Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Numb Fury

Lately, when I hear about coral reefs being bleached, or particles of carbon in the atmosphere, or rabidly migrating invasive species, or any and all of the other news about our changing climate, I find myself a bit numb.

Which is odd. I’ve been so long on the side of the passionately hopeful, believing that if we care enough and act humbly and wisely enough, we can yet pull of this grand trick of saving the world.

And I can still say and write the right the words, but they have an ashy hollow feeling now. I don’t seem to be able to work up a lather for presumed demise and resurrection of the abstract as well as I once could.

What has changed?

Just that I am learning to live with loss and I no longer believe all wrongs can be righted with enough love and elbow grease. My father died in April, my uncle died in December. The shape of my world is vastly altered without these wonderful men in my life.

I hate it. I miss them every day and may never believe that I’ll never speak with either again, never hear my dad’s laugh or make terrible puns with my uncle. I’ll never hug them again.

It is unmooring, to have beloved constants there one minute and then going, going, gone forever.

This, somehow, makes the presumptive loss of life on Planet Earth at once easier to comprehend the scope of and less acceptable to allow to happen unchallenged.

We cannot repeat the past. We cannot turn on a dime to restore old-growth forests, pump crude oil back in the ground, unbleach the Great Barrier Reef, or grow back eroded coastlines. We cannot bring back the dead or live in the past.

Speaking historically and climatically, the past wasn’t perfect. The past was where we learned to haul oil and coal out of the ground and burn it, before we knew what damage it could cause. We learned to put it in our cars and airplanes and factories before we knew it could get in our lungs, before we knew that more isn’t always better. We hunted species to extinction and poisoned our waters. When we talk about protecting and preserving, about re-growing former environments, it starts to sound like an idealized past we are trying to recreate. We’d like, please, a second chance, to hit reset with all of the rainforest, but none of the pollution.

My personal past wasn’t perfect. My father had alcoholism. Living with and loving him was a lot like being in a hurricane zone—the erratic storms of his moods were unpredictable, regular, and unnavigable. I don’t know why he drank—other than addiction is a sort of emotional and chemical parasite that, inside people we love, creates a need greater than any other for whatever substance feeds the monster of the disease. I don’t know if there was anything more we could have done to help him to stop before it killed him. The part of me that may never heal over Dad’s death is that it was preventable, but between his disease and our furious loving ignorance at how to help him, the disease won, rather than all the brilliant and kind and creative and big-hearted parts of my dad. The monster won, not our love. That will always sting.

I don’t want that past back, fully. I want the good parts, with our lessons learned all around, so that we can go forward whole again. I have thought, so many times, that “I get it, I’ve learned how much I love my dad, how fragile and brief life is and how much people matter. I’d like him back now and I know that the man he was in the week before he died learned his own lessons and would like to come back too, please!”

But we don’t get that. No one, no place or species or ecosystem or weather pattern gets to hit restart.

The last thing I heard my father say—almost exactly a year ago—was “it’s going to be okay, it’s all going to be okay.”

As last words go, they aren’t bad. Sometimes I find them comforting, other times so infuriating that I’ll scream. Because it hasn’t been okay, it isn’t okay, and it will never become okay that this was how my father left the people and the world he loved so much.

It has also, with a terribly normality, become okay that he isn’t here anymore. Not always, but the unimaginable has become the daily and the real, and we are all adapting but surviving to this new world.

If my father could have been treated for his disease before it was too late, he would still be here. If there were a treatment for my uncle’s rare and aggressive cancer, he would still be here.

When I think about climate change, I can’t help thinking that we do have all of the information and the science and many of the solutions staring us in the face. And yet we are choosing, with our inactions, not fix the problems before us. I have seen people die for lack of treatment and intervention, and I can't fathom that we're as people letting the world waste away when we have enough of the answers to be smarter.

I think that my numbness at re-hearing the same but worse climate news may just be sleeping fury that what can be salvaged in this world with its biological prerogative for life and survival, adaptation and resilience is not being treasured. Treatments to the causes of climate change are well-known (use less, think more), the science is in that we are doing this to ourselves as a people, life is short and the world beautiful…what else do we need to know in order to act?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Three Branches in Mud Time

Robert Frost, with an incongruous tool of unity, but he's a poet so it'll make sense somehow.
image from

Taylor Family lore is that Dad lulled my sisters and I to sleep as babies by explaining the tripartite system of Federal government. There is something to the idea of imagining us as fussy babies being swaddled up and held by a mustachioed man in a flannel shirt, talking about the differences between the Judicial, Executive and Legislative branches of government, rather than cooing about good-night moons and Pat the Bunnies.

The nuances, of course, were lost on our young minds, but when the system of checks and balances, of the interconnecting functions of a working system of government are some of your bedtime stories, you grow up believing in justice, compromise, and the possibility of good governance. Thanks to Dad’s reverence for the system—and irreverence for many of the players—and Mom’s practical liberalism, my sisters and I all lean towards common sense, fairness, and Socialism. (That is, unless anyone is offering any of us the Executive Queenship.)

Given my history, beliefs and hopes, I found myself in the strange position of running through the roster of GOP candidates to see if there was anyone, anyone, I could vote for in the State Primary this Tuesday. I want a bland but unifying candidate. I want someone who is a unifier, a compromiser, a person who understands give and take, and gets things done. I want a boring moderate, a kind person. I do not need to agree on all their talking points, I care more about how they work—if they work, that they work well with others, for others—than what they brashly promise they will do.

