The man in my head

Tuesday, May 22: So lucky today.  Shana is in New York with her friend (and mine) Gypsy Snider.  Complicated machinations, but: Shana has an extra ticket to Shakespeare in the Park (friend-in-the-cast ticket, so no waiting in line) and Gypsy has an extra ticket for Hamilton.

I went to Hamilton.

So I watched, and I thought this clichéd thought and that clichéd thought (because every possible thought about Hamilton has already been expressed, at least twice, once in German), and somewhere in the middle of the rap battle between Hamilton and Jefferson, I realized that the actor playing Hamilton probably had a greater understanding about the founding of the American banking system than Donald Trump.

Because at least he’d had to learn his lines.

Heck, I have a greater understanding of the founding of the American banking system than Donald Trump, because I read a BOOK. Trump didn’t even read his own book.

The show that Tracy went to see? Julius Caesar, directed by Oskar Eustis, in which Caesar is a Donald Trump (!) lookalike who gets stabbed to death halfway through the play, as is traditional. Caesar is all “et tu, Brute,” but he shoulda read the play. This staging of a 400-year-old play with a kinda obvious spin — and make it relevant — indicates that Shakespeare knew a few things about how people work. But the production has caused a stoopid kerfuffle with large corporate sponsors pulling their support from the Public Theater, which Eustis heads.

Super secret fact: Sometime in the 80s, I went to see a production of Julius Caesar in Berkeley. Caesar was portrayed as a Reagan type who sought to enslave his people through television. That production was directed by Oskar Eustis.

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Broadway Lafayette station; waiting for the D train (note woman on left)

 

Wednesday, May 23: Steady rain. The Whitney Museum Biennial. Survey of work by young artists of every race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and they all live in Brooklyn. They’re here, they’re woke, and they’re pissed off. Some attack environmental degradation, some battle against oppression of sundry minorities, and some bite the hands that feed them, linking big art donors to the worst evils of capitalism.

At the Whitney. Where investment banks and secretive multinationals have their names on galleries, floors, cafes and drinking fountains. And suppose those works attacking the art-industrial complex wound up being purchased by the patriarchy, allowing the artist to have a somewhat nicer Brooklyn studio from which to pierce the dark heart of corporate cronyism.

Spiraling ironies.

And all of this before the elevation of Donald Trump, who thinks irony is what you make steely out of. Imagine how pissed off the artists are now. Trump is like this magical alchemical substance; add him to anything and he makes it six times worse.

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Lower East Side, Rivington St.

Thursday, May 25: Went to Sweat, a play about what happens in a small town in Pennsylvania when “the plant” closes. Compelling story, well-acted, blah blah blah. These are the people Donald Trump says he’s fighting for, and of course that is fake truth.

How could so many of my fellow Americans be so gullible? Trump is friends with the people who own the plants that closed down and threw millions into economic misery. Except probably the plant owners try to avoid Trump because he makes vulgar jokes and sits down as though he’s been invited. Now they’re probably sitting on an advisory committee for ending poverty in our time.

This is not new. Trump has been exposed more times than, hell, write your own comparison. It’s all old news. I am not thinking new thoughts about him. I want to think a NEW THOUGHT. I like traveling because it often forces me to think new thoughts.

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Aboard the A train to 125th St.

Friday, May 26: Off to the New Museum, that little slice of  heaven on the Lower East Side. Women artists on every floor. I wonder what Donald Trump thinks about women artists. He probably doesn’t even know they exist, a list that also includes quarks, cassoulet, Muddy Waters, the Solomon Islands, Millie Bobby Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, meerkats and human decency.

I have a latte served by authentic hipster youth. I also taste the bitter dregs of Donald J. Trump.

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New Museum; art by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Sunday, May 28: Grand Central Terminal. One of greatest public spaces in the world. Sitting on the cool marble steps. Staring up at the astrological ceiling. Built in 1903, at a time when America believed in spending taxpayer money to build astonishing public infrastructure. The astonishing NYC subway system opened the following year.

How fabulous. How spirited. How, well, infrastructure is now just an empty promise and our bridges are crumbling, as is the very fine subway I rode here on and the train that will take me up the Hudson. And with the Chaos-in-Chief running things, God knows, GOD knows. Nothing is getting done at a pace remarkable even for the 21st Century.

Turns out I have fucks left to give.

Train time. Be glad to get out this depressing dump.

