Some Lessons from the Pandemic

I am not going to be very specific in relating the Covid-19 story about myself and my current situation in life. But I am eager to try to explain that everything matters a lot, I am fighting to keep and even improve my health when that is not so easy to do, I am struggling to remain solvent. I am struggling to be responsible for the responsibilities that I still have. I am struggling to improve my condition and keep some small gains as a participant in the economy. I repeat the word struggling advisedly, it is a struggle. In that struggle I rely on some patterns of behavior that have allowed me to survive up to now. I do this even knowing that I have not been a rousing success. I try to figure what changes I can make, I make a few but not that many.

In this balance of competing demands and concerns I often hit a new bump or two that puts the whole balance in jeopardy.  I am writing this post on a day when there are some new threats and challenges in trying to stay in the pattern of life I am trying to keep going. I am aware that there are negative consequences as well as positive ones to every choice I make. last evening I got a call from a robot that brought up very complicated issues from a certain point of view that could be consequential for me. I knew I could not talk to the robot about this so I contacted the AI source at the website level. I realized that his was a site with limited forms of communication as well. But I found one way to at least express the most simple aspect of what was going on. Now I will have to deal with another robot soon or another different website and answer very simplistic questions in a way that is somehow true to my understanding of what happened with the first robot and website. I know that there are often all sorts of legal civil consequences and even criminal penalties associated potentially associated  with an answer on many of these websites even though giving a correct answer may appear to be empirically impossible. But I will do the best I can and live as best I can with the consequences. The Covid-19 crisis is involved in how all this plays out but it does not determine all the factors. Much of it was hard to deal with and part of my life before and in an odd way the pandemic has just cranked up the potential consequences for bad and good.

Going to bed shortly after the online incident described above, I woke and made coffee and had breakfast as I watched the news. I also checked on the progress I have been making with the familiar home based therapy on my chronically ill feet which had reached a crippling state but one in which I have worked before because I avoid jobs that a partly crippled person cannot do.  The swelling malformation and pain were enough diminished that I mowed two lawns which I had prepped two days ago and which I hope to trim over memorial day weekend. Then I ran a few errands and while doing a little laundry I wrote this post. I think I have worked a lot although some people have worked a lot more. But I have also had these kinds of hybrid days. I took a smoke break (cigars outside are my thing) and did a bizarre little urgent repair which reflected the  tools, supplies and conditions on site. It was urgent but not a technique I could recommend to anyone.

As people try to find a new normal we can all see that there will be a lot of good done if we can drive fewer miles. There may be costs and gasoline and even car sales may suffer but keeping the planet alive is also pretty important. If people are at home they will find that they are more responsive to conditions on site at the moment and far less subject to the norms of a public place. This will conflict with the kinds of online structures that make this way of life possible. The result will be that the people living in this new way will experience a different perspective about all of this mix of life and work than if they all commuted to a job where in many cases they then spent a good bit of time driving around to other work venues.

I think that there are opportunities for things to get better, There are also many ways in which things can get worse. But as I try to navigate through this day and through this period of time I try to be guardedly optimistic for myself and for the country I live in and for the world. People will be changed by all of this. It will be difficult to tell what the long terms results will be. Perhaps we will have gotten some experience dealing with uncertainty and finding the best way to optimize current conditions. That is where people are finding themselves now in some cases. That is the  situation in which I find myself.

What About Winning?

I have not yet watched the documentary The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the great farewell season of the Bulls as coached by Phil Jackson.  It seems like I will get a chance to watch a good bit of it but not all. I like winners and winning pretty well. But I am not a person who can say I like it in an uncomplicated way.

 

When Donald Trump was running for President he said that if he could be elected he would make his listeners or supporters or the United States  tired of winning.  As I type this on my laptop wearing two braces and with a walking cane in my car in case I need it I am reminded that I was never a great athlete. The kind of winning most genuinely admired by the greatest portion of my countrymen and many other people was never mine. I played a lot of sports and I did some winning and some losing but there was nobody keeping long term track of the percentages. I have done a little coaching as well and because it was so little I do know my record and it was extraordinarily good. But it was too small of a sample to mean a lot. I actually have had some very high percentages of wins in some online games where I took on players from around the world.  But that too probably does not mean all that much. I don’t much feel like a winner on an average day in my life.

The truth is that there are a lot of differences in how winning is perceived and some seem to have an ethnic root and a tie to national  history. There is a proliferation of very good works by Americans on military strategy and a willingness to learn from the whole world but I am not sure there is a master work on strategy that towers over the rest. American heroes from Jackson, to John Paul Jones, to Patton and MacArthur really seem pretty heterogenous and none of them particularly resemble George Washington — at least so ir seems to me. Sun Tzu’s   Art of War however does find resonance in Mao’s Little Red Book or The Sayings of Chairman Mao. Principals of not surrendering, engaging across a variety of means of waging war, not seeking glory, keeping losses low when possible and being able to bear horrific losses — these all seem sort of Chinese. Carl Von Clausewitz’s work On War seems deeply connected to the part of Adolph Hitler’s military ideas in that smaller portion of Mein Kampf . Discipline, preparation, aggression and a focus on decisive battles also seems pretty German to me. For me the greatest book on British strategy is The Strategy of Indirect Approach (1941, reprinted in 1942 under the title: The Way to Win Wars)  by B. H. Liddel Hart. That book seems to me to hold a certain grasp of the British genius of war. I could go on with  the French, Jews, Greeks, Spaniards and the Japanese connection to The Book of Five Rings. But I will not do that it is not my purpose. I simply want to say that in my own life I have developed a view of winning and a strategy of winning that suits me and my past, resources and strengths even by that standard I have not won that much.  I do think that I have come to accept that some of my biggest weaknesses have caused me to seek out something close to a minimum survival on the one hand and  to work towards rather high yield and extremely difficult objectives on the other hand. As I pas through this present time of change, uncertainty and trouble I have a part of me that is devoted to win-win thinking and avoiding zero-sum games. There is another part of me that values competition, struggle and keeping score. The last part realizes that in the bigger picture even those of us playing to win will not all be playing the same game in the fave of such a large and complex crisis as that of the current era.

COVID-19 and the Carousel of Crises

This has been a unique time for me in a life that has had lot of changes. Those are changes that make each part of my life different from every other. But in a short time this crisis has had many parts. I have been in a continuous process of redefining what this crisis will be for me

There was the early part of the crisis when I got my insurance license back and then my annuity certification.   It seemed like I had a pretty good plan for not just survival but even making the most of the crisis and moving well into the future on the other side. I have since begun to fray a bit.  It is probably because my life had pretty much reached a place of  relative dead end before the crisis.

