The Last Week

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.20.03 AM

I struggle to write anything in these few days before the Trump presidency begins. I’m afraid for the women who will march in Washington, as I safely march in Toronto and as so many others will march in 370 cities around the world. Tyranny must always be resisted, but such resistance always ends in blood. Could this be the fuse that lights Trump’s Reichstag fire? Surely it won’t take much.

Two other writers offer better insight, so here they are. This is an eloquent New Yorker piece by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, calling on people to resist. And while he inexplicably fails to mention Trump’s misogyny in his analysis, Jonathan Kirshner’s America, America is chillingly apropos.

I hope we are all very wrong.

 

 

 

© 2017, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Eight: Hope

The Black Square, Kazimir Malevich - 1915
The Black Square, Kazimir Malevich – 1915

Hope. It’s hard to hang onto right now, but what’s the alternative? That was the gist of Michelle Obama’s message in an interview with Oprah a few weeks before Christmas. Over the holidays, I tried to hide from the gloom, but wasn’t strong enough to eschew my news feed entirely. In a weak moment I clicked on a New Yorker piece by Eric Schlosser—World War Three by Mistake. It threw me back to a childhood terror I had almost forgotten.

When I was about 14 and shortly after one of the times the world, according to Schlosser, nearly went thermonuclear by accident, I had a reoccurring nightmare. I dreamt about the beginning of the end. Night after night, I watched mushroom clouds bloom in the distance. I never woke up soon enough, and always with my heart still hammering and my body chilled, pooled in cold sweat. It is still the most terrifying dream I have ever had.

That a teenager would suffer from an underlying angst about the end of time in the early 1980s is hardly surprising. I’m just grateful that back then, Ativan weren’t yet the pharmacological equivalent of Smarties. Despite the release of Ordinary People, child psychology was still rather frowned upon as a silly indulgence of the neurotic and the obscenely rich. So when I finally told my father about what troubled me, instead of bundling me off to therapy, he simply told me not to worry. He was also genuinely surprised that I would fret at all about that sort of thing. If the world didn’t end with Hitler, or later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he reasoned, then it sure as hell wasn’t going to end now. And he turned back to his newspaper.

My father was born in 1935 in Chatham, Kent. His childhood included the terror of buzz bombs and blackouts. This lends English people of his generation a reassuring sang-froid. Think Michael Caine or Judi Dench. At least, they are reassuring to me. So I listened to him, and the dreams, though they continued, no longer consumed my waking hours with a clutching fear the way they once had.

The dreams are back. I am resisting the grown-up allure of Ativan, and choose instead to find my inner fulcrum, somewhere between Chicken Little and Happy the Dwarf. So, along with Paul Krugman’s depressing 2017 message America Becomes a Stan, I also take heart in Rebecca Solnit’s belief that Trump will be resisted. Even as Trump blithely tweets about ICBMs as though he and Kim Jong Un were two 12-year-olds sharing insults across a Catan board, I think about the upcoming Women’s March on Washington, and how it could breathe new life into American feminism. I am reassured by the GOP failure to eliminate the ethics office. I am trying hard for hope.

On the first day of 2017, Kim and I decided to do something fun together, something simple. We went to the movies to see Rogue One. We were both unexpectedly moved by the last line, eerily delivered by a CGI-rendered Princess Leia, five days after Carrie Fisher’s death.

“Hope.”

 

 

© 2017, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Four: How women are hated

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-00-19-am

Today is December 6.

Two years ago, I posted this on Facebook:

25 years ago I was a 22 year old Queen’s undergrad writing an exam. About the time I got home, 14 women in Montreal were dead. I remember standing in that first freezing cold candlelit vigil the next night, with other women, friends from the local rape crisis centre and Queen’s women’s centre. Madman, the media said. Misogyny in action, we insisted. Don’t politicize this, we were told. Be quiet. Be respectful. Shut up. What has changed in 25 years? The body count keeps rising. We can never shut up.

Six months ago, Jo Cox was murdered by a neo-Nazi, as Soraya Chemaly points out today in a  Salon  piece about misogyny beating at the heart of white supremacist movements.

Two months ago, the story with the recording of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke in the Washington Post.

