From the newsletter:
Any movie with Francis McDormand is a sure thing for me. I love how she’s evolved from a lovable, quirky character in her husband’s movies to a sinewy, “fuck you actress” who doesn’t bother to hide her age on the red carpet. While Susan Sarandon might be my doppelgänger, McDormand is my aging role model.
After a year of Friday night viewings of Marvel movies with the autistic kid and other escapism on Netflix with the husband, I decided to prep for the movie the right way. I read the book first.
The book describes the lives of folks in the autumn of their lives, who couldn’t relocate to a nice condo in Florida to play Mahjong with the girls at the clubhouse. Victims of real estates crashes and a global economy that shipped good jobs to China, hordes of old folks are living in vans retrofitted with cots and hotplates.
According to Jessica Bruder, these retired-shouldbees can’t pay the rent with a $500 social security checks, so instead they haul their arthritic bones around massive Amazon warehouses putting your books and sneakers in mylar bags and boxes with air-puffed pouches. (Feel guilty, yet?) The book is more harsh on Amazon and our society with its fraying safety net than the movie, which portrays the nomads as counter-culture heroes. The book is clear that these folks are lost souls, discarded and forgotten by the winners in the new economic order.
Heroes or victims, these nomads are certainly not part of the beautiful world, the GOOP world, that is about to get even more fabulous as the stock market surges this year.
Nomadland is a movie that appeals to the four quadrants of the show-business apocalypse: menopausal women, people with life-threatening illnesses, people interested in poverty, and anyone with time on her hands who can’t find the remote.
It’s a popcorn picture for the damned—and so it spoke to me. I live my life on the fading dot where these four demographics converge, and I found the movie powerful, informational, boring, generous, and hopeful.
I, too, am part of the damned world, despite my husband’s Wall Street Job, my good health, and a corner property in a yoga-mat-and-green-smoothie suburb. Because my kid has autism, I’m in a shadow world. My son isn’t included in the reindeer games of the high school, so I don’t even know other parents in town.
So anxious to keep the weird kids away from the rest of the school, the district actually puts kids like mine in a windowless cinderblock basement. One time, I complained about that windowless basement at a school board meeting. The superintendent interrupted me and said that the room was fine, because they had installed a ventilation system in the room. Simply providing air for the weird kids was good enough for administrators. That’s nice, right? Asphyxiation is such a gruesome way to check out.
Sitting in the back row of the school board meeting, I’ll listen to administrators describe new honors programs and clubs, watch the fifth grade tech kids demonstrate a robot, and listen to the school president rattle through the athletic accomplishments of the week. None of that is part of our reality. On Pluto, we’re very far from the sun. While we’re not living in a van, I feel solidarity with other untouchables. And there are so many.
Jonah came home at midnight from his summer job at a restaurant. He said he was late, because he spent the last hour playing tic-tac-toe with the five-year old son of the dish washer, a woman from Guatemala. The boy stays in the basement of the restaurant all day by himself doing homework on his computer. He emerges after the last diner finishes their $20 personal pizza and waits for his mom finish the clean up.
The pandemic has exacerbated the distance between the beautiful world and the underworld. My particular underworld — special ed parents — was hit very hard this year. I hear stories on my running dates, at cocktail hours, and on social media. Those kids have not gotten vital therapy. Being isolated in a bedroom for 16 months is a really bad thing for kids with autism. The lost of help will have lasting damage.
On Wednesday, I ran into a neighbor in the waiting room of a therapy center. She said that we are lucky that our kids were on the schedule before the pandemic, because there’s now a waitlist to talk to a therapist. A whole groups of typical kids became disabled this year without the support of a functioning school system.
I’ve been talking about disabled kids and mental health issues consistently since March 2020. It’s been very hard to get attention to these issues from those who aren’t part of our basement world. I sent at least a dozen essays and opinion pieces to every major newspaper and magazine on this topic this year and heard nothing. Crickets. I’ve lost readers and burned bridges with editors who only want to read cheerful education articles. Yes, the articles about the abandonment of disabled kids is finally getting attention, but it took a very long time. And there is no remedy in sight.
To get remedy, we first need attention. We need people who are untouched by the illness, poverty, or disabilities to listen to us, to take their hands off their ears. Those folks have about a five minute attention span for depressing issues that do not impact them. Hello, Francis McDormand! I have a movie idea for you!