Celebrating continues.

Last night I celebrated our nation’s return to reason.  I read the New York Times and listened to cello music on a scratchy record.  I baked a cake, and I chatted with a gentleman caller, completely unchaperoned. 

As Mr. Vonnegut would say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” 

…Every time I hear “President-elect Obama,” my blood pressure eases, my shoulders sink, and I lose the lines between my eyebrows.

Hot off the presses: urban youth react to Obama victory

I am glad to report that many of our students here (all African-American) are pretty psyched about the Obama victory, and have been writing in class about how this changes their idea of themselves and their futures.  One of the boys said he cried.  Another said his dumb grandma went downstairs to honk the horn on her car. 

One wrote, “People in other countries believe that America is once again the land of opportunity, that really, you can do anything, with hard work and dedication.  I mean, I’m no ignorant person, but I didn’t see America letting a black man win the presidential election.  I am only 17 years old, and I didn’t think I would live long enough to see a real life black president.  But in all honesty, I thank God.  We needed this.”

Still, they maintain their usual annoying teenage whining, annoyance, and misbehavior, so I know the world hasn’t totally flipped on its axis.  We kept up our cranky struggle for power, teacher/student wise.  That’s reassuring.

November 4

Everything else up here is carefully revised and not just off the cuff… because I value your time, dear reader…however, today requires two extemporaneous insertions.

One: people searching for “naked locker room” on the internet are accidentally being sent to the tale of my dying grandmother and her bathroom problems.  This must be poetic justice for a conservative (though not prudish) woman.

Two: I think last night was the only day of my life in which I sat and pondered how Jesse Jackson was feeling.  Whenever there is some bright spotlight, I always imagine the person in the shadows.  This is why I don’t really enjoy sports.  Even if “my” team wins, I’m thinking about what it’s like to be in the losing locker room, in the shadows. 

Mr. Jackson and I don’t have a whole lot in common (other than political leanings).  But as I was doing not much of anything last night in my yellow gold attic bedroom, I thought: Jesse Jackson must be freaked out.  And I am freaked out.  He thinks we’re going to have a black president tomorrow.  So do I.  I think we’re both terribly pleased, but my awe is overshadowing my pleasure thus far. 

Driving to work this morning, I drove past two polling places in largely African-American neighborhoods, and both had lines stretching far out the door.  I tried not to burst into tears at this.  It’s going to be a long day, and there won’t be time to burst into tears over and over again.  I also tried to find an appropriate song to listen to.  It wasn’t perfect, but I settled on “As,” Stevie Wonder.  Not political, but upbeat.  It’s one of my favorite love songs because it’s not like “I love you, sexy baby,” it’s like, “I’ll love for forever [although our love might change completely and we’ll have to be just friends or you might get a terrible disease and I’ll have to lock you in the attic]”, which strikes me as a more honest kind of love. 

I wish the whole thing was over.  Seeing the lines gave me a surge of certainty that this is our day.  Then I think of the Kerry year again, and I cringe. 

I wondered, probably along with Jesse Jackson, if there would be protests…riots… if (heaven forbid) Obama lost.  On the radio they reported that The Authorities are preparing for such a possibility.  Shiver. 

My students need to leave today thinking I could vote for John McCain.  I think I have done a reasonable job of maintaining neutrality.  However, I do have an Obama sticker on my car, and there is sometimes discussion of this.  I guess I should say, “Who put an Obama sticker on my car?  And who put that Kerry sticker underneath it?  Gosh darn it!” 

I hope that tomorrow morning is the first day of something different for my kids here.  I am certainly politically aligned with Obama– I’m not voting for him based on his race– but it is a delicious bonus that he can heal wounds that we have wasted years and years reopening (to maintain a “safe” discussion of race and avoid an awkward discussion of class).  Even better, he can push people who are disenfranchised to accept that progress is possible.

Special thanks today to the little dog Jo, wherever you are, naked or dressed.

Render Unto Caesar

Last week’s gospel was: render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s.  I was definitely having rendering problems.  Render, in case you weren’t sure, means “to give what is due or owed.”  I possessed, each week, seven days and do the math, you know, a lot of hours, and I somehow felt like I spent most of my week doing things I didn’t want to do.  Why was I giving my time to areas where it was not “due or owed”?

It’s a practical problem—I want to be a writer but lack the domestic freedom of the writers of yore.  I have dishes to do, and then a demanding full-time job.  It’s frequently a difficult decision to balance the need for an organized space and a the need for a chunk of time for Art. 

Sundays are my usual cleaning days, and when my cleaning is done, I get to have a cup of coffee and writing time.  Every week, I fight a little civil war over the hours between three and four. 

I’d like to get to coffee and have a solid hour and a half to settle in and write before church.  I’d also like to start my dizzying work week with a clean kitchen and bathroom and the trash taken out, my clothes hung up or thrown in the laundry, the catbox ready for a new week of shit—that’s an absolute minimum.  I don’t like to begin Monday feeling already deficient.

This last Sunday, I had left for coffee unshowered.  Showering was what would wait.  I know.  It’s ridiculous.  I either shortchange my cleaning and come home later deflated by lingering squalor, or I shortchange my writing time and have to zoom off to church annoyed, my head still in my notebook. For the record, I did bathe when I got home.  If any of you compulsively clean Americans are keeping score.

I also couldn’t render things yes or no according to any reasonable system.  When my dad said, I want you to come over and look at furniture on Sunday, I just should have said, no, hell to the no.  I’m not talking to anyone on Sunday.  I have spent the last two Sundays trying to act like a good girlfriend (which is a stretch for me, I assure you), and this Sunday, with boyfriend out of town, all I’m going to do is read and putter and stare and read and fall back asleep until I have to clean up.  I can’t be a good daughter or a good girlfriend or any other kind of good this Sunday.

So the message is you’re supposed to look at the thing in your hand, and say, Hey, it’s Caesar’s, and Hey, this is clearly God’s.  Except that deep down, everything is God’s, and also, if you took a minute to focus and clearly look for a face in any situation, you would probably know what to do.  Even worse, although I’m not sure I even want to go into this, the meaning of “render” that the translator may have had in mind—the one that jumped out at me– suggests that there are requirements, not merely hippie feel-good options, for how one should spend one’s time.  That it is owed to someone(s) and something(s).  And what happens if you don’t pay up what is owed?

I was not focusing and looking clearly at my situation.  I was fretting, and whining, but I was not looking.  I was spending my energy and money without even looking at what I was giving out.  Was it a fifty?  Was it a five?  And the uglier, more practical, and more scandalous truth was that I had been doing exactly the same thing with my literal money.  Since I moved last month, I have blindly thrown purchases on my debit card (verboten!), not filled out my monthly budget, left unpaid at least one bill, and cleverly avoided calling my bank.  I was also greedily avoiding making my usual donations because I worked so hard for poor kids, which only serves to make me feel like a dried-up monster.  I spent some time a few years ago getting sober with money, and here I was acting drunk again.  It was good that I was reading Eric Clapton’s autobiography.  I wish there was a Hazeldon Center for money.  Well, I guess there is… federal prison.

But this wasn’t my point.  My point was that I guess I hadn’t even learned much of a spiritual lesson, it was just that Jesus and his notetakers had pointed out to me that if you aren’t carefully considering what you are doing, you are likely to do a lot of things you don’t want to do.  That a little time up front making a reasonable plan could really pay off.  A reasonable plan could ensure that you won’t end up with a lot of Caesar receipts mixed in with your God receipts, and that you won’t end up in federal prison.