War — What Is It Good For?

Literature, it seems.

I just finished Jane Smiley’s latest novel Ten Days in the Hills. I didn’t think I would like it for two reasons: I thought it was an excuse for her to write about sex (which she does well, but I didn’t think I would be interested), and the novel is based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, about which (until a moment ago) I knew zilch. But I’ve always liked Smiley as an author, so I thought I would give it a shot.

I ended up, though, really enjoying it. If you don’t know anything about The Decameron, it’s okay; you don’t need to in order to appreciate the novel and the way it is constructed. But if you want to know the basics, check here for some information about it.

The basic premise is: it’s the day after the Academy Awards in 2003, the war in Iraq has just begun, and ten people hole up in the Hollywood hills. Mothers, daughters, sons, lovers and friends. While the book is not about the war, per se, it obliquely addresses it through the characters and their thoughts, conversations, interactions. There is a lot of erotica/sex, but it is not at all gratuitous.

Anyway, I’m not writing a book review here. I liked the book, and I highly recommend it.

No, my point is more self-reflective. It’s my weblog, after all. So, yeah, it is all about me.

We’ve been in Iraq more than four years now, as of a little over a week ago. Four years, with no sign of an end.

I don’t support the war, and I didn’t vote for the guy who got us there. And while I’ve verbally aligned myself as against the war and have since before it started, I haven’t actually done anything about it.

No marches, no protests. Just conversations, some contentious, sometimes with like-minded people, sometimes not (hi, Dad-In-Law!).

I actually did do some volunteer work to try to get Kerry elected. Maybe that counts as something.

When this war started, I was pregnant with Gabriel. I remember seeing Baghdad in flames, and feeling a keen sadness. One of the oldest cities in the world, in ruins. I also remember laying in bed with DearDR, our tiny unborn child between us. I’m not sure I can put into words the protectiveness, the fear, the… wonder of it.

In some part of the world, people were (are) dying, and here we were, my husband and I, attempting to bring forth new life. Was it naivety? Love? Hope? Ignorance? I still wonder. Is bringing children into this world responsible? I mean, we’re at war; global warming is a reality; who the hell knows what is going to happen in 50 years?

But while one part of my brain examines this idea, most of me just wants to go on with my life. My small life, with DearDR, with Monkey and Bun, with love and hope, and yeah, maybe some ignorance. I know I attempted to write a poem about this a couple of years ago. I was standing at my kitchen sink listening to NPR, looking at the bunnies out in our yard, and hanging out with a 9-month-old baby girl who was going to be walking in another month. I like my small world.

Is that selfish? I don’t know. I pray for the safety of the troops; I pray for the end of the war. I even pray for forgiveness for those responsible for the killing and dying — on both sides. But I’m not out there in the street. I guess my passion is for my small world.

As an aside, when the first Gulf War started, that very night was the first time I smoked pot. I was nineteen years old, in college. My thought process upon being asked if I wanted to get high, if I recall correctly, was, “Why the heck not? We’re at war.”

I don’t feel that way, that “what the heck” way. I mean I often think, “What the hell??” about the war, about our leaders, about politics and the wider world in general.

But I know that I didn’t think that about getting married or having kids. Especially about having kids. And I certainly don’t throw my hands up now and think, “Well what the heck? We’re at war.” That’s not part of my decision process at this point.

It can’t be. I know it’s part of the world, my world even. But it’s not necessarily part of my small world. And I would like to keep it that way.