TOWOIT #223: Love and Trouble

August 31, 2017… Day 224

I got carried away and wrote three blog posts for one day.

4:45 am: Morning Edition makes me cry in the shower again

The radio takes on a different quality, early in the morning, when you’re alone and brewing coffee and it’s dark outside.

On NPR this morning, they ran a story about a reporter in Houston driving a woman named Angie back to the home she was evacuated from when the flood waters got near it. They ran into some water in the road that the reporter’s car couldn’t handle, but a Latino man in a big jacked-up truck came along and drove them the rest of the way. The Latino man talked about how in Houston during the flood, it has been everyone helping everyone—it hasn’t been about white, black and brown.

For a reason that I missed, the reporter and the other man went in to look around inside the house while Angie waited outside for them. They came back out and told her everything was dry. She’d been especially worried about her clothes, but they were fine. The water had come up to her doorstep but no further. The men had snapped pictures of the rooms to show her they were dry. As they drove away, the woman looked through the photos. She had a low, raspy voice and you heard her say—sort of to herself—“I know my house is junky, but…” and then she just trailed off.

When that recorded story ended, the reporter and the host talked briefly about how Angie was one of the lucky ones.

Although I was emotionally affected by the story, I thought “This is fine. It was a happy ending. I didn’t just see a video of a wet dog afraid to be rescued, or a senior citizen stranded in waist-deep water, or a baby floating in a storage tub. I’m fine.”

Then those tricky bastards at NPR played the first several bars of “The Water is Wide.”

The version they played was instrumental but unfortunately I knew the words. So then I was crying into my coffee, followed by crying in the shower. All the way to the bus stop, I was still humming the tune, thinking about Houston folks and sniffling.

If you don’t know that song, the verse I know goes like this:

The water is wide… I cannot cross over

Neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

 

6:25 am: Love and Trouble 

On the bus to work I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble. I was on the chapter that’s a letter to Roman Polanski, telling him what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl. At one point she asks Polanski if he only sees holes everywhere. We have to point out, because people don’t get it automatically, that a girl is not an object. It’s devastating.

Dederer takes into account the idea that Roman Polanski was a tortured genius, that the 1970s were a weird time. She’s as generous as she can be, but you couldn’t read her paragraphs out loud without tasting piss in your mouth. All the feelings she packs into that chapter—they are what saturate everything now. Rape culture and misogyny are lain bare, retroactive, stinking everything up. It’s in the Oval Office. Every day Gallup tells you what percentage of your compatriots are cool with it, although it’s really more. 53% of white women voted for it. It’s stinking up the Democratic party too.

The founders of the start-up Witchsy invented a male co-founder (hilariously named Keith Mann) to correspond with people who were brushing them off. My social media feeds are full of women I know talking about how real it is — the disrespect, the brush-off, the battle to be recognized as a viable professional. It discouraged me more than usual. I’m turning 40 next year, and I want to take risks and move toward freelancing and my own creative projects. I want to Be Excellent. How clever will I have to be, and how bright will I have to burn, to compensate for my gathering invisibility, for my high voice, for my eyes welling up sometimes when I’m frustrated, for having a woman’s name and being a woman? Because I honestly don’t know if I’m up to that level of witchcraft. (It is worse for women who aren’t white like I am.)

When I was an ecology student 20 years ago, our professor’s wife—also an ecologist—told a group of us women students that the field was changing, turning female. We beamed—sounds great! She scowled. “Oh no, don’t get excited,” she said. “All that means is that ecology will be devalued, trashed, dismissed… and the pay will go down.”

At work, I’m on the outer administrative edges of a prolonged bureaucratic snafu involving a woman my boss is trying to bring onto our team from another team. I don’t know the details myself, but there’s been some thorniness that’s above my paygrade.

Today I wrote up a statement announcing that she would be joining us, and then I took it to her. I asked her if she thought it represented her well, if she was happy with the tone and the details provided. My boss was a little surprised that I’d done that since he’d signed off on it already. I said, without thinking, “I want her to feel a sense of control over her situation, and I want her to know we respect her.”

This has something to do with us being women. And something to do with Trump.

Everything is related and it’s exhausting.  

 

12:00 pm: One of the lucky ones 

At the White House Press Briefing today, the reporters returned again and again to just two themes: Are undocumented immigrants in Houston really going to be ok? Can their safety from ICE at shelters really be ensured? And what about the 800,000 young people in this country who are protected by DACA to study, live, and work in this country despite their immigration status? What is happening with DACA?

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Trump had already decided to kill DACA—something he’s been teasing and flirting with all week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s stonewalling took on a new cruelty as she refused to confirm or deny or give any real answers. The repetition of the reporters’ questions was like bells tolling, in my mind. These were the humane questions. These were the urgent questions. These were the questions of conscience. This wasn’t grandstanding for TV. Don’t jerk people around about this. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.

Tom Bossert from Homeland Security was at the briefing too. Tom often seems like a decent person in these situations, but he works for Trump so he’s made his bed. He took two Skype questions from Houston. These Skype questions—new with the Trump administration—have been a handy way to run down the clock on the reporters in the room. The Skype calls often feature cheesy, over-eager personalities from right-leaning outlets who praise Trump and then ask a pompous-sounding question that comes across as either extremely ideological or extremely pork barrel-ish.

