Happy happy

Today I am bringing you good news. Yes, forget that apocalyptic stuff about Trump and the cities flooding and the real possibility of more war, this time with nations that can fight back. Which would probably mean that the internet would become an unlivable minefield of scam artists, Russian bots and media corporations selling everything about our preferences and habits to agents of an Argentinian drug gang.

But we are not worried about that. We are looking on the bright side.

Good thing #1: Spring. It’s spring. Everything that can blossom is blossoming, or thinking about blossoming, or is still deep in its roots waiting for the overwhelming blossom wave to hit. So you can delay, but why would you? The outdoors is literally right outside your door.

I once had a revelation while looking for wildflowers in Death Valley. When we walked in the bright sandy landscape, we did not see any flowers. We’d been told that the season was now past its prime, but there was still good stuff to see.

We were out there seeing like crazy, but we were not seeing much. A lot of rocks (some of them interesting), but not much in the way of flora. Then I saw something on the ground. I peered over, but I was still not seeing it. So I dropped to my knees and got kissing-close to the plant. It was a burst of color, a maze of white flowers, green buds and leaves of gray or jade.

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The advantages of looking closely

Then I looked to the side. I was in fact in a garden, a miniature garden teased out by the late winter rains. I saw another, and another, elegant plants forced by the lack of water to stay small. When all you need is a drop of water, you’re going to stay awhile.

So my revelation was this: Look closely, and keep looking closely. That’s probably good advice for anyone doing anything. (It’s real good advice in commercial transactions, where the seller might not be telling you everything. And if you’re the seller, make sure the buyer’s money does not come with a portrait of Edgar Martinez on it. These things happen. It’s a cruel world).

But let’s not ignore big, showy blooms. Some in the plant world think they’re vulgar, but for me, the bolder and naughtier a flower is, the better I like it. Nor should we ignore bunches of flowers that together make a gigantic, sometime overwhelming display of color and fragrance. Hey, wisteria, I’m looking at you.

Good thing #2: Baseball. Yes, I know, a lot of my readers are not into baseball, although I trust none of them have uttered the phrase “Oh, I don’t watch sports” in a tone they might reserve for “Oh, I don’t eat babies.” Sports is no more a moral failure than shopping for another kitchen gadget from High Prices R Us (Lattes Included!).

I seem to have a resentment of which I was not previously aware.

Baseball, like gardens, rewards closer examination. It’s easy to see it as boring. It’s not fast like basketball nor violent like football. Sometimes its rhythms seem soporific. Long stretches without scoring go by. This is also true of soccer, which about 1 billion people play and another 5 billion watch. So slow sports must have aspects that keep people involved.

The closer you get to baseball, the more interesting it gets. A seemingly infinite number of calculations goes into every pitch, sometimes rigidly rigorous numbers-crunching, sometimes hunches, guesses and mistakes. Each decision has a history; each decision will have a future. Its charms are infinite; not even professionals can see them all. Neither can fans, but, oh, the joy in trying.

Or look at it this way. Baseball is a warm-weather game; its slowness in developing matches the lethargy of summer afternoons. There’s time to talk with your friends, get another cold beverage from the cooler, run around aimlessly if that’s your choice. My mother used to fall asleep to baseball broadcasts on the radio. My guess is, that if you’re an American, you have baseball somewhere in your past. It’s what links us together far better than any changeable political allegiances. Even radicals like baseball.

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Playing dominoes, listening to baseball. Nothing better.

Not doing it for you? How about the unmatched visual splendor of baseball? Consider the opening act (memorably captured in the first few minutes of “Bull Durham”): You walk through the tunnel or the hallway into a slowly emerging panorama of green, a field that absolutely overwhelms the tiny players moving around on it. That’s prophetic, because every part of the field is in play all the time, far too much to be covered by nine mere mortals. The game seems unplayable when you first hear about it; the continuing miracle is that it actually is playable, by major-leaguers and 9-year-olds alike.

But the green vista, augmented by a beer and a brat as they say in Cincinnati, heightened by the conversation around you, the buzz of pleasure and intense debate, of quotidian concerns and grand theories, makes a summer afternoon or evening an exhilarating experience. Relax. Have another beer. (Don’t have five). Bring sunscreen for the day games. Bring blankets for the night games. (In San Francisco, bring two).

Baseball, like spring, means the days are getting longer and the sun is getting brighter. You can stroll the streets at nine. You can sit on your porch, or someone else’s porch, and talk shit or not-shit, slump and yawn, and declare that this has been the best Sunday ever. And look at the nods of agreement around the circle. And every peaceful, easy feeling is inexpressibly augmented by a home team win. Wouldn’t you say?

Good thing #3: Optimism. We willingly surround ourselves in a miasma of bad news. This hyper-partisanship you hear so much about is a personal commitment to doom and gloom. The remarkable thing is that it’s entirely voluntary. We can feel bad or good; it’s always a choice. Yes, there are rising seas and poverty and refugees and idiotic policies and a rise in nationalism and a loss of privacy and, what else? Coffee makers that break down too much? Whatever.

I know you want to effect social change. I know you want to be a cog in the wheel of the resistance.  But you needn’t be glum about it. Be like the old resistance fighters in this country. Write songs about it and sing them. Publish songbooks on the internet. Have secret meetings, disputatious gatherings that end in a communal meal. Make up creative signs and inspiring chants. Take joy in the work you are doing, because joy will make you live longer. It will make you feel better. And it might even dislodge a cruel tyrant.

