There’s been plenty to have the winter blues about, this winter. Scary, out of control politics. Divided country. Too many dirty dishes, my daughter’s book report is due, and it’s not clear what’s for dinner. I try to keep perspective, try to stay grateful for every wonderful thing I have. But there have been weeks, this winter, when it doesn’t take much to make me cry.
So it’s not surprising that a surly old guy calling out Elizabeth Warren for reading Coretta Scott King’s words in the senate got me going. You know the quote. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
The delicious part of this, the laugh, is that the poor guy genuinely seemed to feel this was a real, sufficient explanation, and he’s completely tone deaf to the powerful tribute he’s paying Warren, Coretta Scott King, and others who’ve fought so hard to make this world more fair. He imagines he could win this fight.
My crying is both more obvious (what a disaster we’re witnessing, the gleeful trashing of civility and equality we thought we’d won), and harder to figure. I’m inspired by the persisters, but daunted as well. The molasses I’m wading through is more about keeping up our basic family comforts, getting everyone to their dentist appointment. Having clean kid outfits on hand for school is requiring a heroic effort. So what hope is there for actual heroism? Elizabeth Warren level action feels out of reach to me right now.
In a guilty sidetrack from the beautiful but tough-to-take novel I’m reading, Homegoing (which I will finish!), I gobbled down the sugary, dizzy Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple’s tale of a Seattle mom who vows changes big and small. “Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply… I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend.”
I don’t have to tell you that she doesn’t make it to yoga, but does leave the dog tied up outside Costco and gets a mild concussion from a pretentious art installation. As she drags her young son around in a spiraling farce, he explains to a bystander, “Since she hit her head, mommy’s been making bad choices.”
I could never not love a book with this sentence in it.
Some in my bookgroup didn’t care for this woman at all, and I admit she’s not pleasant. But reading this book gave me access to my own shrill attempts to hold it all together. I laugh-cried as she tries to tackle simultaneously too-big and too-small aspirations.
Like Semple’s first (and probably better) novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Today takes a turn toward the sincere, as her plans fall apart, but something bigger and more important shifts. Perhaps she’ll stop hating on the perfect PTA moms she fears and dreads at school, might stop running from her past failures. However dreadful things get, she persists, and she just might get life together.
Another joy of this winter was finding the blog of writer Jocyln McIntyre, a wickedly funny mom with twin 2-year olds. “Have you ever thought about the tradition of lighting a cake on fire for small children and then sing-shouting at them as they look on in helplessness, confusion, and fear? Does that seem at all weird to anyone else?” she asks in a post about her twin daughters’ 2nd birthday. In a hilarious apology, she lists all the snarky things she said and thought about her mom friends that are now her reality. Dinner at 4:30 here we come.
If you’ll allow me one more book, I was also cheered by Michael Chabon’s lovely Moonglow. A charming mix of memoir and outrageous fibs, it tells an implausible yet somehow ultimately honest version of his grandfather’s life. His WWII adventures, the broken, sexy woman with a young daughter he marries, the shiny promise (and terror) of the rocket, which brings both the space age and the threat of destruction. Grandpa chooses love over truth, in a lusty, tragic, funny, and sharp yarn. Despite the pain, they persist, and the book somehow remains so fun (don’t ask me how Chabon does this) I couldn’t put it down.
So I guess we’ll pull through this winter, with some help.
I’ll persist if you will.
You can check out my booklist here… but I’m not done with Homegoing yet. Or The Underground Railroad. Or… well you get the point.