one white death.

For YEARS I didn’t get a flu shot because my grandmother told us all about the one time she got one, and got sick for the one and only time in her entire life. I mean like I started getting the flu shot when I got pregnant, six and a half years ago. I was 38 years old, white and the daughter of a middle-class health professional, I went to college, I read books, I knew better, but: no flu shot for me, and even now, when I do get one, every year, somewhere in the back of my mind is my grandmother’s disappointment.

No voice is louder than that of family, ever, and yet we act like other people can just pick up and forget.

You can’t just walk away from what you created, ever. What stories did your grandparents tell? Mine talked about the Great Depression, about families with a dozen kids and no food, about orphanages and deprivation, making do and doing without. What the human body can survive is unbelievable. How hard we fight to stay alive, but that doesn’t mean any of it goes away. And we’re surprised there’s a retina burn on our history?

You’re staring straight into the sun now. What stories will the people most harmed by this tell their grandchildren, about deprivation, about want? About what they survived and what they had to do in order to do it, and who didn’t, and why? Those stories will determine the shape of their children’s worlds. It doesn’t even matter if they’re true, though I doubt anything is fiction anymore. I have no idea if my grandmother got sick from a flu shot; why would I look for proof? Her younger brother died of an infection today’s antibiotics would have cured in a week. Fear of want lurked beneath everything we did, though never for a day did we go without food.

There are aftershocks to every trauma; can you even begin to calculate what there might be, to something of this size?

A.

 

Selfishness

Yeah:

I mean, as much as anything would shut the NRA crowd up, maybe a message of WEAR A MASK SO A FOREIGNER DOES NOT GIVE YOUR WHITE DAUGHTERS THE PLAGUE would have helped. These hissyfits almost never make sense, though, so I’m hesitant to attribute the behavior of the president’s fanclub to actual things and not to, say, whatever propaganda they’re absorbing through who knows what kind of talk radio signals.

Look, I’m claustrophobic and wear glasses and a mask makes me HUGELY uncomfortable. The sight of crowds of people in masks tweaks something in me and it’s scary, and you know what?

MY FEELINGS DON’T MATTER AT ALL GOOD GOD.

Crowds of people in masks seem scary, and so the answer to that isn’t to not wear a mask, it’s to not vote for a headass sentient cheeto who mishandles a pandemic so badly that we need to wear masks in crowds instead of having a summer that looks like last summer.

If  I don’t want to wear a mask, or see crowds of people wearing masks, I can stay home, stay away from crowds, and not do things like go to stores or the farmer’s market. That’s how I can not be scared while also NOT POTENTIALLY SPEWING VIRUS ALL OVER PEOPLE OR TAKING IT IN THROUGH MY FACE. It’s really a dumb argument to have to make, which is the point of making us make it, which is to distract us from all the dead people.

This isn’t about freedom, it never is. And it’s not even about protecting ourselves, because if it was, we’d be protecting ourselves by voting out every member of the GOP forever until the end of time. That’s the only way to end this.

A.

You Don’t Understand, or You Do, And in Either Case We’re All Dead

The Journal Sentinel’s editorial board: 

But it’s not the court’s fault that the governor and top lawmakers can’t work together for the common good. Nor is it the court’s job to set public health policy in Wisconsin. That’s the job of the governor and Legislature. So do your jobs, Gov. Tony Evers, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Adopt clear rules for the state moving forward. Do so now, so the novel coronavirus is contained.

The governor issued rules and Republicans and the State Supreme Court blew them up. Yelling at them all to do their jobs assumes everyone didn’t. For decades Republicans have been detonating government without any kind of plan for what happens afterwards, and the answer is always this kind of scolding bullshit about how everyone needs to compromise, as if everyone is trying to, equally hard, and just needs a nudge.

Look, this isn’t a case where you can split the baby (AND THE FUCKING POINT OF THAT STORY IS THAT SOME COMPROMISES CAN’T BE MADE JESUS CHEESY FRIES CHRIST). The governor did something within his power to do, and Republicans didn’t like it and blew it up. Everybody technically DID do their jobs here. I don’t see how it’s always the Democrats’ fault when poop-flinging GOP monkeys fail to stop flinging poop and start playing the violin.

There’s no middle ground there. You’re either performing Vivaldi or you’re covered in shit.

Once and for all the marbles in the land, can anyone name me a single case of Republican acquiescence to a policy they don’t like? Can anyone name me a time in recent memory when the GOP was like, well, we’re not fond of that, but we’ll deal with it because you won an election. Democrats are out here bending over backwards and under and THROUGH in order to give Republicans something, anything, and Republicans are using their contorted bodies as roadblocks to prevent those of us without our heads up our asses from going anywhere.

