Weary To My Bones: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a blue sky Saturday. Large dagger-like icicles dripped from the roof. I had an errand to run in Bennington. Rich said he would join me and after the errand we could drive across the New York border.

“It will be like when we use to escape the Inn,” he said. “Just hop in the car and head out for some random exploring.”

I checked the map. My finger followed a loop taking Route 9 out of Bennington that turns in to Route 7 at the New York border, hook a right in Hoosick and take Route 22 to Hoosick Falls.

“It’s probably one of those old mill towns powered by the falls. We could walk around, check out some cool old architecture, maybe find a coffee shop or a brew pub.”

“Let’s go,” Rich said.

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Hoosick River, New York

We drove through downtown Wilmington where cars with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut plates waited at the red light in the center of town on President’s Day weekend at the start of a school vacation week. The height of the ski and snowmobile season. Old Man Winter has been generous this year, conditions are good and local business is doing well.

Route 9 climbs up and over the Green Mountains then descends into Bennington where I quickly ran into CVS to pick up a prescription then we were back on the road. The Bennington Battle Monument loomed in the distance, a 306 foot stone phallic symbol commemorating a revolutionary war battle.

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Bennington Battle Monument

In 1777, the Continental Army once stored weapons and food where the monument now stands. The British, camped out in Upstate New York, were planning a raid on the provisions. John Stark and 1400 other men from New Hampshire were called on to help the Green Mountain Boys defend the provisions.

Back in 1752, Stark had distinguished himself when he was out hunting and fishing along the Baker River in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was captured by Abenaki Indians. They took him  to Canada where he was forced to run a gauntlet of warriors wielding sticks. He grabbed one of the sticks and began to defend himself. The Abernaki chief was so impressed he adopted Stark and John spent the winter with the tribe. In the spring of 1753, a government agent was sent to rescue him. He paid $103 in ransom for Stark’s release.

Six years later, in 1759 during the French and Indian war, Stark was ordered to travel from Lake George to an Abenaki village deep in Quebec. He refused to participate in the raid out of respect for the tribe that had adopted him and instead, he returned home to his wife Molly.

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Hoosick Falls, New York

We drove past collapsing barns, fields dotted with rusted farm equipment, and empty silos. I thought about the Patriots who once lived here, farmed these fields, settled the towns, and fought for freedom. Rich and I discussed the President’s Day holiday, how it was once Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday but then became one holiday celebrating the American Presidency on a three day weekend.

Our friend, Peter, was visiting with us for the weekend. He and his daughter were back at Mount Snow skiing for the day. The night they arrived he reminisced about the cherry pie his mom always made. We talked about George Washington and the pie and “I cannot tell a lie.”

“Now it’s alternative facts,” I said. With nothing else to say, we all nodded sadly.

We passed through Hoosick quickly. It was like a lot of the New England-Upstate New York towns we’ve traveled through since returning from Florida. Empty mills, peeling paint houses, old cars abandoned in the backyard, sagging front porches. Forgotten chapters from the story of Election 2016 that many politicians skipped over. But I saw it. I was writing it all down.

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Hoosick Falls, NY

Before we left the house I quickly Googled Hoosick Falls and saw mention of a brew pub. I also quickly glanced at a link to a New York Times article about contaminated water but once Rich decides he’s ready to go somewhere, he’s ready to go.

“If we find this brew pub, we need to ask if they use local water to make the beer,” I told him.

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Pub for Sale in Hoosick Falls, NY

We never did find the brew pub or any dining and drinking establishment that was open for business. I’ve seen some sad cities in my time. Woonsocket, Hinsdale, Torrington, Waterbury, the list goes on. Many are off Route 91, aka the Heroin Highway. Places where you can find the answer to the question, How did Trump win the election? The intrigue wasn’t only coming out of Russia. It was all here, right next door, just a short drive from the bright lights of the cities and the driveways of suburbia.

