There’s A Lot Wrong Now. Can We Make Something Right?

Photo by Benjamin Disinger on Unsplash


If you’re like me, these days you’re feeling depressed, frustrated, even angry. Add helpless to the list. COVID, which is nothing more or less than an “act of God”,we can do nothing about. And despite our automatic reaction to feel entitled to better luck or different circumstances, Americans finally, faintly realize there are some things we can do nothing about, even if we don’t deserve the outcome.

Plague I can deal with. The sight of my fellows making violent war against one another in the streets and public buildings, I can’t. It casts the most dismal black cloud over my being. Those who disagree, those who can’t think rationally and kindly about themselves, our nation, and circumstances, should send themselves to time-out immediately.

Unfortunately, I know this won’t occur. The only idea I’ve been able to come up with has occurred spontaneously to some of my friends. Stimulus checks flooded the country in the spring. My husband and I decided to donate ours to organizations and groups who had been the most impacted by dismal economics. Strange to say, we both came up with the idea separately, then suggested the action to one another. Since then, I’ve learned a number of my connections have leaked that they did the same thing.

Now we’re to get more money we haven’t earned and don’t need, at least don’t need nearly as much as folks like food service workers, independent contractors, housecleaners, child care providers, and many others. So, yes, again we’ll donate these funds. It makes me feel the tiniest bit better, an infinitesimal iota hopeful.

Charities are changing their focus and the way they determine priorities. These days people need more direct services, and if a philanthropy is sensitive at all, it’s concentrating more on these. My private wish is for individuals to open their fingers, even to panhandlers on the street, many of whom didn’t ask to be there. They’re humans and don’t deserve the abuse handed them by some.

Don’t even think you don’t know how to participate. Every community has churches providing services to people in financial straits, food banks, philanthropic groups. Perhaps you have friends, relatives, or connections who are worried sick about the future. Yes, you can give to individuals and families. Wouldn’t you rather come down on the side of helping people rather than live in constant fear that you’re being cheated?

ON BEING A MINIMALIST

I learned long ago that I’m usually out of step with society and those around me. My political candidates are almost always the ones who lose. Unlike most Americans, I hate to shop and abhor wasting hours strolling through stores that urge me to buy things. Ditto ads. I refuse to own heaps, tons, and masses of possessions. They weigh me down and make me stress out. The only things I over-indulge in are books and sunflower seeds. I never used mind-altering substances, even in the wild 60s. Obviously I’m not part of the mainstream

Imagine my surprise when I discovered there are popular terms describing my condition. Minimalism. Simple living. Austere. A solid core of minimalists has established a presence on the internet where you can learn about the tenets of the approach, I presume in as compact and pithy sentences as possible.

I arrived at my personal minimalism through two avenues. The first might be viewed as radical or extreme, despite being based on conservativism, which is rooted in being conservative. That radical concept is environmental activism. I don’t want anything more to be built, whether buildings, vehicles, factories. I reject bags and recycle and reuse plastic bags if I find myself stuck with some. I’ll avoid getting anything new if I can do so. I don’t think a faltering economy justifies loosening environmental controls.

The second is much more personal – laziness. When I recycle cards, carefully trimming the message panel from the pictorial panel, I save time (no shopping) and money (no purchase). I’m too lazy to travel from location to location in search of any bargain. I’d far rather curl up on my bed to read my tablet or a magazine than run out to do diddle-squat.

I like the definition of minimalism found on the website The Minimalists “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

Obviously the approach doesn’t restrict the practitioner in learning more, using the brain more, appreciating people and life more. The less I have in material goods, the more opportunity I have to gain the intangibles. I’m curious and can spend hours tracking down a fact or quote.

In the guide “Becoming Minimalist,” the short definition is “MINIMALISM IS OWNING FEWER POSSESSIONS, intentionally living with only the things I really need—those items that support my purpose. I am removing the distraction of excess possessions so I can focus more on those things that matter most.” There are lots of additional tips and insights for those who’d like to explore them on the website.

So minimalism has enabled me to simplify my behavior even further. When someone asks me about my approach to life, or suggests doing something I’m not crazy about, or tells me to buy an item, I just explain, “I can’t do that. I’m a minimalist,” thereby streamlining my existence even more.

WHEN WOMEN WENT OVER THERE, TOO

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Colorado Women in World War II, by Gail M. Beaton (Timberline Books, August 2020)

WHEN WOMEN WENT OVER THERE, TOO

More than seventy-five years ago, the war AFTER the war to end all wars (WW I), AKA World War II ended. While the war itself was no cause for celebration, it did bring massive changes to American society. We geared up for an uber-national effort, factories turned to making war implements and support for the troops, people raised their own veggies, millions made-do and did-without.

Another major kick in the seat of the pants was to the American labor force, which had its locked gates slowly pried open by females. With little support for the concept of equal rights, women moved into the job market and filled all the pink collar and service positions in the nation that it always had, but also broke limits in new occupations. Colorado was no different, as women soldered, sawed, hammered, flew hither and yon, studied medicine and aeronautics, doctored and nursed, gave tea parties yes, but also marched with men in the service, except for combat.

