Predictions for the End of the World
Back in late October of 2000, my Grandma O’Hara died. After her funeral in Iowa, back at my cousin Candy’s house, Candy asked me, “Just between us, who do you think should be president?” And I replied, without hesitation, “Al Gore. He’s so much more intelligent and aware of the problems we face. There’s no question.” Candy then left the kitchen, entered the living room filled with her siblings, kids, and nieces and nephews, and announced, “Lisa says Bush is too stupid to be president.” And from then on, none of them has spoken to me, not really, even at their own mother’s funeral. This isn’t about politics, unless we can all understand that this divide in America, playing out symbolically in Iowa v. New York City, is that politics equals values.
And what has happened since that moment of Candy’s announcement heard ’round the world, of course, is that my concerns were beyond well founded; and despite this, too many of my Iowa cousins (to take one demographic) are determined for the world to end, if for no other reason than the annihilation of me and my kind, even if it means the destruction of their own children. It’s a point of pride with them, this annihilation of me, and my dreams of America; and at the very least the “fuck you” to my education and my empathy is worth the destruction of the Constitution. They would literally rather have Putin’s Russian army take us over than vote for Al Gore or Hillary Clinton.
It’s about, I gather, a celebration of their Christ; so how can I stop the end of days? They will, no doubt, sing at my execution, for they have not only inherited but also earned the scorched and lifeless Earth. Kisses.
Seriously, though (and I was serious back there): What does the future hold?
It’s in the Cards
Many years ago in college, at a party, someone I’d just met was doing Tarot card readings. At that time I was always made nervous by anything approaching religion let alone the occult, as I had been hurt by too many liars and hypocrites, but I sat in as a fellow young actress, Raine, had her cards read. Raine was a graduate student in architecture, but her heart was pulling her to theater. When it came time for Raine to pose a question to the Tarot, she asked, “Will I ever make a beautiful drawing?” What struck me about the question was the very nature of it, based as it was in art and not in material gain or comfort, as with questions such as “Will I find true love?” or “Will I be rich?” asked by others at the same party. Raine had asked about her capacity to put beauty into the world; I’d never wondered such a thing. (As for the answer, the cards were mixed; the reader, as I recall, suggested that there was something muddled in the motivation for subject’s question; the card reading would leave us hanging.) It struck me in that moment that I would never be an artist. I felt a slight pang of loss, but some of us are not artists but rather worker bees, and that’s what I was. We produce honey, sure, and the comb might be kind of cool, but ultimately I would never stand out from any other bee. I realized I was okay with that, though I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I decided that a path of uninterrupted self-loathing surely had to be penance enough for all the people in my life I would (and continue to) disappoint.
So why do we want to visit the future? On a visit to Scotland recently, I was in a pub one night when a psychic was visiting. It was an announced event, and the room was filled with about two-dozen women, all working class, aged 18 to 70. The psychic was a man about 60 years old, I’d say, very handsome, lithe, sexy, and he had his routine down pat: He’d cross his arms, rub his chin with his hand, wrinkle up his face, push his groin out a bit (a seductive posture made safe because of his arms wrapped in front of himself), and tell you what the spirits were saying, “Does the name James mean anything to you?” (the names he noted were safe bets, this being Scotland), or “I’m getting something here about being in trouble, does that sound right?” (To that one a subject declared, “Oh, no, I haven’t been back to prison for ten years—that’s all behind,” and everyone chuckled.) “So you knew that, yeh?” he said, nodding. His use of “yeh?” after his statements made the subject complicit; most were willing to go along. He’d hit the mark often enough to impress his audience; for myself, the great part was getting to know the lives and characters of so many working class Scottish women—where would I have had such a chance? More than that, here were a bunch of women looking to a phony psychic for guidance in life in the form of entertainment. Hmmm.
Where have I seen that recently?
I remember reading one of Virginia Woolf’s diaries in which she said at one point that she’d like to flip ahead thirty pages in her own diary to find out how all this (whatever it was) would turn out. Wouldn’t we all? Then again, when someone asked Audrey Hepburn how she and her compatriots kept going in Holland those five years under Nazi occupation and near starvation, she said something to the effect, “I suppose had we known it would last five years, we would have killed ourselves.”
Maybe the card readings have to remain ambiguous. Maybe a psychic’s tricks are all we can handle. Still, this manufactured suspense and the ensuing chaos may be the end of us all. Maybe we are supposed to end. Maybe the best thing that could happen to the earth is our human annihilation. But it’s the suffering that pains me, and that means the suffering of all wild life, all of nature.
I feel very worn down by the chaos, the duplicity, the willful ignorance—and I don’t know how to fix this. I can no longer write—it’s hard and frustrating because I have absolutely nothing to say about anything. It seems it’s all been said—watching the impeachment hearings showed us all quite clearly that President Trump and the Republicans are actively destroying our democracy, and yet Trump’s base is more determined than ever. They would actually prefer the end of the Constitution and a Russian invasion to the liberals having power. It’s insane. My friend Rob has practically lost his entire family to Fox News, and even as a gay man they choose Fox over him every time, seem utterly incapable of separating out from their hatred of whomever and whatever Fox News tells them to hate.
