Blogtober 6-End: How That Went

Ok, I said I was going to write about what happens when a writer decides to do Inktober. So here’s what happened.

I got tired and overwhelmed, and I quit.

But I started writing more.

Here’s how it went down.

Numbers 6-7: I’ve Totally Got This!

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I drew these two on my first double duty days–that is, the first two times I pulled the inadvisable but unavoidable stunt of working both my jobs in the same day. This entails leaving the house at 5:30AM and not getting back until after 10 at night, with only my time on the bus and a handful of 15-30 minute breaks in between to call my own.

I now do this Wednesday-Friday every week. It’s quite draining, and I think in part it’s what did me in. At first, though, it was very exciting to wildly scribble within the narrow cracks in my schedule, trying to beat the clock in a fit of semi-masochistic self-assertion. “If I can find time to do Inktober,” I thought, “why, anyone can find time to do Inktober!”

Around this point in the process, something curious began to happen. Some time before, I’d stumbled across an intriguing bit of story in my subconscious called The Bear and the Butterfly, but after a few short spurts I figured I would probably leave it by the wayside like every other idea I’ve had since who knows when. However, after a week and a bit of prying into my creativity on a daily basis, my thoughts began to twitch back to it. This is how Number 7 came to be. The bear is Morton and the butterfly is Cecilia, and they’re two of my new favorite people.

I feel I must tell you, however, that the bear in the picture above is not Morton. This is Morton:

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As you can see, they are two entirely different characters. Unfortunately, as you can also see, it took me a couple of tries to get his nose into the right place, and all of those tries were in pen. This would not do. In my attempt to cover up the smudge on his snout through the liberal application of shading, I completely lost track of Morton and wound up with–I guess Smokey? I found this rather disheartening. Anyway, it taught me to stop resisting pencil underdrawings.

Numbers 8-9: The Beginning of the End

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These were both done late on the night of Sunday the 9th. By the time I was done with the Little Dancer, into which I put some decent effort, all I had in me was abstract doodling. As the swirligigs up top started to look like antlers, my thoughts meandered in the direction of a certain obscure and very disturbing French novella which also involves antlers, and things . . . got a little weird. The finished product was slightly less crappy than I expected, but it didn’t mean a lot to me, and I wasn’t convinced that it hadn’t been a waste of time.

. . . And the Rest.

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These were all done as quickly as possible, for the sake of getting them over with. Numbers 11-13 were all drawn on the same day, 11 and 12 mostly on the bus and in very poor lighting. This is not to say that I took no joy in them–once I get started drawing, I always wind up becoming more engaged than I think I will. I even like them reasonably well, especially Number 13. But the whole thing had become a chore, one I was having increasing amounts of difficulty mustering the energy to accomplish. I was losing sleep and losing steam.

I wasn’t writing the story that was still teasing at me.

I said to myself, “Self, Inktober is hard. That’s not an excuse, because everything is hard. You’ve been scraping by on scrounged and stolen moments, you could keep this up if you really wanted to. But is that really the best use of your time and sanity? What if you worked as hard on what’s arguably the central pursuit of your life as you have been on this fizzling fling with the visual arts? Why don’t you take this new time you’ve found hidden in your impossible days and spend it working on that story?”

So that’s what I’ve been doing. A page, a paragraph, sometimes a sentence at a time, the tale of Morton the bear and Cecilia the butterfly is growing. It’s all very clumsy and will have to be massively rewritten one day, but I think, at least for now, it’s where I belong.

Blogtober 1-5: Late to the Party

So my brother messages me and asks me if I’ll be participating in Inktober.

I proceed to look up Inktober.

After discovering that it means producing one ink drawing every day for a month, I tell him, no, that’s not really my thing.

He sends me a picture of his first Inktober drawing.

I decide to start doing Inktober.

I’m not sure why I make this decision. I’ve taken a few art classes, I like the idea of being good at it, and given unlimited time I can do a halfway decent job of copying a photograph. But I’ve never devoted any serious time to improving my skills, I’m hopeless without a model, and I’ve really only produced a few rough sketches.

Hmm. That sounds like my relationship with writing. A little too much, actually. Only I’m supposedly serious about writing. And here I am doing Inktober. Because it’s fun?

