The weather is getting brisk. I’m still outside, wandering around, doing garden chores while stopping for frequent photo breaks as I observe nature’s endlessly interesting parade of activities. I’m really fatigued. The election needs to be over. I’m sure many people would agree with me. With the coronavirus still surging, and winter looking so potentially dangerous, the added stress of this political rollercoaster is too unsettling. We live in a time of short attention spans. I’m not sure if that’s because information is delivered primarily through short sound bites and social media or if it’s something else. But somehow, a virus is now being construed as either phony or a conscious agent actively attempting to limit personal freedom. The lack of a national strategy which could guide everyone is instead replaced by a leave it to the states free-for-all and misleading information. So much death. And more to come. The Trump presidency has in virtually every way, ground me into the dirt. I feel like I’m barely above ground.
I’ve never been a hero-worshipper. I believe politicians, athletes and celebrities are just people like everyone else. I admire some more than others, but in my life I think I’ve never been so overwhelmed by the mystique of any one individual to a point where I’ve blindly followed anyone. That’s what baffles me so much about the cult which surrounds Trump. I’m wondering what compels people to dismiss the obvious weaknesses and flaws of this angry, damaged person. I’ve never been able to do that. Tonight I watched the Pete Souza film, The Way I See It, his photographic history of his life as White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and the historic presidency of Barack Obama. I was certainly not a Reagan fan. I liked Obama a lot, but was not a worshipper of him either. Yet, when I watched this film and saw the contrast between the dark, manipulative Trump era and the bright empathetic Obama years, I yearned for that time. I feel like the future of my children and grandchildren is hanging on this upcoming election. I mean that literally. Without the restoration of decency, fairness and inclusion in government, not to mention the belief in addressing the safety and care for our planet, I am wondering what will be left to build on after the four years of destruction of civility in our civic dialogue, the degrading of our institutions and the venal cynicism that has emboldened the ugly underbelly of our divided culture to come forward with its prejudice and hatred. I remember the 2016 election night and am wondering if I can get through what’s ahead with the dual threats of voter suppression and intimidation, plus the refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power. That is, if we are able to let this pandemic election play out to its logical conclusion with the admittedly greater task of dealing with the flood of absentee ballots. Yes, I’m wondering. Last time, Michael was still alive, the beginning of his final downward spiral less than two months ahead of us. The entirety of the current presidency has loomed over that great loss and my grief. I’ve been wondering all these years whether my adapting to my challenges would have been any easier, absent this Orwellian time. I don’t get to know that. I’ve already voted. I just need to claw my way through the next few weeks, prepared for anything. This year’s election falls on my son’s birthday. An auspicious event or a miserable disaster? I’m wondering how he’ll look back on this time.
All this wondering gets to be too much. So I head outside to be in nature. Today I was thinking that I’m not much different than I was when I was five, wandering around outside in Iowa with a jar filled with twigs and leaves, hunting for caterpillars and lightning bugs. Watching the bees disappearing into the depths of the flowers on the tall hollyhocks and waiting to see them come out, their bodies and legs laden with yellow pollen. As my nose would be after I stuck it in behind them to see what it felt like. I still find my solace out there, my eyes scanning my yard for an interesting event while I work and listen to music.
I track the last of the butterflies, drinking in their sustenance before heading off to warmer climes. I take photos of the flowers hanging on here, even though the temperatures have dropped dangerously low these past few nights, wondering when they’ll be gone the next morning.
I track the fall color of the big maple tree next door, taking the photos through my bathroom window and from the ground below. Soon the branches will be bare.
And I’m continuing my thinking, being buffeted around internally by the random songs on my perpetually shuffling playlist. I was digging up some unwanted volunteer spiderwort plants when the song “Georgy Girl” from a 1967 film sent me back in time to a day when my mother told me that song reminded her of me. The young heroine of the film was somewhat of an oddball bumbler who ultimately found happiness, but she was the last person I wanted to be. I couldn’t believe I still had that bad feeling tucked away, an old aching insecurity that’s part of my life’s tapestry.
The variety in my music has helped direct me to some more positive diversions that distract me from my nagging daily wondering. I’ve been watching documentary rock films from back in the day, which help evoke a more hopeful time although there are too many artists who were gone too early. Great music, though. Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Gregg Allman. Oh my.
Woodstock was the first live performance in front of a huge crowd for Crosby, Stills and Nash. Years later, Michael and I attended one of their concerts when we were in our late forties. We had backstage passes and went in with the rest of the lucky people to greet the band. At the time, they were being managed by Peter Asher, once a member of the duo, Peter and Gordon, and brother of Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s early girlfriend who appeared in A Hard Day’s Night and the movie, Alfie with Michael Caine. I walked up to Peter and immediately spouted all this information. He looked at me, a little stunned, and I reminded him that we were almost as old as he was and not in the usual younger crowd. So sometimes, the flow of memories is flush with nostalgia. We had some great times back in the days before Michael left the music business to become an educator.
Sometimes, I get stuck in a period from the past, instigated I suppose, by songs from that era. I was planting spring bulbs yesterday and found myself thinking back to a tough time when Michael was the social studies department head at his school. He thought that the fall schedule proposed by the administration didn’t make much sense and decided to offer his own more logical alternative. I remember asking him if he was sure he trusted the principal and assistant principal to be able to take what could be interpreted as criticism, albeit in a positive way. He was convinced that they were all in a marvelous collegial relationship. His reward for being pro-active was to be stripped of all his US History classes except for the one he wrote himself, Modern American History through Film and Music. So much for a master’s degree in the teaching of American History. He was assigned government classes for the rest of his schedule. I think he was in a bad mood for about three years after that wretched experience. And he wasn’t easy to be around. After a time, my patience ran out as he projected his darkness at home which I thought was unjust. I remember giving him an oral version of what my family calls, “a Renee special,” which is usually a letter filled with truth and bitter invective. He shook himself out of his rabbit hole and wrote me an apologetic note. I hadn’t seen it in years and out there in the dirt, was wondering where it could be after all these years. I never threw away anything Michael wrote me. When I dragged myself inside later, I went upstairs to my study to deposit paper in my winter filing pile which I’m saving for the cold days when I’m stuck in the house. I glanced over to the other side of my desk and saw a small blue notebook that I couldn’t quite place. Then I remembered that Id hastily grabbed on old over-sized purse when I had my brief getaway to Michigan in August and had hastily dumped out what I’d long ago left inside. Turns out it was a calendar which I’d probably replaced with one for the next year. November of 2013 was the month when we were told that Michael’s cancer was back and heavily metastasized. I was pretty overwhelmed back then. I picked the little book up and opened it. Tucked into the side pockets were a sweet email from my son dated May, 2008. And the apology note from Michael, both of which I’d obviously carried with me for years. I knew I hadn’t thrown it away. A sweet find brought to me by the interaction between music and that engine in my head.
So there’s the wondering and the fretting and fatigue from politics. There’s the glorious nature which makes life bearable. And all the music which is both balm and stimulus, which I flow with, in and out, forward and backward through my life. I wonder how much time will be left for me to ponder this extraordinary period in history? I’m going to keep wondering, I know. But I’m taking my own advice which I’ve told myself for a long time – better find a little beauty in every day. That may be all you get. Here’s some of mine from today.