While I haven’t been updating this feature weekly, I certainly have been keeping up my reading! I won’t lie, it’s been a real positive aspect to the COVID-19 era for me. Combined with going through the New Yorker weekly, the Atlantic monthly, and the newspaper daily, reading the written word on real paper has meant the world to me. Then I can use devices for moments like this to share what I’m up to.
I’ve winnowed down to three books this week, though I wouldn’t be too surprised if another book or two slips in.
Category 1: Non-Fiction. I just finished American Canopy by Eric Rutkow and I’m really glad I read it, despite it being both more general and more dry than some of the other non-fiction works I’ve read lately. His decision to go through U.S.history by epochs but weave in ecology, deforestation, economy, and conservation is necessary. It does, however, make me want to read more about certain aspects of it. I’ve long wanted to find the right book on John Muir and his writings, for one. I’ve also wanted to delve more into the Civilian Conservation Corps under FDR too.
What I am reading, however, is Bart Ehrman’s latest work, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. This sends me back to my college roots and my religious history fascination. With Bart Ehrman it literally sends me back to my freshman year at Holy Cross, in which his text books infused and eroded my faith in the perfection of the Bible and the evangelical take on scripture and Jesus. It’s great to return to this.
Category 2: Fiction: Finished: Cory and Amy Rose‘s Sword in the Stars was so damn good. Just go read it – and Once & Future. They’re the same book. If I were the publisher I’d probably want to release them as one masterful volume. I came for the eye and life opening take on LGBTQ+ heroes and stayed for the jaw-dropping story and twists. They did the Arthurian legend and time loop quantum physics a great service.
My abundance of fiction riches is growing too. Finally and belatedly started N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I waited too long start reading Jemisin and now can’t wait to read every word she has written and has yet to write. For no specific reason, I started with a completed trilogy of great acclaim and will work from there. The opening world build was as compelling and striking as anything I’ve ever read before. That’s saying a lot with my sci-fi/fantasy background.
Category 3: Reading with Cheryl. We’re still tenderly making our way through Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindess, though we need to have our “book club” chats for the last couple profound chapters we read together. This is a treat to read and discuss with Cheryl.
[If somehow you’ve stumbled here. Go buy real books. From Old Town Books.]
This was a fun trip to plan. Sharon, Karan, and I looked closely at maps of the Mid State Trail (MST) and Standing Stone Trail (SST) confluence in Rothrock State Forest a few weeks back and designed a loop with no car-shuttling required to make for an epic little return to one of our favorite hiking areas of Pennsylvania. Then we assembled a fine team of DC UL veteran members, took proper COVID-19 planning precautions into consideration, and launched our three-day 53 mile “Mid-Stone Loop” on Thursday night, June 18.
We hope this loop gets some use in years to come. It removes the need to car shuttle, which is endemic when hiking the end-to-end MST and SST. It also puts together some really great sections of trail, complete with excellent camping options for groups willing to arrange a motorized campsite permit and state park reservation. Plus it’s only three hours from DC. For our particular adventure, an early dramatic driving challenge, a powerful Friday afternoon storm, and the surprise inclusion of several family members on our final, festive night together made for a memorable time.
We arrived separately (for the most part) to our prearranged campsite for the evening not far from Hunter’s Rocks in the Rocky Ridge Natural Area, a popular climbing location resplendent with groovy rock formations. To make sure we camped legally and comfortably, I called ahead to the ranger station a few weeks prior to arrange a permit for “Motorized Campsite #7.” It should have been a no fuss first night. Google maps intervened to present a little water hazard, however. Most of us were routed to a dirt road with a swollen stream running across it. Others found another road to the campsite. I decided to test the water-crossing skills of my Jeep Renegade. It started fine with only a few inches of water. I dropped into low four-wheel drive and slowly made my across. Dramatically, the stream deepened by a couple feet in its final few yards and I found myself pushing through water that splashed over the hood. Fears of what my wife would say about this misguided decision aside, the Renegade pulled through with high marks and no issues. Phew.https://video.wordpress.com/embed/3PE3ENcJ?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0
Once at Motorized Campsite #7 at the end of Frew Road, we greeted each other warmly and settled in for the night. Greg, the only hiker I hadn’t met prior to this adventure, was the accidental recipient of a full, normal handshake from me. It was the first such greeting of a stranger for both of us in months. It was not planned nor wise. It just happened. Karan had a lovely fire going. Even more amazing, Sophie pulled out a 40 year old bottle of whiskey (seriously) and cupcakes to mark the 40th birthday celebration she had intended to surprise me with in late February before the world fell apart. The team even sang. Let’s say a bit more about this 40 year old bottle. When Sophie first said she had it, I thought 1) she must be kidding or 2) I hope she didn’t spend $10,000 on such a bottle. Turned out that Sophie had procured from her father-in-law’s spirits collection . . . a bottle of Tullamore Dew purchased in 1980. It was an excellent relic of another era of labels and just as good as when it was acquired. We capped the night with some classic midsummer traditions such as leaping over a roaring fire. Brian jokingly decided it was “a weekend of bad ideas.”
