After a long break from writing, but not from thinking–is there any writer who has been able to shut off his or her mind, without alcohol? or yoga?–I’m back. Where to? Not sure. But hopefully I’ll find my way via a series of meanders through the subject of CHANGE.
The last century was defined by three great wars, two hot and one cold. The century before that: materialism and colonialism, and their interdependence. Before that? The Enlightenment. Will our current age be as paradigmatic as the eighteenth century? Probably not. But for us living it the twenty-first is turning out to be a roiling and unsettling ride, if not quite (yet) on the magnitude of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that shaped the philosophical debate and insight of that epoch.
This is the first truly global century. Although American leaders and policy makers have embraced globalism intellectually for decades, only now are we experiencing it. The advantages our geography once provided us are gone. We can no longer reach out and touch the rest of the world and not be poked in return. In different ways, other countries and peoples are undergoing the same phenomenon. Witness the so-called Arab Spring of the last few months. The consequence of connectedness is change, profound change, not only in how we live but in how we define ourselves, as nations and groups, and as individuals.
During August, I’ll be writing about the characteristics of change for this century of connectedness, as they are slowly emerging in American life and culture. First up: President Obama, change agent. Then Medicare and the law of unintended consequences. Joblessness. Our new role in the world. Finally, the American Dream.
But I begin in a small way, with five recent and abrupt changes in my own life.
I no longer have a job. For awhile there I thought I had a gig writing for my hometown newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Somehow that did not work out–for reasons I can only surmise. Does this mean I am retired? After all, I turn 65 this month. Many friends have already taken the plunge. But I loved my brief sojourn as a journalist too much to give up writing about politics and American life.
I have just moved. In 1968 I came to Berkeley to go to graduate school at the University of California. There I met my husband. After our first daughter was born, we left our student apartment for a house on the Berkeley-Oakland border that we lived in for almost forty years, until this spring. Now we live in Monte Sereno, in Silicon Valley. If you are a Northern Californian, you can appreciate the magnitude of the move south. Probably I will be commenting now and then on the curiosities of valley life. Why, for example, have so many women in Los Gatos had breast enhancement surgery? I won’t rest easy until I figure this out.
I have become a keeper of secrets. Apple? Miranda July? Would that I could tell you a few things about these recent (and in the case of Apple, perennial) media obsessions. But I cannot. Miranda is my daughter’s story since it was she and not I who was for awhile the BFF. (Although I will say, with both bewilderment and sadness, that the Sunday New York Times magazine is bowing and scraping its way into irrelevance.) What happened between Apple and Facebook? Great story. Can’t tell you. But will say that everything you have read is off-the-mark–so far off I won’t even bother to link to the speculative articles. Apple in China? Great story. With far-reaching consequences. Tried to tell Michael Lewis to pursue the larger story of American companies in China; he wasn’t interested. And I can’t tell you even one small detail here. Not unless I want my husband to lose his job. Some might say that my current State of Mum is karmic payback for a few revelations I provided in the past.
I have become rich. This state of affairs is utterly unfair. Undeserved. Why me? Why now? Especially since wealth is not something I even dreamed about, much less desired, in middle age. This is the Apple Effect. When my husband left his old law firm in the spring of 2008 for Apple, I had no inkling that Apple would so worm its way into my own life. I like knowing what’s really going on at 1 Infinity Circle; I’m not so sure about the money. It is its own power, and I’m not confident I’m up to wielding that power well. Not many people do. But I don’t want to pretend to be what I was–indeed I have a distaste for TV personalities with million-dollar contracts who pose as just middle class folks.
I have lost my father, who died May 23 at age 89, and now I am the oldest in my family’s line. I will be writing more about Dad, in particular the lovely but in retrospect not-at-all-serendipitous manner of his leaving us, and our celebration of him, in three memorials, in three states. More to the point, for this blog moment, is the feeling of loss, which not only marks a loved one’s passing but also permeates changes in job, home, sense of self. But then that is American life now, isn’t it? This is the manner of change in our time.
And so I will begin with Barack Obama, who seemed to promise glorious change in 2008 but would seem to have delivered, three years later, disappointment.