The title of my first novel, The Mud of the Place, came from its epigraph, a quote from a 1994 interview with the late poet-writer-activist Grace Paley: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you’d better watch where your mouth is.”
All these years I’ve been applying it primarily to physical places, especially Martha’s Vineyard. Turns out it applies to other things as well. Like politics. I’ve always been interested in politics in the more general senses: the workings of the polis, the community, government at all levels. Electoral politics? Not so much.
The year just past changed that. I got involved in a couple of local campaigns, contributed more than I could afford to them, the Clinton campaign, and Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates running for office. Though our local results were great, the national results were disastrous. The extent of the disaster has been becoming ever clearer since January 20.
For many millions of us, the election was a political Hurricane Katrina, a wake-up call, a call to action. After years of keeping my distance, my feet have been sinking deeper into the political mud. It’s a cliché to compare politics to mud. Mud is seen as unpleasant. Keeping one’s hands clean — avoiding politics, not getting involved — is a virtue.
The big downside of this is that many, many of us have only the shakiest grasp of how government works and how to influence it.
This does not, however, stop us from talking endlessly about what’s wrong and what “they” should do about it.
Which is why I’m pushing Grace Paley’s take on mud: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you’d better watch where your mouth is.” The message here is that if your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you probably don’t know as much about it as you think you do. From the outside everything looks simpler and more monolithic than it is.
As my feet sink deeper into the mud of Martha’s Vineyard politics, I’m going to be mouthing off about it more in From the Seasonally Occupied Territories. Yep, politics is frustrating. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder what the hell I’ve gotten into, not least because it’s also demanding and I’m already wondering if I have the patience and personal skills required to be effective.
But what I wrote about learning to play the guitar applies to other things as well, including politics: “Starting from scratch is a good thing because it’s a good thing to fumble and feel like an idiot and realize that you’re getting better.”
So I hope you’ll hang on. The ride may get bumpy, but it probably won’t be boring, and I promise it won’t be about politics 24/7. To prove it, here’s Travvy (who just turned nine) with a marrow bone.