Redistribution of the Wealth: On Politics, Writing and Slavery

This morning, Angie went down to our local freeway overpass to hold NO ON 8 signs, alongside the imported yes on 8ers. The boys and I started to clean the house, and then we got a call from Angie that the yessers had huge signs strung all along the fencing, and she was there with only one other person.

So I called someone and she called someone and then I called my mom. Then I changed diapers and went off to drop the boys at a park with my mom and join Angie. By the time I got there, there were just two yes guys and their one big yellow sign, and several older women (my mom’s age) had shown up and were pressing a no on 8 sign against the fence, with the wind pushing back at them. I held a big tarp sign with a woman who teaches at Los Positas Community College. She told me that many of her students were voting for the first time today.

It was freezing on the overpass, and while we got a lot of thumbs up and honking from the west-to-east side, the folks going the other direction–who had the yellow yes sign to react to as well–seemed a lot more conservative.

I found myself feeling so angry. I wanted to turn to those yes on 8 men and say, “What does it feel like to be on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of family and the wrong side of Christianity??” They seemed more jovial than I–sort of that “we’re all in this together” feeling that you can get when everyone is pressing signs against the wind, and streams of traffic are gushing under your feet, shaking the cement structure on which you stand. I did not share their joviality, perhaps because this is my family and my marriage we are voting on.

This could be the most momentous, historic occasion of my entire life, past and future, if things go my way. If things go really, really wrong, I’m going to feel like getting out of here, though some folks on Talk of the Nation today suggested that this was an unsportsman-like attitude. In general, my slogan is that of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”  But I do want to keep my loved ones on one side of that line for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, I’ve pounded out 6017 words on my novel in the past three days. (I will start chugging on my next 1667-2000  words when I finish this blog.)  I always say that it is easier to write than to think about writing, but of course it’s easiest of all to do neither. At the same time, I get irritable and draggy when I stop writing for long enough. My father used to say, “If only coffee tasted the way it smells . . . ” (Angie says that it does, but then she is on a slippery coffee slope.) I wish that writing felt like reading feels.

The closest I get to that is when I just keep writing, past the extreme judgments of my inner editor (how come my inner editor is in there with my inner child and she still has time and brain power to be so harsh and detailed? Shouldn’t she be changing diapers or something?), past the hiccups and the slow, uphill inclines, past the raging uncertainty . . . and did I mention the judgments?

I think critics, inner and otherwise, are a little like yes on 8ers. They are angry and negative about something that really had nothing to do with them. There are, for example, a certain number of people who are really angry about NaNoWriMo. They say that it brings thousands of crappy manuscripts into a world overrun with manuscripts and makes thousands of people believe that they are writers when they are not. And the people opposed to gay marriage seem to feel that marriage is unravelling if all these extra people get to get married, as if we are producing shoddy relationships in a world overrun with relationships . . . Okay, I might be working too hard or not hard enough at this metaphor. I am sugar-filled and caffine-walloped and sleep-deprived, so I hope you can bear with me.

What I am trying to say is that people writing crappy manuscripts and people creating unorthodox relationships are NOT A THREAT to the establishment. People who write crappy manuscripts are more likely to buy published books and to read them well. People who are getting up together each day to figure out how to make breakfast, get everyone dressed and out the door, keep the house clean and the laundry done, make a living and have quality time with the children and each other are not ripping at the fabric of traditional marriage.

One literary-political note. In plots, when things are looking really good for the hero and you’re fifteen, twenty minutes from the end of the movie or, say, a quarter of the way to an eighth of the way to the end of the book, what are you thinking?

You’re thinking, in the immortal words of my sons, Uh oh. We know the rhythms of plot so well when we are consuming it (creating it is a different story for some of us). It does not bode well for our guy when things are looking up too far out from the end. And it’s been going well for Obama for a while now. Better and better. I hope that real life will do as it often does and rebutt our understanding of plot and just soar right on to victory.

