Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Talking about the future

First of all, The American Conservative has published my piece about the US election, and why it cut so many people so deeply – you can see it here. Thanks to everyone who wrote to me, and offered their thoughts.

Also, the home-schooling magazine The Old Schoolhouse has published my piece on teaching the Greek and Roman classics – you can read it here. Now that my daughter has grown into an adolescent, we’ve reduced our home-schooling time to weekends; she has been busy with horse-riding, archery, and school activities, and wants more time to herself. She still does the home-schooling lessons with me on weekends, and we still talk about the classics, as well as subjects like ecology, logical thinking, traditional crafts or survival skills. People who entirely home-school their children can teach the gamut of subjects, but as our lessons are in addition to her normal schooling, I focus on the subjects I wish everyone learned and that few schools will teach anymore.
Now that our internet is back on, our heat is off again, as though the universe can’t allow both things in our lives at the same time. We’re going to replace our heat pump entirely and fix our boiler, but for now I spend my weekends chopping wood during the brief winter daylight, and at night we stoke the fireplace, heat pots of water and wash the old-fashioned way. Such times are frustrating, but they serve to remind us how to function when things stop working, as they often do in rural Ireland.

My daughter and I talked about this during one of our evening lessons; when a people face disruptions in life, I told her, they often face a host of other problems as well, because they can’t take the initial disruption in stride. People have routines and grow accustomed to conveniences, they rely on institutions and believe in ideologies – and when any of those things break down, the stress can make people more susceptible to violence, fear, irrational thinking or disease.

In his book Crisis Preparedness, Jack Spigarelli told the story of a family he knew that switched to their food storage, and found it difficult -- one, he said, had to be hospitalised. Our stomachs and minds are used to certain foods, and a sudden shift takes its toll - and whatever crisis forces you to switch in the first place is likely to increase your rejection of the unfamiliar. The solution, he pointed out, is to make sure that you stock up only on foods that you will eat, and to stay accustomed to eating a variety of foods.

The same is true of your routine, I told her – if you are used to watching telly every night or always having a smart-phone, going without these things can take a genuine toll on you. I thought that homeless drug addicts became homeless because they were addict, but when I worked at homeless shelters I found that wasn’t always true – often, people were drawn into drugs because they became homeless, and drugs give their life structure and a constant purpose.

Other times, I told her, the larger problems tend to be psychological or spiritual. When the Soviet Union collapsed, I’m told, many older Russians -- who had grown up believing in the rightness of their empire – found adjusting to the new situation difficult, and the next few years saw an increase in suicide and addictions. On a less traumatic level, perhaps, some Americans felt devastated and disoriented after the September 11 attacks, and others felt the same way after the Trump election. People’s self-respect often centres around a core idea, I told her – that their group is the smartest, or that the future will always be brighter – and if something violates that idea, it can be much more devastating than you realise. 

“I always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” my daughter said cheerfully. That sounds like a good philosophy to me, I said. 

My daughter has grown up hearing stories of people who lived through difficult times, and she knows that the world is likely to get rougher in her lifetime. Since she grew up with the idea, though, it does not hold much terror for her, any more than the knowledge that the days are rapidly getting short, or that she is growing up.


Donna OShaughnessy said...

First of all congratulations on the publications of your articles! I wrote for a couple agricultural mags here in the states then went back to college for a degree in creative writing. Now I'm submitting tons of poetry and short stories and getting back just as many rejections! All part of the process. I do hope you get your hot water issues sorted soon, we lived here on The Poor Farm without cold or hot running water for 7 months before we built our Grain Bin House. On summer nights showering outside was lovely but when October rolled in...not so much! So happy to have our rocket mass stove for heat and our tiny hot water heater (20 gals) for the rest.

Brian Kaller said...


Thank you! What sort of fiction to you write? I've heard nothing but good things about rocket stoves, but I anticipate we'll be getting our heat pump replaced soon. Perhaps next time we'll get a rocket mass stove. Where are you located?