I yelled us awake at 5:30 a.m. the next morning with a full-throated “Make DC UL Great Again!” and off we went for our day of hiking. We hiked northbound on the SST through the Rocky Ridge Natural Area and marveled at the rock formations and blooming mountain laurel for a couple miles.
We turned off of Frew Rd on Martin Gap Rd. Thus began our 10ish miles of road walking across a couple narrow valleys to connect with the Stone Valley Recreation Area and Lake Perez. (Full route: https://caltopo.com/m/D02L) We feared featureless highways and a sun baking our will to live. We actually got scenic rolling farmland hills and cooler than expected weather.
Nearby the street intersection with the actual Standing Stone Road we invited a local on her porch to join us. She politely declined. A particular highlight for us was Brian’s memorized rendition of Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax while we walked along and caught up with each other. We enjoyed a lovely scenic view next to to a Penn State Experimental Forest area working on blight-resistance American Chestnut.
We rolled into Lake Perez earlier than anticipated and settled in for a couple hours of lounging by the water and avoiding a few drops of rain by snacking in one of the pavilions.
We then picked up the Ironstone Loop trail and excessively hydrated as we hiked up the ridge in increasingly hotter afternoon sun. Shane dropped back and surprised us with an announcement when he caught back up that he was lugging seven liters of water. We intended to camp dry on the ridge and he wasn’t taking any chances. The final ascent to the MST and Tussey Mountain ridge was up a somewhat vertical climb on a stone step slope nicknamed the Indian Steps. Thunder rumbled ominously across the heavens as we completed the climb. At the top I rejoiced, happy to finally be on the MST again after a few years away from its rocky, quirky beauty. Tussey Mountain welcomed us back with rocks galore and even a rattlesnake rattle in the nearby bushes.
The thunder, unsurprisingly, ushered in a few drops of rain that cooled the late afternoon. Then it steadily picked up and had most of us scrambling for rain gear or an umbrella. Then it really picked up. Trees were blowing sideways, rain was coming from all directions, and for about 15 minutes we endured a pummeling blast of wind on the ridge. In the end, the timing of the storm at the conclusion of our approximately 22 miles of hiking was fortuitous. If it had hit while setting up camp or even after our shelters were already up, it would have been tough to keep our belongings dry (particularly for me and my spartan tarp/bivy combo). But it didn’t. And though it would rain steadily for the rest of the evening, everyone was able to set up on and make dinner under our tarps. No fire, sadly. But still a bit of camaraderie as we chatted over dinner. The last thing I remembered as I drifted off to sleep was Greg yelling out for a patching kit for his punctured air pad. The always ready and reliable Shane offered up a spare set within seconds but Greg was not able to salvage much of his pad. The rocks of the MST had struck again.