As I talked about this the other morning with Amelie, a dancer friend staying with me between sublets, I said, “But then I think everyone has a Fox News,” a source or place from which only rage can emerge. I realized that for our mutual friend Rob, for example, it’s all things Shakespeare—Rob hates Shakespeare—you’ve never seen anyone so enraged over it as he was at the intermission of what to me was a most perfect version of Cymbeline as we were seeing in Central Park. Rob, who is ADHD, just doesn’t understand Shakespeare, feels excluded from it, and becomes angry over it, and thinks no one should be doing it ever because it’s old. Only NEW work, he says, matters. “Why isn’t there more new work? Who needs to see this?” And when you counter that you could say the same about opera, classical music, classic Hollywood movies, he agrees that all that, too, should go. But what if I love it? What if it feeds my soul? Presumably, I need a new soul, as do all the people who watch Fox News. So where does that leave us? I would say, here: People’s lives are happening now, in the present; to embrace the art of the past for the nourishment of the soul shouldn’t cause us to seek the death of Black people, for instance, but it got me wondering: Are these impulses to a “Fox News” reaction, however different in outcomes, tied together?
Accessibility to the Dream in One Image: Compare Trump’s notes and Obama’s.
Almost 40% of America would prefer the president on the Right, who is on the left in the photo below, to the Black president, who’s personal notes are seen in the photo on the right. Take that in. NOTE: The “no quid quo pro” was spoken to Ambassador Gordon Sondland by the president himself, which means that if an indicted or accused criminal says, “I didn’t do it,” if he or she is Republican, we have to set him or her free. It’s the new America.
Why does the right prefer the disabled in their leadership to the brilliant? In his short story “Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut saw this coming, the lowering of all the expectations in the nation so that all is “fair,” that everyone has equal access; therefore, a unique genius, exceptional athletic ability, and the like, are not to be borne; we will have be given handicaps to prevent us from being too good or to beautiful or too curious—the mind control is high-pitched sounds—the burden of thinking for oneself no longer to be borne. And the Right calls the Left “politically correct.” NOTE: Every time a Republican speaks, just cough out, “Projection,” and keep walking.
Even in New York City, “Harrison Bergeron” is becoming a new normal. I look at the plans for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden [yes, Botanic, not Botanical, so at not to confuse it with the NY ones in the Bronx] that demolished this gorgeous stone terraced gardens on slope so as to make the slope accessible for wheel chairs and walkers. So, too, was the only natural area of forest razed and smoothed, so as to eliminate those pesky roots someone might trip over. Hell, a developer is building a condo that will obscure sunlight for the largest part of the day so the whole Garden is going to die anyway. Venice is under water. But let’s enable quid pro quo come hell or high water.
Is annihilation of beauty our goal? Is that why we’ve allowed 60% of wildlife to die off in the past 45 years? Are we afraid of anything that soars beyond our understanding? Even Christians are terrified of the teachings of Christ, because living by those teachings is so hard, requires so much of them, that it’s easier to throw money at a huckster preacher like Joel Osteen than to read and study and meditate and try to become a better human. We live in exhausting times.
The quick message that is killing us is “Consume.” Consume goods and more goods. Let your hatred consume you. The other week I went to see Bella Bella, by and starring Harvey Fierstein, wherein I learned how as a young attorney and civil rights advocate, Bella Abzug traveled to Mississippi to defend a black man accused of rape for having a consensual affair with a married white woman. Because she could get no accommodations she slept in the bus station or the ladies room, hiding her feet on the toilet seat when the security guards came around, and this went on for two years, as she went to the Supreme Court to get the guilty verdict overturned, won, only to have Mississippi re-indict him; won again, re-indicted again, and without waiting for another appeal they simply executed him in the town square. Those whites in power rigged up an electric chair with a generator, and 200 white people came to watch, sitting with picnic lunches and cheering. I wanted every member of Congress sitting next to black colleagues to have to watch this play. There are members of Congress who would cheer to this day. So would those Iowa cousins up there.
In the face of all that, Bella Abzug was a model of all the best women I know and have seen and revere.
Fox News demonstrates that the worst qualities of human beings—hatred, greed, jealousy, and lack of curiosity—are the qualities most needed to the devil’s work to succeed, in the name of Christ and the Constitution. In the Bible, Eve is “punished” by the God of Wrath for being curious—but it’s not punishment, is it? It’s the natural order of things—we all have to leave the Garden if we are to become all we can be. Christians who are not Christians but followers of preachers are told over and over the Old Testament story of how a woman tempted a man out of paradise, how repentance is the only way, and that it must come in dollar donations. And to be clear, Adam and Eve were white; Jesus was white; anything “good” is “white,” and I’ve about done had it with WHITE is RIGHT. Fuck white.
