We understand food deserts. Are you and I living in a "love desert?" Here's what I'm doing about it
A food desert is an area where people have very limited access to healthy, affordable food. Somebody living in a food desert faces daily obstacles preventing them from going to a grocery store and buying fresh, nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.
I am coining this term "love desert." Too many of us, attached as we are (or the other way around) to our devices, are in a love desert.
Let's take the above definition and rewrite it, with apologies to The Humane League:
A love desert is a life where people have very little access to healthy, caring interactions. Somebody living in a love desert faces daily obstacles preventing them from feeling seen, loved and valued, and accessing warmth and community from people who care about them and whom they care about.
If I want to validate that premise, all I have to do is head on over to my old haunt at Medium.com and all the other social media outlets.
We are all so very hungry. Starving in fact.
We're starving ourselves of love in a thousand ways.
Some of us more than others. But it begins with the person we see in the mirror every single day (assuming we possess a bathroom with a mirror, but that's another topic entirely).
Thirteen years ago I wrote a book about how we need to feed ourselves and others with what I referred to as Wordfood:
At the time, I had no idea how bad it was going to get. Nor did I foresee, and who could, how desperately we would end up starving ourselves of the very thing which feeds us most: self-love, words of encouragement first to ourselves and others, and using words to uplift, build community and belonging.
We berate ourselves too much. We no longer know how to use words to uplift. Any stroll into social media today is, too often, toxic, if not deadly to the soul.
This is a national emergency, the way I see it. So does the Surgeon General.
In the last week, I've seen three or more articles addressing the terrible effects of loneliness. Here's what the Surgeon General said:
Single and solo folks are increasing by leaps and bounds. That means more and more of us are tasked to find community outside our homes.
Social media, once touted as the way to get connected, did. To a point. Today it's the Great Divider, a source of misery, loneliness and isolation, as people creep into their caves to hide from imaginary and real marauders driven to madness by a world they believe gone nuts because it doesn't perfectly align with everything they believe. As a society, we've lost our sense of safety in community, when community means that we can comfortably live with the inherent differences that humans have. We can't seem to abide differences at all any more.
This is also what I mean by a "love desert." And where we start to plant a garden in it:
We are starving for kindness, kind words, and gentility. But first we must offer it to ourselves. We must feed ourselves the words of encouragement first.
Put the oxygen mask on first, then help others.
It doesn't stop with us, however.
Younger people seem to have it worse the same way the elderly end up isolated:
From that story:
Across age groups, people are spending less time with each other in person than two decades ago. The advisory reported that this was most pronounced in young people aged 15-24 who had 70% less social interaction with their friends.
Murthy said that many young people now use social media as a replacement for in-person relationships, and this often meant lower-quality connections.
"We also know that for some kids, being online has been a way to find community at a time when many of them have not been able to," he said. "What we need to protect against, though, are the elements of technology, and social media in particular, that seek to maximize the amount of time that our children are spending online at the expense of their in-person interactions." (author bolded)
It is nearly impossible to teach our kids how to connect when we haven't connected with our kids because our parents/caregivers/loved ones are face-hugged by their phones, the same way my favorite monster, the Alien, brutally uses humans to create more monsters.
They have positive uses, but we don't choose to manage the evil side effects. Our devices have proven to be as evil as this face-hugger and worse to society, IF we allow them to do this to us. Too many of us are. I chose this horrific visual to make a point.
We've given up our humanity to a device and we are paying the price.
Please think about it for you, for your parents, for your kids, for all of us.
This article, shared with me by one of my readers, points out the cost to our parents and all older people when faced with being isolated:
From the article:
Social isolation among older adults is associated with greater dementia risk. Elucidating the pathway by which social isolation impacts dementia may offer meaningful insights for the development of novel solutions to prevent or ameliorate dementia across diverse racial and ethnic groups.
I have written elsewhere that dementia begins in our thirties. It gains a foothold with ultra-processed foods:
These foods represent an increasingly large share of the world’s diet. Almost 60 percent of the calories that adults in America eat are from ultra-processed foods. They account for 25 to 50 percent of the calories consumed in many other countries, including England, Canada, France, Lebanon, Japan and Brazil.
Add to that our sedentary habits and smoking, and we have a perfect storm for early-onset Alzheimer's and dementia.
But that's hardly all.
Because we speak harshly to ourselves, and because we have horrific conversations with the sacred self, many of us seek to anesthetize ourselves:
I could go on. Drug, alcohol and substance abuse add to the mix, setting us up for early death or early demise via dementia or other horrific conditions.
But that's only if we survive overdoses.
This is what too many of our children are born into. They are handed the face- hugger almost immediately with real health consequences, and there goes their future, belonging to the Almighty Corporation which prefers that we get addicted young, permanently and please, pass it along to the next generation.
We start isolating our kids nearly from birth. We are not teaching them how to relate, connect, make friends, be a friend, interact. Where on earth did you think the rise in bullying got its start?
When kids grow up in a love desert. Please see:
From the article:
A common reason that a kid is a bully is because he/she lacks attention from a parent at home and lashes out at others for attention. This can include neglected children, children of divorced parents, or children with parents under the regular influence of drugs/alcohol. (author bolded)
When parents belong to Big Tech, they aren't parenting.