5:30 a.m. came around again and greeted us with a misty landscape. So misty that we were inspired to play Misty Mountain Hop as we packed up and hit the trail. Unlike the road walk of the day before, this day was all about the MST and the SST. This section was why we picked these trails for the weekend. Most of us had hiked all or part of the MST as part of DC UL’s various section hike weekends a few years prior. We reminisced and enjoyed familiar terrain. Unfortunately, Jo Hays Vista and several other viewpoints were pretty clouded in but the surrounding landscape was still lush and worth it. When we reached the other Ironstone Loop intersection with the MST we noted a pretty magnificent campsite. (Were someone to hike this loop again and didn’t mind skipping part of the MST by staying down on the Ironstone Loop or instead continuing on to lengthen the day’s hike by a few more miles, this would have been a better site than on the rocky ridge.) We followed the MST off the ridge for a few miles and then back up and eventually to Little Flat Fire Tower. There we enjoyed some leisurely time together under the spruce glade at the foot of the tower. On the way up Greg said to laughter that he “would do yoga for love.” It actually was an appropriate comment for our conversation. But I guess you had to be there.
We paid our respects at the Tom Thwaites memorial, thanking him and all the many trail maintainers for the amazing Mid State Trail. We strolled on and enjoyed hiking through the Thickhead Mountain Wild Area and Bear Meadows Natural Area. Eventually we descended off the ridge and made our way down to Detwiler junction and the intersection with the SST. It was sad to say goodbye to the MST after so short a reunion (28 kilometers total). We met a day hiker and a couple thru hikers and wished them well as they turned left on the MST and we turned right to hike southbound on the SST’s Greenwood Spur.
When I last hiked the Greenwood Spur as part of my section hike of the SST in 2018, I noted then that I longed to come back. The deep rhododendron and hemlock of the Alan Seeger Natural Area were just as amazing the second time for me. We took another long break by a perfect stream site and made sure to refill our water containers for the afternoon’s final climb and miles. And what a climb it was. The ascent up to Greenwood Fire Tower was our longest of the weekend at one of the hottest times of the day. Lest we feel particularly proud of our little march up, a mountain marathoner lapped us a couple times going up and down the slope as he did his training rounds.
At the top, Greg and Karan scampered up the tower and the rest of us took a break. We were able to marvel at both the serene landscape around us and also the gaggle of shirtless 20-something dudes setting up tents and carrying in large coolers of beer. Interestingly enough, Bryan (Wolverine) and Shane were nowhere to be found even after our second long break of the afternoon. We figured they’d be fine and began our descent into Greenwood Furnace State Park, our destination for the night.
The miles were pleasant, idyllic even, and we finished the day with fields opening up around Greenwood Lake. I had promised the gang a place to swim at the end of our day. Though it had been kind steamy at points, it ended up not being quite hot enough for a particularly pleasant swim. Brian and I jumped in for a quick dip anyway. While lounging by the pond and waiting for Bryan and Shane to show up, several amazing things — planned and unplanned — unfolded.
First, Uncle Ed showed up with ice cream sandwiches and other tasty treats. Uncle Ed, you see, is Greg’s uncle and a definite friend to the woods and hikers as an outdoorsman himself. His appearance was a planned trail magic surprise. He might have even visited us the evening before on the ridge had it not been for the storm. We enjoyed his provisions and companionship throughout the night, including his assistance in helping us haul some purchased firewood to our forested tent site far in the back of the park’s camping area.
Second, Brian’s laugh caught the attention of a completely serendipitous family walking by, and soon enough Brian celebrated an impromptu encounter with his sister and her family, who live two hours away and had no idea that Brian was even in PA for the weekend. They joined us off and on throughout the evening, including at our festive fire area later that evening. Shane and Bryan eventually showed up too. Shane had made a wise personal decision to road walk around the Greenwood Tower climb when he realized he was behind. Bryan was a bit beat up from the day of summer hiking and needed a night to refresh and recuperate. He would be fine come morning.
It’s not normal for DC UL to avail itself of a campground in place of the rustic woods themselves but Greenwood Furnace State Park ended up being perfect. We all had pleasant places to set up our shelters and enjoy the evening together with family, fire, and food. As the previous night’s bed of rocks to sleep on reminded us, this area of PA is great for trail but not necessarily equipped with tons of adequate group backcountry campsites. I would recommend it — and tent site 18B — to any future hikers.
