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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

You Wanna “Debate”?


What do you want to debate? How much the president paid – or, more to the point, didn’t -- in federal income tax? Whether or not there should be hearings for a Supreme Court nominee not only in an election year but as the election process is already underway? What each candidate proposes as far as the nation’s health care is concerned? 


No, I will not be watching – or listening, either. What each man will say is pretty much a foregone conclusion, and my only question is how big a train wreck it will be. Will there be name-calling? Shouting? Will there be onstage stalking? We will find out soon enough, but the morning after will be soon enough for me, so although I know many of you will, I don’t need to follow it “in the moment.” I’d rather be elsewhere.

We are having a lot of rain this week here in northern Michigan, but bright, fast-changing colors gleam in the rain, and this morning we had a shot of bright, bright sunshine, welcome for however long it may last. And yes, I am here in Michigan. But I am also on the Great Plains, and for a few minutes of every morning and evening I am in France before I was born. Mine, you see, is a magical life, and if you are a reader (as I hope you are), your life is magical, too, not limited by time or space. Is that not a rich blessing?


The drowsy heat of middle August lay heavy as a furred robe on the upper country of the Shell River, the North Platte of the white man. Almost every noon the thunders built themselves a dark cloud to ride the far crowd of Laramie Peak. But down along the river no rain came to lay the dust of the emigrant road, and no cloud shaded the ‘dobe walls and bastions of Fort Laramie, the soldier town that was only a little island of whites in a great sea of Indian country two thousand miles wide. 


-      Mari Sandoz, Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas


So it begins, this lyrical biography called “one of the great stories of the West” (Atlantic Monthly), a “glorious hero tale” (John C. Neihardt in the New York Times), and “a splendidly done thing” (Washington Star). Mari Sandoz wrote many books set in her native Great Plains country (Old Jules, the story of her father, among them), and thanks to the University of Nebraska Press, with their Bison Books imprint, these titles are available in well-designed modern paperback form for a new generation of readers, as well as those of us still catching up to books missed earlier in our lives. I’m already thinking that Crazy Horse belongs on the American classics list. Maybe Old Jules, too. (I’m sure many people would think so.) The books Sandoz wrote were and probably are still considered “regional,” but every book set in the United States is set in one or more regions of the land; there is no reason, then, to set “regional” in opposition to “American,” in my opinion, that is, the opinion of someone who loves to travel, either by automobile, train, or armchair.


If you’re the kind of reader I am, you usually have more than one book going at a time (sometimes as many as four, in my case), and the other one I’m enjoying at an extremely leisurely pace -- only a page or two at a time -- is one I’ve read before, the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I’ve written about Proust before and will not try your patience with a long quote in French, but I’ll tell you that the two pages I read this morning performed a near-miracle, pulling me out of the Slough of Despond and into the light of day. “Life is worth living so we can read Proust,” I exclaimed happily to the Artist over our morning coffee. “He saw and felt and noticed every last detail in his surroundings and then every association those details called up. What a rich life!” The Artist was amused.


Once in a while the Artist gets bogged down, as so many of us do, in the relentless stream of what seems like uniformly bad national and world news. “They’re not telling us the good things,” I say, and he asks rhetorically, “What good things? What’s happening that’s good?” In truth, sometimes I’m the one who’s down, and he has to remind me of all our blessings. I’m only reporting our conversation from this one Tuesday morning.


There was bad news from the agencies too – more soldiers there, with little soldier chiefs for agents and more treaty men coming to buy the Black Hills, making a strong talk of starving the Indians into going to the Missouri or the south place called Indian Territory.


The news! When has it ever been good? One of the hardest things about reading the story of Crazy Horse is that he lived during dreadful times for the Lakota Sioux. “Culture clash” is one way those times are sometimes described, but the phrase completely leaves out the power dynamics of a strong, armed national government and a relentless flood of pioneering homesteaders overwhelming traditions of those who had lived off the land for generations. 


The news! Big, bad happenings! Disastrous events and ongoing horror shows! 


I think the good things -- some of the best things – never make the news cycle precisely because they are not disasters or horror shows. Not “newsworthy,” in other words. Instead they are background constants, such the regularity of night and day and the annual round of seasons; parts of ordinary life too easily taken for granted because of their ordinariness, like family and friends and health and beauty; and stunning moments encountered in the natural world or in human interaction that surprise us with their grace. A peach tree growing in the compost or an understanding smile where we fearfully anticipated an angry frown.


