I Protest

There have been a lot of stories about the Women’s March on January 21st. Here’s mine.

I had not planned to go, initially. Boston isn’t an awful drive from here (an hour or so to Alewife, and then the subway, which I enjoy riding), but I’ve gone into town on Event Days before: Earth Day, Gay Pride. And the garage at Alewife (because heaven help you if you try to park in town) is always mobbed, and the trains are full, and I figured the crowds on this particular Saturday would be far heavier than anything I’d seen. I figured the Alewife parking lot would be full. I figured they didn’t need me.

But I checked the web site, and as it turned out, Boston wasn’t the only Massachusetts march. In fact, there was one pretty much the same distance away, but in the opposite direction: Northampton, MA.

Here’s a confession: I get very, very anxious traveling to places I’ve never been before. I worry about getting lost. I have some kind of strange perception thing where maps are of almost no help to me. I have tried, and I don’t think it’s lack of desire to learn; I think there’s just something hard-wired in me that can’t make the spatial translations properly. And I have let this keep me from doing things I otherwise wanted to do.

So when I say that without Siri, I wouldn’t have even tried to march on the 21st, I’m being honest. (And I know Siri isn’t the only game in town, and maybe not even the best one. Fill in your favorite direction-finding technology.) Thanks to Siri, I knew I could not only get where I was going, but back home again.

I brought The Kid with me. She had some questions about protesting, based mostly on what she’d seen in the media. I told her that I would protect her. I told her it was OK if she didn’t want to go.

She thought about it for a minute, and said, “Let me be angry too.”

Northampton was not crowded. We found a parking spot in a municipal lot (note to self: bring more change next time; the municipal lot only took coins), and grabbed a snack on the way to the UU church where everyone was meeting. We passed a guitar shop, and The Kid made me promise we could stop there before we went home.

The church, as it happened, was full to capacity, and for fire code reasons they couldn’t let any more people in. There was a woman directing everyone down the road to the field where the march was going to start. So we turned and walked back down the road we’d just walked up, this time with a group of people going the same way.

What surprised me – and it shouldn’t have – was how many of the people we were heading down the road with were closer to my age than my daughter’s. Many of them were older than I am. This is not a movement of the young. It’s a movement of all of us.

respect

The Kid’s favorite

The field was fairly crowded, but not uncomfortably so (the newspaper later tagged the crowd at 3,000; that seems not inaccurate). And there were so many people, and so many signs. Many of them were the Fairey pieces, gorgeous and iconic; but many were hand-made. There were children, and strollers, and men with families and on their own, and hundreds of pink hats, and political and non-political conversations all around me.

crowd2

We were more or less in the middle of the pack.

We started marching around 11:45. The police had us walk in the right-hand lane of the road, and traffic moved – slowly – in the other direction. At first we walked, but then the chants started, sometimes behind us and traveling up in a wave, sometimes in front of us and moving back. One woman we were walking with had a strong, clear voice; she led chants as well, and my daughter and I echoed her every time.

We chanted “Equal Rights are Human Rights.”

We chanted “No Justice No Peace.”

We chanted “Black Women’s Lives Matter.”

We chanted “Trans Women’s Lives Matter.”

And I felt, for a little while, like we might be OK after all.

We didn’t stay for the speakers. My lack of change meant I had to move the car, and my mapless anxiety liked the idea of getting away before the big flood of traffic. We did stop at the music store, where my daughter told me she wanted to learn guitar – not that acoustic stuff, which she calls “boring,” but electric guitar. We asked a few questions of the shopkeeper, who was unfailingly polite to the out-of-town newbies, and I told her we could look into getting her lessons.

And then Siri took us home.

In the days afterward, there has been pushback on the protests, from within and without. While I think there are certainly issues local organizers can work on – accessibility being a big one; I saw one woman on a scooter, and although she managed, I don’t know that there was a lot of specific effort made for those who were not as ambulatory as the rest – I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Do it better next time includes next time, and I think that’s critical. There must be a next time, and a time after that, and another.

Does it change anything? On a national level? I honestly don’t know. I suspect we’ll see changes designed to make assemblies like this more difficult, or even impossible. As much as I despair over the actions of this administration, the most alarming changes are to transparency and the right to speak. Protesting might just make them work harder to shut people up.