 

I then tried to publish a book and revive this blog.  I had some setbacks on both counts. There has been a good bit of additional trouble since then.

 

I live in a region where the flood of 2016,  the BP -Macondo Oil Leak,  Hurricanes Rita and Katrina coming in the same year and the Oil Crash of the early 80s are the way many of us organize our informal spoken memoirs. In the midst of that big national crises like the current pandemic and the attacks of 9/11 are further structures for organizing the marking of time. Today, I am feeling less than optimum and I hope that it has nothing to do with the early days of ambiguous malaise that some describe as the onset of Covid-19 infections. Probably that is not it but I had a feeling that this year of my life had dark clouds attached to it and this year is coming to an end. My birthday is June 15. So as with Ceasar and the Ides of March, I  take a wait and see attitude. The hardest thing about possibly dying for me is what I still had left to do — but I do not pretend that there was a great chance that I would do it.  The struggle is more my heritage than the great indisputable victory. I see in Dudley Leblanc an example of lifelong struggle against the odds. He knew more victories than I but his life saw a very large share of defeats as well. I find some glory in the causes that he fought for and although I feel that the record has not been fair to him it has at least included him and I think much more than whatever I may have done will be remembered  when my life’s struggle is ended.

It was the perception of many that his involvement with free enterprise opportunities for African Americans in the life insurance business was the single obstacle that made it impossible for him to be elected Governor. One of Dudley Leblanc’s principal businesses was the Thibodeaux Benevolent Association which I think was a fraternal life insurance company although I have not seen the By-laws. He was really engaged for longer with this enterprise than with HADACOL, the medicine show company for which he is more often remembered. The clientell of TBA was more Cajun than  a randome distribution of people would predict but it had members all over the country from various white ethnic groups and perhaps some others neither white nor African American.  But he also served on the board of the of the People’s Benevolent Association. This fraternal engaged in promoting the welfare of Negroes as they were called was a completely unacceptable involvement for a man of political aspirations in his day. So his involvement in the well run, orderly and prosperous Negro life insurance enterprise which was neither a voter registration organization, nor communist nor incendiary became the greatest political crisis of his life when it was discovered. That was a crisis manufactured by those in power. I will not list them here but my view is that my own life has been shaped badly by manufactured crises as well.

I do not feel as attached to life as I once did. But I hope to get through this crisis and fight another day. That will be my reward. More struggle. Then one day I will not be able to struggle anymore. Then I will dismount from the Carousel of Crises. Perhaps God will have mercy on my soul when that day comes.

 

 

Looking at some changes ahead.

What is clearly a unique time has allowed me to spend some time on this blog. The results in April showed some readers coming back and a few new views as well. But in May things have been less promising. However I am planning to find the time and resources to do a little housekeeping and hopefully improve the site over the next month. After that I may not have much to give beyond trying to post regularly. But perhaps for those who wish to find it the blog will again add value to their regular reading as it once seemed to do on a purely statistical basis.

The Last Hurrah!

Monday, May 11 is my parents 57th wedding anniversary. Sunday, May 10th was Mothers Day. All my brothers and sister except one (and many but not all their kids ) did one of those drive by parades for Mom. It was a glorious moment grief and obstructed by social distancing. We had a police escort.  I had an Exclamation printed at print shop because that was my part of the caravan spelling out Happy Mothers Day! I have no pictures of the event except the ones in my mind which will soon fade. But it fills in with many other memories of our American family. Like any family the record has dark clouds and dangerous valleys as well as the moments of glory.

Family life is part of the main sequence and the principal photography. It is part of the warp and woof. It is part of the entree and principal table setting. But I have lived my life with a view as to how it would end even from my early youth, There has always been a sense of making the final shot, having the story end the right way and other such metaphors for the yet metaphorical final curtain. I was never sure how that would be but I think I had a few hundred possibilities that were somehow acceptable and thousands or more other possibilities that were not acceptable but that I knew were not necessarily avoidable just because  I did not like them. The story was  not entirely mine to write and I oft used the saying, the  source of which I have forgotten, which says “Things generally end badly or they would not end.” In the larger context of Heaven and Hell,  heroic last stands the sayings that have been given meaning for centuries of loyal subjects who made them trues like “The king is dead Long Live the King!” and other cries of succession — we all know that many things just fall apart and collapse. I am in a phase of wrapping up what is left of my life not building toward another phase of it. To a very remarkable degree I am just past the milestones where I might have stayed to settle or taken the turns to some other destination.

This post is called the Last Hurrah! It is not about death exactly but about the end of my life in a larger sense, This is one of the posts that sort of highlights my roles or nature as a critical and malcontent patriot in America. I have written a good bit in that vein and some regular readers would notice it but my blog was shuttered to long for any of you to be regular readers. I am happy to have this blog but the interruption has changed the graph quite a bit of what might have been. My attention is turning inward these days and I am not as interested in the future of my country as I once was but I do still care and not only enough to vote and opine and join students in class in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

A bit of evidence that I have a little gung ho left in me is that I support the USO.   What follows is not the kind of thank you email I have posted here from other charities but it did come shortly after  I made one of the small donations I try to make a few times a year at best. Pictures were provided in most of the segments.

Frank,

As the COVID-19 crisis continues into another month, I want to highlight the importance of entertainment in fulfilling the USO’s mission. To some, USO activities and celebrity performances may seem like “extras,” or “nice-to-haves.” In reality, their impact on morale is immense. They offer much-needed distractions from the stresses of difficult missions and make service members and their families feel remembered and valued.

Social distancing, widespread quarantines and base restrictions have made boredom-busting and morale-boosting activities more important than ever — and much more challenging to pull off. I hope these stories of your USO in action will illustrate the power of your gift to us.

You can’t hide these smiling eyes.

At this impromptu party, the food and music didn’t matter nearly as much as the gesture. Recently, 109 Marines deployed from Camp Foster, Japan, to Guam at 1:30 a.m. The USO Foster team set up five tables in the parking lot, blasted some lively music and served our Marines with smiling eyes — due to the face masks covering their actual smiles. Members of our USO team were the only ones there to see them off.

These stars love the stars and stripes.

When superstars make time for you, you feel like a VIP. Award-winning actors, musicians, comedians and other entertainers – both long-time USO supporters and new friends – have helped us launch a virtual USO tour. We’re livestreaming performances and Q&As directly to bases and to service member phones. Check out some of our headliners.

The delight is in the details.

The USO Erbil team in Iraq assembled three different goody bags to distribute on base: a Card Shark Kit with a list of card games, a Spa Kit and a 550-Cord (parachute cord crafting) Kit. Before the COVID-19 base restrictions, our volunteer Amanda had taught a popular 550-cord craft class in person. For the kits, she made careful, step-by-step directions with pictures to guide service members through making a bracelet. (pictures were included here).

