by Marilyn Thiele
I had hoped to post last week from the delightful small hotel in Antigua where my husband and I have escaped the winter for a short time every year for the last ten years. As our years of accumulating “things” have evolved into an effort to divest the junk, we give this trip to each other as our Christmas gift. We did escape on schedule, despite my bout with the flu a few days before leaving, but we escaped a bit more than we had planned.
The hotel was built in the early 1980’s by an Australian ex-pat who by that time, if his stories are to be believed (and we do believe them), had traveled around most of the world in various capacities and was now ready to settle down to a peaceful life on a Caribbean island. Tony is now 92, and we wonder every year if we will see him again. 2017 finds him incredibly healthy and still swimming early in the morning, but living now as a tenant in his apartment on the property he has sold. The realities of property management just got to be a bit too much.
Most of the staff has remained, but the investors have hired a manager for the property, as their main careers are not in real estate or hotel management. We met both the new owners and the manager. This small hotel has several patrons, who, like us, return year after year to escape the winter winds, and the new proprietors want to maintain the intimate atmosphere and traditions while modernizing to accommodate new visitors. We are relatively confidant that we will be comfortable returning in the future to what almost seems like another home.
Of course, new management looks for ways to improve efficiency, and a change in internet providers looked as if it would both improve service (never that bad in prior years) and save money. As a business owner, I know that what a sales person tells me and what customer service actually does are frequently very different. And such was the case with the internet; while we were there, it was sporadic at best. For a few minutes I could check Facebook or e-mail; then as I tried to respond, the system died for several hours. After a couple of days, I gave up my frequent checking to see if we had service. What on Day One seemed like a major annoyance became by Day Five a forgotten problem.
If I had to be cut off from the internet, this is the year when it turned out to be a benefit. We weren’t cut off from news; there was television, and both network and cable news were available. But I wasn’t compulsively checking Facebook for the “outrage of the day” or being bombarded with memes, links to snarky commentary, or predictions of the end of life as we know it. I realize that I had succumbed to the psychological syndrome that I have seen described by a few different names, but basically amounts to a constant sense of anxiety, fear, anger, and ultimately depression. I had actually been feeding this syndrome in myself by looking for the latest signals of impending disaster. After a few days, I was reading the crime fiction I love without interrupting the flow of the narrative with the flow of bad news.
As the sense of peace and perspective settled in, I was able to process what has been happening in politics with less emotional baggage. This doesn’t mean I stopped caring about the outrageous talk and behavior of our new leader and his minions, or that I don’t fear for the future. It just was a time to reflect without constantly stoking my anxiety. I was forced by circumstances to drop back a bit; and I hope now that I am back to the real world that I ration my doses of outrage more carefully.
What I realized is that outrage and anger can sometimes feel good, but that it would be beneficial if I can channel that energy into something productive. I am not a marching and demonstrating type of person, although I admire those who march and demonstrate and think it is important to show the numbers of people who object. I also realized of all the troubling commentary I have heard, the most troubling to me is the lack of knowledge by those who voted based on slogans and buzz words. We have probably all seen the interviews where people were asked if they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, and were completely unaware that they were one and the same. One person said, when he realized that he had voted against his own interests, “I must have been living in a bubble.” Yes.
My next thoughts had to do with my own little corner of the world. I live in a very red district in a very blue state. I am careful to avoid political discussions in my shop; it just isn’t good for business. Of course, people want to talk, and politics is the overriding issue. I have been astounded that whenever a customer raises current events, it turned out that he or she is pretty much on the same page as I am. Here? In this county? Why was the vote here so red when everyone I know is blue? I had my suspicions, but it took one particular gentleman to say it out loud. Flemington is our county seat, and the town is full of lawyers. This attorney is a regular, usually shopping for books to read to his young children, and our chats were about children’s books. He is nice enough, but projects the bluster and bombast that many in his profession do. So when he brought up politics, and started railing against the current regime, I was surprised. I commented that I found it amazing how everyone who raises the issue in my shop is a liberal in this conservative county. He just said, “Of course. You meet the ones who read.” My suspicion confirmed.
I don’t really believe that all those who have opinions different from mine are not readers or thinkers. But I am convinced that there are too many people who don’t read (books, news, lengthy commentary or anything else) and are easily swayed by superficial statements that sound good but don’t hold up under any analysis.
Now comes the tough part. How does one encourage the non-readers to spend time learning on their own what our constitution means, or what the nuances of health care or climate change or immigration are? It won’t happen through disparagement or snarkiness. I have a few ideas that I plan to explore in a future post, since this one is overly lengthy already. I would welcome any suggestions about how a small bookshop in a small town can make even a small difference in getting more people to read – for the benefit of all.