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 Born to Write
 A Blog by Author Amy Hill Hearth

World on Fire


"It took me 100 years to figure out that I can't change the world. I can only change Bessie." – Bessie Delany at age 102


I think of this quote from Having Our Say every time I feel frustrated and helpless about our country and the world today.


Realistically, what can I do to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine or Israel or Sudan?


Here in the U.S., our divisions are unlike anything I've experienced in my lifetime. It seems impossible to persuade anyone to consider an alternative point of view. We've become a nation of shouters, not listeners.


So, as Bessie noted, the only control we have is over ourselves. I can improve myself as a human being – and even that's not easy to do.


Most of us are taught that we can make a difference in life, that even the smallest gestures can impact someone's future in a positive way, and surely that's true. I'm not saying we should abandon those efforts. In fact, we should double-down on them in these hard times.  


In the big picture, however, the deeper truth is that very few people (and I am not among them) have actual power in this world, and unfortunately, many of them wield that power in grotesque ways.


I can write letters. I can donate money. Probably the most important thing I can do is vote in November, and you can be sure that I will.

How This Era Will Be Remembered  

As I sit here writing this post, I look out my office window at a gentle, soothing rain. It's a comfort, this soothing rain. I like the sound of it. I like the way it slows life down from a frantic pace. No one is mowing a lawn. Traffic is lighter. Everyone has retreated indoors.


There is much to be grateful for.


There is, also, a lot to worry about.


I have never worried about my country as I do now. I fear the future. Will our democracy survive? Will we split into two parts? Will hatred define us? Is anyone able to hear over the shouting?


Greed is, as always, at the root of it all. The richest among us aren't satisfied. They want more. And more. And still more. They feel entitled. They want to run the country. They think they know better than the rest of us lowly souls, so they give huge sums of money to our elected officials. Bribes, to be blunt about it. All this money is floating into the pockets of public servants – not all, but many - who are supposed to represent us.


So we have greed. We have anger.


And we have self-interest. All of us, not "just" the wealthiest. One person's freedom is more important, apparently, than someone else's life. It's all about "me" rather than "us." Gone are the days of my childhood when we were taught to wait our turn, to share, to respect our teacher. Gone are the days, I guess, when young men like my father enlisted to fight in a world war to keep us free.


People are complicated. We're all a product of the times in which we live. We will always have greed, anger, and selfishness, but right now we seem to be giving in to it, even celebrating it.


And yet there is one more failure – a huge one – that may define us more than any other. We have not prioritized the importance of the gentle, soothing rain. We aren't appreciating the gifts of nature and, tragically, we're hurtling toward the days when there will be nothing but drought, on the one hand, or the kind of fierce, isolated downpours that cause destructive flooding. 


We aren't doing anywhere near enough to fight this crisis. There is much we could do, but we haven't. I believe, therefore, that if humanity survives, our era will be remembered for one thing above all: squandering the opportunity to address climate change.


To the next generation and the one after that: I'm sorry. 



When I see what is happening in Ukraine, I feel it in my bones, my family having gone through something similar in WW II. 


My mother lost numerous members of her family, some at the hands of the Nazis (for reasons we don't know), and, at the end of the war, by Russians. Russian soldiers chased my family, all civilians, and murdered several, including my great-grandpa, who was in his eighties. (He was shot and, while still alive, thrown off a bridge to drown.) My mother and her parents were, fortunately, in America at this time.


While in college, I interviewed several surviving members of my mother's famiily. They had been Displaced Persons at the end of the war and went through absolute hell. One great-aunt had lost both legs to frostbite. Eventually, they found their way to an American zone where they were taken care of, but the physical and emotional scars lived on. They were damaged people, and some of that trauma, no doubt, has been passed to my generation and even the next. 


What is happening in Ukraine at this moment is horrible and has made me reflect on my kinfolk who fled a similar situation in 1945 -1946. There are relatives I never met, and whose fate I will never learn. I do not know where they are buried, assuming they were buried properly at all.


The atrocities being committed in Ukraine will have a life of their own that will be felt a long time from now. 

How to be Happy on Social Media (and Make the World a Better Place)

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I see the benefits of it. I've made new friends and acquaintances. I've learned all about butterfly gardening (something I've always wanted to do) by joining a Facebook group, and made notes about new places I want to travel from members of another group.


And, of course, as an author, it's lovely to interact so easily with my readers. This is a great improvement over the days when readers sent letters to my agent or publisher, who then forwarded the mail to me. Sometimes, weeks had passed before I received the letters!


But there's no doubt that social media is too often a destructive force.


A few years ago, I made a deliberate choice. I decided I would not engage with social media provocateurs, whether or not I agree with their point or issue. This way, I'm not adding any fuel to the fire.


Of course, sometimes this is hard to do. Sometimes, a post seems like a junior high school dare. I feel as if I'm expected to participate, and that I'm a coward if I don't speak my mind, too.


But first, let's remember that Facebook algorithms, according to a high-ranking Facebook whistleblower, reward anger and outrage. This is wrong, and I'm not going to buy into it.


Second, it's not as if the only way to exercise your right of free speech is through social media. It's not even a particularly effective option, if what you hope to do is change someone's mind, according to recent studies.


There is also the issue of Internet privacy. By participating in every rage du jour, you're handing a ton of revealing information about yourself to Facebook or other social media corporations. Why do that?


Last but not least, it simply isn't healthy or the best use of time to get caught up in a social media argument.


Several times over the years, I have considered quitting all social media altogether. Instead, I just take a break from a few hours to a few days, depending on how annoyed I am.


Ultimately, it's worth it to me. I'd miss hearing from old friends. I'd miss all the posts of dogs, cats, babies, birthdays, new books, and stunning sunsets. On my Facebook Author Page, I'd miss reflecting on the interesting people I've met through my career, or answering questions about my books. When I don't have much to say, I look for something to share, often about history or nature. Life is what you make of it.


And so is social media.    


Are You a Bystander in Your Own Life?

My father was a very good amateur photographer. Then one day in middle age, he set down his camera forever.


He simply stopped taking pictures. He'd been his high school's yearbook photographer, documented his own experience in WW II with a camera, and took hundreds of photos of his wife and family in the 1950s, '60, and '70s.


I must have been in my late teens when we all noticed he no longer carried his camera bag with him. I asked him why, and he said he was tired of feeling as if he were documenting life rather than living it. "I want to be a participant, not an observer," he explained.


I've thought of his words often. I love photography and have sold some of my pictures over the years to newspapers and magazines. I've taken my own photographs for one of my nonfiction books. But I understand what Dad meant and I've heeded his warning. Photography is a passion that will swallow you whole if you're not careful. When I go out with friends, I don't want to be the person everyone counts on to get a photograph of us together. Ditto for every experience from travel to family holidays. I don't want to be worried about the lighting, or if someone blinked. I want to live the experience, not record it.


Now this situation is multiplied a thousand times with social media. Those of us who participate are performers, documentarians, reporters, witnesses, and judges. On social media, real life can take a backseat, and it's not always clear what is truly happening. Some people are perhaps too candid while others are cautious. Many people present a curated view of their lives. Some people post photos once a month and others, ten times per day.


As for me, I'm finding my own way. I love social media but I don't want it to own me. I love photography but I don't want it to take over.


Like Dad, I want to live fully in the moment.