The little library sales table

My family and I visit our neighborhood library every few weeks. Near the indoor book return, there’s a folding table with books for sale for quarters. I haven’t looked at it often over the last few years, assuming that I wouldn’t find much of interest within such a small selection.

A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to find a few books that I really wanted to read. Last Tuesday, then, I took another look. I found even more books I wanted to read. Sadly, I didn’t have any change, so I left the books and crossed my fingers they’d be there when I next returned.

Since I’d missed returning some DVDs on Tuesday, my family and I walked to the library on Thursday. Not only were “my” books still there, but there were a couple of new ones that piqued my interest.

My husband found a book for himself, and a 70s music CD full of songs we both remembered fondly.

The books I’ve picked up include:

  • Wait Till Helen Comes — I read this kids’ ghost story yesterday and dug it. It’s full of creepiness and love, which makes it a perfect read for me.
  • The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking — I’m about two-thirds of the way through this, and it’s exactly what I needed to read right now. Honestly, I’ve had lots of conversations over the years where folks have said things like, “All the bummer things you experienced really make me sad and I’d rather talk about happy things.” They’ve seemed confused that someone could experience trauma, be open about it, and be, well, happy. This book crisply clears up confusion about the how of that, and reminds me that mine (now that I’ve stopped reading only horrifically depressing books) is a pretty healthy way to be.
  • Those Who Save Us — This novel about a woman’s journey to discover her mom’s experiences in World War II Germany–and a family history different than she’s understood–deals in magnificent shades of gray. I’m about one-quarter through and mean to soak it up slowly.
  • The Future of Life — I haven’t started this, but its focus is on the importance of biodiversity. It’s apparently lovely, and I’m looking forward to diving in.
  • The Beauty Myth — I haven’t started reading this, either, but it addresses the social control implicit in emphasizing women’s beauty. I’m keen to read it.

Not only am I picking up bunches of great books, I’m picking them up for a fraction of list price! If I’m lucky enough, I’ll just keep finding all the books I want to read at the library, thus saving myself a ton of money.

So far, prospects looks good!

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Swapping dogmas

In March, my readings of Neil Postman prompted me to write that the world is not atomized:

Not even a year ago, I set out to begin understanding politics. I’d never cared before, nor seen any use in understanding it at more than the most superficial level. The more I’ve read in the last ten or eleven months, reading about politics, history, science, business, and whatever else has struck me, the more I’ve come to understand that these things are interwoven. Each is an artificially (human-)segmented expression of one universe built from the same pieces, which are connected in ways humans might not ever fully grasp.

No matter what photographs suggest to the human minds that have been shaped by them, the world is not as atomized as we misperceive. Human failure to apprehend or articulate this doesn’t change the basic structure of things, an idea I once captured in a proverb I included in a ninth grade social studies project: “He who does not believe in the ocean may nevertheless drown in it.”

In June, I was still struggling to more deeply understand the interconnectedness of things. My entire view of the universe and my role in it had changed, but my vocabulary had not. After 38 years thinking in individually oriented, me-centric terms, I struggled to even begin accurately expressing that I am not just an individual, separate from the universe, but rather one expression of that universe:

This blog isn’t about me, me, me, the same way my old one was. This is about my journey to understand something bigger than me, and situate myself within it instead of smack-dab in the center of my own personal universe; to keep pushing myself to seek that something bigger, and grasp how it cradles all things, even if I never do learn how to articulate its connections with any nuance.

The bad news is that I haven’t come much closer to expressing any of this well. The good news is that each millimeter of progress I make feels like a huge victory, so hey! I’ll keep going.

A week or two ago, I picked up a book with the kind of New Age cover teenaged me would’ve mocked incessantly. More than simply picking it up, I’d actually called the bookstore to order it after hearing one of its authors talk on a podcast.

Continue reading “Swapping dogmas”

and a(n environmental) dream

Yesterday, I finished reading Why We Can’t Afford the Rich by U.K. professor Andrew Sayer.

“Finished!” I exclaimed while waving the book in my husband’s direction.

“You’re a machine,” he replied, quickly amending his reply to, “a machine with a heart.”

This particular book had quite an impact on me. With every book I’ve read the last year, I’ve become more and more certain that many of the woes the world now faces are attributable to the 0.01%; this book vanquished any remaining doubt.