5:30 a.m. again. This time we could smell the barn. We sauntered out of Greenwood State Park in the early sunlight and nearly ended up turned around before Brian nudged us in the right direction southbound on the SST. We enjoyed the jaunt up to Stone Valley Vista, where Sophie shared some catchy TikTok music, and then continued on the increasingly rocky trail. This part of the SST is gorgeous. Hemlock, ferns, mountain laurel, mulberry, beech, ash, maple and birch were all around. This part of the SST is also rocky. Really rocky. The views throughout, particularly from the hawk viewing platform, were worth it but our feet were definitely taking a little extra damage after a weekend of marching out dozens of miles.
We decided in the end to not re-hike the Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the SST and simply continued down Frew Road to our cars to complete our 53 miles for the weekend. We even walked past the same day hiker we encountered on the MST the day before (different day hike for him) and noted how lucky he was to live in such a great place to enjoy the woods. We nicknamed ourselves Frew hikers as we concluded our final road walk and journey. I had to admit to a little bit of apprehension about whether my Jeep would turn on but it started up without an issue.
We celebrated the Mid-Stone Loop the only way one should: with a trip to O.I.P. in Huntingdon. There we ordered entirely too much food and made ourselves at home under their outside porch. Bryan spied a Taco Bell across the street and even helped himself to a walk-thru drive-thru taco while his pizza cooked. A weekend well-hiked and a trail I’d certainly do again. We recommend this adventure to anyone looking for a PA hiking experience that doesn’t need a car shuttle. Give the Mid-Stone Loop a try. Join us Frew hikers!
*Addendum: Despite using Permethrin on my clothes prior to the hike and using normal tick prevention checks on the trail itself, I pulled two itty bitty buggers off me on the Tuesday following the trip. They were so small they could only be identified after partially filling with blood. The doctor prescribed a one-time dose of Doxycycline for good measure. I’ll be on the lookout for any Lyme symptoms.*
Week two of this little feature. Not going to make the progress this week I’ve been accustomed to this spring thanks to being back in physically at work in the office and also taking Friday night and Saturday for a little backpacking adventure. Oh, and newspapers and magazines vying for attention.
Category 1: Non-Fiction. [Finished Orlando Figes’ The Europeans. What an amazing, intimate read. History, including factoids from the 19th century you never knew about, coming to life using three cultural figures, principally Ivan Turgenev.] On to American Canopy by Eric Rutkow and a continuation of a tree theme in reading that I began about six months ago when I picked up the Overstory and didn’t stop. This work is pure nonfiction. But it weaves in a history of trees/forests themselves with the scope of U.S. history.
Category 1: Fiction: Having a blast reading Cory and Amy Rose‘s Sword in the Stars. It’s the sequel – and really it’s the second half conclusion of the story – of Once & Future. It’s mesmerizing and truly fun and I’m so proud of them for these books. I’m also learning and challenging myself a lot with the young adult queer characters. We need new heroes. Especially young people growing up and looking to others in real life or fiction that resemble and inspire them. One-third of the way through and I can’t wait to see how this story sets the epic conclusion.
Category 3: Sports: Jesse Dougherty‘s Buzz Saw. I love the Nationals. I love Jesse’s beat coverage in the Washington Post. I love recapping last year’s championship. One-third of the way through. This book will always be on my bookshelf. It will be picked up to remember and relive.
Category 4: Nature/Religion/Philosophy: Thanks to Cheryl, I grabbed Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor. I’m very close to finishing after a short time. I have been loving my introduction to western-styled Buddhist techniques in mindfulness and related books. This book, on the other hand, helps give a different angle on the life of the historical Buddha through the eyes of a western-born erstwhile monk. Erudite. Necessary.
Category 5: Reading with Cheryl. We’ve taken to our own household bookclub by reading a chapter at a time and discussing. This book club started with Sharon Salzberg‘s Faith. It has continued to Lovingkindess. We are 50 pages in, and together reading and discussing.
Realizing that my book selection isn’t a very diverse offering. Working on that with a few purchases that should help expand my hand-selected horizons for upcoming reads.
[If somehow you’ve stumbled here. Go buy real books. From Old Town Books.]