Hoosick Falls is one of the saddest places I’ve visited. Most of the buildings were empty. The streets were empty too. A family of four walked a snow covered trail along the Hoosick River where we parked our car. A woman with weights in her hands walked briskly across the bridge. Other than that no one was around on this blue sky day.

We walked a few blocks. I snapped some photos. Rich wanted to go in a barber shop but the guy was closing for the day.

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Thorpe’s Hoosick Falls, NY

Grandma Moses is buried somewhere near here. Her paintings depict the landscape in and around Hoosick Falls in a different time. A different America.

We took a different road back to West Bennington. Before crossing the border into Vermont, we passed the Battle of Bennington battlefield, now a state park  in Walloomsac, New York. The British soldiers never made it across the border to Vermont. On August 16, 1777 they were decisively defeated by George Washington and his troops, joined by the Green Mountain Boys, and John Stark and his men from New Hampshire.

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Pharmacy Hoosick Falls, NY

It was a quiet drive home. Our adventure didn’t turn out as expected. Back at the house, I Googled Hoosick Falls again. I was curious about what happened to this ghost town. I discovered a man named Michael Hickey contacted the state requesting a drinking water test after his Dad died of kidney cancer in 2014. The Saint Gobain Performance Plastics plant has now been declared a super fund site and the residents of Hoosick Falls have been told the water is contaminated with the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is used in making teflon and household cleaning products. The chemical has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer as well as other health issues. Erin Brockovich has visited the Hoosick Falls.

According to CNN, late last year, more than a year after the first samples showed higher-than-advised levels of PFOA, the EPA issued an advisory recommending village residents avoid cooking with and drinking the water.

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Tattered Flag Hoosick Falls, NY

I knew Trump had done well in Upstate New York and I’d seen the lawn signs myself when we worked at the inn and took day trips through Duchess County to places like Hudson, Millerton, and Rhinebeck. Google only gave me election results by county. In Rensselaer County, the district Hoosick Falls votes in, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 60.255% to 39.75%.

As always, the story of this election was right there, laid out before us in a landscape of forgotten places, struggling middle class Americans, toxic drinking water, ineffective politicians, and insufficient news voters could use. Most people weren’t paying attention and neither was the media.

I was. I’ve been writing about it since the day I started writing five years ago. Not that it makes me smarter than anyone. I’ve often been mistaken and I’m very confused these days. I don’t even know where this blog is going.

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Storefront in Hoosick Falls, NY

I fear it’s all going to get worse. Scott Pruitt runs the EPA, Betsy DeVos is in charge of public education, and Trump replayed the election results in one of the scariest, craziest press conferences I’ve ever watched.

The history of America is always around us. The historic houses, the museums, the battlefields, the old graveyards. The lies to Native Americans at Standing Rock. The misinformation, the rewriting of history.  Does anyone pay attention? Trump never mentions history. I’m quite sure he’s never heard of the Battle of Bennington. He and his administration recently spoke of Frederick Douglas as if he were still alive.

I’m weary. I don’t know what to do. It often feels like a losing battle. Although others make excuses and disregard their own culpability, I am well aware of what went wrong. I’ve been watching this unfold since Ronald Reagan. As Jack Kemp once said,“{Murdoch) used the editorial page, the front page and every other page of The New York Post to elect Ronald Reagan president” and that led to smooth sailing on his effort to build Fox. I don’t think I need to tell where that took the “news”.

I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and my optimism is growing dim. It’s not what it used to be.

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Message of Hope in Hoosick Falls, NY

John Stark was married to Molly. They had eleven children. Molly never lived in Vermont but she is immortalized here in the town I now live in. There is the Molly Stark hiking trail on Hogback Mountain and a statue of her in the center of town. The scenic byway we take from Brattleboro to Bennington is called the Molly Stark Trail.

Molly ran a hospital in her home in Manchester, New Hampshire and cared for her husband John’s troops during a smallpox epidemic. She is most famous for her husband’s battle cry on the night he fought the Battle of Bennington. “There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”

Small things leading to big things. A man fighting for freedom and liberty. His wife supporting the effort while raising eleven children. Do small things add up? Is that how history is made?

