Hi, Ess. I really should check in more often here, but of course I have many excuses: all those little things I’ve been working on that seem big now and I’ll forget in the future. In between those, I get to see you. I’m not always there, though. For that, I am very sorry.
Sometimes you dress up as Super Essie:
And sometimes you dress up as a cat:
Or you tuck Poppy in for bed:
But sometimes you fall and lacerate your forehead so badly that, when your Mama looks at it, she immediately knows that it is time to go to Children’s Hospital:
And you then endure days of heat and constant applications of Bacitracin:
After which your Puppy Surprise named Missy, whom you received after doing a spectacular job listening and holding still at the hospital, comes with you for removal of those stitches, but has her puppies at the doctor’s:
And even though she’s having a big day herself, Missy still has time to comfort you when you’re waiting to see the doctor.
I’m not going to forget driving straight from work and coming in to see you at your room at Children’s, wrapped up in your Mama’s hug, new stitches in your head, wanting nothing more than to show me the colorful rainbow popsicle you were eating.
And I’m really really not going to forget that when we were all leaving the hospital together, you wanted to ride home with me, and that I drove around town, watching the sun get lower and lower in the sky, listening to your gentle breathing while you napped away the troubles of a long, long day.
Some library books we’ve been reading to Ess recently:
Herman and Rosie is a jazz and NYC-themed love story and when Ess wanted a story read to her in the middle of the night, that’s the one she picked. I think she picked it because it’s long for a children’s book, but it still has a nice gentle pace for late-night.
The Life Cycle of a Penguin is representative of these little (and sometimes not-so-little) factual books that she devours when she’s into something. Right now she’s really into animals having babies. She’s got a birthing center (padded with Kleenex) set up in her room, and after emerging (with plenty of labor sounds — she’s very clear that having an animal is difficult for the mother), her stuffed mammals promptly get licked clean by their moms and begin nursing. Lots of nursing. SOMUCH nursing. It’s very sweet.
And then When the World is Full of Friends — what a great title. Plus, those illustrations by Anna Currey just make your heart sing, don’t they? Mykala and I are going to find something by her to put on our wall.
Mykala and I have what we call everything’s going to be OK moments. They occur when, unexpectedly, you take a deep, clear breath and, finding the typical tightness and anxiety missing, begin to feel the awareness, just over the fence of obligation and the ditch of depression, of a peaceful field of calm.
My understanding of these moments has been subtly, but profoundly, wrong.
You see, like an ignoramus, I took the phrase at face-value: everything (all the events in your life) is (in the future) going to be OK (will turn out nicely).
That’s not it. Really really not it.
As I initially had it, I seemed to imagine on the other side of the fence just undulating hills of astroturf covered in prepackaged food. Like I could, naked and naïve, go to a fake world and experience nice, simple, things; no grit or moxie or spirit required.
Everything is going to be OK means choosing to feel that it will all be… OK. Critically, you are not to be blamed, you are not to feel less-than, you must not accuse yourself of failure when you feel deeply all will not be alright. Rather, the phrase describes a perception that there’s the modicum of a sliver of a possibility in there that you’ll feel, eventually, that it will be.
So, on the other side of that fence of obligation, that ditch of depression, you wish for a variegated, treacherous, beautiful, bountiful, harsh, verdant, real landscape where you get to bring shelter on your back, friends for the journey, a good strong pair of boots, and a thoughtful spirit. To see where you’ll go, what the weather will be that day, and how the seasons will bend you.
This is something like a flowering of Buddhist awareness, and, as always with these sorts of things, the terms are pedestrian, the analogies insufficient, and the lesson only clear once learned.
I read a bit in The New Yorker today about how photographs “can freeze time, but never stop it.” To that end, we sold our townhouse, and this is one of the listing pictures we took.
Before putting in that wood floor, right in the middle of the pictured room, we scribbled a note: that two of us and a baby on the way moved there in 2014. That baby is four-and-a-half now.
I could write about how we’ve had disagreements, fights, Christmas trees, news of births, news of deaths, dancing, piano music, comedies, dramas, stuffed animal ballet shows, infants, toddlers, kids, popcorn, spills, sun, rain, fear, sadness, pain all in this room, but you already knew that. After all, what else is life made up of, exactly? Five years of it just happened to take place here.
Five years, precisely, as it turns out. We’ll close on our new place on the same day in 2019 we did in 2014.
My thinking, years ago, went like this: people, groups of people, compete for limited resources. Even if one side is consistently committed to negotiation, to peaceful compromise (even if BOTH are), physical aggression from a few rogues on one side will inevitably cause armed conflict. How could even the most egalitarian, humanistic leader do anything else, upon witnessing killing of their own?
