This week I returned to Citizen. It's unlike anything I've read. It's a book of poetry and essays and also white spaces and illustrations. It is Rankine's multi-media monologue of what it feels like, every day, to be black, to be a black woman, to be overlooked, or looked at with suspicion. It is stunning. Not long after its 2014 publication, Rankine received the MacArthur fellowship, the so-called Genius Grant.
I returned to it this week so I could empathize with Rankine—and feel inspired by her, too.
(Thanks to Jenisha Watts, a colleague and newsletter subscriber, I helped to edit an essay Rankine wrote a couple years ago. Rankine was as delightful over email as she was after publication, when Jenisha and I met her in person.)
...The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe: Here's another book I came back to this week. The authors, two academics, argue that history isn't a straight line but a seasonal recurrence. Just as your life follows the seasons of the year, with a period for youth, maturation, decline, and death, your country abides by the same pattern: a period for collective renewal, maturation, entropy, and death. Then the cycle repeats itself. This collective cycle lasts about as long as one's life: between 70 to 90 years. The end of that cycle, the end of what Strauss and Howe call The Fourth Turning, is a cataclysmic period. To prove their point, Strauss and Howe overlay their theory on the timeline of American history. If the first cataclysmic period was the American Revolution of the 1770s and '80s, the second came 80 years later, during the Civil War of the 1860s. The third came 80 years after that, in the transition from the Great Depression to World War II of the 1940s. And the fourth? Well, the fourth we seem to be living now.
According to the authors, history repeats itself because the collective wisdom learned at the end of one cataclysmic period go unheeded by subsequent generations. Put another way: People forget the lessons of the hard times because they never lived through them. This is how the Great Depression and World War II (the death of one cycle) gave us not only the post-war idealism of the 1950s and 60s (the birth of a new cycle) but explains as well how comity in Congress and expanded rights for all Americans declined with time into cynicism and deep partisanship and hatred for others, where wearing a mask in a pandemic is a divisive statement, where a president finds it just to sic the military on unarmed civilian protestors.
There are critics of Strauss and Howe's book, who say they cherrypick the historic events that best fit their theory while ignoring the ones that don't. That criticism isn't entirely off base. Still, I think Strauss and Howe are onto something, in part because they aren't the only ones to view time this way. (The Romans did too.) I'm recommending The Fourth Turning because, if Strauss and Howe are even half right, dark days lie ahead—and, after that, much brighter mornings.
...Grill Mates Brazilian Steakhouse Marinade: I've tried a lot of specialty-store marinades and dry rubs over the years, but this one, mass-produced and delivered to my neighborhood grocery store, might be the best. The cilantro gives the marinade a kick but not enough to overwhelm the cut of meat you're grilling. The wet rub, as advertised, was great on steaks. The directions on the back of the packet said I could try it on chicken and pork too. So I did. Just as good. That's a rarity, the marinade that works on everything.
I'm getting, like, 10 packets this weekend.
...JoJo Rabbit: What a bizarre, delightful movie. Friend of the pod Michele Rigby Assad recommended the film, and I never thought I'd say, This was the week I'm glad I watched a movie about a kid in a Hitler Youth group whose imaginary friend is Adolph himself. And yet this was that week and JoJo was that movie. It's really funny. Taika Waititi wrote and directed JoJo last year and won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The trailer does the work of explaining the film's premise but I was surprised how seamlessly JoJo shifts from black comedy to tender truths.
It was exactly the movie I needed.
Have a great weekend. I'll be back next Friday.
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