About Bonnie McCune

Bonnie is a Denver-based author whose interest in writing led to her career in nonprofits doing public and community relations and marketing. She’s worked for libraries, directed a small arts organization and managed Denver's beautification program. Simultaneously, she’s been a free lance writer with publications in local, regional, and specialty publications for news and features. Her main interest now is fiction writing, and her pieces have won several awards.

Time to Challenge a Major American Delusion

In this country, we believe anyone can achieve whatever he wants. This idea is drummed into kids at every step. Interviews with people deemed successful spotlight this point of view. Whether you’re an athlete, an actor, businessperson, or a rancher, we tell ourselves this over and over. Anyone can become president. You can be successful in any career you choose.

NOT TRUE! And maybe it’s time to stop spouting this. What happens instead is those 99.99% of us who don’t rank number 1 in our goal or field of interest get discouraged, depressed, even suicidal.

Why not? Because of the three qualities essential to achievement, we have no control over two of them. Those two are:

  1. In-born, genetically determined talent. This can be for singing, art, intelligence, creativity, the correct body type, beauty, whatever. I happen to be extremely short and always have been. No matter how much I might want to be a star basketball player, my less-than-five-feet height never will permit it.

  2. Chance, luck, fortune. A caveman could never be a millionaire because he lived in a time that lacked money and big business. Even if you’re born into the right age, country and family, you still might never chance upon a situation that enables you to succeed in the way you hope. You might miss the exact connection, the right friend, the ideal situation to lead you up your chosen ladder.

The last essential quality an individual does have some control over: hard work.

What do people define as “success.” Articles and surveys report that many younger (and older!) people believe success is money, possessions, social media attention, position, fame. Many of us share these goals and dreams,

Let’s get serious. Hard work plays a big role in success. But it’s not the sole determiner. Time magazine in 2019 had an essay on parenting that urged adults to tell kids the truth—hard work doesn’t always pay off. (July 1, 2019; by Rachel Simmons) Why should we bother? Won’t this reality discourage the young?

No, not if we recognize that there are other things in life that make us successful. Friends, family, satisfaction with our achievements, passion for some activity, even simple acceptance of and joy in life around us. We’d probably have many more happy people and far fewer discontented, even suicidal ones.

Beating my head against a wall: Why I continue to write

           

 

 

 

            We’re all familiar with romantic passion. The spine-tingling kiss. The intense desire. The longing to be with a special person. We’re fortunate if we find lasting and positive romantic passion. We’re even luckier if we find passion in our lives FOR our lives. I’ve finally come to realize my driving passion is writing.  

            Recently I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself, which happens to me when I don’t have pending deadlines or if I think about various problems. To pass the time instead of doing productive work, I turned to Facebook. Lo and behold there was a new entry by Nancy, my former boss. Rather than bemoaning the state of the world or herself, Nancy’s too busy traveling, running several businesses (travel, consulting), and volunteering. She doesn’t wait for someone or something to entertain her. She throws herself into every minute. I decided next time I was depressed, frustrated or hopeless, I’ll just visit Nancy’s Facebook page and sample her adventures. She has passion and it’s contagious. An excellent example for me.

            After decades pursuing my dream, I’m still not ready to throw in the towel. Somewhere inside any person who chases a dream, there’s a little voice saying, “Keep going; don’t give up yet.” That voice might be an angel’s or a demon’s, but it has a definite impact on life.

            I’ve come to believe this trait is also present in people who believe in a cause, philosophy, or mission. Politics, religion, art, music. Gardening, quilting, recycling. Call it a passion or an obsession, it can give your existence meaning, link you with others, and provide a structure many people find helpful. 

            My saga started at age ten, when I submitted a poem to the Saturday Evening Post (it was immediately rejected). I got experience on the job, doing public and community relations and marketing for non-profit organizations. I’ve been a freelance writer for news and features. Several years ago I decided to focus on fiction writing. Now I have published a number of books through small publishers. Another example of passionate person is young Greta Thunberg, the political activist on climate change, who’s inspired millions. Another is an eight-year-old friend of mine who’s passionate about Egyptology and Irish step-dancing.

