I keep thinking about before and after. If you wish for something really badly, if you hope for some big career change or a life partner to walk into your life, if you want more than anything for an agent or a publishing house to say they love your manuscript, if your job ended and your savings are dwindling and you're looking into the abyss and you desperately need a new gig and you really hope it can be a good one, if you look at the pregnancy stick every month and it keeps coming up negative, well, that's the before.
The hardest part of being in the before is the huge gulf you inevitably feel between there and the after. It's like you're on one side of a huge, rushing river complete with deadly rapids and the after, well, it's on the other side cheerily waving to you. You can see it but you can't touch it and you'll be damned if you know how to get there. Build a raft? Maybe a bridge? Rent a copter? How? Improbable, unbelievable, taunting and teasing and terribly, awfully impossible.
And yet people do get from here to there, from before to after. I know. I've done it myself. Watched my spouse do it, watched friends. And when you're comfortably in the after, when you're pregnant or holding your newly adopted baby or the contract is signed or the money's in the bank, you shrug and smile. "That all worked out nicely, no?" And then after a while, when the memory of the angst has faded, you convince yourself that it was meant to be this way, that you needed the before to go just like that because it led inevitably and inexorably to the so very satisfying after.
But when you're in the midst of it, looking with such painful longing across the angrily roaring water, your mind plays tricks. You start thinking it will never happen, it can never happen, and in fact the reason it won't? Because you're making it not happen. The power of negative thinking. And then you start trying to be cheery and positive, wishing on every star, even ones that turn out to be really slow airplanes, always bringing pennies with you for stray fountains, and just generally finding as many ways to be superstitious because that may do the trick, that may turn this into that, no into yes, empty into full. And then if it doesn't right away, you start hating yourself because after all, if it hasn’t happened with all that good luck churning around in the water (not to mention all those perfectly good coins), then you must not be worthy enough. Everyone else does it right, everyone but you.
But you know? The distance from not to have turns out sometimes to be quite short. Just a little hop and you're over the barrier. Just a little skip and you're home free. The ache of wanting settling into the quieter pleasure of the reality of having (always replete with more headaches than you'd quite realized in your daydreams). And it seems so natural, so normal, so everyday. Just a short jump. Not impossible, not at all.
Important to remember that, I think.
In the midst of so much that feels so off balance in the world, it's easy to lose sight of the immediate, the here and now, the goodnesses in life.
So on this day after the Grand and Great Turkey Day feast Tiny Coconut described perfectly, I want to give thanks, recognize and remember.
(Warning, much sappiness ahead. No apologies for said sap. Sometimes it's good to be goopy. This here is righteous sap.)
I am thankful that I have a good marriage. That's no small thing. It is, in fact, something of a miracle to me. My parents didn't. Most of my friends' parents, likewise. I thought this didn't exist or if it did, it was something other people did. But Dan is my best friend, my partner, my lover. It works. Not perfect (what is?) but pretty damned good.
I am thankful that I have a beautiful child with big brown eyes and a captivating giggle. Sure, sometimes I get pissed at his tantrums and general stubborn irritable six-year-old boyness, but after three and a half years of infertility, I can't ever take his existence for granted. (Excuse me while I go hug my boy.)
I am thankful, oh very thankful, that as soon as we admitted Damian had a problem, we stumbled into the answer in the form of a book (The Child with Special Needs) and a nurturing developmental therapeutic preschool as well as a gifted set of therapists. I am even more thankful that all this has been successful. I'm thankful for Damian at age six, who and how he is right now.
I am thankful that we own our house and that we bought while prices were insane but not Jim-Carrey-as-Count-Olaf-laughing-maniacally-and-wreaking-havoc insane. For all its neighbor-related flaws, it's a mighty fine house. It's been good to us. It might end up being even better if the equity provides a nest egg to allow us to move elsewhere.
I am thankful that I'm on page 403 of my first novel. That it will be complete within weeks (um, I think). That I've kept at it. That it may even (too soon to tell) be good. (I hope.)
I am thankful for friends, here and elsewhere, reachable by phone, email, IM, hugs. I'm thankful for my old buddies, the self-styled Gang of Four, still close friends, for internet-kindled friends who have over the years become in-person friends like Toni, Otto, Diane, Michele, and Tiny Coconut.
