Author Archives: Marion Dane Bauer

No Answer at All

war

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

The last time I wrote here was New Years’ Eve, and I found myself musing on war, on the privilege of having lived a life essentially untouched by war.  There have been so many other privileges, too, privileges I have too often taken for granted.  But that one, the one in which I have never had to take shelter from bombs and marauding armies, in which I have never had to give someone I loved to the slaughter, is one I have always held close.

I can remember the moment when it occurred to me that World War II, the war being waged when I came into consciousness, the one I used to play out in games with my brother, was actually taking place in other children’s back yards.  The thought filled me with amazement . . . and horror.

How did those children survive? I wondered.  Not just physically, but in their hearts.  Even when the bombing ended, even when the invading armies were called home, how did those unfortunate children move forward into a world in which they had endured such brutality?

I thought myself blessed then because I was an American.  Because my country was set apart from those wars by oceans and by a mix of strength and some kind of essential “goodness.”  We might go off to help others with their wars, because we were the kind of people who did such things, but who would ever dare attack us?  And certainly we would never start a war ourselves!

Oh, how the decades that have followed have disproven my naïve belief!  Especially my conviction that there is some kind of implicit American morality.

According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the military spending of the United States in 2018 alone totaled $649 billion.  In fact, we spent 2.6 times as much as second-place China.

My country stands only slightly lower than the next nine countries in that hierarchy of military spending combined.  And most of those nine are on our side of the fence, the fence between ally and enemy that is being drawn at the moment!

What on Earth—and I do mean what on Earth—are we buying with all those hard-earned taxes?

For one thing, we are buying nearly 800 military bases that we maintain in foreign countries.  (And that is after closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.)  That’s more bases outside our own borders than any other nation has maintained in all of history!

What are they for except to dominate, to control?

The recognition of my own country’s domineering ways have come to be an ache I carry in my heart every single day.  An ache I can find no way to dispel.

I attend meetings where we gather in support of peace, and I appreciate the gatherings and the passionate people who work so hard to inform us.  Occasionally I even pick up a placard and march with a few other old ladies.  But both activities tend to leave me feeling enervated, hopeless.

Those who are willing to speak for peace are so few.  So few and so powerless.

I have long understood that given the way our system works it is not possible to elect a leader who genuinely stands for peace.  Neither political party has any interest in or loyalty to concept.

I am a children’s writer, and what does a children’s writer do?  Tell children that war is evil?  Tell them that it contaminates everyone it touches, victor and vanquished alike?  Tell them what has already been said many times, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

Yes, of course, I’ll say it, but I’ll say it knowing that my saying and their hearing will change nothing, not for them, not for those other children around the world whose homes and lives are being torn apart, too often with my government’s complicity.

We move into a new year, a new decade in a new year, and my questions move with me.

Again and again I’ll ask myself, “How do I write against militarism, against war?  How do I write for peace without repeating enervated truisms?  How do I take on these most important of all topics, knowing my words will change nothing?”

I have no answer, no answer at all, except to know that I—that we all—must try.

Goodwill, Peace on Earth

Photo by Melchior Damu on Unsplash

Praise god or the gods, the unknown,

that which imagined us, which stays

our hand, our murderous hand,

and gives us still,

in the shadow of death,

our daily life,

and the dream still

of goodwill, of peace on earth.

 

Denise Levertov

A New Decade

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Here we stand, waiting for the old year to dissolve beneath our feet and for the new one to arrive with all its breathless uncertainty.

2020!  It’s hard to imagine a number like that.

I remember sitting in an elementary school classroom where the teacher was, for some reason I can no longer recall, talking about the distant day when we would make the turn into the 21st century.  I don’t remember why she was talking about it, but I do recall what I thought in response.

“The 21st century!  I’ll never live that long!”

I don’t suppose I did the math to support my musing.  I was, after all, only sixty-one when the 21st century descended upon us, an age that seems young now, though it wouldn’t have seemed young when I was sitting in that classroom.  I just know that the idea of moving into a new century seemed extremely unlikely.

And so today we stand on the doorstep of the second decade in the 21st century, and I find myself thinking that entering the decade that will follow—2030—seems about as unlikely as the 21st century did when I was a child.

It’s not that I’m planning not to be here.  This past year when I was offered a mortgage with a ten-year balloon I said, emphatically, “There’s no way I’m going to sign something that tells me I have to die by the time I’m 90!”

Rather I’m acutely aware these days of the fragility of my existence, of all existence really, but especially that of a woman who has a firm hold on her eighties.

I’m also aware, and more so every day, of the deep, deep privilege in which I have lived my life.  The privilege of my white skin.  The privilege of growing up in a home in which the importance of learning was so taken for granted that I absorbed learning with the milk I drank and the air I breathed.  The privilege, the amazing privilege considering the wars my country has been involved in all my life, of living a life virtually untouched by war.

Concerning that last, I have come to understand that my life has been played out in a golden bubble.  I . . . have . . . been . . . untouched . . . by . . . war!

