Friday, February 25, 2022

the poets, when we talk about war

When I was 16, we went to Florida. It was a trip I spent most of the time tanning my legs, drinking overpriced virgin daquiris on the beach, and fighting with my mother becuase I ultimately did not want to go to Disney World.  But we did, and while the visit was unmemorable and it had lost all the charm my previous 8 year old had found in it, I was okay with it.  Notables included trying my first omelet and learning to love shrimp, which on the Gulf, was something I would develop an affinity for. Because we always did, we drove in marathon sprint,  and though I freshly had my license, I was spared the highway, where my dad and aunt rotated shifts to and fro. I was not a teen who was really aware all that much of the news.  I didn't watch it and there was no internet, so I lived in my little teen-angst bubble rather undisturbed by the world outside issues of Tiger Beat and Seventeen.  I kept a diary, the blue one I'd started at 14, but there doesn't seem to be anything about the trip or even that sunmer, one in which I'd not only gotten to drive, but also went to camp where I was a volunteer counselor for one week (which was and was not at all like it is in horror movies.).

On the way back through the south, I became aware that something was happening. We would pass under bridges filled with people, waving flags and holding signs.  I remember my parents saying something about the Gulf, which I had only a vague perception of where it was, The first troops that August were getting ready to go overseas, and traveling those same highways and routes where people lined up to support them.  In the winter, when the Gulf War, Round 1, we bought giant "Support the Troops"  buttons and eyed the news, where the night sky over Kabul was a lot of flashes and flickering, but it still all felt very far away. It was a very un-war like war, and mostly I was just pissed it interrupted my prime time television watching and favorite shows (I never admitted I was a very compassionate teen, I was likely a little monstrous.)

It didn't seem like war because war was something else. It was the war of history books--of the dregs of Vietnam which ended around when I was born.  It was the fighter jets of WWII and that terrible All Quiet on the Western Front book we had to read in 10th Grade, where we were horrified by mustard gas's effects on the body, but pretty much remembered nothing else.  I say that I grew of a age in a time of peace, but even that is not true, as the muddle eastern conflicts and other places were just always at war. At the same time, for most of my childhood and teen years, we lived under the shadow of THE war. WWIII. The war that would end all wars. The war that would end us. 

I was over at the neighbors house and my parents out bowling the night thy aired The Day After, and for months afterward would lie in the bed wondering if we were prepared for nuclear war. If we should be stockpiling canned goods and bottled water.? Why weren't my parents more freaked out about this? I would think about this, like all children, as I struggled to go to sleep at night.  At the time, I was only 9 and  would have been determined to be a survivor, to stuck it out and rebuild society. For all the duck & cover, we'd be foolish to think we could. When I watched the movie as an adult around age 40,  I would much rather be one of those skeletons the fire consumes immediately.  I would also not like to know it was coming. 

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, becuase otherwise we'd all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..becuase the weapons didn't just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They've been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means its much more raw than the drone of the 6 o'clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it's just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don't think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history--through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I've also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, becuase things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

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