To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post 3: Interruption 2

I'm doing a three-part post this week on our community's reaction to the recent  election, rather than an ordinary post. These events are important, and it seems important to say something about it using the forum I have. This is the second of the series.
On Friday, the Six got together, as we often do, to have dinner and to discuss community business. As usual, there were more than six of us, in part because some of our “allies” were in attendance. Now that we’re teaching classes again (mostly public workshops, we’re not officially a school these days), we have allies. David, Allen’s son, was there, for example, since he teaches some of the science workshops when he’s in town (I teach most of them). There were eleven of us at the meeting, in total.

We were at Allen and Lo's place, since we rotate meeting places, so of course Lo and Alexis joined us for the meal (Julie lives in another state and does not plan to visit until Thanksgiving), and we all had a good time, but they left us alone for our meeting.

We drew our chairs into a circle on Allen’s patio and almost immediately the conviviality of dinner bled away. It had been a few days since the election, and we can forget about it for minutes or hours at a time, but then the knowledge comes back. We grew glum and sat around, sighing in silence, not looking at each other.

“My heart hurts,” said Joy, finally. She really liked Hillary Clinton, felt an almost personal connection with her. There were grunts and twitches of agreement.

“My heart would be hurting anyway,” said Karen. “Not everyone here wanted Hillary to win.” She had written in Bernie Sanders.

“I know,” said Joy. “And I don’t understand it. You’re as much of a feminist as I am.”

“I didn’t want to be bullied by my gender into voting for the first female major-party candidate who comes along,” Karen explained. “She’s a political insider and a corporate war-monger. We can do better.” She was holding tightly to the seat of her chair, not looking at us. Karen is still painfully shy, even among friends, and she expected us to disagree with her. Kit fulfilled expectations.

“She’s a politician,” Kit announced. “They’re all like that. Anyone who hasn’t made compromises hasn’t been in government yet. They either learn to compromise or they fail to do the job. Who did you want for President, Lady Isis? The Goddess Athena?” Isis, in Egyptian myth, helps her brother/husband, Osiris create civilization. Athena, of course, is the Greek goddess of statecraft, as well as wisdom, war, and craft in general. In other words, literally divinely perfect stateswomen. Karen gripped her chair even harder, looked at Kit, and said nothing for a long moment.

"You didn't like her, either," she said, at last.

"Well, not at first," Kit acknowledged. "I picked her because she was the best candidate available. It just gets me that this country can't elect a woman yet. Like, oh my god, is a vagina so terrible that you have to elect Trump to avoid one? What kind of country elects a rapist, an extortionist, and a liar rather than a perfectly good female policy wonk? I just...this isn't how it was supposed to turn out. I thought we had this one. I thought it was going to happen."

"It sounds like you're upset that the future you imagined did not happen," observed Greg.

"But it's my job to make the future I imagine happen!" she protested, and I thought about my daughter, who drew a bird to help Hillary win and could not understand why that didn't work,

"You said that kind of magic doesn't always work," I said, and Kit smiled at me in an embarrassed, lopsided way. She remembered her comment, too.

"But I wanted it to work!" She admitted. "We deserved for this to work! The amount of suffering he is going to cause...." She choked on her words and Allen rubbed her back.

"I know," I told her. "I'm thinking about climate change. With Clinton, we had a chance. Now, I'm not sure that we do."

"With Jill Stein we would have had a chance," said Chuck, who is not Charlie. He was our chief of maintenance while I was a novice, but left while I was in Absence. Lately, he's been helping Sadie with the plumbing and electrical work for her restaurant. He doesn't think much about Clinton as an environmentalist, a topic he and I have argued about.

"That was never going to work," Rick said, dismissively. "Jill Stein was never going to get elected."

"She might have if everyone who said that voted," replied Chuck, somewhat accusatory. "Almost half of the eligible voters didn't vote."

"It's not like Jill Stein is Lady Isis, either," pointed out Kit, and we all started talking at once, arguing politics, and sounding very mundane about it, except for the occasional reference to Greek myth or to the ethics of attempting magic to influence a supposedly free and fair election.

“We never used to talk about any of this,” commented Greg, quietly, and we all stopped talking to listen to him. “When Reagan was re-elected…I don’t even know how any of the others voted. Campus was a refuge, a bubble, from the political.”

That was 1984, and while I understand the school did not get accredited until the following year, the campus already existed and the faculty and some students were living together on it.

