Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis XXI

Here is the first question that must be asked: 
What have we done with America? . . . .
~ Writer Marilynne Robinson

The June 11, 2020, issue of The New York Review of Books features a brilliant essay by writer Marilynne Robinson. Titled "What Kind of Country Do We Want?" this trenchant essay is a must-read that asks each of us to take advantage of the opportunity we've been given to restore hope and purpose to each other by considering "what kind of habitation, what kind of home, we want this country to be." Robinson lays bare decades of the "kind of thinking [that] has discredited ideals like selflessness and generosity" and made a "practice of denying working people the real or potential value of their work" in favor of profit and self-interest. 

Our current "ugly economic and social configuration. . . offers no vision beyond its effects," Robinson points out, adding that "the depletions of public life, the decay of infrastructure, the erosions of standards affecting general health are not intended to make America great again. They are, in the experience of the vast majority of Americans, dispossessions, a cheapening of life." Robinson argues persuasively against "accepting competition as the basic model of our interactions with other countries" and for moving beyond "the habit of thinking in terms of scarcity" so that we might "recover and sharpen a functioning sense of justice based on a reverent appreciation of humankind, all together and one by one." For America to engage in any but the most rigorous self-examinations, as individuals and as a nation, she says, "would be a world-historical shame." 

Read the essay, discuss it with others, share it with your elected representatives, demand change, and be the change. The crimes and injustices that color so much of American life are well-known to all of us; they will not be overcome, unless and until we begin to exercise a deep moral and ethical scrutiny of who we've allowed ourselves to become and find the means to act "for the good of the whole society and its place in the world."


One of the best new words arising from the pandemic: doomscrolling (a similar term is doomsurfing), and one I used in a poem appearing in "Musings XX". (Use or don't use a hyphen; it won't change the bad news you're browsing.) The term already has appeared in The New York Times, according to the editor of the newspaper's "The Morning," a daily briefing, and in who knows how many other news periodicals. It's even appeared in Hindi.

If you're wondering, COVID-19 is a mash-up of coronavirus disease 2019, which Merriam-Webster added to its dictionary on March 16, 2020 just 34 days after its usage at a WHO conference on February 11.

Sadly, the pandemic has brought with it increased domestic violence, also known as "private violence," "intimate partner violence" (a term that does not encompass the violence done to children), and "domestic terrorism." Whatever the term, it is, as numerous articles have indicated before and since the pandemic began, a kind of disease itself that has no simple fix, and certainly not the resources required to stop it. In a bit of coincidence that shines a stark light on the subject, journalist Rachel Louise Snyder has published this month No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us (Bloomsbury Publishing). It's a book I think everyone should read, especially women, for Snyder exposes through skillful storytelling the reasons women — and the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women — enter unknowingly into relationships with their future abusers only to find they cannot leave when they've finally had enough. It's not a matter of just getting out and starting over, as Snyder relates again and again. The case studies, both of men and women, that Snyder presents expose profound problems in our civil and criminal justice system, the reform movement, and even our thinking about what domestic violence is, what and whom it affects, and how to respond to it. It's a deeply researched book but also one I found difficult to put down, because Snyder, sometimes at great risk to herself, pursues the subject doggedly, from all angles, and writes about it clearly and frankly and with eyes-opened awareness.


Lest anyone think I'm doing only heavy reading, know that I break up my time during lockdown with many different kinds of books. I have read recently Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile, Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of My Nonexistence, Laura M. Fabrycky's Keys to Bonhoeffer's Haus, Joshua Sperling's A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger, W. David O. Taylor's Glimpses of the New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts, and many, many collections of poetry, most recently Leila Chatti's Deluge, Carolyn Forche's In the Lateness of the World, Reginald Dwayne Betts's Felon, and Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic. And I have a table-full of waiting-to-be-read books, among them Jane Hirshfield's Ledger, Philip Metres's Shrapnel Maps, and Tommy Orange's There There. If I couldn't read and couldn't write; didn't have Zoom meetings, podcasts, Webinars, and FaceBook; and couldn't plan my future art exhibits, I think I would be in a very bad place during this pandemic.

See Stefan Fatsis, "How COVID-19 Led Merriam-Webster to Make Its Fastest Update Ever," Slate, March 26, 2020.

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