Every one of these companies learned at the feet of the best: Big Tobacco. Don't believe me? Look it up:
The more isolated we are, the more we will turn to smoking, drinking, doping, big tech, hate, QAnon, conspiracy theories and ultra-right evangelical crazies to fix what is easily fixed without ANY of this.
Let me repeat:
ALL OF THIS IS FIXABLE.
It's also both simple and hard.
Here are two short stories to demonstrate why. In this first story, names and details are changed out of respect to the individuals.
A good friend of mine was doing charity work for elders in Michigan. He told me that he was doing a welfare check for a man named Barry who lived in subsidized housing. Barry was to be tested for Parkinson's disease.
When my friend opened the door, Barry was naked. Slightly disoriented, but naked.
My friend was understandably fearful, but also willing to see what he could do. He has a gift for being curious, and willing to walk into situations where others would back away. He got Barry inside and dressed.
And got Barry talking.
Turned out this tiny man had been a major name in the rock business. He'd been a rock guitarist with some of the biggest bands of his day. In later years he produced for big labels and partied with the best of them.
Now, wasted and dealing with the possible onset of a terrible disease, Barry was old, living in poverty and fear. Self-medicating, which was why he'd answered the door naked.
Barry blossomed as he spoke about his life. He felt heard and valued. When given his diagnoses and what he needed to do to get healthy, he chose to die instead.
Why? Because he was alone, isolated and completely without resources to cope with Parkinson's. This is precisely the kind of isolation the Bigs count on.
I believe that if Barry had better engaged with people, built a community, a different life might have been available. Perhaps he wouldn't have needed to self-medicate.
This is just one of the gifts of Wordfood: being curious, listening, validating others. It saves lives, beginning with our own.
My friend loves hearing people's stories. He can also withhold judgment based on someone's circumstances. That's a skill built over time and effort, and the willingness to engage with people regularly.
About half of Americans are single. As they age into their sixties and seventies and beyond, society can be most unkind. It drives a wedge between us greying hairs and all the rest of the world.
The moment we look old, we're invisible. Ageism is an horrific disease in America. All -isms can create isolation and loneliness.
That's how Barry ended up so desperate.
Here's a bit of my story:
I'm 70, living alone in Eugene, where I moved under Covid. It's been really challenging to socialize for two reasons: Strict lockdown for much of that time, then a slew of injuries, accidents and surgeries have prevented me from the full-on kind of networking I love to do.
Instead, I've found ways to reach out to my neighbors. I spend time every day talking to people I love. I channel my caring for people into my writing. Out of that have come friendships which have morphed into more conversations with people whose lives I care about.
While I can't drive for a few weeks during recovery, I'm on the ADA Ride Source service. I've memorized the drivers' names and details about them (a great trick to increase memory power), and talk to those other riders who want to engage. Remembering the other riders and drivers means they look forward to picking you up and sitting with you. Drivers are happy to heft your big bags of groceries to your door.
And I learn so very much about people I'd never have otherwise met.
Talking to, and listening to people, as Barry does, creates connections. People feel visible. That's a gift that gives right back.
None of us is alone. That's an illusion, which is at the heart of many religious teachings. I am a (clumsy) student of Buddhism, which rejects the notion that we are apart and separate from all things.
Alone for me means All One. Here's one writer's interpretation:
I'm indulging in Me Time, to heal my busted up body. I am taking endless "spa time" to massage my feet and hands and invite them to heal completely. Bought a cold laser, a key investment to assist healing. Because I deserve it.
I put aside all the demands of new book and new speaking career and new this that and the other to focus solely on the self. As a gift, not a punishment, or excuse for feeling poor me.
The stress which put me in the ER two weeks ago and which turned me into a gargoyle from constant pain is easing off. It's hard to describe the difference.
Kindness to the self feeds kindness to others feeds kindness to the self.
Lots of money is being made from selling us on the idea that to be solo is a terrible thing.
When you and I are solo, we are in the best possible company. We get to explore the outer edges of who we are. When we treat our sacred selves with courtesy, as I wrote in Wordfood; we reinforce the most important relationship in our lives.
The ONLY relationship we have.
When that relationship is on solid ground, we are interested in and gracious with others. They reflect how we feel about ourselves. That is what builds community.
That is what puts gardens and flowers and rivers and lakes in the love deserts of our lives. Love does that. Caring about ourselves first, then expressing that for others is what turns the "love desert" into an Eden.
Let's stop allowing face-huggers to suck up our attention, feed us with hateful spews, and compel us to plug into devices instead of delving into the rich stew of genuinely interesting people all around us. Let's use our devices thoughtfully and stop asking bots, AI, and devices to replace the one thing that NO tech can give us:
Dear Reader, I care about these issues to write a book about them. The book actually resonated enough to win several prizes. You can find it here: Wordfood
I would be deeply appreciative if you'd share your thoughts.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
Thank you so much for taking a few minutes out of your life to read my work. WalkaboutSaga is an act of love and devotion, and I hope that you found value in it.
If my work appeals to you, may I kindly invite you to consider joining those Patreon supporters whose generosity keeps the gas in my tank as it were.
Such articles take time, resources, research and effort. Even a small amount of support truly helps me keep this going. In challenging times, I recognize that even a small amount is hard. Those who can give, I appreciate it. Those who cannot, I hope my words are helpful.
My purpose is to Move People's Lives. I can do more of that with your help.
However you decide to partake of my writing, again, thank you.