The other night Timberley and I stopped at Krispy Kreme for a doughnut and cup of coffee. It was Sunday, the day we’ve decided to take a break from our low-carb, low-sugar, low-salt, low-taste, low-down diet. Besides, the “HOT NOW” sign was lit. So it was their fault.
I’m the one to blame for the diet. Since I’m overweight, hypertensive and prediabetic, we’ve spent the past four months watching what we eat and drink, and we’ve tried to get more exercise. My most recent doctor visit last month was encouraging, as I’d lost 15 pounds and had better blood test numbers.
But I had trained for that three-month checkup as if it were my own personal Olympics, and my results were less impressive than expected after all the dietary sacrifices we’d made. I was Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team—happy to be in the competition but definitely out of the medal race.
A couple of weeks ago Timberley and I were watching an interview with Jeff Kinney, author of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. He mentioned how important the illustrations are in his books, especially for children with autism. They give struggling readers “an island to swim to,” he said.
Even before the election, that image of a man lost at sea swimming toward an island on the far horizon resonated with me. It is an image of both hope and salvation. Since the election, the same metaphor has been applicable to various segments of our society that feel displaced by hate and ignorance.
Over the past few years I’ve been wondering about the value of fiction in our lives. That’s right. Fiction.
You know what fiction is—short stories and novels that describe imaginary events and imaginary people. Made-up stories about things that aren’t real. While that may not seem like a personal crisis to you—to wonder if playing make-believe on the written page is important—it is for me for at least two reasons.
First, I worked as an English teacher for 25 years, and I had to decide from one semester to the next how much emphasis to place on the various types of literature that my classes studied. Of course, the curriculum requires that certain literary works be taught, but the average classroom teacher does have some latitude in what she teaches and how she teaches it. After all, she is a professional educator.
Since the arrival of President Obama’s Common Core initiative, English teachers in public schools have been pushed to assign less fiction and more nonfiction for their students to read, since only nerds, geeks and little old ladies in reading circles buy books now, right? But the rest of us do read newspapers and magazines and textbooks and owner’s manuals and all sorts of other written. . . . Oh, please.
No, to be honest, now most of us read Facebook. Or whatever else we can suck from cyberspace into these black holes we call smartphones. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone, whose name is the 21stcentury’s best oxymoron until Jan. 20th when we’re introduced to President Trump. Our phones suck everything in, and they don’t distinguish good from bad. That’s left up to us.
Next Tuesday night it’ll all be over but the shouting, as they say. I ain’t talking about the thrilling World Series, of course, because it ended early this morning in Cleveland, and everybody there was a winner for sure. I wish I could say the same about the presidential race that may also be decided in Ohio.
I’m going to keep this essay short because, Lord knows, I’ve been sick and tired of the 2016 presidential election for weeks now. Maybe I should use capital letters with that phrase—2016 presidential election—but it’s been a lower-case kind of campaign on both sides, so I’ll go with that.
No matter what any poll or pundit says, no matter how many votes, like mine, have already been cast, I’m afraid this election is a toss-up. It could go either way—like last night’s Game 7 of the World Series—partly because election night coverage of a landslide really doesn’t keep viewers glued to the screen the way a good nail-biter does. Be prepared to stay up late again. It, too, could go extra innings.