27 August 2013

confessional mode: fear

Today was the first day of the new semester, the first day of my new year. (I have no truck with January. Mid-winter isn't a good time for me to start anything.)

Maybe it's because of that newness, the ripple of uncertainty over and under everything--and today was so very much that--but today feels like a good--not good, but fitting--day to face front. So I'm turning this, which was, until five minutes ago, an e-mail to a very close friend, into a post, for better or worse.

What am I afraid of, right now? 

In ways that have nothing to do with my usual pile of writerly insecurities, I am afraid of when the media finally gets to Evgeni Malkin and asks him about what he thinks about the Russian anti-gay propaganda law that's turned the run-up to the Olympics into even more of a gut-twisting spectacle than before (before the inevitable human rights violations had a name and number and legal code). After Ilya Kovalchuk's response today, I tread the internet carefully, but today's news about Evgeni Malkin is this marvelously affable spectacle. Still, so far, 2/3 of the Russian stars asked what they thought have said they're in favor of the statute, to one degree or another. The third, Alexander Ovechkin, chose the only other option, which is to say "I'd rather talk about hockey" and evade the matter altogether. (Several good reads on the general subject are here, here, here, and here, and many, many more, of course, are out there.)

I understand that there's no particularly good option for the players on the Russian national team who might actually stand with GLBTQ rights or at least with the stance of the NHL/NHLPA/You Can Play partnership. Under the dictates of the law, actually saying anything other than the above two options could be found in violation of said law. I also know that Russian culture is what it is, and we're all products of our culture to some degree. The law is popular in Russia. I should have no expectations that my favorite hockey player should be any different than the significant majority of his country. 

But I do. Maybe I blame American exceptionalism--even my chosen-favorite-beloved-wearer-of-a-coordinated-shirt-and-shorts ensemble should be different, superlative, heroic against overwhelming odds. Maybe I blame escapism: if I dealt better with the actual world, sports and the people who play them wouldn't mean so much to me. Maybe I blame my own selfish worry: what if my favorite player says, "No, I don't think you are deserving of the same freedoms and rights of expression everyone else has"? It's personal. The personal is political is personal. I don't have to have met someone for that to be true because ideology and philosophy have very real, very tangible effects. (This is news to no one.)

Other fans have already had to deal with this--not just in this particular historical moment, but every time a public figure falls from grace and we have to make the decision: stay or go? That's not a choice I want to make, but I know what I'd choose, and there's that selfishness again: I'm broken up over what it would cost me. My fandom, my laundry, my favorite too-expensive, named-and-numbered sweater. But I'd always rather give up pleasure than self-respect, which includes voting with my esteem, my attention, and ultimately my money. Even if no one else notices or cares, I do. 

I'm a wreck over hypotheticals. That's not fair to some professional athlete whose real job is to be good at hockey. And I'm an optimistic person--I want to believe the best about people, particularly about those I admire, no matter the reason. I want to think, however Pollyannaish it may be, that human beings will default to being generous with each other. I think, also, though, of Sherlock Holmes: if I've painted over things with too rosy a brush, I've set up my own disappointment, and I have no right to expect otherwise. 

A ray of hope I have is a tweet from the You Can Play Project which says they've had support from some Russian NHLers who have not been able to support the initiative publicly for a variety of reasons (their own legal protection and consideration for their families likely included, which are good reasons). It saddens me to think that what I'm hoping for most (in an attempt to actually be realistic) is silence, no comment, let's talk about hockey, from a whole slew of Russian players and athletes. It troubles me to think what kind of meaning I'd imbue that with, too, but this is hope against hope. This is back to wishing, always, for what is kindest, and expecting that, even to the point of seeing it where it isn't. It's a disservice to everyone.

I'm not entirely sure what I hoped to achieve with this post. Usually I have some idea. Tonight, all I can think is that if I name the fear and whatever reasons I have for it, it will go away. I know, however, that's never actually true for me. Saying it out loud doesn't help. There aren't many cases where I feel better for having shared. But maybe someone else is having the same worry, and at least we can feel fearful and ridiculous together.

I don't know.

14 August 2013


My Jentel residency has come to an end, and the upcoming days are my re-entry into the usual world. Given the presence of the Perseid meteor shower and that we spent our final two nights at Jentel sitting on folding chairs in the driveway, heads tipped back as we watched these clusters of dust and ice immolate in atmosphere, the idea of re-entry feels appropriate. It's been a summer of overwhelming good fortune, but there's no getting away from the overwhelming part; it's hard to really understand the imminence of the semester and so on.

Before the meteor shower, too, the summer sky shed its usual measure of stars. It’s not that I’ve been particularly attentive to that—I tend to be asleep well before the interesting astronomical features take place—but there’s so much sky, so much night that even I can’t miss it all. 
That’s been the feeling over the whole month: there’s so much good here that some of it must stick, well past the end of our tenure at Jentel. The work was good, the scenery was good, my lovely, lovely fellow residents were more than good, and this is all following in the Jentel tradition of understatement.

Have some pictures:
Like it says on the sign. 
Just a few days into our time together, we thought it was a good idea to take a 4-mile round trip hike to a fire tower none of us had been to on a trail that is not marked at all. (No one will be surprised that it was my idea. I wanted to research something. How hard could it be?) The hike had its challenges (including a need to be a little inclined toward mountain goatishness to get to the actual lookout), but it was worth that much and more. And we stopped to get ice cream together on the way home. That's how you know you've bonded: passing around your order to let five people you just met taste the chocolate malt or rootbeer float or butter pecan milkshake. 

Shadow portrait of the residents, Big Horn Mountains in the distance.

And in Big Horn, Wyoming, Holly discovered she loves watching polo. Because everyone expects polo in northern Wyoming, right?
I had four weekends in the greater Sheridan area. I went to four polo matches, and that was an experience that will get its own writing project of some sort. In the meantime, visit Flying H Polo and Big Horn Polo Club. Also, read Alyson Hagy's spare, beautiful novel, Boleto. I read Boleto last summer, actually, in Montreal, and I will read it again, now, knowing a little more about the backdrop to Hagy's fiction. 

This sky, you know?
Wyoming sunsets. They're all right.
A thousand thanks to the Jentel Foundation. A word I kept using while I wrote postcards to folks was transformative, and it's true. This residency changed the way I think about my work (in some very practical, tangible ways and some not-so-tangible ways) and about myself. At Jentel, where art and the artists that make it are so clearly valued and honored, there was so much burning brightly, sky and self. I'm taking that with me.