Odd that the person who comes to my mind at this moment is Margaret Annan. She was my teacher for an advanced placement English class I took as a junior in high school. I probably had no business taking that class, as my anti-authoritarian attitude toward organized education, had taken hold a few years earlier as a freshman. I didn’t like how school worked. I had intellectual talent and was placed in demanding classes but I consistently underperformed. I’ve written before about how my weighted mediocre grades allowed me to maintain a grade point average that was worth more than that of a student in “regular” classes. I thought that was morally wrong. But Miss Annan’s class was another matter. This highly educated woman demanded a level of engagement and academic performance that stood apart from other teachers. She was notorious for shredding what you thought was great writing, returning papers to you covered with red skulls and crossbones, pointing out the most minuscule of grammatical or sentence structure errors. Class discussions were sophisticated. Her certainty and iron opinions challenged me – I wanted to argue with her and fight for my own point of view which rarely, if ever, turned out as well as my fantasies about ensuring that my interpretation of Lord Jim was better than hers. That woman gave my brain a real workout. In the end, I credited her with teaching me more about critical thinking tools than anyone else in my life. I still practice the skills I acquired as a 15 and 16 year old under her intense tutelage.
Margaret C. Annan Undergraduate Awards in Writing
“The Margaret C. Annan Undergraduate Award in Writing is given annually to recognize excellence in creative writing by third-year students in the College. Recipients are selected by faculty from the University’s creative writing program and English department through a competitive application process. Annan, who taught for many years at South Shore High School, received her PhB in 1928 and her AM in 1933 from UChicago. She died in June 1993.”
Yes, Miss Annan was who popped up first in my head during these most stressful times. I’ve recently realized that my head is so jumbled, that I’ve been regularly making errors in my increasingly vituperative social media posts. She wouldn’t approve. I’ve fallen back on her critical thinking lessons many times before. These little errors I’ve been making are signals that my usually contained irrational side is mucking up my hard-won rationality. The dizzying political events of the past week have obsessed me. I try to stop reading, stop watching, stop listening, but I can’t. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to use my mind to overcome being buffeted around by emotional turbulence. I grew up in a home where feelings ruled. On the good days that was just fine. On the bad days, not so much.
I learned how to think my way through anything life tossed my way as I evolved into adult life. I didn’t want my kids to be as unsure of daily life as I was, never knowing what version of their parents would be waiting for them in the morning. I developed strategies for helping all of us navigate the world, inasmuch as anyone could, given the uncertainties which face everyone. I think that my greatest strengths which grew in me were patience and perseverance, necessary antidotes to the ferocity and rage that are deeply rooted in me.
Look at my sweet-faced mom. She sure doesn’t look like a vengeful, grudge holding person, does she? After a hard early childhood as a victim of all kinds of abuse, she remained an undeveloped little kid throughout her life in many ways. She was smart and also incredibly fearful. But she was a passionate, loving mother, often missing the boat on teaching her kids skills for managing problems, far from being courageous, yet fiercely loyal, often to the point when it was clear that as her child, not mentioning any issue that came up between one of us kids and our loved ones, was a wise choice because she would never be objective. When her own granddaughter, my daughter, was rude to me when she was a kid, I never told my mom, fearful that she would be so on my side that she’d damage my family for me.
So is that intensity genetic, or learned, or both? I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know the answer to that question. In my adult life, I’ve also wielded ferocious loyalty, to my husband, my kids and my friends. I also had that rational approach and that patience working in tandem with my volatility. I’ve trusted my instincts and considered the consequences of my actions. But I think my balance between my head and my heart has taken a real beating during the past four years. Michael’s long, turbulent illness and ultimate death, encapsulated within the toxic presidency of Donald Trump, has pushed me far outside the bounds of whatever is considered patience. I’ve never in my life felt like anything politically as much as an outside agitator. I’m a protestor. I have been since I was a teenager. My most recent one was a Black Lives Matter event last summer in the midst of the pandemic. There were many others along the way. My eldest grandson was a baby when our family took him to his first act of civil disobedience.