May you experience today moments of grace, as well as the strength, although we cannot literally shake hands these days, to extend a metaphorical hand of friendship to someone rather than yield to the temptation of an angry gesture. Are we to be outdone by bonobos?



BB-Idaho said...

I won't be watching the debates either. Information about both candidates already floods most media (I exclude Facebook, Twitter
etc, whose sound bites have not a smidgeon of journalistic integrity.
My mind was made up long before the Man Who Would Be President lost the majority and won the electoral college. So, we sit back and take
it. Or not..I e mailed the arch conservative Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, doffed my band of brothers hat to an Army officer of unquestionable valor and enquired why he continued to support a
bonespur nutcase who called him (and me) suckers and losers. ...and
I was looking for a long, rewarding and peaceful retirement. Doggone,
why do my fingers keep ranting? ") If Uncle Tom replies, I'll let you know!

P. J. Grath said...

Morning after:

We do not have television, but no, I did not listen to the radio, either, last night. I ventured close enough for a minute to hear the yelling, two men shouting over each other, and retreated as quickly as possible to the other end of the house. I expected a shameful spectacle, and it sounded ten times worse than what I had anticipated.

Once Biden agreed to a “debate” with Trump, there was no way he could do anything during the event but yell back at Trump’s yelling. If he waited for his turn patiently and politely, people would say he looked like a “wimp” — and there was no way T was ever going to be civil and let B have an uninterrupted “turn." T was going to charge out like an angry bull and keep charging. That was a foregone conclusion. There was never a chance that the event would be anything other than a ridiculous farce.

So BB didn’t watch. How about the rest of you? Did you watch/listen? Did it make you throw up? Were you able to sleep afterward?

The only way to hold these “debates” at ALL would be to have the two contestants in glass booths, with microphones that could be turned on and off by the moderator. “You have two minutes [or whatever] to answer the question.” At the end of two minutes, mike off. Mike off in the other booth until turned on by the moderator to allow him to answer the question. The technology existed in the 1960s, if not before. WHY NOT? Because it would MAKE TOO MUCH SENSE? Because it would be BORING and not ENTERTAINING enough? Or because we want to see “gloves off” and judge the candidates at their VERY WORST?

Angie said...

Your posts always draw me in. No, I did NOT watch the debacle. How could it be anything else with Rump in the mix? I love your idea of the mic on mic off. I'm sure Biden knew going in that this would be a screaming match if he wanted to be heard at all. Hats off to him for even making the effort.

I had decided on the day that Ruth Bader Ginsberg died that I would not be watching the news anymore, at all, until this mess called 2020 is over. I continued to try to catch the local 6 p.m. news to keep up with the virus and local events in our city/county, but they have so many clips now of the ongoing disaster in the political arena that I've stopped that too. My mental and physical health suffer too much from all of the crap.

I always have 4 or 5 books going at the same time. Doesn't everyone?? :D Have to have one in each room. :D Will have to add these that you have in this post to the ever-growing to-be-read list.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Angie.

I'm thinking I should perhaps clarify, in case someone reads this post who's never read anything I've written before. I am NOT abstaining from politics! Or even completely from the news. Like you, though, I need to ration my dietary intake, in the interest of sanity. Obsession and too much anger and outrage are not good for the soul.

Book in each room is often my game plan. At present, though, I'm only reading two, which I carry from room to room, opening one or the other as the spirit moves me.

BB-Idaho said...

I am impressed with you and your commenters reading several books at one time. Seems impossible to me. Other than college where the Physical Chemistry text, Recent European History, Comparative Religion and Radiation Biology filled my tiny (Grandma gave it to
me was it some sort of antique or heirloom? The dingy old workhourse
has a spot in my oldest daughter's otherwise fashionable place) desk,
One and one only book holds my attention. On my bedstand, sometimes
on the outdoor Adiriondack chair, I look forward to completing a chapter or two. I won't pick up another until I'm done. I guess I'm a reading failure. Remember the Briggs-Meyers personality tests? They
were big in corporate America, Academia and government. I was a thing
termed INTP, apparently a person that should be locked away in some
lab and stay out of Irish Dancing and wild parties. Lincoln, Madame
Curie, Descartes, Einstein, Darwin and Kant we were. One thing we hated was bullies. Feeling rather bad, I looked up the Meyer-Brigg
estimate of President Trump: ESTP-brash, impulsive, driven, self-loving. Often CEOs. Patton, MacArthur, Lyndon Johnson, L. Ron Hubbard, Goering and and Al Capone they are. They tend to be bullies, the antithesis of we otherwise timid INTPs. That explains my political indigestion no? But as an ancient of the type, those tests are really nothing more than psychological astrology..aren't they? :) Hey, will reading several books simultaneously improve my

