Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Word From Esther! Month Two

Quincy, February 7, 2010

Dear Internet,

I miss you.

That’s the only honest way to start off a letter to the internet, which I’ve again asked Amy to post.

And after that…I don’t really know. The page is blank. I have fallen off my script. On the one hand, nothing much has happened around here. On the other, I’ve been launched into outer space.

For starters, I’ve gone off of politics. I didn’t blog about politics here, so it is only those who really know me who are currently picking their jaws up off the floor. I am off politics like someone goes off a drug. I am detoxing from the conflict, the name calling, the steady diet of anger, the dehumanizing of the enemy, the jealous guarding of one’s interests, and the perception of morality defined in the visage of kings. It. Is. Madness.

Now my phone is about to ring. A sister, a friend, a friend’s boyfriend… “We need you!”

And you do. I know that you do. How could I not know that, when I live in Massachusetts? This January (in a race that shall remain unnamed, like Voldemort) I was needed. At a play date with a fellow Democrat – and our three very youthful Independents – I heard that race described as a wake up call. Respectfully, I disagree. This race was nothing less than an opiate, one that kept the entire state of Massachusetts vibrating with fear and anger in the very same week that a chunk of the earth rearranged itself, crushing in the process 200 thousand human beings in Port au Prince.

In that week, my Sunday paper reports, eight million dollars were spent on the Race That Shall Not Be Named. More than four million on each side.

What does eight million dollars look like, I wonder, in medical supplies? In rice and beans and cooking oil? What does eight million dollars look like, in good will?

I had a strange moment shortly after the New Year, when, sitting on the edge of Milo’s bed, staring past Stella’s fuzzy head, through the doorway and on into the kitchen, I had a vision of myself being stitched back together. Uninvited came an image of fluid traveling freely over the seams, the whole length and circumference of my self, separating, recombining, and forming cohesive whole.

I do understand an idea of integrating partitioned aspects of the self. I have lived with this idea and even taught it: that a practice of attention, honest inquiry and forgiveness can bring back the orphaned pieces, once cut off by trauma or regret. But what part of me was being welcomed back into the fold? I couldn’t place it, couldn’t quite tell where this feeling of wholeness was coming from. Of greater concern, I couldn’t tell what breach had been repaired. I have felt so relatively healthy!

Hours later, in another moment rare moment of silence, after the kids had gone to bed, I was finally able to place it. This thing that is being put back together…is my train of thought.

I received a letter with a question; — and here I must interrupt myself to sing a song to the precious, steady trickle of letters! They are, in a word, sustaining. I’d like to brag that I have a “thread” going on gender, one on virtue, one on God, and another on intelligence and schooling. But to oversimplify these letters into “threads” is to oversimplify these people. My pen pals have the courage to share with me their hopes and fears, which is to say, they talk a little bit, every once in a while, about What Matters. How courageous! How unusual!

But that’s a side note. In a letter dated January 2, 2010, Kirsten Brandt writes, “How do we prompt dialogues? How do we have real conversations?”

And, for this month of January, I have directed myself to answering that question. It has brought me back, again and again, to the dinner table.

Cooking isn’t the only thing in my life that is moving out of Someday and into Now. Rather, my List of Things I Have Always Wanted to Do When I Have Time is seeing unprecedented turnover. My baby is in cloth diapers. I’m doing my own baby food. I’ve read the second half of the Old Testament. I can juggle three beanbags. Most everybody who ought to have pictures of my kids has pictures of my kids. Despite a truly impressive resistance to musical knowledge, last week I learned from my niece a little song, the four notes required to tune Milo’s ukulele.

But cooking is the most unexpected of my developing skills, and somehow the most important. I don’t have much to compare to, here, in my non-digital island. Is this my whole generation, or is it just me? Are there others of you who made it to age thirty and beyond without learning that pasta sauce doesn’t have to come out of a container? Or that you can make your own vegetable stock (and it’s cheaper and tastes better)? Or that it takes fewer steps to make bread than it does to make chocolate chip cookies? It’s too bad, in this, that I can’t see comments on this blog, but I will make an informed guess that I am not alone. If my mother, who literally wrote the book on country living, raised her youngest children on frozen dinners, chances are that some of you were raised that way as well.

Against the inertia of my former life, I am now learning how to cook. It’s a hard road, starting from so little knowledge, but I persevere. (Remember, without media entertainment in my life, I have really nothing better to do!) I have learned to make bread – although not nearly as well as my husband – and polenta, and short grain rice, and soups truly from scratch. I’ve nearly perfected the cranberry muffin, which success is mitigated by the fact that neither my husband nor my son really likes cranberry muffins. And, never mind that that the Sephardic bean soup was made essentially inedible by the enthusiastic addition of an extra jalapeno pepper, or that my apple muffins were unleavened, and not for religious reasons. There are successes, and there are failures, but mostly there is a sea change in my attitude towards how I sustain myself and my family. I am a creative being in the kitchen. I have a choice about what I eat. Putting food on my table can be an essay question, instead of multiple choice. And…I can invite people to dinner.

Question: How do we talk about politics without losing our very humanity? Answer: I am inviting people to dinner.

Aha! You see, those of you who were about to pick up the phone and chastise me, you may chastise me for my weakness, but not for betrayal. I am still in the fray. I am trying to go deeper into the fray. However, what I have been doing has not worked. Something needs to change. We are all human, and we are all hungry. I will not minimize, or be minimized. I will not be snowed by the infighting to the extent that I miss the greatest matter of that Race that Shall Not Be Named, which is that everybody feels betrayed. Who is betraying us? Is it really one politician over another? Or is it the unsettling possibility that we are all sitting at the table, counting our approval points, while the ship is going down?

“So what are we supposed to do?” asks my niece, who is not a resident of Massachusetts anyway, and looks as if she would like the whole darn thing that is politics to go away so we can go back to making pizza sauce and admiring Milo’s precociousness. “Vote for the person that we hate the least?”

Well, yes. That’s precisely what we are supposed to do. That’s precisely how our democracy is set up. What do we think of these people? That they are gods and goddesses? Or demons and demonesses? They represent blocks of people, not layers of stratosphere. They are not, in themselves, right action. What kind of drama has blurred the lines between politics and righteousness? Ah…but this is precisely the alchemy of a political campaign: to transform money received into messages to convert the many. Money into votes; votes into power. Money via drama into votes into power. And our media is so lifelike. We are so able to make our drama look like it is real. Money via reality into votes into power.

I don’t know, maybe I know too much about theatre. For listening to political campaigns? I should be earning union scale.

I do believe in right action. I do believe, ferociously, in civic responsibility. I don’t in any way eschew the ballot box. But my life is only so long! And my children are only this fragile, this vulnerable, for this short time! I see that the earthquake in Haiti could teach us our weaknesses. It could bring us closer to our vulnerability, which could bring us closer to one another. But, through the media lens, I see it only teaches us our fear.

I have plenty of fear. I won’t eat it. I won’t serve it. And I won’t pray to it.

Thus…After two months without the Internet, I am OFF the obsessive, multiple-choice politicking and ON to “Right Living, the Essay Question,” which is much harder, but which also gives my soul a space to breathe.

At this moment, the best thing that I can do for my country is to continue learning how to cook. Please, feel free to send me recipes.

Yours Truly, From My Kitchen,

Esther Emery

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