It was formerly called ‘Ramona’s News From the Blogfront’ but it just didn’t fit and I needed something new. I thought and thought and thought about what I should call it and the list grew longer and longer. After I’d crossed off every poor candidate, the domain name I already owned hit me: Constant Commoner! Perfect!
But I’d already used it. Could I use it again? More pondering.
Well, why not? It’s not as if this blog is teeming with crowds of readers impatiently waiting for every new piece. It’s empty. Vacant. The truth, the painful truth is that nobody will even notice.
So I’ll be over there from now on. The truth is, WordPress made me do it. I just don’t get WordPress now and I don’t have the patience to fiddle with it, so I’m moving on. I hope you’ll join me there. I would love to have you visit, and if you like what I’m doing there, you can sign up to be added to my email list. But it’s not required, and the newsletter is free.
If you’re a writer I hope you’ll also visit my Substack sister site, Writer Everlasting. I’m building a community of writers looking for help and inspiration and the company of friends who get it. We’re going to talk. A lot. And I’m going to share what I’ve learned over a 40 year career.
So that’s where I’ll be. It’s a new neighborhood for me and I’m still moving in but the doors are open and the welcome mat is out. See you there!
I’ve been away for a while so some of you may have forgotten all about me. So sad, my bad. I mean it! Some of you may just have happened upon this blog and wondered why it’s so quiet here. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve kind of moved to a new neighborhood.
It’s no secret that WordPress and I don’t get along well. It’s not them, it’s me. Other writers don’t seem to have the same problems–mainly trying to navigate their editing system–so I’ll take all the blame. I can’t say I’ve given up completely. I love my blog here! I love the name, Constant Commoner, and I love that I’ve been here for a while and people are still finding me.
But now I’ve found Substack, and I’m giving it a try. (To be fair, I haven’t quite figured out their system, either, but I’m getting there, thanks to a great support system where real people actually get back to me quickly and help out with seemingly happy hearts, even encouraging me to come back if I need more help! I mean!)
It’s a newsletter with a blog format, so readers will be getting new posts via email whenever they happen, but right now it’s all free. Many writers I admire are moving to Substack, preferring the simplicity of writing for a select audience rather than having to worry about SEOs (whatever they are) or fighting the crowds to try to get a foot in among millions of others.
I’m a writer, not a carnival barker, and trying to sell myself isn’t the way I want to spend my writing days. So here’s my pitch:
Come along with me. Let’s see what happens. If you like what you’ve seen here or at Ramona’s Voices or at Medium, I hope you’ll like what comes next. I’ll be sharing some of my writing from the archives, plus adding new pieces to the sections you might be most interested in. So far the sections are ‘Politics’, ‘Strictly Writing’, and ‘Life’.
And, of course, thanks so much for supporting me here. Constant Commoner won’t disappear; it’ll be on hiatus until I figure out where I’m supposed to be.
Click here to see what I’m doing over at Substack. No pressure but I would love to see you there!
Finally! It’s 2021! We thought it would never get here! It’s going to change everything! Or, god forbid, nothing. But we’ll change. It’s the new year. We always change. Or promise to change. Or threaten to change. It’s a thing with us humans — throwing out last year’s calendar is a signal for us to rethink everything we did in the past 365 calendar days and regurgitate, in every way possible, the times we’ve failed to live up to the promises we might have made on that long ago magic day, January 1, 2020.
For most of us 2020 was a year like no other. Between the insanity caused by Donald Trump and his diabolical mob, and the added horror of a full-blown pandemic — made far, far, far worse by Donald Trump’s insane attempts to pretend a pandemic wasn’t ever going to happen under what he laughingly called ‘his watch’ — some of us were dumbfounded and gaslighted and bamboozled, until nationwide splits became rifts and then faults and then chasms and then fissures, and, to our horror, we could see the depths of fiery hell…
Oh my god. So Sorry. It’s been that kind of year.
