Summertime Resolutions

Honestly, I know it’s not the thought that counts. It’s the time, attention, and action that count—making a sincere declaration with no follow-through is worse than avoiding the issue altogether. In my household, we are masters of good intentions; I’d like to believe that we’re genuinely decent and trustworthy folks who are just easily distracted (I mean, we are bottle-feeding six orphan kittens right now), but we really need to work on making and sticking to some long-term goals.

For those of us whose Januarys consist of darkness, cold, and snow, New Years is an awful time to make a significant, behavior-changing resolution. Just getting out of bed on a cold mid-January morning should be considered a major life achievement, and I shouldn’t have to worry about getting my butt to the gym or not having dessert when I deserve to be rewarded for stumbling into a dark and freezing kitchen to push the coffee pot’s “on” button while the rest of my household is still resting peacefully.

Anyway, we are a house full of teachers and students. Summer is our season of freedom and opportunity. So from now on, every June I will make a summer resolution (even if I’m no longer bound by a traditional high school teacher’s schedule). And I will follow-through with that resolution.

It has been pointed out to me that writing my resolution down in a very public way will help keep me focused on my commitment, so what better first resolution for a writer trying to conquer ADD (or is it ADHD now?) than a resolution focused on writing? So here it is: I’m going to update this blog every week through the end of summer. I might even write more than one per week, but my goal is at least one. And I fully expect my family members and friends who’ve been bugging me about sharing my thoughts about life and liberty in a more public forum to read what they have wrought. You know who you are.

So this has been the first installment. Next topic:  kittens.

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Indiana is America

Except for the years between 1983 and 1987, when the U.S. Army sent me to all types of delightful locales, I have lived in Indiana my entire life. From the rocky beaches of the Arctic Ocean to Hawaii’s bays and North Shore in winter, I have experienced some of our planet’s most beautiful landscapes. But for me, Hoosier born and bred, nothing beats an October full moon rising over ripe fields awaiting harvest. Nights spent slowly driving country roads in the heat of the summer, listening to classic rock and smelling the humid corn growing tall, are seared into my brain, providing eternal links to a thousand great memories that I will carry with me forever.

Indiana is Little League and pick-up trucks, grandparents honking their horns as they sit outside the fences to escape the hard bleachers and bugs, the sound of their excitement piercing the warm evening air as kids run to stretch doubles into triples. Indiana is cold November mornings spent shivering in deer stands, young hunters praying for a trophy while the old folks dream of the warm bed they’ve left behind to accompany their children and grandchildren in the chase for elusive whitetails. Indiana is the breakfast restaurant, a place that closes after the lunch hour, but nobody minds because the biscuits and gravy are a bit of heaven and you’ve seen a score of friends before drinking your second cup of coffee.

Indiana is pitching in to help strangers change a flat tire without asking about their sexual orientation. Indiana is coming home to find bags of groceries just inside your unlocked front door a few days after your mom or dad gets a seasonal layoff notice down at the shop. Indiana is people considerate and kind enough to buy and deliver those groceries, and nobody asks what happens in your bedroom before they bring them over.

There are bigots in Indiana, but not very many, not anymore. We’ve labored beside too many people called minorities who work their butts off and follow the rules like we do to believe you can label entire groups. We’ve seen too many people with our own cultural traits descend into abuse and poverty, seemingly content to rotate from welfare to prison and back again. We know we are living in the 21st Century. We have the internet and Smart Phones, although those phones sure seem to encourage some of our fellow Hoosiers to do stupid things like sending pictures of their private parts to their friends, and sometimes strangers. New York has Anthony Wiener, we have Bubba Junk.

So, yes, sometimes it can be embarrassing to be from Indiana, mainly when our elected representatives do incredibly stupid things. Having the lowest voter turnout in the nation for the 2014 election cycle is a legitimate cause for Hoosier shame. But Indiana is a beautiful place, mostly populated by genuinely nice people. Our current state politicians may have little regard for the will of Indiana’s citizens (obvious case-in-point: Glenda Ritz), but, fortunately, time marches on.