Keep making those phone calls, my friends.

Keep sharing real news.

Talk to people who don’t agree with you. Educate them.

Show up at your town meetings. Don’t let your representatives hide. Remember they work for us. Our taxes pay their salaries, their pensions, and their awesome health insurance.

There are two marches coming up in April. The March for Science could be as large as the Women’s March, possibly even larger. The links are below. It should’t be hard to find one near where you live. Hang in there. Remember, we’re all in this together. You are not alone.

March For Science, Earth Day, April 22 

Tax Day Marches April 15

And there’s always music:

A New Year’s Revolution: Stories from Higley Hill

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New Year’s Eve 2017.Goodbye 2016. Marlboro, VT

Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, as a race, — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded. ~ John Steinbeck’s letter written on January 1, 1941 to Pascal Covici

If any great author inspired me to write, it was John Steinbeck. I discovered him in high school when I read Of Mice and Men. By the time I graduated I had read all his books. The powerful ending of The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me to this day. After all the struggle and sorrow the story told, it was that simple powerful image of a woman offering her breast to a starving man that I would never forget. This was the power of great literature.

E.B White once wrote “a writer should lift people up, not lower them down”.

During the last days of the awful year of 2016, I went back through my blogs looking for typos, editing repetition, and correcting run-on sentences. I don’t want to change anything major. I am intent on keeping the spirit of my early attempts at learning to write in public.

Here in the Green Mountains the last days of the year were snowy and cold. Epic icicles hung from the roof, but I was back in sunny Florida reading about those first days and months when we lived in the tropics. It has been interesting to look back at the things I was writing in 2013. Public libraries and the loss of public beaches along the Gold Coast shoreline caught my attention.  Unbeknownst to me, and most of the world, I had my finger on the national zeitgeist. From the very first days when I started blogging back in 2013 I was drawn to the stories of everyday Americans like myself. I was repulsed by the opulent wealth and income inequality I saw all around me in South Florida. The anger and frustration of Election 2016 that came as a big surprise to so many came as no surprise to me.

My favorite pieces to write are not the stories about myself but the stories of average Americans I meet as I go about my everyday life. I like to keep my eyes wide open. I pay attention and I think empathy is a quality we all need to work on. The stories I’m attracted to are slice of life stories of everyday struggles, nothing unusual or heroic. I am not one of those confessional bloggers who talks about my personal struggles. I don’t find myself that interesting or insightful. What I’m trying to do is place myself in the spirit and mood of the times I live in. My generation, my particular time in history. Of course, the stories are told through my eyes and my personal perspective but what I discover is that most people I meet share the same problems I struggle with. I try to present the facts but often my opinion slips in. Just the act of choosing the stories I share is a political act but as I repeated quite often in the Florida blogs, politics have real life consequences.

Although some of the stories are about Me I prefer to write from the perspective of We. Some bloggers are very comfortable with confessional stories about their struggles with marriage, mothering, self-actualization, and living in the present. There are a lot of writers writing about sobriety right now. Although I have frequently written about living in the present, I prefer the perspective of We, as in We The People.

“Hard times are coming…we will need writers who remember freedom” ~ Ursula Le Guin

Steinbeck described his drive to write as a desire to make people understand each other.

“There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused…..At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?”

Despair is not an option. Hiding and going back in your hole is not an option. Not for me anyway. However small my voice may be, I have a voice. And so do you, dear reader. If you hear a story that moves you, please send me a note and I’ll share it in a blog. Names can remain anonymous, or if you’d like a shout out I’ll gladly credit you as my source. It could be a story about your cousin or someone you overheard in a supermarket check-out line. It could be your own story.

However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows… We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human. ~ Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times

These are the stories I’ll be writing in the new year. I have a voice. Although it may be rather small, I intend to use it. I also plan to help out at a local food pantry and find other ways to help the people who will surely be hurting in the days ahead. I will share those stories too, beginning with the Women’s March  in Washington, DC on January 21st. If you can’t join us check for local marches in your area.

