On the eve of an election pundits are calling make or break for democracy, here are a few thoughts from last Saturday’s Free Write group. I submitted (and wrote to) the prompt, Two Cheers for … inspired by the book-length essay, Two Cheers for Democracy by E.M. Forster, better known for his novels (Howard’s End, Room With a View, Passage to India) that take a scalpel to class relations while spinning riveting narratives. If you’re unfamiliar with Two Cheers, it’s worthy of your time. In fact, it’s more timely than ever. Here’s my blurb: A meditation about what happens when you attempt to govern with a document based on cherished ideals espoused by the people, for the people (woman and slaves not included), and end up with what we got: mediocrity soup. And it’s not half bad, considering the alternatives.
I joined this group of poets, writers of short fiction and memoir, coming on two years ago, the weekend after the January 6th attempted coup. Free Write participants get prompts by email around 10 am, write to one or more, about twenty minutes each, and gather about 90 minutes later on Zoom to share our writing if we wish. It was one of the silver linings of pandemic lockdown that I could join this group that used to meet at the Montclair (NJ) Library. So, in January ’20 I used one of the prompts to debut with a rant, not realizing that politics are more or less taboo. Not exactly my usual modus operandi. It was the second time that week, I’d let my rage overtake my reason. And I had a lot of bridge rebuilding to do in my family in the following months. What was I thinking? Was I thinking? Rage lives in the limbic system where perceived threats to survival are on the daily menu. I could lay this state of hyper-alert at the feet of the media, many have. But I’m a grownup, a yogi and meditator, and know how to manage my attention better than that. Sheesh!
Earlier that same week, we had an incident that, though mild compared to more recent examples of violence, continues to worry us about the state of the union. Returning from an errand one lovely morning, as we waited to make a left turn near a railroad crossing, a guy driving a truck pulled up too close to our bumper. If that wasn’t enough, he then leapt out, ran up to our car, red-faced, and proceeded to pound on the side window with his fist because my spouse was too slow, to make the turn. Or something. It was a sharp reminder that we live in a gun-loving (and probably carrying) state and you could lose more than your dignity and peace of mind in an encounter like the one with an irate driver.
We are both in our 80s now, and our children advise us to stay off the road after dark. Our doctor says simply: drive less. We are paying attention. We have nothing but time for everything we need to do, mornings at our favorite nature center, doctor appointments, visiting friends, grocery shopping, during the daylight hours. Our living room makes a fine disco for two.
Speaking of staying in the light: we voted early (very congenial and smooth) and gave heart-felt namastes to all the election workers — the real heroes. I’d volunteer if the workday was shorter that 12 hours. Also, we don’t plan to tune in to the election coverage tomorrow. There will be plenty of time to catch up with the results and move on from there.