“What Stands Before Us”

     It’s almost a week ago now, but what a relief-filled, celebratory inauguration morning – a coordinated, heartfelt event in the face of coronavirus restrictions and domestic terrorist threats.

     For four years we have suffered anxiety and fear dosed out by a president bent on destroying the good in our multi-cultural democracy. From the day after his inauguration when we marched in pink hats, to the capitol riots by his supporters on January 6th, people have died and been terrorized on his cruel watch. He’s gone now, and on a morning spitting snow and flashes of sun, a set of real leaders changed the dynamic by word and music.

     First Kamala, beautiful in her plum coat, pearls, and delighted smile, adding to her incredible history-making firsts the sight of loving husband, family (stepdaughter Ella Emhoff’s plaid coat with bedazzled shoulders!), this swearing-in brought tears and joy to many of us.

     And President Biden (what a pleasure to say that) – the grownup we need – brave, caring, hard-working. Without naming names, he declared the end to lies and pledged truth. Not denying the pain ahead, but committing to pay attention, be a guardian, and bring planning and expertise to bear. You could feel echoes of “ask not” in his speech, as Biden made it seem we all have a part to play. Perhaps a constant and refreshing barrage of the truth might sway those who have been victims of destructive lies and fabrications. Biden offers and asks for common sense.

     In that gathering of dark blue suits, and chosen for significance, jewel-toned wool coats of purple, plum, and ocean blues, sunshine shone from the young poet (and highlight of the morning) Amanda Gorman, in her dandelion suit and cherry red hat band. Her very presence, reciting her spoken word poem, faced our dark and showed the light – her words perfect and sparkling.

                “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,

                 but what stands before us.”

     That phrase holds wonderous possibility and hard reality. Later in the day Biden got right to work on the latter, signing a slew of executive orders to begin the promised repair and replenish.

      Last week hope lifted spirits. A genuine fight against the coronavirus lies ahead – tragically too late for hundreds of thousands of Americans – an economic and health crisis exacerbated by incompetence, but now we are led by a government promising to listen to science, and face – and tell us – the truth.

    Lady B watched the inauguration, and her mom sent the drawing she made during it. She’s nine now, and sees one key to our future clearly. That looks like a knock-out punch to me!


     A week or more ago, my painter friend said she felt she was always waiting. She’s right. We anticipate the inauguration (to be held in an armed encampment) and the other (another) shoe to drop. We are anxious for the vaccine – and for spring.

But Biden and Harris will be inaugurated tomorrow, several friends received their first jabs, and a frog sang in the garden this morning!

Lord B is OK with winter, and very happy his Alaska grandparents got shots “for the virus!”

A River of Anger and Rain

On the sixth of January, the president’s fevered incitement of his mob – promising his presence (fat chance) and admonishing them to be strong and “take back” America – led to their successful incursion into the U.S. Capitol. The ragtag, miscellany of mostly white, would-be insurrectionists (an assembly that would have been swiftly crushed had they been Black) terrified elected leaders and press, left death and destruction, many questions about security, and horrified most Americans.

Maybe most Americans, but “regular” Republicans have a part in this. Trump has signaled for years his contempt for democracy, his scorn for the truth, his vilification of a free press, and fondness for authoritarian leaders – with increasing specificity this year as he lied about a free and fair election.

For five years Republicans have accepted his behavior, where did they think the riling up and lying would lead?

No telling what happens next (accountability would be appropriate), and I am trying hard to see something beyond bleakness. A majority of Americans repudiated the current administration in the election, Biden and Harris will be inaugurated despite Republican obstruction – to voting and to counting. The people of Georgia (thank you Stacy Abrams) elected two exciting candidates, giving Democrats the slimmest of Democratic Senate majority. No more must we endure Trump enabler Mitch McConnell blocking legislation and appointments.

     Adding to January gloom, in Western Washington we have waded in a “river of rain” – an actual atmospheric condition bringing drenching, continuous rain, and plenty of time to read our Christmas gifts.