Today it was two white guys from Houston, at separate outlets. They were both unshaven, haggard. The first guy was from Fox and he kind of leaned in and barked a question at the camera about the reservoir infrastructure and the army corps of engineers. His craggy head took up most of the screen when he leaned in, and he didn’t care. The second journalist seemed a bit shell-shocked that he had put himself on national television in bad greasy hat hair and a short-sleeved Under Armour shirt. His question was also about the immediate safety and survival for the people of Houston. Both those guys looked like they were sleeping at the station.

After the older guy’s question, Tom Bossert signed off with him by saying, “—and I hope your house hasn’t been affected.” It sounded so inadequate. That was the end of that call, the guy was effectively hung up on right at that point, so who knows about his house. But the guy’s life is probably scrambled. And he’s one of the lucky ones.

Katherine Collins One Afternoon

About a year after U.S. politics ate my interest in comic books, I found myself sitting outside Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, studying a Ben Sears print. It had been the longest, shittiest winter in a hundred years and now I was in the sun, staring at a picture like a child.

I had decamped that morning from Seattle to Vancouver, which is both foreign to me and closer to my original home in Alaska. Trump had decamped to Saudi Arabia. Between the two, my constant IV drip of political news had dried up. My phone didn’t work that well in Canada, so I couldn’t even text anyone for a secondhand hit. The Asian stock markets wouldn’t re-open for another 24 hours. No information was coming in except the colorful details of the Ben Sears print in my hands.

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Just a small detail of the Ben Sears print I bought

Being in an unfamiliar place in new sandals gave me a feeling from childhood that I’d forgotten. There’s liking yourself, and there’s being all right with the world. As adults we try to do both those things and be reasonably happy. But sometimes when you’re a little kid you have this sensation of liking yourself in the world. Liking the places where you and the world touch.

So that’s where I was, with the sun warming my back and bright artwork in my eyes, when my boyfriend tapped my shoulder and said, “We have to go to this panel—not enough people are showing up!”

Continue reading Katherine Collins One Afternoon

TOWOIT #124

May 20, 2017… Day 121

It was a Saturday after a wild news week. Trump took almost the entire White House senior staff and went on his first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia. I went on my first foreign trip in 7 years, to Canada. My phone didn’t work reliably there and I was surrounded by festive people all day. The combined effect was a muting of my awareness of what was going on in the news.

Continue reading TOWOIT #124

TOWOIT #89

April 15, 2017… Day 86

I missed Tax Day marches because my sister and I have been cooking up plans to see Hamilton for a long time, and the day finally arrived. We took the train into San Francisco from Mountain View and I looked for signs of protesters coming into the city. I only saw Giants fans. On the way back out of the city, I only saw one sign–“Babes Against Bullshit.”

 

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Erdogan declares victory in referendum expanding his presidential powers.

Before the play, my sister and I talked about our Hamilton fever had peaked months earlier. We were still REALLY excited to see it, but we hadn’t been listening to the songs for a long time. We realized that after the election, it wasn’t what we wanted to hear. We laughed about how we’d found more solace and inspiration from Moana– it was fantasy, it was female-centered, it was aimed at children and featured things like hope, bravery, goodness and adventure. It was definitely not about American politics.

We adored the play, cried our eyes out, laughed, loved the touring cast, will probably both be listening to the songs a lot again now. But somewhere in all our musings and rhapsodizings and reliving of moments on the long train ride home, I said “It’s kind of a play about how men are idiots.” And my sister said, “Yeah, a country founded and run by idiots.” And I said, “How could Eliza forgive him except by deciding he had been an idiot?” And I thought, How can anything even function if women don’t keep swallowing their rage and finding ways to forgive men every day.

This is why we won’t put up with as much daily bullshit as we used to. We’re getting maxed out too early and too often these days.

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TOWOIT #82

April 8, 2017… Day 79

The story about Trinh Huynh has been picked up by Shaun King and the Love Life of an Asian Guy. Both crossed my Facebook feed this morning.

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And in the comments, I saw how a conspiracy theory crosses over into the mainstream. The following question-and-answer pattern played out several times in both comment threads, with different players.

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I didn’t want to assume that I knew more than these people. I almost commented “that’s a conspiracy theory” but then I didn’t. Better not to engage, I thought. There were also right-wing trolls saying nasty things in both threads. 

I went back and looked at the latest available news stories. There was nothing about her being connected to anything related to the bridge collapse. Nothing anywhere remotely reputable. Only on small suspect blogs and conspiracy theorist sites. But now it’s entering the wider zeitgeist..

I hope this nonsense isn’t affecting her sister, my friend Dao. On Facebook I see Dao working hard to focus on celebrating Trinh. She is showing so much strength and grit as she forces joy and love to the foreground for this weekend of Trinh’s memorial. They’re holding it outdoors at a botanical garden. And everyone is encouraged to wear bright colors and fun clothing. I need to write Dao a letter soon, about my memories of her and Trinh, about their sisterhood. It’s times like these, I’m relieved I made it to someone’s wedding, or very sorry I didn’t make it. I did make it to Dao’s wedding. Having witnessed a wedding ceremony and mingled with an extended family on the dance floor afterward, you feel like you have credibility to say, “I care about the matters of your heart. I care about your whole family.”

I hope it’s not disrespectful to talk about Trinh here. I won’t hashtag her name again–I did it one time, and now this little blog is mixed in with the creeps on Google Search results, and I don’t want that. I won’t hashtag her, but I will talk about her. I want to be more like her. And I feel a responsibility to love life and the people in it more clearly, more obviously, and with fewer muddy exasperations blocking that channel.

