This is really big for me. My father (deceased) left behind a short memoir of his experience during the invasion of Germans into Lithuania, written in English. I published it, thinking, somebody might want to read that. It was published in 2017. Now, 2021, a translation into Lithuanian is published. Now he is an author in his home country, "his people" from whom he was ripped most of his life.
“I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.” In Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to high school students, November 5, 2006, at the age of 84.
Don’t tell young people, but aging sucks. The body you had, that could stay up all night, drink and eat to excess and recover overnight, propel you to unbelievable feats of endurance, lose a few pounds in a week. That body will turn into an iguana.
I remember my young body. It could run along mountain ridges in the Alps for an hour or two. Hike up and down nine miles and 7,000 feet of elevation on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Walk ten miles a day for ten days through the Lake District in the U.K. The day after some of these peak bursts of physicality was normal: get up, eat, enjoy the day. No big deal.
Now, driving more than two hours means back pain and fatigue. Fatigue can be life-threatening, because your reactions are sluggish, lazy.
Worst of all: the iguana effect. Repulsive, soft pads of fat here and there, a few lumps that even hang down (upper arms). Loose, mottled skin that stretches like a plucked chicken’s. Where was that “definition” you took for granted?
Let’s not even think about the sex appeal of big, flaccid surfaces. Big bellies that cannot be sucked in.
All Hail, Iguanas!
Let’s celebrate being ALIVE, first. (Everybody did not make it to “iguana.”) Then, the value of wisdom, wit, and personality that can make people forget the housing.
The Hindus say there are four stages of life. After the “hermit” who is “retired” there is “the wandering recluse,” the “forest dweller.”
We may, in the body of an iguana, seek spirituality and peace in our private forest. I’d like company there, and if that’s the dress code, so be it.
I’ve been using online services to publish my own books and also books for other people. There is something magical about seeing “your book” come to life.
Our society reveres The Book. It is a symbol of achievement, an intellectual victory over things in our head. We read about authors “working on The Book” for years, hoping to finish and publish The Book.
To “get published” we knock on the doors of gatekeepers—agents and publishers, and beg to be deemed worthy. “Is it any good?” people will ask when they share their draft with you.
There are websites that report how many rejections famous authors got for a Book That Made It Big. Here are some: https://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/05/17/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/ or http://www.litrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/ or https://www.writerswrite.co.za/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/ (These are a fun distraction from writing Your Book.)
In fact, there is a myth that if you drop everything and write A Book, you can hit pay dirt. The long, lonely years at a pathetic desk somewhere (because you are not rich and it isn’t nice) will pay off. “My book bought the house,” you’ll hear. You’ll go on Book Tours all over the country. Readers will adore you. The spouse or parent who supported you for years will exhale.
Meanwhile, agents and publishers are/were having fancy lunches in New York, hustling each other, to discover The Big Book or The Big Author. You feel your face pressed against the window of the restaurant.
The thing is, agents and publishers need to make money. So yes, they are looking for a “Good Book” but they are also looking for book SALES. I think that means thousands of copies. They will invest in editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. They need a return on investment.
Meanwhile, the internet came along, and print-on-demand technology came along. Nobody has to print 5,000 copies and then store them, ship them, take back returns, remainder them. Now, a reader buys a book, and it is printed and shipped. Even better, the print-on-demand services became something AUTHORS can do, or delegate to a technical helper. Making a book became Cheap and Easy. Thus, You and I can put a book “out there.”
We can bypass the agents, the publishers, even the bookstores. We have to handle our own publicity and marketing. People in the industry will tell you Those Are Professional Skills. As are the skills of editing, layout design, cover design, and marketing strategy.
What if your book is really Precious and Magical to only about 50 people? What if it’s pretty good, but you can’t get a “yes” from 30-50 agents? Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) and Zane Grey resorted to “self-publishing” their first books. Many, many writers, philosophers, teachers—throughout history—have “made a book” and put it “out there.”
(Look up Samuel Pepys Diary, written for a decade from 1660, when he was a 26-year-old civil servant in London.)
Until recently, there was a stigma against self-publishing. It is labelled “vanity publishing.” You are deemed a loser who cannot succeed with publishing people who have “standards.” (As you can tell from the lists of notable “losers,” it’s not a bad group.) And remember, “standards” are warped with “sales.”