By Air or by Hair:

To close this week’s update, I want to share one story about a single veteran, and another about a group of leaders in our Pentagon who also understand how much morale matters.

In 1944, this WWII paratrooper (pictured in the email)  cut his hair into a mohawk to intimidate the Germans. Now, he’s sporting the statement haircut again to raise spirits during the pandemic.1
Have you been keeping an eye on the sky? The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds have been conducting “Operation America Strong,” flying over U.S. cities in a rousing salute to first responders, essential workers and military service members battling COVID-19.2
Any contribution or donation right now will make a big impact on the lives of service members near and far.

SUPPORT OUR TROOPS »
Sincerely,

 

I still do care about America and still wish at some level things had worked out to allow me to do more. This post is about the possible end of an era in our country and the world but it is also about the sense in which I live my own life. Little Richard just died but apparently not of Covid-19. He was yet another sign of a page turning in popular culture along with the Covid deaths. Roy Horn was getting to old to do his act and had never returned as a performer after being bitten by one tiger after so many had fallen under his talent based magic. It seems oddly horrifying tome that he has been replaced in American culture by the Netflix series the Tiger King — although I have not seen the show.  It is less notable today but there was a time when a good number of people who knew me and actually got along with me might have said that I had a hero complex. I think that — as such people would have meant it very long ago — is fair comment. The world goes on but we must live with who we are in the ever changing and yet remarkably consistent world. Among other things I have read an article or two that his may mark the end of the stock market as we know it. The forty million dollar guaranteed minimum prizes of the Powerball and Mega Millions have ended. Supposedly thousands of small businesses have ended. These are just America centered facts. That does not do justice to all the many lives that have been lost in this country and around the world. For me this has been a time of trying to keep things together. It has been an attempt to end as little as possible but there have been many things that did end. Another important one ended Friday. Sunday May 10 was Mother’s Day and the day after that is my parents wedding anniversary. The same Sundaywasalso my nephews First Communion.  He and another of my nephews were about to make their First Communions together when the pandemic closed the churches and upended those plans.    I am sorry to say I was eager enough to go to that first ceremony but was not able to attend the private ceremony in a tiny chapel for the first one and will not attend the more open outdoor mass for the second one that will be held tomorrow. Maybe it is for the best. I am not a regular churchgoer anymore. Nor do I see that changing. I have been praying a bit more these days but not as much as I used to. I have still kept reading the short book (208 pages more or less) Failing Forward that I mentioned in my last post. It is helping me process some tough times but is not making it all clear nor am I applying it in a way that would fairly test its principles. But i find life to be about letting go of more and more things every year both old and new,

But, I am not as much of a standout for being Gung Ho as far being critical and not very content, I hold the two things to both be compelling obligations. I have to try to support what my country is and what keeps it together and equally I have to be true to myself and for me there are so many things going in directions that are burdensome, sad, troubling depressing and just bad.

The documentary series “The Last Dance” on ESPN is something I would like to watch but have not been able to watch yet.  Friday of this week was perhaps the most disappointing day of the Corona Virus Pandemic for me personally. it was a day when the strains of a number of adjustments that I have had to make added up to such a significant cumulative total that I just could not go forward without being significantly affected. The interior storms are always the ones I mind the most. I do really find life in America in general amazingly hostile and depressing on a trend over what is becoming a series of  great number of years and the general trend is that it gets worse in so very many ways every year.  That is why it is strange to feel kindly treated by the society as a whole in this crisis. I feel that I am not being treated by the standard of lying, evil twisted and hate-filled smug authoritarianism that I personally experience as very much the norm in dealing with the major institutions of the Land of the Free.  Friday with some accumulation from the past few days was closer to a reversion to the norm. Life showed me again how horrible and impossible my life here often is and I feel the very certain sense that things will get worse till my life is snuffed out to the satisfaction of the observers. But this last Saturday, I woke grateful for the little respite that I have enjoyed in the midst of all this crisis. Whether that will last or not for another day, week or year it is worth noting while it is reality.  At this moment little in form of institutionalized hate and attempted murder is directed my way. I should enjoy that change of pace. I am grateful to be included in the relief and stimulus plans when so many plans were so carefully devised to exclude me. But I am only hoping and not at all sure that things will be alright for a while when we get through this crisis. I am only taking each little step I can/ Maybe the result of this rest and passive income will be to give a little more force, hope and style to the end — just maybe instead of a whimper I will be restored enough not for a new start   or grand plans  but enough to have a little last hurrah in a few ways instead of just watching the decay  of some things I built and the burning structure of others.

 

 

 

The Bumpy Road: Covid -19 and Earning my AARP Card

Mother’s Day in a pandemic for a single man who just got his AARP membership card is a unique point in life’s journey and perhaps deserves a quick post. Whether it deserves a post or not it is getting one here. But this is not really about Covid-19 or Mother’s Day it is about the struggles of life.

I will turn back to getting my AARP card later in this post. I will be turning 56 in June. It seems like a long time ago that I turned fifty. I was not a superlatively healthy kid. But I lament the loss of my photos by the score of me hunting, fishing canoeing and climbing trees. They provided a useful alternate view of the reality that I was a quiet and bookish kid often afflicted with allergies, childhood asthma and other health problems which were more chronic and debilitating than acute. But I do have more mud and grass on my school pictures than most people did, I had a snakebite, several broken bones and lots of other issues that occasionally reinforced my pattern of social distancing and that were earned out in the real world. Nonetheless, I liked to think, visit with older people and be alone on a way that comes from being picked last in many sports and near last in others.  However, I remember some glory days in quite a few sports and not everyone can honestly say the same. I hit quite few home runs in backyard lots and though they were a tiny percentage of the times I was at bat there is a lot of that failure to hit thing in baseball. A book that I am reading just now, which is at the center of this blog post has a chapter called “Get a New Definition of Failure and Success” . In that chapter the author tells of going to watch a game in which a baseball player got the 5,113th out of his career. He later mentions that this guy was also the great Tony Gwynn who got the 3,000 hit of his career during the same game. The author of the book was at the game but missed the historic hit due to the foibles and vicissitudes of his own life and schedule.  I cannot relate to the kind of success that superstars enjoy but I still find the story compelling.