Our Disturbing Zeitgeist

As a history major in college I always loved the word, “Zeitgeist,” which my professors explained as meaning, “The Spirit of the Times.” Understanding the zeitgeist surrounding historical events is critical to any attempt to interpret history as objectively as possible. But recently I’ve been trying to figure out the current zeitgeist. I once heard that when Dwight Eisenhower was asked by a reporter after VE-Day to explain what World War Two meant to mankind, he told his questioner to, “Wait fifty years and see.” Whether true or not, I love the logic behind this statement. Every day, all day, we hear people on news and commentary programs across the nation giving us their opinion on what is happening, and why. Often, they present their opinions as fact, usually claiming to be the one true source of information available to their audience. But some of these people have now been spouting off for decades, and we have the luxury of examining their claims and predictions against what we now know. Sometimes they were right, and sometimes they were wrong, but nobody was right about everything. My point is that trying to identify the current zeitgeist in any society is difficult to do.

Nevertheless, I’m going to try to do just that, and if I’m going to attempt to offer my opinion as fact concerning our current zeitgeist, I’m going to use a serious subject: our obsession with vampires and zombies. Now, the vampire is an ancient creature, found in mankind’s earliest writings in one form or another. Prior to a few decades ago, vampires were always predatory monsters to be killed as quickly as possible. These days, not so much. Nowadays, vampires tend to be highly cultured, benevolent creatures, eager to engage with humans in nearly every way imaginable, especially as a romantic interest and/or protector. What’s up with that? How did a man-eating monster with a 5,000 year history of blood-drinking morph into our friend so quickly? And zombies…fifty years ago most people didn’t even know what a zombie was. Judging from the hundreds of manifestations with which zombies have been presented to eager audiences over the past forty or so years, we still don’t know exactly what a zombie is. However, one characteristic is usually present in every type of zombie we see in film and print: flesh-eating. Zombies eat humans, usually by dragging them to the ground and starting to gnaw on them while they’re still alive. That’s not cool.

Still, zombies are popular, very popular. A few books and films have tried to present thinking zombies, creatures that living humans should feel sympathy for and stop trying to kill as soon as we see them. These efforts haven’t met with much success, especially when compared with the stories of humans surviving the zombie apocalypse. In short, we like our zombies being killed by heroic humans capable of making consistent head-shots with all types of weapons. The zombies are scary, and sometimes deadly, but small groups of resilient humans usually find ways to overcome the monsters and go on with life. So what does all this mean concerning our zeitgeist?

I think maybe we’re worried that monsters are real. Maybe they aren’t the monsters of lore, but still pose an existential threat to humanity. Our monsters are global warming, climate change, dwindling resources, natural disasters, economic depression, even Monsanto. We humans living in the second decade of the 21st Century are afraid, even if the fears are hidden deep inside our subconscious minds, our collective soul. So how do we cope with that fear? Well, we make the monster not so scary, friendly and helpful even. Why should we be afraid of Edward and Bella? And if we can’t stop the monster from bringing about an apocalypse, then we create groups of ordinary people who discover that they are heroic and quite capable of surviving the disaster. I mean, Rick Grimes and his crew on The Walking Dead were all just ordinary humans until the zombies came, and now they are more than survivors: they are conquerors.

There you have it: the current zeitgeist all neat and tidy. We know monsters are real, and suspect that their day is coming. Perhaps coming very soon. But, the monsters will either turn out to be fascinating creatures who love us, or stumbling, mindless flesh-eaters we can stop if we are smart and tough. I think I understand why we are engaging in this kind of behavior: it’s a survival mechanism. I mean, if we had to constantly live with the indisputable fact that our globe was warming, sea levels rising, weather going haywire, ever increasing demand for ever decreasing resources such as oil and food, we would be out of our minds with fright. Heck, most of our people would need to be on drugs for anxiety and depression, or even panic attacks. No, we’re definitely better off with vampires and zombies playing major roles in our zeitgeist. Dont’cha think?