Friday, November 07, 2008

Election reflections, random and rambling, but with some tasty links.

'No matter how comfortable I feel in England, I know that Americans will always be family . . . precisely because they can make me so crazy.

They can also make me so proud.' Bee Drunken, Election Euphoria.

'I shall watch and wait with many other deeply reluctant sceptics, wondering, in the constant triumph of hope over experience, whether this time Sisyphus will fulfill his overwhelming task.'

Dick Jones, November 05, 2008.


The medium so successfully harnessed by the campaign has been the one that's helped me to share in the celebrations. One blogging friend in the US thought of me before she went to bed and left the words 'we did it' here, just as I was blearily opeing my eyes and stumbling downstairs to get the news. Another literally across the world in Melbourne posted his photo of fireworks then came across to leave a few words. And I read of others' journeys across faraway cities, their whoops of joy or sighs of relief, their lists and memories of other momentous occasions, which they stopped to record before laying their heads down. Two old friends I've never seen shared a celebratory lunch of champagne and curry and Kingfisher beer, another offered up his hair (read that one if you haven't, it's haunting and wonderful).

I couldn't be there for the party, but all these things I will remember and treasure.

Though it seemed regrettable and risky at the time that he didn't choose Hillary Clinton for his running mate, I couldn't imagine her and Bill on that stage in Chicago, without it striking a jarring note.
I have reservations, in principle, about public figures parading their families as accoutrements, but the girls were a heartbreakingly beautiful sight.
The best thing I've read hereabouts, and that's saying something, was Teju Cole's essay over at Beth's. I tended to steer a bit clear of Teju when he was blogging, because, in my poverty of spirit, I knew I would probably just give up hope of any form of verbal self-expression and not get out of bed in the morning (though really that would go for a lot of people I read if I let it...). My loss, but smallness is like that. It's long, but please, take the time and go read, you won't get a better ringside view from anywhere.
He draws attention to Obama as a 'hybrid', his story a hitherto unrecognised one: 'the story of immigration in the age of air travel, the kind of Americanism that issues from exchange students and H1B visas and lapsed work permits'. This cuts both ways, it frightens reactionary 'old America' because it's something new and unquantified, but it's also safe for queasy white folks, because he isn't 'an angry black man', from a people 'maimed by slavery'. I'll stop drawing from this piece, just do as you're told and read it.
But from that I was rather led to think about Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, who, had she lived, would be of an age with my sister, about 18 years older than me. She seems to have been an earnest, intellectual girl, raised in and embracing rootlessness but intensely seeking authenticity elsewhere. She had negative memories of the Christianity she grew up with, and chose no other religion, took on secular humanism but brought her children up on the speeches of Martin Luther King and every holy book of every major religion. She didn't fall out with her husbands, encouraged her children to know and own their fathers, but went her own way. Obama's youth with his white grandparents in Hawaii was his choice, he wanted to finish his high schooling, but she pursued her life elsewhere in the world as an anthropologist.
A white middle class girl, educated, intelligent, independent, liberal, humanist, adventurous, well-travelled, apparently fearless, seeking relationships and experience outside of the known and the comfortable. Nothing feckless, no abandonment or self-indulgence , but no self-sacrifice either. I'm not like her; I'm not American or a mother for a start, and I lack that independence of spirit, but I know women she reminds me of. If this new man is this kind of hybrid, rootless, undamaged, and if this is, as I think perhaps it is, good, then I like to think that a woman I can recognise had something to do with it.
The note of caution, of course, that brave if reluctant people are making sure is sounded: too easy to be swept along with the joy of it, to mistake simple shared excitement for real, authentically experienced epiphany, relief for true change for the better. Jean spoke of her hope as slow-burning, but expressed reservation about any politician partly stemming from disillusion with the Blair government. I too heard a warning voice, even as I watched and wept and felt quite taken out of myself, reminding me of that other moment of election night euphoria eleven years ago, which was followed so quickly by disappointment, the bitterness of which intensified over the years. The possibility that the impulses and motives which led to the betrayals might have originally been noble was no justification or comfort.
Hindsight always colours memory, of course, yet I still feel this is qualitatively different from that, in terms of the hope kindled and the power for healing represented. Some of the difference is in Obama's demeanor, what Beth remarked on as the gravity of the man, his sober, almost sombre, acknowledgement of the enormity of the task ahead of him, his dignity and humility. It may be he hasn't always shown so much of these qualities, but nevertheless. The 1997 UK elections were followed by an orgy of self-congratulation, a wave of entitlement they didn't come
down from. Dignity and humility were not much in evidence.
Any sensible person understands that the real work of change is ahead, much of it cannot be accomplished, many of his priorities may not be right and just. He is a politician, that's not just a glib dismissal; without a politician's guile he would be useless, with it he is flawed, I don't know how we can get around that. It may be, as Dale said in another post which explores delicately, personally and, of course, beautifully, the tension and difficulty surrounding all these questions of hope and realism, of personal engagement and detachment, (and more besides,read that one too if you know what's good for you)that 'we are dug into a hole so deep that maybe we will never get out', but at least I feel that if the change we hope for proves mostly impossible, it won't be through lack of courage, intelligence, will or engagement. And the change we have already seen is still a heartening one; less bad is better.
I'm not sure that joy, euphoria, the high that comes with relief, is necessarily to be knocked anyway, as long as we know it for what it is, and don't resent its passing. I'm not even convinced that the mythologising of a person or situation, that carries us along in a wave of collective exaltation, is altogether to be despised either, as long as we keep some sane and steadying part of ourselves apart from it, our centre within us, not them. It seems to allow us access to something unique and human and important. One of the problems of it is it often seems to involve death.
And finally, I am struck and moved by the sheer weight of pain my good American friends seem to have been carrying, which, I have the impression, they didn't always seem to be fully aware of, until now they find it has been lifted. And I am happy for that.
[Sorry about the squiggles, Blogger's refusing to double space and the block of text without looked frightful...]