I am thankful for Tiny Coconut's presence in my life. Thankful for the impulse that led me to start a words-mainly mostly-daily blog complete with comments, the irritation that led her to write a comment in my entry about the grocery strike, the curiosity that led me to her blog, the realization that here was a very cool person, the friendship that has developed in the past year. I feel lucky. Besides which, she makes a mean turkey.
I am thankful that my mother is one of my closest friends. Thankful for her perceptive mind and big heart and great cooking and unwavering, honest support.
I am thankful for the twenty five pounds I lost last year, though not so much thankful for the thirteen I gained back. I will be very thankful for their retreat. Yup.
I am thankful that in this dark cloud of a political regime, people seem to be caring and talking about it a whole lot more than they have in years. I am thankful that I don't have to feel alone in this. I am thankful for the small seeds of hope I feel when I see that anger and that passion.
I am so thankful that the horror and sick fear I felt this spring and summer about Damian's kindergarten fate haven't materialized and instead he's in a nurturing place with a warm teacher and is HAPPY there (though we have to work on the making-friends-at-school thing a bit more).
I am thankful that Cocoa found us and demanded to be brought home a year and a half ago. Sometimes an animal is just an animal. Other times an animal changes a household in ways both mysterious and obvious. My long tailed black kitty of the shiny soft fur and the round yellow eyes and the cricket obsession is one of the latter. Oh, I'm thankful for Dante the catbear too, but he's more the "Hi, Cat" and "Please stop licking my hair now, cat" kind of guy.
I'm surprisingly thankful for Damian's drum set. For a child to have a gift, to discover that talent early, to have the injection of self-esteem, not to mention the pure pleasure of music, these are blessings. Besides, he rocks.
I'm thankful for this blog for a host of reasons. I'm thankful for my readers, the ones who write and the ones who simply read but keep coming back. I like that. I like you.
I'm thankful too for my family's continued health (not something to take for granted!). And for TiVO (also not something to take for granted). And for my sleek new aluminum PowerBook (ooh yeah) and my lovely new Digital Rebel camera and my slim white iPod. And for central air this summer and forced heat this winter, simple pleasures but not so insignificant. And for other material possessions, most especially our it-is-too-sexy! Sienna minivan. But mostly for the intangibles. Health, contentment, love and friendship and mental energy to do (some of) the things I love.
I've spent a lot of time in the past envying what other people have. But sometimes that feels, well, dumb. It's far easier on the soul to look at what you do have. The rest? It can come. Or not. I don't need a Jaguar. I don't need a mansion. I just need a little more time and a little more connectedness and maybe a few more dollars. But I really do have a lot to give thanks for.
And I do.
(Told you. Sappy. That a problem? Deal with it.)
I've been thinking about mysteries lately. Novels, movies, and maybe a few TV shows, to spice things up. How do you construct a mystery? You take a twisty unsolved conundrum (usually an unexplained death). Then you find someone who cares a whole lot about the answer. A paid sleuth is easiest to establish but unpaid may be more intriguing – why does this person care so much? Then you figure out who dunnit and why. But with clues that lead only one place, it's a path, not a maze. So you also conjure up a number of possible culprits, every single one complete with motivation and access.
This is where I get stuck. Because when you do this, when you create multiple suspects, what are you really saying? That everyone is capable of murder, given a strong enough reason? But is that true? You're certainly, without a doubt, saying that you can't trust people, that everyone has secrets. Because inevitably the sleuth uncovers some dirty laundry, some melodramatic backstory that leads her to suspect Ms. X of the murder. And then maybe she confronts Ms. X, who breaks down and sobs, "No, it wasn't that way at all! I didn't kill him, I loved him! He was secretly my bastard son, I kept it from the world so he would inherit his supposed mother's wealth!" And then the sleuth hands poor grieving Ms. X a tissue and moves on to Suspect Y.
I haven't counted, but I'm guessing there have to be at least three, if not more, of these false leads in your average mystery novel. Each one has to have a potent enough reason to commit murder – and ideally a compelling enough twist to show why it's not true in this case or that one. That's a lot of drama. And this, in particular, is my problem. How do you do this? How do you create a world in which everyone has an extremely powerful, dramatic dirty secret? When does it tip over into soap opera? How can you keep it real?