Part of my motivation to self-publish is rebellion. Rebellion against an establishment and an industry that locked out and even trashed new writers. Just say “no” to arbitrary, fickle, derisive, biased gatekeepers! Also, practically, I don’t want to spend years piling up rejections. Some of my friends are not up to the technical task of finding agents, pitching to agents, submitting to agents. These are barriers that come after what feels like the major task, which was writing The Book.
So, do you want a few people to know “your stuff?” Is it lying in a pile of loose papers? We Can Have Our Book. And share it. Reveal your deepest thoughts, imaginings, stories, secrets, observations in a Book. Maybe get a “wow” from “out there.”
Let us pause the madness on earth right now and think about extraterrestrials a.k.a. aliens. They have a very bad reputation. Lots of scary stereotypes of monsters who want to invade the earth and make us all slaves, or harvest our organs. Anybody seen the movies called ALIEN?
At the same time, we have the HISTORY Channel showing a series on Ancient Aliens, see https://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens . How aliens helped seed the human race, introduced technologies, helped build giant civilizations (some of which disappeared into the ocean), and left behind marks and symbols all over the earth.
Also, the phenomenon of UFO sightings. How the U.S. government suppresses all information about sightings. How sometimes, a pilot or a researcher who knows too much disappears or experiences a totally unexpected fatal accident.
There is a rebellious effort to go around official suppression, in the form of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network)—an all-volunteer, non-profit group that is the world’s oldest and largest civilian UFO investigation and research organization. See https://www.mufon.com/ .
Meanwhile, every year, there is an annual meeting on all things alien. It is like ComicCon only it is AlienCon. See https://www.thealiencon.com/ I’ll share my experience in Baltimore in another posting. There are people from the History Channel on panels, and people telling you what happened when they were abducted. And people dress up!
In short: IT IS CRAZY FASCINATING AND LOTS OF US ARE THINKING ABOUT IT
That’s why you should get your hands on the novel: https://www.amazon.com/Pip-Sedro-Woolley-Ruta-Sevo/dp/0999118757/
Many states are heading for Sharia-law-like treatment of women, with punishments for miscarriage even worse than for rape by a man. (Alabama, maybe Georgia, Missouri) Look at their state’s rank for quality of life for poor women: low in education, high in teen pregnancy, high in percentage of people with no medical insurance, etc.
All states are not equal as desirable places to live, work, and BREATHE if you are female. Being poor, single, unskilled, and pregnant will put you in the lowest rung of society, maybe for life. If you have a choice in where you live…
Meanwhile, I’ve always thought that a modern age of Internet access and social media make it easier to circumvent “establishments” that are hostile to your existence. You can get information and find helpful people like never before. I just hope poor students have access and use it.
Today’s Washington Post reports that students at Hampton University created a campus helpline for others, for contraception, moral and logistical support.
Not only that, the article says George Mason University and other colleges and universities in California and Pennsylvania have installed vending machines for Plan B pills. Their student health clinics support emergency contraception too.
College students, you can lobby for this kind of support at your college and university and initiate peer advice lines.
High school students, look at the climate of the college and university you are considering, in supporting sex education and reproductive rights.
And everybody, sex education is free on the Internet. Choose to avoid unwanted pregnancy!
Thank goodness, the new generation is on the job.
Two famous women are on my mind, recently. Diana Athill (1917-2019), a British literary editor, died in January (2019) at age 101. And Nuala O’Faolain (1940-2008), an Irish journalist.
Both of their lives overlapped with mine. After reading their memoirs, I was struck by their unconventional romantic lives. You could say “wild,” “immoral,” “creative,” and “reckless.” I’ll use the neutral word “non-conforming.”
I told a friend: “I wish I’d known a woman could have a life like that. It would have lifted a lot of guilt, confusion, and tortured decisions. I wanted to be Bohemian, and secretly was, but didn’t realize it was allowed.” My friend said: “Most of that behavior was secret at the time. That’s why you didn’t know. And it wasn’t allowed.”
In retrospect, I did know about wild women during my college days, the impressionable years. In reading about existentialism, I encountered Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), a French intellectual and the author of a feminist classic, The Second Sex. She and her partner Jean Paul Sartre were together for more than fifty years, but lived separately and had an open relationship.
Anais Nin (1903-1977), a French-Cuban writer and student of psychoanalysis, wrote more than fifteen volumes between 1914 through 1955, and is known for her frankness about sex. One of her lovers was Henry Miller. A few volumes of her diaries were part of my erotic education.
They were both Bohemians in Paris. Bohemians are by definition unconventional, artistic, adventurous, and even intentionally poor. They were into free love.
