Love and War

I want to be a sign painter

I need to be utterly profane
I need to address the possibility
that I may not be as talented as I always thought I was

I need to wander for weeks in a state of unemployed humility
and pretend I am a tourist
and forget what it's like to answer the phone
and forget my recurrent dreams of stepping on grubs
the way they crunch and ooze and curl up spasmodically...

--"Notes upon quitting a secretarial job at Bank of America"
SLJ, circa 1994

The winter was brutal. Long and dark and full of blizzards and terror alerts. Terror alerts! Aaaagh! Everybody, remain in a state of panic! A dirty bomb could hit Manhattan at any moment, and you've got fifteen minutes to get on the thruway going north or else you have to stay in your basement for a hundred thousand years! Keep your bug-out bag packed! Stock up on water and cat food! No, scratch that, after a week or two you'll be eating the cats! Be very afraid, worry without ceasing, and maybe you've got a chance of survival!
Well, yes, and then there was the war. Lord. We attended an all-night party for the closing of the Right Bank Bar, lots of singing and dancing and drinking and weeping, and presiding over the proceedings was a large TV giving us up-to-the-minute video of the bombing of the cradle of civilization. "Tank falls into the Euphrates river, two Marines drowned," back from whence they came. We stayed till after 3, when they started giving away the booze. The owner, Carey, sold out, packed up and went somewhere far, far away, where he no longer owns a bar with a splendid view of where the twin towers used to be. Carey used to be a firefighter; he was a member of the team that mostly went down with the towers. He doesn't mention it much anymore.

in fact I'm really a dull sort of person
I think in epileptic reruns
I can't imagine life without the wealthy
and my sexual fantasies are bland

Just to be clear, this is not going to be another op-ed piece bashing on Shrub. I don't actually know what I think about George W. He strikes me as earnest, well-meaning, and a bit simple-minded, but that's just the impression I get from watching his face on TV with the sound turned down. For some reason, listening to politicians makes me queasy. I get most of my political information from reading in-depth profiles in The New Yorker, which convince me of nothing except that people are complicated, situations are murky, and nobody is always right.

I did, however, get unreasonably annoyed with the number of Internet "peace petitions" that started cluttering up my mailbox as we got closer to D-Day. This got me into trouble when a friend of mine, travelling with a band of nouveau gypsies across South America, forwarded an anti-war Internet petition to me, intended for the U.N. This was back in the days when I was only receiving one anti-war Internet petition every few weeks, rather than two or three a day. I followed my then-usual policy by thanking her for the petition, but pointing out that Internet petitions are politically useless, because the signatures are unverifiable, and the forwarding address is usually blocked by the time the petition has been in circulation for a few hours. A more effective use of one's energy is to write or phone one's Congressman, vote, or volunteer for Amnesty International, all of which take more time and effort than forwarding Internet petitions to everyone in one's address book. I also added a few choice words about the U.N.'s track record in preventing senseless violence in, say, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Congo etc., perhaps allowing a tone of sarcastic frustration to seep through.

Unfortunately, I happened to hit the "reply all" button, and my friend took my public diatribe rather badly. She accused me of being a smartass, of bothering her friends who didn't even know me, and said that maybe Internet petitions were ineffective, but they were better than doing nothing. I apologized, she calmed down, and I quietly deleted most subsequent Internet petitions, keeping my smartass mouth shut.

This got me thinking about the problem of righteousness, something that not only right-wing fundamentalists are guilty of, in this pre-apocalyptic world. I realized that what galled me about all of these peace petitions was that the senders seemed less concerned with promoting actual peace than in coming out "for peace," that is, in not being personally blamed for war. It bothered me that my fellow countrymen seemed relatively unconcerned about senseless violence in Iraq, or Rwanda, Bosnia, the Congo, Chile, Argentina, East Timor, etc., as long as our government doesn't directly perpetrate said violence, or take any risks in trying to stop it. In trying to formulate any type of informed position on the state of world affairs, I felt like a second-grade teacher trying to maintain order in the lunchroom. "Who stepped on Edie's sandwich?" "Not me! Not me!" "Who set that bomb off?" "Not me! Not meeee!"

Really, it doesn't matter who set the bomb off; the bomb went off, or not, and we all get to deal with the consequences. Righteousness is of the ego. Righteousness perpetuates war. Enough with righteousness, already. Let's all agree to be wrong, and love one another anyway.

perhaps this is the ultimate mystery
perhaps this is what's endured
when I reach my uninterrupted time and place
I will perceive deeply the boringness of self
I will not be even moderately insane

and so I will be a sign painter
and spend an hour on every P
curling myself around it with the concentration of Eve

During the winter I really didn't care about war and politics and economic depression all that much, because I fell in love. My car got a flat tire, my friend Jill took me to visit the guy who fixes things, and the rest was history. My new boyfriend can fix just about anything that's broken, as long as it is an inanimate object; fixing animate beings is my job. We spent every long dark night talking and talking about love and loss and poverty, and cabbages and kings, and every rare sunny day biking across the bridges and through the snowdrifts, for bagels and hummus at the Lotus Cafe, and down Canal street for gloves and cheap electronic parts.

During the spring I spent my days and nights renovating and restoring my boyfriend's empty storefront, turning it into a Healing Arts center, since nobody except my boyfriend would hire me. I got really good with a caulking gun. Caulking is cool. It got so that the entire world started looking like a bunch of holes to fill in, surfaces to smooth out, to integrate, to make One. The process was meditative and deeply satisfying, despite the fact that I was basically gluing together a building that was only held up by the paint. It was also nice to do some work with a concrete, physical, obvious result, as opposed to sending more résumés off into the Hot Jobs void, or petitions off to the U.N. Security Council. The entire neighborhood got involved with the painting of the storefront; I got called a "troublemaker" by a little old lady who took exception to my colors, pale yellow with burgundy trim. She changed her mind after I took off the blue tape, though.

What is Peace, anyway? Peace is not just the absence of war. Perhaps it's the absence of fear.

and there will be no more grubs or phones
or people who talk about the mystical regions
in tones of fatuous sentimentality
I will be free to be stunted and ignored
with considerably less discomfort

and the world will be an incomprehensible place
until I've labelled it
and gone about my humble secretarial way

© 2003 by Stephanie Lee Jackson

Photo: "Gallery Window," taken at Healing Arts on July 4, 2003, by R.A. Friedman.

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