I have been thinking a great deal lately about a word that is flying around out there. The word is change. It is the buzz word of Obama supporters, a monosyllabic beacon of hope in an ominous, oncoming perfect storm of globalproportions. While the word evokes hopefulness in the hearts of most Democrats, it conjures up suspicion, incredulity, evendread for many Republicans.
The noun/verb is vague, morphing week by week, and downright threatening for those who seek concrete solutionsto our growing national crisis. Change what? Change how? And God help any of you out there that are still asking, “Why change?”
As an artist, I have spent tens of thousands of hours in my career painting, and as I paint,I give my mind contemplations to grind on. Lately, my contemplation has beenthis loaded word — change — and what it implies and asks ofus. I offer a story about change as a springboard into your own relationship with this mysterious and kinetic theme.
I came to the Vineyard in 1978 and was wed the next year. After 20years, my husband and Idivorced. As amother of twochildren, I did my verybest not to fall apart at the seams. All my plans hadchanged, my dreams devolved to a quiet desperation of daily struggle. I think that year everything I owned broke. I lived in a house of b roken stuff,busted hearts and lapsed warranties. I held my little swan neck up as highas I could, but could not fly. I was frozen in time. Atleast I still had a home which, thanks to my ex-husband, wewere allowed to remain in, despite major disrepair. He, on the other hand, was adrift, as so many divorced men find themselves. It was such a hard time for him too. I fought to keep things status quo, to just hold ground.
After a year and ahalf, I began to note that my ex-husband was, as they say in therapy, moving on. And I wasn’t. I still had his clothes in my closet, his Playboys in my bathroom, his old transmissions out in my yard. Charlie and I had done everything we could to remain respectful to each other, despite our painful differences, so one day I asked him how he’d managed to accept change and move forward. He flabbergasted me by giving me a copy of a self-help book he’d just read titled Who Moved my Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson.I was probably at that time the number one consumer of self-help books in thestate of Massachusetts. Yet this one had escaped me. But moresignificantly, the presentation of this book to me from Charlie was about as disorienting as DirtyHarry donning a T-shirt with kittens on it. Of course I read the thing thatnight. And it ticked me off. The book was all about change.
An anthropomorphic allegory, Who Moved My Cheese told of well-trained mice that wove their way daily through a familiar maze to attain cheese. But on one fateful day the cheese was moved, and Dr. Johnsonelaborates asto how different mice responded different ways to the absence of cheese, and the resultant upheaval in what was once a very predictable life. Basically, the mice split into two camps. Thefirst bunch of mice got the picture after a couple of daysthat the cheese, as they understood it, was G.O.N.E. There was no time to waste.
Cheese was out there somewhere, and by jingo they were going to find it or die trying. Off they went. The second camp, aka yours truly, kept processing the cheese problem. The cheese would rise again, someone had made a correctable mistake and would surely right things any day now, there would be a cheese rebate, that God was just testing them, and oh those silly mice that just split — wouldn’t they be sorry. On and on their little minds spun around. Until they died.
Boy, it rankled me that Charlie had figured this out before me. And boy, itfurther irked me that I had to change, or spiritually die. I’d already worked very hard to become the woman I was, and why wasn’t that enough? Because the nature of all life is change. Period. It is what keeps the universe ever creative, ever growing, ever evolving. We can try with all our might to contain the uncontainable, to harness the untameable force of the creative, but entropy rules the heavens. Ask any quantum physicist. This is a fact. A very beautiful but confusing fact.
So how does this allegory apply to this election? I was raised by a diehard Republican upstate New York veteran of World War II, and having spent hundreds of hours in VFWs where my Dad worked, I understand what old-school Republicans from the middle class hold in esteem about their party. They cherish the constitution and don’t want it messed with. They worked hard for their money and don’t want anyone’s hands on it. In fact, they don’t like the government’s hands on much. They like to fix local problems with local means. They show up, fight to preserve their independence. Once upon a time, that is what the Republican Party stood for. But whether Republicans want to acknowledge it or not, someone has moved their cheese in a monumental, irreversible way.
Our constitutional rights are not only jeopardized, they have been very seriously manipulated, even deleted, so that we are only pretending in many ways to be American. Our money is now spoken for for decades to come dueto avaricious deregulation. We have been misguided into a war under falsepretenses. We have mixed church and state, a number one no-no in Am erican history. Whatever we looked to the Republican party for in order strikebalance exists no longer. Something else crept in in the night and calls itself cheese, but it is no more cheese than a plastic display model in a shopwindow. And still there are those who insist that this toxic mutati onof ideology is cheese.
We need to change. We need to look for new answers. Everyone’s cheese has moved, not just the Republicans, but what I ask of Republicans now is to consider change. Please. We are living in a Kramer vs. Kramer political climate, mutually pitted against each other to the point of utter national destruction. As a nation, we are behaving as if we were locked in an ugly divorce, harming each otherto score our poi nts. Theproblem with these kinds of divorces is that they harm posterity. I will tell you one absolute that Democrats andRepublicans do agree on — both love their children desperately. We want a future for them and that is no longer an inalienable right, because it is no longer even a guarantee.
Can we find a way to conduct ourselves politically so as not to damage our children irreparably? Can Republicans and Democrats take their fingers off the triggers of their psychic gatling guns, and start looking for the cheese together? Because no one really knows where it is for sure, and the only way to find it is for all of us to change.
Margot Datz is an artist and illustrator who lives in Edgartown. Her last book is Survival Guide for the Landlocked Mermaid.