Democrats voted for Republican judges and Republican tax cuts and Republican limits on abortion and Republican limits on spending and Republican limits on food stamps and Republicans’ staggeringly unlimited WARS. Democrats voted for the impeachment OF THEIR OWN GODDAMN PRESIDENT.

Democrats voted over and over and over to compromise, and we’re still hearing that “nobody” is doing their job, that “nobody” wants to compromise, that “nobody” can find any solutions.

Democrats have found solutions. They’ve found good ones and half-a-loaf ones and they’ve reduced them to a quarter of a loaf to try to get Republicans to vote for them, every time, they are like out here begging please, please compromise with us. And Republicans won’t, and the only reason you don’t see that, as a professional Knower and Explainer of Civic Life to Citizens, is that you don’t want to see it, and whichever one it is, it’s killing people.

We hear day after day after day about DEMOCRACY DYING IN DARKNESS as if there’s a fundamental difference between a dead newspaper and one that cedes its institutional voice to a fucking parrot that just flaps and screams BOTH SIDES BOTH SIDES regardless of what kind of seed’s in its bowl. This isn’t me being a Democrat, here. This is me looking at the way things are going, at what went down, and saying this isn’t true, it isn’t correct. It’s not just politically slanted or biased or influenced, it’s flat-out factually WRONG.

You all follow me on a bunch of platforms, I’m not exactly opposed to telling Democrats what to do (call me, guys), but in this case it’s like:

EXT. A WARM SUNNY DAY, NOT TOO HUMID, OF WHICH IN WISCONSIN THERE ARE PRECISELY SIX AND THEY MUST NOT BE WASTED. OUTDOORS, BESIDE A LAVISH INGROUND POOL.

POOL IS FILLED WITH DEMOCRATS IN VARIOUS DONKEY-THEMED SUITS AND TRUNKS, SWIMMING, SPLASHING, HAVING A GOOD TIME BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO IN A SWIMMING POOL.

REPUBLICANS, STANDING AROUND PERIMETER: Water is communist. This is a giveaway. We’re not getting in.

DEMOCRATS: Guys, do you need more room? We can move over. Axelrod, get that inflatable duck out of the way.

REPUBLICANS: Nope. Not swimming today. Not doing it.

DEMOCRATS: But it’s so nice here. You’ll feel better after you cool off. Here, you can share our lounges and beer, too. Is the water too cold? Jimmy, is there any way to warm up the water? Look, we know Billy was being inappropriate, and we’ve told him he can’t come back if he can’t keep his hands off the lifeguards. Here’s a 20-page anti-lifeguard-harassment policy we wrote. Brad, hand out the binders. We even ordered you guys extra hot dogs!

REPUBLICANS: You’re all stupid and we’re not doing this.

JOURNAL SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD: *marches in wearing matching purple objectivity visors* EVERYBODY GET IN THE POOL!

REPUBLICANS: We will not get in the pool until they accede to our demands. This is tyranny.

DEMOCRATS: *looking around* Um, we’re already in the pool, and they won’t tell us what they want, so here’s what we offered them, and uh, they still won’t get in, so I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do here …

JS EDITORIAL BOARD: *pulls out bullhorn* THE PROBLEM WITH POOLS IS THAT NO ONE WILL SWIM IN THEM, EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET IN.

DEMOCRATS: Oh for fuck’s sake.

EXEUNT.

Swimming pools aren’t the problem. You could at least be honest, and tell Republicans they have to stick their toes in the water, and pretend to have a good time, it’s a party.

A.

I Don’t Know What To Tell You if You Are Still Surprised

Roger Cohen, who like most of the New York Times has come to the conclusion that the president enjoys stirring shit and encouraging violence:

Nobody foresaw what a pathogen about one-thousandth the width of an eyelash could trigger in a society where truth itself has been obliterated by President Trump, day after lying day. If he could deny the visible, like the number of people at his inauguration, imagine what he could do with the invisible. Or don’t imagine it, just look around.

Trump, in a tweet last month, urges his tens of millions of followers to “LIBERATE” Virginia from the lockdown and “save your great 2nd Amendment,” which is “under siege.” Or, roughly translated, grab your guns while you can to fight the liberal virus conspiracy, just the latest attempt after climate change and all the rest to emasculate America.

His languidness, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and go-to person for every known problem on the planet, is asked by Time magazine whether he is willing to commit to the holding of the Nov. 3 election. “I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now that’s the plan,” he says.