 The story is illustrative of how failure is part of doing something difficult often enough to achieve great success.  But most of us are not going to be superstars. I am glad at times to have done what I regard to be a lot of good work and a lot of other work while also making some money to meet some obligations. Often enough my work and making money have been in conflict not on the same trajectory. A very different person just mentioned in the book is Vincent Van Gogh who is widely considered one of the greatest artists of all time and sold only one painting in his life. Of course, I cannot help but feel that Van Gogh and the American self help book industry are very much on opposite sides of the spectrum of human experience but more power to the author for including the angst-ridden painter at east briefly in his book.   

I have not read as much during this semi-quarantine as I would have hoped I would read.  But I have picked up some books that I had wanted to read for some time. I recently replaced most of the gaskets in my almost twenty year old car. There were more than a few which were leaking. It was not the last thing that needed to be done but it was the most urgent. I think that despite my relatively new tire and suspensions it may have been a ride over one the occasional rough and bumpy roads which triggered many leaks in these aging gaskets to go at the same time. It is not the same as a perfect vehicle but I am invested in keeping it going a little longer. I think that this crisis is a patch of bumpy road that is doing some damage. I basically do believe that sort of football coach stuff that finds its way into adages and maxims like “when the going gets tough the tough get going”. Biblical adages about the faithful like gold tested in fire, wisdom emerging from the crucible of humiliation, salvation being what happens when the wheat is left over after winds of wrath have blown the chaff away.   Those are the Biblical passages less likely to appear on mugs and bumper stickers that have some meaning for me. This is a time to find the inspiration to carry on and reach the goals that remain,  I also got my AARP card this week, it is almost six years after I reached the age to qualify for this participation as a member in the American Association of Retired Persons, which is what the letter stood for as I remember but which has been  transcended over time.  I am certainly not retired. 

I am reading John Maxwell’s Failing Forward during this Stay at Home period. I am not sure what the purpose if someone of my age reading a self help book can really be — but I am sure that it helps me brighten my perspective a bit to read such things from time to time. The effort to find my way in life does not get easier. I am aware that it may just end soon and that won’t much matter in the way that many lives matter, But I still try to devote myself to finding a way a forward from time to time. Some of that guidance comes from more abstract sources like science and philosophy. Some comes from spiritual classics and sources that are clearly spiritual and religious. but some comes from the self help sections of American bookstores and libraries. Failing Forward is an important enough book in that it focuses on the necessary process of growing and succeeding through failure. I have read whole shelves full of academic books with footnotes and those in several languages and honestly for me the books like this one will always fall into the category of nearly guilty pleasures like the many paper back spy thrillers and pulp science fiction books I read on life’s road. 

from Pexels by Valentin Antonucci
Compass or not we all must travel less than perfect paths.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. It is a day to honor and show affection for one’s mother.  I have tried to find a way to do that.  It will be different because of social distancing. The set of pictures below does not contain any pictures  of women with whom I have been romantically involved. There is a bible passage at the start of the big book in early  chapters Genesis that says  “It is not good for man to be alone”.   The story goes on to tell of this being God’s motivation for creating Eve from Adam’s rib. The story has been subject to a feminist critique in recent decades and always had some limits as a paradigm but it has a kind of ring of truth as well. In woman there is something that completes what a man is and does, For men the presence and identity of women is one of the links by which we see the world as complete and hopeful. That may be true to some degree of how some or many women see men but it is not exactly the same.

 

 

 There are a few males included in the pictures above but we see a pattern of human experience in the female form of life. We are able to glimpse, in all these women, some part of what we as men honor on Mother’s Day. It is not so easy to be sure what family and motherhood ought to mean these days. But certainly what I have heard about the popularity of the Netflix series the Tiger King  shows a different focus of American ideas just now. There is a cost to the decline of the traditional family. The value of men and the traditional family has not been without its defenders. That is not what this book is but it seems related in some tenuous way to other such books.

<li class=”wp-block-coblocks-gallery-collage__item item-1″>One of the areas of human potential that has been addressed in the industry of American self-help literature is the area of masculinity. That work is evident over the years in books like Maximized Manhood: A Guide to Family Survival, Fatherhood: A Fresh Start for the Christian Family, Iron John: A book About Men Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in the Light of the Scriptures and the Social Sciences. .each of these books celebrates manhood in reference to a high if arguably disingenuous value of women. I have lost a few segments of earlier versions of this post in the editing process and that is just one of many aspects of the troubles with technology which characterize my life. I think I do alright, but staying current in technological terms is one of the bumps on my life’s road.    Therefore I may never get the links to the above books working properly again. Mothers  of course have a lot of experience with finding good past failure. But there is a difference between men and women because men really cannot expect to become mothers.

So as a man who is not a father and is not likely to become a father, I am aware that motherhood is a great and complex journey on which I am not engaged. I have posted about motherhood and mother’s day tangentially on this blog here, here and here.  In my model constitutions I  discuss  motherhood and womanhood quite a bit. But Mother’s Day is usually devoted more to writing Mother’s Day cards and Facebook posts to my living and actual mother.  This is not really such a post as I would class as a Mother’s Day post.  I am sure that pregnancy and childbirth in this pandemic must be even more extraordinarily challenging than the ordinary series of natural miracles and ordeals which normally define this process.

I never have really known the world as a great male athlete knows the world but there was a time when I at least  felt that I participated in the life of manhood and did not have to sweat the details to feel those feelings that go with being a man. .   But later life has brought some indignities since then. The most recent is that my e-harmony profile gave me a substantially higher score for the feminine side of my personality than for the masculine side. I think that the fact that i watched ice dancing with my ex-wife, have worked in female dominated workplaces, have done much of my own cooking and housekeeping explain a lot of that but of course that is real stuff and I could have ended up doing other things.  I have so many memories of playing rough sports, chopping trees, shooting guns, riding horses, building fences, working on cars, and hiking alone in the wilderness but I somehow do not think that showed up as well in the test, I honestly have had a lot of female friends and spent a lot of time with female  relatives but there have been a lot of of hunting camp and road trip experiences with the guys as well. I think that more than anything. I missed the boat of life which would have recognized the kinds of courtship, family life and eroticism in all its many forms which was suited to me and which was actually eroded by very powerful forces. So I seem to have kind of lost my guy card amid all the powerful forces at play in the world. Women may say different things but I think that few are attracted to men with  a perceived surplus of feminine qualities. My brother gave me a book a few years ago called Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan Petersen.  That author also seeks to figure out the path of masculinity for his largely young male following but he does it in a less direct and exclusive way than the books on manhood I listed above. I liked the book alright. I am not that guy either however.

I do not think that I am really the kid who got beat by all the jocks and warriors and just cannot take life’s hints. I remember going into  martial arts studio once and not being well received partly because one of their best fighters out moved and out paced me but also because I kicked him literally off the sparring mat which that particular studio had. I also remember taking down two highly trained killers drunk behind a bar in a relatively friendly non lethal bar fight. I have not had a legendary sex life but I really like girls. I think society does not doe me a lot of justice in terms of understanding my sexuality. I have my resentments about all of that and it is too late for them to be resolved.