These images from last week have crystallized my fury. As a person who demonstrated in the streets of Washington, D.C., feeling the full weight of police and the National Guard, chasing us with billy clubs as we opposed a wasteful war, watching an overt violent insurrection effort to overthrow the results of legitimate election has wiped away all shreds of my tolerance. All this violence sowed by the endless narcissism of an unqualified, amoral crook, who managed to tap into and solidify the fringe elements of the right wing, in the midst of a pandemic, has finally overloaded my carefully developed intellectual control. I am furious and unforgiving. Today, I watched impeachment proceedings in the U.S. House of Representatives. During the run-up to the presidential conventions, I could’ve lived with Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic candidate. Biden won so that was that. To hear him and his family characterized as that of a crime boss, as if that was truth, was enough to make my head practically explode. Joe Biden, the moderate a crime boss? Spare me. One Republican representative after another talked about healing. No acknowledgement of the “Stop the Steal” movement propagated by this evil man. No condemnation for his urging of violence to restore him to his throne, tossing out the votes of millions of their fellow citizens. I heard people say that radical liberals, whatever that means, enlisted their socialist friends in Hollywood to foment the hostilities that divide this country. Robert DeNiro, Madonna and Kathy Griffin were named in that preposterous statement. My young grandsons have more astute perceptions of reality than some of the idiots who are forever on the Congressional record, leaving proof that they will be remembered as having substandard intellectual firepower.
I am fearful about the inauguration on the 20th. I’ve read that there will be 20,000 National Guard troops to keep the event safe. That number is the equal of two army divisions, more troops than are deployed in this country’s far-flung international involvements. How far are we from democracy right now? Who knows? There are still people who believe that Biden’s victory was illegitimate. I think more violence is on the way. The truth is that Republicans haven’t won the popular vote in this country in decades. But this time, despite the anachronistic electoral college, the victory is clear.
I don’t envy the new administration. The multitude of issues, coupled with the deep socio-economic chasms in this country are unimaginable. And the virus. The ever-mutating omnipresent virus. So much unnecessary loss of life due to what I believe is the unconscionable mismanagement of dealing with it by the Trump administration. No one knows what the long-term ramifications of this disaster will be, personally, emotionally and economically. What is the new normal? Beats me.
So far, I’ve been one of the lucky ones who hasn’t experienced a serious illness or death from Covid. My heart hurts for all the suffering families trying to adapt to the concept that a microscopic organism, the proverbial invisible enemy, rapidly altered their lives forever. But today, I have high anxiety. My son, a bird biologist by trade, has taken a high-risk job in Peru for a few weeks at a time when travel isn’t advised and when the U.S. border will be soon be closed to permanent residents trying to return from abroad unless they can prove they’re negative for Covid. As the virus rages throughout the world, evidence supports the fact that at least 50% of cases are transmitted by asymptomatic people. If my kid is lucky enough to stay at least seemingly healthy, the risk remains that he could get stuck far from home, totally isolated. I feel afraid and helpless, even though I know that those whose last contact with their loved ones was via a tablet or through a window, have already lost what I’m only dreading. In the end, this long stressful four years has put me in a rigid place, governed by my vengeful nature. I don’t want to know anyone whose views differ from mine. I don’t want to engage in healing and dialogue with them. I feel like a cornered animal, ready to lash out at anyone who threatens my safe space. I always tell my family and friends that I play on one team. That’s always been true. And now I feel that more than ever. The overload has won. I expect more violence in the coming days which has been stoked by the madness of Donald Trump. The seamy dark underside of this society is out in the open and unafraid to act. I won’t forgive anyone who enabled this multi-pronged nightmare we are living through right now. They helped instigate what is most definitely a clear and present danger. They are all complicit. I am done with tolerating them. Done.