The Sound of Words


I have really really tried to stay sane over these past few days since the election. In my best-case scenario mode, I have said, well, his kids love him, so maybe there’s something there; well, he was a Democrat three years ago, so maybe he’ll be wiser than he talked; well, his comments the morning after the election were calm and reasonable, so maybe it will be okay; well, he seemed to listen to Obama’s plea to retain at least some of the health care coverage, so maybe…..

And then the news stories appeared about riots. I was in riots in the 60s and the country managed to heal from that, more or less. But then the stories of ordinary people using hate language in schools and bars started piling up, and Kelly Ann Conway, Trump’s golden haired campaign woman, said Clinton should speak up about the riots and get them to stop.


That’s when I lost my best-case scenario mode. Mrs. Clinton, as Ms. Conway should realize, is not the commander in chief nor the presumed commander, she’s a private citizen. Remember? It might be far more effective for our next presumed commander to speak up, instead, sort of like “I haven’t forgotten you either and I’ll care about your grievances.”

Riots erupt in cities and reports fill with news of harassment. And I, who am rarely hopeless, struggle with hopelessness.

In this bitter and divided country, how much more elegant it might be to speak from the heart rather than the spleen. Politicians — probably all of us — use what we have to get what we want. Or think we want. Or maybe desire is the word. Certainly not need. An interesting stair step of words: need, want, desire.

I choose not to be afraid or use that word because fear cripples. But I am concerned at the virulent language let loose to degrade, diminish, and threaten. How could we not have understood there was a flood of that language in private conversations throughout our country? I had no idea.

On Wednesday after the Tuesday election, with shopping on my to-do list, I realized something remarkable. Everyone was being kind. People in cars allowed others into the traffic stream; in the parking lot, cars were careful with seeing someone heading for a spot and allowed her/him to have it first. A young man, Marcos, and I had a long conversation at Trader Joe’s. He and his wife had decided they needed to get involved with local community building and were already reaching out to see where they could be used. Inside, people were careful with carts, slowing down, nodding and smiling with each other.

Okay, so it was Trader Joe’s and often the ones who shop there are pretty much on a similar wave length, but there was no dashing (and dashing can be a common factor even with those buying organic), no trying to beat someone else into a checkout line. Instead, we watched out for each other.

Leonard Cohen died at the same time progressive dreams died. Or at least sputtered. We all, no doubt, have favorite Leonard Cohen lines. The first song I learned to play on a guitar was Suzanne, but several news sites mentioned another line, one I had forgotten.

There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Young women are mobilizing like they haven’t since the 70s. Gloria must be shaking her head in amazement. I am. It’s about time! we both, no doubt, think. There’s a Million Women March in the planning stages. Granddaughter Maria Kristina, a millennial, wants to go. When those millennials started showing up in my college classroom, saying they wanted to make the world better or care for their families or in other ways assist (none of them said they wanted to make a lot of money), I realized this was the generation I was waiting for.

Twenty years ago when I first registered my grandson, an Amer-Asian, into school, there were only three boxes to check for race: White, Black, Asian. “He’s none of these,” I said. “You need another box.” Now there’s a box, Other, as if that’s a fine choice to a huge population of mixed race youth. My grandson brought Maria Kristina into our small family. Her family is Filipino. I suspect many of the youth protesting are mixed race, too.

The crack that lets in upheaval is sometimes a necessary path to clarity. I desire change. I suspect it’s upon us.


11 thoughts on “The Sound of Words

  1. My thought process has been similar to yours since the election. I’m glad you wrote about the acts of kindness at Trader Joe’s. I hunt for the small nuggets of hope in the news. On Election Day I was in Mexico at the timeshare I’ve been going to for twenty years. A driver of one of the electric carts that shuttle people from place to place said to me that we from the U.S. and the Mexican people are in this together. I assured him we are.

  2. Janet, I understand, I understand. The unknown over the next four years is the worse kind of stress. We must each learn ways to cope with the day-to-day divide and the dismantling of a country’s spirit and soul. If you can watch John Oliver’s last show of the year on HBO. He does a great job, especially suggesting ways to find our individual voice in this horrific situation.

    1. Thanks, Sally. I’ll look for the John Oliver show. My son usually records them so he probably knows where it is. And yes, finding individual ways to cope is what we’ll need more than anything. And hopefully, gain some perspective. Writing yesterday helped me and that’s what writing does, clarifies the whirling thoughts.

  3. Janet, I think this is one of the best things you have written in some time—it so well expresses the thoughts that I have been going through. Thank you!! Love, Judy

    1. What a kind thing to say, Judy. You’re very welcome. It took me a couple of tries to get said what I wanted to say. Much of the time, I simply don’t know how to think about what’s going on! I waffle between “it can’t be as bad as I think” and “Mercy. It’s getting worse and worse.” I keep holding on to my sense of “this too shall pass,” but then I think about all the people to whom this hasn’t passed. The rhetoric gets worse and worse. Cliff is having trouble with two students in Logic class (isn’t that a how’d’do) who demand they have the “right” to free speech which denigrates him and other students, and then go on to attack him or others in the class. So I told him to go talk to security tomorrow before class and alert them that he may be calling to remove unruly students. But most importantly, to remain calm. Which as we both know is sometimes not the strongest suit in Dragon people! I mean, we’re likely to be okay and survive and all that stuff. But the rage that’s coming into the Oval Office is troubling. To say the least.

  4. It’s unfortunate that the hateful people on all sides are expressing themselves and as for riots, they only hurt, not heal. Protest are one thing, riots another animal completely. I’d like to hear all candidates and politicians call for a stop to the hateful actions and speech! I’m happy to read about the goodwill you encountered and I believe that the many/most who do not hate need to be active at both the personal level and the larger level.

    1. I hear what you’re saying about how riots or demonstrations can hurt rather than heal, and that’s likely so. But I remember the 60s when unruly riots stopped a war. I really can’t judge the anger on either side, I can only try to understand. I’ve observed the freeing of verbal assaults that have arisen from this campaign and election, and I’m also surprised by the amount of vitriol that’s been simmering below the surface. But that underlying vitriol has a basis and that’s what I’m trying to understand. I understand the anger of the working class – while educated, my husband and I are basically in the same boat financially. But our education and our training and our conscious doesn’t lead to hate. But then, we’re both elders. I can’t know what it’s like to be young and blocked from any progress in today’s world or to have a huge six figure debt hanging over my head from trying to get educated. The thing is, all that education hasn’t protected the youth as we (whoever “we” are) determined it would. And I understand what it’s like to be discriminated against, although my white skin protects me from some of that. Not from sexual assault, or bigotry against my sex, however. But I think it’s my age that now allows me some perspective. The other part is, I did a LOT of protesting when I was in my 20s, so I also understand the unbridled emotions that come at that age. I don’t know, J. What I can do is guide as best I can from the sidelines and do what I do with youth. It was a shock for me some years back when I saw the fear and frustrations coming out in students until I realized, all they’ve known in their lives is war. Years of war. So if all they’ve know all their lives is war, how can we now say peace? I’m not saying you are wrong. I’m simply wrestling with the consequences of the last fifteen years or so.

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