But let me get past all of that and into why I’m really here today, on this second day of the year that isn’t 2020. I want to talk about resolutions. Fun stuff. The kind of thing we can all agree on. Mainly, that resolutions are meant to be broken.
At the risk of sounding bitter when this is supposed to be fun (I sincerely thought that mood had passed), anyone who brags that they’ve fulfilled all of their resolutions at the end of the year is a bald faced liar. So if you made your obligatory NYR (New Year’s Resolution) yesterday, let me be the first to burst your bubble: New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.
Just telling you, in case you woke up yesterday morning actually believing that all it takes to do something life-changing before this year is out is to sincerely resolve to get cracking on New Year’s Day.
Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on. I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions. It was a good luck gesture I really believed in. Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.
But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again. This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I would mean it.
Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:
Lose 20 pounds.
Make a lot of money with my writing.
Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.
Okay, lose 10 pounds.
Okay, make any money with my writing.
Okay, at least get out of the state.
Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again.
Well, okay, not never. By the next New Year’s Eve those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks. I promised! I resolved! I said them out loud! I didn’t do any of them! (Except to get out of the state. I did manage to do that. But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)
So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition. Ignore what you promised yesterday, even if you wrote it down and showed it to everyone you could snag and make look at it. The world won’t come to an end. The year will start, the days will go by, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.
I didn’t know that when I was young. I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did. I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions. I know better now. It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.
You too can be free. Just say no. No resolutions! (If you think you can’t do it, write me. I’ll talk you down. I’ve been there. I know.)
So Happy New Year! Health! Prosperity! Love! Joy!
But don’t come crying to me if you didn’t pay attention to a word I’ve said here and, by the end of 2021, all of your wishes don’t come true. I had about as much faith in you as I did in me. Which is to say, none.
(I’ll probably have to repeat this again next year. That’s how well I know you people.)
Yesterday someone tweeted, “What do atheists do this time of year?” So far it has six thousand comments, two thousand ‘likes’, and a few hundred retweets. Most of the comments were polite, considering the question, and many of them were funny, but the underlying theme seemed to be ‘Huh??’.
I saw a similar, unanswerable question online recently: “What do atheists believe in?”
When we atheists say we’re non-believers we don’t literally mean we don’t believe in anything. We just don’t believe in deities. (It’s sometimes just a way of saying we’re atheists without the baggage.)
“Atheist” is often written with a capital A, as if it’s an organization and not simply, as the dictionary says, “a disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”
It’s viewed, more often than not, as ‘anti-theist’, and it’s true that a number of avowed atheists have made their living off of denouncing and exposing what they might consider the underbelly of religion. (See Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.) But most atheists want nothing more than peace and tranquility. The same as everyone else. What do we believe in? We believe in everything under the sun. Except gods. We’re not against religion and we’re not for it. We’re neutral in the faith department.
It doesn’t matter to me what you believe unless what you believe infringes on me personally. (I’ve written about it here and here and here. And other places, too. I’ll stop when the infringing stops.)
But this isn’t yet another attempt at explaining or defending myself. This is simply a plea to you to get over thinking an atheist is automatically someone you should either fear or feel sorry for. We’re neither of those things. We’re simply people who don’t believe in gods, angels, devils, the afterlife, the stories of Noah’s ark or Moses parting the seas, or anything that comes out of the Book of Revelations.
To many of us the bible is quite a book, but in the end it’s just a book. But before you go all harsh on me, let me say I actually like parts of the bible. I love the beatitudes and the psalms and the Christmas stories of Matthew, Luke, and John. The Lord’s Prayer is lovely. The Ten Commandments are worthy guidelines. (Though leaning toward the obvious.)
I have a hard time with Adam and Eve being the first people God created, only because there’s that eternal question: They gave birth to two sons who later found wives. Found them where?