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I mean, who knows? Sixth Avenue.

Tuesday, May 30: Bedford, New York. Staying with our beloved friends Rachel and Joe. I had suggested yesterday that maybe a trip to Vassar would be an amusing outing.

My mother went to Vassar. When we were living in Pasadena, she was a honcho of some kind in the Vassar alumni association. She spoke of it as a high point in her star-crossed life. The rolling green lawns, the sympathetic professors, the endless opportunities for reading. I wanted to finally see the place.

It was a entirely wonderful. The dining hall where she would undoubtedly have eaten was being remodeled but not torn down. The student union, where she would have undoubtedly wandered, was still standing. There was a plane tree that was mature when she walked to class, probably wearing saddle shoes.

Of course, education is one of the glories of western civilization, along with math and writing and math and astrofuckingphysics, all of which Trump disdains, although of course he knows nothing about it. Resist, Vassar. Resist! Also, get a real bookstore. Books! Damn!

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Vassar. Looks like heaven, doesn’t it?

Wednesday May 31: Off to Hyde Park, ancestral home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his fabulous wife Eleanor Roosevelt, who really should be on some kind of currency. The house is meh, but the Museum and Library were amazing, worth a detour, allow a few hours.

 

OK, can’t avoid it. Presidential comparisons. FDR courageously refused to let his polio define him, and won the governorship of New York just seven years later. Trump courageously recovered from the bone spurs that made him ineligible for military service. FDR said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Trump said, “I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple.”

FDR said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” Trump just lied about something.  He doesn’t care.

The Roosevelt presidency started in a great depression and ended in a great war. And yet it seems a golden time, with adults in charge of everything and a huge push for social justice that dominated those famous first hundred days. Now, babies and cowards are in charge of everything, and nothing whatever is getting done.

Plus the babies and cowards are still whining about Hillary Clinton. She’s the defeated candidate, and somehow she won anyway because no one loves them.

FDR said, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, it was planned that way.” Is this still true?  Discuss.

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Every building needs one of those

Friday, June 2: Philadelphia. Baseball game. Giants vs. Phillies. Giants doing very well. Sun goes down. Eat hot dog in a cold bun with radioactive mustard. Has Donald Trump ever eaten a hot dog in a cold bun? It’s an American experience, but Trump is not really an American. Hold that thought.

Saturday, June 3: Today was patriotism day. We went on a tour of Independence Hall, where a few things happened, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence (John Hancock sat right there). Eleven years later, after contentious debate (Franklin used to enjoy tripping delegates with his cane), the Constitution was likewise ratified. The Constitution. That makes it a rather more important than the damn Liberty Bell, which had nothing to do with anything.

There are two facts about those events that I have always loved. First, both took place in the hellish Philadelphia summer, in a smallish fetid room. How could they even think? Second, most of the delegates had some form of dental trouble. And, sweaty and throbbing and often angry, they wrote the two most important documents in the history of democracy. Beat that.

But even better was the lesser known Congress Hall, where both the Senate and the House met in the early years of the Republic. The room is elegant, cool even on sunny afternoon. And it was there that John Adams took the oath of office while an apparently relieved George Washington looked on.

The orderly transfer of power, baby. Lots of governments start with high-minded promises, but the Yu-Nited States of Murica made it happen. The king-god Washington of Virginia allowed a short sour lawyer from Massachusetts to take all the power, without hesitation; that’s what we do. We have, in the course of our history, done many grotesquely awful things, but we have also done that. Every time, we have done that.  Which is why it was meaningful that Barack Obama graciously received the incoming president and rode with him to the inauguration. Because that’s the way we do it.

Could almost make a man cry. Did make me cry, in that cool dark room.

And you can write the rest of the column. Does Donald Trump know what city Independence Hall is in? Does he care? Did he appreciate his participation in the one of our most significant civil ceremonies? Oh, of course not. He’s a worthless grifter and threadbare mountebank. And I wish he’d get out of my head.

I had a great vacation, a fabulous vacation. I should be chill, but  Donald J. Trump is taking up space in my head, always whispering, “this is crap. It’s all crap. Danger Danger DANGER I am here and I hate civilization. Hate! Civilization! (Derisive laughter).”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, and a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. And wattles don’t come cheap.

 

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Sign on a church, Society Hill, Philadelphia. Pray for the wretched.

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Random helpful stuff by Michelle Mizera

 

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photography by Tracy Johnston

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