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The Collective Sigh Of Relief Heard Round The World

Today is January 15, which means that in five days–I never thought it would be this close–my life and your life and the lives of everyone you know will significantly change, because it will finally be over. George W. Bush will walk away from the White House and short of radical constitutional change or Laura’s sudden and successful emergence into Presidential politics, he will never be allowed to come back (as a resident).

Eight years ago, I watched in horror as it became clear that this guy

may actually be the next president. For weeks after, I watched the news and read the papers in hopes that the right decision would be made, but knowing in my gut that it would not. I remember thinking, If he’s gotten away with this so far, he’ll take the whole damn thing.

In 2001, I watched in terror and disbelief as the Twin Towers were struck and subsequently collapsed, and then the term “horror” was redefined as it became clear that the Bush Administration would use the greatest national tragedy in recent history as an excuse for full-on military violence in as many circumstances as possible, racial profiling, the systematic stripping away of civil rights, fear-mongering, blatant bible-beating and the lining of all of their friends’ pockets with gold.

In 2003, I watched (the sole American in a room full of multinational travelers) from the living room of a youth hostel in Kaikoura, New Zealand, as my country unnecessarily invaded Iraq, blaming the start of a war that was mostly about oil money on weapons of mass destruction that didn’t actually exist, and a supposed connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda that had not been proven.

In 2004, I cried as the election results came in and it was hammered home just how ignorant, bigoted and religiously stupid more than half of my country was. I kept waiting for Jon Stewart to interrupt the news and say, “Just kidding–Kerry’s no prize, but at least he beat Bush.”

That didn’t happen, but this did:

In 2005, Bush denied the existence of global warming, refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, and then this happened:

In 2006, the Vice President shot someone in the face.

In 2007, Bush said the American economy was in great shape. By 2008, Americans were facing the highest gas prices in history and the worst recession since World War II.

In 2008, just to make sure Americans hadn’t exhausted their potential for political anxiety and terror, the Republican Party presidential candidate gave us this idiot to have nightmares about for a few months:

But then it happened. As evil political genius Karl Rove predicted (and when I read his prediction, I let out the breath I’d been holding for three months because he tends to be right about these things), Barack Obama won the presidency by a landslide. There was no (successful) creative electioneering by the Republican party, no electoral vote/popular vote contradiction, no last minute scandal to suck away our hope once again.

He won, fair and square, and everyone acknowledged it, even George W. Bush. The results were in early by election standards, and instead of getting worse, the numbers just kept getting better. Not only did he win, he won by far more votes than any of us expected. For the first time in nearly a decade, I was completely, overwhelmingly, proud to be an American.

In five days, the thousands of counters that were set around the world in 2000, and re-set in 2004, will finally reach zero. The worst presidency in the history of the United States of America will be over, and most of us will have lived through it. Whew.

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And If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing

I used to be a writer. I carried a journal with me everywhere I went (still do), and I wrote in it every day (not so much). I taped stuff into my journal that inspired me, or illustrated something I’d said, and I kept the journals in order on my bookshelf. I filled four or five of them in two years, and they weren’t small. They were 250 page 8 1/2 x 11 hardbound journals that weighed five pounds apiece. Now, they sit on my shelf–out of order–and every once in a while I flip through them, searching for a clue to the source of the inspiration I once had.

I didn’t sleep much then, not that I sleep much now. I was perpetually heartbroken over someone–and though I have endured much more mature and crushing heartbreak since then, it’s somehow rendered me speechless rather than prolific. I was depressed most of the time, which hasn’t changed significantly, except that I’ve had something to be depressed about recently.

Perhaps the key is that I didn’t have a TV, or a real job.

Perhaps it’s that during a lot of that time, I was working in a bookstore, surrounded perpetually by words. They were all I thought about, day and night. I would write on my coffee breaks, my lunch breaks, on the bus home from work. I even wrote poems in my head while I was stocking shelves or punching the register. I carried a perpetual list of books I wanted to read in my back pocket every day.

Perhaps it’s that I was still young enough to think I had something worthwhile to say that hadn’t been said before, or better.

My ideas die like cut flowers now. They’re pretty and exciting for a moment, then they lose their lustre, then they wither, then they disappear. I write them all down, but when I go back and look at them, I wonder how I could have possibly thought I was being clever. Nearly all of them are abandoned within days. I still carry the journal because I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the midnight disease to come back, to take hold of me and make me write again. A lot. I’m waiting for the kind of lyrical passion that once had me functioning on two hours of sleep a night, my thumbs stained blue with ink. I suppose in the meantime, the journal is a good place to keep lists, addresses and card game scores.

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Little Epiphanies

Tonight, I had a moment. It was a sad moment; a nostalgic moment. I suppose I was feeling sorry for myself.

But my best friend sat with me and talked me up out of my bad moment, and eventually we started talking about other moments that I’ve had: great moments, random five-minute or two-day intervals that I will never forget. The guy I met on a train when I was eighteen who I looked up randomly and saw again five years later in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. Arbitrary flirtation at 35,000 feet with a complete stranger who I never saw again. A song played on an acoustic guitar just for me in a basement room in California. Running into a girl I knew for one day in New Zealand twice since my return to the US. The childlike grin my father would get when he was extremely proud of something he’d done. My best friend and I, stoned and laughing and eating cereal in the middle of the night just like we used to do when we were fifteen.

And I realized that although I’m often lonely–painfully lonely–I have led a life whose history is made up of millions of moments that I’ll never forget, and that most of the unforgettable moments were good ones.

I also realized that sometimes a good friend, someone who’s known you almost as long as you’ve known yourself, is all that’s really necessary to make you feel better when you’re down.