Lyz Lenz Reads Ford Madox Ford
Every year around the holidays, I read a "classic" book. I use the term loosely, of course. It's an exercise I began 10 years ago, when I had a small baby and I was exhausted and I wanted people to leave me alone around the holidays. Brother in laws leave you alone if you are nursing a baby and reading Great Expectations. The project expanded, to fill in the gaps of my education and it has been fun to discover Madame Bovary in her astounding selfishness, or Lady Chatterley's Lover with all its dick puns. This year, I picked The Scarlet Letter, which I haven't read since high school, which was 20 years ago. And at the last minute, because Hawthorne's book was so short it felt like cheating, I picked up The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford.
I didn't know anything about the book, just that Graham Greene called it a wonderful book and Graham Greene never seemed like the kind of writer who would fuck around about these sorts of things. The book is about wealthy listless couples who just go to the sea to recover from heart problems they never really had.
One of them is a soldier, but he does little fighting, instead, he just sleeps with women who aren't his wife. It's England on the brink of WWI and everyone is just wasting money and their lives. The narrator is manipulative. He begins the story, telling us this is the saddest story, because he lost what seemed to be the perfect marriage. As the book goes on, you realize there was never any perfection, it was always soggy and rotten on the bottom. A love story that's like a potato you pull out of a bag only to realize is soft and wet and now your fingers smell.
How did we get here? It's a question America has been asking itself since 2016, and again in 2020 it was a Greek chorus of lament: How did we get here? Our lives are right now, the saddest story. But like The Good Soldier it didn't happen by accident. People of color are dying from the pandemic more than white people, because our entire health care structure is built on systemic inequality. Parents are suffering in a pandemic because we have, for centuries, failed to pass the legislation necessary to help them. It was contrivance, we took too many unreliable white male narrators at their word because of our laziness, our inability to address the problems we knew were there, we just chose not to see. In sum, the soggy-bottomed rot.
Lyz is the author of God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss and Renewal in Middle America and Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women. She lives in Iowa with her two kids.
A Word on The Author
If you haven't run across the name Lyz Lenz yet, you'll start seeing it a lot now. Lenz is a classic reporter, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. She's also a seriously good (but funny) writer.
You'll find her work on Substack, the author platform that hosts take-no-prisoners journalists like Matt Taibbi and Matthew Ygelisias. She's playing with the boys, and near as we can tell, beating them.
Lenz is from Texas. Snowmageddon is personal for her; both her parents and her younger brother have been diagnosed with Covid and everything in the state is frozen stiff, shut down, broke down, and closed down.
Subscribe to her column at Substack.
Lenz's Dingus of the Week: Ted Cruz (of course)
This week’s dingus would have been Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott went on Fox News, while people in his state were dying from cold and carbon monoxide poisoning because of his deregulated power grid, to talk about the real problem: windmills.
That’s right, Abbott was blaming windmills for Texas’s problems with power, while people are dying.
Apparently, Abbott has never heard of Iowa, where 42% of our power grid uses wind energy and we’ve had three weeks of sub-zero temperatures and we’re doing just fine. Well, actually, our power grid is fine. The rest of the state is not doing just fine, but that has nothing to do with windmills and everything to do with government mismanagement, corruption, and political leaders who care more about trying to end tenure or telling a woman what she can do with her body than ending hunger. Which is actually Texas’s problem, too.
But like I said, Abbott would have been the Dingus of the Week had not Texas state senator Ted Cruz boarded a plane to Cancun during the middle of the storm. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson noted on Twitter, “I’m sorry Ted Cruz is not there to emote with you people.”
Read more of Dingus of the Week: Ted Cruz
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The Great British Baking Show At The End of The World
Unlike a lot of people in the pandemic, I have not turned to baking to occupy my time. I spent the majority of my twenties baking, and I simply just do not want to do all the dishes. And when my kids aren’t with me, I live alone. So there’s no one really to cook for besides myself. I live far away from family. And I am surrounded by friends, but we are all lost in our pandemic bubbles.
So, maybe, The Great British Baking Show feeds some sort of desire in me to be baked for and cared for. Or maybe it feels like the care that I want to give to the people I love. Right now, my parents and youngest brother have COVID-19. They live in Texas, where they are experiencing extreme cold temperatures. So far, they have heat and water. But my little brother isn't doing well. He has multiple disabilities and the virus is doing a number on his body. But he can't go into the hospital because of the weather, because of my parents' positivity, because of so many reasons out of my control. Everything is out of our control. I can do nothing, except donate where I can, then sit and cry and watch really nice people make really nice buns.
Or maybe it’s just that the show doesn’t demand anything from me like other shows with their sympathetic characters and their complicated plot lines. I can look away from it and have it playing in the background, while I play with my dogs, wash dishes, or fold clothes. It doesn’t even ask that you laugh that hard at its jokes, which are usually very silly and involve baking pans and cow costumes. I also don't hate anyone on the show. There are no villains, not really. Just a bunch of people doing their best to make delicious tarts.
The show is not an escape. I do not think I am numbing out. Honestly, at this point, there is no escape.
Lyz Lenz's Books
Snowmageddon: What's the Matter With Texas?*
*hint: it's not windmills
For insight into what went wrong in Texas, and why El Paso was spared, read this superbly written account in Texas Monthly:
While shoppers in other Texas big cities faced long lines and empty shelves at grocery stores, Robert Gomez breezed right into his local Albertsons in El Paso on Wednesday. The store was fully stocked, and more importantly, had functioning lights and heat. The fifty-year-old graphic designer found the same at the Food King store he visited afterward. Besides having to step over residual snow sludge on streets and sidewalks, El Pasoans like Gomez were experiencing few aftereffects of a historic winter storm that brought the city subfreezing temperatures and three inches of snow and ice.
Scrolling through Twitter that same day, Gomez found himself wishing he could do something to help when he saw pictures and videos of what so many fellow Texans were experiencing—bursting pipes, falling ceilings, flooding, and freezing homes. “TEXAS! Head west, far west,” he tweeted. “Our grid is up in El Paso, and we welcome anyone that needs a respite from this frigid chaos. Hotels, shelters, and hope.”
When the winter storms that paralyzed most of Texas first blew through El Paso on February 14, only about 3,000 people in the city had a power outage in their homes, and more than 2,000 of those saw their power restored within just five minutes. No homes in this city of 682,000 residents spent days without power or heat—an experience common to millions throughout the rest of the state. Although this winter storm didn’t hit El Paso as severely as it did other parts of the state, the conditions were similar to those during a February 2011 storm that devastated the city. It’s thanks to the preparations that El Paso made in response to that disaster, as well as its operating on a different electric grid than the majority of Texas, that the city had a starkly different experience during the last awful week for the state.
Graham Greene and Other Songs :: Brian's Playlist
Graham Greene ::: John Cale
The Book of Love ::: The Monotones
The Good Soldier ::: Nine Inch Nails
Happens To The Heart ::: Leonard Cohen
Texas ::: The Electric Flag
The Freeze ::: Albert Collins
Cold Rain And Snow :: The Grateful Dead
Frost Texas Tornado Blues ::: Texas Alexander
Cold Cold Cold :: Little Feat
The Chill Is On ::: Big Joe Turner
Snowed In ::: Daedalus
The Frozen Girl ::The Delmore Brothers