A Few Things

The Hill They Climb     Like almost everyone who wasn’t hate-watching Biden’s inauguration with the expectation that he and everyone on the dais was about to be arrested and possibly executed (see below), I was amazed and awestruck by the performance of Amanda Gorman, the twenty-two year old Youth Poet Laureate.

There are many reasons to be concerned and even cynical about the immediate future, but I have to say that most of the cynicism I’ve seen has been coming from the older generations. Millennials and Gen Z have more reason than I do to be cynical—the world they’re inheriting from us, after all, is more polarized than at almost any time in the past, the climate crisis is upon us and will affect them most acutely, and the twenty-first century has bequeathed to them a set of circumstances in which it is structurally almost impossible for them to do better than their parents.

There’s a lot of scornful talk in media and think pieces about the fecklessness of today’s youth, but I don’t see any of that. In my job I am in constant contact with people in their early 20s, and they humble me. They humble me with their energy and their earnestness, which makes me think of the louche irony of Generation X with something approaching shame. They see what they’ve inherited, but aren’t fatalistic. Theirs is the world of the Parkland shooting survivors, of Greta Thunberg, of Malala Yousafzai, of my niece Morgan and nephew Zachary. And of Amanda Gorman.

Gorman’s entire poem was mesmerizing, but one line has become stuck in my head: “America’s not the pride we inherit / It’s the past we step into / And try to repair it.” When I first watched her speak, I heard “prize” instead of “pride,” and was struck by that sentiment—that an American citizenship is a prize, a winning ticket in the global lottery. Then, when I read the transcript, I realized I’d gotten it wrong, and that her phrasing was superior—subtler, though not entirely dissimilar. Inaugurations are invariably forward-looking: setting the stage for the next act, heralding the promise of the future, often in contrast to the troubles of the recent past. But Gorman’s poem reminds us of a sentiment articulated by William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If seeing the confederate battle flag paraded through the Capitol building precisely two weeks before Gorman performed her poem isn’t the most horrifying articulation of this point, I’m at a loss to suggest what is.

And Amanda Gorman, with a deft turn of phrase that is all the more impressive coming from a twenty-something, throws down the gauntlet to the incoming Biden administration: if you ignore the past, you’re abdicating your responsibility.

Qonfusion     Like cult members awaiting the end of the world, QAnon adherents had what effectively comprised a thousands-strong virtual viewing party on inauguration day. As a quick recap: the QAnon conspiracy theory asserts that high-ranking Democrats, Hollywood elites, and liberal-leaning billionaires (i.e. George Soros) are all part of a secret cabal of Satanist, pedophile, child-slave-traffickers, and that Donald Trump has been working this entire time to thwart them and eventually expose them for the malefactors that they are. There have been various times in the past two years when QAnon’s adherents believed their moment of victory—i.e. when Trump would expose the cabal and arrest, and quite possibly execute, them—but like all good doomsday cults, there was always the rationale for kicking the can down the road. BUT. The actual inauguration of Joe Biden as president did seem like a make-or-break moment, and the QBelievers were convinced the inauguration would be the moment when Trump finally played his, ahem, trump card.

Except … not so much.

There was, not unpredictably, a great deal of confused incredulity and outrage, as well as the more astute among the cult wondering if in fact they’d been played this entire time (spoiler alert: DUH).  

I can’t help but feel that QAnon is going to be a bellwether going forward. Some of its adherents have cried bullshit, but there has already been a regrouping. And let’s not forget that QAnon has at least one representative in Congress, in the person of Marjorie Taylor Greene, as well as a handful of others who, while not quite as committed to the conspiracy theory, are certainly Q-curious. But like all cults that promise a moment of cumulative apotheosis—whether that be the aliens coming to take the true believers away, Armageddon, or the mass arrests of blood-quaffing Satanists—excuses are needed to account for why the apocalyptic thing didn’t happen. Apparently, the new line for QAnon is that Trump is still in command, and the entire inauguration was faked (either with doubles standing in for the key players, or the real Biden et al playing their parts under threat of death) so as not to expose the U.S. to attack from an opportunistic foreign power.

Yeah, it makes no sense to me either. Not that any of the other stuff did.

How long will QAnon continue to have traction? I think that will be the measure of whether Trumpism continues to be a significant power in the U.S., or whether it dwindles and fades.

Cats in the Morning, Cats at Night     Last night after I finished writing the previous section, I did what I frequently do after turning off the computer before going to bed—I turn in my chair, lean back, and put my feet up for five or ten minutes and just lose myself in my thoughts. I love that little interregnum between writing and sleeping; I love the darkness and the silence, and the clarity it lends to my thoughts. And I especially love the fact that my cat Catesby almost always senses my meditative state, and comes warbling into my office to climb into my lap, purring loudly.

Moments of quiet contemplation are always made better by the presence of a cat, especially one keen to have her ears and neck skritched.

If the moments just before I go to bed are for Catesby, the moments just after waking are for my cat Gloucester. When I first brought him home as a kitten, I woke the next morning with him curled in the crook of my arm. That was my usual morning, until I started using a CPAP for my sleep apnea. Gloucester didn’t care for the wheezing face mask, but the moment every morning I turn the machine off and remove the mask, I hear a trill and there he is, standing on my chest and snurfling my cheek with his nose. Then he settles in, purring, for however long I lay in bed after waking, and I often think of that first morning when I woke up with a tiny black kitten in the crook of my elbow.

Catesby and Gloucester.

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