Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The five stages of grief as applied to this presidential election, 2016

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first published On Death and Dying in 1969, wherein she described the five stages of grief people go through when someone close to them dies or when they realize that their time on earth is finite, likely to be cut short by a terminal cancer or other fatal health complication. This election, those stages keep circling around in my brain, because it does feel like something died today. It would be hard to define what exactly it was that died and easy to say it was hope, but that's too sentimental. Maybe it's more like a faith or certainty that Hillary Clinton would win--had to win. She was clearly the much more prepared candidate, performed well in all three debates, had the backing of the President and other well-known figures, and was surrounded by a team of really smart people who know how to run campaigns. And then there's her competitor; the man for whom the word "buffoon" was designed--ill-prepared, angry, unqualified, wildly temperamental; a rich narcissistic who has never held public office and who can't string together four sentences without repeating one he's already said. A joke. A racist, a sexual predator, a baby-man whose most public debates are with other celebrities and often one-sided. And he won. I guess I find it hard to believe that even one person voted for him, so trying to conceive that half of the country voted for him is like learning that the law of gravity is false and we are all really just floating around in outer space. It does still feel like a bad dream, The Trumpman Show, something constructed specifically for me to overcome because it can possibly be reality. This means I am still in the denial/shock phase of the five stages of bereavement.

The denial stage is when you turn off the TV at 11 p.m., exhausted by the moment to moment numbers rolling in, and then wake up again at 3:45 a.m. to see that CNN is reporting that Trump won. That can't possibly be right. Dan and I stare at the TV. I check my phone to see what The New York Times is saying, and they have already posted a long article exclaiming about the upset. Denial is going back to bed and believing you will be able to fall asleep and then dreaming that you were dreaming the whole thing and then waking up and thinking, I bet if I check my phone again, they will have discovered that 5 billion election votes for Hillary were deleted by Putin. And then that doesn't happen and because you're tired and dismayed, you go into work and cry in front of your boss while apologizing for being out of sorts.

The next stage is anger. That stage, too, is close to the surface. I'm angry at everyone. I am angry at the people who voted for someone based on whatever it was--the belief that he will keep them safe, or not support abortion, or build a wall--or keep the "others" from what they believe belongs to them. "Make America Great Again" really means "Make America White Again." I'm mad too at anyone who didn't vote, or who voted for Gary What's His Name, or who said they didn't like either candidate and weren't going to vote at all. I'm mad at the Republican party for not being able to hold onto a different candidate, someone who is not at least so obviously unstable (I first typed "criminally insane"), and then for not stopping Trump somehow. The wafflers who supported him when he seemed to be winning and decried him when he seemed to be losing, and then voted for him knowing that he's dangerous for our country. I'm mad at the media for acting like these were two equally qualified candidates and for giving hours and hours and hours and hours of free advertising to an orangutan and for not pursuing stories that could damage him and for not screaming from the rooftops that this guy is unacceptable. I'm mad at the aging white men who voted for him because they are afraid of losing their place in the world, for not accepting change, for not seeing that we will never go back to the 1950s, that our country has diversified and will continue to diversify, even if you try to build a wall to keep people out. I'm mad at the inherent sexism in the fabric of our day to day life that allows for a man who has been accused of sexual assault, who jokes about abusing his power to molest women, to be appointed to the highest office we have in our country. I'm mad at the women who voted for him, for their own reasons, because they are used to being told what to do by a male figure and/or are also afraid that they no longer look at the country and see themselves specifically reflected back. I'm especially mad at the man who sat outside of Princeton University day after day holding a Trump sign, and who was there again this morning, with his sign, sitting in his chair, this white-haired old man. He was laughing as he looked at his phone. His guy won.

The stage after anger is bargaining. That's where you make deals with god or the universe or whatever you believe in. Okay, I promise that if this can really not happen, if like, maybe Trump and Pence were suddenly in an unforeseeable and painless but utterly fatal car wreck, or if Trump said, "You know what, I'd rather build another gold something, this job isn't for me," if something miraculous can occur, then I will be good for the rest of my days. I will defend the weak and not get impatient when someone is taking too long ordering his double cafe mocha. I will volunteer at a homeless shelter, I will take in run-aways, I will adopt any baby that needs me, I will donate a huge portion of my monthly salary to disabled veterans, I will not bitch about dirty dishes in the sink, I will read to the blind, I may even set foot in church again and try to pray.  I might even accept swapping out any one of the Bush family, because at least by comparison, they seem benign. Anything, anything, anything, universe, if you can make this have NOT happened.

