The Five Stages of Grief: Election 2016

Hillary Campaign Button

Hillary Campaign Button

Stage One: Denial

A trend is developing in the Tuesday night returns. I get uncomfortable. “Let’s turn it off, come back in an hour. It’ll be different then.”

An hour later: “Let’s go to bed, wake up and it’ll be O.K.”

Three a.m.: “No, no, no, no! This is NOT happening. It isn’t true.”

Stage Two: Anger

Dear God, please damn to hell the following:

The miserable Americans who voted for him, those who voted for third party candidates, and most especially, please damn to hell those who did not vote at all. Those who spread lies about Hillary, those who believed them, those who were too lazy to do their own fact-finding. The media who gleefully joined the Trump circus. And most of all, this lying misogynist we just elected. Give him his own special circle in Dante’s Inferno.

Stage Three: Bargaining

Maybe when he realizes he lost the popular vote and needs to represent all of us, maybe he’ll suddenly, miraculously change into, you know, someone he’s not, a person who isn’t racist or despotic or mainly interested in how much money he can scam out of the government…or maybe the election WAS rigged and they’ll uncover it and Hillary really did win…or maybe he’ll have a heart attack—lord, no—then we’d get Pence. What if he decided to go with Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court? How about if I didn’t fall off my diet? Would that make a difference?

Stage Four: Depression

What’s the use? Calm and professional, Hillary reminds us in her concession speech that you win some and lose some, but good things will always be worth fighting for. I’m fine until the camera pans to a group of young Hispanic students with tears coursing down their cheeks. I lose it, manage to stop crying, then see the photo of Susan B. Anthony’s grave with the line of people waiting to put their “I voted” stickers on it. They cover the gravestone with stickers and I start weeping again. We’re in for four years of backsliding, four years of unraveling hard-fought for progress. What’s the use? Winter is coming. Curl up in a ball.

Stage Five: Acceptance

I’m done sulking, gather trash, throw a load in the washing machine, go out into this too-warm November day to rake leaves on hard, dry ground. These days, one medium-size trash bag, an hour’s effort, is all I can do, but today I’m a raging granny: furiously gather two huge leaf bags packed with yard detritus, finish the laundry, throw the trash, clean the kitchen. When I’m done, I’m sweaty and exhausted and dry-eyed.

Hillary: “Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.” President Obama invited Trump to the White House tomorrow to begin the transition planning. Gracious and decent, Obama puts the welfare of the country above his own feelings, reminds us that the presidency is a relay race and he wants a smooth handoff of the baton.

What’s Next?

I’ll be running through these stages of grief over and again, for weeks or years. At Reagan’s and Bush the Younger’s elections I grieved: I believe both damaged our country, but nothing like what I fear will happen now. Still, we have a system, checks and balances, and limits on what a president can do. How many defundings has Trump promised which cannot be delivered?

I regret damning Trump voters to hell when I was in the anger stage. I know they aren’t all racists, woman haters, people who won’t be happy until oil pipelines crisscross the country and not a tree is left standing.

Oops, that was anger again. This is going to be hard. Start over. Good people voted for Trump due to their economic woes, their anger at being ignored by both parties for decades. But even in those red states, most people believe in climate change and gay rights. Good people: just really pissed off.

I get emails from Sierra Club, Presente, MoveOn and PEN. (PEN promotes free expression and has a Muslim writer program.) All four groups ask me to join them in standing up to the new regime, which has vowed to oppose the issues they champion. Sierra Club’s email, for example, included this urgent list:

We will not — we cannot — stop fighting. If we do, we will lose everything we’ve             fought for. End of Paris Climate deal. End of the EPA. End of Federal Clean                           Energy. More drilling. More coal. More pipelines. Lives destroyed. Wildlife                          bulldozed.            

Meetings are already happening; organizing has begun. Pick your cause. There’s plenty to go around.

Watch carefully as the new White House takes shape. Unlike Obama, Trump is not a hands-on leader. He leaves nuts and bolts to staff. We need to monitor those people–who they are, what they’re doing. Trying to keep Muslims from entering the country? Building that wall?

We are stronger together. More than half of us voted for Hillary. If enough of us act, we can salvage what we love. You knew that, right? That democracies require an involved, informed citizenry to survive?

Thursday, November 10, 2016


 I wake up feeling disoriented. Wait: that was just a bad dream, wasn’t it?



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Spiders and the Election: November 6, 2016

Southern wood spider

Southern wood spider

We don’t kill spiders. At least, not when we can help it. Upstairs and down, we keep a spider jar. As I was going to bed last night, I noticed a pale spider on my night table, barefooted into the bathroom to get the jar and managed to coax her into it. Screwing on the lid, I examined the nearly transparent creature, counted her legs. Eight. Good. Sometimes in the effort to chase them into the jar, we lose a leg. I set the jar on the chest of drawers and went to bed.