But I’ll tell you: I felt stronger that day. I felt less despair. I was still angry, still shell-shocked by moving through the looking glass overnight. But I looked around at the others, and at my child, chanting at the top of her lungs, and I thought maybe, just maybe, it was OK to hope that what’s happening to our nation is temporary.

Is that naive? Probably. But sometimes naiveté is what it takes to get me out of bed in the morning.

Keep yelling. Keep fighting. No matter what.

greaterthanfear

 

All About Toad

This is Marmalade, a.k.a. Toad:

marmalade

“I hate all you people.”

Yes, it’s one of those serendipitous photographs. Most of the time she looked like a perfectly normal, vaguely annoyed cat. She was a beauty, really; she’d sometimes get knots in that coat, but it was silkier and smoother than the coat of many long-hairs I’ve known. And all the color: black and brown and gorgeous orange and bits of cream here and there.

But she was not the friendliest pet on the planet.

She chose us, as animals sometimes do. A few days before the 2008 ice storm, she showed up on our doorstep, thin and covered in bloated tics, hollering her lungs out. We took her in, warmed her up, and gave her food and a litterbox. We took her to a vet, who removed the tics, checked for a chip, gave her a bunch of shots, and sent her home with us. We called a couple of no-kill shelters in the area, but they were full. We put up some flyers: no response.

rescued_toad

Scrawny, just-rescued Toad

So she was ours, and I was leery at the start, because she was so non-social. Not like a feral cat—she’d clearly lived with humans before, and not only because someone had declawed her—but like an animal who preferred the company of no one. She was not a lap cat, she did not like being picked up, and although she liked, on occasion, to be petted, she would not put up with it long. And when she was finished accepting whatever attention you paid her, she would let you know, with a loud, constant, Siamese-level wail that didn’t seem to require any breathing on her part. She was, perhaps, part bagpipe.

To my daughter, who was less than five when Toad joined us, she was just another big fluffy kitty. She would pet her, and pick her up, and listen to her howl. When Toad howled, my daughter would talk to her lovingly. When Toad was really done, she’d bite—but gently. A mama telling her kitten to knock it off. Some cats, I have found, seem to understand about young humans.

When my daughter got older, Toad would greet her in the morning, jumping up on the bed and purring, succumbing to a little affection. At night she would jump up and stay on the bed until my daughter went to sleep. If she woke in the middle of the night, Toad would go to her to check.

This is what is missed the most: Toad’s routine. Her caretaking. Her grumpy, howling, resentful caretaking.

People describe her as an unusually bad-tempered cat. I suppose she was. My old Siamese could be a grump, but she was nothing compared to Toad. I loved that about Toad. She took what she wanted, and when she was done, she let us know. She’d insist if she had to. She knew herself, and her tolerances. She let us take care of her just enough, but no more.

pedestal_toad

If you stare at this picture long enough, she looks like a head on a pedestal.

I think one reason I’ve mostly had cats instead of dogs is that I love this aspect of the feline nature: “Sure, you’re upset, fine, here’s some rubbing and some purrs, now stop making that damn noise because shouldn’t you be feeding me?” That utterly unabashed self-centeredness. Genuine affection, but no neediness.

Or almost none.

The best guess for what got her is FIP. There was no way to test for it while she was alive, but all of her symptoms fit: digestive issues, lethargy, jaundice, paralysis. We treated symptoms as best we could, but she faded so fast. I fed her through a tube for a week and a half, and in the end she couldn’t even keep anything down that way. Ten years old, and we had to let her go.

I’ve lost pets before. That’s the life of a pet lover: unless you get a tortoise, you’re going to be saying goodbye to them. I lost my Siamese eight years ago, and there’s still a gap in my heart. But Toad was not my cat, not really, although I took care of her at the end, feeding and medicating and cleaning and taking her to and from the vet. She was my daughter’s cat, and that made it so much worse.

There’s an instinct that parents have to spare their children pain. You try to explain the world to them, in hopes that they won’t make the mistakes that you did, that they won’t go through the same awful experiences. You can know those experiences shaped you, made you stronger, made you a better person; but you wish, somehow, you could give your child all of that shape and strength without the pain.

