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My Night Terrors Solution

When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.

President Obama in a NY Times interview with Michiko Kakutani, January 16, 2017

Since the election and the inauguration of our new president, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry for all the classics on my bookshelves, or verses from my favorite poems, or a banana. This is called my night terrors solution. In order to get back to sleep, I have to make some chamomile tea, eat the banana very slowly, and read paragraphs from a Graham Greene anthology, an Edith Wharton novel, or a Raymond Carver short story. The choice of reading material varies. I might browse for a while, take one book out, put another back. I never open my Kindle which usually holds at least three books I am reading in the daylight hours. No, the night terrors solution requires the printed word. I might open my journal and write for a while. Finally, my nerves settle.

This week has been somewhat different, however. I marched in New York on Saturday with five friends. I say marched but, in fact, we never made it past 47th street; we stood, we sang, we chanted, we held up signs.

Afterwards, all in my small group agreed that our despair at the outcome of the election had been lifted with this one national-- and international--act of peaceful resistance to a new regime--not an administration, a regime-- in Washington. The effects are already being felt with fast-moving executive orders targeting the Affordable Care Act, Women's Right to Choose, and the Keystone Pipeline. The pink hats will be on for a while. The marches will continue.

Like most writers, I have been both inside the event of recent weeks and months, and observing the events. On Saturday, I took some photos for my Facebook page, but I also sent text back to myself whenever I spotted a pithy sign or overheard some dialogue. In other words, I was already collecting shared stories, telling my own stories, and writing this blog post. And I had the strange sensation--probably because I already miss him-- that President Obama was doing something similar. He has always kept a journal and is poised to write his next book.

Although President Clinton was also a voracious reader, President Obama is both a reader and a good writer, probably the greatest literary president since Abraham Lincoln. While in the Oval Office, these three imperfect, empathetic presidents found both anchor and inspiration in books.
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