Cynthia Beeman values the past. Her home is filled with antiques, each of which has a familial story. She studied history at Texas Tech and spent her career at the Texas Historical Commission. After retirement, Cynthia co-founded the Ruth Winegarten Memorial Foundation for Texas Women’s History.
Cynthia invited me to stay at her Hyde Park home in north Austin, then invited a group of friends to discuss, ‘How will we live tomorrow?’ “We’re a bunch of Episcopalians and Historians.” Here are excerpts of our rambling discussion about the challenges and promise tomorrow might bring.
How will we live tomorrow?
Nancy (historian): I am interested in how we are going to evolve as a society. Gun control is much in the news. What is the implication of our gun culture?
Ginny (history professor UT): When I grew up there was a lot of shooting: snakes, hunting, marksmanship, but there was a different ethic of what guns were used for. There were still tragedies, an angry husband could shoot his wife or there could be an accident, but there wasn’t the animosity we now associate with guns. They weren’t primarily lethal weapons.
Ginny: The Sandy Hook shooting was the moment when you knew that nothing would change. That was the most pointless massacre of the most innocent victims and nothing…
Al (historian): My dad took us to join the NRA when I was twelve; I had been shooting since age seven. It was about learning how to shoot and safety; it wasn’t about politics.
Martin: All boys shoot things. They turn everything into a gun. My sister calls it the ‘Quoo’ genes after the sound they make when they pretend shoot.
Ginny: My sons had these popguns and they played with their fiends in the yard. I heard them all afternoon going, ‘quoo,’ ‘quoo.’ At least I knew where they were.
Ann (arts consultant): It’s not simply that we can’t have a discussion about guns; we can’t even research the problem. It’s a public health issue, but there is no research on the implication of guns or alternatives to our current practices. The NRA will not allow it; no politician will fund it. I heard that Michael Bloomberg was thinking about buying Smith and Wesson so that he could influence the gun industry. It’s an interesting idea, to get inside the gun world in order to bring some rationality to it.
Ginny: I really like my stuff, but I’m in the middle of clearing out my mothers stuff and I’m realizing I don’t like her stuff; I don’t like having to deal with it.
Linda (retired historian): We are going to live in smaller spaces, with less stuff.
Ann: Did you hear the IKEA executive talk about us hitting ‘peak stuff’? IKEA is going to move toward being a broker for people to trade and reuse.
Ginny: I was living in New Orleans during Katrina. I know dozens of families who evacuated. They loaded one car with their stuff and left. Everything else was lost. At first they were happy for their health, they said, ‘it’s only stuff’. But the longer time passed the more they missed it. It was only stuff, but it was their stuff.
Martin: We are wired to collect.
Martin: Our work world has changed so much. When we got out of school we went to work in the mailroom and worked our way up to the corner office. It’s not like that anymore.
Cynthia: When I started at the Texas Historical Commission, there was an understanding you worked your way up. That culture changed. New staff wanted promotions faster, and their tenures got shorter. By the time I retired, with another long-time staffer, he said, ‘We didn’t leave the THC. The THC left us.’
Ginny: I like Millennials, which is good since I spend so much time with them. They don’t have a sense of entitlement. I don’t even know what to tell them. The careers we had won’t even exist for them. The future isn’t giving them much to work with, yet they’ve become passionate and capable. They are inpatient, but hardworking.
Ginny: I have learned that I cannot stand in front of them and talk and expect they will take notes. That is over. I have to put things in a digital format. When I make them post things, they do better.
Ann: I feel more positive about tomorrow than I do a year from tomorrow. I am an optimist by nature, but I am not optimistic about climate change.
Nancy: We are at an end of the world situation. We had the Cold War, but that was a deterministic end of the world scenario that we managed to back away from. This is another level of destruction, one we cannot turn back.
Sandra (public health nurse): Climate change and income inequality are spurring terrorism. I think poverty is worse than ever. I see families who live east of Austin who have one room, a mattress, and a few utensils.
Ginny: Is it the poverty that’s intractable, or is it our inability to address the problems that people face?
Martin: The poor will always be with you.
Steve (Episcopal Priest): I am at the end of watching the series Lost. My son told me, ‘That’s me, that’s my life, my story.’ So I felt I had to watch it.
Ginny: But that’s not his life. It’s someone else’s vision.
Steve: Each generation plays in its own way. My father tried to get me to play jacks. I couldn’t have been less interested. Now my son isn’t interested in what I did. I don’t understand how Lost is my son’s life, but if he thinks it is, I have to accept that it means more to him than it does to me.
Nancy: I want to know how we move forward in a positive. Take Alan Graham, whom Paul met with from Mobile Loaves and Fishes. He is a change agent, a force for change and good in this community. What motivates him to do what he does?
Ginny: It all comes down to relationships. Look at the TED talk about longevity and happiness. The single most important factor is positive relationships.
Ann: I can confirm that. I have to work with the Texas Legislature. Forget social media and all the rest. The only way to get things done is to have positive personal relationships.