I couldn’t do anything about this. I couldn’t save a cat my daughter should have had with her for many more years. I couldn’t save this animal who comforted her when she was sad, who was a companion when she was happy, who grumpily got up with her in the mornings and waited for her in the afternoons. I was powerless to save my daughter from the agony of swift and meaningless loss.

She will be stronger for it. And more compassionate. And more loving toward the pets—and friends—she has now. I remember my own childhood losses. I remember how they felt. So easy to see, in retrospect, that the pain meant I knew how to love.

But I still remember the pain.

I woke up that first day after Toad was gone, and I thought of all the times she would greet me: jumping on the bed, walking halfway toward my head, purring, accepting a few pets before she jumped down, lashing her tail, impatient for her breakfast. Such a lovely cat, with her bright green eyes and gorgeous tortoise shell fluff. So annoyed with everyone, always. So annoyed with needing affection. So annoyed that she loved us.

floofy_toad

That cat left us weeks ago. The animal we kept hoping to get back was already lost to us. The time that passes between recognizing your animal is suffering and recognizing that you need to let them go is the span of realizing that the only thing you can do anymore is help them hurt a little less. After everything they give, you have to help them. They are creatures of feeling, and we owe them all of our love and compassion.

We took her to a medical facility full of people she knew, people who had cared for her and been kind. They put in a catheter, which was undoubtedly unpleasant; but after that she was curled up on a piece of my husband’s clothing, surrounded by the smells of home, with me petting her and talking to her with my familiar voice. She dozed off. I stroked her. She died, and now she is gone. She will always be gone.

We have curled around each other, me and my little family, and we will survive. We will have this shared pain to remind us that we can count on each other, that we will hold each other up when things are hard. That’s good, right? That’s a small grain of not-awfulness in all of this.

Someday, maybe, it won’t feel so hollow.

 

Listening to Critiques

(What? A non-political post?

Why, yes. Because despite the chaos surrounding us all, writing is still my job, and I still love doing it, and today I’m going to write about it.)

Like most writers, I’ve got an uneasy relationship with critiques.

As a writer, you understand, when you’re writing with publication in mind, that other people are going to read it. (That’s the point, after all.) And you know they’ll have thoughts about it. And in this day and age, when it’s easy for them to share those thoughts, you know that people are going to say stuff publicly about your work. Back when I thought I’d self-publish the book that later became THE COLD BETWEEN, I sent it off to betas and said “Be as honest as you can, because people are going to eviscerate me on Amazon either way.”

Oh, naive me.

Critiques are a different thing than reviews. Reviews are written by readers for readers; even negative reviews can be informative. (I’ve bought a lot of books based on the content of negative reviews.) Critiques, on the other hand, are a way for you, the writer, to discover potential weak points in your manuscript, allowing you to correct them before letting your baby bird fly.

A lot of us get critiques not from professional critics (such as editors), but from family, friends, or fellow writers. For those critiques, there tends to be a common denominator: most readers want to identify a problem by telling you how to fix it. Which sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s the way any reader thinks about a part of a story that’s not working for them: tell it to me this way instead. (Writers in particular are fond of doing this.)

The trouble is, for the very reason any book with a critical mass of readers will get some negative reviews, you’re likely to get contradictory advice from your critics. And if you try to make every change suggested, you’re going to end up with a Frankenbook made up of a germ of your original story and a bunch of unfamiliar things that other people wrote.

The only way to get anything useful out of a critique is to figure out the underlying issue.

This isn’t always easy. If someone writes you a critique and says “You need to make a joke here,” it’s not clear if they’ve been disturbed by pacing, tone, or lack of character development.

And this is the hard bit. Because you, as an artist, must sit down with this piece of your work and allow for the possibility that there is actually something wrong there.

It’s easy to say “That’s silly. This isn’t the time for a joke. [Critic] doesn’t know what they’re talking about” and dismiss the whole thing. But every reader’s experience is a true one. Your critic may not have articulated their issue in a helpful way, but they have given you valuable feedback on their reading of your story. And it’s worth your time to take seriously the very real possibility that they’ve pinpointed something that needs improvement.