There is so much more I could say about all of this but I will change course and reach my conclusion. Not all of us are going to recover from the crisis well enough to feel like winners. Some of us have suffered losses and adversities that we honestly feel we cannot overcome. Some of us are the walking wounded and will not get over the ways we have been wounded in areas central to our identity. But even if we are not going to be superstars we can make the best of this. We can do our best, look for opportunities and respect ourselves. We can treasure our good moments. We can honor our Mothers and other mothers this Sunday and Americans can join in the national day of prayer today. We can enjoy the safe interactions that we have with loved ones. Life is not just about the good times and goodness is to be found in all times.   

 

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Covid-19: Anxiety for the Already Anxious

I have a lot of anxiety about this whole situation. I am anxious about whether I go out too much and do not stay at home enough under the stay at home order. I am anxious about all the things that fall behind because I stay at home so much more than I am used to doing. I am anxious about giving less care than I used to to some people I used to care for more. I am anxious when I give the limited care that I do still give to those people it may be too much and may either actually expose them to the virus or allow the wide range of judgmental idiots I have dealt with to irrationally blame me should they contract the virus elsewhere. I am very anxious about my finances — this is not just in a simple context of asking “Do I have enough Money?? I have complex and layered anxiety beyond the mere fact that I may not have enough money to meet my needs. But while I have all of this anxiety I am more concerned about what I do with it than I am concerned about the anxiety itself. I have tried to deal with the anxiety and its causes in a variety of ways as I look back on the days since March 13 and leading up to this day when I wake up to a Covid-19 death toll over seventy thousand in the United States after some long time of increased isolation.

Since the Covid-19 Pandemic began I have reached out on my Facebook account posting links to charities that I have supported, posting notices of feeding programs and pre-K registration from my principal employer. Posting medical and social and new notices I find or which are provided by friends. In addition I post links to this blog and its posts. I think what I d on these posts matters but I do not think that they matter all that much. I have struggled with more resolve and conviction in my life that I will feel at any time in the future — I feel sure of that. . But being involved helps me to move beyond my anxiety. Although I am aware that I am not a person of many resources and not a person with much reason for hope. Yet, I have given multiple donations to Family Missions Company, multiple donations to Second Harvest and Feeding America and single donations tot he Nature Conservancy, The Sewing with Savoie outreach of the Acadian Museum and RIP Medical Debt. I know that it has been real money and I do not have that much but I feel that if there has ever been a time when donations to good causes were needed then this is that time. Doing something also lessens my sense of futility and helplessness.

We each cope in our own ways. I chat often with a relative who was coping by riding his bike and playing instruments. His more sensible touring bike was in the shop and he rode an older fancy racing bike he may be two old for and fell and broke his arm in two places. He now cannot play his guitar either and cannot ride his bike and has to deal with great pain. He will also have to find a new path through his anxiety. I also will very possibly face many setbacks in the path going forward through these times. But the situation is serious enough that it reminds us all that we are entitled to feel that it is a struggle to be where we currently are.

I have seen big changes on some things. Some I had a lot to do with and some very little. I volunteered to give a speech, hosted a dinner and participated in a few of the activities for the Ulster project which brought Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland to live with families of the alternate form of Christian faith in America and taught them to socialize with others from that region here. By most accounts things are better in sectarian relations in Northern Ireland than they were then. I feel that the Ulster Project had a small but real influence in creating that change. I had a tiny contribution to the good that the Ulster project did. That is one example that I can discuss freely. There have been other challenges in which I have played a more significant role but of which I can say less.

In recent years my level of effective engagement has generally declined. The question of how my life will play out in the future is very much on my mind. One thing is that different is that though I have posted about the Church recently I am less active as a Catholic and have no interest in committing to any other branch of Christianity as my daily spiritual discipline. Therefore I am wondering also about that aspect of my life. This is also a place where I can give play to anxiety..

One of my friends with whom I have maintained phone and email questions decided with me to take advantage of a day we were both leaving the house anyway. We decided to have a limited interaction in the cemetery where we new there would be fresh air, sunshine and few or no other living people. I realized we had chosen a pretty safe course as got to the large facility and nobody else was viewing the tombs. On other dates ( a few during the year) others would visit their ancestral tombs and of course when there is a burial these days fewer than ten people have been gathering for the graveside service. So it was with a sense of some contentment that I was walking through a cemetery yesterday at a safe social distance from a friend who wanted to put some flowers at his mother’s grave for Mother’s day next Sunday. His father’s marker is there as well although he is not buried there and it does not show his death date. We also visited the tombs of both of my grandmothers resting beside my grandfathers. In addition we visited the tomb of one of my great-grandmothers resting beside my great grandfather and another not resting beside her husband because a difference of religion caused him to be buried across town. I did not take any pictures today and the biggest tomb where my father’s parents and his youngest brother are buried.are not in the library of photos I have access to right now. But some of the tombs pictured here are the same ones I visited.

After visiting the cemetery I picked up a few things at the Dollar General near my home and cleaned and put things away. I took a shower and let a familiar sense of weariness pass over me. This morning I stood beside the bayou and on its banks said to myself that I felt both more of a man and more alive than usual. I end the day feeling back in the groove of less vigor and energy.

We all see the outlines of this pandemic and this quarantine through our own viewpoint. That viewpoint is mostly formed by the phenomena of our experience. Yesterday before going to the cemetery, I slept in a little more than I am normally able to sleep in. I enjoyed a perk of the quarantine in added rest. I woke sore from the past few days of buying a palm plant and moving it along with organic soil and potting mix on Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning and Monday morning I spent first uprooting a blighted and old shrub that was a permanent stunted joining of two plants. — which my mother had been eager to get out of her yard for a while. Then I worked on improving the hole and added the soils, Next I took the palm plant out of its pot set it in the hole and then covered the work with the soil displaced in removing the old plant. Yesterday after the cemetery walk I watered the plant. Prior to the cemetery walk I donated plasma and before that I went over some of my business on line that needed to be taken care of for me to go forward. Today I woke up a little earlier than yesterday. Schedules do not seem to matter much.

But beyond the lens of this crisis my life is not all that great. Like many people my old problems have not all gone away. The new problems are simply layered on top of the older problems. But that does not mean there have not been silver linings. Most of all I have actually had more rest and that very likely is the thing I needed most. I have intimated elsewhere and very likely will again what some of the leading causes of my long term anxiety are. Because I have not been silent it is possible for me to not be specific about my anxieties right now. But I am trying ads many are to get through this but also to get through it in a way that will allow me to survive in the new normal to follow. Of course I have to live to see the new normal first.

