I came downstairs to assume my usual position, and found The Boy, asleep under a blanket in my chair. I don’t know when he got out of bed and headed down there. He’s been out of sorts – sudden bursts of sadness, lots of resistance to school and soccer. He’s a feeler, emotional, and as much as we may think that the heavy things of our big, grown-up world don’t penetrate their gleeful childish ignorance, we are wrong. He’s been, for instance, for weeks now finding ways to work the word “detain” into conversation. “I feel so detained today,” or, in the middle of doing chores or schoolwork, “this feels so detaining.” I don’t know that I use that word very often, but he picked it up somewhere and is feeling it. Of course if I said any of this to twitter I would be told that he needs to check his privilege; that he has no idea what it really means to be detained. Because everything is binary, zero-sum, and a 9 year-old saying he feels detained during the COVID-19 quarantine, while riots are burning the cities, is a slap in the face to 9 year-old immigrants in detention facilities at the border. It can only mean that.
Even Lileks is depressing this week. If you just got your internet this morning, and still don’t know James Lileks, here’s your chance. Click on “The Bleat” and you’re on your way. He’s always taking the angle that I wish I would have been insightful enough to take myself. There’s no one more level-headed and erudite, and this week he just sounds pissed off and tired and sad and well, not himself. Things have taken their toll. On all of us.
The first of several planned and announced demonstrations in West Seattle is at 10:00 this morning. I don’t anticipate problems. This is a gathering of people on a street corner outside of a senior care center. Another one is later this afternoon at a busy intersection, but there’s no retail to speak of out there. Hooliganism also not expected.
It’s tomorrow’s march through the heart of West Seattle that worries me. Someting about the idea of movement seems to excite the mobs, and there are lots of juicy targets for the brick-throwing anti-capitalists.
Let me just say something here that nobody else will (I also hate that I said that just now. As if I’m so special, so unique that I could possibly be the only person to say something. What a jerk). It ties directly to what I’ve said several times about people being exhilarated by tragedy. People taking a, perhaps unintentional and consciously unnoticed, thrill in being a part of something horrible. Like COVID-19 and the excitement that seemed to come out when people talked about how bad it might become. Like watching a grenade get lobbed into a public swimming pool and being a little disappointed, in spite of our better angels, when it turns out to be a dud.
We’re a fodder-fed society, and there’s no fodder in joy.
So what I’m saying is that I see it in me. Just admitting that right here, right now. A part of me wants to see West Seattle burning tomorrow. I want to be able to drive through on Sunday morning and see the broken windows and graffiti, take pictures, write about it, and commiserate with my neighbors about the sadness of it all while working in, every dozen sentences or so, the boilerplate “it’s a shame that they have to make the good protesters look bad like this.” It’s a small part of me that wants this, a part in no danger of becoming dominant. The part that longs to belong, to be able to say #metoo. The allure of locking horns with hell and boasting, later, of my survivability. Especially when I was never in any real danger because the devil doesn’t want me. It’s weak and petty. It’s the side of me that wants something for nothing; to take credit for resilience that I may not have shown in the face of anything more immediate than these approximate dangers that I see on the news. I don’t know if you feel that, too, but I know I’m not the only one who does.
Find something that sucks that you can admit about yourself today. Maybe it’s the part of you that hopes, when you’re reading an article about a murder, that the perpetrator turns out to be not of your race. Or the jolt of happiness you feel when you’re reading an article about a politician in a sex scandal, and they turn out to be not of your party. Drag that feeling out by its tail, give it a little shake, then put it back in and make sure you remember where you left it. I’d like to say that you should throw it away, but let’s be honest.
The boy woke, stirred, accidentally shook a sleeping cat from his lap, then slumped down onto the floor and fell asleep again on the rug, as he mumbled something indecipherable to me. This is not the sleep of bliss under the impenetrable dome of childhood. His is the sleep of emotional exhaustion. The exhaustion of the long-borne illusion, the impotence of childhood. and the weariness of trying to work out just what that thing is, slinking around behind all of these toys and games that seem so nice. That thing that worries you inexplicably and keeps full contentment at bay. The thing that no amount of otter pops and ice cream can sweeten enough to silence. That thing that feels so detaining.
He’ll know it one day as conscience, or Original Sin, or a grand moment of unchecked honesty. Maybe he’ll be careful enough, astute enough, mature enough, to drag it out by its tail, give it a little shake, and then set it free.