            Having a passion allows me to rise above, go beyond where I am, in order to be conscious of my existence and place in the universe. Some call this transcendence. I’m able to raise and answer questions about myself and life. As author Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.”

            But surely a writer needs more than a passion in order to produce? What? There’s no magic process. Novelist W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

            As a writer, I’ve learned to navigate a shaky path between my desire to write, inherent laziness, and advice from everyone and anyone. The outside world always has opinions. I’ve learned to thicken my hide, take advice with a bit of salt, then apply as I feel best. For example, one inspirational line editor wanted me to make clear that the heroine wasn’t in a sexual relationship with a male friend.

            When you read my books, you can anticipate women’s fiction, ordinary people living their extraordinary lives. My characters aren’t flamboyant, rich, aggressive, shrieking foul language, or even simply annoying, to be interesting. That’s because everyday life challenges people to do and be their best, and their voyage to learning this is fascinating.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU’RE FORCED TO APPEAR HAPPY ALL THE TIME?

Seems to me the amount of laughter and shouting, high fives and hoots is greatly increasing. Sometimes it’s not a choice, it’s a command from those around you. And it may be making you miserable.

Take a Zumba teacher I ran into recently. Not only is she constantly yelling encouraging phrases like “great!”, “good going,” but also she demands the class shout back at her. Whoops, yeah-hey, uh-huh. If the students aren’t sufficiently loud enough for her, she’ll lean in toward us, hand behind ear to encourage an increase in volume. These noises are accompanied with high-fives as she scoots between the rows as well as stomach bumps. She’s not alone in her approach. In my spinning class, the instructor’s claps and shouts and music are so loud, I’m forced to wear ear plugs.

Most visible are the personalities on television. Each news hour is replete with jokes between newscasters, calls for “best day ever!” As repartee leaps from person to person, the level of hysteria rises higher until I expect a report on a new tragedy, war, or disaster will be interspersed between guffaws. And for casual interactions between miscellaneous folks in a store or on the street, it’s common to be concluded with “Make a great day!”

I object to this trend. If I’m in a bad mood, if a friend has died, a check bounced, a daughter doesn’t call, the meal burns, a huge bill sent, a politician’s spouted another lie, why do I have to pretend everything’s wonderful?

I realize that humans usually smile or laugh when pleased or trying to establish a pleasant social interaction. And I do so frequently. Not just in public either. Last night I got the giggles as I read the latest Ladies #1 Detective Agency novel. I simply don’t want to manipulated into false gaiety like a ventriloquist’s puppet.

To me, people insisting on happiness, joy, smiles, laughs all the time are like substance abusers constantly searching for a high. They’re bound to drop into a destructive dejection eventually. There’s value in feeling emotion, every type of emotion, to its height and depth, but restricting yourself to the so-called positive ones can’t be great for you.

I’ve found people who agree with me. Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann from Aalborg University says forcing ourselves to be happy all the time could leave us emotionally stunted. Some believe trying to be cheerful all the time can actually hurt us, stunt creativity, set an unrealistic and ever-impossible goal, hinder our ability to relate to those around us. We evolved to experience a range of emotions, says Time magazine. To avoid the negative ones limits us and, surprise!, ultimately our personal satisfaction.

So if you, like me, feel forced to laugh on the inside while crying on the inside, do yourself a favor and fuhgeddaboudit. You’ll do yourself more good by experiencing the full menu of emotions.

WILL OUR LIFE VALUES EVER TURN TOPSY-TURVEY?

            Can a modern American achieve true, long-lasting happiness without using material goods like money and possessions to define success? As a friend of mine from Prague asked, “Why do Americans think they NEED 80 flavors of toothpaste?”

            Or are we all simply fat capitalist pigs as Marx seemed to indicate?

            Not I. I discovered quite by accident that I’m a minimalist. A friend was asking me if I planned to attend a massive jewelry sale sponsored by a group we both belonged to. I envisioned room after room, table after table, of glittering, shiny, baubles designed to spotlight my aging throat and mature figure with their wrinkles, spots and flab, and shuddered. Probably the last activity that attracted me would be tracking down pieces of useless jewelry. And to spend money and time on such a quest? Impossible.

