Sunday, November 07, 2004

Back Under My Rock

Several years ago, I belonged to a book club. Several friends and their friends gathered together to have dinner—each cooked by the rotating host—and to discuss a book. Selection of the books would also rotate. It appeared to be a congenial group, including a few of my dearest friends at the time. It was a disaster of Titanic proportions.

Maybe it was me. Maybe my Southern upbringing had not prepared me for the bluntness of one New York yuppie who regarded Jane Austen as “girlie fiction suitable only for 14-year-olds.” Maybe it was a mistake to open up to the group’s cruelty books that had been central to my intellectual and spiritual development. Maybe it was naïve of me to think that a group that was as brutal on other novels would tolerate my disdain of Thomas Wolfe’s turgid and excessive prose. Barbs were thrown willy-nilly, and friendships were lost. I no longer discuss books with people unless I know them well and trust them.

Discussions of the election are giving me flashbacks to that book club. Call me whatever names you like, but I have never cared much for politics. I remember looking at my tenth grade social studies teacher and admitting that while I understood intellectually why I ought to care, I just didn’t. For most of my adult life, I have been registered as an Independent—not an Independent party, no party. The only exception was when I lived in Philadelphia and registered as a Democrat because I desperately wanted to vote against Frank Rizzo’s return to power. For most presidential elections, I have been deeply unimpressed by both major party candidates, and more often than not, I would go to the polls and leave the presidential vote blank as a statement of my views.

I have come to view that solution as inadequate, so this year I did vote, and two days before the election I made the decision to vote for Kerry although I had deep reservations about whether he would make a good president. It is obvious to me that Bush does not make a good president. But make no mistake, I am just as capable of voting for a Republican next time.

Still I was not at all surprised to see Bush win. As little as I follow politics, I am an avid follower of human nature. The Bush followers understood that the Kerry people were out there—how can the Democrats not have known that people liked Bush? The message of the Bush Republican Party—aside from the actual platform which receded into the background—is that we want to draw the circle tight, get rid of people who are different from us or think different from us, define ourselves as morally superior and those outside the circle as evil. Politics aside, people do this again and again and again. We do it on playgrounds, in book clubs, in workplaces.

Personally, I don’t find much moral superiority in any stance that others’ points of view are indefensible. Others’ points of view are, quite simply, their points of view, shaped by their experiences, their families and friends, their hopes and fears. Some, like racism, are clearly wrong; other stances are still in the process of being negotiated. As much as I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, to name one example, or a company’s right to outsource work in certain circumstances, I know that many people disagree with my views. People I admire and trust. With them, I can have a conversation that explores the real complexity of the issues.

I’m going back to dealing with issues one by one and people one by one. That’s where I can have an impact. The heady world of politics wrote big is not for me.

Meanwhile I am behind on the novel-writing pace at 9,245 words and 18%

But Roland wasn’t pushing his luck. He wanted to think about this new hire overnight, to get her into a normal orientation, which he was obliged to admit he was required to do all too often. It really was impossible to get good help. “Tomorrow will be fine. Be here at 5:30.”

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