May 30, 2018
Watching the news anymore is an onerous task, and one that causes me considerable inner conflict. On the one hand, I believe in being informed. To the best of my ability, I believe that I should be aware of what’s going on in my world, so that I can contribute what I can, when I can. On the other hand, it’s darned depressing. Did I say depressing? Add on disheartening and dispiriting. Yes, an onerous task indeed.
One of the greatest bits of research anyone who’s a writer can carry out, is to study real people; their mannerisms, how they think, how they react. That research extends to trying to puzzle out why people think and react the way they do. I look for patterns, and I try to find the clues of motivation that are sometimes quite clear, and at other times deeply hidden.
I was raised in a household where the newspaper was read daily, and the television news watched that often as well. My mother was a nurse. She only ever had to work eight-hour shifts in her career, and not the twelve-hour shifts many nurses do today. In addition, when I was about eleven, she received a promotion to assistant head nurse for her ward. That meant she no longer had to work afternoons or nights. In her last working years, which ended when she was in her mid fifties, she confessed it was an effort when she worked her seven-day stretches, twice a month. Her schedule was staggered, with 7 days on, three off, three on, one off.
Mom gardened in her spare time, and she also read mystery novels, watched television and kept up on the news. She was very well informed and had very definite opinions about people and events and why people behaved as they did. She was a single parent, not by choice, but as the result of her husband’s—my father’s—early, unexpected death. She was not a feminist, and yet how she lived her life inspired a core of feminism within me.
I watched her do it all—cook, clean, fix the toaster, get down on her hands and knees to plane the pine plank floors in the upstairs of our house to level them out, build valances for our living room windows—and go to work at a full-time job to support us all.
And yet, in the days leading up to my wedding, she told me words I have never forgotten—and mostly, never heeded, at least not in the spirit in which she intended when she said them. I must have been giving her a hard time in the moment, being a brat, because she told me that while I was still under her roof, I would obey her; and when I got married, I would obey my husband.
If you have ever wondered what carries more weight, the example you set by your words or the one you set by your actions, wonder no more. My father died when I was only 8. Despite those words of my mother’s, I do not recall ever seeing the woman behave in a subservient or submissive fashion at all. What I did see with my own eyes was that even a woman who believed the man was the head of the household could be the head of the household if necessary. In my children’s eyes, I always deferred to their father. But between us, my beloved and I have been an equal partnership. Yes, I do confess that was a relationship dynamic I insisted upon. At the time, it was the only possible choice for me.
Remember, I was a child of the sixties and the women’s movement.
Being raised in the days before the twenty-four-hour news cycle, I remember what it was like to be “informed” according to that day’s standards. But how informed were we, really? We knew what the powers-that-be wanted us to know at the time; things happened around the world’s seats of power that even reporters kept to themselves. It wasn’t until much after the fact we learned, for example, the extent to which some in power were philanderers, and some played fast and loose with the truth when it came to the Vietnam war.
I might occasionally lament the loss of “simpler” times, but that’s the inner whiner within me, the self within wishing for a reality that, when you think about it, never truly was. In all likelihood, we came a lot closer to Armageddon in the 1960s and 70s and 80s…than we could ever have known. The more complete truth is that we’ve never really existed in a painting by Monet, or a poem by Sassoon.
Those were merely our secret refuges, where we’d escape from the real world, where we would rest and recoup, and seek the path to the kinder, gentler times of our imaginations. As far as I can tell, that’s still about the only way we can catch a break from the harsh realities of the day.