GROCERY STORES AS SOCIAL CENTERS

Humans need social contact. They long for it, lust after it, seek it more than water. I’ve found my COVID connection—the local grocery store. King’s is opening at 7 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for people over 60, and at other times the store’s very active. It’s easy to chat with any passersby. We all act as if we’re participating in a semi-criminal activity.

In order to give structure to our daily visits, my husband and I track the status of restocking. When Denver’s shut-down was just on the horizon, it was my turn to grocery shop. On March 5, I was able to get everything on my list although toilet paper and paper towels were low. Four days later, paper products had disappeared, along with a hefty amount of fresh produce, cereal and crackers. Over the course of ten days, ebbs and flows occurred on lunch meat, hot dogs, canned goods, eggs. Long-gone and perhaps never reappearing—fresh o.j., fresh potatoes, pizzas.

We don’t really need to shop daily, but I’m concerned if we don’t at least look like we’re browsing, we’ll be ejected. With dictate after dictate coming down on size of group gatherings, from 1000 to 500 to 250 to 100 to 25 to 10, I envision police officers, who have been instructed not to write traffic tickets, switching to charges for congregating.

San Francisco’s Shelter in Place legislation makes exemptions for hardware stores, laundromats, banks, shipping services, professional services, such as legal or accounting services. While restaurants are prohibited from allowing people to eat on their property, the other categories don’t mention this. Therefore we’ll soon encounter the strange sight of people grabbing a sandwich at the grocery store, then strolling over to the local laundromat to eat.

I wondered whether I might be pulled over driving to a friend’s for lunch. Luckily, again citing San Francisco’s rules, people are allowed to “travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.” Since the people I want to visit are mostly “elderly” by definition or my kids or grandkids, and everyone else of any age is edging toward mental vulnerability, again I think I can get away with visiting them.

Back to grocery stores. Recalling the popularity of oldies walking around shopping centers a number of years ago, my husband and I trudged through snow banks to walk the grocery store circuit three times, with strolls up and down various aisles to vary the routine. We spent about an hour and did, indeed, get some eggs and frozen waffles. However, I must report that my husband lacks true diligence because he spends more time reading labels than walking. I made several new acquaintances and thanked store employees for their hazardous duties.

COVID is making changes in my life. By and large they’ve been positive because they’ve energized me and flooded my writer’s brain with lots of ideas. Let’s see what else happens.

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?