Election Time: Empty Vessels
All day Friday, everywhere I went, people were talking about Clint Eastwood and his awkward conversation with an empty chair at the Republican Nominating Convention. I don't watch the conventions – I was happy to be wallpapering instead – but I heard about the Eastwood performance so frequently that I got curious, weakened and called up the video of it on my Ipad. Maria came over to watch with me. After a couple of minutes, we looked at one another, and I said, "do we really need to watch this?" and she said no, and so did I and we were happy to turn it off. I am so grateful to love a person who did not need to watch this and did not consider it an exercise in citizenship or fun to see an elderly man struggle and drift on national television for seven minutes.
One friend told me she was stunned to learn that Eastwood was a Republican. She couldn't imagine, she said, that a Republican could make such interesting movies.
Last month, a truly awful TV show called "Hotel Hell," in which an angry chef eviscerates restaurant and hotel owners came to Cambridge, the nearby town we are moving to. In the show, the owner of a local hotel, an honest man struggling to make his hotel/restaurant work was repeatedly humiliated – yelled at by the host and by his family, banished to an upstairs room as punishment for his bad taste and make to look foolish whenever possible.
It was much like the Eastwood appearance for me – everyone in town watched the show and loved it and I didn't hear one person express any discomfort at seeing a neighbor this man diminished in this way. People were much more excited seeing themselves in cameo appearances on the show. I asked a friend if it didn't bother her that this man was treated so cruelly on national television, and she said, "oh, I didn't really notice." Why should she? People are humiliated all of the time on television news and entertainment programs, one reason we cancelled our satellite TV and read or talk at night (and blog.) I have come to believe my humanity and spirituality depends on my not being "informed," rather trusting my own instincts to create my own news.
As people in America get angrier, more divided, frightened and confused, they seem to turn to more and more information, more media – TV channels, You Tube, smart phones, computers, texts and e-mails. It seems to me that we are not better informed, more humane or more aware.
I didn't find the Eastwood appearance significant or interesting. It was like watching someone writhe in pain in front of millions of people. It was certainly not funny to me, and I'm not talking about politics. I remember when I was traveling through the country on my book tour in 2008 right in the middle of my crack-up and I was at a podium in a bookstore in the Southwest and I simply lost it. I hadn't slept in days, was on anti-anxiety medication, my head was spinning and spinning and I just couldn't keep a train of thought. I mumbled, forgot what I was saying and helplessly watched the nervous and puzzled looks of the people in the audience. Maybe you have to breakdown or be 65 to know instantly what was happening on that stage, and for me it felt invasive, unbearable. I hope I never watch a thing like that and think it's my political duty. Jefferson might come right out of his marble tomb at the degradation of politics.
Next week I will be hearing a lot about President Obama and the other half of the country will be jeering and looking for mistakes and missteps. I won't be watching that either. I am not on the "left" or the "right" and refuse to help my mind shrink in the way it has to to participate in this political system. We are, in many ways, empty vessels and I do not choose to let media or politicians, TV or culture fill me up with anger, disconnection and the inability to distinguish anger and cruelty from the practice of democracy. There is nothing in this system for me. This is not my politics.
At this time of year, I am acutely conscious of where I stand, somewhat like a wanderer staring at a vast river rushing by, unable to find a place to cross. I do a lot of listening, little talking and few people notice that I am not participating. Rants are not about listening.
In this political season, I will be giving birth to another chapter in my life, moving to a new home and working to make it ours. I will not be laughing at 82-year-old men who took the stage one time too often and call that news or revel in it. There are enough people around getting angry and picking one another apart. I will fill my vessel with something else.