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, Lucy. I know what you mean about such writers, you are one of them too. For days, I've been trying to write something about the election too, but words fail me when I read Teju and Beth and Dave and others who write so much better than I can.

Anyway, it was a historic and magical moment, Tuesday night, and I was swept up in it too. The president-elect has been left with a horrible mess to clean up, with little financial resources to do it with, but he's still better than any alternative, and with all his supporters might just make some things better, given time.

Lucy said...

You're a dear ML.
I don't expect much response on this; it's long and unremarkable, and there's too much good competition, but I wanted to get some of it out...

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent digest and commentary, Lucy, and a great read in the wake of so momentous an event. And it's the more useful and effective issuing as it does from informed distance. You characterise the elation tempered by circumspection of our American friends so well - their overwhelming desire to believe that this time their America might come to pass.

I have reservations about one contention, however. 'I'm not even convinced that the mythologising of a person or situation, that carries us along in a wave of collective exaltation, is altogether to be despised either, as long as we keep some sane and steadying part of ourselves apart from it, our centre within us, not them.' It seems to me that the two processes are pretty much mutually exclusive, the one arising from that powerful desperation to shelter within the warm embrace of another's certainty and the other from one of our greatest faculties, the ability to doubt intelligently, even when the urgings of the former is at its strongest. Collective exhaltation eschews detatchment. Great when we're all singing 'Jerusalem' or 'The Internationale'; horribly dangerous when we're down here and he's up there and he's going to save us all!

Rosie said...

wonderful post...Today,I am simply enjoying his victory along with my relieved american chums. Tomorrow is another day. And yes, I am suspicious of orators who take us out of ourselves. But how lovely to listen to someone who can speak!

Kim said...

Lucy- This was just beautifully written...cautionary yet hopeful at the same time...and I think that is how Americans are feeling right now. We are inspired by this man and want to take part in this better America we all envision. At the same time, we have seen our hopes and beliefs toyed with and squandered in the past. No man has the ability to heal all the wounds, but we hope that he will move us more toward that direction.

And this is by no means an unremarkable moved me a great deal. I will also take your suggestion and read Teju. That's next.

Lee said...

A great post Lucy, thank you.

Anonymous said...

He Spoke Shadows

This man spoke shadows
Into being, his strange thin lips
Well trained in power.

My ears, once shadows as well,
Grew large as I heard those words.

My heart moved further
Down the way, past his strong stand.
It's done, thank God, done.

Bee said...

Lucy -- I've been so eager to read this, and you didn't disappoint! Your perspective is always so thoughtful and considered. All of the writing you link us to has those qualities, too. I especially identified with mole, I think. There has been a horrid intensification of the "if you're not with us (in all things), you're against us" in the last 8 years. Surely the source of that hidden pain you refer to? Obama's win widens the circle again -- and lets all of the rag-tag, motley crew back into the fold. (Of course, most black Americans feel like they've NEVER been in the fold. Even though Teju breaks down the racial issue to its deserved complexity, for that moment, Obama's identity of "not white" was just one enormous validation.)

Maybe it's just me, and I've never been a football team, rah-rah rally sort of person, but I don't feel one bit cultish about Obama. And yet what I felt, when I knew that he truly was elected, really was euphoria. As Beth points out, I love him best for his sober, somber qualities; for his careful, analytical, legal mind; for the fact that has always known what it is to be an outsider; for the probable fear he feels about taking on such a massive job. (How I disliked George Bush, and heir-apparent Sarah Palin, for their smug self-assurance that they were up to such a task!)

In conclusion, thank you for introducing me to so many poets -- to so many people who use language carefully and well. After all of the political speeches -- with the same trite phrases and catch-words being trotted out, not to mention the jingoism -- one needs some refreshment!

vicki johnson said...

Wonderful post, Lucy.
I disagree with Beth...I do think we have to rebuild America...while we also repair our relationships within our larger family. The mess still left behind as a result of government mishandling after Katrina is just one piece of evidence.

Yes, many of us have felt the burden of dangerous leadership. My sister was the first to say it out loud today...a thought I have also had this past year but had no idea she shared: "If the election had gone the other way, I would have to leave." Dramatic, yes. Would we really have left? I don't know...but we would have seriously considered it. And neither of us got that discouraged even during the Viet Nam war. got that bad for a lot of us. The incredible depression that has weighed upon so many of us since '04 when Bush & Co. were re-elected has been difficult to balance.

I feel like putting up a banner that stretches across the entire front of the house that says "January 20, 2009: The End Of An Error"...except for the fact that I learned on the news tonight that just down the road from me someone not only destroyed the Obama sign in a family's front lawn, they also set a cross on fire...No, I do not live in the South, or in some hidden corner of the Rocky Mountains where White Supremacists congregate...I live an hour outside of Manhattan.

but you know what? They can't break my heart...because a majority of Americans have voted for change and hope.

Everyone I know--despite the grim economic news of the last couple of days--looks and sounds relieved, even happier than before...and we're all talking about how proud we are to be American. We haven't talked that way for years. Not that we aren't patriotic...we all are...very much so. It's just been really, really rough. And I was beginning to fear that a majority of the country was using 9/11 as an excuse for following a blind man into a permanent darkness.

I have no doubt that Obama and Team will make mistakes...maybe even some whoppers...but I gotta tell ya, it was so very, very nice today, watching a President Elect who looked and sounded presidential during a press conference. It's such a relief having someone at the helm who respects history, respects other cultures and nations, and projects the feeling that he knows just how serious all of our problems are.

I have no illusions that one good man, or a good man and his team, can easily pull us back from the brink. However, the fact that this election was not, ultimately, about race until it was over says I was wrong to get close to giving up on my fellow citizens. I'm so relieved to say that my hope is slowing growing. I feel completely exhausted from the holding on until Bush--and those that are too much like him-- were dismissed.

Lucy said...

Cheers, all, really pleased with such thougtful responses.

Dick - I know, and I wondered as I wrote it if I believed what I was saying. The worst that's ever happened to me from such experience is feeling a bit stupid and a setting in of disappointment, but I know it can lead to far worse. But I still think it's possible to experience those emotions and maintain a cetain detachment too. Perhaps I'm not talking about total surrender. It does bother me that we still seem to need and want figures who are up there...

Rosie - good to remain suspicious; perhaps it's the more powerful to hear a good speaker now because we don't get to hear that many,and have certainly been deprived of even sympathetic communication from those quarters for a long time. But yes, one can just enjoy the skill. I liked Teju's description of the speech and 'workmanlike and inspirational', which you might think were contradicitions in terms but shed a certain light on the process.

Kimmus, thank you. You are young and fresh and bright and hopeful, and your response is wise and measured and that is really good to see. I think the green perspective too might be a good restraint on putting any kind of human pride too high on the agenda, too much at the centre of things.

Lee, thanks, and thanks for the early call that day!

Christopher - that's good. You can stay! ;~)

Bee - I've been thinking about you a lot at this time, and thanks for taking up the links and recommendations. As ever, your comments and observations are of the best.

Zephyr - you've been a wonderful companion through this, passionate and committed but sane and considered too. The news about the burnign cross is chilling, but as you say, they can't be allowed to break your heart.

herhimnbryn said...

A thoughtful and balanced post Lucy. Putting into words the thoughts that had been wandering through my head. Oh, we cheered when we heard the news, how we cheered here in Austrlaia.

However, I was living in the UK when Blair was voted in and we cheered then too, we were euphoric! We then expereinced the reality and consequently the disappointment over the following

So, now I am quietly hopefully and will watch and see......

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent, thoughtful post, I enjoyed reading it and will check out the links.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Having read the links, I realise that your article is one of those that really highlights the true value of blogging, the making links and bringing things together in a really coherent and cohesive way. Thanks!

leslee said...

Very nice post, Lucy. You captured it well. I've had a hard time putting it into words myself.

Lucy said...

Thanks again, HHB and Leslee.

Crafty, you're a good conscientious blogger like that yourself. And you're right, it's not all about ego. I'm going to add some more links and quotes I think, or maybe next post, because there were many other good things I read I didn't mention here...

Roderick Robinson said...

I went to work in America in 1965 driven by curiosity born out of reading books and watching films. What happened was unexpected. I found myself embraced by the suburbs for it was there that the national heartbeat lay. Towns, resorts and natural spectacles tell you little about a country, only people can do that. And most live in the much-derided burbs.

My mother fell ill in Britain and my American suburban neighbours offered to finance my plane ticket home and to wrestle with the bureaucrats from whom I needed tax clearance before I could leave.

It is a measure of the malign effects of the previous administration that those positive memories were unjustifiably dulled, leaving me with little desire to return to the USA. And it is a measure of last Wednesday's emotional impact that I see those suburbs and their residents in their true light again and know I would be welcome if I went.

Lucy said...

BB - eloquently told!

Dale said...

Lucy, I'm late to the party, but thank you so much!