China, The Good Shepherd and America

This is a Sunday in Easter Season. while Christianity is part of the patrimony of the United States and of the West and a fading and failing patrimony of the Middle East. While it expands in Africa but is challenged  there it is also a force  and institution that is undeniably about all people and is oriented that way at every level since its founding. That at least makes it one of the great religions and also a challenge that cannot be merely overlooked by other forces without a largely Christian influence which have their own agenda  in the world.  American Christianity struggles both with its relationship with larger American society and with the relationship of Christianity and Christians in America to the non-Christian world.  One of the big questions in all of this process of dealing with the pandemic and its accompanying phenomena is understanding what China’s role and responsibility might be. I am a long way from answering any of those questions meaningfully. Today I am just posting about my time in China and what it makes me think of most at this time. In this post I want to discuss what I as an American Christian saw of China and in a minimal way begin to address the larger issues of relations between America and China. I will do that through a somewhat Christian lens.

Today’s readings at Mass were all from the New Testament except the psalm. The psalm was Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd, is the first line and title of the Psalm in English. The Gospel was from St. John’s Gospel the tenth chapter where Jesus Christ describes himself as the Good Shepherd. The first reading was from Acts that Where the Apostles proclaim the crucified and risen Christ s Lord of  Glory. There was a reading from the letters of St. Peter to all Christians describing the sacrifice and Judicial element of the death of  Son of God.  As I mentioned all the major readings were from the New Testament.     I think that happens more often during the Sundays of the Easter Season than at any other time.

The truth is that the essence of the Gospel as proclaimed at Easter is not always easy to hear. Not every Christian is int he place where he or she is spiritually focused and  able to pay attention to the Good News in the Gospel. For many of us more than once in a while there is a sense of the stumbling block in a crucified  Christ. He who was to reign should not have suffered so as to be made to bear our sins it seems if we truly relate to him, if he is truly the Firstborn of all Creation..

China has a variety of burdens in the society which are not related to evaluating that scandal of the cross but are related to a path which has never fallen much under the influence of Christ. I have spent a lot of time studying China and Chines culture and would have spent more if I had it to spend, Although at this time in my life I study less of most things than I would ever have believed that I would.But my vision of China comes mostly from the time I lived and taught there. Some of it seems rather like here and some of it did not.

But the differences were real enough. finding something in common across those differences was the wonder and the struggle of being there. Being there meant being open to China and being a Christian, an American,  and an Anglo-Acadian from Louisiana.  I was serious about trying to be authentic there and trying to be authentically present to the place I was living and the people I was with Some times the two kinds of authenticity worked well together and sometimes they blended less easily.

This Sunday I did not got to mass. I was too busy and otherwise disadvantaged to watch a full mass on TV.  I did stream part of EWTN’s mass on my laptop.  But in an effort to conserve data ( a desire made more intense by the lack of tech support in recent weeks) I did not watch the whole mass. I just skipped around hitting the entrance,the three reading the sermon and part of the Eucharistic prayer. When I taught in China I got up early every Sunday and climbed over the wall f the locked compound at the University and either alone or with a few others I made my way to the Catholic Concession Church across town and went to Mass. Like giving Christmas gifts to every student I had and displaying the American flag on my wall, this was a small way of staying true to who I was.  China was a challenging place in many ways.      I lived in China as it was preparing to host the Olympics and the openness to foreign influence like mine was a at one of the highest points   it has ever been in the country’s history.  I liked China and felt a special connection to the little congregation in the church I attended. Although, I gave some rosaries and a few other things to the underground church I tried to be a strong member of the legal congregation. I felt that within the context of the largely discouraging history of Christianity in China my involvement was both fairly blessed and fairly effective. But there was evangelism and much more there was the kind of dialog that I once viewed with some suspicion when it came to religious matters.

So what I have not done yet is discuss anything about the current crisis and what my background tells me about those people and that country, China was a place where I felt I was giving my best effort to make a difference. It was not the difference of trying to erase all that they are in favor of something else. I tried to serve American interests and I tried to serve the Gospel in a more direct way than I usually do now but as I have tried to most of my life. In some ways my time in China was one of the great crises that has marked my life. I tried to follow up on my life there with years of correspondence sending and receiving gifts and other activities. I also tried to report to my Congressman, law enforcement and other American institutions about some of my concerns that arose there. BUT I NEVER EMBRACED THE LINE THAT TRUMP AND HIS PEOPLE HAVE EMBRACED THAT THEY WERE MAKING TOO MUCH MONEY IN WORLD TRADE. I have not objected strenuously to that policy or to the building of a wall across the Southern border which is very different in every way from the buffer zone I proposed. I have not objected strenuously to Trump’s rhetoric about immigration because I think controlling immigration is vital to national survival although our views diverge on countless points. President Trump just wants “more for me and to hell with you” to be a respectable policy. Well if it is then one can yell but not make a reasonable argument if in fact the persons or countries one is consigning to hell are able to visit hell upon you. The limit to how dark that view is comes from the fact that the profit system is a system of mutual benefit. But we all know it does not always work out that way and in international trade it can get even more dangerous and toxic. Their has to be a constant reference to the rubrics of the trade system or it can be devastating to everyone.

The truth is China takes very little for what it does and is underfunded and that is what is somehow unfair. The Chinese people and interests make mistakes and do bad things and the two together have consequences but they sacrifice more for the national good and the collective good and what remains of their family goo in so many cases. When I was there I took some comfort in the advancement of women compared to the historic Chinese norm, in good quality housing and transport for many and in the planting of trees and the preservation of parks. Working with American companies to make products for the world was a very powerful engine of good cultural exchange in many ways. I have long advocated for supports for American industry but China was not the enemy in my analysis. China was a complicated player in an extremely complicated game and sometimes American and Chinese interests would blend well and sometimes not so much. There were also many protesters sacrificing in a search for the elements of liberty. But there was a tapestry woven through the land of hunger, legal executions, surveillance of the people, cannibalism, the persecution of Christianity, forcible efforts to control by contract behavior not allowed in most civilizations under law, dueling, protests with ritualized martyrdom, and a different kind of struggle between foreign and domestic organized crime and the police. This would fill a book or two that I will never write. But there was a lot I could see while working hard as an English teacher. But this was a world that was not directly involved in the world of work whether creating products or educating students. It was a dark world that for all its darkness and terror was clearly visible lurking at the edges of the open society and sometimes boldly bursting in upon it. Even after all these years it is hard to know what to do in terms of naming specifics.