For me, the urge to protest began on Thursday. Reading about demonstrations and nationwide movements by newspaper, I looked out my window at the serene cityscape of Old Town Alexandria. Why wasn’t there anything happening here? I wondered. I did an admittedly cursory search of social media and Google to find any events to join locally. Nothing in particular came up. I shrugged, assuming nothing was planned, and went about my day. On Friday I began to see social media posts from King Street, the main thoroughfare of commerce and life in Alexandria. Protesters. Thursday evening. What the hell? I thought. I even tried to find an event such as this and failed. How were protests both widespread and underground? I don’t think I’m the only one who struggled that week with guilt, a call to some type of action, and also a sense of helplessness. I was and still am trying to address those issues in my life.
Pressure was clearly mounting everywhere. On the streets of almost every city in the United States. Many across the world too. On my couch, in comfort, I didn’t want people like me to do what they so often do and sit out. I asked on Facebook about how to get information on such events. Quite a few friends direct messaged me Black Lives Matter DC Google docs (with instructions ) and posted informative links. Probably not coincidentally, public articles began to appear as well. Thousands were expected to gather in DC over the weekend, without central organization even. On Saturday morning, Cheryl and I sat down to our morning ritual of tea and newspapers. I was agitated sitting there. Cheryl could tell. She wasn’t pleased, not being a big fan of an antsy Evan. We talked and I agreed to take the Metro into town, without a plan. The heat and personal medical issues were enough for her to sit today out. One of the odder things about this was that I hadn’t taken the Metro into DC in over three months thanks to COVID-19. I masked up, made sure to take a little hip belt with water and snacks. It was 90 degrees, after all. I speculated briefly that if there were issues I wanted to be ready to walk home from DC.
(COVID-19 Aside: I have to admit that despite wearing the mask throughout the day with 95% of everyone else, I didn’t care or consider much more for social distancing efforts or any other COVID-19 concern. Fair enough, I felt like I should somewhat stick to myself and not try to intentionally join with friends out and about. Felt good to be out in the city surrounded by people even as a stranger. I will say, however, that the mask gave an odd sense of being isolated and autonomous. I felt cut off from people. Unable to smile and share. This sense lasted the entire day for me.)
On the Metro, I texted back and forth with Cheryl about where I should head. A young BLM sign-bearing person got on in Crystal City. I asked her where she was headed and she didn’t know either. Another group of protesters got on a couple stops later. The train wasn’t crowded and it was easy to see who was there for what. Another couple got on in suits with bouquets of flowers. Funeral seemed a likelier destination for them. The protesters seemed to have a group and a plan. I briefly considered following them when the train stopped at McPherson Square. Felt right to simply get out and head toward the White House and the freshly christened Black Lives Matter Plaza at Lafayette Square and 16th Street. Overnight, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser had the city paint BLACK LIVES MATTER in yellow paint down the street well within sight of the White House. I stepped out into DC. The city was eerie. Streets I’ve spent countless hours on over my 16 years as an off and on DC-area resident were devoid of cars. People wandered here and there. Away from the crowds downtown had a zombie apocalypse feel to it.
Sure enough, at Black Lives Matter Plaza, crowds surged. It looked and felt more like a festival than anything else. Various groups were handing out water bottles and free food. Bathrooms were even flagged here and there. I was in luck that a new protest was forming as I arrived, spearheaded by a foursome of African-American leaders equipped with bullhorns and surrounded by cameras. The main spokesperson was a charismatic, gender-nonconforming person. In the swell of the scene I couldn’t tell if they were trans or in drag. I joined as we marched in the hundreds first within view of the White House and then along city streets to Chinatown. There, we took a knee in silence. We listened to speeches. Polite quasi-uniformed officers emblazoned with DOJ and DEA patches on their black vests and national guard members in ACU standing next to beige HMMWVs blocked the crowd from leaving the closed off pedestrian area of the city. We turned south on 7th and continued to Constitution before kneeling again for a longer ceremony of silence near Archives with more chanting and speeches. When the crowd started up again down the 9th street tunnel, I peeled off to head back over to the White House and Washington Monument. Others milled about in similar fashion. When I read later that protesters casually picked up movements throughout the day in a plethora of locations, it didn’t surprise me one bit. Eventually I ended up back at Black Lives Matter Plaza and McPherson Metro Station to return to Cheryl and Alexandria.
