A soundbite is a snippet of a media report or conversation or interview, as if an entire interview purporting coverage of animportant issue would be long enough to describe the complexity contained within it. If the reportage failed to include a scholar or scholars who’ve spent their entire careers on that subject a snippet could not possibly give anyone enough information to be informed. Life is complex, multiple faceted, often holding—at the same time—two or more truths that are seemingly opposed. Where is our ability to see through the ruse of the soundbite for what is behind it—an attempt to snatch your attention to then sell a product?
Did your formal education include media literacy? Mine didn’t. I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite and Father Knows Best, a simplistic, patriarchal world that left out all kinds of things like women’s history, genocide perpetrated by our forefathers, racism, imperialism, sexism, and classism just to touch the top of the neglected pile. We were trained with purposeful, guided focus and our world is in deep doodoo because of it. Our economies, our “prosperities”, were built and measured by the manufacture of goods that are now filling landfills, dumped in our oceans, dumped in unsuspecting countries, but the economic accounting always had the false finger of deceit on the scale because the extraction of natural and man-made materials and the eventual disposing of these goods was not included in the cost. Only the profits were measured. The bill has come due from this deceit, but really, hasn’t there always been an alarm bell ringing somewhere in your psyche?
The real question is: “What’s going on with us that we turned over our individual worlds to such a flimsy fantasy?” Were we lazy? Did we not care? Or did we succumb to feeling overwhelmed, feeling our stake in what happens couldn’t possibly be successful in “Turing This Around”?
The time for self deception and pretense is long gone. So too may be real solutions. Ditch the soundbites, dig deep, and do what you can.
I used to argue that it was a mistake to ask elders about their lives in times past. I was insistent that what was needed when talking to older people was a discussion about their lives in the present moment, what did they think, what was happening in their lives; what interested them., now and not in their past. Then Covid-19 came along and altered everyone’s life.
How many times have you heard stories from friends or stories happening within your families where those dear ones who had entered the path of dementia or Alzheimer’s rapidly lost ground as they were denied the ability for visits with loved ones or being able to see those whose relationships provide daily comfort? If they were in any kind of assisted living or nursing home the restrictions were magnified. What could a disconnected mind make of masks or loved ones on the other side of window glass? What did it mean to them that there were no longer hugs, those physical, human connections that carry so much acceptance, safety, warmth, and love?
Those of us living alone who were older made it through did so by deliveries and curbside, contactless pickup of groceries or needed household supplies. We made our connections via screens. We Zoomed our connectedness. More than a year later we may still be connected by this medium even though we are trying to understand new rules, new guidelines, hoping to remain safe and healthy. But all of our lives have changed.
Many of us tackled “projects”, some creative and some utilitarian. I dragged the storage containers of unmarked family photos up from the houses storage area. I am the last of this line of family and my memory has not held the names and relationships of all those in some of the unidentified pictures. At first it felt like a useful project but soon the memories of times past and loved ones long gone overtook the lonely spaces in my current life and there I was now left seeing the other side of my vehemence about the aging needing to be addressed in the present tense. There was but a shadow “present” left in my life and in that void the photo project brought sorrow and longing and deep regret as I learned the irony I’d unknowingly carried most of my life.
My cruel teenage self had long ago lofted a cutting remark to my mother: “What is family? Family doesn’t mean anything.” This cruel intended remark was hurled with only the destruction a teenager can summon. Now I look at the photos of my mother and her siblings, who lost their mother when she—the eldest—was thirteen and then lost their father four years later when she was seventeen. The siblings were separated as best the uncles and aunts could do, but the scars remained permanent. I have poured through the photo album my mother made the year her father died, the year she graduated from high school, the year she lost her family. What did she carry all those years? In my only child lack of understanding the gap between us grew until at last, at nearly seventy five, four years more than she lived I began to piece together hints of the magnitude of what she bore. I take back those cavalier comments about the importance of present-tense aging. The past has caught up with my being. Apparently we live until we finally learn what we came here to learn. It took the magnitude of a pandemic to even begin to see it.
Years ago when I returned to college to finally finish my undergraduate degree (sixteen plus years after I had dropped out) the first class I took was “The Philosophy of Creativity”. The age range in that class was from 72 to 19. Whatever topic was discussed there were those in the class who had new, fresh ideas of how to tackle it and there were voices of experience who had tried. What never left me was the power of that range of idealism to experience and how, when given an opportunity to be together, that range provided an expansiveness not possible in more narrowed situations. To solve anything both idealism and experience are inexplicably tied together.
There is enormous wisdom in the trope “Keep the Lesson but Throw Away the Experience”. It isn’t that our particular story of how we came to an understanding doesn’t count; it’s that at a certain point in life we all have stories and paths and what counts above everything else is the learning—the wisdom—that we come to on our individual journeys. How we came to that learning might be interesting but it is almost always a side issue.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between experience and opinion and how we can recognize in conversation which one is in operation. Many of us took to using Zoom during the pandemic, for comfort, for connection, for information. The standouts in this process were the moments when experience informed but did not limit. Out of respect or desire for contact or communications on many occasions we were able to open channels that might have remained closed and we stretched into unknown territories together. My suspicion is that Zoom became a successful medium for those longing for such expansion. The lockdown—those long hours and days of keeping our own company—allowed us to experience our own boundaries and some of us found them to be too confining. The way to move out of confined spaces is to listen and to learn from others, to expand beyond our own boundaries. This is where the line between opinion and experience gets critical: Experience carries gravitas. Opinion is often just hot air. We can feel the difference.