Diana Athill became engaged very young and waited for her fiancé through World War II, but he chose not to come back to her. She became lovers with someone with whom she founded a publishing house, and worked with him for 50 years. She had a love affair with an Egyptian writer. She had a long relationship with an African American writer. She spent four decades living with a Jamaican playwriter, during which a younger woman moved in and shared him. She had a miscarriage at 43 that nearly killed her, otherwise no children.
When Nuala O’Faolain arrived in Ireland in the 1940s, she says “It was a tomb for women.” Her mother fell in love with a peer in journalism school, and then went on to have nine children, while her husband worked far away and took lovers after the first three children. Catholic Ireland discouraged education for women, suppressed all sex education, and outlawed and punished abortion and illegitimacy. Nuala grew up as a “nobody.” Her mother and siblings became “ferocious” alcoholics.
She escaped the “wasteland” of her childhood with the support of an older male mentor who paid her way to a boarding school. She never married but had long relationships, some with married men. She was “in trouble” all her life, promiscuous and drunk. Life was rough as she came out of naivete and poverty to enter upper class and cosmopolitan social circles. She smoked and drank too much all her life; she was known to be angry and sarcastic. Nevertheless, she became a renowned journalist for the BBC, an academic, and a successful author.
One woman was born to privilege, and after feeling abandoned and foiled in her “proper path,” gave up on a traditional romantic life. The other was born in extreme poverty, and feeling her life was hopeless, broke all the rules of “decency” that had never served her and went out and made the best of it.
In my generation, women with unconventional relationships were in forbidden territory, morally.
Times have changed, though. The hook-up culture, single parenthood and other trends have taken some of the stigma out of being non-conforming. Single parenthood is at about 35% of households. The overall percentage of women who have no children has doubled in a generation from nine percent to eighteen percent (data from 2017). The percentage of childless goes up for professional women—from 45% to even 80% (a statistic I remember for my generation, for whom delegated childcare was controversial).
Non-conforming life styles, it turns out, have always been around, even outside Paris, and now they’re decent enough.
This past year refugees have gotten a very bad rap. The negative propaganda is: they are criminals, thieves, rapists, leeches trying to steal a piece of the American dream. They’ll get on the dole and stay there the rest of their lives.
This is, of course, not true. It is the propaganda of racists who want to cast any dark skin as someone to be shot, tortured, or otherwise dehumanized and punished for “invading” our country (e.g. we could take away their children and store them like cattle).
In fact, most of us are within three generations of an immigrant. Our families for the most part are built on the backs of immigrants.
Our Hater in Chief himself has grandparents who—in desperation or simply in aspiration?—immigrated to America. He married two foreign women (one of possibly dubious legal status before he married her), and had five of six children by them. Thus, America has allowed his foreign-enhanced tribe to prosper. He insults his own family with diatribes about the uniformly “bad people” that cross our border.
You’ve seen me reflect on the sad fate of my family, that was displaced by the invasion of Germans and Russians into Lithuania, and who fled for their lives, with a baby buggy and a wash pan. They were not alone; they were part of 12 million other people that Hitler’s regime “dislocated” from a quiet life in their country of origin and the country of their ancestors. (They were not part of the 10 million murdered.)
I just read a book that gave me some new thoughts:
THE DISPLACED by Viet Thanh Nguyen
First, let’s distinguish between an IMMIGRANT and a REFUGEE (or a DISPLACED PERSON). IMMIGRANTS can be people who voluntarily choose to move to another country. They might be able to bring their wealth with them, and they might plan for a smooth transition professionally.
A REFUGEE is a victim of bad luck. Something in his/her country changed, and he/she is running for her life. The motivation is FEAR OF DEATH. Thus, you can say, “I’ll live in a refugee camp, even for thirty years, rather than die.” (per a Tibetan lady I met in Nepal)
In that time, you might have children, and they might become “dreamers” who hope for some of the benefits that citizens have: access to jobs, social security, education, welfare, maybe health insurance. How long can that go on? I’m sure our “dreamers” are heading for a third generation without status as a “stateless people.”
It’s true that an influx of refugees can destroy an area that is not prepared to care for them.
I saw Calcutta inundated with Bengalis who fled death in West Bengal, because they were Hindu, and West Bengal had decided it was for Muslims. In Calcutta (1970), we stepped over sick and dying people on the sidewalks. Social services consisted of picking up bodies from the streets in the early morning.
