I’ve been reading a good book lately. Sometimes reading a good book makes me sad, and I’ve been thinking about why. What I’ve come up with is that a good book conveys the human experience in all its complexities. A good book makes me, as a person, feel seen. Feeling seen by a book is so wonderful, but oddly it is that very wonder that makes me sad, I think.
The existence of the feeling-seen book leads me to believe that all books could make me feel seen. If all books could make me feel seen, then surely other things besides books could make me feel seen, too: TV shows, movies, songs, all manner of entertainment. If all entertainment could make me feel seen, then maybe other things could also make me feel seen: healthcare, grocery stores, the internet, bureaucratic forms and processes, etc. What if interacting with the modern world reinforced to me the idea that I am human, instead of what it primarily does now, which is exactly the opposite? The concept is so unimaginable that it makes me sad.
The other day there was a new record: panhandlers on all four corners of the intersection of Bennett and Glenstone. Late last year the Springfield Police Department announced that it would more firmly enforce the “pedestrian safety ordinance” which, among other things, makes it illegal to give panhandlers money or food from a car. With stricter enforcement, violations of the ordinance are now punishable with jail time.
I’ve told several people outside of Springfield that helping panhandlers is now a jailable offense in my hometown, and no one can believe it. It sounds preposterous. But it’s true. It’s also illegal to panhandle here, which is a more common law but no less terrible.
Someone should write a story, set in Springfield, in which a panhandler on Bennett and the person who attempted to give them a few bucks on the way to the Walmart on Glenstone are jailed together overnight and fall in love. Has that been done before, the 21st century police state as a set up for a meet-cute?
A few years ago at work I was asked to write some talking points for a speech to be given by a higher-up. The remarks were to be about charitable giving in the context of higher education. I wrote about the mystery at the heart of education, how there is a magic inherent to all learning, the magic when knowledge is transmitted and absorbed. I wrote that there is this same magic in giving, how there is no logical reason to give money and yet people do, and how that represents a kind of shared faith in a new idea, the idea of the future. The higher-up changed my talking points to say that he understood why people give money, and it’s because of god.
I stopped working in higher education because of my chronic migraines. But I sometimes think that the reason I have chronic migraines is because of how rarely the world makes me, or any of us, feel seen.
I want to have another baby. It’s surely a bad idea to write that on the internet, like those words will ensure that I am hexed and not able to conceive again. At the very least those words will ensure that I am followed around the internet by targeted ads for fertility serums and vitamins and phone apps. But I have to be honest, hexes or ads be damned, I want a baby. I don’t know why I want a baby, and that’s the reason I want one, because there is magic and mystery everywhere, even though it takes careful focus, in the world as it is, to notice.
I want a baby even though I am convinced that societal collapse is all but assured, that no appropriate action will be taken toward climate change, that the planet will burn, that the pandemic will continue, that the rich will get richer, that wars will be fought over water. I picture myself as a character in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a baby on my hip and my older daughter holding my hand, and I think, “Yes, okay.”
Tony says I should end the essay there, and he’s probably right. But I have more to say about this subject, the subject of being a human. Yesterday I got home from the grocery store and Tony told me there had been a shooting there. I experienced a brief confused moment in which I thought I had been at the store while the shooting happened, but hadn’t noticed because I’d had my headphones in and had done self checkout. It turned out the shooting happened at the store the day before, but I remained concerned by how possible it seemed that a shooting could happen around me without my awareness. It feels too obvious to say that’s what’s happening with the pandemic—3,916 Americans died yesterday and we’re still grocery shopping—but I’ve gone ahead and said it anyway.
I’m writing this at my grandparent’s kitchen table. That’s what I’ve been doing since I quit writing grants for higher education, by the way: taking care of my grandma with Alzheimer’s. My job is to make someone who is very far away feel seen, and I am occasionally successful.
The sun is coming in through the skylight above the kitchen table. It is a sunny day, unseasonably warm, though the forecast is calling for lots of snow. The dishwasher is running. There is a single piece of cat food on the floor near the cat’s bowl by the trash can. I will sweep it up even though another piece will fall. It is a law of this house that there must always be a piece of cat food on the floor. I didn’t understand that when I first started working here, but I do now.
My grandma is napping in the next room, which she does for more and more of the day as her disease progresses. She doesn’t know who I am, though she’s usually nice to me anyway.
I don’t want to write anything else about her except this: a few months ago I opened a cabinet above her old desk and found several notecards taped to the inside of the door containing all of my old addresses in her handwriting. Here was the house I’d shared with six roommates in college, the first apartment I’d lived in with Tony, and half a dozen other places besides. She’d saved them so that she could send me letters or packages, alongside addresses for my siblings and cousins, her other grandchildren. I closed the cabinet.