It Was All a Lie by Stuart Stevens

I write this post tonight not so long after the final polls closed in Georgia’s senatorial run-offs—two elections that will have a tremendous impact on the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and, by extension, on the legislative agenda of the Biden administration and the 117th Congress.

I also write this not-so-many-hours before the (usually-ceremonial) meeting of Congress to certify the Presidential election results from November 2020—a meeting at which approximately 100 congress members* are planning to commit sedition by objecting to the integrity of entirely NON-fraudulent election results, on the basis of…

I dunno. On the basis of them being authoritarian asshole toadies, I suppose.

It’s enough to drive a girl MAAAAAD!!!

A statue of the Queen of Hearts from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, in closeup showing her clenched fist and screaming, angry face.

It’s also a fitting time for me to rock out another book review to catch up from all my vacation reading. Because the book in question is by a political operative who devoted his career to getting Republicans elected, but who felt compelled in this current moment to craft a “blistering attack on the modern Republican Party and its wholesale surrender to Donald Trump.” (The Boston Globe)

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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I never know whether to read the book before seeing the movie or vice-versa.

Luckily enough, I’ve studied enough literature and enough films to understand the differences between these two expressive languages. Different story-telling techniques make a great book as opposed to those that make a great film, and a film can err just as readily by being too faithful to the book it’s adapting as it can by disregarding too much of its source material. (Exhibit A: Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.)

That perspective helps me regardless of which direction I travel (book-to-movie or movie-to-book) with a particular text.

A stack of leather-bound books sitting next to a small stack of film canisters.

Still there are times when I make a very decided choice of what direction I want to travel. It’s not always the same direction, ‘cos I’m complicated that way. Sometimes I make a very strong “movie first” choice, and sometimes I go all-in for “book first.”

With Just Mercy it was a strong “book first” directionality.

The book’s been on my radar for quite a while, and I remember hearing about the movie when it came out in 2019. Then it all came back more strongly onto my radar last spring, when the film was made available for free in the early wave of last summer’s #BlackLivesMatter protests.* When a co-worker shared this tidbit of news on our social email chain, there were several other colleagues who shared how the movie was totally good, but paled in comparison to the book.

So I moved Stevenson’s book closer to the top of my reading list.

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The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Poor Jojo Moyes! I might have enjoyed her book some degree more had I not read Kim Michele Richardson‘s Book Woman of Troublesome Creek over the summer. Both novels explore the largely-forgotten history of the Depression-Era Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, and Moyes’ novel certainly pales in comparison to Richardson’s.

A black and white photo of a packhorse librarian, astride her horse with an armful of reading materials.

Though let’s be honest, here—Moyes is doing just fine without my fandom. She has best-selling cred and movie deals galore.* I can’t exactly imagine her crying her self to sleep amongst her millions simply because a certain Ms. MezzoSherri likes the other packhorse librarian book better than Moyes’.

And here’s another wee truth-bomb: I’m pretty sure I’d have given this book a 2-star rating, whether or not I knew about Richardson’s novel ahead of reading Moyes’s.

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White Too Long by Robert P. Jones

With a subtitle like The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, you can safely assume that, yes, this as another one of my socio-cultural analysis reads of 2020. It was a completely random discovery, flashing by in the slideshow of newly acquired titles in my library’s online catalog. But it felt like a timely book about an important topic I could do to learn more about.

So I impulsively clicked the “Place Hold” button and this volume made its way to me from Haverhill.*

In this exceptional work, Jones mixes memoir, history and statistical analysis to build his case that—similar to so many other American institutions—racism and white supremacy are baked into the DNA of American Christianity.

At one level, this did not very much surprise me. After all, as outlined in so many places (The 1619 Project, Between the World and Me, Stamped from the Beginning) by so many people, white supremacy and anti-Blackness are woven into the warp and weft of this country. At another level, this particular lens of analysis was brand new to me, as a non-Christian born and bred in Christocentric USA.

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That’s DOCTOR bitch, to you

I have—rather demonstrably—a potty mouth. I even lay claim to it in my tagline up there.

This propensity towards foul-mouthed discourse probably explains my love for T-shirts with provocatively foulmouthed slogans.

Now, I’m actually too chicken-shit to wear anything so bold and brassy, but I continue to dream of myself as if I were braver. And there was a time, back at Penn, when I had a mildly foul-mouthed shirt that I loved.

Transcription: I'm not a bitch. I'm THE bitch. And I'm Miss Bitch to you.
I used to wear this. In public. Ah, youth!

I am, of course, musing on honorifics today on account of a truly execrable Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal some week-and-a-half ago. You probably know the one—I’m not linking it here—where Joseph Epstein, some retired lecturer I shall be calling “Joey” for the duration of this piece, lambasted Dr. Jill Biden for continuing to use the academic title (Dr.) relevant to her graduate degree (Ed.D.) and profession (community college professor). Since Dr. Jill Biden is not an MD-carrying medical doctor, Joey suggests, she shouldn’t put on airs by using any title beyond “First Lady.”