All right, I say to myself, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun, but I ought to at least get some writing out of it. I also notice that a lot of the things that stump me about drawing are the same things that stump me about writing, only encountering them through a medium I’m less familiar with brings them out in their most basic forms. I could learn a lot from this, I muse.

So here’s my Ink-Blogtober, with the first five days crammed into one massive post. I’m going to write about what happens when a writer (and, as my brother likes to call me, a filthy casual) decides to do an artist’s equivalent of NaNoWriMo. Prepare for excessive self-analysis and low-quality art supplies.

1.An Abortive First Venture

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Mmm, that baby face. That utter confusion of perspective.

The first problem is figuring out where to start. Yes it’s tautological, but it’s also one of the most depressing and frustrating things I know of, especially if you’re out of practice. I’m pretty well out of practice with writing at this point, so you can imagine what it’s like with drawing.

The best I can figure is, you start with what you have. I looked into my idle mind and saw that I kind of wanted to draw something with a swoop, probably the hair or hood of a bending woman, so that’s where I started. At this point lack of skill takes over, and the first few clumsy strokes of a pen narrow down substantially what the finished drawing can be. Or that’s how it feels–maybe that’s a lie, and they’re just suggestions eagerly seized upon by a mind that desperately wants the decision taken out of its own hands. Query: does this hatred of freedom lessen as you get better at enacting your own will? It seems to work that way in the unpopular practice of adulting. Maybe some day I’ll find out if it works for art too.

Vexingly, in the process of chasing my wisp of an idea, I got corralled into drawing something I’d rather have avoided–legs and feet. A professional would take this as an opportunity to get better at legs and feet. I, the filthy casual on day 1, elected not to bother about it. As a result, I’m dissatisfied with this drawing.

When I sent it to my brother, he said, “Hey you did something. Nice job.”

Oh yeah, that’s right. I did something. That’s better than I did the day before. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Retreat to Safety

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I wasn’t intending to make a Harry Potter reference, I swear. Owls just don’t look right to me anymore unless they’re carrying something.

On day 2 I decided I wanted to draw something I knew I could do without embarrassing myself. I’ve spent enough time copying birds out of my How-To-Draw Animals book to have a rough idea of how wings work. Also I like owls.

While this drawing is substantially more presentable than the other, and is even kind of cute if I say so myself, at first I felt strangely ashamed of it, precisely because it was something I already more or less knew how to draw. Something in me has the impression that if I’m going to go far enough out of my comfort zone to do Inktober in the first place, I should do it thoroughly and choose only the most challenging of challenges.

I’ve always had a tendency to throw myself into the deep end of whatever I do. I’ve also left the path behind me littered with abandoned projects and pursuits. I tell myself that I’m grappling with the dilemma of courage versus patience, trying to strike a balance between growing from my mistakes and building a foundation to work from. In reality I’m mostly being shunted around by a conflicted ego between fear and boredom. Fear of exploration and failure masquerades as patience, whereas boredom with the unglorious passes itself off very well as courage. Recognizing this is helpful in getting over myself, even if it doesn’t entirely help me solve the first dilemma.

3. Rediscovering Joy

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Get it?

This was the day I let myself draw from a model, and also the day I realized that markers count as ink. It was a good day.

Given that I don’t do a whole lot of art, markers are the only ink-bearing instruments I own that permit any kind of free-flowing stroke. It’s amazing the psychological shift that occurs when your utensil begins to glide across the paper instead of having to be shoved. One difficulty is removed from the tangle of obstacles that lies between the imagination and the paper, and all sorts of things suddenly seem possible–one is given the gift of spontaneity.

At least that’s how it feels to a rookie like me who doesn’t really know how to be spontaneous.

Letting myself draw from a model was immensely comforting. As I mentioned before, trying to generate a picture (or a story) from scratch can be a bit torturous for me. I know some people find it exciting. This makes me wonder if I’m doing it wrong, or if that’s just not the kind of artist I am. For day 3, however, I decided to put those worries aside and draw a portrait of an old friend. It was a lot of fun, because I lost a lot of my anxiety but was still challenging myself–I’m a good deal less comfortable with real actual 3-D models than I am with pictures, and I’m accustomed to working in pencil and erasing everything five times before I’ll stand by it.

Turns out, I learned something, not just about myself and my failings but about actually drawing. I learned that a little fictionalization of detail here and there is perfectly acceptable, sometimes even a good thing, as long as the proper feeling is conveyed.

