2.5 Things

A while ago, I worked with the journalist Cynthia Gorney on her fine book “Articles of Faith” , all about the fight between pro-life and pro-choice activists around a now relatively unknown Supreme Court case, William L. Webster versus Reproductive Health Services.  Gorney, being the dedicated journalist she is, spent a lot of time with women on both sides of debate. She talked to them about their backgrounds and how they relate to their beliefs, and the symbols they used to sway popular opinion. (Remember the tiny feet lapel pins? They’re still available.)

And she listened. That’s what reporters are supposed to do: Listen. And later, when talked about the women and their passionate opinions, she mentioned how deeply she was impressed by the women’s sincerity and sense of purpose.  She understood that they were talking about something real, some uninfected with partisan concerns.

I began to think about it this way: Suppose you really, really believed in the sanctity of human life? We all do, of course — I assume you oppose murder — but some take it more literally and completely. Then you’d be against capital punishment, and war, and the cruel detention of immigrants — and, of course, the abortion of unborn babies. Those babies are alive; it is a sin to kill them.

No matter what the Supreme Court says, our definition of “life” is of necessity fluid and filled with unknowns. Does life begin at consciousness? By  that measure, then someone in a vegetative state is not alive and can be killed at will. Does it begin when the baby leaves the mother’s womb? That’s as arbitrary distinction as any other.

I believe deeply in a woman’s right to choose. But I respect some of the people on the other side of debate, the people who unlink the issue from social concerns, and who maintain their respect for life no matter what, adopting positions I approve of (against capital punishment) and ones I don’t (against assisted suicide). There’s a lot of pandering around this issue, and a lot of patriarchal bullshit, but there’s also lot of concern for helpless children, both unborn and born.

I think the anti-gay people are hopeless bigots motivated by some weird form of sexual panic. I think the Trumpish anti-refugee folks are motivated by fear and bad information. But pro-life people are engaging on another level of conversation altogether, and we should be aware of that.

The new struggle calls for new alliances, new ways of thinking. A leader of a pro-life group banned from sponsoring the woman’s march said that she had concerns about violence against women, and about workplace equality. Those are things worth talking about. And if the conversation ambles over to, say, climate change, or education policy, or U.S. ties with Russian intelligence — well, so much the better.

Time for the Left to stop acting like, you know, the Left. (The Hillary-Bernie battles are still being fought on social media, boring many). Forget ideological purity now; think strategically. This is Resistance; we can figure out who gets to be Lenin later on.

My friend Caille Millner reminded me of Ghanian proverb: “Two people in a burning house must not stop to argue.”

01-26-of-20

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Art is a mark of civilization, and civilization is what we are trying to save. I know that sounds a little…excessive, but think about it. A little chaos is good, but civilization does not do very well in total chaos. Stuff gets lost. Some of the stuff getting lost is eminently disposable, but some of it isn’t. Like art. My younger daughter lives in the Canadian province of Quebec. There, the government supports art. With money. Think of that. That’s why she lives in a place that’s very cold for much of the year. Because art.

It is important to try to save the NEA and the NEH, but that course does not seem promising. The humans in charge of the government do not seem to be exactly in tune with the solace of art. But really, we own the art — and we get the art we deserve.

01-13-of-20

Art is our port in the storm. Certainly, political art illuminates our times and protests our current condition. (Also, it doesn’t; that’s the thing about art: Many different drummers; many different drums). And, sure, mediated art is great (personally, I await with anticipation the new season of “Stranger Things”), but the live stuff is the best. It’s a damn juggling act every night, with the possibility of the void looming at any moment. And it’s also where transcendence happens; some unpredictable combination of audience and performers and musicians and lighting technicians and everybody coming together to provide balm for your heart.

Feeling a little down about human beings? Get out and see someone doing something. Sure, it could be terrible, although probably not as terrible as an executive order. That’s the gamble we take as sentient humans; we trust others to see truth we cannot see. And to share it with us, and to expand the community of empathy.

So, swear to God, if you want to make a political statement, go support a theater company or a zither player or an action painter or a chorus of Ukrainian hip-hop opera stars. Applaud, share, repeat, rejoice. Remind yourself that this too exists. Give money to artists so they can keep being artists.

01-27-of-20

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My apologies for the 2.5 weeks between blog posts. My head was too full of Trump. I started a dozen fragments responding to some outrage, while the other outrages jostled in my head, wanting equal time. And I could never complete a thought, because Another! Fresh!  Outrage! would happen and demand a response from Me! Because I have Perspective!

And then I realized: Everybody who could write good was writing good about Donald Trump. Points were made; disgust was demonstrated. It was overwhelming; it was heartening. And it made me feel, well, the outrage is doing pretty good; it’s got legs. So maybe there’s other stuff to say. And that’s what I’m concentrating on.

We should love each other, because we need each other more than ever before. And that’s what I have to say about that.

