Friday, November 28, 2008

Rugged Individualism

I read a very interesting review of the work of the novelist Wallace Stegner, who taught at Stanford, and was raised in the western states. I have been meaning to read the book "The Big Rock Candy Mountain", but haven't gotten to it yet. However, the main idea in the review was that Stegner was confronting the myth of the American western expansion, and the core values of the "goin' to strike it rich" stories so many people came with or grew up with. The book has constant failures and frictions between the thinly disguised parents, and the need to "move on" as the family never makes it to "the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings".
And that started me thinking about the problems inherent in the whole project of moving west, where we leave behind all that would encumber us-- especially the aged, infirm, children, and sometimes even wives or sweethearts. The single male going out to seek his fortune, from 15-35 years old, fits every cultural archetype since Odysseus-- but in the American west of a century ago, there was the extra mobility of having that frontier move ever further away from home, and ever-so-magically draw the restless youth forward, so that they didn't even really notice that they were leaving the rest of the family behind. Perhaps in some cases, it was explicitly recognized, and chosen partly because of frictions and dysfunctionalities which in our time have continued to "rub" the people who have to stay home and take care of the children and the old people. Alcoholism, cruelty, arbitrary use of power within a family, and subconscious dependence on the women to do the work at home figure prominently in the picture. The few women who actually got to live out the paradigm of the hero(ine) were lucky to have sisters or maiden aunts to do some of that boring maintenance work and caretaking needed at home.
Now, especially in the post-election slow melting of the euphoria after Obama's successful rise to the presidency, we will start fractionating and fissuring over what ideas will most help different parts of the electorate, all of whom feel that they did the main work of helping to get him elected. For many women, especially those of us steeped in the social justice movement of the 60s-80s, the main emphasis we want to see from government is to help with infrastructure to serve children and the elderly; so we can stay in the workplace, where our own health care benefits and retirement are tied down.
Every day I get emails from the green energy movement, the peace movement, the social justice movement, and various other groups within each of the main three. They are all trying to focus their subscribers, and ask Obama, or the new cabinet, for specific legislative and administrative answers to problems.
So far, the thing that seems best to me is from the Quakers-- (The Friends Committee on National Legislation) to ask the government to actually COUNT the military budget as part of the overall federal budget, and to lower it by 25%, so that the other needs of the country can be attended to, with that money.
Housing, Education and Welfare are going to need immense support, as the reverberations of the financial meltdown happen. People are not only going to be losing their homes, they won't be able to heat them, or afford enough food. The minimum wage hasn't gone up in years, and many poor people are barely making it from pay check to pay check. Single mothers and children are going to be very hard-hit in the downturn-- and moms will not be able to afford babysitters so they can go to work. The elderly who have depended more and more on Medicare are going to be finding it hard to get medical providers, because Medicare payments to physicians are so low that many docs are on the edge of closing their offices. It is possible that physician assistants and nurse associates will do a lion's share of the work, but as the baby boomers age, we will need more and more sophisticated help to be able to stay at home as frail healthy elders. Most of the state budgets are trying to decrease the in-home ancillary services for the elderly, in order to fix the budget shortfalls at the state level. And we also are going to have to find ways to get cheaper prices on medications, as the prediction is that most people over 65 will need an average of 8 pills per day for various chronic conditions.
Even if daughters and nieces and granddaughters stop going to school and to work, it will be hard to care for the elders at home. And most families cannot function without two incomes, to maintain a home and stability, which will get harder as the downturn deepens.
So it seems quite important to me to look at the myth of rugged individualism, and how it gave so many people the belief that the only person they needed to take care of is themselves.
And in order to become more realistic, we need to address this myth, and the truth, which is that all the people in society are interconnected in many ways, and we need to be respectful and helpful in small and large ways for our society to be not only resilient but healthy. When it becomes easy to bring it to consciousness, I believe many of the social ills which need to be addressed by the whole society will finally get attention. Until we have seen the way this myth has conditioned American individualism and "free enterprise" we won't be able to do the fundamental problem-solving we need to do.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Workaholic:

