I try to avoid political rants, except for brief snarks. But watching the early process of candidates struggling for position, I’m struck again by an earlier theme: the construction of identity.
It’s not difficult to understand why the Founding Fathers created a system whereby the President would be chosen by supposedly educated, patriotic gentlemen of means—perhaps akin to Plato’s “philosopher kings”—though its flaws were soon evident. But any system of democratic choice depends on our extremely diverse mental processes in assessing other human beings.
Yes, it makes sense to abolish the Electoral College, to lessen gerrymandering, to move election day to the weekend, etc. Those all would result in more representative results, but not necessarily better. I’ve been pretty cynical about the process since the age of 15, though I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible and will continue, though I may certainly stand accused of “perpetuating the system.”
I have no concrete proposals. Good thing, since they’d never be heard. But here are what I see as flaws in our collective consciousness:
- Voting by general impression. He’s charming, projects hope, talks like us, is full of rage, says what he thinks, long-winded, scolding, bad hair, too earnest, looks honest. For many (on all sides of the aisle) it’s like voting for class president: pure likeability or tribal identity.
- Constructing a demon opponent. He’ll unleash nuclear war. She’s corrupt.
- Constructing a “soft” opponent. Soft on communism, soft on soft on crime, and any woman would just be plain soft. Akin to that is aversion to the “flip-flopper.” If you change your mind on an issue, even if for the better, you’re indecisive. I’ve changed quite a bit since the age of 12:, so I’d be disqualified.
- Change for the sake of change: clean out the mess in Washington, shake things up, bring in an outsider. Doesn’t matter how we change stuff: just that we do.
- We want a king. Few of us want a “weak” President or even a weak mayor. We want someone who does stuff, whatever it is. That tends to favor males, despite the records (positive or negative) of Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa, or Maggie Thatcher. It involves a faith in a toxic masculinity, a will to dominance, a muscledom, a scorn of collaboration or compromise.
- Attachment to issues. That seems it should be at the top of the list for any voter. But I distrust it. You can look at voting records, but that favors a candidate who has none, and it ignores the context and total content of the bills the candidate voted for or against. And you can have your list of issues, but can the candidate truly make it happen?
I think of myself as a progressive, yet I blanch at a recent analysis of the Democratic candidates that rated them as more or less “progressive.” That’s about as meaningful as our high school class vote for homeroom president, when I refused to raise my hand because it meant absolutely nothing: would Don or Shirley better fulfill the nonexistent duties? The teacher—a nice man—made me stand in the hall during class for my betrayal of democratic principles for which people fought and died. What are we actually talking about? I don’t care if it’s progressive or antediluvian as long as it’s good.
I just finished rereading Lewis Carroll’s ALICE books—thinking about another adaptation—and what I hadn’t really seen before, though obvious, is how outlandishly the characters adopt that same road-rage protection-of-identity as we read of daily and for which we vote. Characters bristle at anything threatening their logic, their authority, even their madness, as if clinging to a slimy slug. A poor thing, but mine own.
Well, at least I don’t have to decide whether to impeach myself, but I am indeed going around in circles trying to put a whole pile of procrastinated accounting stuff in shape, so I sympathise. For me, overdue tasks have the aura of wet smelly mop, and the stinkier they are, the harder thay are to tackle. Sometimes I get somewhere by pretending I only have one thing to do, and choose the one that’s shortest and easiest as an appetizer.
Given how knotted and gnarly we all are these days, can you imagine what would happen if there was a national organized synchronized Knock Off Just One Thing That’s Overdue Day? If everybody, all at once, turned in their homework? Maybe we could get energy to start straightening out our national mess.
But I did do myself a huge favor today. Two weeks ago I needed to get a new system installed on my main computer, so I cleaned up its desktop, got rid of a bunch of silly crap, and backed up everything on Time Machine. When the spiffed-up unit came back home, I realized that an ancient app called NotePad had disappeared; the new system didn’t support it. Our laptop still had the old system, with a Word backup of the NotePad, but I hadn’t updated it, so the most recent info wasn’t there.
Here’s the catch: NotePad was where all the usernames and passwords were. Yup. After taking some deep breaths, I realized I could go to that Time Machine backup and get the data. I did a search on the backup but there was no .npd file. I web-searched and found an installer for the old warhorse app, put it on the laptop, and created a new NotePad. After filling it up with the stuff from the Word backup, at least I had something. I snooped in the System and found where the new data file was hidden. Back to Time Machine: nope, nothing there. Despair.
So I was writing an email to my genius Mac guru, describing my problem and asking if there might be some magic twanger that could find my stuff. And as I was writing, I looked at what I’d said and a lightbulb went Shazam! Within the System files there’s a Library with a file called Preferences. But for a reason I don’t remotely understand, there’s a User that has its own Library, with different stuff in its Preferences. So I went back to the Time Machine backup, found how to access that User, and whaddya know, my file was there.
Long story short, don’t break your brain trying to understand how a Mac works, just let it all wash over you and celebrate with me that I got my damn passwords back. And more than that, I could ditch the rancid guilt of not having protected my data. I DID do the right thing, I just didn’t know where the file would be, and the experts didn’t know either.
So maybe we can collectively back up our heads and do a restart and see whether sheer mulish determination might find an answer. It’s worth a try.
For me, identity has always been an improv. I was named after my father, only to find years later that his name was actually Bert. I went by my middle name Joy until high school, when they enrolled me in the girls’ gym class—I didn’t realize my good fortune at the time. Even at that point I had difficulty remembering if my name was Joy Conrad or Conrad Joy. Even now, I sometimes pronounce it Con-rad, sometimes Cnrd.
And, while I think I can see what drives people to find their roots or a tribal identity, my imperative has always been to escape mine. I got out of Iowa. I haven’t seen any relatives (except my kids) since my mother’s funeral. At my father’s demise, I met four half-sisters, had a nice drinking bout with them (a fitting tribute to my father), but never had any desire to see them again. I prefer to see myself as a singularity, albeit a fairly normal one.
Not that I lack the urge to be part of a tribe. I have great hunger to belong—as most of us do, I think, But I’ve realized that I’m very shy—except on stage, where I can either be someone named Leonard or Lear, or a highly edited version of myself. I’ve been part of diverse sub-cultures, but always gravitate to the periphery of the campfire. Glad to be here, though I’m not entirely here. For some, the social world expands as one ages; for me, I shrink more and more into the keyboard. Or perhaps I revert to a high school version of myself, standing at the party hoping someone might approach, but—guess what?—they don’t.
Still, those of us for whom identity is an improv are privileged in a way. At best, a self-image is a mask in the Dionysian sense: a channel that evokes what you might not otherwise be able to access. High heels make you feel more elegant, a mustache more of a shyster, whatever. But if that mask welds itself into your face, claims that itself is the entirety of YOU, slaps itself on your Facebook page, then— Well, then you become a secondary character in my next novel.
The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on . . .
One hopes it does, anyway, rather than having to stay after school and write I am me a thousand times with a crumbling piece of chalk.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
a novel of blue-collar ghosts
a novel of puppets & renewal
50 Years in the Making
A Memoir of the Creative Life
35 Snapshots for the Stage
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism
From Inanna to Frankenstein