Almost News

It’s Wednesday again, one of my twice-weekly, self-imposed blog-posting days.  So what do I write about?

For inspiration, I perused a cast-off copy of an out-of-date New York Times.  I stumbled upon an opinion piece about the Chicago teacher’s strike and whether we are asking too much from our teachers.  One can guess, without even reading the story, what the answer must be.  The next column over contained the continuation of an article about the mess the economy is in.  And then I was drawn to a piece that examines the use of the word “almost.”

Certain phrases caught my attention and I found myself dumping them into a single pot and mixing them together.  That’s also the way I cook, taking bits and pieces from several recipes for, say, stuffed chicken, then following my intuition.  So, here goes:

“Call it Wall Street porn.  Not only do we know more than most of us wish to know about how the rich live– we even know, thanks to the deep-digging efforts of the business reporters over at Bloomberg, how much they have.”  However, “if you’re ever mistaken for a billionaire and invited to the Met for dinner, I highly recommend accepting.”  You might be offered the opportunity to sample a sublime beet salad.  And then, as you walk out the door, you can decide whether or not “we are becoming a more deeply divided country, with many Americans in the shrinking middle class far more likely to fall into poverty than to enjoy new wealth.”  

What to do?  “Perhaps there are numerous right” (or wrong) “paths in our interconnected world.”  Take India, for example.  “Meena Devi is only 10 years old, but she’s the head of her household.  She cooks, cleans, and takes care of her 11-year-old brother, Sunil, while a 14-year-old brother, Anil, works at a faraway brick kiln in a neighboring state.  The three have been orphans since their mother died of starvation three years ago.”   So what path can that family take when there are so many economic, cultural and societal barriers that keep Meena and her brothers trapped?  Like many young Americans, they too have probably been “told that to be strong means to suffer in silence when strength really comes from giving our suffering a voice.”  

And that brings us back home to Chicago.  The teacher’s strike was about just that: speaking up.  If we had the chance to talk with one of those teachers, he would likely say “that if you asked 30 of his colleagues why they were striking, you’d get 30 different answers.”  

Looking at the big picture, who would deny that providing children with a good education is becoming increasingly difficult no matter where you live?  “In Chicago, 87 percent of public school students come from low-income families– and as if to underscore the precarious nature of their lives, on the first day of the strike, the city announced locations where students could continue to receive free breakfast and lunch.”  

Perhaps one could stage some kind of action that would draw attention to the underfunding of our public schools?  Here’s an example: the “authorities in the city of Macheng, in Hubei Province in central China, agreed to invest $1.4 million in new school equipment after photos of students and their parents carrying their own desks and chairs to school, along with their books ‘sparked an outcry on the Internet.'”

Fine, go ahead and try it, you say.  “We’re all aware of the vast and still growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, we all know the global economy is a mess.  But do we have to hear about it every waking minute of every day?”  After all, the U.S. elections are just around the corner, and a lot of people are placing bets on the capacity of their favorite politician to get us out of this morass.  Problem is, “culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion, and attach less importance to judgment, vision and mettle.  We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say.  In 2004, we praised George W. Bush because we wanted to drink a beer with him.  Now we criticize President Obama because he won’t drink one with us.”  

In the coming months (both before and after the elections), if you or I wind up standing in line at the unemployment office, here’s a little tidbit we might want to mull over: “Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush both raised taxes in the early 1990s, and conservatives predicted disaster.  Instead, the economy boomed, and incomes grew at their fastest pace since the 1960s.  Then came the younger Mr. Bush, the tax cuts, the disappointing expansion and the worst downturn since the Depression.” 

But what do I know?  “I am an ‘almost’ writer.  ‘Almost’ withholds definitive knowledge of things, and it invokes the provisional nature of everything found in narrative, including, of course, the narrator’s own knowledge of the facts he’s been narrating.  A cautious narrator uses ‘almost’ almost as a way of vouchsafing his honest attempt to capture a particular essence on paper” (or in a blog post).  “‘Almost’ not only allows an author to suggest that he might at any moment withdraw or revoke anything he’s put on paper, but ‘almost’ is also an elusive loophole that wants to be noticed, the fine print we know was always there and should have caught the first time.  Almost is bad conscience trying to pass for good conscience by fessing up and displaying its wiles.”  

Enough said, almost.

(I’m grateful to the following writers whose work appeared in italics above, as well as in the Sunday Review section of the September 16 edition of The New York Times:  James Atlas, Thomas L. Friedman, Thomas Pyke Johnson, Peter Schmidt, Jon Methven, David Leonhardt, Sonia Faleiro, Alex Kotlowitz, Susan Cain,  André Aciman and Alexandra Heather Foss).


About HomenDunRoamin

Teaching Artist & Writer: fiction, poetry & nonfiction. Recently completed work: a hybrid memoir. In progress: a novel set in an unnamed Latin American country on the brink of war. The book examines violent and nonviolent resistance and the choices women are forced to make to survive.
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