The morning news decided to extend the tragic death of Whitney Houston as a teachable moment. I deeply wish it was as simple as that. There might be a few people who have problems for addiction that might change because of Whitney. Unfortunately drug related deaths, lives ruined by drug addiction go back a ways. If the deaths of people with drug problems really made an impact we wouldn’t have drug addicts. In other words change is hard. Really hard. Some cigarette smokers have said it is the most difficult thing they have ever done, quite smoking – a good reason to never start. As immensely difficult as it is to change, it is possible – Into the Wild with Dear Sugar, aka Cheryl Strayed
In 1995, Cheryl Strayed was 26, freshly divorced and turned-on to heroin, a few months past an abortion, and for all intents and purposes an orphan on her own in the world. With no place to be and no one to be any place with, she found a book in a store, traced her finger across a line on a map, and decided to follow that jagged line across the mountains of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Wild is the true story of how walking that line took Strayed from where she started to the person she is today—a successful, critically acclaimed writer and also the voice behind the beloved advice column Dear Sugar. In the column, she doles out advice anonymously (Spoiler Alert: The author revealed her identity this Valentine’s Day, reasoning people would read this new book and figure it out for themselves anyway) with just the right combination of toughness and warmth, a balance she also walks in this book like a tightrope.
That sure balance also makes Strayed a powerful advocate for VIDA, the organization she helped found in support of women’s writing. Both Strayed and her alter-ego Sugar are feminist, but their feminism is not just hard the way some people mistake all feminism to be. It is soft and warm too.
I am not one to think all our modern ills would be miraculously disappear if we just started living in cabin, raised our own chickens ( my great grandmother did not buy a store butchered chicken until she was in her 70s), drink nothing but raw milk and dandelion tea. I do think that getting away from all the asphalt, the smog, the boss, the news, the traffic and unplugging from the intertubes can clear some of the cob webs created by modern life.
4. Hiking a long trail, you endure bad things. You run out of water and have to walk a long distance and drink from a muddy pond. You fall down with all your possessions strapped to your back and you get up bleeding and keep walking. You find yourself in a situation with a strange man—exactly the kind of strange man you have always been warned to stay away from. You eat terrible instant food that leads to nearly erotic dreams about the mediocre food that regular people eat all the time. Why? You have deliberately inflicted all of these obstacles and sufferings on yourself to prove how tough you are. But the main thing you end up proving is how stubborn you are—that you can put one foot in front of the other for a longer time than most other people.
Painting, Oil on Canvas Paris, France Summer, 1887 by Vincent Van Gogh. This painting is officially untitled. If you are lucky enough to live in the great city of St. Louis or passing through, you can see it at the The Saint Louis Art Museum.
I tend to think that George Packer is smart and an astute observer, but I found this to be a strange article that I’m not in total agreement with, still worth a read – Poor, White, and Republican
Perhaps the biggest political puzzle of our time is why, as the lives of working-class whites have descended from the stability and comfort of “All in the Family” to the chaos and despair of “Gran Torino” and “Winter’s Bone,” these same Americans have voted more and more reliably Republican. Sunday’s Times had a fascinating and disturbing lead story about the pattern of government dependency around the country. A map showing areas of greatest reliance on public benefits corresponds with weird exactness to the map of red America: the South, Appalachia, and rural areas in general.
[ ]…In the Times story, there’s a man named Ki Gulbranson from a small Minnesota town called Chisago, both barely clinging to the middle class. He tries to make ends meet selling apparel and refereeing kids’ soccer games. All around him, he sees growing dependence on government. No fan of government spending, he joined the Tea Party in 2010; at the same time, he benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit, free school breakfasts for his children, and Medicare for his mother. “I don’t demand that the government does this for me,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need the government.” Yet he finds it hard to imagine surviving without the safety net. “I don’t think so,” he said. “No. I don’t know. Not the way we expect to live as Americans.”
Gulbranson’s moment of hesitation contains a certain explanatory power. He doesn’t want to say that he can’t live without government. In places like Chisago, the old ethic of self-reliance is real and fierce. But it’s disintegrating under the pressure of several bad economic decades. People in Park Slope, Brooklyn and the north shore of Chicago don’t see their neighbors going on disability when they could work. But the more Gulbranson sees it, the more he resents the government. Perhaps he resents it most of all because he knows he needs it. That’s a political conundrum for both parties, but even more, it’s an American problem.
I read that NYT piece myself. There are two things I don’t think Packer gets or at least he did not include in the relatively brief treatment of a deep subject. One is that people like Gulbranson, even as they collect or benefit from several government programs, are not immune to white shame – just in the way that some black Americans grow up with their own brand – which Ta-Nehisi Coates gets into that a little here. Gulbranson and those with a similar mindset want to be saved from themselves and their shame. Conservatives, and some liberals for that matter, have done a great job of stigmatizing the need for help. If there is a person alive on these planet who is getting through life without any help, they should be Time magazines next person of the year. We’re born needing help. Adults should aim toward being as self-reliant as possible with the knowledge and humility that you will need help of some kind. Sometimes more than borrowing a few dollars or help with changing a tire. The second thing that Packer might not understand is how poor working class whites, especially in the South buy into conservatism solely based on all the flag waving nationalistic crap they shovel out. Let’s say you were going to start a moment that was the very antithesis of an egalitarian democratic republic. Your vision was a country governed by the elite and elite corporations. You would not be so moronic as to sell that agenda to the U.S. public as that. You’d appeal to base emotions – fear ( racism, ethnocentric, the threat of terrorism, ultra nationalism), you’d demonize your opponents as America haters, as enemies of the religion that sustains working class southern whites who know in their hearts there must be some reward for their hard lives some day – even if it is an afterlife. This red, white and blue strategy has been tremendously successful. It’s not like it has not been done before, in many countries, many times. Hide a dangerous anti-liberty agenda behind patriotism. It is in fact a tried and true formula. It works so well that people will vote against their own rational self interests.
Music Video for “Origins” by Tennis. This is a music video and has nothing to do with the history of the sport, tennis.
Directed by Richard Law