Good to know. Right now, there’s a plan to hold an election. Gun up, dude, before it’s too late.

I mean, I’m not trying to be a dick, but whenever somebody’s like “he’s encouraging his followers to shoot politicians!” all I have is:

“Yeah.”

“He thinks the virus is a hoax! A conspiracy! He’s lying to keep the numbers down!”

“Yeah.”

“There are thousands of people dead and he doesn’t have a plan!”

“Yeah.”

“How can he –”

Look.

This is who he’s been since that Bund rally of a convention back in the summer of 2016. I remember sitting in a hotel room (I was organizing a conference, already one of the dumbest and most frustrating experiences of my entire life) watching on the C-SPAN feed and arguing with men online that “lock her up” meant something different to women than it did to them.

You spend enough time in crowds, you understand there’s a feel to them, an undercurrent, and you learn to listen to it. There was always something raw and ugly about Trump’s. Most people would see that, see the “she’s a cunt” T-shirts and hear the chants, and leave, knowing this was leading nowhere good.

We elected it instead.

And at the time I said it was all performance, and I didn’t mean for him: I meant for his people, from whom he feeds like some science-fiction monster wrapped around its host’s brain stem. The performance is FUCK YOU, that’s all it is, SUCK ON THIS, that’s all it’s been for decades in the Republican party, and it’s the same today, and I’m just so tired.

So yeah, he doesn’t have a plan. And thousands are dead. And he thinks it’s an excuse to get his people, “tactical” vests and all, riled up because that’s all he knows how to do. And he can count on somebody to write editorials that are basically “both sides” memes and talk about how “Washington” is broken, as if Joe Biden is out here telling the Black Panthers to take over the Alabama statehouse. Christ, sometimes I wish he would.

If you are coming to this NOW, if the virus was your thing, I mean, congratulations I guess, but don’t expect me to share your shock and outrage. “He’s a monster!”

Yeah.

A.

 

This Wasn’t The Apocalypse They Were Promised

These idiots resisting masks, these idiots screaming I WANT A HAIRCUT, these idiots just generally:

They were promised an end of the world they could shoot their way out of. They were promised an end of the world in which they were kings because they had guns, not because they knew how to do or make stuff or were in any way useful.

I could take it if these were like, the hunters and fishermen out here saying look, we need to get food for our families, can you let us have permits you’re denying us, or something. I could take it if these people were asking to actually perform vital functions. They’re not, though. They’re just being obstinate because obstinacy feels like strength, because spite feels like courage, because anger always feels better than sorrow.

And that obstinacy is what they were promised, in their fantasies and video games and movies — that they could gather some white men around them with guns, and they could take. They’ve been taught a false history from the start, about the men who sat on the verandas and fanned themselves, instead of about the ones who plowed the fields.

They thought the revolution happened overnight. They think one battle is all it should take, and so they’ll stage that battle anywhere, over anything, no matter how ridiculous. Their stories all end with victory that’s a waving flag on the horizon, cheering as the villains leave the field. The cameras don’t stick around for the dressing of wounds and the digging of graves.

They also don’t stick around for the hard grinding work of building a society that way one is always built, by people sharing what they have and figuring out what they can do together. That’s the saddest thing: They can be heroes anytime they want. They just have to let go of the fantasy that the only apocalypse you get is the one where you strap on the Kevlar.

A.

Tuesday Catblogging

I have come to the conclusion that Slade is not fat. He’s SOLID. He is SUBSTANTIAL. He is made of muscle covered with fluff, and when I pick him up he’s less like a pillow than a rock.

A silly, silly, silly rock.

rock lardster

A.

Distance

Here are some numbers.

My mother had me when she was 21 years old.

I had my daughter when I was 38.

For most of their lives, my mother lived six blocks away from her mother, who was 35 years old when my mother was born.

Since I turned 17, I have never lived closer than 70 miles from my mom.

This past fall I flew 800 miles to be at the wedding of a girl I love like my own daughter.

I left my own daughter behind, in the care of my mother. For four days we were those same 800 miles apart.

There is twice as much space time between me and my daughter, as there was time space between my mother and me. Two generations, not one.

It was 40 feet from my daughter’s room to mine, in the condo that we lived in when she was born. From the day we brought her home from the hospital she refused to co-sleep, wouldn’t rest unless she could put that space between us. Forty feet, when she’d rolled and twisted underneath my heart, inside my body, caged by my ribs.

I looked at her in those early days and felt — love, pride, awe, fear, but not knowing. Not known. I had imagined a child would be many things. Not on my list, that she (her pulse inside mine, however briefly, an echo and an answer) would be a stranger.

