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November 22, 2000

I feel curiously blank today. Empty. Like if you were to pop open the top of my head, you would be able to see clearly the inside of the skin on the bottoms of my feet. All my inner parts are missing, and I am weightless with their absence. I am nothing but a hollow skin.

The noise of the train rattling down the street bounces around inside my head, echoes in the spaces of my hollow self, reverberating most where my stomach used to be. The train is gone, over hill, around corner, and I can still hear it, still feel the pounding in my feet.

I am on the verge of dissolving. Just the right breeze or scent or word or touch and I will puddle here on the sidewalk between the coffee shop and the day spa. How these conversations will slowly cease, four benches of people lowering their paper cups of coffee, their words fading to silence in midsentence, looking at each other, question marks for eyes. The bearded man will let his proposition to the hairdressers go unpunished; new mothers will look up from their children, streams of nonsense suddenly thin on their tongues. I am nearly invisible, and it is only my liquefaction that will interrupt them, although they won't really know why. They will shrug off a chill, shake their heads, and stumble about in search for the threads of their abandoned conversations.

Even if I don't dissolve, I am still fragile, brittle, moments away from crumbling to pieces. Strike me just here, tap me just lightly; I will ring briefly, a person-shaped bell, then fall apart. My fragments will be silent, transparent and thin, dead-leaf dry, crumbling to dust in the passing wind, between your curious fingers.

I will fly away, scatter before the sunset winds, dribble down between the pavement cracks. I will be everywhere, riding the whim of the breeze, and I will be gathered here, feeding the stubborn bits of green that grow in ruptured sidewalks with the poor nutrients of my soul. They will spurt up in the first wash of my dissolving self, then hesitate. The longing to grow swift and large and vibrantly green is there, the desire for sun and sky, but it is laced with the bitter flavor of doubt. In the moment of indecision, balancing the burning need and the question of place, all will be lost, the fresh green heads ground low in the idle shuffling feet of the coffee drinkers as they settle back to their revived conversations.

They will not hear the note of sadness, my fading sigh upon the wind weakly shifting their hair as I feebly punish their heedless cruelty.

November 09, 2000

"The people have spoken.
Now, we just have to figure out what they said."

May I take advantage of the noise surrounding our presidential election to bring up something that seems to me to be nearly as important as determining the winner. Amid the clamor for re-counts and re-votes, the dismay over confusing ballots and close races, and while protesters wave signs, "Abolish the Electoral College," no one has mentioned the appalling failure of our U.S. history and government classes.

If my public high school experience is in any way indicative of high school experiences for most of the country's population, completing a semester of U.S. government is a graduation requirement. That's over four months of representative democracy, three branches of government, checks and balances, state versus federal rights, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Since most of us finished high school, I will assume that most of us passed the class.

Somehow, since then, many of us seem to have forgotten the bulk of what we were supposed to have learned. What remains appears to be a widespread belief in individual "rights" and an expectation for government to simultaneously take care of the citizens while staying the hell out of our lives. People demand legislation to ensure themselves retirement money and to increase pedestrian safety, all the while resenting the taxes necessary to fund these programs.

It is easy to latch onto a phrases like "democracy" and "of the people, by the people," but America is no more a true democracy then ancient Athens. It's a representative system, founded that way in the late 1700s by a group of educated men who couldn't bring themselves to make intelligence a requirement for voting privileges, (although they had no trouble excluding women, men without property, and people who weren't white) but who feared what might happen if uneducated masses were allowed to influence government. Since France was experiencing a particularly bloody manifestation of mob-rule, they had reason to be fearful. Furthermore, the population has never been equally distributed through the United States, nor have the state boundaries ever attempted to contain uniform quantities of land. A representative system ensures that California and New York, the most populous states, may not choose the path for the entire country, benefiting themselves while ignoring the Midwest.

With the developments of last Tuesday's election, people seem to be in a hurry to demonstrate their ignorance. While it is certainly desirable to be certain of an accurate tally of votes, now is probably not the time to demand extensive revision to our electoral system and the dismissal of the Electoral College. This is not to say that just because something has always been done is certain way, it should never be reviewed and changed if necessary. Many, many things have changed since the founding of our country, and I am not prepared to believe our founders infallible and all-knowing.

However, the folks making the most noise these days are those who either supported Vice President Gore or who didn't want Governor Bush in the White House. While, personally, I don't much like the idea of a man with such a loose grasp of the English language representing our country to the world or someone so steered by special interests deciding policy for the entire nation, I would like even less rashly rewriting the Constitution because the election didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. And, to my ears, that is exactly what the protesters are asking for.

There are several things to take from this moment in history. I hope that whoever lands at 1600 Pennsylvania next January never forgets how close he came to not being there, and that he strives to win the trust and respect of the citizens who didn't vote for him. I hope the population will take this opportunity to become better acquainted with the American political system. Perhaps these events will lead us to reevaluate the effectiveness of our government. If a change is truly necessary, I hope it will be it the product of careful thought rather than a knee-jerk reaction of a group of sore losers. And I hope this prompts us to take education more seriously. For few things will be as frightening as a country run "by the people" if those people are as uneducated, short-sighted, and self-serving as we are currently demonstrating ourselves to be.