This is something that takes a lot of practice–or at least it did for me. I was probably in my mid-20s before I could hear a critique of a piece I loved and not have the knee-jerk response of “Hmph. What do they know?” I gave a short to a friend of mine once, and after a few paragraphs he said the beginning was slow. I told him to trust me, and he finished the piece, and said that he loved it–but his initial response was just as valid as his final one. Moreover, he was right: the beginning of the story was filler, and my ego got in the way of my seeing that. My reader may have loved it in the end, but he properly identified a major flaw.

fixable flaw. That’s the other thing to remember: your non-professional critics are not taking random potshots at your baby bird (unless they are jerks, in which case: new critics). Unless they’re pointing out something systemic about the plot, they’re showing you something you can change to make your work better and stronger. They’re doing you a favor.

But it doesn’t always feel that way, does it?

I have, on occasion, chosen not to make corrections based on critiques. I think a long, long time before I do this. I can only think of four major bits of feedback where I chose to hold my ground, and I’ve had a lot of critiques at this point. But all four times, I spent a lot of time working to understand what the reader was saying, what they might have been responding to, what the cost to the story would be to make a correction that would work for that particular reader. I chose with my eyes open. I still don’t think, in any of those situations, that I was wrong–or at least, I don’t think the story would have been better told with those changes.

This is the thing about critiques: you have to be receptive, and you have to recognize that your readers’ experiences are valid. But you need to have enough of a sense of your own story, of the way you’re using prose, of the precise response you’re going for, to decide when to listen and when to ignore. And if you’re going to ignore, you’ve got to have enough self-awareness to know why you’re doing it. If you’re ignoring because you get where they’re coming from and you’ve decided it’s okay with you that they’re uncomfortable–even if it means you’ve lost them as a reader–you’re probably coming from the right place. But if you’re inclined to ignore feedback because your feelings are hurt and you want to shrug off everything that critic has said, you probably owe it to your story to take a break, step back, and consider the possibility that your critic has hit on something important.

Past a certain point, quality of writing is a subjective assessment. Not every story is going to work for every reader. With critiques, you’ve got to learn how to be both objective and subjective: objective enough to really listen to what your critics are telling you, and subjective enough to know when to ignore them.

It’s very possible no writer has ever hit the balance quite right.

Same As It Ever Was

I’ve lived in New England all my life, and at this point I’ll probably never live anywhere else. This is curious, in a way, given how much I dislike being cold; but places become habits, familiar and comfortable, and they can soothe us on a subconscious level. Drive two hours to the coast and everything begins to look strange and exotic: still beautiful, still welcoming, but not quite right. Drive south, and the flora changes slowly but inexorably until it’s full of alien trees and flowers, fascinating and mesmerizing, another universe. Nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there.

Humans are adaptable, of course. If I ever moved, for any reason, it wouldn’t take long for the alien landscape to feel familiar. But I suspect there would always be something when I came back here, something in the percentage of pines or the types of bushes or the density of foliage along the highways that would resonate with the most fundamental, oldest part of me in a way that nothing else does. The harmonics of home.

On Friday, temperatures dropped below zero. Yesterday, we had about eight inches of snow. Today it’s nearly 50F (10C for you metric folks) and raining, and it’s a tossup whether the rain will get rid of all the snow or just add a beautiful and dangerous veneer of ice to everything. It’s a short drive from here to state highways, which are usually well cleared; the most hazardous part of any expedition is between my front door and the main road.

The climate is changing. Hiccups like -13F to 50F in two days don’t lead to that conclusion in a straight line; bobbles have always happened. But the climate is changing, and that’s the fact of it, and sometimes I recognize that the icy, hazardous driving that comes with living on a mountain isn’t such a bad thing to deal with, given the future of sea levels. I’ve sometimes, in service of fiction, googled maps of likely sea level rise, depending on the severity of the damage we’ve done and are still doing. I write the future; I want to know what land masses are most likely to stay habitable.

Humans are adaptable, but one of our biggest flaws is inertia. We may see change coming, but we’re slow to shift. We almost never shift in anticipation. We wait for the wave to hit before scrambling for higher ground, and by then it’s too late for most of us. We have faith in some larger System that has Rules that will somehow kick in and save us from disaster. Where the climate is concerned, this takes the form of the Technology Fairy: Someone will figure out how to fix it, so we don’t actually have to change. Someday, Someone will present us with the perfect type of renewable energy/solar-powered car/efficient replacement for fossil fuels, and we’ll all be saved.