I am working on the premise that entertainment – writing, movies, books, or music – can provide empathy and understanding, something we desperately need in these very divisive times we live in. If you like some of the blogs I write please share them. Real news will be a rare commodity in the coming year. We have a president who is going to tweet his own version of the story. So join me by volunteering, doing whatever you can, and helping spread the word.

Thanks for all your support over the last few years. Together we can change things for the better. Now is our time. Together we are writing history.

#bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever.  JOIN ME.

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” ― Elvis Presley

icicles

Higley Hill Epic Icicles

Walking ~ Days 94-97 In Search of the Intracoastal Among Other Things

A Florida Flashback from three years ago. I now understand why i supported Bernie, reluctantly voted for Hillary, and was not surprised by Trump. I’ve been out there observing it for years. Where were the mainstream media and the politicians? As a new year dawns, I will be writing by the words of Ursula Le Guin – “Hard times are coming…..We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.” #bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever

Sheila Blanchette

Time got away from me. My daughter was here for a week. I was entertaining her, catching up, having fun. I got a second temp job which I thought was going to be one day a week but the guy hadn’t entered anything in Quickbooks for a year, so I worked two days and we’re still not caught up. Everything needed to be entered; checks paid, deposits made, credit card statements to expense. All sorts of fun stuff. We were reinventing the wheel. I was bleary eyed by the end of the day and couldn’t sit down to write.

Other things were happening. We backed out of the offer we made on the house. The appraisal came in lower than our offer. We did some investigating. The neighborhood was lovely but it was a small little pocket in an area that was going nowhere. That happens a lot here in…

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THE WRITING LIFE: Stories From Higley Hill

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First Snow 2016 at Haystack Mountain, Vermont

Last night a howling wind came across Higley Hill. Snow flurries quickly followed but stayed only long enough to accompany us down the hill to the Valley Market where we picked up some lemon seltzer for the vodka and a bottle of chardonnay. If it was going to snow we needed supplies.

The fire in the Defiant wood stove was roaring. A beef stew simmered on the kitchen stove and there was a ciabatta bread in the oven. The lights only flickered a couple of times. We’re still without cable but we’re on the list for fiber optic wifi with Duncan, a local company in town. Duncan owns mountaintop land and has set up satellites. The locals say the service is good, fast, reliable, and cheaper than Comcast. We’re starting with just wifi and our smart TV. The lack of the Golf Channel presents a bit of a problem. When we lived in Florida and at the inn in Connecticut, my husband couldn’t survive without it. He says he’s learned everything he can from watching other people play golf. Now he just needs to golf more, and he did, late afternoons after work, all summer long and into the fall. He’s closing in on par.

While he golfed and worked, I finished a fourth novel, living what some people call the writing life. Bloggers on the Internet use this expression a lot lately. Writers on Instagram use it as a hashtag, #thewritinglife. I heard it mentioned several times at a literary festival I attended in Brattleboro last weekend. It sounds pretentious to me and although I have occasionally used the hashtag I feel awkward saying it out loud. My writing life. All the years I worked in bookkeeping I never referred to it as my bookkeeping life.

Looking back, it seems I was preparing for this so-called writing life. During the years spent crunching numbers on a calculator I accumulated characters, dialogue, and places, unaware of the fact I was preparing to exchange one keyboard for another.

Richard Ford was once asked about the raw material in his notebooks.

”What’s more interesting is what I do with it. A sentence in my notebook will come at a place where I never imagined it. And that’s really what writing is for me, taking the raw stuff and recasting it into a logic that is its own. Taking lines which maybe have occurred in life in one context, and then creating another context for them.’’