Honestly, I wasn’t planning to write about this. It was so obviously click-bait, something designed to provide outrage—which it quite deservedly and expectedly did, despite the follow-on article by the WSJ’s opinions editor saying how shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) he was about the liberal snowflakes over-reacting to the piece.

Animated gif of Jim Carrey over-expressing shock and horror.

So why give these douche-canoes more of the attention they were so obviously craving? There’d be better things to write about…

But then someone on a distant external ring of my professional circle commented in an email about how, ideologically and symbolically speaking, he and Dr. Jill Biden were equally under attack by this op-ed’s voicing of current anti-intellectual and anti-education beliefs. Him and Dr. Jill and their “fake degrees.”

And I nearly took his fucking head off. Which belatedly made me aware that I’ve been having some feelings about this all.

Animated gif of Kate Walsh making an angry face and lifting her clawed hands towards the camera.

So, time to come off hiatus and come back to the page.

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Heart to heart conversations

Every now and then SNL has a pre-filmed sketch that perfectly hits the zeitgeist. This past weekend is no exception:

I felt this one, hard. No, it doesn’t match the surface details of Christmas planning with Mr. Mezz and our extended family at all: we’re all in agreement about the proper, safe, course of action, so our Christmas conversations have already taken place without any of the comic guilt-tripping demonstrated here by Heidi Garner, Punkie Johnson, and Kate McKinnon.

So, we’re lucky in not needing this recent advice column about how to have the “Christmas conversation” in real life.

And yet. The distance between the Christmas I hoped for and the Christmas Mr. Mezz and I are creating together—it’s still painful, some moments.

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Selective empathy: a deeper dive

As if often the case with me, my recent meditation on the concept of “selective empathy” in the context of the 2020 election led me down a merry rabbit hole to learn more about the concept of selective empathy in general.

Hi, I’m Sherri and I like long walks on the beach, obsessively learning new things and brain science…

Now, I am in no way pretending to be an expert after reading a few online articles, but what I have read so far has me grappling with things in a way that is valuable to me. Like I can almost feel my brain expanding past some prior limitations and blind spots.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but also one I absolutely love.*

So here’s the provocative statement I’m mulling over tonight:

What if, by focusing on “empathy,” I’ve been barking up the wrong tree all this time?

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Considering who counts

Mr. Mezzo and I have a monthly Datebox subscription. I gave it to him as a Christmas present last year, and we enjoyed it enough that we re-upped once the initial subscription term ended.

For the record, this was not one of those passive-aggressive “you aren’t bringing enough romance into my life” kinds of gifts. Between my workaholism and my mental health, I have been the less-romantic member of this partnership for a long damn time. Instead, the gift was offered in the spirit of “I know I’m often too busy or distracted or depressed for romance, but this is my commitment to you to regularly carve out time together“—and I’m pretty confident that was the spirit in which said gift was also received.

I’m sharing all of this because one of the activities in a recentish Datebox involved rolling dice to randomly get questions to answer so we could learn new and quirky things about each other. One of the questions was “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”

I don’t actually remember how I answered that question, but I do remember that we then organically and nerdily moved from there into the question “If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?”

A close-up of two Itty Bitty dolls: Batgirl and Wonder Woman.

That, I remember my answer for:

Universal Empathy Bomb

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The way things are now

This post feels a bit like a cross between recent meditations on living in these COVID times and on calling things by their real names.

Or maybe, I should just call it: I may be a sad sack about my solo Solstice, but I am NOT going to be a selfish, solipsistic, self-destructive shithead.

(That kind of alliteration has to be kind of impressive, right?)

A 1970s era pattern made of titled S'es in orange, hot pink and purple.

Basically, this is me riffing further to expound on a comment from yesterday’s post. Someone’s initial response to my sadness from last night was to go see my family anyhow—cos life is short and nothing is guaranteed, anyways.

And I know that advice is coming from a place of individual compassion for me and my pain. But it is not counsel I can take in good conscience. ‘Cos I only have the tiniest bit of epidemiological understanding, but I know enough to know the importance of public health and to know how important it is to listen to public health and medical experts when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

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What if voter suppression impacts voting trends?

The second third one of my series of election post mortems. Still don’t know how long the series will be, but here’s more links:

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[CW: white supremacy, prison-industrial complex, sexual assault]

I’m still wondering my way through the demographic trends among Presidential voters this year. Tonight, it’s the seeming paradox that more black men voted for Cheeto POTUS this year than in 2016—and this is after 4 years of overt white supremacy from the Oval Office.

It’s the kind of data point that I certainly found unexpected, in my bubble of Caucasian naivete. Taking the time to get myself a little more educated, I’ve found out that fewer Black men have been voting for the Democrats in every presidential election since 2008. The downward stair-steps go like this:

  • Obama 1: 95%
  • Obama 2: 87%
  • H. Clinton: 82%
  • Biden: 80%
Looking down a long concrete and cobblestone staircase between two rows of houses.
Down, down, down we go.

And that got me curious.

Continue reading “What if voter suppression impacts voting trends?”