I am a Feminist, I am an Environmentalist, I am a Socialist. I want universal healthcare, I want freedom from religious persecution, I want global equity, I want a clean planet and an educated, engaged fulfilled workforce. I want world peace and the right to be left alone. I want taxes raised and people employed to fix our nations infrastructure. I want abortion to be safe, legal, rare, and paid for by universal single-payer healthcare. I want biologically and emotionally grounded sex-education available to everyone. I want gun use regulated. I want poverty eliminated. I want the stigma of addiction erased so people aren’t to death embarrassed about needing medical help for this condition. I want comprehensive action on climate change. I want us as citizens to stop being such sandy-eyed ostriches about the ways in which our own daily lives, actions, and insulating choices feed the evils of the world.

But, more than anything, I want a government that works, that unites the people, represents our best selves to the world, and takes care of those who are struggling. And for that, I want not a fiery passionate presidential candidate who can rally a base, rock the vote, or rattle the establishment.

I want an adult.

And not just one adult. I want 546 adults: one in the White House, nine at the Supreme Court, a hundred in the Senate, 535 in the House of Representatives, and one Vice-President as a security measure.

Further, I’d like this team of people to do their jobs.

Which is to work together to govern these United States. There are certain responsibilities of each branch of government, things that they can and cannot do, things that they can only do with the permission of other branches.

Being the middle of three sisters, my role was not exactly a peacemaker. I did not mediate between disagreements with a distant sanctity. Keeping peace and good enough relations with a tripartite of sisters is more a mutual dance of calculating compromise, a sororial Machiavellianism. I ate Hannah’s peas so we could all go out for ice cream—if those peas didn’t leave her plate, I wasn’t getting ice cream either. There is sort of a running score card of who needs to get her own way today, and who needs to get her only pair of clean underpants stuck in the freezer on the last day of vacation. The system breaks down when one person takes up all the airtime with tantrums or tyrannical blindness or selfish dramatics. The system functions beautifully on empathy, compromise, and fairness.

Right now, our government is broken. With an even number of Supreme Court Justices, that branch is wounded, unable to play its full part in fleshing out the laws that do change people’s lives, that I non-denominationally pray will pull the arc of history ever more and quickly towards justice.

And then we have the President, who is in his final months in office and, while he hasn’t governed with the spark and fire of his 2008 campaign, has done many things I support. But, that is me, a liberal Socialist from New England with a Masters degree and a fundamental belief in the human necessity of racial justice. The fact remains that it is difficult, has been difficult, for President Obama to accomplish much in part because of the intense opposition of the Republican controlled Congress. I hate to think that some of this opposition is racially, rather than merely politically motivated, but I think so nonetheless. Regardless, we are at a point where the Executive Branch is shorn of the office’s potential.

Meanwhile, the men and women in Congress are so deadlocked that I suspect a bill to rescue kittens from trees would die on the floor. Meanwhile, people are dying of gun violence, disease, post-war trauma, and health problems relating to pollution, and Congress seems as if all it does is point fingers across the aisle and at the White House and at the Supreme Court and yell that it is all their fault, they started it, those horrible Wall Street bankers or Muslims or Women or Christian Fundamentalists or Liberals or Conservatives or Blacks or Whites or Media Elite or Immigrants or The Patriarchy or Welfare Dependents or Unions or Abortionists or Jews or LGBTQs or Multinational Corporations or anyone on Earth who is not me and my little tribe. We are blameless, we are the saviors, and we will yell the loudest and drum up the most support and then we will have political clout and when we get to Washington, we’ll change everything!

Thus, the Legislative Branch yells itself into disfunction.

As for these angry candidates who promise to change everything, unless we are going to have a major political coup—which is unlikely given inherent inability within our geography to gather enough True Believers of any cause to logistically coordinate an effective overthrow—then I find it difficult to put my faith in anyone’s word about fomenting political change based on personal ideology and rhetoric.

Nothing will change if we keep electing people who yell more than listen, who would rather commit seppuku than compromise, who either do not know the checks and balances and responsibilities and limits and realities of the offices they seek, or are flagrant liars. A President cannot—without the cooperation of at least one other branch—build a wall, underwrite college, fund healthcare, stop cancer, go back to the moon, eliminate ISIS, obliterate racism, screen all borders for people of a single and beautiful faith, create jobs, fix dangerous infrastructure, stop climate change, or purify the waters of our country.

Voting, participating in the political system is not an ala carte burrito where you personally get to select and approve all the ingredients. Unless you are running for Dictator of your own country, you will not love everything about a candidate. You can vote for a person who you disagree with on some issues. You can vote for a person who you think, given the realities of the role, would make a good president even if you don’t want to get a beer with them—odds are, you won’t be having a beer with the President. You can vote for a person who’s tie or pantsuit or social media presence or race or gender you aren’t comfortable with—the person and their abilities to listen and  compromise, balance and unify are what matter.

Along with the U.S. Government 101, we Taylor babies were tucked in at night with a healthy dose of Robert Frost. One of my mother’s favorites is from Two Tramps in Mud Time, which contains this line: My object in living is to unite.

I will vote for anyone and everyone who lives by those words.