Leviticus and the surrounding books are downers, clearly written by mortal men with many axes to grind. As a woman, reading the Old Testament is more than a bit off-putting. I mean, if we’re not subservient servants we’re willing whores and should be publicly stoned for anything that smacks of independence. Our only goodness comes from doing what we’re told. It’s pure fantasy written by men for men.
But, again, if the bible is your reading choice, I’m okay with it. I’m all for literature. I’m all for reading. If you think it’s divine, I’ll take you at your word. I read other books for inspiration and feel just as inspired. I can look to nature for solace and reverie without once considering it God’s creation. When I nuzzle newborns I marvel at the miracle of birth. I revel in the beauty of a glorious sunset. I believe in science and logic and find a certain beauty in that, too. If you find God in those things who am I to doubt you?
When something bad happens I can’t see it as God’s will. You can. I can’t pray it away. You can. But here’s the thing: we’re both feeling what we’re feeling, and it’s wrenching. Nothing changes that.
Religion is the one thing that should never divide us, yet it does. There are at least 4200 separate religions in the world, with billions of followers. We atheists may well be the minority. We’re hardly a threat, yet you would prefer we didn’t hold office or have any authority beyond free speech. (There’s been only one admitted atheist in the United States Congress, it’s that rare. Most candidates make sure to rank their faith in God as the one attribute you can all count on.) We think it’s time you accepted us for who we are. We’re people who don’t believe in deities. Nothing more, nothing less.
I want us to be friends and I hope you want that, too. I get it that you wish I would look at things your way. You often tell me I won’t find my place in heaven if I don’t. But you need to understand that while our religious differences partially define us, our feelings about spirituality and a lived life are essentially the same.
Most of us, religious and non-religious (but not all of us on either side), are good people working to make the world a better place. We rejoice, we grieve, we grow angry, we mess up, we help (and we need help), we solve our problems, and we live together on one big planet. We need each other.
This is how it works. I’m happy for whatever works for you. I want you to likewise be happy for me. I live in the light of my own making, and, as it happens, so do you. This holiday season, after a year of such terrible devastation on all fronts, let’s find what unites us, not what divides us. It’s really about time.
And what you can learn from each of them, as different as they are.
There is a rhythm to good writing — a flow that draws you in as smoothly and deliciously as a glide down a meandering brook. It moves along, pulling you from place to place, enticing you to go further, to explore, to feel, to breathe.
Every writer’s goal is to write as well as the writers who inspired her to write. Their writing seems effortless, as if they’re dreaming as they write, completely unaware that someone else is in the room. They write to satisfy themselves, and because they’re easily satisfied and not the least bit self-conscious, everything that comes out of them is pure and fully formed.
Or so we like to think.
I know and you know it never happens that way.
Barbara Kingsolver’s opening paragraph in her essay, “The Memory Place” might appear to the casual reader as if it came out of her just like that, full blown, each beautiful word lined up just right, leading to that perfect sentence at the end, but a writer who has struggled enough times would know it takes real effort to create this kind of seeming ease:
This is the kind of April morning no other month can touch: a world tinted in watercolor pastels of redbud, dogtooth violet, and gentle rain. The trees are beginning to shrug off winter; the dark, leggy maple woods are shot through with gleaming constellations of white dogwood blossoms. The road winds through deep forest near Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, carrying us across the Cumberland Plateau toward Horse Lick Creek. Camille is quiet beside me in the front seat, until at last she sighs and says, with a child’s poetic logic, “This reminds me of the place I always like to think about”.
You don’t have to know, at this point, where they are or who they are or even any detail of the trip. Not how it started, not why they’re there. You only have to be drawn in. The story starts here. If you know Kingsolver’s work, you know she’s a poet, a novelist, an essayist, and a trained biologist. She makes her home in Tucson, Arizona, but moves back and forth between the desert and Appalachia, where she was born and where her heart is.