Or at least, that’s what I decided. I hope that’s right.

4. Continued Insecurities

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This one turned into some kind of abstract zentangle mindfulness . . . thing. That’s awkward.

This drawing happened when I tried to connect to my subconscious, realized I couldn’t possibly draw the one image I found there, decided to try anyway, chickened out, then spent the rest of the drawing doodling. Long story short, it has no real feeling behind it but is rather an aggregate of broken dreams and compromise.

Also it’s the first time I tried starting from pencil and inking it in afterward. Meh.

That’s all I have to say about that.

5. A Bit of Fancy

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I simply could not get a picture of this that I liked. I also produced it an hour or two ago, so I have very little perspective.

I tried starting from pencil again, and I think it went a little better this time. I treated the pencil outline less as a finished product and more as a means to an end, and I think that was a good call. However, now that I’ve inked in the design, all sorts of things are jumping out at me that I hadn’t noticed before–her head is disproportionately large, her left arm while more or less accurate kind of looks like it’s on backwards, the drape of her over-tunic doesn’t quite make sense. The main take-home seems to be, I need to be more patient, more careful. Just because I’m drawing something made-up doesn’t mean I’m allowed to be sloppy about it.

For some reason, I find that comforting.

What Makes You So Special

I promise, this post is not all about me. But it had to start somewhere.

Like many people, I have had a complicated relationship with the word “special.”

I’ve been assured that I was special for so long, it’s become something I can’t help believing. What it means is another question. During my first years in school, it wasn’t hard to see that I was different from my classmates, and the adults in my life assured me that this wasn’t a bad thing. Being special made it more ok that I didn’t know how to be friends with my peers in elementary or middle school, that I read or walked around the playground singing instead of connecting with other humans. I clung to it. Deep down, I still do.

Senior year of high school, being special became a crushing weight of expectation I didn’t feel able to live up to. Senioritis mingled with some subspecies of Impostor Syndrome (I didn’t doubt my potential, but I was convinced I was too worthless ever to fulfill it) and pulled me into a highly unproductive emotional swamp that lasted most of the year. I slept too much. With the help of my parents and one very kind teacher, I eventually pulled through.

I am now navigating another crossroads–the beginning of proper adult life in the real world–and the expectations feel different this time. Before, we all knew where I was going, and only I glumly feared that I might not get there. This time, there are so many possibilities, so many decisions. The people who care about me are telling me not to settle, and this is good advice which I intend to take. But sometimes that advice is accompanied by another clause, either spoken or assumed: “because you’re special.” As though it would be all right for some people to settle, but not me.

Our society also has a complicated relationship with the word in question. On the one hand, there are many kind-hearted people who believe that everyone deserves to feel special, and some of them take steps to make it happen. There are also many people who disagree with the methodology often employed by the first group, and some of them wind up saying in blogs and on social media that all of us kids need to get over ourselves, that we aren’t as special as we think we are. Snowflakes tend to get dragged into it. Sometimes one person can be both of these types of people without noticing.

All of this has been bothering me. There’s something very important at stake here, and I can’t seem to agree wholeheartedly with anyone in the discussion. I’ve been trying to set aside all the aesthetic issues and personal preferences that get tangled up in the matter, and this is the hard, beautiful truth I have arrived at:

You are not any more or less special than anyone else.

See, I tried to figure out what being special has ultimately meant for me all these years, and it came down to two things. 1) I have something unique and wonderful to offer the world. 2) No matter what mistakes I make, I can and will be forgiven, and there will always be another chance.

Every human being is created as a unique manifestation of the image of God, and staying true to that image is the most wonderful gift that anyone could offer the world.  Every human being is loved unconditionally by God, Who gives us as many chances as we are willing to take.

No buts.

I exhort my fellow Christians, we need to know this. We can’t compromise. We must come to grips with the startling, almost threatening realization that every single person in the world, starting from where each of them is right now, has the same infinite potential to be interesting, to be lovable, to influence other lives for the better as every other person including us. We must not shy away from the overwhelming thought that we have infinite potential ourselves. More than this, we must use every means at our disposal to communicate this message to as many people as possible. Because I guarantee you, those whose lives and choices tempt you to question the truth of this, they are the poor souls who don’t know it themselves.

