Monday, March 25, 2019

A Part of the Main

Good Monday morning.

I am on Spring Break!

The week will likely progress similarly to any other school week since the kids are in school this week, but on Tuesday morning & then again on Thursday morning instead of showering & putting on my makeup in order to appear presentable to teach my classes I'll likely spend the day roaming the house in some stretchy pants. I might read Sally Thorne's latest book, 99 Percent Mine, which I downloaded the other night for $2.99. I'd love to tell you I'm going to clean out closets & cull toys & attend to other pressing household matters, but the thing is, as I mentioned, I am on Spring Break

The thing is, if Reagan's at school, I am usually not home all that much. Someone (someone meaning me or Trey) goes to school every weekday to give Reagan insulin for lunch, & then a few hours later it is time to pick both kids up because school is over. This afternoon Reagan has both piano & soccer practice after school, & so when you understand that our house is half an hour away from the kids' school you understand why I say when Reagan is in school, I am not at home much . . . hence my desire to move closer to the kids' school. I promise that's the last time I'll mention that today. 

My plan today is to talk a little bit about this Friday, which is March 29. Before I do that I will update you on a couple of events from last week I alluded to in last Monday's post, which you can read - - - > here

I told you we were headed to the endocrinologist, & we made that trip last Wednesday. Reagan's A1C was a 7.6, which was down from our last visit in December of last year. The kids were happy to be able to sleep a little later Wednesday morning, & they were even happier to eat Chick-fil-A for breakfast on the way to Jackson. We made our obligatory trip to Barnes & Noble after the office visit.

A pictorial rundown of Wednesday's day trip:

Friday night was book club night. We ate at a new local place called Burrito Loko, which I highly recommend. The food was wonderful. If you're local, it's located right in front of Tinseltown; click here for their Facebook page.  I recommend if you order a burrito you share it with a full-size adult who is up for helping you consume a burrito the size of my arm.

The ladies & I discussed The Paris Seamstress, & while I have other things on my mind today I reserve the right to return to The Paris Seamstress. The book has deeply affected me, & so I'll probably keep thinking about it until I write about it, which is the way I attempt to work through my feelings & then purge them from the recesses of my brain where deep-book thoughts usually linger.

Saturday morning Reagan played back-to-back soccer games, which worked out well because later when we celebrated cousin Michael's third birthday with cupcakes Reagan's number was low & ideal for cupcake eating.

Somewhere in between the soccer games & the birthday celebration, the LSU men's basketball team lost a fifteen-point lead over Maryland only to still pull out the W in the game's final seconds. For a variety of reasons, I was in a jolly mood as we celebrated Michael's birthday.

This Friday is March 29. Stay with me; I have a couple of points beyond pointing out obvious calendar facts. This Friday, March 29, 2019, the Bastrop Daily Enterprise will print its final edition. I read this news last week with a lump in my throat, particularly when I registered the date. My late grandfather was born on March 29, 1927. My late grandfather would be ninety-two this Friday. He died at age eighty back in 2007. 

In his many years as a resident of Bastrop, Louisiana Jesse A. James, Jr., wrote a great many letters to the editors of local papers, including the Bastrop Daily Enterprise. The paper has been in circulation for around one-hundred-and-fifty years, I believe. There was usually a copy or two of the Bastrop Daily Enterprise on the round table in my grandparents' kitchen. It's sad to think my children & certainly their children are unlikely to grow up with memories of printed newspapers strewn across their grandparents' kitchen table. 

Both of my grandfathers spent many decades as members of the Bastrop, Louisiana community. Last week in my classes at the community college we discussed the creation of communities, specifically the role of communication in forming & sustaining communities. Our text highlights the fact that the words community & communication have the same Latin root, communis. The text discusses community in the traditional sense, meaning communities that arise due to geography, & it also discusses online communities, a concept that neither of my grandfathers would grasp. 

My maternal grandfather ran a grocery story with his brothers for many years. I know it meant something to many people, that he meant something to many people, because they tell me so now, years after the store's closing. Most people who knew & remember my paternal grandfather recall his infamous, lively letters to the editor. In class last week we discussed technology & how it contributes to breakdowns in modern communities. A student mentioned curbside grocery pick-up that's available at many grocery stores now. Yes, it's convenient. It also means women are interacting less with the public. It means there are fewer & fewer small-town groceries run by men like my Papaw, a man who would sell you groceries & tell you stories & make you smile, make you feel that you belonged & that he valued you beyond simply the business transaction you came to his store to complete.

The whole idea of community is being constantly rearranged & redefined, & most of this renegotiating is possible because of technology. It allows grandparents to FaceTime their grandchildren who live across the country, but it also pulls customers out of stores, shuts down local, small-town papers, & largely eradicates a great deal of face-to-face interaction that was once the foundation of thriving communities. 

Yes, thanks to technology we can argue with one another in the comments section of pertinent newspaper articles online. We can attempt to sell our neighbors the junk we don't want on Facebook. We can share pictures of our kids & pictures of our redecorated homes without actually inviting people into our homes to interact with our kids & see our new paint color. There is almost nothing technology doesn't touch (I am tempted here to segue into The Paris Seamstress & discuss technology as it relates to intimate relationships, but I will not).

