Ordinary things


Atrium

After last week’s rain and sloppy snow, today was brisk and bright. J and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum to see an exhibit of early photography in China, and after we’d had our fill of looking, we ordered lunch and ate in the museum’s sun-drenched atrium: the closest thing to al fresco dining you can get in January in New England.

Atrium

Even though it’s been a mild winter in terms of temperature and snow accumulation, the days are still despairingly short. In winter, I am heliotropic, my inner sunflower turning toward the sun or any reasonable facsimile offering light, warmth, and color.

After we’d finished our lunch, J and I briefly browsed in the museum gift shop, admiring a display of Mova globes like the one J gave me for Christmas, each a beautiful ball that spontaneously spins through a combination of magnetism, solar power, and magic. My Mova globe sits on a shelf in my bathroom, away from electromagnetic interference from electronic devices and near a window where sunlight suffuses even on gloomy days. Every time I see it, my heart hearkens with recognition: keep turning toward the light, little world.


First light

When the days are longer than the light, you cherish every sunlit moment. Today J had to get up at 5:30 am for an early morning meeting, so I took this week’s yard waste to the curb just past dawn, with hints of sunrise peeking through a mottle of clouds.

I’ll use the extra hours to walk Roxy, write in my journal, and chip away at my paper piles before heading to campus. Years ago when I lived at the Zen Center and got up at 5:30 am every day, I used to say that like the Army, I did more before 9:00 am than most people do all day.


5:30 pm, after dark

It’s common knowledge that winter days are the shortest of the year, but that’s not true. In late autumn-into-winter, the days last much longer than the light.

By 5:30 pm, it’s been dark forever, and it feels like ages–a lifetime or two at least–since morning light. By 5:30 pm, it’s been dark forever, and my to-do list is as long as ever, there being many more tasks than there is available light to do them in.


Big sky country

This morning while doing my morning kitchen chores, I heard part of an NPR story about women long-haul truck drivers. Several of the women who were interviewed had become truck drivers in midlife, after escaping other jobs or abusive relationships. Although life on the road is lonely for women truckers, the story explained, these particular women found clarity and solace in a job that gives them lots of uninterrupted time to think.

“Windshield time” is the term the story used for the solitude drivers experience on the road. While driving for long distances, the women in the story had time to reflect upon their lives and decide their next steps. Steering a truck was a way for them to take control of their own lives: instead of asking Jesus to take the wheel, these women found agency and clarity in an occupation they never intended to pursue.

Early tomorrow morning I’m driving to visit my Mom in Ohio: my usual summer visit. In the years leading up to the pandemic, I’d fly to and from Ohio, but last year I decided to avoid angry people on planes and the threat of flight cancellations by driving my own car to Ohio and back: something I regularly did when I was younger.

I enjoy driving, especially after the hectic preparation leading up to any trip. For the past week or so, I’ve distracted myself with packing lists, to-do lists, and all the loose ends I need to tie up before being gone for almost a week. Tomorrow morning when I pull out of my driveway, however, all the planning will be done: anything I forgot to do before leaving will somehow wait until I return.

In the meantime, I’ll have approximately twelve hours of windshield time to scan for good radio stations, listen to audiobooks, and watch the land gradually flatten beneath a widening sky.


Trudy in autumn

Last night I took my 2020 Subaru Crosstrek, Trudy, to the dealership for a routine oil change and tire rotation. (Yes, I name my cars. Over the course of my adult life, I’ve owned three Subarus: Little Tank, Miss Bling, and now Trudy “True Blue” Subaru.)

Since I planned to wait at the dealership, I packed a bag with my iPad, a book (Richard Power’s Bewilderment), a notebook, and a packet of letters and blank notecards. I sat in the quiet waiting room, which has three desks, a handful of lounge chairs, and wifi but no TV. An older man sat in one of the lounge chairs, and a middle-aged woman with mid-length, graying hair sat at one of the desks, shuffling papers and folders into and out of a small tote bag.

As I claimed a lounge chair in the corner, I chuckled to myself. “That’s me without glasses,” I said to myself, remembering the ongoing joke J and I have about the stereotypical Subaru owner: middle-aged and female, possibly lesbian or at least tomboyish, with sensible shoes, no makeup, and at least one dog. The anonymous woman in the waiting room appeared to check all the boxes, as I do.

After I’d settled in to write the day’s journal pages in the notebook I’d brought, a service advisor walked into the room and approached the older man to update him on the status of his car. Observing proper waiting room protocol, the woman and I tried not to eavesdrop on the conversation. After the service advisor left, the woman packed up her folders and moved to one of the lounge chairs, where she busied herself on her phone.

Not long later, the same service advisor came into the lounge and walked up to me. “That’s weird,” I thought, “How does he know who I am since he wasn’t the one who checked me in?” The service advisor told me my car looked good, they were replacing the gear shift, but they didn’t have to replace the recalled airbags since that had already been done. They’d discovered a broken tail light, though, and he asked me if I wanted to replace it.

I said yes to the tail light but silently wondered why they had to replace the gear shift on a nearly-new car. Only after the service advisor left did I realize he’d mistaken me for the only other woman in the room, and I’d authorized service for her car.


