Category Archives: Musing

Bountiful

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Both the girls, their girls and their husbands, including in-laws and baby grands sat down for a wonderful meal. Was it all peaches and cream? No. It was not. There are strains, there are feelings, there are issues. This is family. I get that. Family is complicated. We disagree. But because we love and respect each other we talk. Do we convince? No, we do not. We have had a variety of ways to get where we are.

It is the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t care who you voted for. I don’t care why you voted one way or another. I really don’t care that you didn’t vote. We are a family spread out across a country, complicated, sometimes disagreeable. Are we one the right path? I have no idea. But I have a belief that the system of government we have will always work.

It is the day after Thanksgiving and I appreciate the gift of faith.  My faith is one that sustained saints and sinners for thousands of years. We practice our faith with a feeling of security. We are not afraid of the future, even though we know that at this time it holds for us some difficult issues, it will not be easy. But that is why faith sustains us.

It is the day after Thanksgiving and the truth is we have bountiful lives and we are more than grateful.

A Short Story About Elections

I vote every in every election! I think it may be one of the most thrilling things I do. You may say I have a very boring life, but no, that’s not why it’s is thrilling.

Like a lot of mid twentieth century families, we had a subscription to Reader’s Digest, the small five by seven magazine appearing monthly on the coffee table. When it would come, the first thing I would do was go through and read the funny bits. The little stories, the jokes.  Life in these United States was one of my favorites. It was right around the time I was able to register to vote or getting ready to register [so yes, this was pre-1971]  and it must have been a midterm election not a national, because the story was about this town in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on the western side of the country, maybe a population of a  couple of hundred. The town was going through the sort of phone-it-in election of a mayor and a city council, town clerk, all these small town jobs that the townspeople probably took for granted, and dutifully the town voted in the ones willing to do the jobs, year after year.

This was back when you voted on Election Day, no early voting, you had to show up at the polling place, usually a school cafeteria or a church hall,  between seven in the morning and seven or eight at night.  Well, this particular Election Day came and went just like normal.

But not! When the count came in there was a surprise–the people who got the jobs were not the ones who always had the jobs. Yes, these new people were known in town and, well, it was almost a ritual that they ran against the ones who did the job, you know, just for the sake of democracy. The big surprise was that everyone who won got just one, yes, one vote.

It seems there was this twenty one year old. This was his first election, and he was so proud and excited about being able to vote. He read all the background about what people said they would do if they got the job and he voted. Turns out he was the only one in the whole town who voted that election. So come the next morning a whole new set of people were in charge of the town.

Was the story true? Hell if I know. Can I find out? Not even looking. This is what I do know!

No matter where I live I make sure I can vote. I steer clear of the campaign rhetoric, the TV ads, the pundits, the columns. Do I read them? Yes,  but I also read the speeches where I can, [because four years of Latin taught me oratory is delivery] read at least three or four newspapers and I read all the background information I can find. I look for League of Women Voter material, online websites, .gov websites and make a decision, whether it be for president, judge, attorney general, mayor or even if it is for dog catcher.

And so I vote every time there is an election, no matter if it is national, midterm, or  local. I have never forgotten that story, that just one person voting could make a difference. And each time I vote, I think of that kid. And I wonder, what if I was the only one voting?  And I always smile as I walk into that booth.

Beliefs, Shifts & Bias

I have a belief system. I grew up with it. I was able to stay with the system, examine it, challenge it with those more learned than me, toss it around a bit and not find it wanting. I feel fortunate it has stood by me for all these years. As much as I am, this belief system is me. It is so ingrained in me that one daughter was recently shocked when I stated that while I am Irish, Roman Catholic and American, I am American first, no question! To me, that deep core belief that I am American first comes sincerely from the fact that I am Roman Catholic–I understand beliefs harkening back hundreds, even thousands of years. I get what it is to sustain that belief. I know what it is to stand by ideals that may not be popular,  may even be deadly.

Why does this matter? Because I am working with a historical narrative nonfiction where there are newspapers, videos, memoranda, minutes and personal remembrances. And I remember, pretty clearly, the emotion, if not the actual fact of his death. And I know he is all but forgotten by the academicians and the diplomats.

We have changed as a country, a world,  so very much not just in the last half of the twentieth century, but rapidly in the twenty-first.  paradigmone On the news this morning a correspondent mentioned that he felt the increasing anger and unrest over policing, gun control, racism, terrorism and even climate change have a lot to do with the rise social media. Somehow that feels convenient, and yet?

What I see is that our paradigms are our labels.  Or, are we unknowingly perhaps, putting labels on ourselves through the way we post our paradigms and the way the online community responds?  We post the highlights of our daily lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We check to see how many likes, loves, wows are on each posting. It is addicting and it feels so much like a community, like we know these people. But is it? Do we? For future writers of narrative nonfiction will all of this, like diaries and memos and minutes and newspapers of the past,  become the ‘first rough draft of history’?

When we write nonfiction, especially historical narrative nonfiction we are doing more than just relating dates and descriptions. We are telling a story, and in telling that story we are giving a reason why this is important. We are effectively saying we can learn from this story and be better.

