And just when we thought life was a given a never ending treadmill of home to work and back again with no reprieve COVID 19 showed up and slammed the door in our face. No questions asked just shut tight with whatever we might face all alone without our gyms and theaters and courts and spectacular spectaulars. Holy shit peeps, this got real zero to sixty, and somehow we’re all still flying high like trapeze artists. I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I am swinging without a net, just one second to the next, all unchartered, all frightening, all unknown, and yet, we are all doing it with finesse. Huge shout out to my teacher buddies and administrators, the special educators and para educators, and everyone else moving the cogs in the school system round and round and let’s not forget the scores of students sitting alone in their bedrooms or surrounded by family in shared spaces or those homeless kids seeking shelter and still logging in to google hangouts and zooms and youtube or whatever platform they can to stay connected and stay in school and stay sane and yeah still learn. You are all my heroes right now. Class of 2020, you are people we will write poetry about, sing hallelujah for decades about, for you are relinquishing prom and yearbook deadlines and graduations dates and final everything. You are stronger than you think. And we will find a way to hold on. A way to swing through the paces, and make this look effortless. A way to make this all work like magic.
Here we are. On our own couches. In the middle of our own living rooms. Reading an actual magazine. In loungewear. Bought online. Yeah. There are a few perks during the scary and dark days which have clouded our planet and forced us all indoors. I am not here to tell you what you should be doing to survive these days, but just wanted to let you know that we will, mostly, and I for one plan to celebrate epically on the other side.
Since his ink hit the parchment Shakespeare has been spot on, in understanding the complexities of the heart, the highs and lows of passion, unchecked ambition that leads to treachery, and everything else that makes up the human experience. Line after line from dozens of plays and sonnets are etched forever into capturing our collective predicaments. This past month I have been steeped in such verse, wrapping up the tearful Romeo & Juliet with Freshmen, falling under the justice of Hamlet with Seniors, and delighted by a stage performance of The Tempest; curiously, this week, my thoughts run straight to Macbeth. How could they not, right? Basically nothing on any of our screens is what it actually appears to be, our entire world of commerce and health gone topsy turvy, while revenge leaches out of every Whitehouse tweet; this is the stuff of our headlines, for in every direction we face, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” We are media addicts all, scrolling from meme to meme, filtering out our own crow’s feet to fetishize our own sphere of influence. As we look to replace the bloat king, who dyes his comb-over and sports a cheap spray tan, (not that I take issue with hair dye or make-up, in fact I’m all for looking your very best, but his external duplicity only mirrors every level of his notorious and self-heralded double dealings); I want more than anything to see what is. Let’s step away from the media barrage, and recall Macbeth, as he chided himself against his own false faith in the witches: “Infected be the air whereon they ride; And damn’d all those that trust them! ” Let’s stop trusting those who cause more helter skelter, more “fog and filthy air.” Let’s face ourselves as raw and naked and vulnerable as that will be.
“The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct by officials. Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for non-officials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office” Wikipedia.
Perhaps there is the catch… in the very notion that this President took an oath to uphold anything expected. Or is his reign a venture into a new America where one man rules unchecked and applauded like the clown in the Dunk Bozo booth at your local fair where gawkers stand in shame listening to off-color taunts? Patterns are clear. Regardless of whether you voted for Trump or not, can you say that he is a role model for you or your teenager? Someone you would trust with your college-age niece? If you say yes, are you for sure 100% sure?
Maybe you admire his fuck-you approach, his drain-the-swamp rhetoric, his glossy but vacant third wife, or the fact that he is someone you imagine you might be able to beat on the links? I get it, no really I do. It’s not that complicated. You’re an all caps person too. Someone who likes to scream on social media with font size oversized: am I right? Someone who runs your business or manages your affairs by insults? He’s your guy.
I really can’t say that I fully understand how electricity works, but I know how to turn the dimmer switches in my living room. While I’m not a constitutional scholar, I know enough to know not to bargain over illicit political gains via a party phone, but more than that, morally speaking, I know not to insult a beloved community member whose widow is facing her first Christmas without her person of almost 4 decades, and I think most of us get that is just shitty behavior which I would not tolerate in my classroom or home or pew yet every Republican suit-wearing political secretly smiles about. (Do you really smile and like his frat boy locker boy prattle? Please explain!) His party will not call this guy to task over anything. Not high crimes or misdemeanors or crash and unrelenting rudeness or documented infidelity or tantrums in the Oval office or ignorance on basic knowledge or any of the misleading misinformation that he tweets by the hour. Seriously? I’m struggling.
I wish they would though. I just wish someone close to him might remind him that he is leading a nation. Our great nation. And I get that it bothers him that people disagree with his version of climate change, military policies, international concerns, maybe even what to eat for dinner, but many do. Disagree. Take health care for instance. People have differences on the topic, so that to bridge that gap, a sensible debate is needed to navigate though it all. But that is a distant dream, one born from my ultra liberal and highly educated stance on the basic needs of humans to grow and develop and become the very best that this nation desperately needs to face our challenges.
Please don’t assume I’m happy about these headlines. I’m not. I am frustrated by the party divide, our paid-by-us politicians (including the President) who do nothing except fan the fire of division. I want a better world. One where all the students who sit in my class room arrive with a full belly and warm clothes, coming from a home of books and love that let’s them imagine a terrific life ahead for themselves, where whether through trade or commerce they build their future and extend our community in ways I can yet imagine. Ways that bred betterment.
What I don’t want is a President who is supported by the world’s favorite dictator. Any of them who he admires.
