Monday, August 5, 2019

The Odd Uneven Time

Good Monday morning.

Welcome to August blogging.

Last week I shared the conclusion of my car-mouse saga (- - - > here if you missed it). I also announced some lofty reading goals, & today I'll update you on that progress. 

August is here. By the end of this month the children will be in school, I will be back in the adjunct saddle, & college football will be underway across this great land. 

Last week I announced my plans to tackle Outlander. Outlander is a book series written by Diana Gabaldon. The first book (Outlander) was published in 1991. You read that right; I didn't even have my driver's license when this saga first hit bookshelves. There are currently eight completed novels in the series with a ninth on the way. I believe Ms. Gabaldon has stated the series will end with book ten. 

Outlander is for me what running a marathon is for many other people who, you know, run. Outlander is my marathon. Given my age when the series first began rolling out, I've no memories of a time before women read & loved these books. I rarely have a discussion about books with another woman without a mention of this series. For years I've put off attempting to climb this mountain, but I am almost forty, & it is time. 

Yes, if you're counting at home, at present I am thirty-eight. What that means is I am, in my mind, thirty-nine, & so that's why it's accurate to say I am almost forty. I am a planner, & for as long as I can remember it's been my habit to mentally age myself before the calendar actually marks the event. It's a good system that has worked well for me for many years.

So, as I approach forty, I've decided I will tackle Outlander even if it takes me a decade. If I read one book a year I'll have the series knocked out before my fiftieth birthday. I'd like to think I can manage more than one book a year, but the books are incredibly long, & I am entering a phase of life that I suspect will be dominated by hauling my children all around town to various events & activities.

I've read about half of Outlander, the first book, this last week, & it is good reading thus far. My sister, who recently read the first book in the series, described it as engrossing. That is perhaps the perfect word to describe it.

For those of you who don't know, the premise of the series is this: Claire, the protagonist, is a nurse. When the novel opens it's 1945, & we find Claire on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank. Both served during WWII, & with the war now over they're enjoying some down time. While out meandering in the countryside alone one day, Claire, well, she falls through time. She finds herself in the Scottish Highlands in the year 1743.

It sounds crazy, I know. I am iffy on time travel in novels. It has to be written well, but I've always assumed Ms. Gabaldon pulls it off given the enduring love many women have for her novels. Claire is immediately swept up in the drama of a Scottish clan, & so for the last week I've spent much of my time in the Scottish Highlands circa 1743. Gabaldon obviously did a great deal of research that's woven throughout the novel. I am learning a lot, &, like Claire, I am not eager to return to the present thanks to the antics of a tall Scot named Jamie Fraser.

It's fortuitous that I began reading Outlander as I need somewhere to bury my head & ignore the heartbreaking news that unfolded over the weekend. I don't have the heart or the energy to say much about why young men are, with alarming frequency, picking up weapons & killing large numbers of people. There are so many variables to consider. It seems to me if we're truly seeking answers that might prevent more of these massacres we need to look at what has changed. Guns are not new. Racism is not new. Mental illness is not new. The recent variables added to the equation, variables that must be considered by people serious about addressing the frequency of mass shootings, are cultural shifts & the introduction of the Internet & other technology that connects us all.

I love this quote from Sylvia Plath. It's taken from a journal entry she made in August of 1952.

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”
It perfectly describes this time of year. The beginning of August & the end of August are markedly different, at least for me & my gang. I begin teaching August 19, & the kids will return to school August 23. Yes, the kids start date is late, & I am so thankful for it. I had a graduate school professor who believed school should never begin prior to Labor Day, & she is absolutely correct. School start dates are increasingly earlier & earlier in August, & this is tragic, especially considering some schools don't release for the summer until nearly June. I think we're encroaching more & more on kids' summers at least in part because there's pressure to get them back in school due to working parents who scramble for supervisors for their kids all summer. I was giddy when I saw my kids don't return until the twenty-third of this month. 

This week & the few weeks that will follow are an odd, uneven time of the year. We're on the cusp of things not yet realized. I am in what I think is an odd, uneven time of life. We're transitioning. It's slow, but it's apparent. My kids aren't babies anymore. Henry dressed himself for church yesterday morning. This may not sound revolutionary, but if you have kids you know what a difference it makes when your kids can dress themselves, especially on a Sunday morning.