I have friends who have given up on the concept of humanity because of the crimes of fallen man, and it just kills me inside. While I deeply respect and even share their pain and sorrow, I struggle not to shout at them what a monumental mistake they are making. I nearly burst with the wanting to tell them that the evil they see does not unmake the eternal, foundational good of our true being, that hope can never be destroyed because the Source of our hope is everlasting.

Those of us who already believe this, in theory, are often quicker to attribute the infinite love of God to the distant instrument of evil than to our neighbor, whom we consider unextraordinary.

As though to be a potential vessel of breathtaking divine beauty were something other than ordinary.

I’m Not That Kind of Person

We have this notion in our language and society that there are different “kinds” of people. We devote a lot of time and energy to figuring out what kind of people we and the people around us are, presumably feeling that, on failing to discover who we are, it’s the next best thing. It’s not an entirely useless pastime, but it does raise a number of very important problems.

When I was in middle school, I did something that, if related in a work of fiction, would be considered unbelievable behavior from anyone but the villain of the piece, or at least a noted eccentric. A mother and her child were visiting the small religious school I attended during my K-8 years. We didn’t have many students from outside the parish the school was attached to, so for strangers to show interest in us was an exciting event. When we all went into the church for prayers, they wandered in, wide-eyed, and, not being incorporated into the system of who stood where, they settled on a completely arbitrary patch of carpet.

This just so happened to be my patch of carpet.

I spent the better part of the service standing just a bit aloof from them, eyeing them with rancor, and slowly edging towards them. Eventually, they looked up at me like startled deer, and left. I thereupon resumed my spot.

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Such rancor.

I am tempted to end the story here. Every day, we all condemn people based on far less information than I have just given you. From an inconvenient stranger to a bothersome family member, whenever a behavior as much as gets on our nerves, our immediate impulse is to say, “Man, I hate those kinds of people.”

At the time that the incident took place, I felt perfectly justified in my actions. It wasn’t until one of my peers called me out on it that I realized exactly what I had done. In that moment, I was gripped by a shame from which I will probably never be free, at least in this lifetime.

Some time afterward, I was riding home from somewhere with an adult friend of mine. At some point in the drive, he asked me, with obvious discomfort, “You’re not the kind of person who’s picky about things like, I don’t know, where you stand in a room, are you?”

My immediate and sincere response was, “No, of course not.” My friend seemed relieved to hear this. And then I remembered. I remembered, and I realized that he must have heard about the incident from my classmates, but didn’t want to believe it, because the kind of person who would do that didn’t line up with the kind of person he trusted me to be.

There were reasons for what I did. There are always reasons. Mine had to do with old internalized thought patterns springing from an exaggerated and defensive notion of my own individuality, nurtured by an only partially delusional sense of persecution. But my reasons are not special. They do not excuse me, and they also do not set me apart from every other human being in the world who has made and continues to make mistakes, sometimes very bad ones. The thing that sets me apart from them is that the vast majority of them do not have the opportunity, and possibly do not have the personal clarity or the nerve to explain their reasons to you.

If you can’t see how my prepubescent identity issues line up with the particular act of unkindness I have described, that’s fine. I’m not going to connect the dots for you, because there are always connections that we do not see and cannot imagine. If you can look at my shame and my friend’s surprise and confusion and see that I am not reducible to the words “that kind of person,” if you can do this without a complete and intimate knowledge of my internal and external circumstances, then perhaps you might be willing to question your judgements of others, about whom you know even less. If you can see that I am not reducible, then perhaps you will one day accept, as I am struggling to, that no other human being is either.

Mad As the Sea and Wind

I’ve been writing down all the lines in Hamlet that pertain (or could be construed to pertain) to madness. Here are a few of my favorites. Points for knowing or guessing who said them.

He waxes desperate with imagination.

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Mad call I it. For, to define true madness,

What is’t, but to be nothing else but mad?

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Now could I drink hot blood,

And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on.

*

Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep,

And as the sleeping soldiers in th’alarm,

Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,

Start up and stand on end.

*

My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time

And makes as healthful music.

*

O heat, dry up my brains.

*

Thought and afflictions, passion, hell itself,

She turns to favor and to prettiness.

*

How came he mad?

Very strangely, they say.

How strangely?

Faith, e’en with losing his wits.