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse wrote a book titled The Vanishing American Adult. In this book he says, "It is not only the content of a book that changes you but the shared community with those who have read it, discussed it, argued about it." He also posits that, "In the midst of extraordinary prosperity, we’re also living through a crisis. Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before."

Both of these quotes make me think of my late grandfather. He loved to read, & he loved to discuss what he read. He was willing to listen to you discuss what you'd read. He loved to share ideas & opinions with the community of which he was a part. To my knowledge he was never a member of a book club, but I bet he would've enjoyed that. He valued knowledge, but more than that he understood the value of sharing & discussing & debating ideas with people; in sum, he understood the necessity of community. That the paper with whom he shared so many of his thoughts is shuttering on his birthday makes me immensely sad. 

I suppose what I am trying to say here, aside from working through my feelings about the closure of the Bastrop Daily Enterprise, is to think about the communities of which you are a part. Think about the communities you're fostering for your kids. Because of cars & technology &, yes, in our case private school, we can be selective about the community we build for our kids. We don't take them to the church or the school nearest our home. Family is, or should be, the bulwark against the ills Senator Sasse mentions—isolation & purposelessness—but the happy, nuclear family as the rule rather than the exception is (not coincidentally) collapsing right along with communities, & thus many people have no anchor, no safe place, no home. We are able to connect in more ways than ever before, but we are also burying ourselves behind screens, sometimes even when in the presence of others, & it is impacting us in ways I don't think we have even begun to understand on both the micro & the macro level.

If you've ever watched even a few episodes of Gilmore Girls you know that after Luke Danes the most endearing aspect of the show is the setting, Stars Hollow, a storybook town in Connecticut. Many of the principal characters on the show are single people, but you don't get the sense anyone is alone. The sense of community is so palpable it is a character itself. It's idyllic, & you want to live there. Luke Danes famously doesn't allow cell phones in the diner he runs, the diner in which he pours countless cups of coffee for members of the community who sit & talk to one another. It is no coincidence Gilmore Girls began & rose in popularity in the early 2000s when we were just beginning to grapple with the ways technology was continually changing our world. 

The quote above is taken from some of John Donne's prose, & this is the fuller quote:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Yes, this was the source from which Hemingway lifted the title of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls

This Friday, March 29, is also the date Britain was slated to walk away from the European Union. Had that happened as scheduled it would be a birthday present my late grandfather would certainly welcome. I can guarantee he would not be a fan of the European Union. It seems Britain cannot get her act together at the moment. I am cheering for you, Britain. I hope a leader emerges who will honor the people's vote & you can extract yourself from the EU in the near future.

I know perhaps it's odd for me to go on & on about the virtues of community & then advocate for Britain to leave the EU, but please understand that I do not, & you should not, equate growing government—the coalescence of smaller, independent nations into a larger, powerful entity—with community. I think government encroachment coupled with the ubiquitous use of technology harms local communities, but we'll save attacks on Big Brother for another day. 

My point regarding community, if in fact I have one, is that I do not want to live to be ninety years old, my kids perhaps living hours away from me, & look up from my screen one day to realize I do not know & never talk to my geographical neighbors because everyone I know & "talk to" lives behind a screen. I don't want my kids to live behind screens. 

Never again will we return to the days of local print-newspapers filled with editorials from concerned local citizens like my grandfather, but we do not have to resign ourselves to lives of technology-fostered isolation. The isolation is literally killing some of us; kids—kids with thousands of friends & followers on social media—are turning to drugs that kill them, or they are resorting to purposefully taking their own lives, lost in feelings of despair & purposelessness. Family guards against these things, & so too do functional communities. I will add that what does not guard against despair or purposelessness is government. 

I love book club for so many reasons. Sasse hits on most all of them in his quote: 

"It is not only the content of a book that changes you but the shared community with those who have read it, discussed it, argued about it."

Book club keeps me reading, but I could do that all by myself with some self-discipline. I love it because it gets me out of the house to talk face-to-face with women I otherwise simply say Hi to in passing at church as we attempt to corral our children. Sure, we exchange memes & chat on Facebook, but there is no substitute for the community-building exercise of taking the time to sit & discuss ideas face-to-face. We commit to reading the same book, & that shared commitment creates a bond. The community we've built is invaluable to me.

At the risk of sounding like someone running for a local alderman spot, consider looking into local opportunities to spend face-to-face time with people in your community. Step out from behind the comfort of your screen & boldly engage in some realtime interpersonal interaction. It is good for you; it might be the highlight of this week for the person with whom you engage. Human interaction is medicinal, I promise. Give someone a reason to return to church, or the grocery store, or your favorite local restaurant. Talk to them. Lure them from their lonely isolation by reminding them that they're a part of the main.

This Friday the LSU men's basketball team will play basketball; the last time they made it to the Sweet Sixteen my grandfather was alive. I look forward to watching the game, assuming my mom-duties allow me to be in front of a TV at game time. Despite the proliferation of pollen—which I hate so much—the week ahead looks promising. I hope you have a good week. 


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