For someone who has a constant flow of language in my head, and reaches for still more through books, I have been feeling very silent for a couple weeks. There are various reasons for it. Not all haunting ones.
It is very pleasant to report that A had a consecutive series of decent nights, so we did too. Also, I got us a new set of bamboo sheets, and they are so soft and silky, I have a lot of trouble getting out of bed every morning. And finally, Thanksgiving (all holidays, really) are difficult for us because we are always on our own while other people are all Faaaaaamily. So I prefer to retreat into my shell like a snail and wait till it’s over. Contentment for us is when the normal humdrum of daily routine marches on without constant interruption. Anything else is neither a vacation nor a festivity.
This year, of course, most people were either resignedly or intolerantly keeping their gatherings to whoever is in their immediate household, so I saw a lot of pics of what every year looks like for us–two or three place settings, everyone keeping it quiet. And if I spotted any major gatherings, I did not dignify them with any overt attention. Really, at this point, if people still want to gamble on not getting Covid, or not being slammed with a huge viral load, or not transmitting it to others because they live in a sci fi novel in their heads, I don’t want to know. Just get off the planet and into your spaceship, and hang out with Elon Musk or the outgoing administration in another galaxy.
To break from remote learning and Bunny Slippers Zoom Parties, I have been taking walks while listening to audiobooks on Libro. I’m scared to type out the entire name of the platform because every time I do that on mobile devices, the website pops up helpfully but creepily. I’ve made the move away from Audible, my small gesture of token defiance towards the Man, but am sore about the fact that you can’t keep the digital content you bought when you say goodbye. Since doing the right thing often feels like eating sour plums, though, I decided to accept the loss. I paused my Audible account so I could finish up my credits and listen to every last book. My favorite pick this month has been Abby Chava Stein’s “Becoming Eve.” Stein grew up in a Hasidic community, and left it when she came out as transgender. If you grew up in any sort of religious orthodoxy, this is a resonant read.
My first book on Libro was Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land,” part one of his presidential memoirs. Coming right at the tail end of four years of There Are No Words for The Power Grab, even a centrist like Obama comes across pretty okay (though I did have some insistent internal critiques going on). While I was listening, I was struck by how much of his presidency had been a blur to me when he was in office. We were in the thick of early and very complex, high stakes parenting, and honestly, had so much to learn. I hardly remember my thirties at all, and my forties are almost done too, but at least I have spent a lot of this decade writing.
I was also reflecting on how, for R, grade and middle school were shaped by an Obama presidency. How amazing to have known only a country where your president was Black. And then in high school, he and his peers were tossed into a very sudden awareness of bigoted public discourse and policy, and old enough to be stakeholders in their nation’s political narrative. How they longed to be old enough to vote the tyranny out. How they chafed against the cutting remarks of politically conservative teachers who should not have used their teaching platforms to air their views, but did so anyway. Or the well meant but white hegemonic points of view of even the liberal ones. How they stepped up and looked after one another, and learned to respect one another’s identities. Like every other generation of youth before them, and those who will come after, they have a tendency to be harshly high minded, but it’s a necessary phase.
I was thinking about President Obama today. How it is so important to be able to hold our leaders accountable, and how they must respect that right of the people to do so. And I thought of how that corresponds to our grown kids being able to do the same with regard to our parenting. Sometimes I feel like an abject failure as a parent ally wannabe. And now that my kids are almost done being kids, it sucks to be held accountable. But being able to listen to where we caused pain and could have been better is not optional; otherwise there will be little chance of an authentic bridge to an adult relationship.
Accountability is a complex thing. There are areas where I truly did not journey reliably. It is also that I am a safe-ish container for the anger that my multiply marginalized child might feel because navigating the world will always be fraught and somewhat exhausting. And then, let’s be very honest–Desi parents are still largely invested in hierarchy and emotional blackmail, so if we want our kids’ trust, we have a lot to unlearn. As my sister Shobha says, we are doing a lot of work to heal intergenerational issues, and it is natural and right that our kids will take over and continue the work.
I have a tower of books on my desk intended for holiday reading. Winter is my favorite, and the prospect of sitting at my desk with a lap blanket and a scarf while I dither pleasantly between paper books, e-books, and audiobooks fills me with shivery anticipation. This is my way of caring for myself through a traditionally trying week.
I look out the window periodically, and absentmindedly watch people go by–a combo of stolidly, because their dogs and babies need airing; long sufferingly, because the weather is icy; and intrepidly, because calories aren’t going to burn themselves–and, though I’ve lost any sense of corporeal connectedness to even immediate neighbors this year, I imbue these passersby with qualities lifted from characters in various books. Maybe Uriah Heep just slimed on by. Or Amy March is on her way to stalk Jo and Laurie. Don’t let her drown, Sis! Or someone who just read the same book I am working on is trudging in the snow and pondering the fates of the same fictional characters…
And maybe someone like me just slipped in her earbuds and shut her door, needing a break, and started on her daily walk, beginning the necessary journey that involves slanted sun rays, a cautious tread on salt- crunchy sidewalks, a studied avoidance of potential infection, and, if the pull of altered consciousness is strong enough, a healing of silence and words.