“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”
― Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman
I have a memory of speeding us home from MYF to claim my front row seat. The seat was in our living room, in front of a black and white RCA TV. Ed Sullivan was coming on and could not be missed. Every Sunday evening at eight we expected, “A really big shew!” The night of my remembrance was The Beatles, but I remember many other acts with dimming clarity. Some more than others and some that have become metaphors in my dimming brain.
My memory was triggered by another memory, which was triggered by a conversation. A simple comment I made about the complexities of life. A comparison to an incomplete story, incomplete because the story had too many moving parts. Too many spinning plates wobbling as I try to bring my story to its conclusion.
From the conversation a rabbit hole opened, beckoning me to fall in and I obliged it. Slide on over Alice, I’ve come to join you. Set a place for me at your tea party preferably next to the Mad Hatter. We have much in common, especially our insanity.
The memory of Ed Sullivan led me to the memory of a tuxedo clad man with a bad haircut running hither and yon attempting to keep bowls spinning on dowls and plates spinning on the table the dowls sat on. As their spin began to slow, the plates or bowls would begin to wobble. The tuxedo clad man would run first to one and then to another while carrying a tray with glasses, eggs, and cutlery that he would perform ‘amazing’ tricks with while keeping the bowls from crashing to the floor.
The tuxedo clad man was Erich Brenn. His act was pure circus, but it reminded me of the circus that life has become for so many. Spinning plates have become a metaphor for life.
I’m retired. Life doesn’t get much simpler. Life is so simple my biggest struggle is to remember what day of the week it is or what time of day it might be. As simple as it is, I still remember and long for simpler times. What about those who now find themselves spinning plates in the Twenty-First Century?
Both my parents worked in the Twentieth Century. Shift work in a cotton mill weave room. Sometimes my dad would ‘work over’. An extra four hours here and there. Even working over he was always home in time for supper, the evening meal in the South. They owned their home, made payments on a new car every four or five years, and there was always food on the table. I never wanted for anything that was needed. Admittedly there were disagreements over what was ‘needed’.
They had time to have a life outside of the heat, humidity, and lint of a weave room. The job ended with the closing of the huge, sliding doors that separated ‘in there’ from the ‘out there’. They didn’t carry the job home with them…at least in their heads. They might have been bone weary, but they weren’t mind numbed. They didn’t have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. They had money to put away for a ‘rainy’ day.
They had time, an irreplaceable commodity, to smell the roses. Time to do chores, work a crossword puzzle, paint by numbers, go to choir practice, or host the Canasta Club or just watch TV. Time to be parents. Time to do nothing if they wanted. What happened?
The modern world happened. Life morphed into something that would not be recognized in the Fifties, Sixties, or Seventies. Life has reverted to the early days of the Industrial Revolution…to the Great Depression, long hours as pay hasn’t kept up with cost. The Greatest Generation should be shaking their heads in disbelief. Life now resembles Erich Brenn’s spinning plate novelty act.
Today, many families of four can’t survive on one salary, are stretched to survive on two, can’t own a home, are forced to keep a ten-year-old vehicle running for five more years. In many cases, they are working multiple jobs and still making decisions on which bills to pay, which meds to take, living from paycheck to paycheck, one calamity away from being thrown to the curb. One disaster from living in their car or a cardboard box. Spinning plates.
This was before Covid, before runaway inflation, before soaring gas prices, before more rumors of war in the Ukraine turned out not to be rumors. Life is hard for this newest generation and looks worse for the next. Forget saving for a better life, saving for a house or college for their kids. It’s hard to save when catsup soup is the soup de jure.
I wonder how many more plates are being spun…or shattering as they fall to the floor.
I worry about my daughter, son-in-law, and grandbabies. They are lucky and I hope they realize it. I’m sure some days they wonder too. I’m sure they must make tough decisions. They both work, have good jobs, and both are home for supper. Sometimes my electrician son-in-law works side jobs but most days he’s doing taxi service to one practice or another. They sound much like my parents.
They are great parents. They amaze me. They put their children first…sometimes to their own detriment. I worry they are wearing themselves out sprinting in the rat race of life. No chance to slow down and smell the roses. Spinning those plates. They can call on family members when the schedule spins out of control, or when life adds a plate to the table. So far, no plates or bowls have come crashing down. Still, I worry.
Many young parents don’t have the support to soften the blow of falling bowls and I am sorrowful. Many grandparents who were once the support system still must work, still spinning plates themselves.
Spinning plates shouldn’t be a metaphor for life…yet it is. It is a metaphor for the fear many experience. One broken plate from going bust.
My parents had a dream their ‘baby boys’ would have a better life than they did. A better life was the same dream their parents had and a dream I had for mine. For some that dream was realized. For others, the deck was stacked against them from the beginning and has become dog-eared over time.
We keep being told that the American Dream is still alive. All you must do is work hard. I think that is a lie and for the coming generations that dream may be a nightmare.
As madly as we spin plates, I can’t help but point out that at least I’m not having to manufacture and use Molatov cocktails, and my grandchildren are not having their blood type sewn onto their clothing by their parents. I’m not living in a makeshift bomb shelter with a pet in my lap. To my Ukrainian friends, known and unknown, Любов і удача. Love and good luck.
Image is from https://wordwranglers.blogspot.com/2016/02/spinning-plates-and-shiny-objects.html
Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR03_CNDnl9zP1PUcuPq3gRcw2MxMBnxKv6-Xb07S_k4BEx3dP81Yk912HY
Don Miller’s newest offering is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes”
2 thoughts on “Spinnin’ Plates…?”
Good morning. This is a fine essay. For much of the world, it’s a worrisome mess out there. And it easily could get worse.
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Don, you describe so well the complexities of our modern lives. So many broken plates litter our streets.