The best of times, the worst of times

Today was a perfect autumn day. Crisp, cool air. Golden light.  The crunch of leaves underfoot.

Tonight, barely 7 p.m. and the sky is ink blue.  A crescent moon casts its spell.

To be in sync with the seasons is to be reminded that autumn is tinged with the stickiness of nostalgia. To feel melancholy goes with the territory. That rich palette of colors the leaves offer up is the gift we get before they fall to the ground. Bare winter trees are a different kind of beauty.

The ‘80s are on my mind a lot these days.  When I wrote about what feels like an ‘80s redux in current times, the New York Times hadn’t yet published its special magazine section, Losing Earth, focused on the decade 1979-1989 when the body of research re: global warming seemed to be taken seriously enough to bring (almost) international consensus for a strategy to reduce carbon emissions.  On top of that we have the urgent UN report.

I need to believe all is not lost.

On the personal side: I got married in 1984 and gave birth to my daughter in 1986. In the year between the most life-affirming moments imaginable came the death of my husband’s good friend and business partner, an early casualty of AIDS.  Maybe ‘imaginable’ is the operative word here. The heart of the novel I published earlier this year is a girl’s coming of age during the ‘80s. As the story began to percolate, I had a backdrop of extreme personal joy coupled with extreme sadness.

Funny how a writer’s mind works.

Sometimes you know something even before you know you know it. If I didn’t yet have confirmation of that decade as a profound time of innocence lost, the proof would come.  We were on the edge of the technology that would take over our lives.  That was then, this is now. The power to manipulate information is frighteningly easy. Take a quote out of context, give only half the statement.

I know there is no turning back but I need to believe that life-affirming instincts hold sway over the cynicism and lies thrown at us left and right.

I want to believe that a time will come when I’ll get past my resistance to using a verb that bears the name of the man in the Oval Office.

Maybe—just maybe—if enough thinking people take the time to look past the smokescreen of misinformation, there’s still hope that we can keep our planet from burning up and our democracy from self-destructing.  My daughter is much less hopeful.  She reminds me that I can’t even get Republican cousins to listen to reason and see the bigger picture beyond immediate, personal self-interest.  When families can’t talk to each other, what does that say about the country at large?

Entertainment is as much an escape as it is a reflection of our culture. Is it any wonder that Wonder Woman and Black Panther broke box office records? Now we have the spectacle of King Kong on Broadway.

I can’t say I have any intention to see the show, but I can say that King Kong himself is a fixture in my imagination. In the days before Netflix and streaming and DVDs, there was “Million Dollar Movie,” a weeklong chance to watch a film you loved over and over and over again. King Kong and Mighty Joe Young stand out as the two movies I watched more than any other. How could I, as a young girl, help but be fascinated by a larger-than life gorilla who may have struck fear in the hearts of natives on Skull Island but clearly had a soft spot for Fay Wray? How could I, as a young girl, help but be touched by a young (and then grown) Terry Moore calming her pet ape with a beautiful piece of music?

The animation in the 1933 King Kong may seem quaint by today’s standards but it was groundbreaking at the time. The 1976 remake with Jessica Lange would give King Kong’s eyes a very human dimension but both versions leave indelible images of a woman held captive in the palm of what would seem to be a frightening beast. This is the moment where metaphor plays its hand. The 2005 remake with Naomi Watts shows a woman still captive but doing her best to communicate with her captor. Less screaming, more compassion.

The racism and sexism inherent in King Kong may have been lost on me as a young girl probably because it seemed more a story about trying to tame the untameable.  Of the eleven movies to date that call up that mighty gorilla, I’ve seen only the original and the two that follow its story line.  Whatever Broadway promises with its 20-foot tall, 2,000-pound puppet would seem to speak more to special effects than story. Call me a purist, but there is no way that the movie’s cinematic pinnacle—a primate seeing some means of survival in scaling the tallest building in New York City—can be adequately conveyed in a stage set. At the same time, isn’t it uncanny that King Kong’s latest incarnation comes at a time when survival and sexism are at a cultural zenith?

 

Rain rain go away . . .

This morning had me scrambling outside for a walk during a brief break from the rain we seem to be getting a lot of lately.  Scattered thunderstorms are a summertime staple, the operative word being ‘scattered.’ Rolling thunder. Lightning bolts cracking through the sky, as mystifying and beautiful as they are frightening. Pounding rain that comes and goes, too many days of which can dampen a person’s spirit.

I remember reading long ago about a tribe that runs into the rain instead of running for cover the way I do. This was pre-Google and I can’t track down the essay but I do trust the impression it left in my memory. Then there was MoMA’s enchanting Rain Room exhibition a few years back that had visitors walking through rain without getting wet.

In my day-to-day walks, I can handle light rain, almost welcome it on a hot, summer day.  I can even laugh, when I’m caught in a downpour, at my reliance on the hour-by-hour know-before-you-go weather report I check too regularly. Tell the truth—how many times have you heard or said these words: It’s not supposed to rain?

Rain rain go away
Come again another day. . .

We can’t help ourselves, can we?  We know there’s really nothing personal about weather.  We need rain as much as we need sun.  We can’t will away the less-than-welcoming forecast during a vacation on Ibiza. We can only hope for the one constant: everything, including weather, changes.

Children are on my mind a lot these days.  Truth be known, they’re always in my mind if not at the top of consciousness. But today, caught in a brief shower (despite the ‘beat the rain’ game I’m playing), I’m picturing immigrant children separated from their parents doing their best to come out and play, rain or no rain. I’m feeling what any decent person with a heart feels re: the heartlessness of an administration that has inflicted this confusion and pain on children.

I’m hearing a toddler crying in a courtroom and a judge embarrassed to ask if he understands the proceedings.

I’m seeing the helplessness on the face of a woman, one of more than 450 sent back to their countries without their children.

 

Despair is not an option.  If nothing else, wishing away the stream of lies (with or with the sex and videotapes) about everything, hoping to wake up one day and breathe a sigh of relief at seeing an end to the collective nightmare acknowledges the reality of how suddenly things can change.

Ten minutes ago it was pouring. Now the sun is out.  Change of the political and cultural kind tends to me more gradual, so much going on in the shadows, as the brilliant Rebecca Solnit reminds us in her reissued book of essays, Hope in the Dark. She tells story after story of an “inspired” activism, one that finds common ground between parties normally on different sides of the ‘us and them’ fence.  In lieu of the fall from grace paradigm that sets paradise as the bar for an ideal world, she posits the Coyote/trickster motif, in which there never was a fall or a state of grace but creation is ongoing in a world originally brought into being by “flawed, human creators who never finished the job.”

I may not feel much like singing in the rain these days but my spirit gets a little boost when I read about a caravan of grandmothers making a six-day trek to the Mexican border in support of migrant families being held there. Rallies are planned in strategic cities along the way.

Not for nothing, a new body of evidence suggests the crucial role of grandmothers in our evolution. In this emerging view, papa out hunting animals with his bow and arrow gets no more (possibly less) credit for our survival as a species than mama and grandma digging for those heard-to-unearth tubers.  Better yet, grandma, with her big eyes and wise heart, may hold the key to the communal spirit, not to mention nurturing, that allowed us to evolve as humans.

 

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