Friday, June 04, 2010

"We don't have polio any longer."

So my question to the wise women writers I have dinner with now and then was: Do you think that every generation, when people get to a certain age, they just think the world is going to hell, or do you think the world really is going south this time?

And alternately, we each added to the list of the world’s woes. My own list included the oil volcano in the Gulf, the disappearing wet lands, the special that’s coming up on the chemicals in our fresh foods, chemicals with side benefits like cancer and autism, the Texas Board of Education is trying to limit learning, Gaza stripped, too big to fail, nuclear headed weapons, how I just liked a group on facebook about how the introduction of corn syrup into baby formula is giving kids obesity and diabetes and to top it all off, Tipper and Al Gore are calling it quits. I feel about their divorce as I would have had I watched a precious antique piece of furniture fall off the back of a truck and get smashed. 40 years? They don’t make marriages like that anymore.

This is a brilliant group of writing women brought together by Sarah Willis
Kristin Ohlson, Karen Sandstrom, Thrity Umrigar, Loung Ung, and Paula McClain . I love not only our exchanges about writing and publishing but their well-traveled, intelligent take on the world. I always have leftovers after these meals -- something to bring home that won't just go bad in the back of the fridge. We don't get together very often and rarely all at the same time due to travel and other conflicts, so this week was a real treat.

So what did they think? Does every generation grow to think that change is ruining the world? Wasn't this the cry when society industrialized itself? Freeways, factories, fashion (those falling down pants hobbling our young men, are you kidding me?), each new generation flips off the former and chooses new paths -- hence the inevitability of grumpy old men (and women).

Is what is happening today and how discouraging it sometimes feels just the natural march toward the future or have humans really messed things up beyond repair? We bounced the question around -- united in our mourning over the horrors of oil mixing with water, but while nobody particularly relishes seeing boys with their boxers exposed, we all agreed we need to fight any tendency to become more conservative with age.

"I'm happy to be living today," said Thrity. I wanted to say, "really?" Not that kind of Saturday Night Live "reeeeeallly" that has lately (annoyingly) permeated conversation (see what I mean about the grumpiness?), but really? "Yes. Fifty years ago could we have all accomplished what we have? Would Loung and I even be here? Look. We don't have polio any more."

And there it was. My take home idea. Something to hang onto while watching news hour images of dying pelicans and gasping dolphins.

One bad habit I have unfortunately nurtured over the years is stacking up the bad stuff. I'm good at it. I gather outrages and images using resentment as mortar to give bad stuff more substance. And when the stack starts to waver, I search around (under the desk, on the Internet, in the gutters) for more bad stuff to prop up the stack, all of which -- the late night searches, the rearranging, the tumbling and rebuilding -- tends (big surprise) to weigh me down. There's lots of bad stuff out there.

And Thrity reminds me. Once again. Finding inner peace comes back to gratitude. Not losing all sense of empathy or outrage, these can be powerful motivators. But we (I) also need some inner peace since that's what eases us along as we continue to seek solutions to all of the above. Besides, no inner peace means no sleep which makes it hard to deal with the crisis of a broken pencil let alone a broken oil well.

At least we don't have polio any longer.