Something about Susan Rice:

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Excerpt of an essay written by Jennifer Palmieri

I’m listening to S-Town. Literally now, as I type this. I’m in the middle of Chapter 3. It’s all just unfolding for me, and I don’t want to say something that will be a spoiler to someone else. I do think it’s best to go in without knowing much.

The podcast was sold to me by co-workers who told me it would be a healthy break from my obsession with news and politics. But I didn’t want a break from news and politics. Then I saw a Facebook friend who is steeped in political awareness say that S-Town should be required listening for everyone in the U.S. She said “Humanity can be found everywhere.” The podcast takes place in a small Alabama town. S-town stands for Shit Town. And it is a podcast for this time in this country, I think. In a strange way. Things are still developing. I’m amazed that anyone thinks this podcast would count as a break from what’s going on in the country. It *is* our country. And like I say, everything is political.

Update (several hours later): Just finished the last episode of S-Town. It’s just too sad, guys. I rescind my recommendation.

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CNN headline today
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I’m lost on how to think of Jared and Ivanka — is it possible we ARE so generally screwed that we have to hope for their influence? Or are they just terrible?

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TOWOIT #58

March 15, 2017… Day 55

DUTCH ELECTIONS — The “far right” candidate got far fewer votes than expected, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Looking anxiously toward France now.

“The Senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin”

—–John McCain, referring to Rand Paul.

Rachel Maddow getting dragged for doing a 20-minute A-block that provided context. The truth is, her tweet from about one hour before her show did make it sound like she might have more than 2 pages from 2005. But anyone who really CARED that much would have a) seen a clarification from other sources minutes later on Twitter, tempering expectations, and b) could have cut to other sources before her first segment was over, because it was in several places. So nobody was deprived of anything, deceived or made to suffer. People are just the worst, basically.

Senator Chuck Grassley says no vote on the Deputy Attorney General until the Department of Justice coughs up some kind of evidence on what Trump’s wiretapping claims were all about. Later in the day, Lindsay Graham said the FBI contacted his Senate committee to say they would be sending over information in the near future, and they would deal with things in a classified manner.

“Do you talk to anyone before you tweet? Is there anyone in the White House who can say to you, Mr. President, please don’t tweet that, who you would listen to?”

—-Tucker Carlson, interviewing Donald Trump

A federal judge in Hawaii freezes Trump’s second travel ban, the day before it was supposed to go into effect.

Trump has a campaign rally in Nashville. They chant “lock her up” after he makes a barb at Hillary Clinton. He says a bunch of legally unwise stuff about the travel ban and his intent.

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Rex Tillerson went to Asia with one (1) reporter only.

Republican Devin Nunes and Democrat Adam Schiff, both on the House Intelligence Committee, hold a joint press briefing. They both say there’s no evidence of wire-tapping, but they say it very differently. I’m going to re-watch it on C-span. Schiff basically implies at one point that Nunes is a Trump apologist.

James Mattis gets denied on his pick for a top appointee at the Department of Defense, because the White House signaled they would not fight for her confirmation. She was an ambassador to Egypt during two years of the Obama administration. Multiple other DoD hopefuls have fallen away, declining to go forward with the process.

Trump cuts funding to Meals on Wheels. The optimistic view on our situation is that we hobble out greatly diminished with a lot of dearly beloveds.

The consequence-challenged carry on:

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The former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, testified before a Senate subcommittee today, on Russian interference and hacking. He speaks impeccable, unaccented English, is completely fluent in technological terms and issues, and seems way smarter than most of our lawmakers (and definitely Trump). Especially in light of the election in the Netherlands today–is the U.S. just an especially stupid country?

Continue reading for a bite-sized personal essay about John Phillips Souza and small-town politics:

Continue reading TOWOIT #58

the only way out is through #3

January 19, 2017… Day T-minus-1

Radio alarm brought me tidings or Andrew Puzder, Department of Labor appointee. I also heard snippets of one of his “bikinis and burger” ads for Carl’s Jr. It’s a dull, sludgy morning, but I am not in touch with any particular existential dread or worry. Just dull and sludgy. It’s the last day before Trump’s inauguration. The fact bounces off me and falls to the floor.

I listen to a bunch of podcasts at work. I like a certain mirth, a certain dark sobriety beneath the mirth, a certain sense of genuine friendship between co-hosts. I like occasional wild laughter, but I don’t like it to be laugh-a-minute. I like understated sincerity. I don’t want anyone to try too hard. They’ve gotta be smart people who have ZERO need to *seem* smart. That’s what I look for as much as subject matter.

The podcast I made myself listen to today, which I did not enjoy at all, was Ezra Klein alone, talking to guest Elizabeth Kolbert about how screwed we all already are about climate change. It was depressing. I didn’t want to listen. It gave me a flashback to something I’ve thought of several times since the election. Last lecture before going home for Christmas, December 1996, when I was an 18 year old freshman. Our ecology professor explained step by step how there was no point in fighting it, climate change was on track to get us all. We should just enjoy civilization while it lasted because we were all doomed. I was so stricken, a quietness descended that lasted almost 24 hours, on my whole lonely plane trip home. I thought, “should I even go back to school?” All I could think of was holing up in a cabin in the woods. So anyway, that was no way to talk to the youth.