This particular essay, from “High Tide in Tucson”, her collection of lyrical essays on the ordinary and the sublime, describes a meet-up with a Nature Conservancy guide who is inspecting the property the group has acquired around and along Horse Lick Creek, a fragile, dying-off area the conservancy hopes to bring back to life. These are Kingsolver’s old stomping grounds and she makes the most of it as she introduces her daughter, Camille, to the magic she has known since her own childhood in these woods.
It’s the kind of essay you might think you wouldn’t want to read, until, before you know it, you’re midway into it. You can see that nothing big is likely to happen but the writer has taken you on her journey and you’re hooked now; no matter where it leads, you’re with her to the end.
It’s the writing that does it.
At the beginning of “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, Maya Angelou writes about an Easter Sunday at her church, when she was a child in a purple taffeta hand-me-down dress that was supposed to make her ‘look like a movie star’ but was too big, too awkwardly fitted, and ends up being yet another reason for shame.
As if the dress itself wasn’t enough, more shame follows in a passage that literally takes my breath away:
“What you looking…” The minister’s wife leaned toward me, her long, yellow face full of sorry. She whispered, “I just come to tell you it’s Easter Day”. I repeated, jamming the words together, “Ijustcometotellyouit’sEasterDay,” as low as possible. The giggles hung in the air like melting clouds that were waiting to rain on me. I held up two fingers, close to my chest, which meant that I had to go to the toilet, and tiptoed toward the rear of the church. Dimly, somewhere over my head, I heard ladies saying, “Lord bless the child,” and “Praise God.” My head was up and my eyes were open, but I didn’t see anything. Halfway down the aisle, the church exploded with “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and I tripped over a foot stuck out from the children’s pew. I stumbled and started to say something, or maybe to scream, but a green persimmon, or it could have been a lemon, caught me between the legs and squeezed. I tasted the sour on my tongue and felt it in the back of my mouth. Then, before I reached the door, the sting was burning down my legs and into my Sunday socks. I tried to squeeze it back, to keep it from speeding, but when I reached the church porch I knew I’d have to let it go, or it would probably run right back up to my head and my head would burst like a dropped watermelon, and all the brains and spit and tongue and eyes would run all over the place. I ran down into the yard and let it go. I ran, peeing and crying, not toward the toilet out back but toward our house. I knew I would get a whipping for it, to be sure, and the nasty children would have something new to tease me about. I laughed, anyway, partially for the sweet release; still, the greater joy came not only from being liberated from that silly church, but from the knowledge that I wouldn’t die from a busted head.
Angelou, ever the poet, knows how to use rhythm and flow to its finest advantage, even when the story is harsh and sometimes comical. I read that passage holding my chest, immersed in that little girl’s shame and sorrow, pitying her attempt to make light of it, wanting to throw my arms around her and give her comfort. For that moment I was there.
When Abraham Lincoln came to consecrate the Gettysburg cemetery on November 19, 1863, the Civil War was still raging on. He knew as president he had to console a nation, but he also knew he couldn’t hold a candle to Edward Everett, the renowned American orator who was scheduled to give the first speech. Everett’s speech lasted for two hours; Lincoln’s 270 words came in at just under three minutes.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The Gettysburg Address endures, not because it so clearly expresses Lincoln’s obligation and his sorrow — it does — but because it has a rhythm, a cadence, a pull. It reads like poetry. It still has the capacity to stir our hearts, starting with “Fourscore and seven years ago…”. Did Lincoln know the impact it would make? I doubt it. His heart was breaking and he let his anguish flow. Nobody remembers what Edward Everett had to say, but Lincoln’s big heart lets us in. His words (the number of them just right, it turns out), make us feel.
As writers, our goal is to make our readers want to keep on reading. Almost any subject can become that thing they can’t put down, but it takes real work to make it appear seamless. You have to feel it before you can write it. As you’re writing, you have to let go. At some point the mechanics have to take a back seat and the art has to happen.
