Sand in your hair, movie-seeing, rasberry-lime-rickey drinking, hand-holding, eating fried native clams. A lot of bike-riding, some model-plane-flying. Ice cream here and there; part of the national gluttony. Warm nights, sunburned shoulders. The first Memorial Day weekend in our relationship that did not involve Cape Cod; a little sad, but then in return there was all the gardening and slow hanging-around-the-front-and-back-porches. Dark & Stormies at Redbones; beer at 5pm. Grilled salmon. This morning, eating breakfast on the back porch, our cat managed to jump a full six feet from a seated position, balancing precariously on the narrow bridge formed by the top of the fence. She then tottered along it as if she was a squirrel. Summer is officially here.
I've been wanting to blog, but what's on my mind hasn't really been appropriate for posting in public. So I end up with blank space. I've been preoccupied with a number of things, but mostly mortality, both the living and dying parts of it. A friend of mine is going to go into labor in a couple months and after talking about it with her I experienced a series of dreams about labor. The whole idea: labor. This one profoundly mortal thing that ties you to every other mammal on Earth. If you can be born, you can die. Giving birth to someone else is partly living, partly dying. (I think of Klimt's Hope II, with it all right there together.)
I've felt a lot of sadness over the death of Dominique Samuels, the sister of a colleague of mine. Before I knew this death would forever change someone I know, it was just a terrible act of violence against women in my city, something upsetting and confusing and sad that I read in the paper. But knowing her only sister has made me beyond sad, like a pain out of reach. "I don't understand how something like this can happen," says the community. "I felt like she could have been my sister."
So there's that. In other news, we've been visiting Mt. Auburn Cemetary as much as possible in this glorious spring time. I've tended to my front-porch garden (new black-eyed susan vine, except in orange). I've started volunteering again. Things seem to be especially awesome at work for both Blue and me. I like the mornings most. I've been drinking a lot of decaf. Trying not to spend too much money. Bought some new sneakers but they are already breaking, I'll have to return them. See what I mean? Either it's too sad, too personal and too serious for the blog, or you're so bored you can't stand it.
Me, about 40 minutes before the alarm went off this morning, gray light streaming in between the curtain and the window: "I'll walk to work this morning! I'll see the flowers and the new leaves. I'll stop for a small decaf at the cafe on School St." Brushing my teeth: "It's gotten so dark outside. It's raining already?" Eating cereal: "So what, really. I don't want to live my life inside a car!" On the porch, holding the warm cat to my chest, observing the rain: "What a beautiful spring morning!"
Setting off, happy under my new duck umbrella: "I never would have seen the regulars inside Linda's Handcut Donuts if I was in the car! Look at everyone, dressed in contractor gear, loading up on coffee, chatting. Donuts are wonderful."
Dogwood, some new fragrant tree, lilies of the valley. Stepping across streams in the road. Cars pausing for me to cross, leaping to the curb, the lightening striking closer to the sound of thunder. Thinking about the laptop on standby in my backpack. I should have turned it off. Is lightening attracted to things that are turned on? People at the bus stops listening to ipods. Aren't they at risk, too, then? Big open areas. Imagining if lightening strikes my duck umbrella. What would it feel like to die by lightening? Would Blue be able to raise Hazelnut by himself? What if I could see the lightening coming? What if I saw the edge of a bolt bearing down on me and slipped away from my humming, powered backpack, my dangerous "strike me" umbrella, rolling across the sidewalk and towards the lawn, wet with rain but safe from fire, like in a comic book? What if time slows down? What if I die, on this day? Wouldn't that be OK? I woke up so happy. I have such a great life. Things are in order. People know I love them.
Now it's pouring. This is what they meant when they said heavy rain. I have another pair of shoes in my pack, but not another pair of pants, and my jeans are soaked from the knee down. I finally make it to the cafe. I walk in and the doorbell jangles. The owner is behind the bar, holding up a T-shirt with text on the front. "REHAB IS FOR QUITTERS." I like her. "Do you like it?" she asks me, modeling. "I love it," I tell her. I place my duck umbrella on the floor. A little girl toys with her frog umbrella. We drip everywhere; I get drip coffee; I pay her in change; I cross the streams again and I'm at work, alive again, to see another rainstorm, to spend another morning in a building once home to factory workers making an arsenal of weapons, to sit at my laptop in a sea of cubicles and somehow, anyway, still wet, be happy.
For just a second there, at 2:38, a small but bright patch of sunlight defiantly fell across my wrist and onto the table. It lasted more than a second, even. Ten seconds? Fifteen? I really enjoyed them.
Since last Tuesday, there have been nothing but torrential rains across New England. There was no way you could go outside, not even run to the car, without getting drenched. The umbrella broke; I bought a new one, with a duck handle; I eventually stopped using even that one, since umbrellas only seem to work if you are standing absolutely still and there is no wind at all. Jessica came to visit for the weekend and we soon realized that driving up the coast was out of the question. "How is it that humans have lived this long and still use something as totally ineffective as an umbrella?" she asked one morning as rain whipped the front of our legs, soaking our feet. We never made it to the Clam Box as planned and instead had to settle for massages at Healthworks and hot dark chocolate at L.A. Burdick's (not a bad place to settle, really).