Return

The photographer happens to share my last name. No relation.

I felt the moist evergreen cold as a bracing companion, airing me out, and letting in the middling-early morning sunshine. I heard Brandon behind me, panting a bit from the hike, sinking into the dead redwood needles. “It should be right around here, shouldn’t it?” he said.

I paused, and sent a piercing glance through the trunks around us. “No, I think it’s a bit farther up.”

The scattered groupings and uneven spaces among the redwood trees play tricks on your mind, making every unmarked area look just as familiar as every other unmarked area. Anything distinctive is almost certainly man-made.

To the left, I glimpsed a triangular opening among the trees, and saw the old bit of trunk where Matthew and I had sat when he told me the story of the mermaids in the duck pond, with the vine fingers, so beautiful I believed it was true. But a few steps and it turned out to be only a clump of ferns, only an unspecified bit of hillside no one had bothered to remember. To the right, there was the sea of ivy that Sarah and I had fallen down in, and swum and splashed and drowned, then lay still, looking up at the forest and listening, steeped in jade. But no, the ivy covered only a square foot or so, and it was bordered by several large and rather threatening stones.

Brandon and I passed through the trees as through seaweed, breathing with our gills the sharp, warm scent, the dew, and the slow-flowing past, towering high above us. For a time, we had no end to our motion, but trudged as a fulfillment.

At length, our end appeared before us. The gray-painted plywood pixelated out before us in crumbling crenelations, and I heard the shouts and saw the clattering youth dashing from parapet to tower and down the worn-wood ladder, fleeing the fortress to escape the invaders. I saw a young girl sweep across on the swing, head back, her hair flying and dragging in the soft red-brown of the needles.

The swing, the first swoop of grace ever to be drawn upon my mind, creaked and frayed before us. It faintly swung before the creaking, fraying castle. They whistled with emptiness.

And yet they were full.

Two Patches of Resonance

And Prince Andrew, crossing his arms behind him, long paced the room, now frowning, now smiling, as he reflected on those irrational, inexpressible thoughts, secret as a crime, which altered his whole like and were connected with Pierre, with fame, with the girl at the window, the oak, and woman’s beauty and love.

Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book VI Chapter 3

Great Books translation

I’m trying something new, filling in the dead time between long posts with snippets of things that catch my eye. I’ve been reading War and Peace for school this summer, it’s the text for the first couple seminars of senior year at St. John’s, and this passage struck me so that I had to write in down in a notebook. Perhaps it will strike you too. Have you never now frowned, now smiled, at thoughts which could be given no form, but which all the same seemed, and were, terribly important?

This notebook.

This notebook.

Here, have another for good measure. This is the other passage that made its way into my notebook.

He had the unfortunate capacity many men, especially Russians, have of seeing and believing in the possibility of goodness and truth, but of seeing the evil and falsehood of life too clearly to be able to take a serious part in it.

Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book VIII Chapter 1

Great Books Translation

Remembered Light

I once had a friend named Daniel. Well, I suppose he was my friend, because we sat together in math, and because we were in drama together, and because he was always the sort to spill over in good will, so wonderfully kind and funny to whoever was in his proximity. This was back in high school, a little place called PCS. I haven’t seen him in a long time. I don’t think he would change.

At first he was scraggle-toothed, a bit large, and he had a long fringe of hair that hung down in dirty-blond grass-spears around his eyes and his very assertive nose. By rights, his appearance ought to have been alarming, but he had such a warmth that you sort of forgot about his face (except, naturally, for when he would purposefully contort it into gargoyle grimaces). Of course, he was in eighth grade then, and over the years he grew into himself. Also, he got a haircut.

I usually spent my break in the drama room. It was a safe space where, even if nobody talked to me, I could sit back in one of the armchairs and observe, and be considered well within my rights as a fixture.

Also in our drama class was Shaw, a really sweet, beautiful guy whom everyone was a bit in love with. I certainly was no exception. One day, during one of the drama room breaks, Shaw was talking about leaving PCS. Everyone went a little quiet. Daniel, however, began dramatically interrogating him regarding this unacceptable proposition.

“LEAVING? (He says he’s leaving!) What do you Mean, LEAVING?”

Shaw’s face began to soften. “I might go to Harbor High next year.”

