Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mental dribbling...well, more like flood

Seriously folks, what did we DO before Google? I guess, bought books or went ignorant. We didn't grow up with a lot of books in my house, beyond the Collier's Encyclopedia; so it's interesting the sheer number that grace my house now. But I guess my folks weren't inquisitive sorts, or they let public school get the job done, because I don't remember a whole lot of "what flower is this?" or "what's the name of that tree?" It simply wasn't an engaging process back then, your kids' education. Let the pros handle it. Not faulting my folks for their choices at all, as the only choice back then was public school (they couldn't afford private, and were NOT going to subject us to parochial school, as they'd both had their hands whacked by ruler-wielding nuns in their childhoods)...and their generation was just getting over the concept of children being seen and not heard, so how in the world do you answer a child's questions, when you've been geared to not hear them in the first place? Our persistent individuality as small humans must've been a cacophony in my Dad's ears initially, being a "leave me alone to do my own thing" kind of guy. Plus his mercurial temperament made us afraid of him when we were kids, so we were less likely to ask questions. Both our losses. I see that now.
I may as well be 4 years old for the way the world is opening itself to me now. I see a new flower on my walks and I'm on the web as soon as I get home, sussing out what the heck it is. Running into our first woodchuck required a memory refresher on those overgrown rats, after years of sharing space with only the ugly nutria in Florida.

Outside the 2nd bedroom window is a steep embankment of foliage, pines straining to get past sapling stage, long grasses, and all manner of overgrowth. We have wild blackberries out there right now, and the purple flowers I found above, along with some scant Queen Anne's lace. I've wanted to pick the Queen Anne's on my walks, but have refrained, because they grow so tall and leggy that I find I can't pick them...they worked too hard to get that big only to be snipped for looks. But I'm not sure Les is familiar with that particular flower, so I look forward to having a nearby place to point it out to him.

I didn't like much about school, once I got past elementary age. There just wasn't enough to hold my interest. I was a rural female tween of the '80s, so I was expected to not like math, history, and science anyway, and my schooling was pretty straight lecture-style, so I dozed a lot and very little made it into the ole brainpan and stayed past the tests. Pretty sure Meara's schooling was more Socratic from the beginning, and I'm betting that it helped shape her learning style and personality. But you HAVE to start shaking things up early, for it to affect the kids in a positive way...teaching kids by droning on from the front of the room and then occasionally putting them in groups for a project or something just bewilders them. Well, it did for me, anyway, and I grew to hate working in groups, period. Another shame, because it's only now that I'm seeing that there may be points of view or knowledge bits that I wouldn't come across on my own...that working with others isn't a bad thing...

But something dawned on me the other day, while plowing yet again through The Poisonwood Bible. If I'd engaged in history more, I'd be a better storyteller. Because where, of course, do the best stories originate from? From the minds and tales of our past.

It's hilarious and maddening coming to conclusions like these in my 40s. This ties into my whining about how sparse my education was. The Poisonwood Bible is a fictional tale, but its backstory is the liberation of the Congo from the Belgians in the 1960s, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, and the aftermath from a fairly African point of view. It's slanted, quite illuminating, and I learned zero about it in high school and college. I'd never even heard of Patrice Lumumba until I picked up Kingsolver's book!

How is that possible? I had a standard (read: no AP classes, no special projects beyond curriculum) public schooling, which meant World History in 9th, more of the same in 10th (with the delightfully generic name of Social Studies), US History in 11th, and no real requirement in 12th. I moved around so much in high school, I ended up taking a beginner Civics course and Economics in 12th grade to fulfill requirements. It may as well have been study hall, for all I paid attention. The damn Civics course was all freshmen and me, a precursor to American Government, taught by a woman who was fluent in Ebonics. Probably my first lesson in going to school and being taught exactly nothing I didn't already know. I only wish I'd had the wherewithal to do something about it then.