This evolved to a model of cultural scapegoatism. Violence will arise when there are abundant resources, from just the perception of unfairness or moderately uneven distribution. Tribalism, jingoism, binary exclusivism will then define the in-group by negation. Which is to say, “we are wonderful, we are treated unfairly, and we are the opposite of those people over there.” Those who complain loudest seem to be those who are winning… and suffering the least. So then there’s persecution, murder, war, all metastasizing from a domineering culture who perceives the Other with stereotyping, fear, anger, distrust.
Perhaps, I reasoned, within the framework of a healthy society, one where basic needs of humans are considered, reevaluated, provided for, humanity can reach its potential. The goods and Goods from capitalism can be enjoyed and the cancerous growth of gross inequality regulated — look to Norway, I thought! See how their national competence and foresight took oil wealth and invested it to make the lives of all their residents better and pushed beyond a world powered by oil. If we just built that society, I thought, the bonfire of violence would be starved of oxygen!
And then I read about the nigh-thousand year suffering of the Cagots:
Cagots were shunned and hated. While restrictions varied
by time and place, they were typically required to live in
separate quarters in towns, called cagoteries, which
were often on the far outskirts of the villages. Cagots
were excluded from all political and social rights. They
were not allowed to marry non-Cagots, enter taverns, hold
cabarets, use public fountains, sell food or wine, touch
food in the market, work with livestock, or enter mills.
They were allowed to enter a church only by a special door
and, during the service, a rail separated them from the
“Ok, ok” I thought, “it’s just another example of fighting over something important, some thing arising from insufficient resources.” But then I read further:
The Cagots were not an ethnic group, nor a religious
group. They spoke the same language as the people in an
area and generally kept the same religion as well. Their
only distinguishing feature was their descent from
families identified as Cagots. Few consistent reasons were
given as to why they should be hated; accusations varied
from Cagots being cretins, lepers, heretics, cannibals, to
simply being intrinsically evil.
Then the amorality of it, the nihilistic cruelty sunk in.
Which puts us at my thinking today: it seems to me that the human’s need for a strong sense of belonging and their concept of self is so fragile that violence cannot be blamed on conditions of intractable scarcity, or scapegoatism. No. It seems humans have an instinctual, intrinsic desire to inflict pain and suffering on another. Or, more precisely, an Other.
So that’s where I am today. I propose this: you can give a village, a people, a nation, an entire global society universal basic income, healthcare, justice, democracy, and they will destroy it, just to watch it burn. Because that is the essence of the human animal.
But we won’t know if my guess is correct until we first build that society. So let’s built it and hope I’m wrong.
“The central issue is we’re developing into a
plutocracy,” he told me. “We’ve got an enormous number of
enormously rich people that have convinced themselves
that they’re rich because they’re smart and constructive.
And they don’t like government, and they don’t like to
In an attempt to shed light on this heavy issue, the
Italian physicists Alessandro Pluchino and
Andrea Raspisarda teamed up with the Italian
economist Alessio Biondo to make the first ever
attempt to quantify the role of luck and talent in
successful careers. In their prior work,
they warned against a “naive meritocracy”, in which people
actually fail to give honors and rewards to the most
competent people because of their underestimation of the
role of randomness among the determinants of success. To
formally capture this phenomenon, they proposed a “toy
mathematical model” that simulated the evolution of
careers of a collective population over a worklife of 40
years (from age 20-60).
In general, mediocre-but-lucky people were much more
successful than more-talented-but-unlucky individuals.
It’s not difficult to see why many people take offense
when reminded of their luck, especially those who have
received the most. Allowing for luck can dent our
self-conception. It can diminish our sense of control. It
opens up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about
obligations to other, less fortunate people.
So, here’s the point: you’ve got the Gilded Age in the early 20th century, where the increase of inequality, the dizzying heights of wealth reached by the 0.1% were stopped by a Great Depression, a World War (the second), and a rebuilding of American society based on sane taxes and regulations that reduced inequality. Today, we’re right back at that gilded level of inequality. A bunch of selfish humans want more. Some of them get more. Some of them get much much MUCH more. Introspection is limited. Philosophy non-existent. Myths of personal exceptionalism and meritocracy abound and suffocate independent, compassionate, and logical thought. Which leaves you with an eye-wateringly rich class of human who think they got there as an award for being special.
Both of the following upper-class garbage statements spell doom for a liberal democracy:
“Anyone who deserves it will succeed, just like I did.”
“My superior skills guaranteed my success.”
My journey into misanthropy grows ever darker. I wonder where the bottom is.