Vladimir Putin says Trump was impeached for ‘made-up reasons’
Did he cry Witch Hunt? Again? A term he has tweeted close to 300 times like rapid fire at all of us? Of course he did, because if there is one thing this president knows about lies, is the power of repeating them. “Calling himself the victim of a witch hunt allows Trump to label charges against him as not just inaccurate but fundamentally impossible. Witch hunts, by definition, are illegitimate, their victims innocent, their judgments always wrong” (Markham- Cantor). Is there anyone who believes he is innocent? Not even Trump claims that verdict. He boasts his lies like a prankster proclaims laughs.
Having just finished Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with my Advanced Placement English Literature students, who, due to the large number of theater kiddos in the room, read with passion and gusto, it was as if John Proctor and Abigail Williams and the rest of those iconic characters peopled my class. When Abigail, in all her initial seductive coyness said, “A wild thing may say wild things” they predicted that Proctor’s sin of adultery would unravel around him, and that she had indeed “an endless capacity for dissembling”. In Act Three John lets loose his shame, “I have know her, sir. I have known her.” “You–you are a lecher?” The crux of the Salem Witch trials fought over land tracks and false blame and stifling fear all come to a “pointy reckoning” when the innocent hanged “high over the town.” My students were hooked on every word like greedy fair-goers, ready to watch as lies replaced fact and insanity trumped reason.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, our open places were mostly golf courses, an occasional park and a random old graveyard. Of course there were patches of trees or cliffy areas that broke up the continuous housing or industry, but little open land like those I have grown accustomed to in rural Vermont. My dad was a man who needed to roam a bit, especially after a day in surgery and the hectic commute from New York City to our suburban New Jersey town. He walked the nearby golf course daily, even in the winter months, cutting through under the clustered oaks and evergreens which formed a respite from the sprawl. On occasion I would tag along, and it was here, in these mini-woods, that he taught me to sit in silence. Not the kind of stillness that one finds in Vermont forests, but at times, as the wind picked up, you could be transported momentarily into a peace. Now, as I leave my work place in the afternoons, I too look for that same solace from the natural world. So much of our open land is in jeopardy. For once these small and struggling family-owned dairy farms are gone, so will the grazing pastures, the hay fields, even the acres of corn that have shaped our iconic New England landscape.
The art teacher and myself, along with a young woman from the Lamoille County Conservation, brought a bus load of students to visit four farms, the first that has been in the same family for generations. We stood watching as the mist settled down low and the spine of the Green Mountains appeared and disappeared and appeared again. As the farmer talked about his favorite part of the day, starting at 4:00 am, he described walking the cows out to pasture just as the sun rose and the whole sky filled with light. It was a daily gift that he prized, for decades and decades, seven days a week, and, when he described it, his face lifted with sublime joy. There was no one listening who would deny that was indeed a gift.
He talked hardships too. Eight children but maybe not a one who might be able to take on this life style once he is gone. Hundreds of acres all open, all cleared by his herd, and his labor, might be lost. Last winter, one of his barn suffered a roof collapse after a massive snowfall followed by heavy rain. We saw the broken rafters split and still laying helter-skelter in disrepair. Money is tight. Actually, money is nonexistent. We saw that reality etched across his brow too.
We left him smiling as he set to continue his daily routine and boarded the bus to our next farm just a few miles away, in yet another million dollar location. This dairy farm has been run for eight generations. Imagine? Organic milk and maple syrup. At least 1,000 of those taps are into buckets, so that sap is still collected by hand. We heard all about the herd, which are all named. Generations of them too.
Here too there is worry about the future. For a while organic milk seemed to be the answer to the low prices, and many small farms made the switch, but now, with all the nut and other varieties of “milk” these farms are struggling each day, each eighteen hour day, all seven days in the week.
No matter where you looked while touring the local farms, you saw labor. In the very pregnant cow waiting for her delivery, and in the continual raking and haying and cleaning and milking and feeding this life demands. Once again, we listened to these (female) farmers talk about raising children on the farm, the happiness they felt having their children working along side of them, the pride they have in the work, the endless hope they have, despite the way the numbers are always sliding into the red. One of the women talked about her drive to create the best quality organic milk, from the happiest cows, cows that could just live like cows. As we drove from one farm to the next, the farmers began to echo each other. They all voiced how they just wanted “to create the best of the best.”
“It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s a good way.”
“If you can be happy enough, you can carve out a good life.”
“Driving a tractor outdoors on a beautiful day, you just can’t beat that.”
So, how do you thank a farmer? For starters, find out where they sell what they are producing, and buy local. Perhaps pop in and see what a barn looks like, and what it takes to keep that whole enterprise standing, along with all those acres required to feed their herds. After that, think of them when you vote.
As we slip closer to becoming the dystopian world we used to chuckle over while reading the fantastical novels of our youth, I now wonder about ever leaving the house. Even then paranoia creeps in while watching/listening/reading the news. It’s melting ice caps and fire storms. It’s waring tweets from men plenty old enough to know not to taunt but daily they do. There’s corruption in Facebook, phone apps listening, and Amazon with one-day deliveries causing insurmountable mountains of cardboard. Gun violence passing epidemic proportions that not even George Orwell would have imagined. Rational stuff gone daft too, like the inability to debate issues in Congress or use Science as a base for fact. Everyone is distrustful of any branch of government. People are retreating, especially the L.G.B.T., unsure if our marriages or jobs or civil rights will stand this latest round of Supreme Court discussions.