            “No,” I answered. “I’m a minimalist. I don’t need any jewelry.”

            Why the term leaped to my mind, I have no idea. But somehow I must have been absorbing the expression through pop culture because it fit with my existing values and approach to life. Since then I’ve realized that I’m not alone in embracing the attitude. Minimalism has been around in art, music and decorating for decades, to indicate a stripped down, perhaps stark, approach to self-expression, but is more recent as a description of lifestyle. Before the trend, of course, many religions valued it, using “simple” as part of their definition. Simple food, simple clothing, simple belongings. Quakers, the Amish and Mennonites, Buddhists and others set their sights on values instead of money, consumerism, and material status.

            Minimalism as a way of life focuses on living with less. This includes less financial burdens for its practitioners, such as debt and unnecessary expenses. Minimalists, not than I know any except myself, support shedding excess stuff and valuing experiences rather than worldly possessions. It’s a method to rid yourself of life’s excess to focus on intangible valuable qualities to bring happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

            In typical American fashion, people now are rushing to expand on, define, advocate and criticism minimalism. The Los Angeles Times reported the average American household has 300,000 items. (I wonder what they counted as an item? Was a package of toilet paper counted as one or eight? A set of dishes one or 16?) Then someone tossed out one-hundred objects as the ideal amount for a minimalist.

            Funny to me that many articles about minimalism stress how much money you’ll save. Seems contradictory—you want to care less about unessentials like money in order to concentrate on destressing, building relationships, working on your personal interests.

            In the final tally, these points are irrelevant to me. I have a handy reason to avoid wasting my time on shopping and a defensible strategy for cleaning out my closets and cupboards. Would you like some recycled books or one of the six bottles of cologne I received at the holidays?

AN UNEXPECTED HOLIDAY LESSON

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

            What was true for Charles Dickens, at least in his fiction, suits me, too. However, the lessons learned about honoring the Christmas spirit aren’t always what one might expect.

            From childhood the creative me yearned to make the world sparklier, more beautiful. I was a sucker for the holiday. I even cried at certain carols. This was in the spirit of covering up the ugliness, whether it was man’s inhumanity to man, tragedies in nature and life, or litter on the streets. However, this desire wasn’t accompanied by good taste. An early example of my lack of discrimination came in the seventh grade. As second-eldest in a family of six children, I decided to show my leadership, involve the little kids, and decorate the house in one fell swoop. I searched the house for craft materials. Unfortunately, they’d all been destroyed in the constant whirlwind of little, curious fingers that probed, snatched and ruined everything they touched.

            As I toured the house’s three stories, I happened upon a bathroom. My mother, showing the same dearth of good taste as I possessed, had stocked it with green toilet tissue. Remember those days, when toilet tissue and paper hankies came in a multitude of pastels? Green was a holiday color I knew, and we possessed a multitude of rolls.

            I opened a new roll and proceeded to weave festoons of green toilet tissue around the living room walls. I was convinced I was initiating a new high in holiday atmosphere. Yes, the little kids helped me. Imagine if you can, four walls covered in pale green loops distinctly of paper that belonged by the lavatory.

            When my mother returned home, she was able to control her moans of dismay. She simply told me to remove my “decorations,” that toilet paper wasn’t appropriate for my purpose.

            This was, perhaps, my first lesson in marketing:  the concept of buyer personas. Experts advise you know your market before you jump in and design a logo, packaging or displays. I’m sure my mother envisioned her neighbors evaluating my festoons and gossiping about how our family obviously lacked home decorating sense. Or were so hard up we had to use anything to hand.

            At the time, I didn’t understand her attitude. Since then I’ve learned of an assortment of supplies I can use for decorating, and only very very rarely do I use toilet tissue. As I’ve aged, I’ve set my standards higher because it comes neither in true red and green, nor sparkles, so I use other options. However, t.p. is always handy if I get maudlin and cry.