Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Traps of the Trade

It can be a conundrum. I have marvelous tales to tell of a family fiercely private--they don't air their laundry, clean or dirty. But the stories! Oh they must be shared. Not to be laughed at. By no means, no. These stories ought to be shared to remind those of us who have always had air conditioning and color TV what life was like in the first half of the twentieth century; to give voices to the grim realities of people still living without bitching about how people used to have more integrity.

Every generation must do this--celebrate those before us who lived harder lives than we have. We must translate their struggle in terms of our comforts. It is an ever constant state of being for the writer because the world is always in turmoil, and changes, they are a-comin'. What exactly and how soon, is hard to say. Struggle is essential to the human condition. At each great strife or success, struggle is at the heart of changing beliefs. It makes me wonder if a majority of people lack daily challenges. Sure many of us share similar concerns--keeping food on the table and roof over head--but we also pay for cell-phone plans that, over a year, equal the cost of an up-scale laptop--every d@m^ year. In the US and Europe, we indulge many desires when not so long ago, an orange for Christmas was exciting.

I was researching the US Frontier for a story. Typing various phrases into Google, I discovered the Frontier Thesis (or the Turner Thesis). For a moment, I was transported back to a time when people wondered what would become of the American Spirit, our great difference from other cultures, after the West was fully conquered. The sky was falling in 1893. The sky was falling in 1929. The sky fell for the whole of the thirties. The sky is always falling and we, humans, are the same selfish, kind, angry, giving, hurtful, sacrificing people we've always been. It's just now, we know exactly what everyone thinks at every second of every moment. We forget so much living our lives of plenty.

It's possible to look elsewhere to study hardship, but when it is us, when it is at home, when it is people we know still living who endured true hardship, somehow it comes home even deeper. "But there for the grace of God goes I." How can we truly appreciate what we have, if we don't appreciate how far we've come in so little time?

And yet, the stories I want to tell belong to fiercely private people. It is a challenge to be faithful to the truth while being sensitive to the pride of real people. Traps of the trade, I suppose. I find the challenge invigorating.