Windshield

Refrigerator collage

This morning when I turned on NPR, they were discussing the experts named to President-Elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, including Massachusetts’ own Atul Gawande (excellent choice). There was a story about vaccine trials and word that stock futures were up in response to Biden’s win. And then almost as an afterthought, mention was made to President Trump and how he still hasn’t conceded the election, his Twitter tantrums now pushed well below the fold. Go into the corner and pout, Donny: the grown-ups have work to do.

I won’t miss the news’ daily fixation on Trump’s Twitter feed: he’ll still post his grievances online in ALL CAPS, but nobody except his diehard fans will have to follow him. When the sitting President tweets, it’s front-page news, but when a lame-duck (and soon-to-be-former) President tweets, it’s page two, three, or even four material. How quickly Trump has become almost-irrelevant: still possessing more power than he deserves, for sure, but destined to be a historical footnote as a one-term President.

There are many pressing problems in the world–so many issues that demand complex problem-solving. For the past four years, worrying about the President and his latest abuse of power was at the top of the list. Now that the Resistance is no longer focused on the Bully-in-Chief, there are other, more important problems for us to tackle: climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality. The past four years of heightened political activism have been a training ground for an ongoing fight.

In the meantime, the news cycle, which for so long was focused almost entirely on All Trump, All the Time, has begun to move on. It’s about time.

Glass ceiling smashers

When news broke this morning that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the state of Pennsylvania and thus the White House, it was almost anticlimactic: another notification on my phone, but this one with the magic number of 270+ electoral college votes.

“We should go somewhere to celebrate,” I told J, “but there is nowhere to go.” Instead, J took down the Joe Biden flag we’d been flying by our front door and carried it with us as we took our daily walk around our neighborhood, talking to neighbors, waving to strangers, and cheering as folks in passing cars honked and waved.

I’m still settling into the news that Trump will be gone in January: it takes a while to wake up from a four-year nightmare, and my inner realist knows there is much more work to be done. But last night, J and I were comforted as we watched the brief address Biden gave in Delaware, urging patience as ballots continued to be counted and expressing confidence that he and Harris would win.

As Biden expressed sorrow at the more than 220,000+ Americans who have died of COVID-19 and explained that he and Harris are already planning how to tackle the pandemic on day one, I felt a sense of relief that finally we will have someone in the White House who is empathetic, competent, and clear-eyed about science.

“It’s nice to have a President again,” J said after Biden finished speaking, and I couldn’t agree more.

Walkway to class

I remember teaching in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I went to bed believing Gore had won, I awoke to news that the race was too close to call, and for weeks thereafter I taught under the Cloud of Unknowing, waiting for the other coup to drop.

In those days I was an adjunct instructor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. The adjunct in the basement office next to mine was a political science professor who has since earned tenure and moved onto greener pastures. (I, on the other hand, have simply moved on.) For weeks after the election, I overheard Professor Poli Sci talking on the phone with CNN and other news outlets, explaining again and again the intricacies of the electoral college and how it was possible for the loser of the popular vote to nevertheless win the White House.

Ever since 2000, I don’t believe preliminary election projections: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. And ever since 2016, I haven’t believed pre-election polls, either. For all the outspoken Trump and Biden supporters who wear their politics on their sleeves, there are the uncounted unknowns who don’t answer the phone when pollsters call or simply fib when asked directly about their vote.

Whereas in 2016 I felt crushed by a defeat I secretly feared but hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for, last night came as no surprise. Yes, I would have liked for early results to deliver a clear mandate against Donald Trump (or at least the state of Florida or Ohio). But this year I knew two things: Trump would win states with a history of voter suppression, and the result would be decided by a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania that are deeply divided between vocal Trump supporters, enthusiastic Biden supporters, and the untold enigmas who might vote either way.

Twenty years later, the lesson of 2000 still holds: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. In the meantime we wait, hope, and wonder what in the heck 2020 has in store for us next.

Make America America again

It’s the night before the 2020 presidential election, and I’m feeling oddly calm, all things considered. The news and my social media feed alike are full of anxiety-inducing news: rising COVID numbers! The threat of election day unrest and voter intimidation! The possibility of a contested election! Trump might win, Trump might lose: we might not know for weeks or months, and even if Trump loses, he might not ever leave!

My current sense of calm isn’t confidence; it’s more like fatigue. After four years of following every Tweet and headline, I’m resigned to whatever happens tomorrow and the days after.

I’ve already voted, and I’ve done everything I could these past four years to stay engaged, pester my elected officials, rally the troops, and get out the vote. Now, on Election Eve, it’s all over but the waiting. I know who I want to win, and I know what’s at stake if my preferred candidate loses. But right now, on Election Eve, everything comes down to the results in a handful of swing states. I wish that weren’t the way things worked, but I didn’t make the rules.

On Election Night 2016, J and I were so hopeful Hillary Clinton would win, we chilled a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This year, we don’t have any champagne, and we aren’t expecting a clear outcome on Election Night. I hope that Trump loses–the polls suggest he will–but this time around, I won’t be surprised if the polls are wrong. Whoever wins the election, and whatever mayhem might happen afterward, the work of citizenship will continue. For now, I’m resting up for whatever comes next, not knowing exactly what that will be.

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