Despite scenes of aggressive police presence from earlier protests during the week, downtown DC was devoid of much official presence. I found the lack of “normal” uniformed police a little surreal. Scattered throughout town were the same “DOJ” types and a handful of National Guardsmen I had directly encountered in Chinatown. They were friendly and engaging to the protesters. At one time I saw them clapping along. At others smiling and taking selfies. In Chinatown, the agent who appeared to be in charge opened up a vehicle and handed out water. It struck me that we were vulnerable as protesters to being hijacked by anyone attempting to incite violence from within our ranks, but nothing remotely odd happened while I was walking around town — or reported in DC after the event. The civilian officers out and about seemed like the older (35+), seasoned special agents across federal agencies with whom I’ve worked and trusted over my years in the government. The city had the right people on the streets this weekend.
The crowd I marched in was between one-third and one-half African American. Protesters seemed polite to each other but also didn’t seem to engage much individually. I don’t have enough experience with protest movements to know how the COVID-19 version differs. I don’t know what I expected when I headed out. I’m heartened that whomever was making crowd control decisions for the weekend made the choices they did. They didn’t look ready for a fight and that helped set a peaceful stage. The crowds lacked the anger and vitriol captured at earlier events for all to see nationally. But they were serious and determined crowds all the same. 2016 reminded all of us that the professionals and others of the DC area constitute a bubble out of touch at times with parts of the United States. That bubble joined ranks across income, age, and social brackets in Washington, D.C. on this Saturday to march together. I have no doubt we will vote and stay engaged. I don’t know what more than that means, though, for the times to come. Like many, I too hope that this movement generates genuine change, reform, and a sustained call to action.
It’s time. Recent events have taken my social media fixation — addiction? — and forced me to recognize the impact and the limits of the medium. On one hand, the allure of breaking news and video seemingly direct from people and sources makes a compelling case that to be in the know means being actively engaged on social media. On the other hand, I don’t know what to place value on or not and in what percentage. I have no desire to get into the believe/disbelieve dichotomy or, god forbid, the fake news rant. Information in all forms has always been written by people and disseminated by corporations. That is what it is. Let’s not get too excited about it. Companies worth sending money to for their work make money on the perception of the attempt at accurate reporting and the apparatus to fact check, edit, review, respond, and apologize for reporting. That’s enough for me to give their information the time of day. My head will stay discerning.
Therefore, I intend to stay informed without being stuck on social media to waste my time and sway my intake of information. I’m going old school.
Rather, I started going old school a few months ago. It started with a 2020 resolution to give myself a phone break while commuting. In addition to the hard and paperback books I began to buy and read exclusively, I picked up a subscription to the New Yorker. I get excited for my new edition to arrive each week. I read through it religiously and in the same week of publication. Next came a renewal of the weekend (Friday-Sunday) New York Times. It felt great to absorb articles and reporting in a leisurely, focused manner. Helps me to read articles I wouldn’t otherwise click on. Also, it helps to focus on a paper in front of me and not be distracted by the myriad alerts of the phone or computer. Recently, I added the Atlantic to my magazine subscription. Long form journalism is amazing. More so now than ever. The final step today was making sure I was getting a daily print newspaper. I choose the Washington Post for a second option to the Times and also to help keep me attached to the region I live in. Also, there is definitely going to be news I will want to read daily. I’d take a more boring world at this point. But nobody gave me that option.
No more http://www.washingtonpost.com or http://www.nytimes.com throughout the day. Certainly less Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The news can wait until I can consume in a more purposeful manner. Social media can be used to laugh, share, and communicate.
I posted the image of my slate of books on Instagram. It’s probably better to categorize and describe them here. This helps keep me on top of it. It also helps me make the most of what I’m reading.
Category 1: Non-Fiction. For this we have Orlando Figes’ The Europeans. I tend to read one chapter a week, no matter how long. This book, thanks to its length and content, is a slower read than my others. I’m loving it. Then again, Figes has been important to me as a writer since my Russian history days. Here, he takes on how European cosmopolitan culture came together in the 19th century using three cultural figures as the back drop. I’m loving it. But I’m not racing through it.
