Okay. So I am late with my first-Tuesday-of-the-month post. I could plead that I whooped it up on New Year’s Eve and it took all of New Years Day (the first Tuesday of January) plus a few days more to recover, but the truth is that I spent New Year’s Eve (and the few days before it) clearing the decks for action in 2013–weeding out old papers and notes, and organizing my workroom to better support my writing while the Twilight Zone Marathon played on the t.v. in background.
In addition, I finally reread at one go (well, over the course of three days) a lifetime of family letters, a visit to the past that somehow seemed appropriate at the end of one year and beginning of another. Even more so, now that I think of it, since 2012 would have been my mother’s hundredth year. An anniversary of sorts. How strange.
My parents were always so modern and progressive in their thinking that it is sometimes hard for my mind to encompass the fact that their lives traversed such a long-gone period. (In 1912, there was no radio, no t.v., no airplanes, certainly no internet and no cell phones.) At the same time, being raised by them (I was a late child) gave me a strong affinity to the struggles of the progressives in the early 1900s as well as a New Deal perspective on the world that has been my anchor and, over the years, often made my approach and thinking about that world quite different from, though ostensibly parallel to, that of my peers.
And as we leave 2012 (the hundredth anniversary of my mother’s birth) and enter 2013 (come September, the hundredth anniversary of my father’s birth), I am struck by two trite truisms: “what goes around comes around;” and “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” There have been remarkable, wonderful changes in the world, of course–a black person becoming president speaks to that. (Although, when we have reached a point that we only need note that he is a brilliant man, then we can say there has been a real change in the world and in humanity.) At the same time, we are fighting (or shall I say, re-fighting) the exact same battles as were fought by progressives in the early part of the 1900s. The issues of corporate greed and war profiteering that Dos Passos addressed in USA (completed in 1936), the hypocrisy of religion-as-business that Sinclair Lewis addressed in Elmer Gantry (published in 1927), and the picture of middle Americans who both buy the capitalist corporatism fed to them as an ideal, and are trapped by it, that Lewis portrays in Babbitt (published in 1922) are engulfing us again today. As an example, one short paragraph from Babbitt, from a chapter describing what different citizens of Zenith are doing after Babbitt goes to sleep:
At that moment a G.A.R. veteran was dying. He had come from the Civil War straight to a farm which, though it was officially within the city-limits of Zenith, was primitive as the backwoods. He had never ridden in a motor car, never seen a bath-tub, never read any book save the bible, McGuffey’s readers, and religious tracts; and he believed that the earth is flat, that the English are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the United States is a democracy.
Who can read this, published in 1922, and not think of the world the “Tea Party” and right- wing Christians want to take us to, a mere ninety years later? Or, in reading that so lightly tossed forth but potent phrase in the last line (pairing U.S. democracy with a belief that the earth is flat), of the Citizen’s United case and its effect on democracy, or of the efforts to suppress people’s ability to vote? And of those people today who are the victims of this but don’t see it? (I highly recommend Babbitt, which I am in the midst of reading now.)
But, enough of this bout of nostalgia, borrowed or otherwise. The world changes, but our human battles stay the same, albeit with slight variations. I wish a belated happy new year to one and all, and to my writer friends–as a friend once said to me: “all power to your writing elbow!”