ReadRightNow: August 12, 2013 (and beyond)

Photographic metaphor for future plans:  garden pots.
Photographic metaphor for future plans: garden pots.

This week’s installment of ReadRightNow is a nod both to our state of being today, right now, in the present, as well as in the future, years down the road as we continue this topsy turvy ride.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve been working on making since marrying into the military is my concept of the future. Military families come to a point where they must embrace uncertainty, ride the wave of spontaneity, and find a way to be patient when plans change. That’s not easy; I don’t trust anyone who says it’s easy.

This week, I read a Facebook post by a military spouse in a community group I’m in. She chewed other military spouses up one side and down the other, chastising them for complaining when plans change, for being anything less than 100% supportive, happy, cheerful, and sacrificial. The model military spouse, by this estimation, is a Stepford Spouse – not allowed feelings or desires, and to go one step further, is not allowed to voice those feelings or desires to their husband or wife, because you don’t burden your sailor/soldier/etc. with your silly feelings.

That bugged me. It got under my skin. Being a newlywed is adjustment enough, and then there’s all this “perfect spouse” Stepford nonsense to go on top of it? It made me think of my own challenges:  I’m a planner. I like to plan. I like to know, pretty much, what’s going to happen and when. But that’s not something I’m able to do at this point. Long-term planning isn’t always feasible.

But that doesn’t mean an eye to the future is impossible – rather, that planning has to manifest itself in new and sometimes different ways. Planning for finances; planning for work and play, for what kind of humans we are and what kind of humans we want to be. In this way, planning doesn’t hinge on dates or whether Amanda is on a boat or the price of airfare to the east coast; rather, it hinges on the details of our daily lives, the ones we’re forging together. It hinges on character and big lifetime goals. It hinges on dreams, really, and daydreams too.

So for this week’s ReadRightNow, I submit to you three articles that hinge on dreams, and daydreams, and a practical look at the future, the big Future. No airfares or Facebook posts involved.

ReadRightNow:  August 12, 2013

  • The other day, Amanda asked me when my student loan was projected to be paid off. “I don’t know,” I answered. “When I’m forty?” She gaped. But it’s true – that thing takes forever to pay off, and at this point, it’s like a big whale of debt, looming behind me, swimming slow and graceful but always, always swimming along with me. And so even though I associate Clark Howard with boring talk radio I’m forced to listen to in my parents’ car (sorry, Mr. Howard, it’s not your fault), this article he contributed on Huffington Post about the top 7 ways to eliminate student loan debt, was most welcomed. These are practical solutions and some of the items – homesteading, what what – provide some interesting possibilities to canceling student loan debt while spurring growth to local economies. It’s worth a read if you have your own debt whale swimming along behind you. (Better than a loan shark, I suppose. Ha! Get it? Loan shark… Moving on.)
  • I was raised around Atlanta, but Norfolk, VA is the city where my heart is happiest. So when I read this open letter from my friend Bill Speidel (who brought the lovely I Like Pie, I Like Cake song into my life), I couldn’t help but cheer him along for his response to the city’s swift and (I believe) hasty action against homeless people and *perceived* crime in Ghent:  to push homeless people, and the perception of crime, out of the area, they have cut down public benches along the gardens and the water line. I’ll tell you something:  I’ve loitered on church steps and benches alike in that area; I’ve picnicked along the water; I’ve gone for runs and walks; I’ve babysat over there; to think of that area as no longer being a space that’s usable to the people of Ghent is to think of a dog whose legs have been removed:  a sad animal whose glory days of run and play are behind him. So in honor of Bill and the flag he’s raising against these kinds of hasty and short-sighted decisions, I’m re-posting his open letter here – it’s a testament to the future of public spaces and community awareness. I imagine Bill, that dapper gent, with a top hat and a scarf and a spiffy tie (as always), one fist raised in the air.
  • This has already gone viral (at least in my Facebook world), but I must post George Sanders’s graduation speech at Syracuse University. Every so often, a writer comes along and knocks a graduation speech out of the park:  Neil Gaiman did it a few years back, and now George Saunders joins the ranks. His speech is not about how to make money or grow jobs or start family:  it’s about being a human being. His biggest regret in life, he says, are “failures of kindness.” I wanted to synthesize his speech into some kind of collection of quotes, but in the end, it comes down to a rather fantastic paragraph, which I’ll quote here. If you need to light a candle in yourself and remember yourself as a human among a world full of other similar humans, this speech will help you do it. I’ve re-read it this morning, and I’ve lit my candle. I hope it lights yours as well.

    Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

    – George Saunders, commencement address, Syracuse University, 2013

4 thoughts on “ReadRightNow: August 12, 2013 (and beyond)

  1. 1. When I read comments – especially on facebook – telling people HOW TO FEEL THEIR OWN EMOTIONS – I fly into a rage.
    2. I paid off my student loans a couple of months ago. I am 41. The customer service dude at the bank did a victory lap around his desk for me.
    3. That quote above is absolutely gorgeous. I’m off to read the entire speech…

    1. movita,
      1. Thank you! Right? The director of that particular community did a lot of extra cheerleading for us that day, reminding everyone that it’s supposed to be positive and supportive.
      2. Glad it’s not just me – and good for you!
      3. I love the speech! I sort of want to read it everyday like it’s the Writer’s Almanac.

  2. the “stepford spouse” concept unnerves me too; i think everyone has a “perfect” way to handle their relationship and shared goals/dreams, and it doesn’t mean you do everything with a smile and a wink, you know? life would be boring, and although some people want that in a spouse (sad), most probably want someone authentic to their own goals and feelings.
    i’ll tell you, the article on student loan debt is pretty spot-on. before i began my glamorous life as a mother/food blogger, i worked for ten years at a student loan company (a non-profit; they’re not all evil). 🙂 i was the writer/graphic designer, but i started in customer service, and we used to tell people these things all the time. i think the biggest danger out there is financial aid offices not properly counseling kids and kids who just think it’s free money, so that first one about only taking out what you need? good advice. i also kept my debt down by taking some gen ed credits at the local community college because they transferred, but St. Louis has a top 10 community college; not everyone has that option. it was i think 85% cheaper per class than taking an equivalent class at my actual college.
    aaaaand i still have student loan debt also, which will most likely not be paid off until i am at least 50 or something. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Shannon! The “stepford spouse” concept really bugs me in general (didn’t your spouse fall in love with messy, imperfect, emotional you instead of clean, ironed, smiley, fake you?), but especially in light of my own adjustments.
      I used to work at a debt collection agency (as an administrative assistant, not a collector), and the subject of debt is very real and serious to me. I loved seeing these interesting, creative ways to get out of debt sooner. I didn’t acquire any loan debt until graduate school, so I’m very lucky that I’m not completely buried under it.

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