Four weeks ago, as it became increasingly evident that Clinton was going to lose the election, I tweeted:

electionnight

 

Three days ago,  anti-Syrian refugee former immigration minister Chris Alexander was filmed smirking while a crowd chanted “Lock her up!” in reference to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Yesterday, I read in the Toronto Star how  Elana Fric-Shamji, described as a brilliant physician, ended up dead in a suitcase—her surgeon husband arrested as the prime suspect.

We can never shut up.

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Three: Lessons from Lessing

For months, part two of Doris Lessing’s autobiography has been gathering dust beside my bed. It covers the years between 1949 and 1962. I picked it up on a whim from Book City some time last year and enjoyed the first half, but teaching and research overshadowed Lessing, so I abandoned her, like so many other half-read best intentions, with a dog-eared book-mark and empty promises. Right now is a busy time for my family, when my wife sells her art at One of a Kind, her biggest show of the year, and I help in any way I can. So I found myself on Friday, in line and listless on a steel bench at five in the morning, in a cavernous exhibition hall, waiting to secure a good spot for next year. I had with me a coffee and my copy of Lessing.

On election night, Yeats haunted me to a fitful sleep. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The poem was The Second Coming and the line that kept turning in my mind, and did so again as I sat bleary-eyed on that uncomfortable bench, was simple and terrifying. “The centre cannot hold.” What does it mean—this weird post-factual world, in which journalists routinely parrot hateful lies instead of evidenced-based reporting? I was physically agitated, deeply disturbed by the footage of anti-Semites and racists giving the Nazi salute to Trump. I felt like the fourth estate was already dead in America when I read that CNN had covered this vile story by running a segment with the chryon: “Alt right questions if Jews are people.”

CNN is Big Brother in America. I challenge anyone in any airport, bar or waiting room anywhere, not to be assailed by it. And today this is the message it broadcasts: If Jews are people.

Without truth, there is no sanity, no structure. Reality becomes make-believe. We devolve into violence. “The centre cannot hold.”

I picked up Lessing as a distraction from my fears about Trump. Instead, she legitimized them. Here are a few of her most cogent observations:

On watching South Pacific, aghast at the horrors of the war in the Pacific reduced to mere backdrop against an insipid American love story: “No one else in the audience seemed to mind. It was one of the times when you realise that there has been, without you even knowing it, a change of moral values, and you have been left behind, stranded on some rather ridiculous outpost.” P. 273

On her displeasure with a journalist when he published a book titled The Fifties in the sixties, without bothering to interview her or others in the book: “I was shocked, not realising —well, none of us did—that this indifference to fact was shortly to become general in reporting.” P. 275

On World War One leading to fascism: “The slaughter in the trenches destroyed something vital in Europe—respect for government. And from that stemmed communism, fascism, national socialism, and later terrorism, anarchy, and that attitude of mind which is now prevalent everywhere, the deadly ‘Well, what can you expect?’ Nihilism, cynicism, disbelief—for one’s own side—and meanwhile, all idealism, love, hope, dreams for a good world, put elsewhere, into Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and later, those other criminals, Mao, Pol Pot…there seems no end to them.” P. 263

On visiting a friend in prison who was incarcerated for six months for being gay: “The first time was frightening, not because of the prison being so grim and nasty, for I had expected that, but because John seemed to have turned into his own opposite, repeating that he deserved to be punished, the police were quite right, because he had done wrong…I was thinking how fragile we all are, poised so lightly on beliefs, on principles—on what we think we are…No wonder people make false confessions…I had not seen this before, and I did not understand it, and I was afraid, seeing what a frail skin civilisation paints over our pretences.”  P. 240

Writing years later, Lessing recalled Stalin’s atrocities as they were uncovered, when she, as a communist, had to face them. This is the undercurrent that seeps up through the pages—what most troubles her—the unspoken guilt that she could have unknowingly supported such a monstrous regime.

In week three since the election, Trump lied about winning the popular vote. After declaring he would not try to jail Clinton after all, perhaps he will now change his mind again.

Lessing was an outlier. She was fearless. A communist and free love advocate, she abandoned her first two children in order to do what she had to do—write. Ever prickly, when she heard she had won the Nobel in Literature, she said “Oh Christ.” Then, after paying the cabbie, she turned back to the journalists in front of her home and said, “Right. Well, I’m sure you’d like some uplifting remarks of some kind.”

If she was writing today, I wonder what Trump would make of such a nasty woman?

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-07-30-am

 

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.