I have been observing people and places, and recording conversations all my life. I had so many different bookkeeping clients over the years. The cast of characters were the only thing that got me through the monotony of my days. I’ve worked for construction guys, a seafood restaurant on Rye Beach NH, and a vape shop in Pompano Beach FL. There was the costume jewelry wholesaler near Filene’s basement in Boston, an art gallery on Newbury Street, a tree removal guy in Brookline whose office walls were covered with Scientology quotes, and in Boca Raton, a flashy attractive young couple who owned a marketing company. When they argued they always spoke to each other in Hebrew. It was there that I had some trouble learning Quickbooks on the Cloud. I was already proficient in Quickbooks and that was good enough to pay the bills. I sensed they were arguing about me and my incompetence with working on the Cloud. She was very impatient and clearly the one in charge. Little did she know, I was working on my third novel, Life Is All This. My thoughts were lost in another cloud and I had reached a point in my bookkeeping life where I had no desire to learn Quickbooks on the Cloud.

They eventually called the temp agency and asked them to send over someone who knew what they were doing. There was a lot of work for a hungry bookkeeper in Boca and the surrounding towns but by then I was surviving on words. Surviving spiritually, not financially, so I continued to take temp jobs and did learn a new tax preparation program while working with two women CPA’s in West Palm Beach. What I took from that job was not the new bookkeeping skill I acquired but the way the younger woman was all nerves and jumpy jitters. Each day the three of us would eat lunch together in the conference room and she would do most of the talking while slicing and dicing her salad with a knife and fork then tossing the chopped up mess. While she chattered, her silverware moved like a conductor directing an orchestra. She never finished her salad. It was more like a prop or a receptacle for her nervous energy. She’s in my notebook now, waiting to appear in a story I have yet to imagine.

I also got a blog out of the tax season I spent with the CPAs in West Palm. It sprang from a boring afternoon spent creating a travel log on an Excel spreadsheet for a truck driver who brought us a shoebox of gas receipts and slips of paper he had kept his destinations and mileage on. The blog was really more about me and my fascination with driving the open road than about him. I never met the guy, just spent an afternoon sitting at a desk imagining traveling with him across the country in his eighteen wheeler.

I’ll share a writer’s secret with you. If you have read Life Is All This, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I hope this sparks your curiosity enough to buy the book and read it. Not all of my stories start with overheard conversations. Most are pure fiction but some are torn from the pages of real life. The opening scene in Life Is All This? The truck driver named Levon and the midnight ride from Houston to Galveston? That was my story and I gave it to Sam Ryder. It was a scene I didn’t need to write in my notebook. I’ve carried it with me for thirty years and to this day “(I can) still recall the reckless feeling of driving the big rig through the dark Texas night and hopping out of the cab in the early morning light at a truck stop behind a gas station; streetlights flickering, cows mooing in a truck nearby, hazy shades of pink, yellow, and blue enhanced by the smog on the horizon.”

There was another story at the end of The Reverse Commute, an accident that happens at a company picnic and changes the course of two of the characters lives. In an Amazon review, one of my critics thought the ending was contrived. I wish that were so. I witnessed that accident and saw someone die that day. It changed the course of my life. A year later I finished a novel that was based on my time working in a cubicle and the accident that led to the end of my full-time bookkeeping career. If you can call it a career. From where I sat, it was always just a job that paid the bills and provided health insurance but it was also a reminder that truth is often stranger and more tragic than fiction. I’d like to tell the reviewer that but authors are encouraged not to respond to negative reviews.

As a reader I don’t often think much about the author of a fictional novel. I know John Irving lived in Exeter, New Hampshire as I did for twenty-three years. I realize some of the things he writes are autobiographical but most of it is fanciful fiction.

My stories are tales of  middle class life in America. I gather the raw material from barstools, lines at grocery stores, gas stations – for some reason I’ve written several gas station blogs – and the cast of characters I’ve met in the various places I’ve worked. My resume is long and I’ve kept a lot of people’s books. I’ve also kept their stories. They reside in my notebooks waiting to be recast “into a logic of their own.”