Next is depression. That's when you realize that you can't undo what's already happened and you have to face the present moment, the one where you can anticipate much more of the same hate speech, the same call for locking up people who disagree with you, the ongoing embarrassment on the world stage that yes, as Americans, we are so shallow and short-sighted and naive to think that one man can turn back the clock to a time of when whiteness ruled, when no black people would dare to run for president, when no non-straight people would even think of kissing in public, and no woman would dream that she could be in charge of anything more than her own children. And I understand that what I should try to empathize with those who support Trump; to understand that they must be hurting and afraid, feeling disenfranchised and marginalized--why else would they vote in someone whose only concern, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is to do what feels right for him in any given moment? And so that is when you just feel sad and despairing, mad at yourself for thinking only just the day before that we have come so far, that we are ready for change and acceptance, and then being faced with that crooning white guy sitting in his lawn chair in front of Princeton University, so happy because he thinks he has won.

Last is acceptance. That's where you come to terms with the loss, and try to find the silver lining. Like, well, at least Alec Baldwin will have a job for the next four years. He's pretty funny, even if this situation is not. At least, as someone said to me today, you have your health. At least you are not dying slowly from brain cancer (as far as you currently know--perhaps this whole thing is not happening and instead, you're brain is dying).  At least some of this may end up being entertaining. Or maybe he will not be so easily swayed into changing progressive reform and say, "Just kidding, guys, I support the LGBTQ community and I'm for stronger gun legislation and equal pay for women and global initiatives that save our planet instead of destroying it, and health care for every single person in America." Remember that he used to be a Democrat. Remember that he has some people around him who might be able to persuade him that it's not in his best interest to pull out of NATO or to bomb a country that dares to disparage him or try to ban the media from printing exactly what he said.

But I'm not there yet. I have no desire to turn on the news and listen as pundits who were sure Hillary would win scramble to re-organize their arguments to say that they didn't mean exactly that. I don't want to see Rudy Giuliani's toad-like face as he accepts whatever position Trump has promised him in exchange for his humanity, or the deer-in-headlights stumbling around of Melania, our new first lady, as she tries to find her place as something more than an arm trophy for a man 30 years older than her. I am mad at Anderson Cooper for not halting any one of his news shows to say, "Hey, am I only the one here who thinks this guy is a fucking monster?" and so I don't want to see him figuring out how to convincingly cover whatever crazy, unreal narrative is going to spin out over the next four years.

I'm stuck among denial and anger and depression and not ready for people who are saying we should all just band together for the greater good. I don't feel like moving toward acceptance. I am sick of going high when they go low. Those feelings will change, surely, but today, I grieve.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Let's talk about our twenties instead of watching the news

Just finished watching the last episode of the most recent Girls after a three-week binge starting in Season 3 due to a free HBO offer that expires tomorrow.  The show makes me miss my twenties, but never, ever wish to go through them again. In my twenties, I thought I just wanted to find a guy, marry him, and start having babies. Well, part of me wanted to do that. The other part of me, the one who was running the show, wanted to only date unavailable men, stay single, go to grad school, and keep moving. That part dominated until my late thirties (it's still there...though I have lost the need to destroy relationships. Or maybe I am moving on to destroying them at a much slower rate. You'd have to ask Dan). In my twenties, I always felt like I was behind. I wasn't far enough along in my career (what career?), I didn't have enough savings, I wasn't following the path that many of my friends were on; the path that worked to create families and stability.

Here are the guys I dated guys in my twenties (please note: "dated" signifies anything from one night hanging out together to a string of nights to a two year relationship: an Armenian dental student who told me my breasts were too big, a guy who was moving to Australia the next day, a married Irish cook at themed restaurant, three other bartenders from the same restaurant (one of whom was the long term--a not very tall Italian man who ran marathons and also drank half a bottle of Absolut vodka a night. He was handsome, compact, ten years older than me, and an alcoholic. And a writer. We had the most cinematic break up ever. Me, running away down the street in my pajamas after finding a hidden glass full of vodka and him chasing after me, calling my name. Cue Death Cab, except I didn't listen to Death Cab then. Cue Liz Phair. What happened to him? He died. I don't know how, but I Googled his name about five years ago and found his obit).

