A stellar day yesterday, beautiful warm weather, spring bursting open. Opening my email first thing, I found a note from CBC host Tom Allen. In the nineties, I wrote a number of essays for Fresh Air, the show Tom was then hosting, and some of those pieces are in my new book, so I asked Tom if he’d consider writing a blurb. He’s a busy man, with his daily radio work and both a film and a stage show he has produced to see to, but he immediately agreed, so I sent him the manuscript.
Yesterday he sent this: It is such a joy to read your words again. I hear your voice saying them and your warmth and honesty. It really is lovely, and the story never disappoints. Congratulations – again, you’re an inspiration.
Does it get better than that? Beautiful! Thank you very much, Tom. I’m waiting to hear from the publisher, so the manuscript is languishing, as manuscripts do. But I hope soon we’ll “get the show on the road,” as my mother used to say.
I had my sixth Covid vaccine yesterday, which made me think, again, of an encounter the day before, when I stopped to greet an acquaintance, an amusing singer of old rock and roll who works a lot locally with his band. We were bantering, as we have for years, when Covid came up. And suddenly the expression on his face darkened, and he began to rant. “You’re an anti-vaxxer!” I exclaimed in shock, because I’d thought in my foolishness that all artists, at least the ones I know, would think the way I do.
That unleashed a tirade, linking the word anti-vaxxer with anti-Semitism, how people used to call him a dirty Jew and now they call him an anti-vaxxer. I said, “Anti-Semitism is hatred; vaccines are science,” and a fresh tirade ensued about how Dr. Fauci was wrong about everything. I said, “My father nearly died of polio. The day the polio vaccine was invented was one of the best days of his life.”
“This has nothing to do with polio,” he retorted.
“But it’s about the life-saving effectiveness of vaccines!” I said. He turned away, saying, “We have nothing more to say to each other.”
Another one down. What I found most shocking was the level of resentment and paranoia, the instant assumption, as he told me, that I was condemning and mocking him. I am absolutely open to an intelligent discussion, but not a furious rant.
To me, this was another sighting of the vast, nearly limitless well of white male (and sometimes female) grievance that has opened up and is threatening us all. It was there all along, bubbling underneath, but has been brought to the surface by Trump, Fox News, and the Republican party. The sense that the world is out to get you, that minorities and immigrants, women, gays, trans people, and especially the government, are the enemy — it’s toxic and incredibly dangerous, and it’s everywhere. News outlets have discovered that anger fuels interest, which is why we constantly hear so much of PP’s voice. Anything they disagree with is “fake news,” because only they are in possession of the truth, and the rest of us are sheep being led to slaughter. I’ve been told so. There’s no way through this impenetrable wall of complaint, misinformation, and fury.
The only consolation is that in this country there are fewer guns. To the south, these men are randomly slaughtering fellow citizens. The world has never felt so precarious, though I did live through the Cuban missile crisis, which was close. The thought of this once friendly, funny musician, his face twisted with rage — makes me sad but also frightened.
On a cheerier note, I’ve just read The Wind in the Willows, inspired by the program Wonderland, about children’s books, that I’m watching on Monday nights. To my surprise, this novel is definitely more for adults than children, full of long lyrical passages about nature but with the funny exploits of the egotistical Mr. Toad and his friends Ratty, Badger, and Mole, to provoke laughter. A lovely book that, as the program pointed out last night, is also about the power and solace of male friendships, its author Kenneth Grahame a closeted gay man.
My parents gave it to me for Xmas 1958, when I was seven. I finally read it sixty-five years later.