One last post before the holidays

I don’t know if you are making one of those lists with good intentions for the new year or are entertaining wishes for your Christmas presents, but I hope they’ll all come true.

This morning, I reminded myself that I’ve picked up all sorts of habits over the years, while I moved through various cultures. Mine, for example, does not have a Christmas presents tradition, but you know what? I’d completely forgotten.

[The Dutch do celebrate Christmas, but they give each other presents on St Nicholas Day –  Sinterklaas – at the beginning of December. As Dutch mobile phone provider Telfort gave me free calls at Sinterklaas, I know that the tradition is still going strong in the Netherlands, complete with the soot-faced chimney sweeps, and their hand-held short natural-materials brush called “roe” and their chimney sweep’s beret.

The chimney sweeps descend down the chimney to deliver the gifts while Santa (Sinterklaas) and horse wait on the roof, moon overhead. In the days running up to Sinterklaas, Dutch children place one of their shoes near the chimney so that one of the chimney sweep can leave some candy, if he happens to pass by their house, in exchange for a carrot or some sugar for the horse. Apparently, chimney sweeps bring good luck.]

Today, I received a Christmas parcel from the States. I’ll open it on the evening of the 24th, because I think that’s what I am supposed to do.

It’s gonna be my 15th Christmas in Britain and my 10th in Portsmouth. Same for New Year’s Eve. For the coming year, I have lots of wishes for myself, but I am keeping them to myself.

For the world, I have lots of wishes too, but it feels grandiose to say that. It is not my place to dictate for other people what they should wish (though I can fantasize!). I guess that in reality, those wishes represent what I want for myself to some degree.

The above collage contains a photo of a Christmas wreath I decorated while I was living in Florida in the mid 1990s, with dough-based ornaments and sea shells that I painted and Spanish moss, crops of photos of some of the other ornaments I made back then, and a 2009 Christmas card that I scanned and pasted into the image. Then I added a red mist focus.

Oh, by the way, I saw lots of pale salmon-coloured starfish washing up at Southsea, two or three days ago. Amazing! Brought back memories from my high-school biology class. There was a fierce storm with high waves, and lots of seagulls riding them, feasting on various goodies.

Poverty, women and age

Today, I watched a few videos on YouTube about women in poverty, many of whom are homeless or illegally living in a caravan, particularly if they are pensioners. They may get a small pension, but it’s not enough to live on AND rent a place.

They live in the US, Australia, or New Zealand. (I already know quite a bit about the situation in the UK, where one third of the people live in poverty.) They are 48, 57 or 69 years old.

From reading newspapers, I get the impression that poverty is very slowly starting to creep up in the Netherlands too now. That is where I am from, a country where most people still have incomes with lifestyles that now come across as obscene to me, but that I used to see as normal.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with it – apart from the resource consumption that can be linked to it – but I call it obscene because of the giant contrast with the lives I see around me.

To give a comparison that they may be able to understand, their lives are like having gold taps and gold handles throughout the house and expensive champagne with smoked salmon and caviare at breakfast every day.

What strikes me particularly about the stories of the women in the videos is that they never expected to live in poverty and are totally gobsmacked by the fact that they are.

But here is the thing. It’s not them. They didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It’s mostly the result of sheer coincidence.

Several of them mentioned the 2008 financial crisis. (Thank you, banks.) Others mentioned a divorce, hence suddenly being without a home.

They grew up in a time when life was still good. For most of them, it was a reasonable expectation that they would not be poor a few decades later.

It’s made me remember that in 2006 or thereabouts, various articles more or less predicted this rise in poverty, this sharpening division in the haves and have-nots. There was a lot of talk about corn, and the price of it. The articles said that we were heading for a time of food insecurity and a lot of poverty. It worried me. It sounded alarming. It made me look into emigrating to countries with much lower living expenses and the kind of climate in which I thrive.

If you thrive, physically, you can do more work. If you live in pleasant surroundings and don’t struggle with paying the bills, you maintain better health, too. All of these factors help.

I seem to recall that those articles also said that knowledge workers would increasingly get into difficulties, but that the opportunities for creatives would likely become much better. Back then, I had no idea what that meant in practice. (Maybe the people who wrote those articles did not know either.) It is starting to dawn on me now.

Once you’re in real poverty, it’s almost impossible to get out of, it seems, unless you have an extraordinary stroke of luck, for most people.

There have to be ways to solve this, stop this from progressing. Yo, creatives, can you come up with some bright ideas?

The focus of the world is shifting. The articles predicted that too. It’s true. The United States no longer run the world.

Some of the women in the YouTube videos solved their homelessness by taking up house-sitting, although that also sometimes meant that they were no longer eligible for social housing. One of the women has MS, the relapsing-remitting version, and no health insurance.

Something else struck me, too. These women were too nice about it all, too accepting, taking their worries and bouts of depression in stride.

“You’ve got to roll with the punches.”

True, but rolling with the punches means that the punches barely touch you and don’t hurt you. When the punches hurt and you never asked for them, never started the fight yourself, you’re entitled to a bit of anger. There are power and energy in certain kinds of anger – but women are still not supposed to get angry.