The other day I stood in the rain in the street and talked to my neighbor. Umbrella-free. We were both drenched, of course, but at some point, you stop trying to fight it. "How's your basement?" he yelled wryly above the pouring rain. "Some water," I yelled back, "but we're OK." He had a sardonic smile. "Yeah, we're OK too," he replied, knowing that it was a lot worse in other places, like Peabody, for instance, or in the basements of the houses at the bottom of our hill, where the rivers in our streets collided. He tried to approximate the amount of water in his basement. He allowed about two inches between his thumb and forefinger. Didn't look too good.
Yesterday my hippie-esque spinning teacher urged us to close our eyes and do a "sun dance" in our minds as he cranked up the music. We pedaled as hard as we could, eyes closed. I imagined myself standing on the top of a grassy hill, arms outstretched to the beaming, sun-filled sky. "One and a half more days," he said, and then said it again like it was a mantra. "That's what they say we've got."
It's been fun to watch the swells of reaction to Stephen Colbert's address at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. I watched it on YouTube (now demanded removed by C-Span for profit reasons). I thought it was hard to watch. In print, it was hilarious, but on the screen, it was awkward, even a little harrowing. Something about his tone conveyed the seriousness of his implications. I thought it was brilliant; gutsy, patriotic, yes, all the things it's been called. But it dawned on me early into the speech. It wasn't supposed to be funny. It was just supposed to be true.
It demonstrated one of my favorite subjects in life: by speaking so directly and truthfully to Bush, Colbert brilliantly illuminated the sense of hierarchy and power that we artificially impose on social situations. In other words, by so blatantly disrespecting the power of the president, he showed how much the rest of us respect him. He made the cloak of comedy very thin indeed, so that we became aware of the interaction evolving into something else. We could see, for a minute, that we respect him so much just for being president that he gets away, again and again, with imposing actions atypical of a democratic superpower, even atypical of a conservative government. The most overwhelming factor of the speech, the one I heard remarked upon over and over, was "it's just that Colbert turned and looked right at him while he said these things." He looked at him. The president was right there, looking back.
Some people responded to this with concern for the president as a human being. At a Buddhist retreat on Saturday, my mom reported, people echoed her own reaction: it was a very good, necessary statement by Colbert, but it was still important to practice compassion for the president, who was being humiliated on national television.
But when I watched it, I didn't see humiliation. I saw annoyance, even anger, as he realized, too, when the comedy stopped and the activism started, in very subtle form. To me, it was masterful, subtle. Colbert wasn't humiliating him at all. He was on to him, and he was not afraid of him. I know public humiliation when I see it; I remember watching Saturday Night Live as a teenager and cringing at the lengthy skits mocking Chelsea Clinton's appearance (herself a gawky teenager; remember?). That must have been humiliating. Had she been standing there, they might not have gone so far, feeling afraid of being indecent to someone with so little control over what made her comedic. But Colbert stood in front of Bush and spoke without fear to him, mostly about things he could control. I'm amazed it happened, that it was allowed to happen. Isn't that odd and undemocratic of me? To be surprised that someone could speak to the president in that way? I'm glad Colbert gave me a chance to feel that surprise. It reminded me of the power I give to other people; the role of fear in some of our most familiar social structures.
Pulling away from Starbucks this morning I realized I hadn't lowered my eyes six inches to the gas gauge in quite some time. Maybe weeks. I looked; the gas light was on. At the pump, I asked for a full tank of regular as I sipped my decaf. It took a long time. I heard the pump come to a thumping stop and turned in my seat to check out the final number. No surprise at a total of $34.40; I'd expected that. The amount of gas got my attention, though. 11.45 gallons! I always thought the old Prizm had an 11 gallon tank. You really do learn something new every day.
I usually think of May Day soberly as a day to remember a bloody worker uprising, but knew little of the details that were alluded to by my college advisor in a speech on the day of our graduation. I imagined it as a day of communist struggle, perhaps in another country. Actually, it turns out that no, the fight happened in Chicago. From Wikipedia:
On May 1, 1886 (later known as May Day), labor unions organized a strike for
an eight-hour work day in Chicago. By 21st century Western standards,
working conditions in the city were miserable, with most workers working ten
to twelve hour days, often six days a week under sometimes dangerous
conditions. On May 3 striking workers met near the McCormick Harvesting
Machine Co. plant. A fight broke out on the picket lines, and Chicago police
intervened and attacked the strikers, killing two, wounding several others
and sparking outrage in the city's working community.
Local anarchists distributed fliers calling for a rally at Haymarket Square, then a
bustling commercial center (also called the Haymarket) near the corner of
Randolph Street and Desplaines Street in what was later called Chicago's west
Loop. These fliers alleged police had murdered the strikers on behalf of
business interests and urged workers to seek justice. In response to the
McCormick killings, August Spies published "Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!" This
pamphlet urged workers to take action:
To arms we call you, to arms!
Today is a holiday in 66 countries, but not in the country where it started. In the U.S., we often think of work and labor laws as so mundane, now; in many educated circles, labor activists are considered fringe elements and unions seem like slow behemoths that impede change. But I feel deeply grateful for the fact that it wasn't always that way. As the website of the International Worker's Day puts it:
Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When
we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we
acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we
could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of
industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions
and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we
understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted - people
fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot
more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people can not be forgotten or
we'll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we
celebrate May Day.