I had mixed feelings about Trump’s hard line with China because there were dark forces there that I know will never forget me and Trump’s lack of caution kind of made me feel a little safer even though I am not sure that is rational. I felt less good because of the good people of China who would suffer, because American farmers were losing markets and because various people were left out of the planning process. But Trump lives in a world where if one wants something he does not need to examine what would be fair most of the time. It is simply a matter of negotiation. The two players acting on each other without a referee, The art of the deal is not about making a context that works for both, but rather simply both parties seeking their own interest. The people in power in China today are also less responsive to some sense of larger ideal than those in power when I was there. The suffering caused in China by the trade war was massive, the disruption horrific. China is not a monolith, Could the government,organized crime, an agent of North Korea or a technician whose family starved to death because of the trade struggle have released a lab bug on the world to shake things up? Maybe that happened.

My situation at the moment is personally that I am grateful for the relief aid the United States government has provided to me. I am not sending any of the that money to friends in China because I have let all those relationships lapse. But the world goes on, I am grateful to Trump for the part he played in the relief effort. I am suspicious of China as a basis for forces which are dangerous and not always Chinese. I stay busy with matters of my own life and family and even where these are concerned I feel that I only have a limited amount to offer.

But I do not relate to the vision of America as mostly the target of a vicious selfish and corrupt China. Chinese business is mostly pretty ethical, honest and even humble. There may be half a million Chinese businessmen who are willing to murder, steal and lie to cheat Americans out of an honest dollar. But a vastly larger majority of Chinese in commerce or very ethical whether they are committed to the same moral view as I hold or not. I may return to this subject or not. I am not going to like how this works out but life is not usually kind in my experience.

I did tell my friends in China that I cared about them and liked China and loved some of them even but that it was possible that America and China could end up in conflict and even war and we might be on opposite sides of that conflict. That was just part of the overall reality. However, I hoped for positive paths forward. We will see what comes out of the current crisis. I am no longer in touch with what happens here but I know it is not the country the China-haters describe and neither is the America they describe the one I know.

Whatever the future holds, I will be an American all my life. But I will have a part of me which is always in the memories and hopes of my time in China.

What Our Response to the Pandemic Hasn’t Done and Could Have Done….

In my model constitutions in this blog I discuss bringing the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa into more dynamic and complete participation in the federal government and the American Constitutional process.  I discussed what I consider to be a more dynamic and realistic role for the District of Columbia. I discussed granting more autonomy to Native American territories as well as Alaskan and Hawaiian first nation lands and federating them with each other which in turn would play out in these federated groups of native territories having representation in Congress. I discussed devolving Bureau of Land Management lands to a set of ideal super farms held to a high standard and allowed certain privileges thereby, I discussed allowing states more control over their border in emergencies and means of funding such control. I argued for a society wide wellness program that facilitated vaccination and preventing comorbidities. These are just a few things from those long documents. But while all these things had other political objectives they were part of a larger vision for making America more resilient in the kind of crisis it faces now.   In addition I argued for a number of things such as buffer zones at each border, improved screening at ports and airports and  funding more preventive care and emergency testing. But this post is not about those stimuli to a discussion that never happened.

This Saturday, May 2, 2020 I just got my mother a palm tree and myself some soil and fertilizer to plant it with and I hope that I will be well enough to plant it in the next couple of days. But I know I am not up to leading a reform on a radical scale in the United States. But I can still suggest that we consider the value of having many small meat packer and sales barns along with a few big ones, s lot of farm to table incentives as well as empowering best practices in the big food companies. Outside the constitutional gild system of my models I can suggest industry associations be both empowered and pressured to be their best. With the little time and energy that I have left, I can still suggest that we think things through on a global scale as well. Many groups have a vision for the fabric of this worldwide supplement to the major economy that can make a difference in times of crisis. There are links here, here  and here to groups with such vision.  There are many other also linked here and here and far beyond this little sample. These things which address issues about how food is produced as well as groups like Second Harvest which prevent waste and feed the hungry — all have a vital role in public health and disaster prevention at the level of massive calamity. I wrote up the model constitutions convinced that these efforts as they exist are not nearly enough but not as a means of undermining the many efforts to make things better that are ongoing.

For me, I think the time to lead anything is pretty well over. I barely manage my own personal existence these days. But while I live I am both an American citizen and a part of the human species — I struggle to fulfill both roles while I yet live. Both the rural and the urban realities must be understood for us to reach the right places. The right solutions must acknowledge wildlands, cities, farms , gardens rivers, islands, continents,  oceans and lakes as well as the polar caps and the rain forests. I also believe we must have a plan for the Moon and Mars. There is no real time suitable to be allotted to making lots of bad mistakes. There is only a chance to succeed by doing very well indeed compared to the norm.

The pandemic has occasioned a lot of discussion and a lot of strident  declarations. Life has been disrupted but the most unattractive aspects of modern life are on full and glaring display. Life is basically more hell than normal for those tormented with a n actual critical point of view. For those who are keyed into the real crises of this era over recent decades the current climate simply accentuates the present set of troubles as more than a fluke situation. This is not some pure random anomaly. But millions of people who would agree passionately with the idea that this is not a rare and random thing would not agree on what the causes and significance of this disaster are and how we should deal with them. In this post I am going to look at a few areas of concern that have not been sufficiently studied., discussed,considered in the pandemic crisis and made ready for future planning and consideration as reformed parts of the new normal to come..

I have recently reached another point of recognizing how horrifying the remainder of my life is likely to be in the future if I get through this time. But I do not plan to freely choose not to survive this time in order to avoid the later pain and decay which will come my way.

There are a huge number of issues in this crisis that are particularly of concern to me. I have a great deal invested in this larger set of discussions,

I have thought of the rural and urban tensions I see arising in this crisis quite a bit. One post is this one.

his evening I plan to go the wake and rosary for Dr. Ardley Hebert. He has been retired for some time and was quite old and very sick. He practiced in my hometown of Abbeville. I knew Dr. Ardley all my life but did not know him very well really. He was once Chief of Staff at Abbeville General Hospital. Abbeville would be a county seat if Louisiana had counties. Instead Louisiana has parishes so Abbeville is the seat of Vermilion Parish. Vermilion Parish is a rural and mostly agrarian parish with a big oil and gas sector and some shipping interests and several small towns and Abbeville is a quaint place and sometimes a fairly prosperous one. Dr. Ardley was the Coroner of Vermilion Parish at one time. He was a political figure in that position.

He was a surgeon but like many of our surgeons he had an office where maybe if you were a best friend of a third cousin’s  ex-wife’s gardener between insurance policies he might give you primary care at a minimal charge when he had slow load on his schedule. If you were close friend he might do whatever was needed to keep you from falling apart physicaly and financialy when you were in need.