The fourth novel is in the hands of two of my best readers. I don’t know what to do with myself now. I know I have to go through that list of literary agents I’ve compiled. Who will pluck me from the slush pile, for that is where my novel will land after I send it off through the Internet ether. I don’t have a friend or mentor in publishing to put in a good word for me. I am lacking relatives who work in the publishing business and Ivy League connections, which if you happen to look through a list of traditionally published authors that pedigree will show where the keys to the door are. It’s a rough business. You need someone to lend a helping hand. Yet writers are discovered in the slush pile every now and then, so this winter that is where you’ll find me.

I finally see myself as a writer, and in some ways I see myself living a writing life but there are still bills to pay while I wait to get ‘discovered’. In the meantime, I’ve been offered a job turning over condos during the ski season. It will put my housekeeping skills to good use. The skills I honed over the course of a year I spent as an innkeeper at a manor house in Northwest Connecticut.

That’s not to say if I don’t succeed you won’t ever see my latest book. I believe it’s an important story and publishing on my own is one of the many skills I’ve acquired over this ragtag life of work I’ve been keeping for many years now.

I am no longer just the keeper of the stories. I am now addicted to writing and sharing the stories. In the meantime I am here in Vermont, off the grid, living my so called writing life. To quote Richard Ford once again, “Writers are all doing the same thing. You are doing what Chekhov did.” And I suppose I am also doing what Ford is doing. All Amazon reviews aren’t critical. There was some unknown to me reviewer who compared me to the esteemed Mr. Ford, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and through her I found his books and his sage advice. All of it keeps me writing against the odds.

Contemplative Loafing: Stories From Higley Hill

Library 1

I recently spent a weekend outside of Boston at an old New England house filled with books. I planned to take walks, hike the hills, and write. I did manage to write but most of my time was spent browsing the books that lined the upstairs hall and the living room wall.

I frequently got lost, in more ways than one. On the first floor, one room led to another, and I circled around trying to find my bedroom. Along the route I gathered books and my plans for fresh air and exercise turned to what Walt Whitman once coined contemplative loafing. Honestly, it was too hot and muggy to do anything else.

The Politics of Rage by Dan T. Carter practically leaped off the shelf into my hands. The biography of George Wallace seemed as topical as the daily headlines so I brought it to the living room and plopped down on the only comfortable piece of furniture, the couch.

Virginia Durr, a lifelong campaigner for civil and human rights who saw much of the dark side of history, noted that Wallace’s appeal must have something to do with the basic insecurity of Americans in the 1960’s and ’70’s. She believed they had to “blame somebody else….I just don’t know, I wish I could understand why Wallace or anybody feels so good about humiliating other people,” she said. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

If that doesn’t sound like our current predicament, I don’t know what does, as we all anxiously make our way through the hot summer of 2016, full of fear and insecurity at the thought of a possible Trump victory.

Arthur Miller, in Death of a Salesman, says of a washed-up Willy Loman: “Attention must be paid.” What he was talking about, said the Democrats’ 1972 presidential candidate, George McGovern, “was the frustration of the little guy, the little salesman that couldn’t make the sale.” George Wallace tapped into the anger and that desperation. Long before journalists and pundits had coined the term “silent majority”, said McGovern, Wallace understood that there might not be a majority, but there were millions of Americans who felt that nobody was paying any attention to them, nobody cared about their frustrations. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

I understand that feeling. At the Democratic convention, Hillary reached out to Bernie supporters like myself. She told us, “I heard you.” Is she being sincere or are we just being focus grouped, only to be ignored after the ballots have been counted? If money talks, and it surely seems to be that way in Washington, Goldman Sachs is a fire alarm compared to the small whisper of millions of average Americans like myself.

George Wallace had recognized the political capital to be made in a society shaken by social upheaval and economic uncertainty. As the conservative revolution reached high tide, it was no accident that the groups singled out for relentless abuse and condemnation were welfare mothers and aliens, groups that are both powerless and, by virtue of color and nationality, outsiders. The politics of rage that George Wallace made his own had moved from the fringes of our society to center stage. He was the most influential loser in twentieth-century American politics. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

Carter goes on to say the Republican party embraced Wallace’s politics of rage in a more subtle way. “Reagan didn’t need to make the race connection when he began one of his famous discourses on welfare queens using food stamps to buy porterhouse steaks. His audience was already primed to make that connection.”