When I woke, the spider had fashioned herself a small nest of web at the bottom of the jar and was tucked cozily within it. Spiders carry their survival abilities within them. We do too, in theory. Some of us are better at accessing them than others. It’s two days until election, and many of our defenses have been penetrated by stress.

Although we’ve had record warmth and dryness, we need morning sweaters. Too cold outside for this house spider. I set the jar aside while we had French toast and coffee, grazed through the news, dismayed as always by Trump supporter vitriol. Their words are abusive: I wish I could weave a protective web around everything and everyone they threaten.

When I was a girl in Florida, I spent the night with a friend whose mother kept wood spiders, their leg spread wide as my hand. I was a little afraid, watching two of them stationed on the ceiling as we went to sleep. “They eat mosquitoes, bring luck to a house,” my friend’s mother said. Later, I learned that spiders are symbols of the grandmother in some Native American traditions.

The election disturbs my sleep. I’ve done what I could. Gave a few dollars to Hillary. Voted. Wrote about it. I support causes I believe in, like Dems in this election, the ACLU or independent film. Two days ago we saw “American Epic: The Big Bang,” a documentary about how groups like the Carter Family and the Memphis Jug Band got recorded in the 1920s. The British director said only in America could such disparate music, created in poverty, be commercially recorded, sell widely and weave together to become the unique fabric that is American music. He admires us for that ethnic-mixing accomplishment.

Listening to savage Trump rhetoric all these months, I have become gloomy about Americans, about our racism and sexism and refusal to face facts. Fearing the damage a Trump presidency could do to our democracy, I’ve thought about running away. If Canada won’t have us, surely Mexico would. It took an outsider to remind me of the good we have here. That young British filmmaker brought tears to my eyes, made me remember that we have horrors aplenty, but we also have wonders. This is my country—and there’s much to be proud of in it.

After starting the laundry, I went onto the warmed back porch and turned the jar upside down. The spider spun swiftly from her web to the sunny wood. I wished her a peaceful rest of her life. She sat immobile a moment, then scurried out of sight between the planks.

My family was from the City. Spiders were not welcome in my mother’s house. Nearly sixty years ago, in a small frame bungalow huddled in the shade of moss-hung live oaks, I was introduced to sacred spiders. That Florida—before air-conditioning, before interstates—no longer exists, but what I experienced then is still with me.

Fear of spiders is learned. In this campaign, Americans have learned to fear each other. If Trump is elected on Tuesday, I will fall to my knees, heartbroken and ill. But on Wednesday I’ll rise and resolve to fight the fears that put the America I love in danger.

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Hillary’s Hair Redux

I wrote “Hillary’s Hair” four years ago, in 2012. Much has changed, much hasn’t. Hillary’s hair is perfectly professional once more because she’s running for President again. There was something in that 2012 essay I didn’t remember: she was among the most admired woman in annual polls when she was Secretary of State. Now some Americans chant “lock her up.”

Among conservatives, that’s something that hasn’t changed. When I wrote “Hillary’s Hair” in 2012, I recalled Republicans’ vicious attacks on her when she was FLOTUS. They denigrated her then—stopped her healthcare reform efforts, not a proper cause for a first lady, didn’t like her hair, her voice, her face—and kept slinging mud at her all these years until a lot of people came to believe it.

See John Oliver for a detailed dissection of the difference between Hillary’s so-called scandals and Trump’s actual scandals.

As Oliver says, she’s done some stuff that should irritate us, but how many Benghazi/email investigations do you need before you accept that she’s done nothing criminal? How many times must fact checkers show 80% lies on Trump’s side and 20% on hers before you stop calling her the dishonest one?

The woman isn’t perfect. No human being, presidential or otherwise—has ever been perfect. I have come to love Obama, to be proud of what he’s accomplished in spite of a do-nothing Congress. I celebrate his scandal-free eight years, but don’t like the reliance on drone bombing or the number of deportations he’s done. And please, shut down that Dakota Access pipeline!

I’m certain to have issues with Hillary’s presidency too. Maybe, for example, she’s chummy with Wall Street: it’s something we should keep an eye on once she’s in office. But in her long years of public service, as governor’s wife, First Lady, senator and Secretary of State, she’s worked for education and healthcare. In the Colorado Independent this week—where you can still find real reporting—a leader of Colorado’s Bernie campaign outlined Hillary’s career of championing education and healthcare, starting with her job after law school with the Children’s Defense Fund. He urged us to vote for her.