It means you can't feel the living God dancing on your back; you just keep your nose to the grindstone. In my case, I am not working just to work, or for the money, although I don't want to have the business fall into bankruptcy, and I do need the money. I feel like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to keep the whole North Sea from flooding the Lowlands.
Women weeping, women suffering, women needing to make sense of their lives, their bodies: the way we ovulate, and bleed and have hot flashes and cramps, and breasts which get swollen, and how all these feelings and events and symptoms wax and wane by the moon. We become sure that if a doctor is smart, or even just wise, or sympathetic, we could do the right test and get the right answer, to make sense of it all; and to find our place, or at least be at peace with the yin-yang way things are going.
So, at the end of the day, having tried to deal with all the physical and metaphysical questions, and trying to reassure the anxious, and give pain medicine to the women in pain, and treatments where they are helpful, I am simply numb and exhausted with the flotsam and jetsam tumbling in my brain, along with some lines of prayer, and an occasional paradoxical koan (one hand clapping, one day without clocks, trees falling in the theoretical forest); and every once in awhile, an awareness of my own difficult balance on this tightrope which might look mundane or boring from some angles, but is endlessly fascinating to me; how it pulls together all the parts of the ways I know how to think, and instinct and feelings, and even what I have read and surmised; and tomorrow I will do it again… and also try to notice that the living God is dancing on my back…

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees
(a review)

The movie was as good as the book. The tension between the terrible bursts of violence, and the long peace at the Boatwrights’ home is balanced, and the edge never is lost. The wailing wall, and May, are beautifully portrayed. I carried the pain and raw knees from kneeling on grits on the hard floor for a long time, and the scars on Rosalie.
I loved August Boatwright. Her “dark honey” strength, her persona, her ability to stand against the violence in a way that made it ebb instead of increase. Her ability to talk to the angry T Ray, and make him see that leaving his daughter there was a better thing to do. I loved the scene where she is lifting the panniers of honey covered with bees from the frame, and not losing her serenity and rhythm; the easy flow of the work, and the peaceful day in a magical place. I want to be like her when I grow up! And I want her strength to multiply, ‘til all the T Rays stop torturing the people they are hurting. ‘Til we get ALL the thorns from the paws of all the bullies.
The name “Boatwright” made me see the dark Madonna in a new light—from someone who probably carved her, maybe their dad or grandfather. She wasn’t as victorious as I had imagined her—maybe the carver had not seen a fully heroic black warrior woman, the equivalent of the “winged victory” statues in Europe. Something from Rodin, or Henry Moore. She was smaller, and older, and her chest was bony. But she was very powerful, as the story evolved, and as their hands drew near to her heart for that touch of empowering strength. She wasn’t as sexy, and maybe that was an added strength.
I loved the portrayal of the romance between June and her boyfriend, and how she becomes finally capable of the courage to have the relationship evolve into a marriage. I loved the sentence August says to Lily, trying to make her understand about the flaws in her mother-- about her wanting love that is "pure", and these sorts of situations don’t allow that unmixed emotional feeling. That there are a lot of complications sometimes, which color the emotional tone. However she put it, it was believable; that the mother had loved the child, but that her mistakes had made the whole thing tragic. And even that the love her mother had had for T Ray had started out right.
I loved Rosalie, and how she was believable too; when she stood up to the men who were bullying her, as she was planning to vote. Acting like she was ignorant and illiterate. How hard it must be to be in a town where people think they know you, and they actually don't know anything right about you. And they won't even try to understand or give you the benefit of the doubt.
Today I got an email from a friend in New Mexico that said:

"Rosa sat
So that Martin could march
Martin marched
So that Barack could run
Barack is running
So that our children can fly."

It is a truly historic day. I pray that God will bless America, and help us sit up straight, and fly right, and be the beacon on the hill we should be. I was reading a story by Flannery O'Connor, called "The Enduring Chill". It is about a young man who feels he is dying. There is a mysterious relationship with the Holy Ghost, which fills the interstices at the end of the story. May that be true for our country. Even if we don't deserve it, may we live up to the promise and hope our constitution and history have inspired in the whole world. May we be capable of inspiring hope and faith and even love, as we defend the right of people to pursue happiness.