During the few years I was a student activist, the thing I remember most was camaraderie. (The possibility of hooking up may have added a bit more excitement to the stew; that’s not a bad thing). I remember fighting for good — in my case, free speech on campus with a minor in ban the bomb — and thinking that maybe change was possible. And lo, change happened.  Look to a better future. Ignore your inner cynic. What has she ever done for you?

Just because the world is filled with assholes doesn’t mean you have to be one too. Tell a joke, dance a dance, overthrow the patriarchy. See? Easy.

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 It doesn’t look that weird until you get up close

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Things I never knew before: Michelle Mizera

 

 

 

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My own private howl

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I started this column many times.  I’d think I had my outrages lined up, but then something else would pop up in one of my 58 sources for moment-by-moment news. On Thursday, for instance, we spent the day at the Exploratorium with my younger granddaughter, and I got home and turned on the TV and, bless me, John Bolton. I mean, yes, I’d heard that it might happen, but I never thought it might, you know, happen.

There was the March for Life started by those blessed children at Parkland and, John Bolton is fucking harshing my mellow.  I want no more schoolchildren to be killed by a nuclear rain of death. I think we should have laws banning the use of nuclear weapons by crazy tinpot narcissists.

When the kids are done bringing a glimmer of hope to a cold universe, I’d like for old people to march against killing everybody.

There are stages to dealing with Trump. The first is hopeful: He’ll be in office a few months and everyone will lose their illusions and realize they’d been lied to and that Trump has no plans to make their lives better.  Then Congress passes a tax bill that gives everyone an extra $47 a year and everyone is all, “Trump is keeping his promises.”

Yes, his approval rating dipped eight points, but still right around 40 per cent of the voting age populace (or, at least, of those inclined to interact with pollsters) say they support him. There is good information, but people have turned away from good information; indeed, from the very idea of information itself.

Not only that, by supporting Trump they’re somehow giving it to me, the elite media, the cranky intellectuals, the atheists, the abortionists, and a wide variety of black people, brown people, yellow people, red people, and whatever other colors we’re using to prove to ourselves that race is a real construct grounded in real reality.

Am I saying anything new? I am not. I don’t know there’s anything new to say. I have seen the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical naked, trying to construct 500 words for the Sunday edition or the March issue or the second book in a two-book deal, pounding their brains for a new angle, a brave new apercu that will be seen as the turning point in the narrowly averted constitutional crisis, who subsequently disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago, We’ve all been there.

I do not despair because we are all in this together, because united we fight, because there are more of us than there are of them, and are you feeling better? The arc of history bends toward justice, but we need something a little more immediate than a bending arc. Just to make sure the earth isn’t a post-apocalyptic nightmare before we take on rising seas.

First, there should still be seas.

My mind tends toward disaster planning anyway. Give me a situation, and I can always find a way to turn it into a nuclear holocaust. I know this about myself, so I try not to inflict my harrowing views on others, knowing that I have always been wrong. Still, there have been times in human history when catastrophic thinking has been a description of reality. The worst case scenario is still a scenario.

How do we know when the worse case is happening? We don’t — until it’s too late. I’m the guy going around repeating “until it’s too late” and annoying people on my local monorail transportation system.

Many people from Eastern Europe are U.S. citizens now and they, who have seen the effects of failing to constructively panic, have written helpful “how do I know that tyranny is coming” checklists. Number one might be, “do you have a leader who fantasizes about killing people?” He wants to kill drug dealers. The president is probably unaware that he hobnobbed with drug dealers. They were  white, though, and they wore beautiful suits. Probably they wouldn’t have to die after all.

Number two might be, hold on, I had a thought. Unless you’re from Florida, you probably don’t know that Marjorie Stoneman Douglas was a person before she was the scene of a tragedy. She was born in the 19th Century, went through a cheating husband, a career as a newspaper reporter (she liked it), and a stint in the Navy (she didn’t like it), all before the first world war broke out. She went back to the newspaper business and started writing full time. In 1942, she wrote River of Grass, a book about the rape of the Everglades by Big Sugar and other monopolies. It is still relevant today; sadly, much of the initial dynamic continues. It is a masterpiece of type; if you read Silent Spring or The End of Nature, you should read it.

She was was born during the administration of Benjamin Harrison and died during the administration of Bill Clinton. Beat that.

You see why I digressed? There are still heroes. There are still people who do all these admirable things. Think of all the people at the EPA and the National Park Service, trying to keep stuff together despite hostility from the administration. Imagine that now: Someone located wonderfully far from the top of the bureaucracy, invisible even to the Human Resources Department, resisting memos, deflecting advisories, even selectively ignoring commands from above, what a hero is she. Or he. Such heroes are they.

Nothing about Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’s life was easy. She was a female newspaper reporter in 1910. Just imagine.

Nothing is easy at her high school either, nor will it be for quite some time. We have allowed this shit to continue, and shame on us. There was a hard-to-miss subtext in all the marches for life: Old people should get the fuck out of the way. Because all this happened on their watch.

As an old person, I can only say: They may have a point there.

I plan to continue to continue, shrugging off guilt. Guilt is just your brain’s way of saying “never mind.” The next thing is before us. The great work begins. This is the ass-end of change, but most generations get to go through something like that. Imagine being an quiet, soulful  Russian in 1928. People formed groups, you know what I’m saying? Secret resistance groups —they didn’t exactly put invitations on Facebook. You know that secret groups are happening now; it’s as predictable as fascists overplaying their hands. Wanna see where you fit? Maybe call that guy who knows that woman, and maybe ask.

We seek to avoid tyranny, or its most extreme reaction, a kind of despairing chaos. There will be real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

All very sweet, but it’s hardly a system of government.

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Photography by Tracy Johnston

Doing the needful things: Michelle Mizera