Someone is always Someone Else.

Yesterday, when it snowed, I took some time to look around. (It was warmer than the previous day’s -13F, so this was a relatively pleasant exercise.) Around here, the snowy landscape looks almost like a black-and-white photograph, untouched white against the black and gray of bare branches. When the sun comes out, it all turns crystal, and it looks unreal, like one of those old department store winter displays. And it’s quiet, in a way it’s never quiet in the summer and fall: no rustling of leaves and grass, the snow absorbing the sounds of small animals moving through the woods. It feels still and quiet and strangely safe, despite the cold.

I’ve read some speculation that the reason the whole world seems to be falling into fascism – again – is in part because those who were adults during World War II – fighting it, and surviving it – are nearly all gone. There may be a grain of truth to that. Certainly as a species we have terrible institutional memory. I remember the Vietnam War, and being terrified at what I saw on television; now, as an adult, I can think about how much more terrifying it was for the actual people there: the civilians who, like me, like most of us, just wanted to get through an ordinary day, and had that taken from them for reasons that must have seemed astonishingly disconnected from their own lives; the soldiers sent into a fuzzy-edged and ill-considered war by men with little of their own skin in the game.

History rhymes, but we so rarely notice.

The United States is not this. The United States has always been this. Both of these things are true. To paraphrase an overused meme: today, we are feeding the wrong wolf. We have always, as a nation, said the right things, and some of us have meant them, and others have said “We mean this, but only for people like us.” As a species, we are deeply vulnerable to fear, and despair, and the promise of Someone Else fixing it all.

We are Someone Else. We have always been Someone Else.

I’ve probably already mentioned that I hate the telephone. I joke about it, but it’s on the level of a genuine phobia, and it’s debilitating sometimes. It’s also my first hurdle in the fight against inertia. We still have elections, and we still have representatives, and I can pick up the damn phone and thank them when I agree and suggest an alternative course of action for them when I don’t. It’s a teeny, tiny thing, and it may be useless.

But it may not. And it beats the hell out of inertia.

Pandora’s Box had it right: hope is the strongest thing of all. If it weren’t, the despots of the world wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away from us.

Here Be Dragons

I had an ultra-stereotypical suburban Mom day yesterday. The Kid had a dance recital, so I spent the morning googling how to put long hair in a bun. (Conclusion: Without hair spray you need roughly 8,000 hairpins.) On the way to the recital location, Spouse and I chatted about, among other things, future college costs and strategies. Then we sat in a hot, cramped room and watched kids dance to Christmas songs for two hours before heading home, The Kid in the back seat under her iPod.

It seemed so normal. But nothing is normal.

When we were talking about college and scholarships and loans, I wondered aloud if such things would even be around by the time she would be going. (Yes, given everything, that will likely be the least of our problems; but money is a quantifiable thing and is sometimes the easiest way to put worries into words.) And then we went back to the financial discussion, because life goes on and you still have to plan and as yet I have no idea how to plan for the sorts of contingencies that look more and more like they’re going to come true.

That’s what I struggle with the most, day after day, as the news keeps getting worse. Generally if I can see the road ahead I can strategize. But this is becoming a mish-mash of the worst possible imaginable scenario, and things I never thought could happen in this country. Without a clear path, paralysis begins to feel normal.

That’s the thing to guard against. Routine is good, and can be helpful. Continuing to make plans for the future can be helpful. And heaven knows it’s impossible to stay constantly engaged in the news. We have to take breaks, in the spirit of putting on our own oxygen masks first, if nothing else. If we don’t stay strong, we really will be paralyzed.

But allowing it all to fade into the background? That’s how normalization happens.

And right now, it’s a really rough balance.

Politicians know how to play this game: propose something hideous, take one smidge of hideousness out of it, and a relieved electorate accepts something that would otherwise have been unworkable. (Wait for the “modification” of the Social Security proposal, probably along the lines of exempting a percentage of the older population from the changes.) This is how the entire country has been hauled further and further to the right.

But that’s politics as usual. I know what that looks like. I know how to react to that (although not, apparently, how to stop it). What’s happening now isn’t politics as usual. Some politicians will be taking advantage of the same old methods, but there is nothing usual about any of this.