How many of us seek validation of what we think by those around us?  biasIt is the comfort zone of bias, yes? How many of us are willing to shift our paradigm to see what others see, to check our bias at the door and be open? Will we feel adrift?  Will we feel wishy-washy because those who hold to their paradigms and bias seem strong?  Or are we the strong ones because we have been willing to walk out of our comfort zone and explore our viewpoints and possibly even change them?

The narrative nonfiction I am writing begins over a hundred years in the past. Some of it was shocking and new to me, as if it had just happened. I was amazed at my lack of historical knowledge or perspective. This was history I had totally ignored.  In effect I had no view of this time period or of this historical place. I had no bias. It was a blank slate.

I have read narrative nonfiction where a thesis is stated and then confirmed. A voice in my head, coupled with my own limited studies, some of them a half a century ago, tell me that this may be too simplistic, too easy and a cheat to the readers of the book, especially as those are young readers.

So when I realized the history is new, I also realized my views of the institutions surrounding that history are very distinct . I can easily find confirmation of my viewpoint online, I know the blogs, the practicecomments sections, the places to go. But should I? What will that do to my story? My want, nay, my need, is to tell a story that is essentially unknown today by so many in the world, but one that the world needs to hear. And I want that story to be as close to what happened as possible. Not necessarily a truth, but what actually happened.  Why? Because it is a story of peace not victory, of reason not hate, of compassion not cruelty.

In writing this manuscript I feel I am in a fight with the most visceral of my emotions, going against what I have come to ‘believe’ as true, at times it is exhausting. Regardless, I must deal with preconceived and find my  way as I am writing.

Open the Gates

Flipping through the channels the other night I stopped at Charlie Rose on NPR. He was interviewing Jimmy Walker  professional golfer and the 2016 PGA champion. No, I’m not a golfer, not any good at it at all. I play golf like a tennis player, which I am. But I do like to listen to people talk about their success–how they got they, what they think it means, and what happens going forward.

The stats for Jimmy are interesting. 187 events without a single win. Wow! Then three wins in 2014 then first major title in 2016. He said he would win big. He said he believed. He said “once you know you can do something, then the gates open.”

I get that. For me the gates have been closed at submission. I should be clear, not by anyone else but me! Because Jimmy is right. He believed. I did not. Did I hear you ask why? No. So. I’m going to tell you anyway. I wrote. I submitted. And I got zip. I did not believe.

I rewrote. I paid for critiques. I went to writing programs. I paid attention. And I got zip. I did not believe.

Then I had this idea. Truly it came from my own lack of will power, my own ineptness and a drive to find a voice for a story I really wanted to tell. I wrote. I paid for critiques. I went to writing program. I paid attention and I got something. Acceptance? maybe. Publication? No.

But I think I got my faith back. I believe. I’m writing good stories. I’m getting feedback that say ‘believe. Once you know you can do something…the gates will open.”

 

 

Why Are We Posting….

….all these vignettes about good things happening between any ethnic, cultural, religious, racial identity group?

Yes, we are in a political season–actually we’ve been in this season for a long time, far too long. (If you are a candidate and propose an amendment that says the election process can be no longer than it takes to grow a baby, by god, I’m with you ).  So over this long primary season people use their FB page to score points in favor of the party/person/ideology they back. My own personal tally is that the ad hominem attacks come more from the progressives than they do the conservative. But then I tend to be friends with those who are more progressive, so that is what I see–go figure! These ad hominem attacks have the unfortunate effect of stifling conversation and creating a bullying environment. How sad.

I spend far too much time on Facebook. I use it as slosh time–a time wasters because I am not prepared or ready to do what I need to do. I ‘slosh’ about in other peoples highlights of their lives or their thinking. It is more interesting and far more mind numbing than solitaire. Sometimes the postings are just banal and other times illuminating in that it points up one of two things. Either the posting show how people want to be seen to the world outside. Or the postings illustrate how individuals think, what they believe, what they are willing to say or comment on for their belief system.

I’m not good at the 140 character thing. I don’t want to get trapped in another social media program, far too many are out there,  so I use Facebook.  And here’s what I wonder. Why are there all these posting about when good things happen, especially when it is between black and white, muslin or jew? Why? And I must add, I see this more profoundly on the pages of those who espouse a more liberal or progressive ideology. It’s almost like they are saying “See, we can love one another. See, this story right here proves it. It proves we are right.” And I think of Shakespeare and the ‘protesting too much’.

And I wonder if that is some deep guilt [silly me] because the progressive policies of the last sixty years are not working–see Baltimore, Chicago, Fergueson. At the beginning of this year black unemployment was at 8.3%. While white unemployment is 4.5%, Hispanic unemployment is 6.3% and Asian unemployment is 4%. Labor participation rate is the lowest its been in 40 years. Lowest is not a good number in this case.

Right now the argument on the conservative side is that relations between identity groups is the worse it has ever been. The narrative on the progressive side is it’s not as bad as you think if we could just control guns and the police. If there was just a little respect for those minority identity groups we would all be fine.

When I see a person post overly much that a conversation will solve all ills, that there is all this  ‘good news’ and ‘wonderful sparks of humanity’, I wonder if they understand what they are admitting? If things are so great, why? Why do you continually have to single out individual stories? And post these stories, over and over and over. Face it. If you have to keep reminding me, over and over again, that things are great, my bet is no, nope, they are not. So stop posting!