A schoolmate from home, Janine Gibbons, painted this portrait of her daughter and posted it on Facebook today. She encouraged us to share it, print it, put it out in the world for the marches on Saturday. The marches, plural. Something like 600 of them, around the world. I admire this friend. She didn’t grow up in a liberal, literary, comfy haven like I did. She came to her positions the roundabout way, on her own. She is also a fearless artist and entrepreneur, and I covet the earrings she designs.

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Artist: Janine Gibbons

Today was saying goodbye to Obama day, and the love hit me in the early afternoon. We’re so busy armoring ourselves emotionally for tomorrow, we can forget to feel our feelings. Well, I don’t forget to feel my feelings–I don’t want to feel them. The Obamas are uncomfortable to think about.

Three different mom friends told me they thought the logistics of the women’s march was just going to be too much for them this weekend.

In the afternoon, I call the office of a Republican State Senator Mark Schoesler. He was on video telling a reporter “None of your business” when he was asked when the Republicans would bring forth a plan to fund education. I tell him that I noticed, and that I consider the free press as an important part of a functioning democracy. That what the reporter was asking was, in fact, the business of all of us.

When I got home after work, I got a piece of actual mail today, a letter from my aunt. She will be marching in her town. She turned 70 recently. The card was written in the smooth, confident writing of a former school teacher. She said she’d knitted pussy hats for herself, all her sisters, and her mom. She didn’t think her mom could march, but they were seeing about parking her somewhere in her pussy hat. My aunt said she realized the hats were ridiculous, but she hadn’t been able to stop knitting. She said she knew the march probably wouldn’t do any good but all the same, she felt “fierce delight” at the prospect of marching in protest. Her name for Trump is “Tweety.”

Reading my aunt’s letter, I feel fierce solidarity with her, fierce gratitude. Once again, love cracks through the protective dullness. Once again, I have the sensation that we are all holding hands as we sweep toward a terrible fall. I feel the sweep toward danger, but I also feel the hands I’m holding, the hands holding me.

the only way out is through

January 17,2017… Day T-minus-3

I’ve read that we should be logging changes we see around us. Some people are already doing a really good job with the headlines and current events. I figure that the rest of us can pitch in, like citizen scientists. It’s not so different from bird sightings, or logging barometric pressure, or sticking a microphone in the water in front of your house to record passing whales. Together, we’ll use all of our disparate data points to stitch reality back together as it unravels.

I listened to podcasts today: Rachel Maddow’s audio from last night, the 451 mini-update (they’re just getting that podcast off the ground), and Pod Save America (new home of the Keeping it 1600 guys–who unlike the Politically Reactive Jill-Stein-voting guys, are sticking with us for the duration), and a Republican podcast called Party People. I recommend listening to conservative podcasts, or at least this one. The hosts are calm, wonky, media types who don’t really try to hide that they think Donald Trump is awful–even if they don’t have the same all-encompassing dismay that the left-leaning podcasters have. They are a little more… cautiously curious. On the other hand, this latest episode focused back on the campaign and the use of advertisements and marketing. That felt bizarre with everything that’s been going on. They may not really be serious about shining a light on the Trump administration. At any rate, I figure these guys are like canaries in the coal mine for a Republican tide turning against Trump. If it happens, I think the Party People will let me know. Also, they are likable people with likable voices.

I tried listening to Girl Friday, but I hated the first episode I listened to (Episode 2). I went back to the first episode following the election. I don’t mind going back that far with podcasts. I just hate anything before the election. The first podcast after the election is the right place to start; it is the beginning of the rest of our lives. Anyway, the Girl Friday women (or at least one of them) were a little over-blown about their sadness and then segued suspiciously quickly to giddy self-promotion. People who could be giddy about their personal projects on November 11 — I am suspicious of those people.

I went to see Hidden Figures. Besides the fact that I heard it was a good movie, I went to vote–once for black women in science, and once for the telling of their stories. But I was unexpectedly affected just by the portrayal of science itself. We aren’t going to be able to solve (survive) climate change if we are operating in different realities and facts don’t matter. Also, timely nod to John Lewis–there he is on the TV screen they’re watching, sitting next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I walked down the aisle to my seat, there were three older white women knitting hats out of pink yarn. The one in the middle heaved a huge sigh and said, “Well, I’m glad there’s going to be SOMEBODY staying on top of this stuff. I’m not sure I have it in me.” One of her friends said, “You’re doing the best you can.”

Obama commuted Chelsea Mannings‘s sentence. Obama is like the man walking down the beach throwing starfish back in the water. Betsy DeVos had her hearing for education secretary. Apparently it was embarrassing, but she’s expected to be whooshed into the job anyway.

Over on Facebook, a white liberal man calmly explaining to people of color and women, why Milo Yiannapoulos (sp?) should just be allowed to speak at the University of Washington unhindered, because we will be able to meet his racist ideas with better ideas. White man acting like he’s strolling along a river, sport coat thrown over his shoulder, pontificating on interesting times, gesturing with a pipe, breeze ruffling his hair. People of color and women on the thread acting like they are gearing up for a fight for survival, hunkering down into an athletic stance. And some white men too, to be fair.