The Heberts in the broad clannish sense are a prominent local Acadian

Besides the rural and urban issues, I have some very old interests in many of the health issues confronting us.  Co-morbidities are part of the issue at hand. Wellness is in part about diminishing comorbidities. Things and conditions that combine with Covid-19 to bring about an outcome of death, we have along history of struggling with healthcare issues in America. I mentioned some of those issues along the path to this moment.

This post is one of the mentions:

While a graduate student at Louisiana State University I was privileged to write a review of Pare Lorentz’s posthumously published memoirs FDR’s Moviemaker: Memoirs and Scripts and to read carefully and write about the life of the man who made documentary films for FDR. This man did make films about healthcare and the issues of healthcare reform. However he never made a film about Warm Springs even though FDR died there. I think that the shame of illness, deformity or disease cannot just be lightly dismissed. We must prefer health to sickness in oder to remain sane. But I looked at the movie this evening and simply felt more convinced than ever that the autonomy and empowerment of the struggle were just as important as anything else about the Warm Spring stories. We need a healthcare plan that enrgizes and allows all people to struggle and work hard for their health and wellness. We certainly cannot afford to make it easy to do everything anyone would like to do. But we can help the brave to struggle and be enlightened by the fires of their courage. We must not allow human beings to be reduced on ly to file numbers and entries on actuarial tables when we are trying to understand all of what  human health means and how we are to care about promoting that health and wellness.

There are places in the past of this blog that are more relevant than others.

Despite all this nation’s problems there are many ways in which we excel. I also believe that we have ways of reaching for new goals that are far better than our current situation will reflect. I  lived in China and I liked it. There is a lot more diversity, federalism and tolerance in their system than a lot of people think. There is also a lot of coldblooded killing, fear and suffering in the lives of the Chinese that seldom get reported. I was not there all that long but I left behind people I really cared about and China has many problems that make me worry about those people. However, America is not like China in a whole lot of ways. All countries benefit from a certain federal impulse but not all depend upon it in the same way. For America to survive and prosper it must be pretty darn federalized,

On the surface that may seem to be an argument against establishing another agency at the national level. But the NWA would be chartered to do most of its work through a web of Community Clinics (although it would do some other things as well) and those clinics would be chartered to fit in with the laws and cultures of States, territories, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. If possible it should be able to work in some good agreement with Indian Nations as well. The National Wellness Agency would help us to answer thousands of questions in different ways that reflect community standards. It would not force countless groups of people to give up huge areas of freedom and autonomy to achieve a solution everyone would have to admit is a lowest common denominator at best. We must find an American solution and I believe that my proposed solution is one in keeping with our national character.

 

SO in this little post I do not offer any solutions and I do not address the situation in China that will need several good posts of its own, In this post I just throw out a few reminders that we are not having a complete discussion. This crisis may be one of the last chances we have to wake up to  many of the great underlying weaknesses in the current world order.

Work and Reward: Bluesy Connections

I am having a rougher day than some. It is time to deal with the usual tone of my observations about my life. They can be summed up as “I have done what I felt needed to be done. The result has not been great and the prospects overall are bleak.”  As an American living in the era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump I find my own views of work more out of sync with others than most people.

Work and reward are not always linked. I am always glad when the work I do produces a reward. I am never one who expects that there will definitely be a reward for my work.

I suppose that we are in a time when a lot of people are experiencing trouble. I am not alone in feeling that life can be hard right now. I know it can be much harder for a lot of people than it is for me right now. Sixty thousand Americans have lost their lives in this crisis. I have not lost my life and nobody in my immediate family have lost their lives. I have been interested in work and have promoted the work of others as well as my own work for a period  of decades. I have worked and  sometimes I have been rewarded. Right now, I feel a bit more depressed than usual. But I have worked very hard and very many hours on many projects which are not really encouraged by my lot in life. I have written a good number of unpublished books, I have published this blog, I have spent a lot of time volunteering to help various people and causes. I have been active in working on projects which were not paid. I have had bigger players replace my work with their own and create ruinous results for all parties but themselves. I have worked sick, stayed home not to get sick, cared unpaid for the sick and I have been blamed and judged for all those actions. I have put up with the disdain and abuse of the successful who felt superior. But I do not blame everything on external forces — I have made choices and they have been costly. I did not have the freedom some self important idiots believed that I had but I did have some agency in my life. So I am where I am — I have often said life was hell. But there were times when I did not feel that way.

 

 

So what is work. I have included texts from  Pope John Paul II and Karl Marx as some indication of what people have thought about work.

From Pope John Paul II’s encyclical from the 1980’s

THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread1 and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself2, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth3. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

Most people want to have a positive view of work. Within a context of  Christian spirituality, Catholic Social Teaching and Judeo-Christian morality the Pope seeks to lay out the value and meaning of work.

In many ways the capitalist system has eliminated drudgery for many people. But the drudgery Marx wrote about was very real for the Europe and United Kingdom of his time. It is still real for sweatshops in many countries.

Karl Marx publishing at about the time of the Spanish Flu Epidemic that resembles our own time had a vision of work in the modern economies that helped to forge Communist and Socialist entities and command economies of the future which are now mostly in our past. But his voice still resonates in many aspects of the world order we enjoy and also suffer from in so many ways.

The capitalist buys labour-power in order to use it; and labour-power in use is labour itself. The purchaser of labour-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work. By working, the latter becomes actually, what before he only was potentially, labour-power in action, a labourer. In order that his labour may re-appear in a commodity, he must, before all things, expend it on something useful, on something capable of satisfying a want of some sort. Hence, what the capitalist sets the labourer to produce, is a particular use-value, a specified article. The fact that the production of use-values, or goods, is carried on under the control of a capitalist and on his behalf, does not alter the general character of that production. We shall, therefore, in the first place, have to consider the labour-process independently of the particular form it assumes under given social conditions.

Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.

The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.

In America men like Samuel Gompers put forth a vision of work as represented by trade and labor unions which integrated the interests of workers into a modern industrial economy. In the era often called post-industrial there has been a lot of hard-going for labor unions and I am not sure anyone else has filled the void left by there decline. But today we face massive unemployment of the most challenging kind. We are beset by moral questions, social challenges and economic duress that is of a new breed.

As I navigate these times I look back on a life of work and to a future of uncertainty. I do not know how things will end up. I know there is much more on my mind than this small post can look at carefully. But I do wish all workers well today. Often we compete, interests clash and our systems sometimes do almost as much harm as good. But work is vital and we seek a path to a work economy suited to the new normal.