November 05, 2000

"The lion killed the tiger.
Which one it is dead?"

He was standing uncomfortably close to me while I finished one box of cereal and opened a new one.

"We leave at 8:30 when Mom, Kathy takes me."

"Right. But my watch says its 8:15, so I still have time for breakfast."

"8:15 is what my watch says, too." A pause. "Will you come in with me?"

"No. I'll drop you off at church, and then I'll be back to pick you up at noon." I'm fishing for a spoon out of the dish drainer because he's leaning on the silverware drawer.

"Oh." His voice is mostly flat, a little whiney. He wanders between the kitchen, the bathroom, and his office, not quite watching me eat. Strangely, I remember that Grandma told me last night that he has lost the word "weeds."

He is waiting when I come down from brushing my teeth. In the car, I remind him where his seat belt is, and we drive in silence. I flip between 4 pop stations, singing along with what I know, switching when I don't. He stares at the station frequency number.

"It sounds just like K-LOVE."

"Not to me. I can hear a difference." I can't discuss with him that this music has variety, these artists are trying new sounds, these lyrics are about things besides God's great power and love and how we'll all be happy now. These are songs about heartache, about loving difficult people, about believing yourself damaged goods.

There is no more conversation until I stop at church. And that is only me telling him I'll be back at noon and him saying thank you.

I should be grateful for that. I don't think Mom gets a thank-you when she takes him to church.

I want to flip open his head and see what thoughts might be in there. Does it frustrate him to take all week studying for a Tuesday night Bible study group? What goes through his mind when he tries to tell someone he pulled weeds at the church work day but can't find the word "weeds"? What does he hear when he mistunes his radio and gets the Spanish station or the urban station instead of K-LOVE? What does he think when I tell him I'm not going to church?

While I pass the time in this coffee shop, I think about lunch since he'll want it the moment I get him home. There is the laundry to finish and his room to air out. Perhaps I'll stare at the fridge and try to start dinner so it's an easy thing to do when Mom comes home.

And I think further ahead. The doctors say we should start thinking seriously about residential care. I wonder when his obsession with bathrooms will become incontinence, when he'll decide that he doesn't need a shower at all. If he's lost the relationship between the words "killed" and "dead," how much longer will it be before he can't even form the simple sentences he did this morning? When will his body finally admit the loss of his mind?

Will I be ready when it's time to bury this shell that was my dad?

November 04, 2000

"Good heavens! Is that your voter pamphlet?!?"

It's 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I've been reading voter pamphlets and sample ballots since before 10:00. And I'm not done yet. Nearly 30 propositions is way more than I want to handle in one sitting.

I like the principles that went into making America a democracy. Governments, I believe, are supposed to work for the people, and I like the idea that the citizens of a community have opportunities to express how they want government to work. But frankly, this election has started to feel a just a little ridiculous. (And I'm not even going to bring up the circus this year's presidential election has become thanks to the clowns competing for office. Besides changing arguments and personalities the way spoiled children change "must-have" toys, neither inspires my use of descriptive adjectives like "intelligent," "even-keeled" or "globally minded.")

Are voter pamphlets meant to inform the voter? Or confuse me? I read well and frequently, ten books in the last month, yet it takes me six hours to wade through the summaries, estimated impacts and arguments pro and con for 16 propositions. Is there a law somewhere that says things political must happen in language so dense and convoluted that normal people can't make heads or tails of the arguments? Or that the opposing arguments must spend the majority of their words distorting the reasoning of the other side, and then being inflammatory? Why can't there be a simple summary of how things are now, referencing context, an equally simple summary of the proposed changes, and concise, impartial descriptions of how those changes would impact daily existence, again in context? Perhaps a space could be provided for short statements for and against written by those who would be most immediately affected.

And why is it necessary for a single proposition to contain multiple effects? If this passes, these four things will change. What if I only want one of those imbedded items to be addressed? What if I like all but #3? Either way it gets a "no" vote, and everyone loses. By making the propositions so complicated and then permitting only a yes or no response, how are the authors to know why I declined to accept the proposal? Perhaps there was a gem of an idea in there that I would have loved to vote yes on if it had only been by itself.

People love to cite the low voter-turnout numbers and wail that no one cares anymore about the country. Perhaps it's not that Jane Voter doesn't care about her country, state, or city, but rather that the system originally designed to collect her opinions no longer interfaces well with Jane. Perhaps, like me, she's confused and frustrated by the tangle of language in and sheer volume of her voter pamphlet. Perhaps, like me, she sees candidates who place showmanship and name-calling above issues. Perhaps, like me, she wonders exactly how much of an impact on a bloated bureaucracy her little tick marks on preprinted bits of paper are going to have anyway.

I know, I know. It's cumulative. One pebble, one raindrop on it's own is insignificant, but placed just so one more pebble can start a landslide, and landing just here a raindrop can trigger a flood. But I am neither pebble nor raindrop. I like to know my significance. Perhaps if politics found a way to make Jane Voter and myself feel like we were valued individuals, with minds and hearts to be respected, politics would find us more willing participants.