Portland Update, February 2017
From where I’m sitting at my kitchen table, I can see daffodils peaking up from the dirt in my neighbor’s yard across the street. My roommate told me the other day that she’s excited because she planted a ton of tulips along our fence a month ago and soon they’ll be blooming. And I think, when she says this, that then we’ll have to be happy that beauty and Mother Nature don’t care about our election. Even though it’s been snowing and icing in Portland for weeks, and I’ve been feeling like a crazy person and have been avoiding the news – with or without my grief, spring is coming.
I hear from people who’ve had someone close to them die that a different, worse kind of grief is the kind that comes when you start to feel better. It feels like betrayal to your loved one, that you’re happy without them, that you’re moving on. That’s how I feel now – like I shouldn’t be happy. That life shouldn’t be going on as usual. But it does. Spring comes. Daffodils bloom. Life goes on.
Of course, I’m not sure I am exactly happy or that I’ve moved on from the election. It’s just that my brain is adjusting to our new reality. When you live in a smelly environment, like one filled with a chemical smell, or if you’re always surrounded by cat pee, pretty soon you stop smelling it. Your brain starts to ignore the default smell so it can concentrate on other things. The same thing is happening with the new president; our brains are going to adjust to a new normal, no matter how disgusting it is, no matter if we want to adjust or not. It’s what brains do.
I’ve also been taking the long view recently as a way to make sense of everything. We have to remember that we made a lot of progress under President Obama and now we are seeing those achievements being rolled back. I don’t think liberals truly appreciated the progress we’d made until now. Of course it is truly horrific for people with disabilities and chronic conditions (like myself) that the Republicans have gone forward with their plans to repeal the ACA. Likewise gay and transgender peoples are again under attack. Immigrants and refugees are having their lives turned upside down. Trump’s administration is actively trying to get rid of the EPA. People of color and the Jewish community are scared for their lives. Hate crimes are on the rise. And those on the other side cry “FAKE NEWS!!”
I have never seen anything like it. I’m horrified and scared. Are we going to turn into a dictatorship? Will there be an impeachment, a coup? What is happening to our country?
And yet, I have to pay my taxes. I’m trying to figure out how to save money to go to Rome in October. I’m considering going on a low-carb diet. I’m staying in bed every morning for a few moments trying to motivate to exercise. I am staying there under my covers pondering my day. And I’m actively forgiving myself that I need a good twenty minutes to motivate to get out of bed each morning, now that Trump is president, now that I am off my anti-depressant. I am swimming in a kiddie pool of acceptance. And it doesn't necessarily feel good. It just feels necessary.
To maintain sanity, to take the long view, we have to remember that President Obama also used executive orders that were unpopular to many Americans. Also, President Obama was called the “Deporter in Chief” because he deported more people than any other president in history. So we have to remember this. We have to remember that politics are politics even when we don’t agree.
I just arrived back from New Orleans on Monday, and I was thinking about what I wanted to write about for the month of February. I was in New Orleans for my sister’s wedding and for Mardi Gras. (I have to also state here that my sister made about fifty blue onesies that everyone in the wedding party wore. Other than that she asked us to wear the onesies, there is no other reason we were all wearing them.)
If you haven’t been to Mardi Gras, I just have to tell you that it’s absurd. It’s beautiful. It’s also deeply moving. It’s also disgusting and horrible and overwhelming and insanely cool.
In the context of everything that is going on, it’s also like Rheea wrote in her last update: It makes everything a cosmic joke, one where you almost can convince yourself that terror, death, oppression, and systematic cruelty shouldn’t be taken that seriously because, you know we’re half a dot in the universe.
Accepting absurdity …. It’s one way to cope.
On the morning of my sister’s wedding, after her friend Will and I sang “You Got Lucky” by Tom Petty and then after my sister and her husband said their vows, the wedding party walked the few blocks to a community hall with a second line that Zoe hired for the occasion. Our party was made of mostly white people from Oregon and Michigan and the brass band was made up of African American men from New Orleans.
I’d just finished Claudia Rankine’s Citizen the night before on the plane to Houston and I remembered her essay on Hurricane Katrina. And the music was so beautiful and everyone was so happy and the context weighed so heavily on my shoulders that I began to weep. I had to pull myself together quickly though; Sarah and Jacob had told us that it was okay to laugh at their wedding but it wasn’t okay to cry. They didn't want any sappiness and they certainly didn't’ want me weeping white lady tears because of New Orleans and Donald Trump and the fucked up, beautiful country we live in.