Reagan will be nine in a few months. Last night I left her at the church building for a youth devo. Later, after I'd returned to pick her up & we were headed home, I realized we'd left her meter bag at the church building. I almost never leave this bag anywhere; it leaves home with us, & it goes wherever Reagan goes. It contains everything we need while away from home pertaining to her diabetes. It stays with her at all times, but beyond school she's not often away from me, & so last night we were in new waters, me leaving her at church with a group of her friends. The lapse in routine is why I forgot to pick up the bag when we left the church building. Obviously I hastily exited the Interstate to head back to the church & retrieve the bag.

It occurs to me these young men who're mowing down people with guns in public places are doing so when they're in the middle of one of life's odd, uneven times. Many of them have, prior to their shooting spree, been expelled from school. They are almost always the product of a broken home. They are almost always described as loners. They enter their late teens & early twenties, a transitory time period that is difficult to navigate for even the most well-adjusted individual, & they have no anchor. They often turn to the Internet for the companionship they lack in real life. In the virtual world they are drawn to others, others they can find thanks to technology, & they explore & verbalize what were previously only dark, perhaps fleeting thoughts.

I don't want to have a gun debate. I don't want to have a debate about what elected officials should do, because the hard truth is there is little they can do to curb these shootings because you cannot legislate away the variables that are conspiring to produce these shooters. If you want to examine specific legislation that contributes to this nation's many ills, let's start with no-fault divorce. Years ago we collectively decided to legally & culturally disavow the significance of marriage. We decided to praise single motherhood. Our television shows have for years depicted many happy, thriving single mothers, & our welfare policies make single motherhood a financial possibility. We are reaping the consequences of this gradual but glaring shift. We don't value the family. We pretend it's an option to be considered rather than the bedrock of a successful nation, a successful civilization. Even our churches, while many are quick to speak out about homosexual marriages, are very quiet about the divorce & remarriage of those who're regularly in the pew on Sunday.

Boys need fathers, & we are fools to continue to pretend otherwise. Males are by nature prone to violence. Have we not all read Lord of the Flies? Boys need healthy socialization via outlets like football & wrestling that give them appropriate venues where they can connect with & explore their penchant for violence. They need men, fathers & coaches, in their life to show them how to do this. We deny their nature when we encourage & enable America's boys to be raised in a house without a father. We deny their nature when we pretend gender is a social construct. If gender is a social construct why is every shooter a male? Culturally we have failed generations of young men. Unless & until we recognize this I suspect little will change. Yelling at public officials to "Do something!" is relatively futile given that the changes that will yield results must come from the foundation up, from inside the home, rather than from the top down. Change a nation's families & you change a nation.

Are these young men responsible for their actions? Of course they are. However, if we are serious about addressing & correcting the reason(s) so many young men are walking into public spaces with weapons, why they show no regard for the lives of others, we have to ask ourselves hard questions about what it is about our society that is producing so many of these crazed, isolated, murderous young men.

Anyway, I am happy to have Outlander, because reality is too much at times. I am happy to have Outlander, all eight completed novels, to look forward to during the many hours I'll spend waiting for my kids to finish school & practice over this next decade. As I approach forty, I pray the extent of my mid-life crisis is reading the Outlander series & deciding to take the plunge & use Mary Kay since, like the rest of me, my face isn't getting any younger.

I hope you have a good week. I can't promise I'll have Outlander finished by next Monday, & here's why. My sister & a handful of other book club members recently read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. They all rave about the book, & so it's on my list. The thing is, the movie adaption of this novel is going to be released on August 15, & so I may have to take a brief leave of absence from Jamie & read Ms. Semple's novel. I want to see the movie, but I don't want to see the movie if I've not yet read the book.

Reach out to the young people in your life, especially those whose home life is deficient or non-existent. It's a small step, & it may not yield the results you desire, but I can only wonder if there are people today who know these most recent shooters, who knew of their isolation, of their obvious troubles, & yet did nothing. If you, like me, believe people rather than legislation are the greatest force for change, be that person. Be a force for change in whatever small way you can. I hope you have a great week.


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