“The Wild Silence,“ Raynor Winn’s tale of what happens to Winn and her husband after the end of “The Salt Path,” is written with Winn’s impeccable eye for the natural world and our connection to it. Her specific struggles, leavened by beautiful language and love, bring respite from our pervasive malaise.

The friend who gave me “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein, said, “it’s called Young Adult, but I say it’s for everybody,” and a good adventure yarn it is. The story of the friendship of two courageous young British women involved in World War II espionage, it snags the reader with unexpected twists, and made me think much about when the world faced Hitler’s dire threats to democracy.

And Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” with his look at one momentous year of the Second World War, between May 1940 and 1941, makes clear that January 1941 was worse than our January. The book’s uniqueness (in an ocean of Churchill literature) lies in Larson’s focus on the small details of life in wartime – he uncovers descriptions of day-to-day living amid food shortages, the constant aerial assault of the Blitz, and England’s growing fear of invasion.

     It’s a compulsively readable book (specially in this dire time), in part because Larson finds parallel stories to the oft-studied war record by researching original handwritten versions of diaries – as people “processed” their lives (we’d say). In addition to conventional histories, he uses subway bomb shelter records, the journals of Mass-Observation diarists (people who kept a record of how their own lives fared as part of a nationwide research project, an activity renewed in COVID England), archival documents, and now-released secret documents.

     That year saw “the end of the beginning” of a horrifying time (with more years to come). Rising above everything is the leadership of Churchill. A good reminder, as if we need it, that leaders – and their words – matter.

“Whatever Works”

     A new year, and the same, maybe worsening, pandemic, vaccination hopes grow muddled, the current president still vilely clings to the job he failed to do. And it’s January.

     To change the subject for a minute, did you see The New Yorker interview with Jenna Lyons who was the influential creative leader of J. Crew in its heyday? I’d been thinking about clothes, and wrote down what she had to say about quarantine dressing:

     “Clothes are transformative, and feeling good can be transformative. … But I’m not one to sit in judgement of someone’s choice to wear sweatpants. I wear them, too. And sometimes that’s comfortable. I also really like getting dressed up to walk the dog sometimes, because it makes me feel good. I’m not doing it because I want a parade. I’m fully game to look slovenly, and I’m fully game to get dressed up. Whatever works.”

     At the beginning of December, I realized I’d been wearing the same sweater and jeans or wool yoga pants for weeks – hadn’t even pulled the winter sweaters out of their summertime storage pillowcase. What did it matter? That same sweater combo works, just the right amount of warm (a bigger sweater over top when needed), but it is deadly boring. In the interview Lyons says nobody sees anything but your shoulders these days, and it’s true, specially here where we swaddle raingear over warm layers – and wear masks.

     The day after the trip to Seattle, our next-door neighbor asked where I’d gone, “all gussied up.” That comment revealed how low is the bar – my neighbor being accustomed to my morning walk outfit, which varies only by a jacket selection that depends on whether no rain, light rain, heavy rain, or cold rain. Or maybe she compared to my “walk carefully on mossy driveway across to the mailbox” ensemble – several layers of sweaters (one very ratty) clutched around myself, with garden clogs completing the look.

     How about you? Do you wear the same functional lockdown clothes? Do you miss seeing people’s clothes at all? (I try to glimpse my daughters-in-law on calls with the grandchildren.) Clothes can delight. For Christmas, I loved it that the Alaskans gave me Elizabeth Holmes’s “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style” (Elizabeth, Diana, Kate, and Meghan and their clothes). I like to read Vanessa Friedman’s newsletter from the New York Times on Friday, and yes, in the face of other More Important Things, complaints about the discussion of clothes are valid.

But it’s OK to please ourselves – to see something different in the mirror or the Zoom square. Clothes ignored for nearly a year (no special occasions being on offer) – nicer sweaters, ironed blouses, a skirt(!) might provide variety.  

     And at least one person in my orbit has no difficulty changing it up in myriad ways!