Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Politics · thoughts · WWII

How the pandemic lock down has helped me truly understand and empathize what was happening during WWII

WWII historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and the reading options are seemingly endless.  I received The Girl in the Blue Coat from a Secret Santa exchange and was very excited to read something from the Netherlands, which I don’t know much about. We’ve talked about this before, and I’m always astounded by the wide reach of WWII, especially considering how much of our school education focused solely on Germany, Japan and the US.

Something that has always eluded me when reading WWII novels is how and why the people reacted the way they did.  Neighbors living in fear of one another and turning each other in for the slightest suspicion.  Lives ruined over a misunderstanding or a bored busy-body.

With the world currently locked down by pandemic, sadly, I’ve begun to understand how it all unfolded.  With every government notice, every media post, every friend’s Facebook post, we are being bombarded with messages that the world is not a safe place.

We are receiving endless messages that every single person you encounter is a threat to your health.  That sweet little boy rummaging through the candy aisle?  Not safe.  That little old lady inching closer to hear a conversation, not safe.  The guy stocking groceries.   Not safe.  Your kid’s classmates?  Not safe.  Coworkers?  Not safe.  Random stranger jogging down the street?  Not safe.

Not only are we being told that other people are a threat to our health, we are being told that normal innocuous daily activities are also hazardous to our health.  Touching a door knob or a grocery cart.  Wearing your outside shoes inside.  Using the same towel daily.  Petting a stranger’s dog.  Driving with your car window down.  Breathing the same air as someone who ran by three hours ago.

Mail and packages should be left on the porch for 24 hours, contents should by Lysoled. Groceries should be removed from their packaging and repacked in “safe” containers.  Shopping, dining in a restaurant, exercising in public, riding a bus, taking an Uber, going to work, visiting a library…all unsafe.

The only “safe” activities are Netflix, Disney Plus and as much media content as you can stomach.

Did reading the last three paragraphs make you anxious, panicked and stressed out?  Yeah, me too.  And in that panic and anxiety, I have begun to understand more and more why people behaved the way they did during WWII.

First, humans are pretty much incapable of making good decisions when panicked.  And like the entire world during WWII, we’re all pretty panicked as record numbers of folks are unemployed, the economy has come to a standstill and life as we know has completely stopped.

Second, when everyone around you has been classified as an enemy and all of your normal daily activities are classified as unsafe, we feel, well…unsafe.  In WWII Europe, the “enemy” was the Jewish people, the homosexuals, the Roma.  In 2020, the “enemy” is anyone standing closer than 6′.

Third, when what we see doesn’t jive with what we are being told, we start to feel confused, frustrated, angry.  Heavy propaganda helped propel the Nazi machine through Europe.  Our current media has lost all credibility and can’t keep a story straight for more than 2 hours.

Those feelings of panic, danger, confusion, frustration and anger boil down to us feeling helpless, out of control, and alone.  That feeling of “alone” is amplified by the fact that we are physically cut off from almost all of our support systems and safe places.

As humans, when we feel helpless, out of control or alone, we do things to counteract and combat those feelings, whether or not they are logical, appropriate or helpful to our situation.

We hoard toilet paper.  We close down parks and trails, despite the fact that sunshine, exercise and fresh air are universally renowned for their health benefits.  We wear gloves to touch shopping carts.  We use rubbing alcohol to disinfect our mail.  We stand in our yards, wearing pj’s and howling every night at 8 pm with our neighbors.  We use social media to post endless articles, opinions and thoughts on the situation, whether or not those posts and articles are fact checked, true, or relevant.

It bears saying again.  When faced with uncertainty, danger, loss of control and alone, humans will always reach for the things that help us feel safe, in charge, under control and not alone, whether or not they are logical, appropriate or helpful to our situation. 

Just like the citizens who couldn’t control who was taken and who wasn’t, or whether or not their rations included sugar or flour, we can’t control whether or not the virus clings to metal or dies on cardboard.  We can’t control whether or not the stores have toilet paper.  And to feel safe, humans need something to control.

As California and New York’s political figure heads have started encouraging folks to turn each other in for social gatherings, it’s becoming a lot easier to understand just how those folks in WWII were able to turn in their neighbors, their friends, their customers.

While we see the consequences of those actions now, and judge them as morally reprehensible from the safety of our own lives decades later, there’s a good chance that they too, were people living in constant panic and fear, operating in panic and fear, decision making in panic and fear.

There’s a good chance that they too were people searching desperately for a way to gain back their own control, power, and safety.

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Until next time, I hope you enjoy a good book and some sunshine.

-R

 

Bad Ass Women · Favorite Authors · Historical Fiction · Politics

Renowned American Author Toni Morrison dies at age 88

This week, the literary world lost a national treasure.  Toni Morrison, the American author who gave us Beloved and Song of Solomon, passed away at age 88.

I remember reading Beloved and Song of Solomon in high school, being blown away at the depth of character and the emotional and political scope of Morrison’s works; how she blended prose with poetry with Biblical references; how her characters were “real” and so incredibly complex; how reality blended so intricately with the mystic.

Despite all of the light reading I enjoy now, I cut my teeth of books like these and I am forever grateful to authors like Morrison who give us the opportunity to step into their worlds and expand our minds and our awareness.  Morrison introduced me to an entirely different American experience and opened my eyes with her interpretation of what it meant to be Black in America.  I will be forever grateful to her for these gifts of thought and awareness.

Until next time, friends.

-R

3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

81h2gWPTYJL._AC_UL436_Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R