Because it felt incredible to walk around Whole Foods today, grocery shopping, and look at all the people who populate my world and think, “We just might be electing an African-American man president today.” I want my boys to come to consciousness with a man of color in the White house. I want them to think that if it was ever another way, that was a long time ago, back in the last century . . . Besides which, our Cobra insurance coverage runs out next year, and it would be great to have an alternative to Kaiser . . .

I have yet one more undeveloped thought. As you know, we’ve never made any kind of reparations to the many Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in this country. I know that Obama may not be one of these, except possibly on his mother’s side, since we are all quite a lot more mixed up than we pretend. But it occurs to me that all this fear of “redistribution of the wealth” taps into a national knowledge that the original distribution of the wealth was acquired by theft and murder, and that a Black president might look at reparations in an entirely different way. I think the fear of redistribution of the wealth is a fear of honest reparations being raised as a real issue–some seriously messed up mortages coming due with a big balloon payment.

But walking around today, I felt excited. I felt like we might be able to do something far beyond reparations, and move right on over to fairness and representation and something that actually looks like democracy.

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  1. I can’t believe how much is going on in this post; I want to comment on every line. You have so perfectly expressed the irrationality of hatred and fear on a number of levels, the comparison of bigots and critics is so clever and apt, as another mother of young children I agree that this man’s place in our children’s minds and lives will change a generation, and then generations more, and again I find myself wondering: How does one write like this, think like this, while working, launching a novel, managing a home and relationship and two young children all at the same time?

  2. Yeah, I was so giddy, teary and thankful when the election was called the minute the CA polls closed.

    And then amid this incredible feeling of celebration, feeling the knot in my stomach grow as I saw those proposition results come in. I do not understand the logic. I understand the lies, but not the logic. I just don’t see how anyone could honestly believe that their marriages will in some way be tainted if people in any way unlike them are allowed to have marriages too. It’s like people who thought their drinking fountains would be tainted if people of other ethnicities could drink from them, too. I can’t comprehend how proponents of this amendment could believe that it’s based on any values other than hate.

    That said, as a critic by profession I have to take umbrage at being tossed in with people who think that way. Because wanting things to be well crafted and wanting to help the public find exceptional work and be forewarned about slipshod stuff isn’t based on hate at all — it’s based on love. Love for the artform, love for the craft, and even love for the artists. We really want to see them excel and do terrific work, and it would only be sabotaging that effort to pretend that they’ve succeeded in that when they haven’t. Sure, there are self-styled critics who just enjoy tearing people down, which is unhelpful, but I find the ones who praise everything regardless of quality much more dangerous.

  3. Fair enough, Sam. If I had to build an ark, say, and face a huge flood under a George Bush administration, I’d take a couple of critics but no bigots, so point taken!

  4. I took the post a little differently than Sam did.

    Doing a critique of a work is one thing. We all benefit from strong editors and people who push us to do better or let us know when our work isn’t up to par.

    The sense I get from what Elizabeth wrote is that many of the people who hate NaNoWriMo don’t want the “unwashed masses” to clutter the writerly landscape. The implication is an exclusionary desire to define who is a *real* writer versus who is not based on the writer’s process or training.

    To that I say, pffffft.

    Luckily, my writing “community of origin” if you will, is sportswriters. As with most groups they have their own ways of defining insiders and outsiders. But in general it is a pretty open and genial group. Like to talk about sports? Great. Like to write about sports? OK, you’re in.

    Which isn’t to say sportswriters don’t care about good writing, they do. Though other journalists sometimes don’t believe that. 😉

    For others writers who read Elizabeth’s blog, what are your writing communities of origin? And how does that background impact your writing?

  5. What a gorgeous, gorgeous entry. It was so moving to see my own fury/hope mixture reflected and I loved your analogy of writers being better readers to realtionship attempters being better for the insitution of relationships. Uhm, you said it so much better.

  6. What a point about Obama’s parents not being able to get married then. Hmmmmmm. wendy


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