Interpretations of Events
How do you justify evil? To what do you turn to so that you can live with an atrocity? Or, worse, when is an atrocity not an atrocity? I think of women and babies. When a woman is raped and made pregnant, the Right asks, “What was she wearing?” and demands she keep the baby. No harm, no foul, right, Right? If a woman dies as a result of a back alley abortion, she deserved it. If a woman if fleeing for her life, gives birth, and has the baby taken from her by authorities…it’s okay, as long a the baby is brown.
The other day one of my many cousins, whom I’ll call Pam, had an exchange on Facebook wherein she called out Donald J. Trump as a piece of shit, and I concurred. Another cousin from another aunt and uncle, whom I’ll call Bonnie, came in to announce that Trump had done everything his base wanted, such as building a wall, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, moving the embassy to Jerusalem (after which Bonnie inserted a super happy emoji), and giving tax breaks to billionaires to “grow the economy.” All I could do was ask Bonnie, “Why do you think any of that is helpful?” to which she could only say, “I don’t have anything to prove, I’m just saying that’s why his base loves him.” Huh? My response, over several message bites, amounted to, “I hear you, but I’m telling you that none of the things you listed is useful to the nation or the planet; and how you can ignore all the destruction of his presidency is staggering to me, our loss of standing in the world as a global power not the least of it.” And…crickets.
When will I write something beautiful? How will I be of use before the end of times?
During the flight back from Scotland I watched a movie that resonated in a staggering way. Michael Shannon’s character in The Shape of Water, which won best picture of 2018, is, symbolically, rot. His body manifests the rot; his soul’s rot and mind’s rot are seen in his increasingly ruthless behavior, escalating in a quest for power no one above him will ever give him; when he fails to achieve the power he seeks, his only motive in continuing to live is revenge.
It has been ever thus: The Right is Rot. This is not to say that the Left is the Answer, only that the Left is not (yet) infected with rot. Possibly both sides will devolve into only Rot, with only the artists creating the beauty.
We all live a great tragedy.
Old Art in the Service of New Understanding
On Friday night after Thanksgiving, I went to the Public Theater to see a revival/reimagining of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day (a title he decided on from a mishearing of “A Bridegroom Called Death”) a play from 1985 in reaction to Reagan, deeply prescient in its prediction of a Donald Trump in 2019, and updated by the playwright for that horror. The play chronicles the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis from the perspective of a group of friends in Berlin from 1932 to 1933, and what is clear now, given the clarity of the parallels, is that there is no way to stop the fascism of America and its new ownership by Putin’s Russia. We can’t stop it. It only takes around 40% of the population to help fascism succeed, and the Republicans have it.
Those of us who see the nation’s and world’s end with profound clarity can only do what Kushner’s surrogate does in the play, and that is scream that he had to write the play “because I didn’t know what else to fucking do! I had to fucking DO something!” And this is exactly how Miss O’ feels. Though as for the fellow middle-aged New Yorkers in the audience that night, they could only sigh and comment, “I don’t know if I liked this play,” thus missing the point, thus confirming why the left cannot win this.
The end of the planet is nigh. There’s no stopping it, just as there was no stopping Adolf Hitler and his 37% “majority.” The Third Reich functioned efficiently for 12 years. Earth doesn’t have 12 years, however many millions are slated to die. I’m sick and sorry about it, and yet I know I will continue to try, despite this inevitability, to make a livable world; I know I can only continue to try. I’m sorry that too many of us won’t, sorry for my nephews, who likely won’t see age 40. Neither will your children, but somehow you won’t admit this. Your kids will hate you more than love you, but somehow, again, you won’t admit this. Apparently this is somebody’s god’s will; apparently the “winning” of “Donald J. Trump,” liar, thief, scoundrel, motherfucker, is, inexplicably, more important than the future of the voters’ children. It’s weird, to me. I mean, isn’t it insane?
Philip Glass’s Akhnaten: Egypt of 1350 and America of 2020
At the close of this gorgeous and deeply moving opera, which I had the privilege of seeing at the Metropolitan Opera last night, a leader reforms Egypt, moving it away from polytheism and toward a monotheism that worships the Sun, the giver of life. The production features a master juggling troupe, whose skills of juggling the balls to the music end in the dropping of all of them as the pharaoh Akhnaten and his bride Nefertiti pay the ultimate price for not keeping a closer watch on the new world they have built, after spending 20 years in a bubble of their own love. The final scene of the play is the death, mummification, and ascension of Akhnaten and the continuation of a weary world in his wake. The jugglers crawl across the stage, pushing the dropped ball along, even as the curtain falls.
This opera left me reeling, with a burning question tied to Tony Kushner’s question of the night before: In the wake of the failings of leadership, who will pick up the ball, continue the work of the world, keep the music pulsing? Do you want to keep going?
You want that?
So what are you going to fucking DO?
It’s NOT ENOUGH. It’s not. WE HAVE TO ACT.
WE HAVE TO THROW OUR BODIES AT IT.
To the death.
Love to all.