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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Political, Though Not Enough

In a conversation a few days ago, someone mistook me for a supporter of President Bush. Before I had a chance to correct him, he walked away. The idea that someone out there in the world thinks that I'm a Republican, let alone one of George W. Bush's stripe, appalls me. What's even more unbearable, there's nothing I can do now to change that man's belief.

I relish the discomfort of taking a stand on the "wrong" side of a position, such as for animal rights, which still provokes mockery and condescension, or women's rights or gay rights -- ditto about the mockery and condescension, except pity runs into the mix too because a stand like this ensures you a cozy place in hell. (Last Monday I listened on the radio to the debate among the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, and one of them said that he thinks it's wrong to interfere with the right of a company not to hire homosexuals. Another said he's against stem cell research because it's wrong to create life in order to destroy life. From the next room my husband quipped in his usual quiet and straight-to-the-point way, "How come they never talk like this when the subject is industrial animal farming?" Conservative politics makes me doubt that the century I live in is the twenty-first.) But in this case, the "wrong" side of the position was also the wrong one. It's simply not okay to be a supporter of President Bush. Tolerance would be misguided. I very seldom find myself in a moral and political position so easy to decide. There are no ambiguities here. I wish there were; I'm usually suspicious of black and white issues. But here is one: you simply cannot be on the side of a president who has started two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), who has few qualms about starting another (with Iran), and who insists that doing what he thinks is right when the world around him screams (though not loud enough) that it isn't, is heroic rather than just crazy.

My political inactivity -- I haven't participated in a march since my elementary school days when Ceausescu visited my home town and I had to walk in a carefully orchestrated demonstration, wave the Romanian flag and shout at the top of my lungs, "Ceausescu and the children!" -- rankles me; it's a shortcoming that I can fix but hesitate to. I see only problems with becoming politically active. For one, politics gets dirty no matter that the cause you fight for is morally justified. And I'm afraid of crowds and how easily they degenerate into mobs, how a march for peace can explode in the blink of an eye into violence. I don't know how to decide what party to give money to, or what town meetings it's useful for me to attend. And how do I reconcile myself to the fact that no matter what I do, a change will not happen where it matters?

I tell myself: look at the anti-slavery movement; think of Gandhi and Marin Luther King, Jr. Things can get done. But then I look out the window into my affluent and fiercely Republican Orange County neighborhood of Southern California, and I lose hope. Where do I begin here, and how?

But maybe I've already made a beginning and just don't know it. I'm vegan, after all, and not only for health reasons. And I drive a hybrid car. And I vote. That ought to count for something. So let me not lose heart. From wherever I find myself, I can start moving forward.


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