I'm a couple of weeks behind watching the TV show Lost, but this show is a good example of what I’m talking about. Every week the A story concentrates on a different major character. Inevitably we flash back to that person's life pre-plane crash. And apparently also inevitably we watch an extremely dramatic story unfold in said person's past. Running from the law (literally). Following a cold, harsh but apparently mentally ill father to Australia only to discover his death. Marrying the love of your life only to see him follow in your Korean Mafia father's footsteps, complete with literal blood on his hands. And so on. And so forth. Everyone has a story, yes. But does everyone have this kind of story? At some point, that delicate suspension of disbelief that allows you the reader/viewer to stay engaged breaks. And then we the creators are in trouble.
This is where I get stuck.
Late morning, pulling my car into the nearly full parking lot. Everyone heading to the Sunday morning Hollywood farmer's market?
Apparently yes. The market is full, people everywhere, weaving in between strollers and carts and kids and people with clipboards hawking free movie previews (welcome to LA, land of the rough cut) and asking for contributions to the ACLU, people with shopping carts, laden down with bags, people carrying huge pumpkins and armfuls of vegetables.
Welcome to the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The market ripe with palm-sized Fuyu persimmons, squat white winter squash with pale orange stripes, Fuji apples and bacon avocados. The buffalo meat lady is here, so is the Gouda guy and the goat cheese lady ("Goat cheese, yummy yummy goat cheese!"). So are the musicians: the atonal ancient Japanese muppet hunched over his guitar, the small lively jazz ensemble with the white-haired drummer sliding his brush over the snare drum, swish-boom. So are the flower merchants, selling the bright orange spikes of bird-of-paradise, the bouquets of sunflowers and tiny rosebuds, the sachets of lavender out on a table with the massive Rasta-haired lavender vendor singing his "Smell so good! Come and smell the lavender!" chant.
I love this market. I love the sweet bite of persimmon, I love the tart winter raspberry, I love the date sellers and the avocado lady (no avocados this week, she says, but next week the buttery Fuertes are back) (and her dark hair is now streaked and lush) and the tender hydroponic lettuce, sold by the tiny Japanese lady who has watched Damian grow from infant to toddler to long-legged child, who encouraged me to eat her (amazingly tender) Japanese spinach when I was pregnant and then nursing him.
I love this market, the rush of people, dark hair, light hair, pale skin, olive skin and earth-toned skin alike, the mess of it, people stopping along the way to say hi to friends, people talking and smiling and exclaiming, every single one, about how cold it is today, brr, even the little dog in the red wagon is shivering. (How cold? I check later in my car: 56 degrees. Mmm-hmm. Winter weather for Los Angeles.) Shivering and smiling, everyone, as I walk back to the car, I smile too, my sweatshirt zipped all the way up and my shopping cart filled with tiny sweet grapes and crisp Asian pears and blue-green feathery Russian kale and a five pound bag of yams for Thanksgiving dinner. Food for the week, food for my soul.
Thanks to everyone who commented on my Toronto post. It's too soon to say if we'll actually move, if we truly do want to move, if this is the best thing for our lives. But I have to say I like the idea of migrating from a country known for its standard of living to one known for quality of life.
I realize Toronto isn't New York and if we measure it by those standards, we'll probably be disappointed. But it's not Los Angeles either. This city, as I've said before, fits me like someone else's underpants. Tight in the crotch and the wrong shape altogether. But I find myself wondering now what it would be like if we could afford to move back to New York. Can you really go home again? Can home possibly live up to your memories? I'm still a New Yorker in my world view, in my preferences and my blunt speech, but I talk slower now, walk slower now (when I’m not racing alongside a six year old boy), and I like living somewhere without the stink of garbage in huge bins along the street. I think about moving back and it feels almost as foreign as moving to a new city. I love New York, but do I belong there? I can't know without moving back but with the cost of living there, we can't afford to find out.