01-16-of-20

 

 

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Help with the little things they mean so much by Michelle Mizera

Suffer the little children

I have no opinion about KinderGuides, which publishes picture books based on works of classic literature designed for 6-10 year-olds. So far, they’ve got “On the Road,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Their version of Kerouac classic does not mention drinking, drug taking, casual sex, unacknowledged homoerotic thoughts, or unsafe driving.

It is, apparently, like an adventure story, with some talky guys involved in G-rated hijinks. I haven’t read it, so (as I say) I have no opinion about it. As to whether classic novels should be repurposed as kid’s books — well, if I came out against it, I would also have to oppose movie versions of books, television mini-series based on books, satire and pastiche, interpretive dance and murals, and so forth. And I don’t oppose those things, so I cannot oppose kiddie books based on adult favorites.

 

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Also wants to learn where Zaphod Beeblebrox is

Apparently, the issue of whether Holly Golightly was a prostitute (and she was, of course) is not brought up in little people’s version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so apparently she’s just a high-spirited girl with an independent income. Who…well, it’s hard to see how a version of the story without the sexual tension would interest anyone, much less a seven-year-old girl. But what do I know? If I knew how to write successful children’s books, I’d be living on Maui, importing celebrities for raucous  games of strip poker, and making personal appearances with stuffed toys bearing the likeness of Maybe Henry, the hero of my ghost/adventure series The Maybe Gang.

“The Maybe Gang Meets The Headless Horseman” has been translated into 13 languages. But I digress.

Nor do I have an opinion about Cozy Classics (I am not making this up), the book series that reduces classics to just 12 words. (Real example, for “War and Peace”: “Soldier friends run dance good-bye hug horse boom! hurt sleep snow love”). This seems more like a conceptual art book for adults rather than a real kid’s series, but apparently many parents are buying them and leaving them around the playroom for their offspring to find.

 

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Also wonders what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter

Still, not everyone was happy. One Amazon reviewer described the Cozy take on “Jane Eyre” as “weird, dark and not the most appropriate for kids who are reading board books.”

Well, (a) it’s a book in which a madwoman locked in the attic is a central plot point, so what were you expecting? and, (b) who says kids don’t like dark books? Some parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Sure, there are innocent childhood delights, and wonder at unexpected things that adults are too jaded to appreciate, but there’s also fear, lots and lots of fear, and many mysterious threatening things, some of which can be put down to wind during a rain storm, and some of which can be put down to abusive drunk dangerous parents.

We don’t live in a totally sunny world, and our kids live in the same world we live in. Nothing can protect them from darkness and weirdness, certainly not dark weird people like us. The Grimms were right: Children need stories that tell them they are not crazy, that homicidal wolves and wicked stepmothers are indeed part of the landscape, whatever Sesame Street says.

What did I love most when I was 7 or 9? Edgar Allen Poe stories, for one — “The Pit and the Pendulum” I found particularly enthralling, and when I realized what was going on in “A Cask of Amontillado,” I was genuinely thrilled. Plus lots of gore and soupçons of sex (sex!) in science fiction and murder mysteries; hints about dark secrets as yet unexplored. My whole life was sort of a murder mystery; I kept trying to figure out what happened to my dad.

My, that turned weird all of a sudden. Proving my point.

Lemony Snicket understands that. J.K. Rowling understands that. What do people think is going on in Harry Potter, anyway? A very evil entity kills Harry’s parents, and he spends seven books seeking bloody revenge. Plus, there’s Stephen King. He writes books that young people read, whether they are appropriate or not.

(My experience: Calling something “inappropriate” is a sure-fire marketing tool. Big cover blurb for “Flesh Eating Zombies of the Apocalypse” goes like this: “It’s inappropriate! — Your parents.”)

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Wonders if she too is being borne back ceaselessly into the past

May I make a serious point? I think parents are way too fretful about what their kids read. With some obvious exceptions (let ’em watch pornography in secret, as God intended), parents should just open the keys to the library and let ’em browse. And when the kids hit the Internet, it will be time to acquaint them with the real facts of life — people lie. Unwitting people repeat the lies. Don’t be caught! Think for yourself! And when your kid asks you for cites on some unsupported piece of bullshit you’ve just promoted, you can congratulate yourself on having done your job well.

If your kid is a smart-ass, so much the better.

And finally: What you do when your kids are around is far more important than anything they read. Inevitably, it is your behavior they are copying — not the behavior you recommend, but the things you actually do. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and you’re the tree. Water, prune, fertilize, don’t commit murder. The metaphor just broke down. Writing is hard.

The way to make sure that your kid is a good person is to be a good person yourself. Or as Cozy Classic might put it: Child watch kindness generosity imitate help homeless heal kiss grandma read books!

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A whole damn column without Donald Trump. That felt good, didn’t it?

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Does not care at the moment who John Galt is

Photography by Tracy “I have too many children!” Johnston

Useful services by Michelle Mizera