Until I read Winner Take-All Politics, I’d thought in terms of “the 99%” and “the 1%.” Winner Take-All Politics made crystal clear that huge divergences in wealth and power are contained within that 1%. To understand what’s happened in America over the last several decades, its authors argued, you have to narrow focus even further to the 0.01%. That‘s where you’ll find answers to questions like, “Why is life so shitty for so many people in the U.S. despite a nominal recovery?” and “Did it have to be this way?” Continue reading “and a(n environmental) dream”

The journey as joy

I began blogging in June 1995. I wrote about anything and everything, wanting my website to be more than a collection of links. Several times, I got in trouble for things I’d written, but didn’t bother changing what or how I wrote until I got a threatening letter in 2001.

My voice has changed some since I began blogging, but one common thread has run through: me, me, me. This seemed both natural and inevitable until I began learning to speak Politics. I began feeling unsettled by this emphasis on me, me, me. I wondered if I wasn’t losing sight of a bigger picture by always focusing on my infinitesimal piece of the universe.

How else would I write, though? With more than three decades spent focusing on my personal experience without much regard for its context(s), how was I supposed to change not only my vocabulary but the whole orientation of my words? How could I write about collectives of which my experiences are the merest fragment, when I’d spent so long just focused on me?

I rejoiced when I read Angela Davis, who wrote as I’d only abstractly envisioned as possible. She’s been working at doing so for decades, so that her experience shines through. Maybe someday, I’ll be half as skillful as she is now.

Already concerned with technology and (my own) narcissism, I then began reading Neil Postman. In his writings were all kinds of contexts, and histories about things I’d never imagined could have their own history. I found answers to other questions, and more than that, pure delight to have discovered someone who taught not what to think, but how to ask questions to reach my own conclusions.

Postman’s TECHNOPOLY was–laugh if you must!–a revelation. Years before I began worrying about technology’s impact on humanity, he’d already written on these matters with humor, wisdom, and compassion. His entreaty to readers to consider how we’re being used by technology, instead of simply using it, opened up new venues of inquiry and possibility for me.

Last week, I ended up reading another Postman piece that helped me change the question I was asking myself. I stopped asking, “How do I begin reflecting this seismic shift in internal meaning on my blog?” Instead I asked, “Do I even need to keep blogging as I always have, just because I always have?!”

The answer was an exultant no!, straight from the heart.

This blog isn’t about me, me, me, the same way my old one was. This is about my journey to understand something bigger than me, and situate myself within it instead of smack-dab in the center of my own personal universe; to keep pushing myself to seek that something bigger, and grasp how it cradles all things, even if I never do learn how to articulate its connections with any nuance.

What will the end result be? Will there be an end result? I don’t know, and that’s okay.

The journey itself is a joy.

This 4/7/17 post transferred from L2SP 8/21/17

Junk economics & debt bondage

One of my brothers-in-law is in town this weekend, which has been lovely for many reasons.

First, we’ve now been friends for more than half our lives. He’s been a rock to me and my siblings through many hard times, including during my mom’s escalating mental illness and her death to cancer. Having him near brings me such joy.

The day we tried to talk my mom into getting help

Second, his presence means much, much more relaxing mornings than usual. My family rises early and noisily seven days a week; with exhausted med school student Nick sleeping on our couch well past five a.m., we’ve eased the noisiness factor by allowing electronics early. We’ve gathered in the parental bedroom and lounged around for hours.

Yesterday morning, I used this time to catch up on Economic Update, Richard D. Wolff’s podcast. I’d subscribed to this about halfway through reading Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens

One of Wolff’s recent guests was University of Missouri professor Michael Hudson. My interest piqued by what I heard on Economic Update, I listened to another podcast featuring Hudson.

This morning, I began listening to yet another Hudson podcast. In this one, he talks about writing a 2006 article for Harper‘s predicting the 2008 housing market crash.
That article requires payment to access, but there’s a related June 2017 Harper’s interview with Hudson. While many things I’ve read have talked about banks lending more than people could pay, they’ve been convoluted in their coverage of why. Hudson, on the other hand, explains it in a few simple sentences, beginning:

It was very clear that more and more of everybody’s income had to go to buying a house. Housing prices were soaring, and the reason wasn’t because of population growth. And it wasn’t because people were getting richer. It’s because a house is worth whatever a bank is going to lend against it, and banks were lending more and more money against houses and pushing people further and further into debt so that basically they had to spend almost their entire working life to pay off the price of getting a home. People thought they were getting richer as house prices were going up, but while the sellers were getting richer, the people who had to buy the house had to pay a larger and larger proportion of their income.

Hudson recently published J is for Junk Economics, which I’ll be buying before long. First, though, I’d like to read his 2015 Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy

For now, though, elated by the joy of discovery, I’ll climb back into my bed and listen to more Hudson … all while savoring the closeness of my family, including the three boys on the bed and the one on the couch.