This all left me wondering what happens after November. If Trump loses, where does the anger go? Will Bernie’s supporters carry on the revolution? Or do Trump’s supporters fight back? Does Hillary say what she means and do what she says, or does she keep the status quo? You take Bernie and Trump supporters and add up the numbers and you have more people than those who voted for Hillary. The status quo isn’t going to quiet the no longer so silent majority.

Library 2

I put the book down and hunted for another, searching the library shelves for something more uplifting. I found a biography of Walt Whitman. “A poet who hoped to save America.”

The mid-1850’s when the first two editions of Leaves of Grass were published was a time of political and social turmoil and upheaval…. a middle class was developing, (but) the gap between rich and poor was wider than ever, immigrants arriving in large numbers, changing the ethnic makeup and fanning anti-ethnic sentiment…. In 1854 there was widespread unemployment and suffering. In the wake of the 1854 slavery debacles, William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned the Constitution and Henry David Thoreau spoke murder against the state. An ex-congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, declared that compromise now between the North and South was impossible. Frederick Douglas spoke for many when he wrote, “We now say, in the name of God, let the battle come”….On the national scene, the jingoistic Know-Nothings rose to bizarre prominence by promising to restore America to Americans.”

Echoes of Make America Great Again reverberated around the living room. The Know Nothings are back.

Whitman believed in a harmonious universe of the individual, the state, and nature. Pretty lofty stuff not often discussed by the water cooler or on a barstool at the local pub. “Justice is not settled by legislators and laws…it is in the soul.” he once said. What would Whitman think of Trump’s soul? Or the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Kelly Ayotte, spineless politicians who care more about their political careers than the state of the union?

The fact we survived all of this makes me feel slightly optimistic but I am left wondering why mankind continues to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Mere mortals seem only capable of living in the present moment and incapable of learning from the mistakes of previous generations. History repeats itself and we continue to ignore it at our own peril.

Whitman believed that through poetry he could hold America together. He believed in the founding fathers, the American Revolution, and the idea of democracy despite the fact slavery and class divisions were tearing it apart. His poetry sings of the working class and the ordinary people, because he believed that was where democracy was alive, in the daily lives of average Americans. And here we are, one hundred sixty years later, still dealing with racial and income inequality. The middle class is shrinking, and there is more than enough anxiety and tension to tear us apart.

Attention must be paid but I’m not sure who is capable of paying attention in a fast paced world where breaking news drives the headlines and a presidential candidate communicates by tweeting a maximum of one hundred forty characters.

I certainly don’t think my middle class stories can hold America together but I keep writing because I don’t know what else to do. Each time I return to Higley Hill I try to shut out the news of the day and keep Whitman’s ideals in mind. He wrote something for everyone, for all Americans, and he too was as much the average American as anyone.

“I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
~ Walt Whitman

**** Two days after I wrote this blog I sit in a coffee shop posting it and read the day’s headlines. Donald Trump has told “second amendment people” they can stop Hillary Clinton from curbing gun rights. The Secret Service has confirmed they have spoken to the candidate. November is a long way off. Optimism is hard to maintain.***

Cats On a Chair

 

The Book of Love: My Mom’s Alzheimer’s Journey

My mom’s Alzheimer’s journey ended on Wednesday. She died peacefully with her family by her side. There are more chapters to this story that I have been sharing with you but at the moment I am sitting here alone in my daughter’s Providence apartment waiting for my husband to arrive and join me at the wake and the funeral. I am not religious. I know these rituals help others but for me it’s a struggle.

For me songs are like prayers.  This one is for my Dad who lost the love of his life, his wife of 60 years. When we told him he had given her a wonderful life, he said, “No, she gave me a wonderful life.”