The Rhetoric of Negativity, or, Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

My life as a political being goes in waves, from peaks of heightened political engagement where I think often about the current state of our country and the philosophical foundations of the American political system, to valleys where I maybe still read history and philosophy but don’t bother much to think about politics as such. The last few years have been such a valley — I’ve spent most of the Obama presidency with a deep respect and admiration for our current president and general annoyance at Republican obstructionism, punctuated by occasional interest in (without taking action on) key issues.

A few recent events have quickly taken me from a valley to a peak: the emergence of the new civil rights movement, particularly in and around my hometown; my wife’s and my decision to start watching The West Wing beginning back in November;  the massive popularity of the musical Hamilton, which got me reading more deeply about the early days of our country; and the current election, which vivifies everything wrong with our country today. In this current bout of consciousness I’ve bought a copy of the US Constitution and read it several times, while also beginning to read The Federalist Papers to be better understand the logic and history behind that Constitution.

One unintended result of this is that I like our current president more and more, while increasingly detesting the opposition party. In Barack Obama we have a pretty good president and a great, inspiring leader, willing to work with the opposition. In reaction, the Republican party has done the opposite at every turn. The end result is a rhetorically strong but intellectually dishonest attitude that has the potential to take our country in a disastrous direction. Continue reading “The Rhetoric of Negativity, or, Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton”

The Patron Saint of the Arbors

I.

There’s a handsome young gentleman who lives in my apartment complex who, the first year or so that I lived here, I thought was not a he but rather a she. This is a mistake many of us make when presented with a non-human creature: too often we address the cool, tough, intense, or energetic creatures as he, while the softer, gentler, more demure ones we call she. When we see a hawk or a bad-ass dog or a cartoon of a fierce dinosaur, we say, “Whoa, look at that guy!” With pretty birds and adorable pups it’s always, “Who’s a pretty girl?” This is crazy, though, and it reveals how deeply held our prejudices are.

So this gentleman in my complex, for over a year I referred to her as Honkers, a name drawn from her meow that is only barely deeper and bolder than a squeak. It’s a soft little Owmp, which in its pitifulness matches the cat’s scrawny size. Honkers is only seen at night, hanging around outside the apartment of one of our neighbors on the floor below us. She sleeps out there just outside the door, on a bed that her person put there for that purpose. But more often Honkers can be seen about ten feet down the way, sitting erect and looking out through the little wrought iron fence that blocks the walkway from the courtyard below. Always sitting there, Honkers just looks out on the nighttime world. When we come up from the car, she greets us with her little noise, honking and bonking and rubbing and purring. For a stranger, Honkers is the perfect cat.

Once or twice, I’d be talking to Honkers about what she’d seen and done since the last time we’d seen each other, when her owner would crack the door to see who was out there. Acting more skittish than the cats, I would dart away for fear of getting caught being the weirdo that I am. Eventually, though, I did get caught. On that occasion, my wife was standing there with our groceries — I had set my bag down, knowing that Honkers was, wisely, afraid of shopping bags — and she was patiently indulging me as I pet the cat. Then the door opened too quickly for me to gather my groceries and run away, so I tried chatting a bit with Honkers’ owner.

As friendly and chatty as Honkers is, her person is the opposite. But I was able to learn from her that Honkers’ real name is Tiggs — presumably short for Tigger, a terrible and obvious name for a cat — and that she is a boy cat. More accurately, she’s a grown-ass man cat. Tiggs just showed up at the person’s door one day and has been attached to her ever since.

After my conversation with Tiggs’ person, I still take time to say hello to him whenever I can, and avoid her at all costs. Also, while common sense suggests his name is short for Tigger, I assume it’s actually an elision of Taye Diggs, so that’s what I call him. I don’t work nights anymore so I don’t see him as much, and besides I think he’s usually allowed to sleep inside when it’s below freezing, as it has been lately. But still, on warm nights sometimes he’s outside when I’m leaving for my pre-dawn run, and at the risk of disturbing his slumber I still usually exchange good mornings with him. Recently I saw him on the opposite side of the apartment complex, an area to which he rarely strays except for those occasions when he’s feeling so sociable that he follows my wife and I to our door. When he follows us, he usually lays outside our apartment for an hour or two, driving our cat Puss — full name Hunter Paxton Pusserton — absolutely crazy as he spies from the window.

On this occasion, though, Taye Diggs was on the landing half a flight of stairs up from the laundry room, pacing distractedly. I said hello, of course, and scratched him a bit behind the ears. Then I continued to the laundry room, to do those things that people do there. Then it became clear why Taye was just a half-flight of stairs away: his person was doing her laundry, and he had chosen to accompany her. We all always knew Taye Diggs was a true gentleman.

Continue reading “The Patron Saint of the Arbors”

Thoughts on the New Year

I should note that I woke up at 2AM this morning and haven’t yet gotten any sleep. This is not going to be the most articulate or logically consistent essay I’ve ever written, but dammit I’ve got big feelings and I want to express them.

New Year’s as a holiday is not really my thing. I’ve never truly celebrated a New Year’s Eve and actually enjoyed it. It’s always seemed like a pretty arbitrary excuse for serious drinking. And while I’m a big fan of serious drinking, New Year’s has never seemed worth being anything other than another night out. Of all the drinking holidays—Halloween, Mardi Gras, Independence Day—New Year’s Eve is my least favorite. I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions—I think they’re gimmicky and rarely followed through upon.

But for the day job, I conducted a survey of friends and associates about their food and dining experiences from the last year, finishing with a question that asked them to make predictions for the year ahead. While many of the responses to this were goofy, they were all generally positive, hopeful. Going through these responses, when combined with a pretty serious lack of a sleep, some good coffee and even better music, made me think for the first time that there’s actually some value in marking the arrival of a new year.

Before I get too far, I should confess that,  for the last two years, I’ve declared each to be the year of something. 2010 was the Year of the Alex, in which I was trying to be more assertive and make more autonomous decisions based on my own needs, desires and feelings; and 2011 was the Year of Good Decisions, in which, basically, I was trying to do the same. This system, while it’s kind of fun and whimsical, is either only a half step above or even a half step below regular resolutions. It’s a gimmick, and the similarity of my goals for both 2010 and 2011 suggests I did a shit job of actually following through. It was fun to say, but I wasn’t really productively marking the coming of a new year. I was just riffing on regular resolutions in an insincere way.

Yet, as I said, I’m starting to think that there’s real value in taking a moment at the end of the year, really stopping, and looking back at the year that was in an effort to look towards the year that will be. While the year ahead can be pretty scary—have I mentioned that in the Year of Good Decisions I actually made some pretty terrible ones, and am starting 2012 in pretty serious debt?—the act of physically, intellectually stopping to look ahead is an essentially hopeful one. It reminds me, honestly, of everybody stopping all at once to sing the chorus of Rainbow Connection.

(Oh. Right. When I said earlier that I was listening to good music while forming these thoughts, I was actually listening to the Muppets soundtrack.)

Seriously, though, that’s probably the most hopeful song in the history of music, with only slight hyperbole there. To wit:

Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Right? Feels pretty effing good. But the music’s not all that uplifting. It’s kinda mournful and makes me feel like, man, there’s something good out there and fuck if I can’t find it. “What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing?” No idea, but dammit I’m gonna keep looking. And then there’s the key change to a major and the song accuses the listener of having been half asleep and of hearing voices:

Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

That’s how the new year makes me feel. But New Year’s as a holiday is still stupid.

Oh, and 2012? It’s the Year of Good Work.

-AJH