I'm a different person now than I was when we left Park Slope. Some is about mothering a special needs child (and LA has been a good place for him during those first crucial years, replete with cutting edge services). Some is due to the choice I made to leave film editing and pursue screenwriting and then the intensive exposure I got to the script development process, all very much entangled with the fact that I live here in Hollywood. The people I've met, the experiences I've had, they've shaped me and even though it's often been painful, I can't regret the lessons learned.
Would I be the person I am now if we'd stayed in New York? Somehow I doubt it. (Though the thought of who I might have been instead intrigues me.) Who will I become if we stay in LA another ten years? Twenty? Who will I become if we move to Toronto in two years? How would that still-unknown environment shape me? Is there a point in your life where your surroundings no longer alter you, when you become fixed, a butterfly in amber, forever mid-motion? Conversely, can you find what you need wherever you are? I know many good people in LA, many people not in the film industry, they're often refreshingly sane and non-competitive. I think we could stay here and be fine. We could find our fit, and to some extent we already have. So maybe that would be okay. But the lure of change is strong. The idea that a place could fit us better, that we don't have to struggle to find our place in that world, it's seductive. (Not to mention deciduous trees and the taste of snow and family hundreds instead of thousands of miles away.) And so I think we'll continue to contemplate and explore this surreal but surprisingly sensible move.
Oh, and I appreciate the info some of you have given me about Canadian services for autism. And yes, I now know about Friday's Supreme Court ruling against the parents who felt the government should pay for their children's intensive 40 hours a week ABA programs. Instead the court left it up to individual provinces to decide, which mostly means no. Fortunately for us, Damian is well beyond needing that level of intervention (and we were never exactly ABA aficionados anyway). Even if we stay in LA, he'll probably outgrow the need for much of anything within the next few years. He's doing fine without an aide in his regular kindergarten class (more on that in a Hidden Laughter entry soon, I promise); in fact, the inclusion specialist told me yesterday she couldn't tell him apart from his peers.
I'm still researching what it means to have a child with mild developmental issues in the Toronto school district – whether the district offers occupational therapy, what kinds of accommodations you can ask for in an IEP – but I'm optimistic that Damian can get what he needs up there. I'm more worried about the quality of the schools themselves. Mostly wondering how nurturing they are, how stimulating, and how well they keep a bright child interested in and excited by learning. I exhausted myself researching the same questions here, it's overwhelming to think about doing it all over again. But so it goes. Is it worth it? So far I think so. We'll see. Future unknown and maybe unknowable but kind of exciting, for all that.
Those of you who have been reading me for a while (ie: years) may remember a rant I wrote the first time NaNoWriMo came around. (NaNoWriMo, for those not in the know, is a novel-writing project, the goal of which is to generate a 50,000 word first draft in the course of a single month.) I was against it, felt it fostered bad writing. That a writer's mindset becomes poisoned by page count obsessions and that good writing needs time to simmer on the stove, it can't rush out of you in a month-long spew.
I've changed my mind. Oh, I still believe this is not the ideal way to write a good novel. But I think it's a damned good way to exorcize the devil that keeps most people who yearn to write from ever getting past the first page. I think I've also gotten past a kind of unconscious elitism. It doesn’t matter if your novel is National Book Award material. If you want to write, if you enjoy the process and feel like you have something to say, something to explore or even just a plot idea that feels like fun to write, why not spend the time in that world? I don’t have to win blue ribbons at baking competitions when I bake pumpkin pies or chocolate chip cookies, I do it for the fun of it and because I love to eat the results. Writing carries its own deep satisfaction (less caloric, too).
Diane turned me onto NaNoBlogMo the other night, a blog portal for people who are posting their novels in serial form on the web. With a great and dreadful trepidation, I clicked the links and read bits of prose. Found one extremely well written chunk, though I suspect if I read too much it might start to feel self-indulgent and young. Read another, not so good. Not terrible, though, just awkward and filled with storytelling mistakes. But I find something oddly endearing about that, about someone writing a story she wanted to tell, no matter that her words weren't coming easily.
I browsed a few more, none as good as the first or as bad as the second. Many seem to be perfectly acceptable first drafts, outpourings of words and sentences waiting to be honed and sifted and clarified. Whether they turn into good novels depends on the rewriting skills and knowledge of their authors. Also on those authors' desire to do the hard work of rewrites. I suspect most of these manuscripts will end November 30th and stay just as they are for all eternity or at least until the pixels start to blur and the hard drives no longer spin up.