Overheard at Starbucks: Two clean cut white guys in expensive, tailored business clothes, bantering easily back and forth about the market as it relates to Trump. They touch on various sectors. They’re casual, curious, unconcerned, breezy. Republicans or I’ll eat my hat. The younger one says to the older one, “So would you stay long oil?” The older one pauses and then says–still in a relaxed tone of voice–“I don’t know, I think everyone is about to find out that Trump is… brutally awful.”

 

Morning

Downtown this morning, a couple hours before sunrise, before the bulk of white collar commuters are even out of bed, I walked from my bus stop to my building as usual. On a recessed bench along the sidewalk, an old white man cleared his throat with effort. It was under thirty degrees and he had a lot stuck in his throat and lungs. It didn’t seem so much like he was waking up as just giving up on trying to sleep.

He seemed neat, collected, trying to take care of his person and his belongings. There was an old-school green hard shell suitcase sitting upright next to him like a nightstand. A little radio sat on top of it, with a small red light glowing in the dark. A woman newscaster’s voice cut through the man’s hacking. She said the buses were standing idle, the evacuation wasn’t underway, the shelling was beginning again.

Aleppo is the center of the world this week, and we are failing it. That little radio in the dark set up worlds within worlds where we take turns falling to our knees  in gratitude for what we have. The old man is cold and alone on a bench but he isn’t being shelled, and he isn’t trying to keep small children alive. I’m scared for our future under an anti-science authoritarian, but I’m not an old man alone on a bench in the cold. The woman’s voice on the radio was the thread, tying us all together across the world, like a bird, a civilized bird, starting to sing before dawn.

 

Snow Day, Work Day, Bus Day

December 9, 2016

1.) Morning commute.

It snowed while I was sleeping, and in the morning there was fresh snow on the path, the hedges, the cars, and the branches of the cherry trees that grow halfway under the freeway.

My bus was half an hour late. For the first time in months or years, the people at that bus stop actually talked and laughed with me.

Until today, one of the women seemed to have been making a point of never, ever, not ever making eye contact with me. This morning in the snow, she looked right at me, smiled, and in the course of chit chat, made a joke: “In Seattle, there’s a reporter for every snowflake.” At one point I almost asked her if she’d seen Moana, but then I thought “No, no–too much, too friendly.”

Another guy called King County metro and then shared the information with the rest of us. He laughed and said, “We should have expected this, right?” and then asked if anyone wanted to share an Uber.

When our bus finally trundled up, the driver called out through the open door, “I can’t believe you’re all still here!” That was the friendliest he’d ever been too.

I enjoyed thinking that none of us would speak again tomorrow, but that our silence might be slightly warmer.

2.) Workday. 

I’ve been listening to podcasts at work that are about government, politics, history, and current events. It is all part of the big self-education plan, and I can half-consume a lot of information through my ear buds while I do my work.

But when I need to get away from Trump and the dizzying array of bad news and worse omens, I choose stories that are less sweeping and more specific. I either listen to true crime podcasts, or Mental Illness Happy Hour.

Mental Illness Happy Hour is basically long, informal interviews with people about their life stories. The guests on the podcast have all been through a lot–often abuse, addiction, violent crime–and they still have a lot to work through in their daily lives. But at the time they are giving the interview, they also have a lot of wisdom to share and a lot of power. They’ve all survived and grown to a point where they can own their stories and help listeners by being honest and vulnerable. The show is darkly funny a lot of the time.

This morning I was listening to a MIHH guest talk about how she was followed off of a bus by a stranger, and then raped and beaten within an inch of her life. She survived because the bus driver had thought something might be a little off and had called the police just in case. It made me realize that MIHH is just the flip side of the other kind of podcast I’ve been listening to–true crime stories.

The true crime cases are 90% young women disappearing and meeting terrible ends. It should creep me out but I find it comforting in these grim times, to hear a specific sad tale of how one life was snuffed out. How the universe was extinguished in that case, for that one irreplaceable human being. I enjoy the attention and brain power that the podcast devotes to the details of the mystery, as the narrator circles the empty space where a life once was. There is so much love, just ordinary love, in the voices of family members that are interviewed. It takes my mind off the country, the big picture, myself, the future.

As you listen to the true crime podcasts, there’s often a lot of incidental domestic violence, abuse, and mental illness swirling along the sidelines and in the background of the main story. Today I realized that its only luck separating the MIHH guests who tell their own stories from the true crime subjects whose stories are pieced together by others after they are gone.

Even on the scale of individual lives, far from the sick, theatrical grandiosity in Washington D.C., it plays out like Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

3.) Afternoon commute. 

After work the snow is already gone, because this is Seattle. It’s still chilly out though, and I start pacing a little on the sidewalk while I’m waiting for my bus. I turn on my heel to walk back the way I’ve come when I hear behind me, “Ma’am! Ma’am!”

I turn around and a black man about my age is bundling up his stuff and preparing to leave a bench. He’s saying, “Come back, you can sit here! I’m leaving!” I feel sad and awkward, because there had always been enough room on that bench for me to sit down if I’d wanted to. He seemed to think I’d taken one look at him and stalked back in the other direction, unwilling to share a bench with him. I say “No, no, I’m just pacing!” But I’m a little ways off from him and I can tell that my voice is getting lost in the sound of idling bus engines. He kind of gives the “roger that” body language you use when you don’t know exactly what someone said but you figure it’s not that crucial.

I go stand halfway up the block from him, and I’m thinking “Oh well, that’s another awkward incident to add to my collection.” He’s still standing near the bench, facing away from me and smoking a cigarette. After a few minutes I think, “Oh what the hell.” I walk all the way up to him and say at close range, “I was just pacing before. That’s why I turned around like that.”