Where was I? A French orthodontist student who snorted cocaine on a coffee table on a Monday night and said, "What am I doing? I have lab tomorrow." A medical student who had a vanity license plate and whose ex-girlfriend's tampons were still underneath his bathroom sink. Her name was also Amy. He took me to meet his parents too quickly and left me to small talk with them while he washed his car. A Indian periodontal student who was allergic to my cats and so every time we tried to kiss, he sneezed on my face. A guy who went by his initials and had a cute white dog. I kicked him out of my apartment after he over-performed (you'll note that I have not gone into any real detail in the bedroom. I do that in my fiction; not so much on a blog my mom can read).

The boy from the mail room, who I used to take into empty classrooms. I believe I was trying to prove something, but I don't know what--that I was a free spirit? This confuses guys in their twenties because they think it means you're like that with everyone. I guess they were kind of right.  The mail room boy didn't last long because he started taking another secretary into a different classroom. A law student who wore only white t-shirts, spoke in a sexy scratch voice, and would only kiss me for the first time if I pretended to be sleeping (or dead?). He liked to take baths and may have been a sociopath. He's the only man I dated who I thought might hurt me physically. When I broke up with him, he made me a mixed tape of opera music from The Omen.

Not really any of my fellow writing students from DePaul. There were two guys I liked. One had a girlfriend (though I didn't know this for a really long time) and the other was so jumpy that we could never even sit on the same sofa together. He's married now. They're both married now. I think one may have a son named Elvis.

P.S. I am not counting any of the boys from my last year in college. Add, like, six actors who, bar none, recited soliloquies before the first kiss. The theater guys are the best and the worst of all. Best because they're often playing a leading role, and ditto for the worst.

And what did I learn? I learned that nothing mattered except what I did for myself, and I did very little for myself in my twenties because I was trying so hard to be someone else---a catch, a flirt, a tease, a mixed-signaler, and was at once too needy while also too quick to find fault. I was Hannah and a little bit of Jessa (though never as cool) and never Marnie-enough. Shoshanna--I don't relate to her, but I still liked her. What I finally did for myself was to take writing seriously and apply for grad school. I could start a list of boys from my thirties--and you would discover that my twenties lasted well into my thirties.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why "I couldn't help myself" is not an acceptable excuse

For obvious reasons, there's lots of discussion lately about sexual assault. I had a conversation with a friend the other day where we compared whether or not we had been sexually assaulted. We decided we hadn't, not in the blatant ways they're talking about now. Though it's true that no strange man has ever grabbed me on the street, I have felt threatened by men, or assessed by men, or worried about men while out and about, particularly when I lived in Chicago in my twenties. But unwanted attention doesn't always come from strangers, it more often happens with someone you know.  I can't count the number of times some guy I know has accidentally touched me where he shouldn't--just a brush by, often with an apology. Same goes for unwanted contact with men I've dated. Women say yes to things or more accurately "not no" to sexual encounters way more than men might think. We're caught in this weird bind where if you don't want to fool around, the guy might loose interest or think you're uptight and if you do say yes, they also might think you're easy or indiscriminate. Sometimes (many times?), we say yes (or again, not no) because we (1). don't want to hurt your feelings, (2). are afraid you won't like us, (3). are used to it and no longer think it matters; (4). have bought the biological argument that you just can't help yourselves.

The claim now is that the women are inventing the attacks, because they didn't come forward sooner. Why would they come forward in the moment? Who would take them seriously? They know that the following options are a likely outcome: no one will believe them and they will be harassed, threatened, and called liars; if they are believed, they will be considered too sensitive because who cares if some guy grabs your breast? Third option is that they will be accused of being complicit in the act, egging the guy on by dressing provocatively or drinking too much or smiling in his general direction. The likely outcome of an unwanted kiss or an opportunistic grope is almost never jail time, or a fine, or any other penalty. In fact, that kind of behavior from men is often rewarded or encouraged by other men. High five, dude. Or, as DT would say, I couldn't help myself. 