But why not? It's process, not product. It's about trying something out. I'm always telling Damian not to worry so much about being perfect, that we all make mistakes, that's how we learn, that you have to practice to get better. If NaNoWriMo gets people past writer's block and lets them loosen those muscles, discover they can get past Chapter One and even meander all the way to the general vicinity of THE END, then it seems to me that it's a good thing.
All that said, I have no intention of ever trying it myself. I seem to be drawn to write much like being sucked into a vortex, I don't need a timer or a deadline to keep myself on track. And I'd rather start and stop and examine and revamp and go at my own stuttering pace than rush full speed ahead on the A Novel In A Month freight train.
Then again, if I ever get so seriously stuck that I stop writing fiction for months and years on end, then yeah. Sign me up.
I don't know how to say this so I'll just say it. And I don't know if it's going to come to anything or if we'll stumble and turn back before the finish line or decide we didn't really want to be in this race after all. I have no idea, none at all. It's just a concept right now, just a thought in the process of forming. But it feels real, at least at this moment in time. Feels good, even. Contains hope. And Dan and I both need that right now.
A week ago we started talking about moving. Not just out of this house. Not just out of this city. Out of this country.
O Canada, oh yes.
Toronto, to be precise.
It started with the election, of course. Probably every liberal (or should I say true-blue blue-stater? feh.) in the US said something under their breath to that effect on election night or the day after, right? "Time to move to Canada. New Zealand is awfully pretty too, have you seen Lord of the Rings?" But how many meant it? I'm guessing very few. People have lives, homes, friends, family. Roots. Emigration is a very big deal. Even to Canada. Hell, moving across town can feel like a big deal sometimes. Moving to a different country because of politics when this isn't even a dictatorship? Too big to do for real.
But it works for us. Not only did we both feel at peace for the first time since the election, but it makes a lot of sense. My mother lives in Nova Scotia, my brother is in Montreal. The rest of our family is on the east coast. We could drive to see them! Plane flights would be an hour, not six! Real family Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners and summer holidays at the beach together and Damian knowing his cousins and loving his grandparents, yes. And Toronto, from what I've heard and read, is a real city, with a real subway system and real walking streets that go on and on the way they're supposed to instead of dribbling out after three blocks, with neighborhoods chock full of character, with parks and skyscrapers and a real downtown and small pubs and cafes and all the things a city should have and this one we live in now sort of does, only you have to drive from one to another, enhancing the disconnect. Toronto would enhance the connect, and how I miss that. And we'd be back in a place with fall foliage, snowdrifts and snowball fights, the awe and power of the first spring flower. Green summers. Green, green, green. Trees and streams and waterfalls and flowers and oh, green.
We'd also be in a strong filmmaking community. We don't know yet, we won't know until we explore (and network our brains out) but there's a reasonable expectation that Dan could get enough editing work to keep us afloat. And housing is cheaper. As in: half the price. As in: we could afford to put a solid down payment on a nice house and have money left over from the sale of this place. A nest egg, finally. Money for Damian's college fund and our old age fund. A security blanket we've never had and probably won't if we stay here.
And the vaunted Canadian warmth and Toronto niceness (it's "Toronto the Good," after all) is a far better thing for Damian than the egocentric aggression that pulses just under the surface of Los Angeles society. My son will probably grow up quite capable and definitely highly skilled and sweet, to boot, but somewhat socially naïve. He needs to be somewhere where you can trust people. This is not that place.
We've never visited Toronto. We plan to rectify that as soon as we can (though with work and school considerations, it might be some months before that happens). Maybe it won’t live up to the promise, maybe we'll get there and shrug in indifference. Just a city. No feeling of connectedness. Maybe so. It's possible.
It's also possible that Dan will find the film/TV community there insular or small. Who knows? It's also possible we'll discover the schools aren't to our liking or that we have no affinity for the people who live there or that the buildings are ugly and characterless. It's also possible that the immigration lawyer will tell us in a couple of weeks (after he researches the question) that Damian's diagnosis will bar the way to immigration. It's possible this move isn't for us after all. We have two years to explore the issue before we have to commit, before it becomes official. All I can tell you is that right now it feels like a way out of our treading-water lives to something that – at least on paper – makes a whole lot more sense. Somewhere we can find happiness. And that hope, it feels good right now. So good.