"I remember we didn't talk about the election in 2000, either," I said. "I was in grad school when Bush was re-elected. We talked about it there...."

"But not here," acknowledged Greg. "Until you and David and Steve started pushing, silence on the subject was almost a point of pride for us." By 'Steve,' he meant Steve Bees. Greg seldom uses that nickname.

“We were just beginning to get closer to the real world,” said Allen, sadly, his head resting on his fist. “And now it seems like the real world has gotten further away.”
“The point is, why are we talking about this?” Greg asked. “Is this community business, or is this chit-chat?” His question wasn’t rhetorical. Greg has a habit of asking questions that open up new lines of thought.

We thought.

“Our is the world,” I said, finally, thinking about Cecilly and Joya, and also about climate change. "We can't draw a line around our little bubble and keep the world out, because where would we draw the line? Do we include sprouts? Do we include partners or parents? What about family of partners? Partners of sprouts? What if Joya can't become a citizen this year because she's not white? Is she outside our community or in? What about Julie? She isn't here, she doesn't involve herself with us, but she's one of us. What if--" I was thinking of her vulnerability as a young woman in an age when the President of the United States happily boasts about grabbing pussies. But I didn't say it. I looked at Allen and he looked back at me, his eyes wide with fear. "We can't keep the world out because it won't stay out," I finished. "Neither injustice nor climate change obeys property lines."

It was my turn to hold on to my chair and breathe hard for a bit. I hardly ever talk, and I think that was the longest, most impassioned speech I've made yet at any of our meetings. The others looked at me, shocked, I suppose.

"You're right," said Greg. "The United States attempted isolationism once. Our appeasement of Hitler, our silence, did not prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor." An attack he remembers hearing about the day it happened.

"Alright, so what do we do?" asked Kit. "If we Six serve our community, and our community is the world, how do we serve it now?"

But none of us had an answer. We were all silent, for a bit, looking at each other. And then Allen began to sing.

Hello Darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping....

Allen has always loved to sing. That he is not very good at it has always encouraged, rather than irritated me--it is his implicit insistence that one need not be very good at things to enjoy doing them and to enjoy them publicly. He's not bad, his voice is quite pleasant, it just goes slightly off-key, now and then. And he has a very narrow range.

But usually when he sings, he either sings to himself or he performs small concerts, strumming his guitar and doing a couple of songs at parties and community events, singing for all the normal reasons that people sing. This was the first time I've ever heard him use song instead of speech, as if he lived in a musical play, or something, singing to say something he could not speak.

And indeed I had heard him say very little since he announced "It's over," acknowledging Trump's triumph three days earlier. He's not usually that quiet, but he had seemed preoccupied, disturbed. He'd said only that he had nothing helpful to say.

Now he sang on, through the whole song, as the darkness of night deepened and the temperature around us dropped, sang about a vision of isolation, of people "talking without speaking, hearing without listening," of hands rejected and calls to action left unheard, of loneliness and helplessness in the neon glare of a cold and rainy night. The nature of the problem that needs fixing, the location of the lock that now requires a key.

Allen is many things, but I've never thought of him as a visionary--and yet I believe he has had a vision, one that frightened him deeply but that he feels to be very important, but it was something he either could not say or did not believe he could say in a helpful way on his own.

And listening to him sing, then, it came to me that Allen is a deeply empathetic person, but he does not inspire empathy, not beyond the immediate circle of those who know and love him. That is why so many people think of him as purely intellectual, as distant, as odd and awkward, when he is, in fact, none of those things. As one musical string vibrates when another, laid near it, is struck, he resonates keenly for others but somehow the music inside him cannot reach anyone else, not even, usually, us, except in an intellectual way.

And so, having something  something well beyond the intellect to impart, he had decided to try something new--he borrowed someone else's music. Paul Simon's.

And when he was done, Allen would not look at us but looked down and to the right. Suddenly, he looked very small, barely visible in the faint yellow glow from the kitchen window. He sat curled over, rocking slightly, hugging himself against the chill of the evening. Even the crickets had fallen silent as the temperature fell.

Except Allen does not get cold.

This is how we communicate. We discuss, we explain, we argue, we vote, just like any other group of people, but when the big decisions need to be made, when the great thoughts need to be transmitted, we seldom use ordinary, prosaic words. Instead we evoke story, we evoke song, we locate ourselves in myth. We arrive together in a place where ordinary words do not take us.

And then we act from that joint place.

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