So with this realization about how telescopically the public schools look at history, I find myself wanting to find out moremoremore about what's going on in the world and what went on in the world at one time, that I haven't a clue about. And that's not the easiest thing, even in this mind-numbingly technological age we live in. We liberals balk about how biased Fox News is, but I fear the story is more of the same where CNN and the main US networks are concerned too. If it's not about the US, doesn't directly affect the US, or doesn't make headlines, it gets buried, or worse, not reported on at all. I learned the bulk of what's going on in Egypt this month from Al-Jazeera and Reuters.

I won't wax paranoid about how looking up the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims on the web or watching Al-Jazeera could potentially put me on a government watch list. But that concern is present, when all I'm trying to do is learn history and become a better writer in the process. Besides, Kingsolver's still writing, and she basically came right out and said that the US Government participated in the assassination of Lumumba because Mobutu had no problem continuing to take the US's money to fund the diamond mines and rubber plantations that claimed tens of thousands of African lives...

But man, the issues that statement brings up...like how I shouldn't be learning my history from novelists! Shouldn't I have learned these things, oh, I don't know...IN SCHOOL??? One of her first books, Animal Dreams, has as its backstory the Nicaraguan civil wars of the 1980s. Kingsolver lived in Arizona at the time of its writing, and so probably saw firsthand, the refugees from those wars. But I know almost nothing about the unrest between the Sandinistas and the Contras, and the Americans in the middle of it, gumming up the works by funding arms and drugs back and forth between the two. I was in college and into politics at the time, and still didn't know enough to have a conversation, let alone a debate. Besides, I was a blind sheep, knee-deep in Republican politics because that's where my friends were, so all I knew was Ollie North was getting the Nixon treatment. Takes my breath away, the naivete of that statement!

Granted, when you get to college, it's totally up to you to figure out what you want to learn about; but I've established here previously just how mentally and emotionally screwed up I was back then, as to have zero clue about what my brain wanted or needed.

So I need to accept my late bloomer status and move on, but it does make me gnash my teeth that I'm getting such a late start at.....learning? I spent a couple of hours the other night, poring over the World Atlas, reacquainting myself with nations and capitals, because I realized quite a bit has changed since I was in school. Like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia no longer exist. OK, I'm joking there, but I was surprised by some things...like how Iceland is its own independent nation, but Greenland is part of Denmark (further proof that size doesn't matter, winkwink). I've barely scratched the surface, and there's more I intend to study, so much I didn't know. The US likes to report how democracy is the end-all-be-all of government structures, but I want to see how the other guys run their houses, and how screwed up they are in comparison. I'm betting it's illuminating as hell.

An amusing side effect of learning more about the world...I'm immersing myself in Buddhism once again. It's as though learning about all the unrest in the world leaves me aching for something to DO about it, and since I can't actually do anything about it, am not in a position to go traveling the world attending protest rallies, at least I can pray for peace within myself and for others.

And find my voice.


So I've had a bit going on in my head the past couple of days obviously. How about you?

Realization: pretty sure the lightbulb for this post came from two sources. Reading Kingsolver's works was the first, but a close second is the fact that there have been protests and vigils staged all over the world this week, in support of Trayvon Martin and against the Zimmerman ruling. But what we haven't heard about is violence in its name. I really expected there to be injuries and deaths on the streets of Miami, Sanford, someplace...particularly in Florida. Instead we're seeing speeches, prayers, and solidarity of a type that you wouldn't expect the ignorant masses to have the maturity to possess. Times Square filled up the other night like it was New Years Eve, and none of the networks had arrest stories. It really blew my mind, in this age where the news is a headline rather than a story, that "the people" were able to meet without "the man" bringing out the rubber bullets. I pray this levelheadedness continues. But I'm not naïve. And I'm betting there were skirmishes that just managed to get buried. Really gotta dig these days to find the news within the news...

Godspeed Cory Monteith. Praying for Lea.

Image from here.

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