In the three examples above, there isn’t a single passive sentence, not a single word that throws us off or stops us dead. No wandering off, no fuzzy equivocation, no stopping to explain. Nothing that would remove us from the onward, inevitable movement of the stories. The rhythm builds, the words flow, and we’re swept along, willing participants.
I don’t have to tell you we’re in the midst of a near-total shut-down, trying to save as many citizens as possible during an already deadly pandemic. People who aren’t sick yet are hurting, too, trying to maintain their lives, trying to stay safe. Workers are out of jobs and struggling to stay afloat. Businesses are suffering, many of them already in their death throes. They may not survive this. Our unemployment rates are pointing toward astronomical. This recession may turn into a full-blown depression. And the worst part: People are suffering and dying in numbers that grow exponentially, without signs of slowing. We’re all terrified, and I’m not making it better by reminding you of just how much.
But here’s the thing: We have a chance now to show the country who we are in a crisis. It’s our make-or-break moment and it’s up to each of us to rise to the challenge. We’ve done it before. This is all sounding familiar.
I lived through rationing during World War II. I know — I was only a kid — but I remember things. I was in charge of collecting and cleaning bottles and tin cans. I peeled off labels, washed them, cut off the can bottoms, stuffed them inside the cans and stomped them flat. (That was the best part.) I bundled newspapers and cardboard and listened to my parents complain when there wasn’t enough coffee. (They were allowed one pound once a month for each of them. I didn’t count as a person yet.)
We kids brought our dimes to school and bought War Stamps and pasted them into books. My parents bought Victory bonds when they could.
The idea of rationing was to make sure everyone had just enough, but not too much. The problem with rationing — just as now — was that they never figured how to stop greed. We were warned against black marketeers almost as often as we were against ‘loose lips sinking ships’.
We saved grease and took it to the butcher because it could be used for explosives. In some parts they collected garbage to feed hogs. People grew Victory Gardens and shared what they grew.
We stopped traveling when gas was rationed, and rubber tires were as valuable as gold. Our giddy idea of wealth was a spare tire and a patching kit.
When Nylon became a commodity used for parachutes, women took to wearing leg makeup and drawing fake seam lines down the backs of their legs. (Because working women were required to wear skirts and ‘hose’ at all times.)
There were posters on walls and in magazines reminding us that our days of being wasteful were behind us. We had to be good citizens or Hitler and Tojo would win. And we didn’t want that, did we?
Yes, much of it was propaganda meant to scare us, but it did the job: We were scared. It was our government at work, doing everything they could to keep the armies of the world safe and efficient against our common enemies, and, as good citizens, we were required to help.
Notice a pattern in these posters? It was all about shaming. It was all about being proud to be an American. You want to be a good citizen? Then do what you can to keep our boys alive. Let’s win this thing!
And we did. There is no question that too many Americans died in that war, but we did what we had to do to keep even more Americans from dying. And we felt good about it. That was key. We weren’t sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen, we were a force. We had it in us to make simple sacrifices that ultimately made the difference.
So here we are again. We’re being asked to take stock and see what we can do to help. If it takes shaming, I’m all for it. If it takes constant reminders about what you can do for your country, remind me. Constantly.
But what if we could do this by just thinking about it and doing the right thing?
What if we didn’t hoard?
What if we didn’t gather in crowds?
What if we learned new ways of doing things?
What if we conserved food so others could eat, too?
What if we came together in hundreds of thousands of communities and looked out for each other?
And what if, when this is over, we kept it up?
Every life lost is a tragedy. Everyone is in danger. If we can do even a little to help the cause, we must do it. If we can do more, we must do more. We’re citizens of the world and the world is hurting. It really is up to us now.
Hello. Sorry to bother you. I have to complain to someone and this is the only page still working properly around here. I’m here to bitch, so fair warning.