When life gets difficult, I turn to writing. This is a thing I’ve done my whole life. It’s reflexive. It allows me to survive. And I’m doing it now, although I’m finding some of the work I’ve been planning is changing. I had some thoughts on near-future stuff, and it seems both insufficiently post-apocalyptic and too depressing to think about. Among other things, I write to escape, and near-future isn’t looking escape-worthy. I’m toying with bumping the timeline out a few hundred years and working with a similar story. Anything that shows humans surviving that long is optimistic, after all.

Writing isn’t going to be enough. This isn’t going to be the kind of thing where we can put our heads down and have earnest discussions until the next election. The hardest thing to fight against is going to be the normalization, the complacency. The acceptance of the “merely” horrible.

Some time ago, I lived with an alcoholic. It was creeping cohabitation that started with me spending a few weeks at his place after I broke my foot and couldn’t drive. He was drunk every night. He was awful. And then he’d sober up and apologize and that apology felt so good, so soothing, and I got hooked, like any drug addict. I stayed with the source of the pain because I liked how it felt when that same source made the pain go away.

This is how it happens. The day-to-dayness of our lives stays more or less the same, because objects in motion stay in motion. We hang on to routine because we need to breathe, we need to regroup, we need strength to strategize. And routine becomes an opiate, and the worse things get the more we cling and the less capable we are of making necessary changes.

It’s doubly hard when we can’t see what those changes are going to be.

I always thought voting was the answer. Research your candidates. Support them. Vote. In this case, it didn’t matter. It’s possible it never would have mattered. This was a perfect storm of civic ignorance and foreign interference. If it was just the election, that would be one thing, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s the politicians themselves. Our government is not our own. This has probably been true for a while, but there have been enough people to hold the line. Now there’s no one, and it’s unclear how many of the usual tools will continue to be available to the rest of us.

So what do we do?

The only thing I’ve concluded is that compromise is exactly the wrong way to go. Most people–even those who identify as Republican–agree with the bulk of the policies championed by progressives. Now is not the time to view this as an election defeat requiring a change in strategy, because that’s not what it was. This was not an ordinary election defeat, and it’s not going to be an ordinary administration. Human compassion and civil rights have just become decentralized in this country, and we must each become a center of compassion.

Does that sound amorphous? It is. I live in a bluer-than-blue state, and it’s very easy here to get lost in the inertia of routine. And we’re still in the anticipatory stages. We’ve seen enough by now to know that it’s impossible to underestimate the perfidious nature of the next administration, but even so, we keep being shocked by the realities. We try to imagine the worst, and we find out the next day we had it wrong.

So for now? Maybe we do focus on routine, on self-care, on hugging our people and our animals and remembering why all of this matters. Maybe all we can do right now is make ourselves as strong as we can. And remember that we are not alone. We are not even few in number. We are the majority, and that matters.

Small Things

When the world falls apart, small things become huge.

It’s been over a month since we lost Editor Cat. A couple of weeks ago, we acquired kittens, who came with a cold that they gave to Laser Cat, who became quite ill. She spent a couple of days in the hospital getting a hydrating IV and more x-rays than any cat in the entire state. Now she’s home, and not eating much, and sleeping a lot, and sneezing, and I worry.

I have two friends who have lost people to suicide in the last few weeks.

Laser Cat is a strange creature. She showed up on our doorstep in 2008, the afternoon of an ice storm that took out our electricity for nine days. She was declawed, and covered in ticks, and weighed less than five and a half pounds. We took her to the vet, put up a couple of posters, and, when nobody claimed her, called her our own. She’s damaged, psychologically. She howls when she’s held, great long, low sounds that she sustains without perceptibly inhaling. She’ll bite and slap people with those clawless paws when she’s really had it. And she’ll climb up next to you if you’re upset, and purr for a while, and even let you pet her, until it becomes too much and she runs away.

I know a child who keeps asking if her family will be allowed to stay. Nobody can tell her. She was born here. They are legal immigrants. It shouldn’t be a question. She should be worrying about school dances and getting good enough grades to get into Algebra I. She should not have to think about any of this.