Controlled immigration, and controlled refugee intake and placement, are the only way to ensure we are not overtaken by all the miseries of the whole world. The key factor is: what is a “HUMANE” response to the unlucky. And, ideally, one not biased for people of certain color, race, and religion. Or gender.
If all people have a right to live and prosper, let’s allow that all people do not have a right to live and prosper AT OUR EXPENSE and DESTRUCTION. That’s “invasion.” This is the root of our political debate: how far does our humanity, and our capacity for assimilation of the unlucky, extend?
The Zombie Invasion movies capture the fear: people who are not “really people” will eat us.
Here are some insights from THE DISPLACED book:
They are models for residents who have become complacent and complain about their “lack of opportunity.” What doesn’t kill you can make you strong.
When I retired, I applied the methods of strategic planning to my life, to figure out what I wanted to do, so that I would focus my energy, and not go off in all directions. These are my Framing Questions
Your Happy Places
First, brainstorm: what activities and skills make you happy? Think back to your happiest times: what were you doing? (e.g. hiking, knitting, gardening, cooking, playing with kids…)
Suppressed Wishes, Dreams
Second, uncover suppressed wishes and desires, by asking 3 questions:
If you had money, how would you live?
(This gets at dreams that you may have censored to be practical.
What if you won the lottery?)
If you had 5 years left, what would you do?
(This highlights your priorities)
If you had 24 hours left, what did you miss or regret?
(“Darn, I wish I had done X….” “I wish I had taken the time…”)
[The source of these is George Kinder, in his work on life planning.]
Successes & Strengths
Vision for the Future: PLAN
Did you make a formal plan for your retirement activities? Want to share it?
The Supreme Court just agreed that there was nothing dubious about T’s wish to block, wholesale, people from certain countries, who just happen to be majority Muslim.
By chance, this week is the 70th anniversary of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This bill was President Truman’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe after World War II. People were piling up in displaced person camps with nowhere to go, and they were heading for year 4.
Many were stateless refugees. They would not return to their homelands under Soviet communist control after the war. (They were right—those enticed to return were shot on arrival or deported to the Gulag. Why did the Soviets want them back?)
The Lithuanian Group on Facebook posted a link to Harry Truman’s statement, June 25, 1948. He says he signed with “great reluctance” because “the bill is flagrantly discriminatory.”
Truman was inaugurated in 1945 and urged immediate Congressional action on the “world tragedy.”
What were the shenanigans?
Congress waited 18 months to act. After three extensions, a Senate report came out. A bill was presented “without a single public hearing.” A compromise bill was passed IN THE LAST DAYS of the session. Truman: “If I refused to sign this bill now, there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons until the next session of the Congress.”
The bill allowed 200,000 DP’s to be admitted to the USA, along with 2,000 Czechs and 3,000 orphans. At the end of 1947, there were more than 600,000 people in the camps. This was a generous and welcome allotment for the USA.
There were cut-off dates for ELIGIBILITY that, in effect, excluded Jewish and some Catholic displaced persons. Those eligible had to have entered the camps before December 22, 1945. Many Jews, and Catholics fleeing communism, arrived after that date.
(About 250,000 Jews lived in the camps. Catholics were 50-55% of the camp population in 1947. 20-25% were Protestant.) Truman: 90% of Jewish DPs are excluded based on the date, the other 10% may not meet other restrictions.
40% of those allowed to enter had to come from areas “annexed by a foreign power”—building in a bias for people from the Baltics and Eastern Europeans. (Who happened to be whiter than others…)
This is what is called “structural discrimination.” Rather than say, NO JEWS, AND KEEP THE CATHOLICS OUT TOO, or WE WANT WHITE PROTESTANTS WHO ARE SKILLED, the Congress used DATES as a cut-off. Clever, huh?
Truman says: “I hope that this bitter disappointment will not turn to despair.”
I don’t know if his recommended amendments for greater fairness and humanity made it into law.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: My parents made the cut and immigrated with two toddlers in August, 1949, based on this law, after four years in the camps. Lucky, after being very unlucky.
ALSO, FYI: I met a Tibetan woman in Nepal who had lived in a refugee camp for thirty years. She was safe.
More statistics on the Refugee Problem Left by World War II at http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1948041400
Here’s a very good—if not downright shocking--exposition of how the deck is stacked against 90% of the population, and how income inequality is being programmed into our system at this time in America. It’s worth reading 45 printed pages, if you want to understand what happened and how it affects YOUR PERSONAL PLACE in our society.
What do you tell yourself and anyone who may not be born to the 1% class or the 9.9% class?
