Jan 18 2021
It’s like futuristic here. 2021. I’ve been addictively watching Star Trek Discovery. Sometimes the storylines don’t make sense, the writers trying to get from one plot point to another. But I’ve become obsessed, nonetheless. Or it’s a combination of staying up too late in response to and as distraction from the relentlessness of Trump and Covid news, a kind of denial depression, like if I keep staying up then I won’t have to go to bed and start again tomorrow… and the addictive nature of any good show with strong characters and that always ends with a cliffhanger. And I always can’t help thinking about how the show was made during Trump’s presidency. Especially during the season where the ship and crew slip into a parallel universe where the same people exist but it’s like the evil version of everyone and everything, where individual competition and winning are the highest goals and there’s a lot of killing to get or remain on top, where everyone is their own worst self all of the time. Of course one might argue how American this idea is even before Trump, but still it feels like a sci-fi manifestation of the exacerbated long term consequences of Trump culture in which everything turns rotten, and hate, lies, violence, and distrust consume everything.
In real-life-time, Trump supporting white supremacists have been planning to arrest politicians and take over the government, or at least the US capital. The protest that never was a protest but always maybe intended to be a riot shut everything down on Jan. 6, Trump instigated and encouraged it, and now we’re all wondering how Biden’s inauguration will go in two days. They won’t go away when Trump leaves but kind of like a nice surprise many of them have been shut down across social media platforms and denounced by corporate and other entities (and most importantly some entities have taken money away from Trump, from his ability to fundraise, and from Trump politicians and other supporters). They won’t go away but there are ways to fight against their having free reign to organize, spew hate, and encourage violence with the help of technology and no regulations on anything, if only those means continue to be utilized.
And today is MLK Day. Falling between the Jan 6 white supremacist insurrection at the capital and the inauguration of Biden and Harris. Trump has been one of the most hateful and vile racists in office. And his actions have called attention to the perpetuation of white power in this country since before it was declared a country. White power in the most literal and general sense. White men built this country with slaves and via genocide of indigenous people. And MLK's words are as resonant today as ever:
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. (MLK "Letter from Birmingham Jail")
And although January so far has been mostly cloudy and dark, damp and heavy and sad, there have been moments when the clouds break and the sun comes through. I’m speaking literally. Call it a metaphor if you like. I haven’t been able to write things in months. Not really. Haven’t had any creative thoughts. Have mostly lost the ability to consider how one might be creative in writing or making art of some other kind. But right now, at this moment, a bit of sun is coming through the window. I’m sitting here with words and I wiped some of the dust off from the top of my desk. This desk I, in fact, use a lot, for teaching work, for union work, for zoom. But not in some time for writing. Today, though, I’ll start with a list. Focus on one project at a time. Write down some reflections as Covid lingers aggressively and 400k people have died. An uncounted number live with the suffering of Covid, or with its long term and sometimes mysterious effects. It seems impossible to think about going forward or know what comes next. So at the moment a ray of sun as they say, a poem, start there, just one poem at a time.
Dec ‘20-Jan ‘21
It seems like I lost the whole month of Nov. Maybe not surprising considering the elections and post-election rest and recovery. Post election sigh, joy, and fatigue. A setting down and letting go of four years, in a way. A small break from the unrelenting tightening of stress and fear. But the Covid, heavy and still getting worse, takes no timeouts. Whitmer shut stuff back down just before Thanksgiving, told everyone to stay home, don’t gather in large groups, stay safe. There was backlash. And our numbers went down. We turned from red back to yellow on the Covid map. While other places looked set on fire from Thanksgiving into early Jan. By mid January, the rise is slowing in most places. So much trial and error and more error by places run by people who refuse to keep each other safe. So much safety in a mask. And so many selfish and hateful people.
It feels so long ago already, spending time by the lake, our last camper-trip in mid-Oct--in mid-east-Michigan--was lovely and cold, and harder to spend time just sitting outside. In winter now, from home, there’s not much of a view, but it’s quiet. There are dog walkers and joggers and less traffic than ever. Sometimes I remember to turn on music while I’m working, when the quiet becomes too loud in my head.
I never watch daytime TV or TV news but it feels good to have Trump’s voice mostly gone from the scene for a brief time in December. He’s been stewing about the election, but right now there’s less coverage of it. I know it won’t last. He’s not finished. In January he’ll roar his ugly head like never before, impossible to imagine, but true. Every time the worst thing happens we wonder what more worse could still be on the way. Somehow we’ve endured this outrageous presidency and administration for four years. Somehow the worst pandemic we’ve seen in our lifetimes happened at exactly this moment, during this Trump reign. And we wake up every day wondering what will be next. When it happens it will again feel impossible to deal with, and we will deal with it and we won’t in retrospect (or even immediately) be surprised.
Still at this moment in December, I relish the calm (which in January will seem like the calm before yet another fucking storm). And I wait to be able to write again.
I did some writing in the winter, last winter, while Covid was just starting to infiltrate and before we really knew what was happening—except for a cruise ship, an outbreak in WA state, and China. In February I went to Georgia for three weeks to write and spend time with other writers and artists at Hambidge. Driving home right after MI started shutting down for the first time, just before St. Patrick’s Day, was scary and surreal, in a way that felt literal vs how sometimes people throw around the phrase “it felt surreal.”
But it’s also true that I’ve watched a lot of zombie and apocalyptic TV shows and movies. I mean, I guess I recognized that Covid was not the same as zombies. Still, in Georgia I had just finished reading Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, a literary dystopic story about securing and restarting society in the US after the zombie apocalypse, beginning with NYC. The main character is on a small team, one of many, charged with going building by building to take out random leftover zombies. There is a government of sorts, maybe in DC or somewhere, giving orders to the military-style operation in NY. There are refugee camps of survivors off in the distance. The whole book basically takes place post-catastrophe and while clean-up is in process, so it often feels hopeful in a way. Though a savvy reader, and one who’s read Whitehead before, will be anxious the whole way through about how it will end, or at least how the book will finish, and in which direction the story will go. And of course there are glimpses of the end that poke through the hope along the way.
In Georgia, I read Zone One at night in my little cabin with no internet, and then every afternoon head to the main building for wifi to get the news and find out what’s happening with the election primaries in early March and to see the virus begin to spread and eventually to see places start to shut down. It was like a kind of sudden slow motion. I never believed the colleges could close up and go totally online so quickly, or that they would stay like that for two weeks, let along for so many long months. I couldn’t comprehend what was just starting to happen in NYC in real-time vs in dystopian fiction. But in fact it was all a bit too slow. Experts in viruses and disease were probably trying to tell us how bad it was in China and how fast it would spread once it got here. And they could have told us how, in other countries, in some Asian countries in particular, where they have had real--or threats of--viral scares before, they immediately turned to wearing masks, for everyone across the board. Instead, here, there was denial about how bad it was even though many people saw what was happening, and it took a long time to get anyone to recognize the importance of masks. And now we’re still arguing about it. Thousands of people are dying, right now, and we’re still arguing about masks, even while it’s so clear that it saves lives. But time and again we find we are a country that prefers to let each other die, or in which the white people with money and power don’t mind whatever happens to the rest of us.