Simpler Times

I write about grandparents often because they’re important. Someone I read recently discussed the idea that grandparents held the key to society. It may have been Haidt. I’ll get back to you on that. My point? Grandparents matter. Their kitchens and the cookies they baked matter. Their shops and the projects they made matter. When I was a kid, I spent so much time with my grandparents that when I remember being a kid, it’s usually at one of their houses.

One of their houses is up for sale now. This makes me sad in ways that I can’t really explain and don’t make that much sense. I haven’t been inside that house in years and the last time I was there, my grandmother wasn’t. Seeing it empty, though, may be the problem. It’s like everything’s missing! That’s why memories are great, but they betray us.

We want to live a life that is worth remembering, but our memories suck. There are legit problems with our ability to recall and eventually we won’t be able to tell our stories at all. Someone else will. Are you sharing? I’ve met a lot of people who live quiet lives. Their stories stay trapped inside of them. Why? Share it. Let it out. This should make you think of that quote you will hear and see online:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden


Whenever I think of Thoreau, I immediately think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. You likely know him as the author of The Scarlet Letter. I know him as the guy who wrote the essay that reminds me, so often, of the real source of problems in this world. I try to get you to read things instead of letting me tell you about them, but the title of this one should give it away. It’s called “Earth’s Holocaust” and it is striking. I walk a fine line between nature and nurture, systems and parts, collectives and individuals. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m talking about or how to focus.

Is this where race comes in again?

I used to think racism wasn’t a structural thing, it was a problem with individuals and that, often, a racist thing wasn’t really racist at all. It was just a person being a jerk. “Don’t get mad at that group because that dude made a mistake.” I think that’s good advice, right? But there’s something to systems.

Slavery was evil.

A friend recently recalled a comment that set him off. Someone had mentioned the 1800s being simpler times. Really? For who? That’s a case where individuals participated in an evil system. Were they also evil? A lot of people claim they weren’t. So what is it? Person or programming?

Hawthorne reminds me that each person who participates in evil helps to promote it. We can’t get rid of evil by getting rid of things. When slavery ended, evil didn’t abate. As technology takes over the world, a lot of blame falls on these devices, but they’re not the problems. We are. Specifically, what we choose to do with our knowledge, technology, and devices. S/N: This is why I love Black Mirror.

If you were to scroll through your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other feeds you have, what would you see? Would you see fighting? Would you see roasting? Would you see someone being critical of someone else because of their shape, race, religion, or region?

It reminds me of simpler times.

Yeah, like back at grandmom’s when everything was perfect. Except it wasn’t. And times are never simple because people aren’t simple. Even the simplest person you can think of isn’t that simple because they’re in a world of others.

Damn it.

Does anything in this world beat a bowl of cereal?

Why cereal? I love cereal. It’s the ultimate in comfort, ease, and affordability. I can go buy a box of cereal, some almond milk, or whatever milk I want, and eat the whole thing. I don’t have to cook, leave the house, or even think for hours. Why do I like cereal so much? My granddad and I would have cereal every night before bed when I’d stay with them. They had corn flakes, unsweetened, naturally, and I’d pour as much sugar as possible into the bowl. Thus began my love affair with sugar and cereal.

I know I didn’t answer your question, but I want you to think about why I’m discussing cereal for a moment. It’s simple! It requires no thought, no effort, and no discipline. Cereal may be life, but life is definitely not cereal.

I think we’re comfortable with simpler times, though. We’re averse to complicating things. I want things to be simpler all the time. It’s like wishing everyone subscribed to playground ethics — those rules kids just naturally seem to embrace when they’re playing without adult supervision. What do kids really have to worry about? They’re not trying to pay bills, feed themselves, take care of disabled parents or children, and not lose their job for saying the wrong thing. They’re just figuring out what order to go in down the slide. When I look back at simpler times and nostalgia sets in, I have to ask myself what I’m really remembering.

I know I’m all over the place today. That empty house needed to be filled with something.

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4 thoughts on “Simpler Times Leave a comment

  1. You and your author friends are right en pointe, Joseph.
    Houses. Driving by my grandparents once-majestic, now delapidated house in Clayton is heartbreaking. Beautifully maintained by people in their 70’s and 80’s, it was let go by much younger people. All they had to do was maintain it.
    I haven’t been inside my parents’ home in 17 years, since the Thanksgiving after Daddy died and we’d “divided all the spoils” among the family. We were there to pick up the last of our “things” we’d divvied up the preceding August. That was so terribly sad for me. I’ve driven by it. Thank God, it’s lovingly maintained by my nephew so it’s not at all comparable to Grandmother’s and Granddad’s home. But it’s different. I don’t go in because I miss my parents so much, because they never had animal heads on their walls, and because of the pain of seeing a U-Haul in their driveway to take away their things after a crazy “family auction.” I don’t face my fears or pain too well.
    I don’t visit your grandmother nearly enough. What a blessing I’m missing. Like the other two homes mentioned, hers was always a haven. Sitting at their bar or on their beautiful patio and drinking coffee with your grandparents was some of the best therapy I’ve ever received. Plus it was free, wrapped in love, and came with monkey bread or cookies. Now things are different in so many ways. In some ways, she’s changed, too, but not in the ways that really matter. She’s endured so much physically and emotionally, but her spirit is the same—funny, bright, sassy, realistic, optimistic, full of faith. I’m selfish for not visiting her.
    My house. I don’t even want to talk about it. All we had to do was maintain it, but we didn’t. Now it’s overwhelming and sad. We’re like the people who bought Grandmother and Granddad’s house, the people I’ve criticized for all these years.
    Houses. Homes. Our stuff. They’re really all about the people who live in them, love in them, fight in them, laugh in them, cry in them, make memories in them, sometimes become prisoners of them. Maybe an empty house isn’t so bad if we can hold the memories of the people we love intact.

    Liked by 1 person

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