How do you want us to prove it? Because even when you have proof, even when the man brags about doing it, it's still not believed.The truth is, I think most people do believe he did it, they just don't think it matters. I'm waiting for the moment when DT accidentally says what many are thinking, "Grow a pair of balls, ladies. Get over it. It's not like you were raped." That's true. Rape is much more traumatizing in many, many ways. But sexual assault is insidious. It confirms what many women fight against, which is this medieval idea that we don't have the right to our own bodies or space; that we are still, in many ways, property whose value is determined by how "do-able" we are.

If you are a heterosexual male of consenting age, my guess is that you have had moments of behavior with women that are iffy. I don't mean that every guy is a rapist; just that he has likely been in a situation where he pushed or insisted or begged or asserted when he knew the woman wasn't really interested. And if you have a culture that calls that behavior okay (or even condones it), it's a slippery slope.

I wonder, do men worry when they walk down the street at night that someone might come up to them from behind, shove them into an unlit place, and rape them? Does that thought ever cross their minds? It does for me. I think about it every time I'm out walking the dog past sunset.

Even posting this seems risky to me, like I'll make someone mad or sound like an hysterics who makes blanket statements. But if those women can say something and know that they're going to get crucified by the pro-Trumpets, so can I.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Watching the Wire, 12 Years Later

We don't tend to be up on TV series, especially those on paid movie channels like HBO or Showtime, and I have no idea what I was watching in the mid-2000s when The Wire was on (besides The Bachelor). Never got hooked on any of the network shows either. Grey's Anatomy seemed like a more soap opera-ish version of ER and none of cop procedurals ever measured up to Homicide or even further back, Hill Street Blues. Current shows like Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder or Mistresses seem geared toward college students. Okay, but so, we got free HBO for three months and started The Wire, in large part because everyone who has seen it raves about it, and Dan has never quite recovered from Breaking Bad, which set the bar high, high, high for him. We're now up to season 3, episode 3 and it feels like we are watching it in hopes of getting hooked. We are not hooked. We care mostly about Omar, but less so about McNulty or any of the other cops. I liked season 1, which focused mostly on the development of this special team of police misfits at war with drug lords in Baltimore. Season 2 brought the union story line and was moderately compelling, if you care about the struggles of underpaid dock workers who smuggle women and drugs for minor profits. Season 3 seems to be focused on the governmental arm of corruption and we're still not energized by it.

My guess is that much of its popularity came from the fact that it was the first of its kind, a show that followed a large cast of characters and points of view at a fairly slow pace, giving equal time to the investigative arm and the drug sellers side (both portrayed with equal sympathy). It set up a path for later shows that borrowed from the idea that single episodes weren't stand alone pieces, but tied together into more and more intricate story lines of a big cast, with no single character fixed at the center. Having seen some of those inspired programs first and this series later, it's hard to be blown away by the narrative. The pace is slow, and we're often confused by what's actually happening, especially with the various lieutenants and majors and officers and politicians doing underhanded deals, and the turf wars among drug sellers. The tech end of it isn't compelling, because it's basically about listening to phone calls, which may have been novel in the early 2000s, but is less fresh now. And for me, there's also the fact that you have only two major female characters (a cop and a district attorney), and the rest of the cast and story lines revolve around dudes. For some reason, though, we're reluctant to give it up; still moving forward under the persuasion of other viewers who loved it, but watching it seems more like a dogged commitment than a pleasure. 

I'd love it if someone who watched the show when it was on would go back and start it again to see if it has the same power today as it did when it first aired. Adam??

Write whatever you want

I'm reading this pretty goofy (but fun) book I got at the library called Dear Emma. I'm certain there's a tie-in to the Austen book, but I haven't read Emma in a while, so I'm not keyed into the parallels.

This book is a first-person account of life in college as told by Harriet, who writes an advice column for the school newspaper called "Dear Emma." She's in love with a guy from one of classes who has ghosted away and is now dating her co-worker at the library. I read half of it yesterday in a blink because it's entertaining.

This morning, I was thinking about a recent column I wrote for Philadelphia Stories about MFA programs (to do or not to do), and then thinking it would be enjoyable to write a satire of MFA's though this must have been done to death. And then I also dismissed the idea out of hand because it wasn't potentially serious enough for a first published novel. It wonder if other people do this--reject a writing idea for not being Updike-ian enough before it's even written. It's not like I have 500 other novel ideas and this one is among the masses. I have actually one other novel idea that I haven't fleshed out which probably would be more serious, but would also require research.

