For the time being, my sunny, talking alligator and blogging assistant, Virgil, has deserted me--having fled, no doubt, to warmer climes somewhere in the land of water moccassins, canoes, and murky swamp waters. As for me, I'm still channeling Nanook, here in the Virginia tundra. I was pleasantly stopped in my tracks this week by a midget snow poem written by Robert Bly, published in a recent New Yorker:
The snow is falling, and the world is calm.
The flakes are light, but they cool the world
As they fall, and add to the calmness of the house.
It's Sunday afternoon. I am reading
Longinus while the Sugar Bowl is on.
The snow is falling, and the world is calm.
Much as I love Robert Bly's poetry, I couldn't find myself anywhere in this poem, peacefully at home, reading Longinus in a calm world. I wish I could, but I can't. There is no way I'd ever be caught reading Longinus; the snow this winter is positively demonic; and the world I live in is anything but calm. I am not calm. I shovel and worry, worry and shovel.
"You were oh so close for a minute there," writes my friend Paul Zenner in an email. "I thought Mr. Zinn may have turned you toward the light. That's okay. We'll keep throwing switches and pushing those positive buttons and sooner or later, the light will shine." Paul is a master at making me confront my own darkness--my Armageddon complex. He would like me to take the world a little less seriously, to be of faith and good cheer instead. However, to do that, I'd have to become somebody else.
I also read what David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about his experience of the recent DC blizzard and losing power. These were thoughts I could more easily relate to:
"I set out across the driveway in search of woolly mammoths to eat. Suddenly everything Keith Olbermann says started to make sense. I was down to the primitive core...And so I wonder if my general political sentiments these days are the result of my journey into the heart of coldness or something broader. To be brief, I’ve never been more depressed about Washington’s ability to do anything. I also have the feeling we’re in for a miserable period for political opiners — all that we’ll be covering is a nasty set of squabbles over small amounts of money that are not there."
Later on, I heard him say, in an hourlong interview with Charlie Rose, that he fears the country has become ungovernable. In talking with his political friends on the Hill, it was clear to him that any hope of bipartisanship is dead in the water. Belly up like a diseased seal. Brooks seems as depressed about this as I am.
New Yorker columnist Hendrik Hertzberg believes that Obama's passion for bipartisanship and commitment to the reforms he campaigned on are genuine--but that Republican rancor will not allow any legislation to pass that could be viewed as an accomplishment for him. If health care reform ends up failing, it's hard to see how they will be able to do anything else, he says. "The damage to their ability to govern--the damage to the ability of the country to govern itself--will be severe."
So here's my problem: I think these things really matter. But I don't know how to write about them without sounding alarmist--or expressing grief. I would prefer, as I've said before, to send out sweet, quenching drafts of love and light to anyone who actually bothers to read this blog, but it would be a transgression, and a falsification, of how I really feel. So I don't know what to do. Whenever I really don't know what to do, I end up consulting the I Ching.
The I Ching is suggesting, in this case, that the difficulties and obstacles within the situation are causing me much sorrow. [Check!] To break through a tough situation, it says, people need to work together in harmony, as in an alliance. [Listen up, hear ye, calling all Republicans.] Seeking harmony begins with crying and weeping, but ends with laughing. The great multitude succeeds in meeting--and after great struggles (the I Ching proposes), they succeed in meeting and celebrate the victory. [Can you even imagine it? Some positive legislation is passed, and everyone celebrates the victory?]
An old Chinese axiom states that "people in the same boat help each other, sharing weal and woe." Seeking harmony, with government serving the common interest--yes, the I Ching really does say this, I am not making it up--turns out that this was something the ancient Chinese dreamed of day and night.
In the matter of whether it is okay to write when you are feeling down, my hexagram [Fellowship with Men] counsels that if I openly express my distress, I will find that it generates similar expressions from my fellow man. Then together we can overcome the difficult time and there will be much joy in the newfound unity. So it is decided: I will continue to "openly express my distress," and stop worrying about whether its having a bad effect or adding to the world's already overstocked misery.
Confucius once said:
Whether in charge of a government or being a hermit,
Or keeping quiet or making a comment,
When two people become one in their hearts
They are as sharp as a knife that is able to cut iron.
They cherish the same idea and follow the same path;
Their words are like the perfume and fragrance of orchids.
She studies the wall as if planning to hang something cheery, maybe some Monet haystacks or even orchids. At the edge, one final row of lavender azaleas. (She is still wearing her sunglasses and hospital pajamas.) Outside, in the randomly broken world, it begins to snow again. She bends over to inhale the perfume of orchids now infused with her own words.