“HARBOR HIGH?!” Daniel craned his neck forward and drew out his words, dwelling on the consonants. “And what Possible Reason could you have for Abandoning this Fine Institution to go, of all places, to HARbor HIGH?”

“I have friends there,” said Shaw.

“HE Has FRIENDS there!” Daniel said, entreating the heavens with both hands. He looked round at the rest of us with the gesture of a prosecution attorney and the scowl of Beauty’s Beast. “Can you Imagine, this blighter says he has FRIENDS at HARBOR HIGH!”  He then began slamming his fist into his palm repeatedly and stormed out of the room, muttering “Ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw.”

A moment or two later, he came in through another door, looking somewhat confused, and said, “Hey man, I just saw Daniel out in the hallway, pacing up and down and saying, ‘Ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw.’ What did you say to him, man?”

Shaw smiled (he always had such a disarming smile) and assumed a politician’s pose, leaning forward, palms together. “I told him I’m going to Harbor High.”

“WhAAaaAaAAaAT?!!”

“I don’t know what to tell you, man.”

“Ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw . . . “

A few moments later.

“Whoa dude, this is crazy. I just saw Daniel and Bill out in the hallway pacing up and down and muttering, ‘Ways to kill Shaw.’ What’s going on man, what did you tell them?”

The smile had become a grin. “I told them I’m going to Harbor High.”

“WhAAaAaaAAAT??!!! Ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw . . . “

A moment later.

“Whoa dude, you need to hide. I seriously just ran into Daniel, Bill, and Steve out in the hallway pacing up and down and muttering, ‘Ways to kill Shaw, ways to kill Shaw.’ What the heck did you do to piss them all off?”

Shaw was helpless with laughter at this point, and weakly squeaked out, “I’m going to Harbor High.”

“WHAAAaaAAaaaAaAATTT???!!!!!”

And it was just the way people always describe being with Robin Williams, we all forgot how sad we were, and how bad Shaw might feel because we were sad, and I’ll never forget or fathom the ability he had to do more than just comfort us, to make us feel better than we did even before we were down, the wonderful flavor of his love for us all.

In the end, Shaw never left PCS. Daniel did.

He left halfway through my junior year, halfway through our eight-person intensive Drama 3 class (Shaw was in on that one too). Something to do with grades, maybe. We had to put the second play on without him.

I don’t know if he went to Harbor High, or somewhere else.

I saw him again at one of the PCS drama class performances. “It’s so great to see you!” he said, and I really think he meant it. I learned that he was playing Alfie Doolittle in his new school’s production of My Fair Lady, which somehow I never managed to see, but I’m certain he was fantastic. Quickly I was just smiling at him, no more small-talk at my call with which to trap him in conversation just a bit longer. And indeed, he soon flew. Those extroverts, you know. They don’t mean anything by it.

I feel his absence like a film running through my heart.

Politipickle

This is my political hat.

It is exceedingly rare that I put on such a hat. Generally, I have been content to let political matters run their course. I have claimed, with expansive and self-contented modesty, that I really don’t know what is best for our country, and that I would rather focus on what is more important and tangible, that is, the state of my more immediate community. On the other hand, I uneasily suspected, and was told from time to time that, for all that, citizenship is an important duty.

What a pickle.

Well, at some point in last semester, we read a few portions of The Federalist, and while reading Number 10 by Madison (whom I like better as a person than the other two, incidentally), I came across what might be the answer to my pickle. (This is where I put on the hat.) I also came to the conclusion that most American citizens are thinking about their elected representatives all wrong.

Most people choose to vote for a candidate based on how closely the two of them agree on various specific issues. They are certain that the general objective z is imperative to the well-being of the country, that z will be lost without the accomplishment of the goal y, and further that measure x is the best way to accomplish y. In short, they determine how they themselves wish to run the government. They then do what they can to elect a finger-puppet, who will dutifully try to do it for them.

There are a lot of problems with this, most of which are familiar to us all. In the first place, even supposing z to be so very important, the workings of a nation and of history are so convoluted that it takes a great deal of observation and deliberation to be able to say with any amount of confidence that y really will be conducive to z. Then there are exponentially more difficulties in determining that x will indeed accomplish y, and in a way still conducive to z.