The absurdity and contradictions continued. At the parade later that day we stood in a crowd of thousands and caught beads, balls, plastic cups, Frisbees, Moonpies, and other priceless treasures as crawfish boiled behind us, as people grew increasingly intoxicated, as the piles of trash grew, as the porta-potties filled, as the sun went down, as we celebrated this traditional “Catholic” holiday that was now a mixture of pre-Catholic Roman Pagan traditions, Christianity, Southern customs, African American traditions, Punk and road culture practices, and straightforward American consumerism.
Later that night Sarah’s friend Pilk would get into a car with a stranger who offered him a ride home and be threatened when he wouldn’t give the woman more money. She told him that she was going to drive him to an ATM so he would give her more money. She’d already asked him to buy her food at Melba’s and had berated him for ordering a smaller margarita than the one he’d bought for her. The cashier at Melba’s pointed her finger at the woman and told Pilk “to be careful” around this woman. The cashier had seen this before. She could tell the woman was trying to take advantage of Pilk. Of course he was drunk and hungry and hadn’t been able to get an Uber home. Sarah had already told me the day before, as I drove to New Orleans from Houston, not to venture into the French Quarter but to go straight to Zoe’s house; Will and Liz had already been in a car accident in their Uber. “Everyone is getting into accidents,” she said. “I’ve already seen five accidents.”
So, Pilk drew the line when the woman was pushy about the ATM and getting more money out of him. He told her to leave him alone and that he’d find another way home. When he showed up, his Uber driver told Pilk that even if the stranger was a woman with her crying infant in the car not to ever get into a car with someone you didn’t know during Mardi Gras. Later that night my parents would witness a fall-down, weeping, drunken fight between some other family members at the same time they’d been tasked with getting another very drunk family member home. They were unhappy when we met up with them at the beer garden and then they left without saying goodbye after a woman from Wisconsin took my mom’s hand very condescendingly over the table and told her not to let her time here at Mardi Gras be ruined by other people’s problems. My brother lost his debit card. My sister in law lost her credit card but then somehow miraculously got it back. A friend left her wallet at Melba’s. I almost fell into a lit BBQ. I peed behind a parked car. My brother used a twelve pack, that he’d been aimlessly carrying around for hours, to bribe people in line so that he and his wife could use the porta-potties first. A drunk driver drove their car into the parade crowd and sent over thirty people to the hospital. My onesie split down the crotch. While we were at the parade, the local Fox News station interviewed Sarah because of all the blue onesies. But we don’t think the interview ever got aired because of the drunk driver - it was bigger news, of course. We caught Mardi Gras beads with confederate flags on them and they hit our hands so hard the necklaces busted into a million pieces and the little flags went spilling and bouncing everywhere. Everyone on the Technicolor floats wore masks so we couldn’t see their faces and it was creepy because it seemed like they were throwing the prizes down into the crowd as hard as they could. One of my brother’s in law threw a boiled potato at my face and it spilled my drink. The marching bands that had come from all over the south stepped over heaps of plastic cups and trash as they tried to do their dance routines. I stood up on ladder to see them. The mounted policemen’s horses were outrageously beautiful and calm. Someone gave my sister a free jello shot because of her onesie and on account of it being her wedding day. My father wouldn’t stop wandering off with his camera and telling us he’d meet us later and then never answering his phone or responding to texts. Someone with a concealed weapon had their gun go off accidentally while they were in a porta-potty and the bullet hit a man in the abdomen. The man survived after being taken to the hospital. A few days later a woman was shot in the head and killed after she followed some people who stole items from her. Later that Saturday night an African American transgender woman visiting from California was shot and murdered. Her name was Chyna Doll Dupree.
The first police force in history was in Rome. It used to be that the only people who had armed guards were the rich, but crime got so bad in ancient Rome that people wouldn’t go to the coliseum because they were afraid they were going to be robbed and beaten. And so the government started what we would now consider a police force so that people would feel safe enough to leave their houses at night. This protection was not for Romans so that they could go about their normal business, or to travel or attend to their jobs or other religious or societal functions. No, the “hired guns” of ancient Rome existed so that people would feel safe enough to witness spectacle.
On my last night in New Orleans my sister Ana’s wallet was stolen out of her jacket pocket as she raised her hands and walked along the parade route yelling jubilantly “I Love the People!”