Our Easy Instincts

What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

—Barack Obama Philadelphia

I’ll admit that I thought Barack Obama’s “historic train ride” was kind of hokey, but given then I got all weepy and inspired when I stumbled upon CNN’s coverage of it, maybe hokey is the order of the day.

One of the many things to admire about Obama is his ability to offer so much in so few words, to pull language from the past and use it to pull us forward. He does that in this single sentence. He’s right. As a new administration attempts to pull a divided country together, it’s the easy instincts we all must resist. This does not mean disconnecting our critical faculties, and I hear it as a charge to the left as much as it is a charge to those on the right. In fact, I think this applies more to the left than to than it does to anyone else. Liberals, Democrats, Lefties, “Progressives”—whatever you choose to call them, me—have spent the past eight years seething at the inadequacies and atrocities of the Bush-Cheney years. We’ve been chomping at the bit to make the world right again, and we are just smug enough with our righteous notions of what it means to be right that our easy instincts could well be mistaken for our better angels.

The blessing and the curse of the left is its lack of uniformity; the power of the right has, until recently, been its discipline. In the crucial early days of the Obama administration, let’s try to take a second, even a third look at our easy instincts. He knows what we want:

  • Universal health care
  • Bush and Company held to account
  • Guantanamo closed
  • Reversal of Bush tax cuts
  • Our soldiers out of Iraq

The list goes on and on…and on. And apparently the majority of Americans polled understand that it will take a long time to move on some of these goals. I hope this patience lasts, and I hope the left can channel its critical faculties into multiple directions at once. Speak out when President Obama makes decisions that undermine our country’s principles (inviting Rick Warren to participate in anyway in the inauguration) at the same time that we continue to answer his call to service and learn to talk to moderate conservatives. We should choose our battles carefully and gird ourselves for the roller coaster rider ahead. Most importantly, it’s vital to remember why we voted for Barack Obama in the first place and do what we can to support him as he leads the country out of the morasses that entangle us.

This is truly a rare moment, an awakening for so many, but it will be easy to forget the feelings, the emotion, the goosebumps when the messy business of governance overtakes us all. It is then that we’ll need our better angels. We’ll have to find them; too much is at stake.

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

One year as his wife, and I’d have become one of those abject women who look at their husbands when someone asks them a question. I’ve always despised that type, but I see how it happens now.

I’m a sucker for a good title, so when my friend Dom (short for Dominique not Dominatrix, though I do have a friend who rightfully owns the latter label) said she was reading a book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society my interest was piqued. When she said it was about a writer who was more interested in books than marriage, I drove to the bookstore (local, independent…ahem) and bought it in hard cover. I was pretty sure of its ending before I even picked it up, but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of a novel that is charming without ever crossing the line into precious.

This epistolary novel is set in the aftermath of World War II, and the heroine Juliet Ashton is an unthinkable thing—a happily single woman in her early 30s. On a book tour promoting a collection of pithy essays she wrote during the war, she receives a letter from a resident of the Guernsey Islands who found her name in a book by Charles Lamb. As a woman who once bought a novel simply because a cute guy recommended it to me, my reader’s heart flipped a bit, and I did something I rarely do with books I read simply for pleasure: I slowed down.

I am a disgustingly fast reader, but some books want you to take them slowly, and this is one of them. This is in part because it’s a book about friendships and community. And in between the charming and the romantic, the history of the German occupation of Guernsey left me a little breathless. I couldn’t rush through those parts anymore than I could walk quickly past a graveyard. One letter in the novel actually made me cry, something I never do over books, especially on a rush-hour train when my feet are cold. Another letter made me gasp over pancakes at my favorite diner.

Let me confess here that I am not a fan of modern fiction with its thinly veiled narcissism and graceless prose, but every once in a while a modern novel will pull me in, and I can tell when it happens because I get nervous that it will let me down, fall into some storytelling trap that leaves me feeling flat. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society didn’t. It helps that it has all the right literary references on its side–Chaucer, Lamb, Austen, and the much-ignored Anne Bronte. How could I not be seduced? When I finished it, I let out a little sigh, closed my eyes, and imagined myself somewhere else.

National Day of Service

President-elect Obama has reminded us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the perfect day to honor or fellow citizens through a national day of service. I want to give him a chance and pitch in however I can, but my civic impulses were blocked by the icy cold weather we’ve had this past week. It’s been a battle between my conscience (help out, pitch in, support the new president) and my toes (my feet get colder quicker than any part of my body and just never warm up).

It then occurred to me that I live in an apartment building with a good number of neighbors, so, frostisity (what? that’s a word!) being the mother of keeping warm, I’ll be having an indoor food drive on Monday, January 19th. I’ll even have hot cider and cookies for those who drop by.

I’ll also be chuckling at this Public Service Announcement I saw when I was visiting my parents over the holidays.