The stories of our lives are merely how we got to be where we currently are. If there’s time and space sufficient for the telling, then that might be helpful for understanding, but just maybe that story takes a back seat to what came out of what happened and that what you did with what you learned was more important than anything else, for you and all those lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen.
Darkness was falling before I remembered a storm is coming. It is not unusual for the tail end of a hurricane to hit the Northeast. Often it is a welcome relief to what had been a building summer drought. Out in front of the house there are flowers in pots with less than ideal drainage. There are flowers in pots that could easily be damaged by even moderate winds. There are multiple wind chimes hanging from the trees and the remaining bird feeder, the one for the finches whose fledglings are still feasting on the last of the seed, is still hanging from the porch. It is not unusual to need to move summer outdoor-living items to shelter for safety during an oncoming storm but as I began to move the pots I was struck by the realization it is July. July. And there is a former hurricane moving out to sea over New England. This usually happens in late August or September when the bedraggled plants are showing signs of the end of the growing season. The flowers in these current pots are just beginning their growth spurts after June’s transplanting. A drought was declared for most of the state in June. The temperatures in June moved like a yo-yo from 50’s to 90’s and back again and again even into the beginning of July.
Flower pots, wind chimes, bird feeders all were headed to the porch where they were joining two overly large houseplants which are still trying to adapt to being outside. Hopefully the wind will be moderate. The rainfall amounts are still not forecast as the track of where the storm will move out to sea isn’t quite clear. There could be 2” of rain or just enough to end this June-declared drought. Or we could flood.
Just a flash ago, Lytton, British Columbia set an all time record heat of 121 degrees. Elsa is a record setting July hurricane.* The animals and the plants, the fruits and the vegetables that we’ve known all of our lives cannot adapt to such rapidly changing climate conditions. We humans who are opposed to genetic modification, we humans who plant only heirloom varieties, will either have to move or accept that, even if science can work at warp speed to provide for the rapidly changing environment, home grown food is going to be a very real problem. Local agriculture everywhere is going to be a very real problem. Pray for the survival of bees. Be prepared to alter your lifestyles.
What was, is no longer.
What is, is unknown.
What will be, baffles us all.
There’s the tail end of a hurricane out there and it’s July.
Apologies for the first two posts fro July 9, 2021 that you may have received in your inbox.Once again I fought with the WordPress software and lost. This is a reposting in, hopefully, the right format.
Like so many of the vaccinated, fully sprung from the pandemic, folk I’ve added excursions to shopping places I felt were off limits for a long stretch. After more than a year I’m sure you’ve had a number of things wear out, break, or problems of storage or organization that longed for a solution. I’m reasonably sure you went online looking for answers in the form of products you usually purchased locally.
Take nail brushes, the kind that sit near your bathroom or kitchen sink that you use to get the dirt out from around your fingertips after repotting a plant. I searched for months for a plain, straightforward brush I’d used for years but this product seemed to have disappeared from the world. What was offered in place were silly designs that clearly were not going to do the job. As gardening season approached I chose the best thing I could find and ordered that. Yesterday, while on my first trip back to the very store I’d heard my first COVID coughing (in February 2020 and I got out of there quickly), going through the checkout line there were those basic nailbrushes I’d looked so hard online to find. No longer particularly needing them (the inferior ones I’d purchased online only came in multiples of four), I put them in my cart anyway, longing for that “fix” that had seemed such an impossible quest a few months ago.
Amazon.com, the gargantuan endless supplier of everything is, of course, not that at all. It is algorithms and pushed products paid to get in front of the line. Under lockdown it seemed like (and perhaps was) ￼a lifeline but it is not going to substitute for the hardware store down the street when you need a specific screw–not a package of 100 different varieties you’ll never use– or a lightbulb. But our precious local businesses did not all survive those months of lockdown. Now what?
On another shopping excursion I was in one of those places that seem to sell lots of “overstocks”– clothes, bedding, shoes, etc.– at discounted prices. My rotund, shrunken to 4’11” self swiveled my cart into a clothing isle just as an extremely tall, thin women turned into the same isle from the opposite direction. Giggling to myself, not daring to say out loud, were the words “one size fits all” bubbling up in my brain wanting to spill over into actual communication. I stayed silent but the juxtaposition of our physical selves searching the same clothing racks was absurdly, laugh out loud, funny.
This is the world where we have landed. For the convenience of making money and more money and even more money we marvelous, many layered, many colored, many sized, many cultures, many kinds of thoughts peoples, are seen by corporations as one thing: consumers! We are compressed by media, politics, religion, education and business into narrower and narrower confines with increasingly narrowing choices. At the same time the varieties of our beings are expanding everywhere: gender fluidity, multicultural and ethnically rich, our souls longing for expression and explorations of our true selves, our diversity joyously exuberant.
Can we be convinced that “one size fits all”? That’s a version of trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube.