Fighting malaise

It may not be as evil as He-who-must-not-be-named, but it stinks, nonetheless

SN&R’s foothills correspondent is still from the wrong side of the tracks

As summer ends, our garden is bursting with juicy red tomatoes, the songbirds in our trees have successfully raised another generation, and the sunflowers in our planter box are congested with bee traffic. (We all know by now that bee populations are in trouble, and we should do all we can to help them, right?)

Best of all, I finally wrestled the last book in the Harry Potter series away from my two sons—and have managed to avoid all the spoilers.

So why have I been languishing around the house in this defeated lethargy, this malaise?

My husband, Bob, is doing a lot better than I am. In the morning, when we relax on the patio with our coffee and newspapers, he’s still pointing out political cartoons and letters to the editor as though they matter. He seems to think that knowledgeable critics of the current administration still make a difference. He continues to laugh at the Bush jokes on Letterman.

There’s no way to pinpoint exactly when I sank into my malaise, but at some point Letterman’s spoofs on the state of the presidency stopped being funny. I don’t remember feeling defeated during the cold snap in January, or the April morning I planted the vegetable garden, or even Memorial Day weekend, when Doonesbury gave us part one of the death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq. I suppose the act of giving up is a gradual process, like my son realizing that math isn’t his thing. He had an inkling in fourth grade, but it wasn’t until high school that he knew for sure.

What I absolutely can pinpoint, however, is a day when I hadn’t given up; a day when I wasn’t even close.

It was last November, and Bob and I joined nine other people in a living room in Folsom. Our mission, through the organization MoveOn, was to call registered voters in Virginia and encourage them to support James Webb, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

It sounded like a simple task, except for a couple of drawbacks. One: I’m a coward when it comes to verbally confronting anyone. It’s a lot easier to write stinging letters of outrage to Congress than it is to call ordinary citizens on the East Coast at dinnertime. Two: There was the issue of actually hanging out with people like myself. Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” I learned that lesson the hard way when I joined a wildlife-rescue group one summer. The team leader and I shared a love for animals, but little else. The catfight, when it erupted, was spectacular.

Still, I was willing to be a so-called progressive among progressives, if a few dozen calls might help restore some balance to Congress. I sat down with my list of telephone numbers and began dialing, determined to save the world. And I kept at it, even when angry Virginians told me to “Fuck off.”

I was even OK with the part where the host gushed over Bob’s “smooth” phone etiquette, which was obviously vastly superior to my own. Bob actually engaged in friendly banter with his Virginians! Ohmigod, he even laughed with some of them! “Sure, thanks, you have a good night, too,” he said after the chuckles on one call finally subsided and he hung up.

“Did you convince that person to vote for Webb?” I asked him.

“Nah,” he replied. “He’s not convinced Webb is any better than the other guy, but he was pretty cool about it all.”

A few days later, James Webb was elected—barely—and the Senate had a Democratic majority—by a hair. From “Mr. Smooth’s” head, I believe. I was on top of the world!

But time went by, and nothing really changed.

And one day it occurred to me that I’d lost my zeal. Zeal had taken a hike, and in Zeal’s place was Malaise. Not a fair trade. I liked Zeal a lot better than Malaise, even if Zeal did drive Bob nuts sometimes.

Malaise does have its advantages, however. Without it, I wouldn’t have spent the better part of July lazing on the couch with my stack of Harry Potter novels, boning up on important details of the saga prior to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It was on the final pages of the next-to-last book that I came across a passage where the young wizard Harry recalled something Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, once told him.

“And Harry remembered … how he and Dumbledore had discussed fighting a losing battle. It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting.”

Dumbledore went on to say that the thing one is fighting needs to be kept at bay, even if it can’t be totally eradicated.

Just kept at bay? Not driven away in a single attack at the polls by a pack of furious voters? Maybe that means all those letters to the editor, editorial cartoons—even the late night jokes—are still important.

Someday, when my malaise is finally gone for good, I’ll tell myself I knew that all along. I just needed a reminder.

Thanks, Harry. Thanks, Dumbledore.