Colorado Women in World War II could be a handbook for how to move ahead, shove your way into the mainstream. Author Gail Beaton chronicles numerous individuals as they learned (and sometimes loved) to fill critical, vital roles, earning the respect and accolades of their male peers along the way. We always like to imagine that our generation is responsible for major developments, and, we hope, improvements in our society. Beaton clearly credits our foremothers for their courage and fortitude. Shame on our country that some of the most impressive were the insuperable odds against which women of color, all colors, and of differing sexuality struggled simply to claim their right to contribute to the war effort.

Among the fascinating glimpses into life for women during the war—bathing from a helmet, cowering in the depths of a ship under fire, working 12-hour shifts, caring for dying soldiers—the book provides a treasure trove for vets, women, historians, and military buffs. Despite avoiding front line combat, danger and privation still lurked everywhere. Beaton braids nearly eighty oral histories—including interviews, historical studies, newspaper accounts, and organizational records—and historical photographs to reveal women’s participation in the war, exploring the dangers and triumphs they felt, the nature of their work, and the lasting ways in which the war influenced their lives.

The fortitude and creativity with which they shattered limits to create new opportunities for women sets the bar high for following generations. And they did so while saving the entire nation from disaster and despair.


LIVES WELL LIVED, HOW DO WE MEASURE IT?

At California Polytechnic State University, students can take a class in the Psychology of Aging. Since I’m qualified if only by my increasing age to know something on the topic, I recently joined a set of older adults from Colorado affiliated with a nonprofit called Senior Planet, matched with a group of students in the class. We met online via Zoom, as so many activities are conducted now, and got to know one another over a series of three meetings, asking each other questions about lives, beliefs, and lessons we’ve learned.

My contact, Alexandra, a senior, is primarily interested in animal science, an area I know nothing about, with the exception of admiring researcher-writer-professor Temple Grandin. Her minor is psychology, which was my major in college. So we were thrown together and asked to determine what we could gain from one another. The details are probably less important than the overall findings although we discovered we have two things in common. We both are INTJ on the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, a psychological approach to categorizing human personalities. And we both periodically suffer from what we call “rocks in our heads,” or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which makes us extremely dizzy.

The other participants were as different as we two. So how do you measure if a life has been well-lived? As Einstein said, “Just because a thing can be counted doesn’t mean it should be counted.” You have to rely on personal opinions.

Interesting to me were the final reports. Nearly all of the older participants advised that success in life does not lie in status, money, titles, or material possessions, but in self-satisfaction, being with loved ones, and feeling a passion about something, whether that’s a cause, a hobby, an activity. Remaining curious was mentioned frequently as a good quality.

As for the students, most surprising were their previous attitudes toward older adults. I think we were running into many stereotypes and ageism: older people are boring and bored, older people are ”fragile,” a term I particularly despise, both physically and mentally; older adults have nothing to share with students. But by the end, and due to the continuing interactions, the students had reversed their opinions. Both younger and older groups felt the project had personally benefitted them.

The basis for the project was Lives Well Lived, a feature documentary film by Sky Bergman, that celebrates the incredible wit and wisdom of adults 75 to 100 years old who are living their lives to the fullest. Encompassing over 3000 years of experience, forty people shared their secrets and insights to living a meaningful life. I found the subjects of the film to be inspiring myself. During these times of mass quarantines, I’ll take as many positive outlets as I can get.

THINKING ABOUT WHAT’S GONE BEFORE

As we live through our present, whenever that is, we tend to forget what’s gone before. Good, bad, and neutral, our pasts influence our present. Some of our changes are bad, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the major impact it’s had on our lives, our economy, and our very lifestyles. But it didn’t appear out of nowhere, nor is it the first pandemic ever to hit humanity. The plague, various versions of the flu including the 1918 Spanish variety, typhoid fever, cholera, and others were happenings we had to live through and learn from.

So, too, with social change. The recent incidents that led to Black Lives Matter, #metoo, and other movements did not occur instantaneously, like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus. There always have been precursors leading to the development of change. We may not know of these, but they exist nonetheless.

That’s a major reason why I value fiction. It ushers us to the emotional tangle served up with mere facts. We could read treatise after book after study concerning the Vietnam war, and those numbers wouldn’t carry one-tenth of the impact of The Things They Carried. A volume on the causes and potential cures for COVID wouldn’t ring our chimes like A Year of Wonders, set in 17th century England during a plague.

So when I picked up Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, I knew I’d get a story about the African-American experience, but the actual narrative was much more than a mere tale. Dana, the 20th century protagonist, is thrown back in time to the antebellum South where her white ancestor Rufus is drowning. She saves him but then only returns home when her own life is threatened. So the pattern is set, back and forth more than a century, as Dana learns Rufus is becoming more twisted and damaged by the economic and social system of slavery than Blacks.

Butler’s genius (and she was the first science fiction author to be awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant) was to imbue her characters with true humanity. They jump off the pages and create resonations in the reader’s mind and emotions that remain far after the last page in the book is closed.

It’s strange to me to think Butler passed away years ago, way too early in her career, and now people forget or overlook the strides people like her and other advocates for social justice made. We can’t live in any time other than our own, except through our imaginations. Butler was and remains a guide for our own confused, infuriating, and at times malevolent situations. Through her writerly gifts, we can extract not only a ripping good story but also the awareness and solace of human emotions. If you haven’t sampled Butler, now might be a good time to do so.