Laser Cat is on the mend, sort of. I bounce between optimism and deep anxiety. She is sleeping a lot, and she still has a cold. Sometimes it takes me a while before I can coax her to eat. Tonight I couldn’t get her to eat at all, but she had been up earlier, wandering around where the dry food is, and tonight she fought me off much harder than usual. So: She didn’t eat, but she seemed stronger. More pissed off. Much more Laser Cat than she has been. The vet prescribed her an appetite stimulant which will be delivered tomorrow–it was compounded, and there were no local pharmacies that would do it, so it had to be mailed–and I get to see how easily I can get her to take a pill. I hope she bites the hell out of me.

People I know, who claim to agree with me on substantive issues, are bouncing on the “identity politics are responsible” train, as if the entire history of this country hasn’t been identity politics, just not the kind they’re talking about. I get unspeakably angry, which isn’t an emotion I handle well.

The kittens are growing. One of them put on a pound in a week. He’s going to be massive. He has huge panther feet and a long nose, as if somewhere in his bloodline there is Abyssinian. The other is still tiny, a little black and white girl, picture-perfect kitten cute and tough as hell. She’s the instigator, the first one to pounce, the last one to curl up and settle down. She takes us utterly for granted. Neither of them has the kind of psychological injury that Laser Cat has. They are deeply curious about Laser Cat. It turns out Laser Cat’s formidable glare works pretty well on kittens.

I would like my Laser Cat back. I would like one thing to go well, to have one reason for optimism, to have one sign that there is a path forward–different, difficult perhaps, but forward.

Small things become huge.

Presidents are elected, every time, based on domestic policy. Sometimes it’s vitally important. Sometimes it’s bullshit. But every single president in my lifetime has been almost entirely absorbed, while in office, with international issues. Domestically, it’s pretty clear how this is going to go, and it’s a fucking shitshow and I’m glad they at least lost the popular vote because that does suggest there may be enough of us to hang on. Which won’t save everyone. It already hasn’t saved everyone. But it may save some.

But internationally? The domestic stuff depresses me deeply. The international stuff actually frightens me. And it’s not just the ignorance–it’s the deep incuriosity, and the facile idea that xenophobia will solve everything. This is Planet Earth 2016. There is no way to draw into your own borders and cover your ears and wait for the rest of the world to decide whether or not to blow itself up.

I realized, a while back, that you can tell a lot about people based on who they mean when they say “us” and “them.” The US has always had this romantic view of itself as a melting pot, a home for everyone. And no, it’s never been that, not for everyone, not easily for anyone who does not have white skin, white ancestors, a white name. But it’s a goal to strive for, and it’s hard to look at all of this and think that I am surrounded by people who have deliberately shoved that goal aside in the name of fear.

I have sympathy for fear. But real people have been hurt, are being hurt, will be hurt, because some people are amorphously afraid. I can have sympathy. But I cannot forgive.

We don’t know how old Laser Cat is. Our best guess is that she’s roughly ten. Not a young cat, but by no means an old one, not really. All of my cats live a long time. I’m counting on many more years of Laser Cat, and at the same time I am holding my breath for her to make it to tomorrow so I can try feeding her again. There has been too much loss lately. She is one cat, rescued on an unlikely day after having survived weeks in the woods with coyotes and no claws, and we love her and small things become huge.

The world changes and the pendulum swings. What is an annoyance for some is life and death for others. One step back for me, twenty steps back for someone else. I am lucky. Am I strong? What’s the definition? We all need strength. We cannot draw into our own borders and cover our ears. This is the world we are in. This is now, and this is us.

Ways to Cope

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say post-US election, but I find myself uncharacteristically short of words. So here are some words from others that have resonated with me:

And some actual, concrete things you can do to help:

  • Places to donate. There are more than this. Your home town undoubtedly has organizations and resources that could use some help right now. Google can help you.
  • If you write – whether or not you’re currently published – consider this.
  • If you see anyone being harassed, help however you can. (This seems like a reasonable strategy.) If you can’t intervene, find someone who can.
  • Be public about your position. Be counted.

And remember, we are all in the world every day. Some of us are going to be more vulnerable through all of this than others. We can reach out to people who are more at risk than we are. We can stand up and be proudly inclusive, and live by what we believe. This has always been important. It’s especially important now.