He says, “Oh ok. You have a pretty dimple.” This strikes me as quite generous because in my coke bottle glasses I kind of look like Steve Forbes, dimple or no. Also, this man has TWO deep dimples so it’s like my dimple has just been complimented by a dimples expert. I say, “Thanks, you too!” and scuttle back up the block without engaging further.

Seattle freeze mostly preserved for another day.

Something happened on the day he died

David Bowie’s death jolted even casual fans today

I see this outpouring of sadness for David Bowie today, and I don’t feel it. I’m not indifferent either—it’s more like my nerves are jangled, like we all received small portions of Bowie’s life force and it’s a lot to contain. I feel like I’ve just left a funeral, and I’ve shut the church doors behind me, and I’m walking down the stone steps alone. The cold air hits my eyes and nose, and all I can think is “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”

It’s not my place to mourn David Bowie. I know that, because my Facebook friends say they are gutted and I’m not even sad. I’m sorry they’re sad, and my hat’s off to the strangeness and good taste that made them turn toward Bowie with such reverence. I feel bad for his family and it’s jarring that he was born the same year as my parents and now he is gone. It’s a reminder that death is circling. I hear he had good personal qualities, I assumed he was a genius, and I know now that he was a beacon. I just didn’t pick up his signal.

I always liked David Bowie—liked his songs, got a kick out of him. I thought he was cute. He cropped up at all the usual mainstream points in my 80s and 90s. He was unavoidable in the great intake of pop culture nutrients, but I didn’t recognize his divinity. He was jumbled in with dozens of other artists I like. I danced to “Let’s Dance,” sang along theatrically to “Under Pressure,” and brooded to “Space Oddity.” But ultimately David Bowie was less important to me than, say, Belly, P.J. Harvey, or Ethyl Meatplow.

Even as I consumed 80s and 90s pop, grunge, and whatever else was on offer, I had favorites that I had no one to share with. My most steady musical loves—my Bowie equivalents—the ones that are tangled up with my selfhood since sixth grade—were less starry and strange than Bowie. At the core of this group were Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Greg Brown, and Townes Van Zandt. They felt like things I knew on the most basic level: wet wool, low tide, creosote, diesel, tobacco smoke, fish blood, salt water, bad weather, wood stoves. Everyone on Facebook says they loved David Bowie because they identified with his strangeness. I don’t think of them as stranger than me, just cooler.

As I climbed up into my late-blooming twenties, I finally connected with other people my age who also lived and breathed music. Our overlaps were generous, our enthusiasms intense. We could trade oxygen masks and splice IV drips. Lying on our backs in a blanket fort, holding hands, listening to albums end to end, not speaking a word. A true lover of Bowie was once a true love of mine. He was ropy, scrappy, charismatic, dancerly, a beam of light. We looked each other dead in the eye for a long moment of thinking maybe wildness and art could reach escape velocity. The monsters of poverty, mental illness, and addiction were close behind, and all our differences came crashing into the exit interview: “You’re so middle class. You know nothing, and you’ll marry someone white, boring, and rich.” I was left staring at the words “Ziggy Stardust” scrawled across the label of a cassette tape he’d dubbed for me.

I didn’t get married, but the rest was true. I didn’t know much. Once I stopped thrashing about, I just kind of floated deeper into the middle class. I stopped living and breathing for music, and anesthetized myself instead. I didn’t really know about Bowie. Today at his global Internet wake, I see that I was like someone who hasn’t noticed the sunset in a year. I’m like someone who forgot to look at the moon.

The news that David Bowie died was the first thing I heard when my radio alarm clock went off at 4:41 am. We woke up this morning and Bowie was gone, but the broadcast isn’t over. His most recent album is so new that people are only just starting to sink their teeth into it. It’s not too late for the full discovery: everyone just spiraled closer in today. The true believers became stardustologists. The neophytes became disciples. The uninitiated became converts. Next month, a twelve-year-old kid will hear Bowie for the first time, and the transmission will be clear as a bell.

Once I got up and got to the office, I watched Bowie’s new Lazarus video on youtube. I saw it was a goodbye. Then I listened to Cheryl Waters spin Bowie on KEXP. After a while, it was too direct a hit for me, in my drab cubicle, with my brain still chanting “I’m alive, I’m alive.” I sidestepped into Tomo Nakayama’s song “Magnolias,” written for Philip Seymour Hoffman. I put it on repeat and kept waiting for the part when Nakayama sings “Sometimes it’s hard to know, who you are waiting for.” Sometimes it’s hard to know that everything we do is a love letter. And every love letter is a goodbye.

Music is life and, like it, is inextinguishable

Seattle Symphony on November 14, 2015                                            

It felt strange going out in the stormy darkness to take the bus downtown to see the symphony. I was broody from listening to Adele and The Weeknd all day, and it was my first time going out among people since I’d heard the news about Paris the night before. I felt no silver-lining solidarity with Paris. I just felt confirmation that things are shitty and getting worse. I felt grateful to not have kids, and that morning I wrote a short letter to leave on my chest of drawers in case I die (I’m still most worried about getting mowed down in a crosswalk by a Seattle driver). “Don’t think of my retirement savings as crappy sadness money,” I wrote, “Have a little fun. See the grandkids more often. Take one of them to Europe.” Europe. I haven’t put a French flag filter over my Facebook profile picture. That’s tourist stuff. Everyone keeps talking about rich, sanitized, dewy, romantic comedy Paris. No one’s thinking about years and years of car fires, I guess. And who am I to talk—I’m thousands of miles away, I’m white and cozy and on my way to the symphony. But being in a concert hall with hundreds of strangers brought Paris home. We don’t think anyone is going to try to kill us while we enjoy music. Of course not. And then you try to imagine. Maybe a bomb this time. Maybe guns.