Think of our system as a game with rewards and penalties. Figure out how you can play to “win” a “decent life.”
THINGS WE CAN CONTROL
ONE: HAVING A CHILD TOO SOON
Don’t be a young, uneducated single parent. Learn about sex and contraception if your school and parents don’t teach you. Know how to use contraception, and use it. This knowledge & practice may make the difference between life-long poverty and “a decent life.”
Know your options for accidental pregnancy. Young fertile women: go back to old times if you have to, GO UNDERGROUND, REBEL. It is a different world now with the Internet, books and pills via online order. Women from the beginning of time have helped each other. You can avoid unplanned pregnancy.
When I read about unwed girls who are eighteen and have three children, and they are crying about not being handed a “decent life,” good luck. You needed to be smarter. Would you change places with your first, second and third baby? Our society may try to support the babies but see below (mean times in the USA…)
Be the best parent you can be, because, Stewart notes, “the single best predictor of [a good life] … is the performance of his or her parents.”
Get an education that gets you a living wage. At a minimum, a technical certificate through a community college. Do you want to spend your life in poverty? Don’t give yourself a mountain to climb. Not everybody likes school. But minimum-wage jobs will not support a family, and without benefits, the minute you hit back luck, you’re out (of the running for “a decent life”).
If you did not vote, or you voted for the people in authority now, watch how your safety nets are being cut: health care, child care, minimum wage, food stamps, unemployment, subsidized housing, pensions. Schooling for your child. The ability to earn a living wage AND take care of a family. There is one tiny POWER that you have: you can vote for people who believe in helping people, and who will try to reverse the trend toward growing the under-class and leaving the 90% to fend for themselves.
FOUR: MARRY WISELY
Sure, fall in love. Young and old. But you do not have to marry somebody right away, to start building a relationship that is the foundation for a marriage. Postpone children until you have confirmed that you have a partner who will help you, not ruin and break you. Marriage is a financial contract. You give control over your life to another person and maybe their family. If your judgment is off, or you were wrong or misinformed, bail out.
Again, women from the beginning of time have had networks that helped other women get out of a bad situation. We have never had so much information available on signs of danger, advice about domestic violence, Help Lines, shelters for women and children. Women before us, and in some cultures, are consigned to be victims in a bad marriage for the rest of their lives. Exercise your choice and ask people to help you.
THINGS WE CANNOT CONTROL (YOU NEED LUCK)
Some of us inherited mental illness and it might kick in around your early 20’s. Inherently, you are not rational and capable of coping. You have to be lucky in having parents and other adults figure out what is happening, and get you good care, and bail you out. You might have an accident before you are covered well by insurance, or fall ill. Catastrophic bills, inability to work. Nobody plans for this.
Your circumstances, or a serious illness, can lead you or your family member down the path to addiction. There is public-funded rehab, but that’s the kind of service that is being cut. There may be detox and jail. Stewart notes the rise in “deaths of despair.”
BORN THE “WRONG KIND” IN YOUR WORLD
You may grow up and realize you are a member of a group that is disadvantaged, a thousand and one ways. You are female, gay, dark-skinned, a believer in a religion that has been stigmatized. Toxic things can happen to “your kind” on the street and in the workplace. You might try inoculation: learn about the toxic things, how to respond so you stay alive and mentally well, and how to thrive in spite of the adversity. Don’t be naïve. Try not to be killed, beaten, raped, fired. You are navigating a zone of hostility. But you can learn about MANY people of “your kind” that have made it to success and who will support you, and advise you, and heal you. (Yes, you can RESIST. See “try not to get killed,” and “VOTE” above.)
BLOCKS TO EDUCATION, JOBS
You can find yourself in an environment where education costs too much, there are no jobs right now (depression, recession), or people will simply not let you have them. (e.g., Unconscious or conscious discrimination) Immigrants in America have shown us that you can come in from outside and beat “the system.” You may have to have extraordinary grit, savvy, and luck. Take the hand that’s dealt, and play it.
The irony of our young people, more boys than girls, is that they learn complex online games that have esoteric, bizarre rules, with points and scores, and with surprise enemies and obstacles built into the game. That is what life is, except that there aren’t enough help tutorials to tell you everything you need to know up front. And losing really hurts. You discover some of the obstacles through experience, and sometimes you cannot recover. It can be “game over” regarding success, security, and comfort—happiness. Or, you have to muster really hard. You have extra mountains to climb, in this game.
As a holocaust survivor advised: “Try to make a life.” [-per Margot Friedman’s mother]