I had this hare-brained idea to start an author’s page on WordPress, where I could corral all of my writing into one space–where it couldn’t go wandering off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. I decided to call it “Ramona Grigg”, since that’s my name and I apparently have no imagination. I figured I could move my 10-year-old Blogger blog, Ramona’s Voices, over to WP and we’d be one big happy family. All together.
You’ll notice I didn’t link to Ramona’s Voices? That’s because I’ve done something that has rendered it invisible. Or Blogger is mad at me for leaving without notice and they’re hiding it. Something happened and it doesn’t redirect to anywhere now. It’s in limbo. So if you go there it’s a dead end. I hate that!
I’ve been chatting with the really nice folks at WordPress but every time they tell me to do something that seems reasonable, I’ve already done it and it hasn’t worked. I’m waiting right now in what I assume is a chat queue, but maybe not. They keep telling me they’ll be there for me but son of a gun they’re not there.
What do I expect you to do about it? Nothing. Just listen. Or pretend to listen. I’ll just keep writing here to keep from panicking, if you don’t mind.
It’s not as if the world will end, or anyone else will care, and it’s not as if some of my posts haven’t been cross-posted in other places where I can maybe grab some of them back, but I would love to see my decade-old blog come through intact.
So that’s all for now. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for listening. I needed this.
And I’m betting you’ve already decided not to read this.
There’s a story going viral about an old woman who took down a cashier because the cashier told her using plastic bags was a no-no in this new environmentally-aware society. The old woman spent 10 minutes holding up the line, first annoying, then enchanting the crowd as she talked about recyclable glass bottles, paper bags, cloth diapers, push mowers, vehicles that didn’t guzzle gas, gadgets that didn’t need walls full of plugs, accessories that didn’t need satellites to make them operable — stuff like that.
The story may or may not be apocryphal, but it’s everywhere. In some versions the old woman is described as “elderly”, as if to make sure we understand just how how awesome this story is. She had lived in an era that no longer exists, that most don’t remember, and, man, wasn’t she wonderful? Who knew? Yay!
I’ve always hated that word “elderly” and now that it appears to apply to me I hate it even more. It’s a sniffy, insulting descriptor having nothing to do with the honorific, “elder”.
If you call me elderly it tells me you’ve put me in a box that separates me, that diminishes me, that labels me as a freakish anachronism only good for studying — as if, at 82 years old, I’m an anthropological wonder, a fragile specimen threatening to go extinct at any moment.
If you tie a glossy ribbon around me, if you talk to me softly (or loudly, in case you think I’m deaf), if you treat me as if I have a “Handle With Care” sticker on me, you don’t honor me, you insult me.
My age and the condition of my body does not define me, any more than those things define you, but I’m not Tina Turner or Jane Fonda (Both my peers and looking great.) My gait, my stoop, my skin, my eyes, my hair, my voice — I can’t fool you. You’ll know instantly and you’ll change how you react to me. It’s inevitable.
But if I play my cards right you’ll forget all that and pay attention to the person inside. If I can get you to shut your eyes and ignore the quaver in my voice we’ll be right there on the same plane. Not peers — that can’t happen — but equals.
And, as equals, we’ll be far more comfortable. I’ve been a kid, a grown-up, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a traveler, a supermarket cashier, a long distance operator, a real estate agent, a receptionist, a secretary, a paraprofessional, a professional writer, a conference speaker, a creative writing instructor, a grant recipient, and, currently, a blogger who sometimes pretends her keyboard is as mighty as Excalibur. (Opinions, you may have noticed,are my thing.)
I have a Linkedin page, two Facebook pages, and a Twitter page with 3700 followers. (Chicken feed for some, but “Trending on Twitter” is on my bucket list.)
There are some things I won’t do now. I won’t get to Europe or Asia or anywhere outside of North America. I won’t get a college degree. I won’t watch my great-grandchildren grow up. I won’t become an actress. I won’t sing with Tony Bennett. I won’t be that writer whose quotes can be Googled.