Category 1: Fiction: Having a blast reading Cory and Amy Rose‘s Sword in the Stars. It’s the sequel – and really it’s the second half conclusion of the story – of Once & Future. It’s mesmerizing and truly fun and I’m so proud of them for these books. I’m also learning and challenging myself of lot with the young adult queer characters. We need new heroes. Especially young people growing up and looking to others in real life or fiction that resemble and inspire them.
Category 3: Sports: Jesse Dougherty‘s Buzz Saw. I love the Nationals. I love Jesse’s beat coverage in the Washington Post. I love recapping last year’s championship. Savoring this book.
Category 4: Nature/Religion/Philosophy: Thanks to Cheryl, I grabbed Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor. I’m one-third of the way through after one day of reading and enthralled.
Category 5: Reading with Cheryl. We’ve taken to our own household bookclub by reading a chapter at a time and discussing. This book club started with Sharon Salzberg‘s Faith. It has continued to Lovingkindess.
[If somehow you’ve stumbled here. Go buy real books. From Old Town Books.]
It’s Tuesday, June 2, 2020. I’ve been alive for 40 years. Let’s call 30 of them historically conscious. I remember watching decade in review news shows in 1989-1990 as my first cognizant memory of understanding the flow of both history and the present – and finding my vantage someplace in it. I vividly remember my social studies teachers lauding the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union as world-changing events. I watched CNN deep into the evening with my family as the first bombs of Operation Desert Storm fell on Iraq. (Though, to be honest, my brother and I thought we were experiencing exciting real life G.I. Joe moments and gladly drew triumphant pictures of planes dropping bombs.) The 1992 presidential election excited me too. I remember voting for Ross Perot in our middle school mock election. I remember my father letting me pull the ballot lever for him too. New seemed exciting, especially to a 12 year old. I got jazzed for the first time, though, for Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign. I bought and read his campaign book, Between Hope and History. I was hooked. He felt real. Right. Then the Monica Lewinsky scandal happened. Globalization took center stage. Politics seemed to fall flat. The End of History was upon us.
By the time I had the chance to vote for a president myself, it was the lead up to 2000 in the dorm rooms of Holy Cross and my time abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. George W. Bush and Al Gore were the same person. W seemed more likable. I watched and listened on election day 2000 in an internet cafe in Kazan, Russia. It was surreal. Then I went back to living under a rock of history and 19th century literature. The end of history indeed. We became boring. We continue to look inward for what mattered. We were individuals.
9/11 woke me up. I switched professional gears. I joined the federal government. President Obama fired me up. His election made me feel the most proud I had ever been to be an American. I was serving in Iraq. But I went about my business. Business as normal.
“This is really the problem with Gen X and baby boomers. They’ve championed this kind of individualism. They’ve championed thinking less about the community.” So writes Neil Howe. I read about it in the New York Times article hyperlinked here. It struck. It stuck with me. The implication was that the previous generations – and the ones largely in power – helped to bring about the existential crisis we appear to be in by focusing on themselves, on individual development over community and collective ideals.
I do fall in the Gen X age generation chart. Barely. I feel torn a bit personally about whether Gen X characteristics fit me more than Millennial ones. In the end, I reluctantly agree to be Gen X despite positive impressions of the Millennial ethos. Especially with this quote. Why? In this particular instance because I spent most of my weekend reading Buddhist books and thinking about intermittent fasting and meditation habits rather than concern myself actively with the George Floyd movement gaining momentum across the United States. I happily ate at a restaurant overlooking the Potomac River and took a mini-road trip for fun instead of worrying about COVID-19. Yeah, I would say I was championing individualism instead of community. Even now.
So what does that mean? Am I responsible? Has a lifetime of inward focus on my part (I’ll let others speak for themselves and researchers speak for generations.) helped to create the moment we now inhabit? Has a feeling that the civil rights movement happened in the past, and that all that was left was tying up loose ends, caused my cohort to drop the ball? Heck, to put the ball back in the closet.
That’s certainly what it feels like. At this moment. On June 2, 2020. Sitting at home. Safe, sound, and pampered in Old Town Alexandria. While the United States convulses in a sweeping moment that I feel like my middle school social studies teacher would call out as history happening now. Maybe Faulkner would remind us that history is never dead. It’s not even history.