Friday, January 1, 2010

Hope in a New Decade

A new decade has begun along with this new year. I know it's all symbolic, but these kinds of human inventions, like calendars, are helpful to us as we make sense of our world. And so I reflect on the decade that has passed and where I find myself at the beginning of the new one.
It was a tough decade for me. Loss is the word that describes it best. Some of the loss was a result of me throwing away parts of my life that no longer served me well. Some of it was thrust upon me, no matter how much I did not want it or worked to keep it at bay. Loss arrived, did its thing, and left me reeling. So as this new decade begins, I find myself nurturing a small, flickering flame of hope against the strong wind of resignation. When I look back I marvel at the person I was in comparison to the person I am today. Then I was full of hope. What is today a small, flickering flame was a giant bonfire then. I was leaving the world of academia—a world in which I had spent the majority of my adult life. This was the right thing to do. Even during the times when I wondered whether I should have just settled for the life of mediocrity that staying would have provided, deep down I always knew that it never would have worked. The ivory tower is really a prison for most of the academics I came in contact with over my years in higher education. This is not true across the board, of course, but I think that for most academics, disillusionment is a constant companion. Academia is a world of limits, egos, and far too many people who spend endless hours arguing about smaller and smaller ideas. The more people stay in that world the more focused they become on very narrow topics. I would have died of boredom. I have honestly never seen a more bitter, angry, unhappy bunch of folks all congregated in one place. So I was right to escape when I did. But this did lead to a time of searching and I had to give up my ideas about what my life would be like when I made the decision to leave. There was my first loss of the decade.
It wasn't really traumatic at that point, though, because as I threw off the shackles of the narrow world I was leaving, I was filled with a sense of possibility and hope. But that's when things started to go wrong and the losses piled up. Looking back, I can see that what I was doing was going in search of various parts of myself that I had buried or discarded along the way. Being someone who gets very committed to doing things “right” I found myself taking an all-or-nothing approach. Because I was not comfortable with uncertainty and not having a plan, I was trying to pivot from the clear rules of a life in higher ed, stifling as they were, to some other thing. And so I ended up bouncing from one thing to another, but always trying to be productive. It took another trip back to the world of academia which ended in short order for me to really stop and figure out that this was not going to work. As I tried each new thing and each new thing did not work as I thought it would, I felt more agitated and distressed. And more desperate to find something—anything--that I could devote my life to. It took me almost until the end of the decade to do that.
Meanwhile, as I was careening around looking for a place to rest, the 4-legged-furry people that I had shared my life with began to die. As the decade ends, they are all gone and I am still not used to being animal-less after over 20 years of living with a various assortment of creatures. More loss.
There came a time when I even lost the will to continue living this life. I suppose it was fortunate that I was too exhausted to act on this wish and it only ever amounted to me praying each night to not wake up in the morning. Then when I did I had to spend some time resigning myself to dragging myself through another day. I am not sure where my flickering flame of hope was then, but I certainly felt it had been snuffed out. I had watched it grow dimmer and dimmer as the decade progressed and I don't think I really cared at that point whether it ever sparked up again. I could not see how on earth I would make it through the next hour, let alone the next day or week.
But I was fortunate to have good people in my life who tended my little flame of hope until it came back to life. It is not the bonfire it was when the decade began. But it is there. I see it when I consider the wonderful people I am lucky enough to count as friends. I see it when I look at my husband and feel grateful that we have this life together and that I get to spend every day with the single other person on this earth I love more than any other. I see it when I hear about people all over the world who are working to help the planet survive and thrive. But the winds of resignation are strong, too. I have less optimism now about the ability of people to move beyond their fear and into healthy lives. I see people living in complacency and not trying to make the changes that we need to make. I see them wallowing in ignorance and being proud of their anti-intellectual knee-jerk provincialism. Part of this, is, I am sure due to observing life in the amazingly dysfunctional community of Klamath Falls, where I spent half the decade. But it also exists in crazy town hall meetings where people shout things like, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” Um, hello, if the government keeps its hands off your Medicare, there's no Medicare, since it is a GOVERNMENT RUN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM! Watching people like this who are so lazy that they can't think things through for themselves, but have to rely on nutcases to provide them with bumper sticker slogans that don't even make sense, make me resigned to watching the world fall apart—or at least the United States. I have come to the conclusion that this may be for the best. On the other hand, my flame grows a little brighter when I hear stories like the one about the climate change denying Senator James Inhofe, who took a “truth squad” of two people to Copenhagen to explain the truth to people. He finally got a press conference going where he was spouting some crazy stuff about how global warming was really a vast conspiracy between the UN and Hollywood. Apparently, a German journalist from Der Spiegel looked at him and said, “That's stupid. You're an idiot.” Moments like that make me think that all is not lost. Some people will not be bamboozled. Many of them live elsewhere. I fervently hope that when the decade turns again—and even well before that, I will also live elsewhere. I would like to live in a place where journalists don't just report on every crazy idea from every crazy person as though it is valid. I would like to live in a place where those crazy people don't get elected to high office in the first place, though I suppose that is unrealistic. Every place has its eccentrics and fringers, there just seem to be more of them who are granted power in this country than in many others. I would like to live in a place where journalists and the general public would question the legitimacy of a march to preemptive war by an unelected leader who was trying to work out his problems with daddy and being pushed by his own circle of crazies. I would like to live in such a place. I hope I will.

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