I keep starting to write here but everything I write turns into a political rant. Which I always delete. Not because there's anything wrong with a political rant, but I read enough of those these days and it makes me too upset to write one myself. I'm not saying anything new with it. Just that this sucks in a whole lot of ways. Profound suckage. So consider it written, consider it read, consider it digested and cogitated and even replied to.
Moving on. Not going to stop thinking about it but not going to write about it here. Not right now. Can't.
Moving on, yes. The babysitter situation, how did that turn out for you, Tamar? Ah, yes. The babysitter situation. Well, I decided to forget about Sitter A, the one who lives close by but has a potential job conflict (ie: her boss wasn't giving her an answer on making certain hours set in stone – or so she said). Called Sitter B, who doesn’t live so close but seemed very sweet in the interview. First called her reference. Who said she was fine. Um. Fine? Yeah. Fine. Okay, then. Could mean anything, really, and we liked her and I trust my instincts (and Dan's, for that matter). So. Called Sitter B. Oh yes, I'd love the job! Great. Wonderful. Here are the hours, as we discussed. The EXACT hours as we discussed. Oh, that early? Really? Well, I'll have to try it, see how bad the traffic is at that hour.
Sitter B didn't work out. And I understand that – why drive 45 minutes in rush hour for 2 ½ hours of work? (The drive back would be shorter, non-prime-time, but still.) And I'm even okay with that. Because when I looked at it, looked at what it meant to hire someone to come every week for a set amount of time, looked at having that person in my house, under my authority, playing with my child but not knowing how at first – I don't know, it felt weird. Especially the part where I write a check every week. That part most of all. We don't have much discretionary money. We have a large mortgage, we have more to do to the house (termite damage, ugh) (kitchen floor tiling, yay), we may need a new car soon (Dan's commuting car is now sixteen years old, a grizzled old fellow by any standards). Do I want to – do I need to – pay someone a weekly salary? It feels like a luxury item. I'm not bringing in money. How can I justify shelling it out?
I can still write, it's just a matter of reorganizing my life. Exercise while Dan dresses Damian (this means Damian and I both get up earlier than we were, also a plus). Supervise Damian's drum practice after he and I have breakfast. Take him to school. Come home and write for three hours, interrupted briefly for lunch. That's plenty, really. I've written thirty five pages in the past three weeks. Not a huge output but not bad. Especially considering the near paralysis that set in November 2nd and the rest of that week. Staring at the screen, completely separate from the story. Post traumatic stress, they're calling it. All us miserable liberals. But I digress. Thirty five pages, not bad. Can do this. I have approximately fifty to seventy pages left of this first draft. I can do this without a weekly, scheduled babysitter. I can. And I will.
Sitter A called back last week. Said she's willing and able to pinch hit for us. Babysit on weekends, babysit here and there on weekday mornings when I need to go to a meeting or somesuch. I have my doubts she'll come through, but we'll see. I'm okay with it either way.
Sometimes, I think, you have to look at your life sideways. The solutions you think are the obvious ones don't always work. I find myself evaluating a lot of things this way these days. Turning my life upside down and shaking it out, seeing what's really inside. What really matters.
Today Cocoa was apparently a very bad cat. It seems he informed Damian's toys that they could do whatever they wanted, including not listening to Damian (a/k/a Da Boss). The toys took this to heart and boycotted a game of pretend Myst (wherein Damian, abetted by toys, enacts scenarios from the computer game).
Damian first brought Cocoa to me: "Mommy, Cocoa is a bad cat," and thence to his bedroom closet, where the kitty was incarcerated for three Damian minutes (ie: fifteen minutes). As a condition of his release, he had to stay in Damian's lap for another three Damian minutes (countdown courtesy of his erstwhile jailer) and not struggle for release.
I'm happy to report that Cocoa fulfilled his community service, remaining fairly content in Da Boss' lap. He was then allowed to scamper off with no more than a warning to never try to indoctrinate the toys again.
