Did it mean anything? The stone, the rose,
darkness, wood, wind, flame, the violin.
The practical man, the visible world,
the painted ponies, the sea, the wilderness
of cellophane, my last word, my crumpled message
to my friend? Was I in search of something,
tools maybe, or seeds, for many odd things
are stowed under the overthinking.
Let’s begin to talk about things,
and what they should be named,
and whether it will be necessary
to draw any of them.
The sound of the teakettle—
it was the most terrible thing in the world.
Sometimes it was a wolf, and sometimes
a man or a woman, whatever it felt like,
even falling cherry blossoms, and always
it could take you out, and then it did,
leaving the whole room as impressive
as an unexplored cave.
Did it mean anything? The stone, the rose,
You Broke It, You Won It
“To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked.” That’s from Matt Yglesias in a post he published yesterday evening before the scope of the GOP victory became fully clear. This is succinct and it is correct.
Indeed, in key respects it worked in 2010. By many measures Republicans should have won the Senate in 2010 and 2012. But each year they were hobbled by a raft of crazy and indisciplined senate candidates who squandered what should have been easy or at least odds-on wins. This year, the terrain was heavily weighted in their favor. And they kept their candidates on the straight and narrow.
But if this was the plan (and it was) and if it worked (which it did) we should ask, why?
We’re hearing that President Obama was poor at messaging and keeping his voters involved and invested, that Dems aren’t tough or combated enough or didn’t stick together enough. All of these are true to some degree. But it doesn’t explain why they are true or why the Democrats don’t seem to be able to do the same sort of thing.
I think there are two answers, the first of which is more relevant at the moment. That is that it is much easier to break the government and reap the benefits of doing so if you are not the party of government. This is obvious when you put it this way. But it’s worth considering what a central reality this is.
We should also remember that this is exactly what Republicans did in 1993 and 1994. The script was identical. The difference is actually a good one for Democrats in that they got a lot more accomplished in 2009-10 than the more entrenched Democratic majority of 1993-94. Still, the strategy was identical and it had a similar result – the difference being needing three cycles to finally grab the Senate.
The second point is that the Democratic party has a different structure from the Republican party. Both are coalitions. Big national parties have to be. But the Democratic party is a more disparate coalition. The base of the GOP has long been more coherent. And that makes the primary-ing mania that helps keep the GOP so unified on Capitol Hill possible.
None of this is meant as a counsel of despair. I think the Democratic party’s future is bright. More importantly I think its central goals remain in the ascendent. But addressing the shortcomings I noted above must happen by treating these realities as the starting point of the discussion, accepting them. They cannot be ignored.
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf
she watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the color of emptiness,
her branches wondering;
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
they kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her dependence and need,
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.
Don’t speak to me of heartbreak, I have an argument
with habits of metaphor—it’s not the heart
In April I brought tulips white
pale green and orange in from the garden
you mean but the ineffable—character soul
locus of feeling—don’t tell me that muscle
and with his fine pen he drew page after
page of delicate ravishing tulips
is made whole by breaking—the thready beat
made stronger if ravaged, then repaired
In June plush peonies named for Paean
the physician to ancient gods
Could we salvage joy from each day loosening
Then July I brought the overabundance
of the Oriental lily’s perfume
our ravenous hold on the world?
his hand transfigured the rich ivory paper
Where could it be written,
to a garden room various edenic alive
why would anyone say, why would
a rabbi teach the heart survives by breaking?
August now and great maples tall oaks darken
and cool the garden so flowers know not to thrive
that in black ink my love may still shine bright
After the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday, we recalled this 2004 Slate piece from the author George Saunders, who explains and defends the many inhabitants of the world who neither cause harm nor wish to see harm done to their fellow human beings in the name of an abstract ideal. The article is reprinted below.
Last Thursday, my organization, People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction, orchestrated an overwhelming show of force around the globe.
At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.
During Phase IV, just after lunch, we were able to avoid bulldozing a single home. Furthermore, we set, on roads in every city, in every nation in the world, a total of zero (0) roadside bombs which, not being there, did not subsequently explode, killing/maiming a total of nobody. No bombs were dropped, during the lazy afternoon hours, on crowded civilian neighborhoods, from which, it was observed, no post-bomb momentary silences were then heard. These silences were, in all cases, followed by no unimaginable, grief-stricken bellows of rage, and/or frantic imprecations to a deity. No sleeping baby was awakened from an afternoon nap by the sudden collapse and/or bursting into flame of his/her domicile during Phase IV.
In the late afternoon (Phase V), our membership focused on using zero (0) trained dogs to bite/terrorize naked prisoners. In addition, no stun guns, rubber batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, or bullets were used, by our membership, on any individual, anywhere in the world. No one was forced to don a hood. No teeth were pulled in darkened rooms. No drills were used on human flesh, nor were whips or flames. No one was reduced to hysterical tears via a series of blows to the head or body, by us. Our membership, while casting no racial or ethnic aspersions, skillfully continued not to rape, gang-rape, or sexually assault a single person. On the contrary, during this late-afternoon phase, many of our membership flirted happily and even consoled, in a nonsexual way, individuals to whom they were attracted, putting aside their sexual feelings out of a sudden welling of empathy.
As night fell, our membership harbored no secret feelings of rage or, if they did, meditated, or discussed these feelings with a friend until such time as the feelings abated, or were understood to be symptomatic of some deeper sadness.
It should be noted that, in addition to the above-listed and planned activities completed by our members, a number of unplanned activities were completed by part-time members, or even nonmembers.
In London, a bitter homophobic grandfather whose grocery bag broke open gave a loaf of very nice bread to a balding gay man who stopped to help him. A stooped toothless woman in Tokyo pounded her head with her hands, tired beyond belief of her lifelong feelings of anger and negativity, and silently prayed that her heart would somehow be opened before it was too late. In Syracuse, New York, holding the broken body of his kitten, a man felt a sudden kinship for all small things.
Even declared nonmembers, it would appear, responded to our efforts. In Chitral, Pakistan, for example, a recent al-Qaida recruit remembered the way an elderly American tourist once made an encouraging remark about his English, and how, as she made the remark, she touched his arm, like a mother. In Gaza, an Israeli soldier and a young Palestinian, just before averting their eyes and muttering insults in their respective languages, exchanged a brief look of mutual shame.
Who are we? A word about our membership.
Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of the present moment over the theoretically peaceful future to be obtained via murder. Many of us have trouble sleeping and lie awake at night, worrying about something catastrophic befalling someone we love. We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we are tired. We work. We would just like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologize. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by. In moments of crisis, we pat one another awkwardly on the back, mumbling shy truisms. Rushing to an appointment, remembering a friend who has passed away, our eyes well with tears and we think: Well, my God, he could be a pain, but still I’m lucky to have known him.
This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.
Resistance is futile.