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks by Richard Schumann (written around 1894) – 16 minutes long

This piece is light and funny—a good mental relief. It’s about a guy who pulled a series of escapades: riding a horse through a crowded market, interrupting a church service, and peeing off a tall building. The music is so expressive, so undeniably cartoonish. I laughed out loud when a violin described the shower of piss. It made me realize that music didn’t just precede animated cartoons, it anticipated them. This music was a sixteen minute cartoon. It was so cartoonish down to its very soul that it needed no pictures to be a cartoon. That flipped everything on its head. Music isn’t the soundtrack to animated movies. The pictures are the embellishment of musical expression.

Another visual realization: My enjoyment of watching the symphony while listening live is also why I shut down sometimes. There is all this activity on stage, but other than the conductor’s informational dance or a special guest soloist, there is not individual stagecraft. People are seated wearing black, working together as a piece of a whole. But they are not pieces of a whole, they are individual human beings. And the visual clutter of their bows held at different angles and their music stands at different heights, and their feet on the floor is a flood of information that I don’t know how to ignore or what to do with. I imagine the orchestra as a cuttlefish propelling itself through the water, a complicated organism of grace and beauty. Then someone cuts the thing open and finds these nested semi-circles of flesh, bone, metal and wood—sawing away together but separately. I can’t tell if it’s too messy or not messy enough.

Bruch Violin Concerto ­– 24 minutes long

Henning Kraggerud is a cute Norwegian born in 1973, playing a concerto written in 1864-1868, on a violin made in 1744. That is an old violin! It was made by someone named Guiseppe Guarneri del Gesu, and it is owned by a Norwegian bank because c’mon. Regular people can’t own those things.

Kraggerud and conductor Thomas Dausgaard danced together in a very sparkly and twinkly manner throughout the whole concerto, and the 24 minutes flew by. And after Kraggerud would say something particularly dazzling with his violin, the orchestra would come crashing in with a response and he would stand there in front of them with his violin lowered, smiling as if he could feel the sound flowing around his body on its way out to the audience. And most times the orchestra’s answer was a form of booming celebration, like they were saying “You are a BEAST, Henning Kraggerud, we are eating you with a fucking SPOON right now, bro!” But this one time, the response came in so soft and yet so quietly full that I didn’t even think it could have been that symphony on that stage in front of me producing the sound. It was like someone left a window open, and we could hear strains coming from another symphony in a concert hall two blocks away.

Clapping is half the fun: At the symphony you have to sit still and be very quiet and have adult command over things like adult ADD and theater knee. So when you have a chance to make noise, it is good to be as joyous and expressive as possible. Toddlers know that clapping is a worthwhile activity in its own right, and this is the time to embrace your inner toddler. Also, it’s good to yell something because it helps drag the symphony audience demographic back from the brink of total death’s door, stick-up-the-ass Pacific Northwestern patricianism.

Kraggerud Encore: very lovable, folky, stripped-down duet written by Kraggerud, played with Seattle Symphony principal cellist Efe Baltacigil (I think—I don’t know all their names and he had more hair in his picture on the web site which has shaken my confidence in ID-ing him). Kraggerud was a head taller than Baltacigil and during the waves of applause that followed their duet, he kept dragging Baltacigil up off his chair by the arm and side-hugging him and beaming down at him.

Ugh, Intermission: Intermission can be such a drag. Good if you have to pee, but otherwise just a bunch of slow motion jostling, social awkwardness, and lost momentum. I sat in my seat re-reading Villette by Charlotte Bronte.

Carl Nielsen’s Inextinguishable – 36 minutes long

There is an intrinsic menace to anything that is thirty-six minutes long. Episodes of Sex and the City were about 36 minutes long, but you could check your email or eat pizza during them. You could cough with abandon. And there were pretty outfits to look at. I was not tempted to duck out at intermission and disappear into the night, though. I was into the idea of Inextinguishable.

Inextinguishable was written about 100 years ago, in Europe. Carl Nielsen began it as World War I was beginning and the war wasn’t over yet when he completed it a couple years later. The piece has all this rumbling and roaring of battle, but also this sinewy wistfulness of nature and beauty, just snaking along through it. It encompasses hope, fear, and inner turmoil. The quote in the program from Nielsen was “Music is life and, like it, is inextinguishable.” If anything could be some sort of catharsis for Paris, Beirut, Syria, and Iraq, it should be this. War and disaster and terror, but also this idea that music is life. And life is inextinguishable.

Life may be inextinguishable but so are my distracting thoughts at the symphony. There’s so much happening on stage, so much competing information. So many talented people being excellent before my very eyes. So many strains of melody and harmony. So much movement. My thoughts spiral out to things like expression, art, words, music, color—and the mundane and the lofty get all gnarled together. I’m thinking about the economics of being a professional musician in this town, and I’m wondering if they develop physical problems from repetition and practice. Also: do they develop crushes on each other, sleep together, and then do things get complicated? I’m still admiring moments and passages, but it seems like I can only catch 5% of what is going on in the music as it barrels past, especially since I’m also thinking about sex and what I need at the grocery store. How can I ever get my arms around this giant music thing happening before me?

