Thursday, December 7, 2017

Revitalizing in dark times

Feels like a million years have passed since I last posted here, in a whole lot of ways. I had a bad bout of back trouble after an ill-advised skating session at a rink in Queenstown, which meant I had to limit my time sitting at the computer (or doing anything else fun or useful) until I got my back calmed down. For a long time I was trying to fix it myself with stretching and such, but after several weeks of pain I broke down and went to a physical therapist in Wanaka. She did dry needling to force the knotted muscles to release, and holy hell did that work miracles. No more pain, and I've got my full range of movement back, hooray!

Next time I won't wait so long to go. I was worried that it would cost a lot to see a PT here in New Zealand, since as a foreign visitor, I can't enroll in the public health system. Yet even paying full price, the cost was half of what therapists in Colorado charge. More evidence of just how crazy and broken the US system really is.

I was raised in a super-conservative family, and even as I slowly grew disillusioned with that conservatism, for many years I still believed the rants and dire warnings I'd always heard from US folks about socialized health care. Long wait times, bad doctors, no choices, substandard care, oh, the horror. Then I married an Australian, and my assumptions began to crumble upon hearing his quite different experience of a universal health care system. Especially when contrasted with US friends burning through their life savings to pay for treatments for chronic and/or major illness, despite having "good" insurance. My experience in NZ so far with the great spectre of socialized medicine is reminiscent of this conservative woman who moved to Canada and was shocked by how much better a universal health care system works for everyone. Hey, Americans: we're getting shafted. There is a better way. You deserve to enjoy it along with the rest of the first world. 

Yet in this current political climate, I fear the US won't be heading anywhere near that better way for a long time. I don't say this lightly: I am genuinely terrified of what's happening back home. The normalization of corruption and hatred, the refusal to believe or even consider objective facts, the erosion of democratic processes, the ever-more-flagrant disrespect for rule of law...I keep thinking of this chilling passage from Milton Mayer's book about 1930s Germany. A condensed version:

"Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse... But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked...But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D. And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you...The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves..."

Yeah. On the up side, I know many people are fighting the slide toward fascism, and fighting hard with all the tools our democracy provides, everything from votes to calls to lawsuits to protests. Many honorable people yet remain in government service; I pray that the tide can still be turned. I know it's equally important to fight despair, lest we lose all chance of recovering.

And so I find that good books of any stripe are all the more important to me. I desperately need the mental revitalization (and infusion of hope and determination) that reading a great story can provide. It makes me think of the St. Patrick's rune from Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet: "...all these I place between me and the powers of darkness."

If you're looking for more good reads to put between you and darkness, I've got some suggestions. You may recall the Readers of the Lost Arc series I've been doing on under-read books at Lady Business. The last post just went up, so now all four parts of the series are available:

To that I would add two recently published books that really lifted my spirits lately:

  • Maggie Stiefvater's All the Crooked Saints, a lyrical magical realist tale of darkness and miracles and forgiveness set in the southeastern Colorado desert. 
  • Kari Maaren's Weave a Circle Round, a YA fantasy full of sharp insights, wild imagination, complex time travel, and quirky, warm-hearted humor in the style of Diana Wynne Jones. 
For those like me who take further comfort from nature's beauty, I can also point you to pics I've been sharing on twitter of New Zealand's amazing wilds: beaches, glaciers, waterfalls, snowy mountains, and rainbows

May you find new sources of strength in this time of darkness.