My father received his notice to report for military service in World War II on the day after the birthday that made him too old for the draft.  My former husband was in Korea, but only after the “conflict” was no longer being played out with bombs and guns.  My son was a toddler when the draft closed on the Vietnam War.

And, most miraculous of all—read Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine:  Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner to see just how miraculous—we haven’t yet been decimated by one of the nuclear bombs we ourselves brought into the world!

A golden bubble and an unlikely one!

Every time I look back and muse on the privilege of my life, I can’t help but also look forward to the lives my grandchildren have yet to live.  How can I not feel responsible for the world that is waiting for them?  Yet, like most of the adults of my generation, I have cared, I have always, always cared, and I have never stopped trying to make a difference.  And my caring and my trying have never been enough.

So here I stand at the doorway of 2020, acutely aware both of my lifetime of privilege and of a world crumbling in too many ways to count.  I despise those messages too often handed down to the young.  “Well, guys, seems like we messed up.  Now it’s up to you to fix it!”

It was up to me to fix it, too, and I could not, no matter how hard I tried.

My grandchildren are such valiant souls.  Every one of them.  But I don’t expect them to be able to “fix it,” either.

So what is the message for a new decade in a century I never thought to see?  A message mostly for myself, because my grandchildren, I know, are too busy with their lives to be listening.

Maybe just this.  This day, this very day, is sacred.  Live into it.  Live into the day and the day after that and the next decade, too.  And, if it is granted, the decade after that.

Because the deepest privilege of all is life itself, a privilege even when we are not able to live up to it.

A blessed New Year to every one of us!

Every Now and Then

beach

Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Loss and Possibility

Photo by Konstantin Dyadyun on Unsplash

It’s a conversation I’ve heard many times.  What a terrible thing it is to be losing the physical book, words printed on paper!  What a terrible thing it is that people don’t write letters any more, words printed on paper!

And always I listen and think, “Yes, yes, of course.  It’s always hard to lose the familiar.  If we are, indeed, losing it, which hasn’t been proven yet.”  And then I think, “But . . .”

Part of my “but” comes simply out of my determination not to think and act like the old lady I am.  Just because something is new, just because it is different, surely doesn’t mean it is bad.  Does it?  I mean, oldsters like me have been condemning the young for their reckless ways since the beginning of time.  And how much change has that prevented?

(Maybe more than we know, but ultimately change keeps happening.)

When it comes to books, certainly I love physical books the way other oldsters do, the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of the paper, the way my books look on the shelf.  I would be sad if one of my publishers decided to bring out my next book only in an electronic format.  Having a physical object to hold proves that this product of my mind now actually exists in the world.

And yet the vast majority of my own book purchases are electronic.  Why?

Partly, I’ll admit, because electronic purchases are so easy.  I can read a review or have a book referred by a friend and, zap! . . . it’s in my hands.  Instant gratification!  And I can even order it up as a sample before making a final decision about the purchase.

Partly because I’ve simply run out of space for more books on the shelf.  Along with another advantage for having a library that doesn’t require space.  I love being able to carry one small tablet or even my phone with me wherever I go and have whatever I’m reading or will soon want to read at hand.

Partly because electronic books are easy to read.  I don’t have to have the correct light.  My electronic books make their own light.  And I can have whatever size type I prefer.

Partly because it’s so easy to highlight passages I want to remember and then to return to them.

Partly, I’ll admit, because that’s the way the world is going, and in this respect at least, I don’t want to be left behind.

And is any of that bad?  Or are some of us just so committed to the way things used to be that we can’t let the good in just because it is a new and different good?  Or even if we let it in, we feel obligated to complain about it.

I feel the same about the constant complaints I hear about people not writing “letters” any longer.

When my grandchildren want to communicate with me they usually text.  When my friends and I are making plans, we rarely pick up a phone.  We email.  I wonder if there has ever been a time when people used writing more.

Yes, of course, texts and emails can be hurried and slipshod.  But I’d guess in the days before the telephone when mail was delivered multiple times a day and penned notes were used for all kinds of daily communication, few of those notes were literary gems.

Most of my emails, I know, are as carefully thought through as any letter I ever wrote during my letter-writing days.  Better for the fact that I can so easily go back and revise before I hit send.

So I can’t help but wonder if our nostalgia isn’t misplaced.

I used to know a number of writers who wrote their first drafts by hand.  They said that in order to create they needed the feel of the pen, the slide of the hand against paper.  And I’m sure they did.

It happens that I never needed that.  I have some kind of motor deficiency that makes writing by hand difficult for me.  In fact, if all the keyboards—typewriter or computer—were to disappear off the face of the earth, my career would be over.

Yet I understand that other people’s creativity might demand a different sensory experience than fingers tapping keys.

The interesting thing, though, is that for many years now I haven’t heard a fellow writer say that she writes her first draft by hand.  Probably some still do, but I’m pretty sure their number is diminishing.

The world changes.  Some changes bring loss.  But even in the midst of loss, many bring great possibility.

Even when those losses touch our own most tender places.

Nothing wrong with lamenting the loss, but opening to possibilities is so much more fun.