I can’t tell where I am right now. Am I trying to fix a hole, just concentrating on what’s in front of me, doing my best, not worrying about what’s coming, platitude, platitude, platitude, or does my head (and the world) have a hole in it such that everything is ruined by the rain?
Terrific essay here. Too long to try and use in class (reading time is already spoken for) but might use these paragraphs:
“It is often said that America is an idea, stated definitively in early documents left to us by a coterie of men seemingly too compromised to have come up with such glorious language — as we would be, too, if we should happen to achieve anything comparable. Human beings are sacred, therefore equal. We are asked to see one another in the light of a singular inalienable worth that would make a family of us if we let it.”
“This country was, from the outset, a tremendous leap of faith. We tend not to ponder the brutality of the European world at the time our colonies formed and then fledged, so we have little or no idea of the radicalism not only of stating that “men,” as creatures of God, were equal, but of giving the idea profound political consequences by asserting for them unalienable rights, which were defined and elaborated in the Constitution. Our history to the present day is proof that people find justice hard to reach and to sustain. It is also proof that where justice is defined as equality, a thing never to be assumed, justice enlarges its own definition, pushing its margins in light of a better understanding of what equality should mean.”
Love this paragraph, but probably wouldn’t use it:
“If we learn anything from this sad passage in our history it should be that rage and contempt are a sort of neutron bomb in the marketplace of ideas, obviating actual competition. This country would do itself a world of good by restoring a sense of the dignity, even the beauty, of individual ethicalism, of self-restraint, of courtesy. These things might help us to like one another, even trust one another, both necessary to a functioning democracy.”
Marilynne Robinson, “Opinion | Don’t Give Up on America,” The New York Times, October 9, 2020, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/09/opinion/sunday/america-patriotism.html.
Didn’t write yesterday because it was Thursday, shit day, and the day that Interims were due, and the day that I teach all day, and the day I didn’t even think about University stuff even though I’m woefully behind, and the day that I picked up our van whose repairs cost $1,800 I know we don’t have, and the day that I picked up the vegetables, and the day that I prepared dinner (pasta bar), and the day that I looked at my kitchen floor and thought shit I need to scrub that, and the day that I felt like I couldn’t look at a screen for another moment, and the day that I thought that my stomach was going to explode, and the day that my podcasting students left me completely inspired with their awesome work, and the day that I almost said multiple inappropriate things in English 3 last period because I was so exhausted by the time that zoom call began, and the day that my advisory all seemed to want to be there, and the day that I didn’t exercise for the second day in a row, and the day that I began by arguing with Lisa, and the day that I somehow didn’t manage to eat lunch until 4PM, and the day where a new clock arrived for my workspace, which is great because I hate looking at my phone and it was another day where I realized that my eyes are so bad that I don’t like looking at my watch so I’m glad I have a big old clock, and the day that I brought the tools up from the basement to sink a screw so I could hang the clock in the right space and the day that I was too tired to do so, and the day that the contractor next door apologized for not cleaning out the alley sooner, which is great except that his shit has been there for a month, and I won’t say anything because they’re expecting their first baby and they don’t need the additional stress, and the day where I didn’t read a book, not one page, not one paragraph, the day where I fell into bed and fell immediately asleep as my boy also decided he was too tired and went to bed without watching the entire Bears game, the day that the internet was full of memes about the Vice President and the fly, the day that once again people wrung their hands because women get interrupted when they speak, the day that I admired just how cool Kamala Harris is, the day I admired just how cool my daughter is, the day that I realized I don’t have a plan for tomorrow, which is why I’m writing about the day instead of opening that document, the day that I worked through three pages of a new composition book because I needed to, because it was another day where each class got its own page, and there I was, starting a new composition book, the day where I got frustrated about almost everything, the day where I sat down and played my guitar at night, the day where I thought about the day, the day, the day, the day…
I had forgotten this passage. Will use it Thursday and Friday:
Are you serious? Anti-intellectualism is virtually our civic religion. “Critical thinking” may be a ubiquitous educational slogan—a vaguely defined skill we hope our children pick up on the way to adulthood—but the rewards for not using your intelligence are immediate and abundant.
As consumers of culture, we are lulled into passivity or, at best, prodded toward a state of pseudo-semi-self-awareness, encouraged toward either the defensive group identity of fanhood or a shallow, half-ironic eclecticism. Meanwhile, as citizens of the political commonwealth, we are conscripted into a polarized climate of ideological belligerence in which bluster too often substitutes for argument.
There is no room for doubt and little time for reflection as we find ourselves buffeted by a barrage of sensations and a flood of opinion. We can fantasize about slowing down or opting out, but ultimately we must learn to live in the world as we find it and to see it as clearly as we can. This is no simple task. It is easier to seek out the comforts of groupthink, prejudice, and ignorance. Resisting those temptations requires vigilance, discipline, and curiosity.
A. O Scott, Better Living through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth (New York: Penguin Books, 2017).
As a teacher and parent, I seem to encounter this a lot. Perhaps I’m speaking on a frequency that’ s inaudible to teenagers.
Listen, then, if you have ears.
Gish Jen, Typical American a Novel (New York: Vintage Books, 2008), 4.