I have an unusual attachment to Anne Tyler’s novel, The Accidental Tourist. I first read it when I was in my mid-twenties and newly married, but for some reason, I could identify with the protagonist, Macon Leary. Macon is a forty-two year old man who has difficulty with change and is recently separated after twenty years of marriage. His first reaction to this major life change includes odd and somewhat comical coping behavior, but as the novel progresses, a wonderful story of growth and redemption unfolds.
While Macon does not change outside of the novel, over the past thirty years I certainly have. In my twenties, I enjoyed the adventures typical of throwing oneself energetically into a new marriage and career. To add to the adventure, I was doing this in Manhattan. For a boy from a town with about 200 people and 2,000 cows that still doesn’t have a traffic light, those were exciting times.
My thirties was my favorite decade. We became parents, moved to Alaska, and I discovered and nurtured previously unknown talents. I became the fixer in the family. I took care of anything that was needed so my wife could concentrate on her career. I should have taken a photo of the organized rows of bagged breast milk in the freezer. There was a bit of Macon Leary in that level of organization.
I was also in great physical shape in my thirties. Tennis and cross-country skiing in the winter; tennis, hiking and cycling in the summer. I absolutely loved being a stay-at-home parent with preschool aged kids, a wife in the military who worked more reasonable hours than has been the case before or after, and the opportunity to spend quality time together. After all these years, I am still drawn to the mountains. I have some wonderful memories of family hikes in Alaska.
My forties were a little challenging. We moved twice, my mother-in-law died after a battle with cancer, I spent a lot of time driving kids around to one activity or another, and it took my wife four tries to find the right job. My body was also no longer in its best shape. During my forties, we purchased a few houses and I became a landlord, reentered the work force by managing a tax preparation office, and became the primary caregiver for my father-in-law. By the end of that decade, my time seemed more stretched than ever – rentals, job, kids, wife, house, father-in-law.
On my fortieth birthday, I wanted to do something for myself – go for a hike or get some other exercise while the kids were in school. Unfortunately, it was cold and very windy, but there was less than an inch of snow so I couldn’t go skiing. For hiking, my only option was a completely flat rail trail which would have been fine for cycling during the summer, but was depressingly boring and abrasively windy that day. Ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Alaska feels much better and is more conducive to exercise than thirty above and windy in Michigan. I didn’t last long on that “hike.”
Now I’m in my fifties and I have changed some more. I have decided to answer the call to become a writer, but know that many feel this call, and few succeed. I also feel that I have a talent for seeing the big picture and want to impart some of that knowledge to others so problems can be avoided. Mostly that has to do with politics and economics. I’m worried about the direction the country has taken in the past couple decades, but I also feel I can make a difference. This is a more public existence than I have had for a while.
And now I think back to my first encounter with Macon Leary. I believe the reason I felt such a connection with the character is because, at my core, I feel the promise of change and the power of redemption. Perhaps it is also that, like Macon, I do or feel things for which I am embarrassed. I assume we all do, but I feel it quite personally. I feel uncomfortable when a movie or book character exhibits strange behavior, whether in private or in front of other characters. If in private, I’m thinking, “Someone is going to find out what he’s doing.” I actually squirm at those times as if I’m the person doing that ridiculous stuff.
As is true with Macon, I have the ability to grow and to change my views based on new information. Politically, I would have identified myself as center right before I began writing this blog, but I’ve moved into center left territory as a result of the research I’ve conducted.
The main reason for this shift: conservative policies propose to grow the economy by reducing taxes primarily on the wealthy, while raising taxes on the poor. It’s a “rising tide lifts all boats” strategy and it simply doesn’t work. Research shows that the wealthier individuals in the country – and my wife and I are in that category – will save the extra money from reduced tax rates and there is statistically no job growth as a result.
The poor, on the other hand, spend all their income so a tax increase on the poor will cause a loss of jobs and potentially a new economic recession.
There has to be a reasonable economic policy. Scientists have been conducting economic research for centuries – why is there no agreement on the best path.
Strict socialism doesn’t work. If you cannot receive additional or better food, housing or other necessities for harder work, why would you work hard? If you’re coworker is lazy and does almost nothing, but gets the same pay as you for a day’s labor, why should you put in the extra effort? In every socialist and communist country, economic output per capital is significantly less than for similar countries with a capitalist system.
Capitalism, on the other hand, can sometimes allow people to fall through the cracks. Most capitalist countries have social safety net programs to help those who are unable to succeed in the capitalist system. Sometimes it’s a short-term problem and the social programs help out long enough for that person to get back on their feet. Other times, there is a long-term need because the person receiving aid doesn’t have the skills to succeed in the modern world.
In my opinion, the ideal system is not on the far left or the far right. It should be a capitalist-based system with a strong social safety net designed to help restore a person’s ability to contribute to society. It should not be a punitive system, but one that can identify and address the needs of each person who utilizes it.
My move from center-right to center-left simply reflects my belief that the solution isn’t solely tax policy, but social and tax policy together.
In this conclusion, I again feel a connection to Macon Leary. Without giving away too much of the plot, he was wounded and his path to healing took him into uncharted waters. It was because of those unfamiliar surroundings that he was able to see things with fresh eyes. His views changed and he was able to see hope in places where he had once only seen despair. He began to care for people who he would have previously discounted. That is the real story of redemption in The Accidental Tourist.
I also see that redemptive spirit in the excitement that surrounds the presidential campaign. This seems especially true with Bernie Sanders’ supporters, but we can also throw Donald Trump’s supporters into that category.
The difference, of course, is that Sanders’ followers seem to hope for a future in which people are treated with more equity and fewer people are allowed to fall through the cracks, while Trump’s supporters pin their hopes on turning back the clock to when things were better for them. Both groups have hopes for their outsider candidate’s ability to change things, but the hopes are for considerably different worlds.
When I began this post, I didn’t think it would end with politics, but like I said earlier, I think I’m answering a call. Maybe I’ll do a post based on my favorite movie next. I wonder where I’ll end up if I begin talking about Airplane.