(What a weekend!)

Spiritual garbage

I read Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul because Kelly Brogan, M.D., recommended it. I’ve been so touched by Brogan’s writings, I felt compelled to see if I, too, would be moved by Singer’s books.

The short answer is, nope. The longer answer is that I could appreciate aspects of The Untethered Soul, which was written as if a general reflection on the state of the universe. I was soothed enough by it that I decided to read The Surrender Experience, which was a thousand times the “no” to the mild “yes” I felt reading The Untethered Soul.

The premise of The Surrender Experiment was that Singer decided to surrender to whatever life threw at him. Because he surrendered, he fell into mad money wherever he rolled. People, property, and dollars were just things that happened to fall into his lap because he’d opened himself enough to the universe.

So, hear that, people who are being bombed in Afghanistan? The problem is that you’re not opening your heart enough to the gifts of the universe! Open harder, and you’ll survive, even if your village, your close family, and your extended family bite it while you watch! (Should’ve opened your heart harder, eh?!)

And, hey, teenager caring for your two kid siblings in a decrepit area long bereft of training and employment opportunities? If you don’t have solid employment despite the obstacles in your neighborhood, it’s because you didn’t open your heart enough to the awe and wonder of the universe!

Mom who just lost her child to suicide, as one of my neighbors once did: You know what would have helped? Opening yourself to the universe! Letting it flow through you, so your daughter wouldn’t be molested by her uncle and kill herself! If only you’d just, y’know, embraced the universe more, all your material needs would have been met. And isn’t overflowing in material wealth really the sign you’ve made it, after all?! Doesn’t that make up for losing one of the great loves of your life?!

I try not to get this overtly cranky when I write about books, but The Surrender Experiment is basically a noxious variant of The Secret: if you’re not winning, it’s because you’re not attracting hard enough. If you were doing it right, you’d be affirming daily, “I’m smart, I’m open to the universe, I’m listening, and, most of all, I’m sure my success had nothing to do with the fact my dad was a banker and I had done most the work for a Ph.D. before I had my miraculous epiphanies.”

The converse of Singer’s claims that the universe opened to him because he opened to the universe is that the universe closed to others because they didn’t open to it. This is an easy claim for someone who’s known little genuine adversity to make, but a much more difficult claim for anyone who’s seen just how hard it is simply to climb from the rubbish heap into the sunshine when you’ve started in the rubbish.

The good news is that I listened to a few Jon Kabat-Zinn podcasts as I was struggling with The Surrender Experiment. Unlike Singer, Kabat-Zinn is genuinely concerned with your well being, no matter where you are. He’s not concerned with proving how opening yourself to the universe brought him and will bring you material riches. He’s interested in showing you how mindfulness can enrich your experience of the universe, no matter where and how you’re living within it.

So, spiritual garbage of Springer? No, thanks, though I’m glad he’s part of what inspired Brogan to care as she does.

The spiritual uplift of Kabat-Zinn, on the other hand? That, concerned with internal well being of many as opposed to the material wealth of one, I can and will so get behind.

Useful insecurities

I’m a white woman married to a Black man. I’m also the mother of two Black sons.

When I write that neoliberalism created the conditions for Charlottesville, it’s not to excuse racists, white supremacists, or nationalists. It’s not to to diminish the harm they can and do cause. It’s to put their rise into historical and political context, the better to rectify its root cause, or “the fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem.”

I am deeply interested in my family’s ongoing safety. Such safety won’t be won by painting Manichean pictures of good-versus-bad, us-versus-them totality. It is much more likely to be won beginning with nuanced examination. By looking at history and asking, “How did we reach this point? How do we get away from this point, and build political systems that ensure we stay away for a good, long time, if not forever?”

While I began following #BlackLivesMatter about three years ago, I didn’t understand how its grievances fit within a larger context of oppression. It took last year’s American Democratic primaries for me to understand there is a larger context, and to realize I’d need to read more than a few short articles to wrap my head around that. Inspired by Hamilton and my siblings, I began a reading campaign.

With each book I read, I understand more keenly exactly how we reached this point. I understand intuitively, if not yet at a readily articulated level, what it will take to go–and stay–somewhere else.

I read Princeton professor Sheldon S. Wolin’s Democracy, Inc. in May. More than any other, this book helped me understand how a very specific sequence of actions and inactions brought the U.S. people the Trump presidency: Continue reading “Useful insecurities”