When Obama was elected the racism simmering beneath our skins erupted. It took me by surprise then, but I’m braced for a similar event now. John McCain has already said conservatives, happy to hamstring the judicial branch of our democracy, won’t approve any Supreme Court nominee she selects. Those who still believe a woman’s place is in the home will vow to oppose her as they did Obama, no matter how it hurts the rest of us. As Margaret Talbot said in the New Yorker this week, “Like the female protagonist of a quest narrative—or, perhaps, of a dystopian fantasy—Clinton has made it through all her challenges to face the bull-headed Minotaur of sexism at the end of the maze.”

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Only at ALTA: American Literary Translators Association

I’ve said this before, but never tire of the experience: only at ALTA do people read my nametag and ask: “Slovak?” It always pleases and embarrasses me, because I know nothing of my grandmother’s tongue, and my name is hers.

Only at ALTA can you wander around the lobby and hear five or six languages. You see people you want to talk to and somehow that never happens. I glimpse Dennis Maloney across the room, but I’m heading one way and he’s going another.

The first night I attend “Reading in Remembrance” in a room ringed by the glittering lights of the city below. It’s a memorial reading for the likes of Gregory Rabassa, translators past, important to the translators present, reading in their honor. Pam Carmell talks about Miller Williams, who was her mentor and model and a founder of ALTA, appreciation warming her words. It’s a fine love, the regard we have for those who generously helped us along our road.

Only at ALTA could you hear statements like:

47% of translators agree that the word “mullet” is untranslatable except in Italian.

A bookseller responding to the availability of translated work says, “Africa is having a moment—God, I hate that expression.”

About the lack of consistency in printing translator names on books, another says, “I don’t think the market cares, but fuck the market.”

Only at ALTA would J Kates rant indignantly about the new translation of the Aeneid: “whose name is on the cover? Seamus Heaney’s.” On most translated books, the author’s name appears in 20-point type. The “translated by” is barely readable if it appears at all. “That’s because it’s Seamus Heaney,” I reply. “Exactly!” J Kates responds. “Who knows Virgil?”

Literary translation is also “having a moment” (I too dislike the expression) and a record 400 plus attend this conference. There used to be 60 people signed up for bilingual readings. This year there are 165: emerging Uruguayan poets, Italian fiction, Central American writers, Germanic languages including Yiddish, French poetry and prose, Arabic and Farsi, Mexican, Persian, Kurdish, Russian, Romanian…and more. Besides the daily readings, evening readings are held in bars, coffee shops and bookstores.

I read my poignant Agustín Cadena story, “The Former Colleague,” ( and the beginning of a suspenseful Mónica Lavín story, “A Textbook Case,” concerning consequences of calling a wrong number. When my time’s up, I give them the link. “It escalates,” I grin. Afterwards three people ask me for the link again, scribble it on their programs, to finish reading that story:

The moderator breaths: “you took exactly ten minutes,” awe in her voice. May I mention that it’s easy to time your reading in advance and know how long it takes? Just saying.

A magazine editor asks if I have others, gives me his card. You dream of such things happening, but normally they don’t. No guarantees, in any case. Submit, submit and let the translations fall where they may.

“Literary translation is linguistic hospitality,” Aron Aji says. Besides running the teaching translation workshop, he’s ALTA’s new president, heads the literary translation program at Iowa and translates from the Turkish. “We translate and teach translation in part to promote global literacy.” In part, I’m attracted to translation because it’s a service and a good cause. Once you love a country’s literature, it’s hard to regard its people as enemies.

Aji mentions In Translation as a good introductory text. A woman raises her hand, asks him to repeat the editors’ names. “Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky,” he says, “and if you’ll turn around, you can shake hands with Esther Allen, who is sitting behind you.” Only at ALTA.

Three days, four time slots per day, nine sessions per time slot. I barely spend time with half those I meant to see. On the last day I run into Dennis Maloney, remind him that White Pine published my translations of Elsa Cross poems long ago, 1994. “We just reprinted that anthology,” he says. Universities use it. These Are Not Sweet Girls: Poetry by Latin American Women.

After the third panel on the third day, I’m thinking I’ll just go to my room and lie down. On the way I stop to talk to C.M. Mayo and Alberto Ruy-Sánchez. They are conversing in Spanish and I discover I can’t utter a word: code-switching is beyond my exhausted abilities.

The last evening I attend the popular Declamación, for which the only rules are you can’t have paper in your hand and you can’t read your own stuff. Many translators are also poets and apt to read their poems at the slightest pretext. I hear a Spanish poem, a Chinese performance piece in four voices, a hauntingly beautiful Farsi song, a comical German piece. Someone is singing a poem in Mandarin as I leave. Only at ALTA. But no more, no more. It is ten p.m. and I have a plane to catch in the morning.


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