And you’ll be happy to know I won’t be running for public office.
Elizabeth Warren is 70 years old. Donald Trump is 73 years old. Joe Biden is 76 years old. Bernie Sanders is 78 years old. One of them is president and the others are working to take that job away from him. No matter what you think of any of them, their age should be way down on that list of qualifications. There are plenty of young people with far lower energy levels. Three out of four of them have brains that still work well.
Three out of four of them know exactly how much energy and stamina it takes to campaign for and then do the job. They’re prepared for long days and sleepless nights and schedules that many young people couldn’t endure. If they’re not worried about their age, why should you be?
You might not want to admit it, but you’ve made this an ageist society. You give arbitrary cut-off dates for jobs old people might still qualify for, if only you could look past our appearance, or even our infirmities, and recognize our worth as still useful, still viable human beings. (See Jimmy Carter.)
If only you didn’t feel you have the right to decide for us.
How old is too old? Let us figure that out. Not all of us are so impaired we can no longer think for ourselves. If we are, then you get to interfere.
Not all of us need help getting through the day. If we do, we’ll let you know.
But a lot of us — millions of us — are okay with who we are, just as we are. Old. And if you don’t judge us for our age, we won’t judge you for yours.
Because — let me remind you— we’ve already been where you are now. (Insert smiling emoji so you’ll see I mean this as a sweet put-down and not a total insult.)
From the time I discovered that letters of the alphabet are there to make words, I’ve loved the words they make. As my reading matured I grew to love how those simple words could be molded into marvelous sentences. Sentences made stories and it was stories I lusted after.
Good stories. Stories that made my eyes grow wide, that made me shudder with excitement, that made me laugh. Stories that gave me peace and filled my heart with happiness.
It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that stories didn’t magically appear just at that moment when I needed to read them. They appeared because a mortal writer took the time to select just the right words and put them together in such a way they caused a decided reaction from an unknown reader in a far-off place
I read everything when I was young, everything I could get my hands on. I checked out library books that were far beyond my comprehension, but held something that drew me to them. The cover, the feel, the smell? More likely it was that first sentence. Or the second. Or the third. I didn’t need to understand the whole of the book. What I was after were those words put together in such a way they read like songs, and I would read them as if I were singing. I didn’t need to understand the premise or the idea, I only needed to feel something.
It wasn’t until I began writing myself that I realized how much work it took to produce a sentence that might even come close to doing that thing. There are mechanics involved. Those words don’t just fly off my fingertips, wrought whole and in just the right order. No matter how much I wish it, that’s not how it works. I learned I had much to learn.
Because I was a voracious reader I thought writing would be easy. I thought it was osmosis when, in fact, it was closer to manual labor.
When I realized how hard it was going to be, I almost gave up. I could think those perfect words but writing them down was an effort so clumsy it was embarrassing. Even when no one was around to read them, it was embarrassing. How could I not know how to write?
I’m learning, even now, after all these years, that in order for writing to become art it first has to become a skill. There is a learning process, the same as there is for artists and musicians and dancers and actors — for anyone involved in creative work.
Nobody writes or paints or performs straight out of the box without lessons of some kind. If those things were easy we wouldn’t venerate the people who do it well. We appreciate and honor them because we know how hard it is. But because, from an early age, we’ve all learned the mechanics of writing, and because writing requires so few tools, it’s easy to believe writing is as natural as breathing.
It is, in some sense. Anyone can write. Some will become writers. But not all will rise to a level where their writing is treasured and shared and read to the point of dog-earing. They’re the gifted ones — the rewriters.
They’re the writers who have such respect for the written word they wouldn’t dream of sending their efforts out into the world without strengthening and polishing and checking again and again for flaws. Every successful writer we look to for advice talks about rewriting. Almost none of them see it as a chore. It’s an important part of the process.
Knowing we’ll be rewriting gives us permission to just get it down. We’re free to experiment, to play with words, to juggle and move and rip out and put back in. It’s the part that becomes art.