Yesterday I mostly browsed book and writing related blogs. The sun was warm, the breeze was delicious, my child was alternately a pain in the butt and a delight. Life felt... normal. Today I read poliblogs and was attacked by the blues again.
The real issue to me is: was this election a true voice of the people (in which case I'm gravely disappointed in the people but figure they'll come around when they see the havoc this administration will continue to wreak -- extremes don't last, not when most people are essentially centrists at heart) or was it a sign that Karl Rove and his flunkies have so thoroughly corrupted the voting system that we cannot ever, no not ever, take back the three branches of government. That's the thought that terrifies me. I don't want to believe it and part of me doesn't, it seems too crazy (and crazy-making). The other part, well... yeah.
But one thing I read today gave me hope. A letter from three Congressmen to the head of the US General Accountabily Office.
The letter follows:
November 5, 2004
The Honorable David M. Walker
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. General Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548
Dear Mr. Walker:
We write with an urgent request that the Government Accountability Office immediately undertake an investigation of the efficacy of voting machines and new technologies used in the 2004 election, how election officials responded to difficulties they encountered and what we can do in the future to improve our election systems and administration.
In particular, we are extremely troubled by the following reports, which we would also request that you review and evaluate for us:
In Columbus, Ohio, an electronic voting system gave President Bush nearly 4,000 extra votes. "Machine Error Gives Bush Extra Ohio Votes," Associated Press, November 5.
An electronic tally of a South Florida gambling ballot initiative failed to record thousands of votes. "South Florida OKs Slot Machines Proposal," Id.
In one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost because officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots could hold more data that it did. "Machine Error Gives Bush Extra Ohio Votes," Id.
In San Francisco, a glitch occurred with voting machines software that resulted in some votes being left uncounted. Id.
In Florida, there was a substantial drop off in Democratic votes in proportion to voter registration in counties utilizing optical scan machines that was apparently not present in counties using other mechanisms. http://ustogether.org/election04/florida_vote_patt.htm
The House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff has received numerous reports from Youngstown, Ohio that voters who attempted to cast a vote for John Kerry on electronic voting machines saw that their votes were instead recorded as votes for George W. Bush. In South Florida, Congressman Wexler's staff received numerous reports from voters in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties that they attempted to select John Kerry but George Bush appeared on the screen. CNN has reported that a dozen voters in six states, particularly Democrats in Florida, reported similar problems. This was among over one thousand such problems reported. "Touchscreen Voting Problems Reported," Associated Press, November 5.
Excessively long lines were a frequent problem throughout the nation in Democratic precincts, particularly in Florida and Ohio. In one Ohio voting precinct serving students from Kenyon College, some voters were required to wait more than eight hours to vote. "All Eyes on Ohio," Dan Lothian, CNN, November 3, http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/blog/1...blog/index... ..
We are literally receiving additional reports every minute and will transmit additional information as it comes available. The essence of democracy is the confidence of the electorate in the accuracy of voting methods and the fairness of voting procedures. In 2000, that confidence suffered terribly, and we fear that such a blow to our democracy may have occurred in 2004.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this inquiry.
John Conyers, Jr. Jerrold Nadler Robert Wexler
Ranking Member Ranking Member Member of Congress
House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution
cc: Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner
Maybe there still are people in power with the authority and the willingness to look into voter disenfranchisement, fraud, malfeasance, and also, face it, general incompetence and machine flaws. Maybe we won't be subsumed by the red tide forever.
I'm sad and heartsick and scared about what this means for the future and for our country. Will the divide become deeper, more profound? How much damage will the Bush administration ultimately do to us and to the world? How can this happen, how can more than fifty percent of my country believe this narrow minded bigot and his flunkies are worth keeping in power? Is it really about the gay marriage ban? Can it be that simple and that unfathomably phobic?