And then of course there are the problems with the people. We’ve all groaned about people saying whatever it takes to get elected, and then doing their own thing. A subtler evil, and perhaps a worse one, is when the candidate does exactly what he or she was elected to do. That is, (it is usually) he religiously pursues measure x, and others like it, but without perhaps a great deal of care for y, let alone z.  Such a representative has little reason to attempt dialogue and compromise with those who oppose measure x, regardless of how closely they may align with the overall goal of z. Vision is discarded and cooperation crippled, in favor of an aggressive and pointless dogmatism.

All right, enough of this teasing. What is this great truth you have found in the ancient national scripture, you ask me skeptically, which will alter the order of things and bring us salvation?

Good gracious, I say, turning a little red. I didn’t mean to—that is—

Get on with it, you say, and check your watches. (I can hardly blame you, we’re past 500 words already.)

Well, supposing we elected people based on their ability, rather than based on their resemblances to ourselves? Intelligence, integrity, resolution, all difficult things to find, but certainly a good deal more difficult if you require them to be found within the very limited set of people who think the same things you do. Supposing we elect representatives who know what they’re doing, and let them govern the country, instead of trying, ineffectively, to do it ourselves?

I wouldn’t have thought this was such a novel idea, except that I had to explain it to my seminar class. “Here,” I said, “let me read you a passage.” And I read them this:

The effect of the [delegation of the government to representatives] is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.

Of course Madison goes on to describe the possible dangers of such a system, that is, of unscrupulous people who “first obtain the suffrages, and then abandon the interests, of the people,” as previously mentioned. Which is what we see all the time. Which is still going to happen sometimes even if we do focus on trying to elect folks with wisdom, patriotism, and love of justice. What do you think happens if we don’t even try?

The Merry-Go-Round

The day was fluttering quietly in the pale, trite sunshine—or was that the awning? There was no call for perspiration. Instead, Richard J. Berry’s nerves manifested as a small buffeting against the inside of his ribs, as though a frightened kitten had taken up residence in his upper torso.

He was shifting in his starch next to the bunting-bedecked platform upon which his diminutive but oddly compelling opponent was in the process of speechifying. The incumbent mayor couldn’t say exactly why he felt so threatened by this mild-mannered intellectual. The boy’s career up to now had been nothing extraordinary, and what was worse, he had no connection to big business. Richard J. Berry reflexively daubed his forehead, but the handkerchief came away dry. Was it the speeches? They were rhetorically immaculate, it was true, but they contained too many words of four syllables to sink very decisively into anybody’s loyalties. In fact, Richard J. Berry had told the press just the other day that his main worry about Richard C. Berry was that people would confuse their names on the ballot.

Actually, that was not an inconsiderable concern.

“To hell with it,” he thought, and spent the rest of his challenger’s speech regaining his composure and confidence. Here we are, it’s election time come round again. Time to crank up the old political machine, to play the audience to his tune, to make the faces and milk the moment. Time to give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle, yes sir. The old paternal, experienced, chock-full-of-integrity razzle-dazzle.

Before long, Richard J. Berry was up on the podium, giving it all he had given it the last fifty times, but as he went through his spiel, he saw the faces before him darken. For some reason, they were out of step with him. Something had changed.

Richard J. Berry began to wish he had paid a little more attention to his opponent’s speech. Still, he pushed on through to the end. No one applauded. Actually no one. He attempted to be indignant, never in all his many years etc., but an icy wind had begun to blow down the back of his neck. Only now did he glance at his men in the front row—old Jim was doubled over, head between his knees, and Stanley was leaning back, arms and ankles crossed, leveling an eye at the stage worthy of the days of posses and spittoons.

Later, back at headquarters, without a word, they played him the footage. Seen from the front, Richard C. Berry was actually a rather moving figure. He gestured with an odd pathos, and said, “My opponent, ladies and gentlemen, has given the same speech at every rally, every debate, every picnic. The words change, but the significance is the same. He regards this election as a mere formality, and meanwhile trundles the same line of tired ideas around his head, and out of his mouth. Ladies and gentlemen, I have said many things to you today, because I have looked long and hard at the state of this city, and thought longer and harder about how best to maintain the good and remedy the bad. I defy my opponent to respond to even one of my points. I will warrant you, my friends, that he has not listened to a single word I have said to you. And if he does not listen to me, ladies and gentlemen, in this case which most nearly concerns his own interests, still less will he listen to you.”