Ask The Sophist
Dear The Sophist,
When I first saw that you had hung out your shingle as an advice columnist, I thought to myself, "Oh I have QUESTIONS!" Life was in stasis then. And it had seemed monumentally important that someone validate my choices and beliefs: kindergarten Zoom "classes" are a waste of time and I am right to end my child's participation in them; watching TV in silence after dinner is a valid form of "family time"; I am being responsible by walking in circles in the backyard as "exercise" instead of seeking out hiking trails. The pandemic had inflated my personal whims into matters of public health policy. I was not just living a sedentary lifestyle, but literally saving lives! Or so I thought.
Before the pandemic, I wanted to fit in and be "normal," in the sense that I wanted to keep up with my college-educated, professional, middle-class cohort. A great difficulty for me during shelter-in-place was the falling away of public approval. How could I know that I was being a good-enough mom if there wasn't anyone to show my mothering to? As an immigrant and a woman, I understood that "good-enough" really meant "white-enough," because that is the measure of success in this country. For decades, I had striven toward that goal even when the effort made me feel inauthentic or uncomfortable.
Tonight, as I sit down to formulate my incipient thoughts into actual sentences, the world outside is breaking apart in anger and despair. In my neighborhood, the relative quiet of the last two months have been replaced by sirens. The entire city is under curfew.
How do I hold on to the fracture and the anger and resist the urge to "return" to the previous abnormal state of so-called normality?
Waiting for Tomorrow
What is normal? And when did you and all of us really leave it behind? A striking thing about the one-two sequence of the pandemic shutdown and the Black Lives Matter uprising is that the one that feels more radically, history-turningly disruptive is the one that doesn't really involve anything new. The coronavirus ("the novel coronavirus," in the early journalistic shorthand) was unprecedented in the lives of most people in the United States, but the way to handle it—in theory, before the federal government and key state governments failed to help—was simply to wait it out. All the while you paced circles in the backyard, you were bargaining with the world to eventually settle back in its familiar rut. You stayed in the yard today so that there could be a normal future of hiking the trails tomorrow.
The death of George Floyd, on the other hand, was already part of the familiar rut. The video was horrible, but we've been awash in horrible video for years and decades. Watching it wasn't more unbelievable than watching the cops jump out and execute Tamir Rice in less than two seconds, or watching the cops blast away at John Crawford before he could react, or watching the cops kill Philando Castile after he had specifically explained to them why they shouldn't see him as a threat. If you were alive to see the Rodney King video—if you were alive to see the still photograph of Rodney King's face—what was there to surprise you?
For a nation desperately waiting and struggling to get back to normal, though, it was a shocking reminder of how terrible normal has been, and for how long. Millions of people suddenly couldn't keep their jobs or pay the rent, bodies had piled up in refrigerator trucks, but the machinery of everyday oppression and death was still running along without faltering. When people went out to protest against it, the cops beat them and gassed them and shot their eyes out with rubber bullets, because the authorities were offended at the very notion that anyone would object to what they were doing.
You want to not get over this. But the country has gotten over many, many things. Kent State. Fred Hampton. Tulsa. We talk about tomorrow like it could be some promised land, but tomorrow is just another today you haven't started slogging through yet. A day will come when you catch yourself worrying again about whether someone is judging the suitability of your mothering habits or your career achievements—and honestly some of them really will be judging you, albeit in a totally fragmented and incoherent way. It was always nonsense, and now you know for certain it's nonsense. You want to keep seeing past the nonsense.
You're already on the right track. You wrote in not to ask about how to make things better, but about how to stay angry. If you can hold onto one lesson from this spring and summer, make it this: the cops are the cops because the cops are afraid. The goal is to destroy the whole system that sustains the problems, not to make the problems go away.
Just bag the Zoom calls and plead “technical difficulties,”
Got something you need to justify to yourself, or to the world at large? Other columnists are here to judge you, but The Sophist is here to tell you why you're right. Send your questions to AskTheSophist@hmmweekly.com, and get the answers you want.
Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly
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THE CRACK OF THE BAT DEP’T.
SITTING ON MY front porch the other day, looking at the green, grassy park across the street, hearing the birds, and some kids a few doors down running through a sprinkler screaming with delight, I missed one extra layer of sound, a baseball game on the radio.
Many things I do in the summer require the audio backdrop of baseball, from sitting in the shade on my front porch, to sitting on my back deck in the sunshine, to sitting in my above-ground swimming pool, sometimes in the rain, if it’s warm enough. If I am operating my charcoal grill on the deck (while standing), I have the ballgame on.
When you listen to a baseball game on the radio (do not listen to a game on TV), you have trained professionals describing stuff to you, such as the color of the uniforms each team is wearing, or the direction the stadium flags are being pushed by the wind. There’d be lots of dead air in between baseball things without some descriptions and discussions, but good announcers let some of that emptiness happen so you can hear that it’s not empty, there’s an event existing in the space of the ballpark, and the gaps carry an ethereal sound, and that’s the thing I miss, those moments of huge, spacious grandeur, a comforting wall of Summer.
I could do it, but for some reason I think it’s too depressing right now to find some old audio of ball games on the Internet and play it and try and kid myself it’s like the Before Time.
In response to last week’s DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY DEP’T.
WHY DID THE PLANE DIVE LIKE THAT?!!!!
Did you find out anything after the flight? That is CHILLING.
—Heather Havrilesky, via the Internet
The passenger responds: I can only assume that the pilot put the plane into a dive because instead of the normal limousine-type flight, he was given the opportunity to really FLY THE PLANE to get us out of harm’s way. Last week I forgot to mention that on my way out of the plane, I saw the flight crew up front and said “Hey Captain, NICE FLYING,” and the response was laughter.
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VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.
Spring, Part 15
Summer begins June 20.
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BRAIN ITCH DEP’T.
WE KEEP TELLING you, and we’re not kidding, we will soon exhaust our selection of recipes for eldritch and esoteric sandwiches, taken from The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, found in the public domain for the delectation of all.
CHERRY SALAD SANDWICH
Remove stones from two cups of cherries, add one-half cup of English walnuts and two stalks of celery that have been chopped fine; add enough mayonnaise to moisten; place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with a cherry.
Chop raw beef and onions very fine, season with salt and pepper, and spread on lightly buttered brown bread.
BUMMERS CUSTARD SANDWICH
Take a cake of Roquefort cheese and divide in thirds; moisten one third with brandy, another third with olive oil, and the other third with Worcestershire sauce. Mix all together and place between split water biscuits toasted. Good for a stag lunch.
READER SANDWICH-PHOTO SUBMISSION
EGG & OLIVE SANDWICH, from Jane Scocca.
Note: recipe didn’t specify whether olives should be ripe or green. I used green. Bread is homemade potato bread.
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