I love this country. I do. When I was sixteen, my boyfriend and I took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles up the west coast to Washington State and then across the northern US back home to New York. I remember being given a ride and warmth and stories in Wisconsin, sunrises in Montana, sharing pizza with strangers in a tiny town in North Dakota. I'm sure those people had as many flavors of belief and ideology as any group of random people you could round up. I didn't talk politics with them and it didn't matter. How can I now hate them because of what their beliefs have wrought? How can they hate me? How can they hate my friends enough to tell them they can't marry, shouldn't be allowed to have abortions, don't have a right to a fair wage or overtime hours or even the fundamental right to vote? How can the extremists have made their message so palatable to so many people that it's now taken as, pardon the expression, gospel?
I heard a fragment of discussion on NPR this morning as I drove home from dropping Damian off at school. Someone said what I thought was the most illuminating bit of all the analysis I've heard and read thus far: The people of this country are voting based on values. This is a given, I've seen it discussed many places on this bitter Wednesday. But their values and their concerns aren't necessarily about gay marriage and stem cell research per se. It's really that they abhor the degradation of our cultural values, what we all see every day. More porn, more crassness, more commercialism, less emphasis on ethical judgment in daily life, more selfishness all around. And so some (many?) people's response is to retreat to the shelter of some kind of legislated Puritanism. But it can't be the only solution.
I don’t know the answer here, I only know, along with the political bloggers I read, that there has to be one. The Democratic Party has to redefine itself. The center has to hold somehow. This country was meant to be democracy by the people, for the people, of the people. And right now we're not. That has to change. If I was younger – or more to the point, if I had more flexibility and less frazzle in my schedule – I'd volunteer my time right now. As it is, I'd like to start donating money to the causes I believe in. It's time for change. Morality is not a single sided issue and should never become solely the prerogative of the far right. I don't know how, I certainly don't know how long it'll take, but the pendulum must swing back, at least to the center. At least to sanity. Because I believe that people are fundamentally good-hearted, fundamentally not hateful. It's just a matter of convincing them of that.
Yes, I'm sad and heartsick and worried. I won't pretend I’m not. I don't know what lies ahead. I can only hope that good can come from bad. Somehow.
Tomorrow, in case you've been living in the deepest Sahara or the remotest Himalayas (and in that case, how are you reading this?) is election day in these united states. Not so united these days. But can I say what a relief that it'll be (mostly?) (sort of?) (maybe?) over. The suspense has been carving away bits of my sanity for months now and I know I'm not the only one who feels it. Today while I was waiting outside the kindergarten gate for Damian, I chatted with another mom. She said she's been feeling very stressed lately. The work deadlines she's staring down? No, the election. It's been driving her nuts. She's really scared. Not sleeping well. I know what she means. How on earth did it come to this? I know but I don't understand. I can trace the evolution, evaluate the hate, but it still defies sense.
Part of that hate is good for the Democrats. It may fuel a huge voter turnout, a lot of passion. People want Bush out. People are willing to make that happen. Enough people feeling strongly enough to overcome the now-clear and so-vile voter suppression tactics? Remains to be seen, of course. But one thing that saddens me is how many people are really not voting for Kerry per se but rather against Bush. They seem to think Kerry will be a mediocre president but that this trumps the rabid rightwing thinking and selfish destructive actions of the current administration. They're voting for Not-Bush. And I would too. I'd hold my nose and vote if I thought it was needed. I've done it before. But this time I'm not.
I like John Kerry. As a man but also as a statesman. This assessment by Rude Pundit sums up some of the many times Kerry's acted with strength and a profound moral center, disregarding the politically expedient for the ethically righteous. He has smarts, a knowledge of how Washington really works, and years of experience on Capitol Hill.
I think he's the kind of politician who seldom gets elected these days, with the presidency more of a charisma contest than a serious weighing of strengths and weaknesses, ideologies and capabilities. This is the kind who gets elected in a parliamentary system where he can be swept in as his party's leader. Not the kind of man who gets elected in our lowest-common-denominator smart-people-are-too-snooty we-want-a-buddy-in-the-White-House mentality. What we really want, I think, is a celebrity. Someone who looks good on TV. Someone who speaks in sound bites. So John Kerry doesn't look so good to people. And his campaign manager chose to avoid selling his Senate record to the public because it was painted with complex layers of color, not over-obvious black and white talking points. But the black-and-white types? They're not so good at the actual governing. They look pretty but they can't type. And a man like Kerry, I think he would (and fingers crossed, will) make a very good president indeed.