A stranger to me, and I to her, and so we still are.

Strangers who like one another. Strangers who enjoy spending time together. But strangers, always. We love who we think the other is. We love the assumptions because we have to love something and we can’t know the truth.

I was reading last week about encouraging older children — she is so much older, in a week, than she was in a month last year — to write about this time, to draw about it, because they’ll remember. I say to myself, ten times a day, when we talk about someone we know being sick or something we can’t do anymore: She needs you to be calm.

She needs you to tell her how to feel about this, that’s how we learn. Human psychology, all of it, is based on projection. We do lessons at the dining room table. We do crafts, go on nature walks, I’ve been dealing with health problems for decades and sometimes I wish she had a mother who didn’t need to sit on the bathroom floor for 20 minutes in the morning and breathe until she can manage getting some toast and coffee and feeding the cats.

My mother tells me, “She doesn’t even see that.” But I don’t know what she sees. I don’t know if she’ll need me to tell her about the spring we stayed inside, about the months she didn’t see her friends. I hate that she has lost half of her kindergarten year. I barely remember kindergarten. It’s the hardest thing to reckon with: You don’t get to choose what your children remember, or how they remember it.

It’s the hardest thing to reckon with, as a mother, as a daughter: Our children don’t belong to us. We belong to them. We only think of our ownership because we are large and they are small. We are old, and they are young. We think once claimed is claimed forever, that love imparts some unspoken wisdom, that we know. A mother knows. A mother is supposed to know.

A mother doesn’t know. A mother has no idea.

At her wedding, the girl I love like my own daughter caught my hands up in hers and I tried to tell her, stumbling a bit after two glasses of wine, how important she was to me. I work with a lot of kids; none of them invited me to their weddings, until her. When she was thousands of miles away in war zones working I would check on Facebook, make sure she’d been active in the past day. The past hour. She flew to Chicago for my daughter’s first birthday.

No matter how much time passes between us talking, she could call, in the middle of the night, say I need a shovel and an alibi. I’d go.

It’s not a phrase that had been invented, in the 21 years between my mother and me: Ride or die.

Of course you’d die for your child. That’s easy. It’s chemical, it’s instinct, it’s survival, it has to be. You love them before you know them, so that you keep them alive. Can you still love them, once everything that has ever happened to someone has happened to the both of you? Once you’ve happened to each other like a speeding train happens to a car stalled at the crossing, like a tornado happens to a town?

Are you ride or die, then?

What does it mean to ride? Does ride mean feed you, keep you safe, put you in a carseat and cut your grapes in half? That’s easy enough, for all our mommy-martyrdom. Is that all it means? Does it mean piano lessons? Does it mean until you’re 50? Are you ever done? There are people who are, who would be. Streets the world over are homes for children whose parents were done with them. The reverse, to be fair, as well.

I shudder at the very idea of I would do anything, forever: You are giving the gods a middle finger. Your future is out there waiting and it hears you. I shout it out just the same. Anything isn’t a hangnail, isn’t just showing up for a class play. Sometimes it’s involuntary commitment to a mental institution.

I don’t question love. What’s the use? But I question time space. I question years and miles. Not if they exist, but what they mean. What they might mean to me and mine. What I get to call mine: the girl I love like a daughter is not my daughter, feelings don’t give you rights, and all the love I bear my child, who knew my voice before she had a name, doesn’t obligate her to anything. I will keep saying this until I believe it the way I believe gravity: She does not owe me.

We are commanded by every deity we have ever invented to love the stranger. We think it means the scraggly homeless man who screams obscenities behind the trash cans in the alley, the twitching pale hitchhiker who needs a ride in the rain. I’ve begun to think it’s something else: Everyone is a stranger. The faces across the breakfast table, every single morning come ruin or rapture, the faces that need feeding and washing and kissing before school. Something happens and we say, how could I not have known?

How could you have, ever, known?

Does any of this make sense? I’m trying to say we don’t make sense to each other, mothers and daughters, and I’m trying to say I think it’s all right, that the chasm isn’t as important as the bridge we’re stringing across it, which will hang there until it’s needed. It’s 21 years and 70 miles wide, that bridge, between my mother and I. It’s two floors, in the house my daughter and I inhabit now, and 38 years, and a single breath when I hear her stir in her bed, in her warm safe bed at night.

My grandmother died at 91. My mother-in-law, two years ago. My daughter asked me, after her Nana’s funeral, how long do people live? How much time will there be, between us?

I didn’t have an answer for her.

All I had were numbers.

I hope that someday she’ll tell me what they mean.

A.