How about a new New Year?
After the storming of the US Capitol, maybe we should start the year over.
Welcome! I’ve been planning to send New Year’s greetings with a note about my newsletter’s move to Substack. This is a work in progress, and it’s not starting quite the way I intended. I planned to write something uplifting, but, instead, here a few reflections on Wednesday’s events with a story about my youngest brother, a Trump supporter.
NOTE: Before I go on, a quick explanation that I had to move all my subscribers over from Berkshire Publishing. If you’re a librarian or teacher or any other Berkshire Publishing customer, you’ll still get occasional Berkshire emails. If you don’t want to get this personal newsletter, sincere apologies and you can use the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the page. It’s not my intention to send you anything you don’t want. I’ll miss you, but we’ll always have Paris. . . .
That’s my son Tom in the photo wearing his Uncle Dan’s green beret.
7 January 2021
I was sorting out boxes in the attic a couple weeks ago and found a green beret - a real Green Beret - in with some of my son’s things. I’m the eldest in a family of five, and Dan was the baby. After he grew to be 6’5” (1.9m), I would make people laugh by introducing him as my “little brother.”
When he joined the army in 1983, I asked if I could send him anything. He asked for a subscription to the Economist, “So I’ll know what’s going on in the world.”
He was promoted, first into Special Forces and then into the elite and secretive Delta Force.
In 1989, my first book, Home Ecology was published in England. One day he called with a story. He’d been taking a military flight to Hawaii. Another of the Delta guys was on the plane and he asked Dan what he was reading. "He couldn’t figure why I had this book with flowers or something on the cover. I told him it was just this book my sister wrote so I thought I should read it. I said you were one of those tree-huggers.”
“Then this guy gets a weird look on his face and he’s thinking. Finally he goes, “So what would you do if you were ordered to take her out?”
Dan laughed, “Get it? Take her out? Funny, huh? Some of the guys are kind of crazy.”
Kind of crazy, yes, to talk about government-sponsored killing of environmentalists.
But this year I heard that Dan was talking about how there would be civil war if the Supreme Court didn’t do the right thing and hand Trump the presidency.
I knew he had moved in a direction very different from mine. But he’s got a family and a business, he’s an intelligent person, and he read the Economist when he was out in the desert chasing Scud missiles because he wanted to know what was really going on in the world and didn’t want to be brainwashed. Surely reason would prevail.
But it has not.
There are lots of explanations for what happened yesterday in Washington, and for the events and lies that led to it. Racism, of course. Greed and a desire for power. The breakdown in our sense of community. People are shocked when I say this because liberals see “community” as a good thing, an attractive amenity. But cults and gangs and mobs like those that stormed the US Capitol building show the dark side of community.
I’m furious at the people who allowed this to happen: the legislators and appointees and staffers who abetted Donald Trump and abrogated their responsibilities. But I’m also thinking about Trump’s followers, provoked into violence and crime and dishonor. It makes me sad to think that people who are probably a lot like my brother would descend into that darkness.
I share this family story because I think it reflects one of the challenges ahead. What’s gone so badly wrong, and what can we do to fix it? Is it the gig economy? Is it the way climate change and AI and globalization create uncertainty and fear of the future? Is it the way social media drives us into information silos? Or the fact that we don’t have the social infrastructure - public spaces and third places - where we could get to know people with different beliefs?
On the subject of community, and collusion, I came across this reference in The Triad to a film called A French Village, about a village community in France facing the future after living through the German occupation in World War II.
There are gradations of culpability. The people who fled to the woods as part of the resistance are easy enough to re-integrate. And the villagers know what to do with those who joined the Nazis.
But what about the people who stayed in the village and kept their heads down as the Germans killed their neighbors? What about the baker who joined the citizen council to work with the Germans, but slipped extra rations to the people who needed them and looked the other way on resistance actions every once in a while? The baker probably thought he could do more good working from the inside. But he also, by total coincidence, got a nice house and extra wine out of the deal.
What should the villagers do with the baker?
Rachel’s Roses Read Aloud
I loved hearing my own book read aloud for young students in lockdown in England, and just wish I knew more about Mrs. Stemps, the teacher who does such a lovely job with the story. Rachel’s Roses was published in 1995 by Barefoot Books.
Years ago, I got someone to build me a seed-starting box and it’s been great for growing my own little basil, tomato, and other seedlings. But it was only when I read a recent newsletter from Margaret Roach that I realized I could use it as a mini-garden during the winter. I’m growing microgreens and basil and chervil, but these absurdly vigorous pea shoots are the first crop. I’ll clip the tops and leave the rest to sprout again. They make a delicious salad with lemon vinaigrette, and can also be steamed or stir-fried.
It seems like a long time till January 20th, and even longer till springtime, but it’s good to have a chance to reach out to friends and colleagues across the work. I send warm wishes for your good health and good spirits.
Happy New Year! Karen.
PS: My next letter will be about the series I co-edited called Global Perspectives on the United States. The series generated one of my favorite reviews of all time, from Booklist: “A word of caution – US citizens should prepare to be both revered and insulted. Not recommended reading for thin-skinned patriots; however, a great resource for academic, public, and high-school libraries.”
House-grown pea shoots below.