So, that's my excuse for not embarking on novel idea that does have more emotional center; I might have to read a book about hospital practices. But then I've been reading more Joyce Carol Oates than usual (coincidentally just finished a book by her called Jack of Spades about an author who also writes gruesome novels under a pen name) and she seems not to weigh the external factors (should I write a book that is not so loosely based on the brother of Jon Bennett Ramsey? Should I write a book about a pedophile who wants to lobotomize kids to be his sex slaves? Should I write a book called Rape: A Love Story?), but to say F-it and write it anyway. Of course, she is JCO.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nightmares & Trains

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Slut book

Finished a collection of short stories called Barbara the Slut by Lauren Holmes that was funny and engaging and not that deep. There were about 10 stories and maybe all of them were in first person and a few were told from the point of view of a teenager, but not in a cutified way. One story was told from the point of view of a dog. I skipped that one the first time around, but went back to it after I ran out of other stories. Nothing deep about them--I mean, for the title one, you didn't get all of this detail about why the teenager slept with all of these boys--except maybe because she had an autistic brother and over-educated and slightly clueless parents, but I liked that about it--that she was just a girl who didn't really know how to be around boys and thought she had to sleep with them.

It reminded me that I don't have to try so hard to give back story or meaning to my stories. That there doesn't have to be some big reveal, but I just have to render it in a funny or interesting or truthful way. It makes me want to go back to the Hammersly story and figure it out a bit more, because it's not all that different from what Holmes was writing, and in fact, is a little bit more interesting and dark. Maybe she got her collection published by Penguin because she went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop.

Maybe I should send my work to the same publisher: Riverhead Books. Yes, ten stories and all of them are first person. That's almost like cheating. I'm also still interested in the serial killer of men one. Maybe that should just be a short story told from the point of view of the detective in charge of the case.

He who should be named lest you call up the devil

Donald Tr*** continues to amaze and incite with his "Nuremberg-like rallies" (says Martin Amis in an article about Trump's books) and his latest proposal is that we ban all Muslims from the United States and then invade Iraq and take all of their oil to cut off their money supply.

Anderson Cooper had to interview a guy from Trump's staff and try to not to guffaw out loud as he was saying, "So, wait, you agree with Trump that we should go into Iraq, one of our allies, and take all of their oil? You don't think that will create even more dissent and radicals? And how exactly would we do this?"

The guy goes, "Well, Anderson, the devil is in the details. We'd have to figure out how to get it done, but I'll leave that up to the people who do this kind of thing."

The collective strategy of that group is to propose whatever preposterous, xenophobic, racist idea they can come up with ("Build a wall and make them pay for it! Take the oil! Send back the Muslim babies!") and then to say they will defer to the experts about how to execute said plan.

It's the Emperor's new clothes---you have all of these supposedly learned people espousing the most hateful nonsense who then react with a sense of wounded dignity whenever they're challenged.

Did you see this artwork of the new nude statues placed in cities across the country? No?


Friday, August 26, 2016


Reading Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and wondering why he didn't call it Heroines of the Frontier since the central character, the one whose head we're inside, is a woman--a former dentist who has a loose-bowled ex-husband and two children--one brave and reckless (the girl) and one introspective and protective (the boy). She's at a crossroads in her life and decides to rent a rickety RV and take her children to Alaska to visit her friend/rival, Samantha. I thought I wouldn't like the book that much because I've been mostly reading mysteries, but it is funny and unexpected and not too big for its own britches. I also was resistant to the male author borrowing the female experience to tell the story, but it would be something else completely if the main character were a single dad--you'd have to focus on the weirdness of that, and he would almost be saintified by society for raising two kids on his own--so, I guess Eggers needed her to be a woman. She's also not preoccupied with finding a man--her focus is on figuring out who she's supposed to be, where she's supposed to be, what she's supposed to be. It's highly relatable and maybe highly American--this idea that in the land of opportunity, there are almost too many choices, too many ways to be dissatisfied. He writes this whole long great paragraph about disappointment that I am too lazy to retype here.

On the flip side, I know someone who knows DE and says he's an asshole. I guess it's not necessary that you like the writer, but I am disappointed that he's not a totally awesome guy (according to my source).