P. J. Grath said...

Well, BB, please don’t think reading multiple books as simultaneously as possible (obviously, only one is in the hands at any given moment!) is some kind of noble achievement with bragging rights, because it may well be a sign of over-dependence on books. When the Artist and I go anywhere in the car, we each have to have reading material with us, because one of us often choses to wait in the car when the others want to go into a store, and we both prefer reading a book or magazine to fiddling with a phone (unless making a call). When I wake up at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. — way too early to make coffee! — if I couldn’t lose myself in a book, I might lie awake until dawn, thinking, i.e., fretting over every detail of personal and national life, and what would be the good of that?

As for the personality test, oh, yes, I remember! More to the middle of all the pairs but closer to you than you might guess, since IN is much more a reader personality than ES. Not for me the “pending,” though. I like a plan. I like to be able to count on something. Even though every plan and every life must always remain revisable, and indeed revisions seem daily right now, don’t they? After being angrily (I admit it) determined to vote in person, a panic attack persuaded me to request an absentee ballot — because what if I were to become ill and unable to get to the polls? That’s only one example of the kind of middle-of-the-night “thought” that has me grabbing for Proust, rather in the way someone else might grab for pills or alcohol.

And so in the last 10 or so hours, I fell asleep over Sandoz and woke up to Proust.

BB-Idaho said...

I'm not voting in person this year, but by absentee ballot. The local polling places will be slammed- mostly older ladies that sit and run the voting, a hard long job in ordinary times, and with the covid and record turnout, the local county encourages that. I'll miss kidding around with the ladies behind the table (if I give you a $20 tip will you not look at my awful driver license photo?) and have been at every poll for everything for fifty years. Bucket List-wise, I shook JFK's hand in college and wore an 'I Like Ike' button in HS, so voting is a privilege, opportunity and obligation. I try
not to think of the statistics of one old guy's vote out of some
100 million, but win or lose, I take it personally. When I was less
than a year old the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but in the interim,
I have never seen such an awful situation as now. At one time, I stood on the field at West Point, home of Duty, Honor, Country as
a guest of my daughter who was a Chemistry prof there{ we Army types
stood as our branch march was played. I thought at the time it was
a bit hackneyed...but in hindsight, those values are us, not the current ego-driven drivel which has divided the country. At my age,
I hope to see a major course correction back to those values, to
rationality, honesty, caring and empathy. Sorry to rage feels
sort of good. :)

P. J. Grath said...

I have been determined, for weeks, to vote in person -- to go stand in line as I always have. In our August primary here, I was the ONLY person voting in person at 8 a.m., but hundreds of ballots had been delivered to the township office. Now last week I had a panic attack: what if I were sick and couldn't get to the polls? So I picked up my absentee ballot and will also deliver it in person.

A book I read over the weekend was Jimmy Carter's WHY NOT THE BEST? It was written and published before he was elected president. What a guy! Intelligent, dedicated, hard-working, decent -- and when he set out to run for governor and then for president, he set out to READ AND LEARN about the important issues that would make up his job. He believed in the American people when he wrote that book, too, and believed that we deserved honest government. I hope to see those values again in my lifetime, too.

Cheri Walton said...

I did watch the debate, much to my chagrin, and all you anticipated, and more, came true. If I hadn't had a neighbor here to watch with me, I would have turned it off after the first couple of minutes. It was a horror show.

I, too, like to vote in person. It makes me feel good and patriotic. But this year I can't because of my temporary immobility (due tp my upcoming hip surgery). I will miss of the view times I feel patriotic and proud to be an American. I've already filled out the form and sent it in to vote by mail...........but it isn't the same. What in the world is happening to this country??

P. J. Grath said...

Cheri, I know so well what you mean! I too love that feeling of community participation, the feeling that all of us, all over the country, are calmly fulfilling our duty as citizens. I love seeing my neighbors, all of us simultaneously determined, serious, and happy, even celebratory. We are missing SO MUCH these days -- and for a multitude of reasons, not simply a pandemic virus in the land. Let's pray we live to see better days.