Wednesday, September 3, 2008
According to Jon Stewart, the definition of hope has now been confirmed as a new kitten. I agree.
Here's our new kitten, Barack. He's 11 weeks old and already taking control of the house over larger, older, more experienced cats. He's mixed breed, orange and white, with big ears and even bigger paws. He's the embodiment of the melting pot of the new Feline Race. His take-no-prisoners attitude extends globally (upstairs and downstairs), and he's not afraid to talk tough and pounce on the reigning old-guard entitled cats of the house. In just a few short days, he went from being literally wet behind the ears (he needed drops for ear mites) to jumping up onto a bed that is twenty times taller than he is and assuming his rightful place in the center of it all.
Yes, hope is indeed a new kitten.
And, also according to Jon Stewart, Barack is the Lion King. (But we knew that all along, right?)
My friend Gayle Brandeis posted yesterday about a conversation she had with another friend of ours, Peggy Hong, about the state of poetry and writing in America under the Bush administration. I think she's right. There's been a great deal of self-censorship by writers, and a great deal of censorship by publishers (check out Random House's refusal to publish Jewel of Medina). Writers have often felt the need for social activism in these times has been more important than their writing.
It's time to take back our art and our voices. It's time to write what we see, what we feel, and what we hope (yes, hope) can be.
I want to draw your attention to Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's attempts at book banning in Alaska. A Wrinkle in Time seems to always make these lists, and I can never figure out why. This book was a foundational book for me when I was growing up, along with Harriet the Spy (which I guess either makes me unpatriotic, or a member of the Bush Administration's surveillance team) and Little House on the Prairie (family values, anyone?)
I try to keep politics off this blog as much as I can, though those of you who know me know my leanings. But this election scares me. I was scared in 2004 and those fears panned out. I'm 40 now. I've written and published three books. I have two currently being shopped by my agent, and a new, young adult novel in the works. I am a writer and I am a teacher, and I am afraid, desperately afraid, that we have gone too far to come back to a place where there can be a dialogue without accusations -- a library without censorship -- a cell phone without a tap. I am too young to believe I will have to live out my days under the kind of administration we currently have. I am too young to believe that we are, in our highest moments, as self-destructive as we have behaved. I am too young to believe that we are already lost forever.
Do I think Obama can fix the world? Of course not. But this is a man who wrote of his pain living without his father. This is a man who wrote his memoir by himself, on yellow legal pads. I know what it takes to write a book. I know what it takes to be that alone with yourself. To turn the lens of self-scrutiny deep into the parts of ourselves we don't want to acknowledge are there. A person who can do that has a courage that transcends weaponry and bravado. Anyone who writes knows that writers are warriors.
I read Dreams From My Father long before there was even the possibility of an Obama presidential campaign, and I was moved and encouraged by his fortitude, his voice, and yes, his technical skill with language. Language is my art, and when it's used skillfully and with humility, it moves me. And a man who can respect language, can endure the absolute vulnerability required to put out a story about his life that is not always flattering, not always "on message", and certainly not always about politics, is a man with a chance to help us open our hearts to one another again.
Just a chance. Just a small bit of hope.
A tiny new kitten.
Please, America. We are in a fragile moment in our nation's very short life.
A tiny chance. A small bit of hope.
We must have the courage to claim that hope. We must have the courage to believe in our essential goodness and compassion. We must have the courage to take the chance that a skinny kid with big ears and a honey voice is offering.
A small bit of hope. This is more than I have felt in eight years.