(The climax.) Near the end of Inextinguishable, a solid-looking man gets up out of his chair in the audience and walks up the steps onto the stage. Michael Crusoe has already been in the back of the orchestra beating on the timpani all night, but there’s another set of kettle drums and now for the ending, this chunky guy who suddenly appeared is going to play them too. That’s already arresting, two timpanists thundering away—but the rest of the orchestra has merged into one rhythmic, screaming wave of sound. It’s not an array of different stimuli anymore, it’s just one all-consuming effect. Everything is going to hell, but we still have this. Finally, finally I’m not thinking about a dozen things at once, I’m just swallowed up in the music.

Jean Yves Thibaudet at Benaroya Hall in Seattle

Jean Yves Thibaudet: French and middle-aged, has good hair, and has skinny legs in stovepipe pants.

First Half: Schumann (52 minutes)

I was a little too sleepy and sluggish for a darkened room and reflective Schumann. Also, I find Jean Yves Thibaudet’s fingers on the keys to be very erotic, so that was hypnotizing in an unhelpful way. I didn’t realize what it was until we were on to Ravel in the second half, but with Schumann it was like Thibaudet’s hands were working as one to create something floral and seamless. Beautiful, but to my tired brain it just rolled out like wallpaper. This is one of the hazards of going to hear “classical” music and not knowing much about it. No hooks to hang things on, so you can just slide right off.

Fortunately the Sunday afternoon crowd added texture to the experience by not seeming to realize that they were supposed to be quiet, polite, and self-contained while the music was happening. No one seemed to be stifling, timing, or even muffling their hacking coughs for one thing. It sounded like a TB ward. Over that base was a layer of snoring, belching, and the clattering sounds of things falling on the floor. There was the excitement of a loud cell phone ring and a couple of verboten camera flashes. Most amazingly and constantly, the young couple in front of me full-on necked throughout the whole show. After awhile, I started to notice otherwise quiet people around me breathing huffily or shaking their heads back and forth at how disruptive everyone else was being. On top of all the actual noises and movements I could hear the psychic howls of ADD-sufferers forced to sit still and attend to one thing for the 52 minutes of the first half.

Intermission: Bathroom conviviality

One of the young Morlots (daughter of the symphony’s musical director) was in front of me in line at the bathroom, and then Leslie Chihuly (symphony president) happened to come in behind me, and they small-talked charmingly around me about school and stuff. After leaving the bathroom, young Morlot splintered left to go to the Founders Room, which is VIP and probably where the best snacks are. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to tuck over to the cannery messhall at the 3 pm break whistle and have a bowl of vanilla ice cream with my grandpa.

Second half: Ravel (36 minutes)

Ravel was easier to stay awake for, more modern and rhythmic. You can always play the “How is this sort of like Debussy and at the same time NOTHING like Debussy” game the whole time. It’s not spooky and ambiguous like Debussy. But it doesn’t march along predictably either. It’s like Thibaudet’s two hands are separate creatures this time, building interlocking structures. I could almost see them in my mind and THAT gave me little hooks to hang my listening experience on besides just the chorus of humans not trying very hard to be quiet.

When Thibaudet finished his second Ravel piece there was a great sigh and murmur of appreciation that surprised me. By this point I thought the audience was pretty much just dullards napping fitfully. And then people were getting to their feet in a delayed and disorderly fashion, not jumping up but straggling up for some kind of ovation, clapping their hands up in the air in front of their faces. Thibaudet seemed happy enough to be there and happy that so many people came to his concert even though he isn’t Lang Lang.

Three Encores, starting with Something Something Brahms

Thibaudet bowed to the crowd and then got laughs for bowing to the piano. He leaned over and pretended to consult with the piano. Then he sat down on the bench and said something-something “Brahms.” The crowd gave up sighs and words like “lovely” as a hundred ADD sufferers shrieked their discomfort right into my brain. The Brahms was very lovely and lulling and homely, and we were all a bit quiet afterward. The NEXT time Thibaudet popped back out onto the stage, he played a little something humorous and spritely and short , like he just wanted to send us back out into the world with a little sparkle, that’s all. The crowd was now getting more used to being called upon for a response, and jumped up more quickly this time and shouted louder. Now Thibaudet seemed like he was our uncle visiting from far away in a land before television, dazzling the children with musical tricks after dinner. He sat back down at the piano AGAIN, and said “Last one!” to laughter. The last song was something so quiet, simple and intimate–single notes, space, a sweetness of something not composed but just hummed by your mom to herself. We had to lean in to hear it and it was like the hall shrunk down to a much smaller venue and we were all among friends.

Riding the 16 bus home

Across the street from Benaroya Hall, I got back on the 16 bus with the same careful, elderly, dignified widows and widowers who rode the bus downtown with me to the show. They wore clothes that looked like they had been their Sunday best for a couple of decades at least, but every garment looked cared for. Some carried canes. Some had quite splendid hats. They sat quietly on the way uptown, with their programs still folded in their laps, looking out the window and keeping their own counsel. All along the route they got off in ones and twos and the driver kneeled the bus as deeply as he could for them.