Perfection is an illusion, but striving for it isn’t. Rewriting is striving to be best, but if it does no more than make us better, it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes it’s the journey, the unexpected side-trips, that gets us to those places we’ve been wanting to go.
Aurora Borealis, the Milky Way, and my own North Star.
I love this map of the lights from space, but I have to look really hard to make out the outline of my particular neighborhood. That’s because it’s dark up here.
Look just above Michigan’s mitten. See that white dot? That’s Sault Ste. Marie. It’s 60 road-miles to the northwest of us. See that dark area just to the southeast of it, right above Lake Huron? We’re in there somewhere.
I live on an island off of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, above the 45th Parallel. We’re not exactly in the wilderness, but just far enough off the beaten path where city folk think we’re kind of quaint for wanting to live way out here where there’s a whole lot of nothing.
We live here precisely because it’s peaceful and quiet, and, while I like more daylight than darkness (when the days grow short, with more dark hours than daylight, we’re outta here), I would gladly pay good money for every cloudless night, when the moon is a silver sliver. On those nights it’s pitch dark. On those nights magic happens.
If you pull into my driveway after dark a motion sensor will find you and light your path. When you step out of the car and head toward the house, another motion sensor will turn on a spotlight leading you to the next spotlight. And the next. If I know you’re coming, I’ll leave the light on for you. But when there’s nothing moving, it’s black as night out there. It’s the way it should be in the deep woods.
Deer and coyote and even rabbits will turn on the motion detectors, but, oddly, when the lights go on, they’re not startled. They go on feeding at the compost heap as if nothing had happened. They don’t even look up. I want vision like that. I want to see what they see when the sun goes down and the woods go black on black.
I wonder if, on those nights, they ever think to look up at the sky?
On those quiet, clear, often cold nights, I bundle up and sit at the edge of the shore, where, when I face north, two tiny lights, barely visible, let me know there is another inhabited island out there, far across the bay.
To the Northwest the sky is lighter at the horizon. The glow comes from the the lights of The Twin Soos (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, separated by the Soo Locks). There are no other towns in my vision large enough to light up the sky.
The summer people are gone and most of the cottages and cabins are closed and shuttered. There are a few dim lights along the shore, but the only other gleam I see is above me. The sky is filled with tiny glistening pin pricks. Every dot in that magical sky is light years away. I couldn’t get to any of them with the years I have left, but on these nights they seem so close I want to reach out and touch them.
On rare occasions, if I’m still awake in the early morning hours, I might see Northern Lights. But we’ve lived here for more than two decades and I can count on two hands the number of times we’ve seen them. Our TV station alerts us to possible sightings but cloud cover likes to play tricks on us. Sometimes I see a bright green glow on the horizon and I know they’re out there, under those damned clouds.
On the clearest of nights, I see the meandering path of the Milky Way. I see the Big and Little Dipper, and Polaris. The North Star.
The North Star is the anchor, the guiding light. Because it’s always where it should be, for millennia those at sea have used it to find their way.
I thought of all of this when Rep. Elijah Cummings died last week, leaving so many of us bereft and feeling adrift. It came to me when Nancy Pelosi said of him,
In the House, Elijah was our North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity, who pushed the Congress and country always to rise to a higher purpose, reminding us why we are here. As he said whenever he saw that we were not living up to our Founders’ vision for America and meeting the needs of our children for the future: “We are better than this.”
I live far away from the lights of Washington D.C but it doesn’t mean I’m far removed. I can live in relative darkness and still see the light. I live in a country where the citizens are still ultimately in charge and I fight every day to keep it that way.
I look up at the sky and I’m humbled by the enormity of the universe. I’m grateful that I’m alive, still a part of it, still aware of it, still in awe of it, and I know this is a fight worth fighting. I know this is a life worth living. And I’m thankful for yet another day.