The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

(edit: how tragically wrong that prediction was. USA didn’t go with the status quo, or populism, or progressivism; but with racism, fear, and capitalism on steroids.)

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

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How Not to Explore Your Feelings

I recently read this article by Evan Porter, I spent a week sharing my feelings with everyone. Here’s what happened.

Initially, I was like, yeah! You go, guy! Share your feelings! Open up! Woot! In the first section, he shares this anecdote that made me actually laugh out loud, because I immediately related to it and thought of relevant examples from my own life. I love this quote:

“Ronald Levant, a professor of counseling psychology at Akron University, told me a story about a man he once treated early in his career that sums up this whole thing pretty nicely:

“[He] came in complaining about how his son had stood him up for a father son hockey game. Being relatively naive back then, I said, ‘So, how did you feel about that?’ His answer was ‘Well, he shouldn’t have done it!’ I said again, ‘Yeah, he shouldn’t have done it, but how did you feel?’
“He just looked at me blankly.”
Levant recalled similar sessions where women, by contrast, were able to walk him — in detail — through their emotional reaction to a situation: how anger turned to disappointment turned to worry, and so on.

“Among the men I was treating or working with there was a singular inability for many of them to put their emotions into words,” Levant said.”

I spent a week, by Evan Porter

Porter goes on to talk about Ryan Mckelley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Tedx presenter on gender research. In his research, McKelley has found boys actually tend to show a broader range of more intense emotions in infancy and young childhood than girls of the same age, and the change in displayed emotion comes later.

Porter talks about the studies McKelley has looked at, which polled American attitudes on which emotions are culturally acceptable for each of the genders to show, and how McKelley found that generally speaking, Americans are comfortable with women displaying pretty much every emotion across the spectrum, while men are expected to express only pride, contempt, and anger.

Interestingly, Porter also says McKelley’s research found our brains process emotions approximately the same, despite these cultural expectations. McKelley found that when both genders are hooked up to equipment measuring our physiological responses (breathing rates, sweat, heart rates, etc) and shown images that inspire strong emotions, there’s no gender difference in physical responses. On gender and personality, Porter quotes McKelley as saying, “I do not deny there are biological differences. However, the degree to which it influences all that other stuff, I believe, is overblown.”

All very cool stuff, which I like. So far, woot! On board! Yeah, man! You rock, Porter!–Get in touch with your feels, upset the gender binary, destroy the patriarchy! Great research!

~*~

Then he gets into his actual, personal “experiment”, and that’s when things began to get a little …. ehhh. Basically, a pretty upsetting pattern became evident fairly quickly, just in the one week of his attempt to emote to strangers. I’ll make it easy by quoting the relevant sections.

Day One

On my way home, I stopped off at a grocery store to grab an energy drink and, potentially, to share this happy moment with a stranger.

I chose the line manned by a fast-talking, bubbly woman. And when I got to the front, she teed me up perfectly with a sincere: “How are you?”

Day Two

I walked inside and stood in line at the customer service counter for what felt like an eternity. Finally, one of the tellers called me up. She had a shock of white curly hair and kind eyes. A grandmotherly type. “How can I help you?” she asked. Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes. “I have some returns,” I said.

Day Three

I headed out to grab a coffee at a local establishment (OK, it was a McDonald’s, but I really don’t need your judgment right now). There was a young, freckle-faced girl working the counter. She was probably 19. When it was my turn, she gave me a shy “Hello.”

“How are you?” I started. “Good. How are you?” she responded, on cue.

Since I hadn’t had any major emotional breakthroughs at that point, I just … told her the truth. “I just had to get out of the house a little bit. It’s so gray and crappy today and I just needed a break. You know?”

She gave me possibly the blankest stare I had ever seen in my life. I quickly filled the silence with my order — a large iced coffee. To go.

Day Four

When I reached the cashier at the Walgreens down the street from my house, a small pack of size-five Pampers clutched to my side, I saw she was a young black girl. She asked how I was doing. And I told her, with all honesty, that I was sad

On day five, he decided not to talk about his feelings to anyone, saying, “I didn’t want to be the guy at the fast food restaurant telling the cashier about his knee replacement or his swollen feet or his bunions or whatever, totally unprompted.” Then, as it happens, his wife IM’s him and asks about his day, so he emoted to her instead.

D’ya see the common trend here? Guy decides to get in touch with his emotions by, “opening up to strangers,” but doesn’t choose social peers or males to open up to. Instead, he chooses female cashiers in retail establishments. Pretty much the definition of emotional labor.

Break it down real quick. He didn’t choose, say, a stranger shopping in the aisle. He didn’t approach a fellow parent, selecting a similar brand of cereal. He didn’t approach one of the other parents in the pick-up line at daycare, who would (presumably) be of a similar social location to him.

Instead, he specifically chose non-threatening (bubbly, kindly, or young) female (not male) cashiers– individuals held captive by their employment situation, required to engage with him as customer service representatives of the establishment– relying, implicitly and perhaps unconsciously, on the customer is always right fallacy. This belief, common in USian culture, originates from a 1920s marketing slogan and now permeates nearly all retail/ service interactions, often in incredibly toxic ways.

In my opinion, one of the worst ways is the way it intersects with job security. The lack of just cause employment protections in most states and/ or employment contracts means it is not uncommon for managers or supervisors to placate an angry customer by simply firing the employee in question– a practice that is perfectly legal in states with at-will employment.

As a result, low-wage retail and service sector employees are all too aware their job security relies not only on job performance, but their ability to skillfully massage the egos of emotionally fragile and difficult customers. Since on-the-job/ worker training is more and more a thing of the past, such skills (which a therapist, counselor, and psychologist pay good money to learn in higher education) are, for retail and service workers, either innate or skills the employee has learned over a period of trial and error from dealing with years of emotionally difficult and needy customers.

So, in that context, when a customer comes through the line of a cashier wanting to chat about his day– realize the cashier doesn’t have a choice. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a job to do– metrics to meet, numbers to match up to. The customers in line behind might complain if they malinger too long talking with Mr. Chattypants, but Mr. Chattypants might complain to management if they brush him efficiently through. See the problem here?

He comes through wanting one thing– emotional breakthroughs, to get in touch with his internal emotions, to break the social conditioning laid down by the patriarchy which has restricted him to expressing three basic emotions.

The cashier is expecting a different interaction. They’re at work. They’re in work-mode. They’re solving-work problems. They just want to do their job, collect their paycheck, and go home. At home, they have their own families and problems and emotional breakthroughs to deal with, but this right now? This is work. They’re in work-mode. They just want to take your order, sir.

Look at it, day by day– day one, at the grocery store. The kindy, bubbly woman who teed Porter up with a “perfectly sincere,” greeting of, “How are you?” as she rang up his energy drink, then in the “next instant” cut the interaction short by summoning over another customer. Dude! You had one item! You weren’t buying a conversation, you were buying an energy drink! She wasn’t actually trying to initiate heartfelt conversation, she was being polite and efficient, because that’s her job!

The day two customer service teller, she of the kind, grandmotherly face and white-hair. She literally asked, “How can I help you today?” instead of “How are you?” and Porter still tried to misread a customer service experience as an opportunity for emotional interaction between two people freely choosing to engage/ converse with one another, as he gripes, Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes, and details the specifics of his customer service return experience. Basically, the transaction took awhile because a large storm almost knocked out the store’s power, and all the computers were malfunctioning.

From his perspective, the length of the transaction– due to the malfunctioning equipment– was nothing more than an opportunity for conversation. He seems irritated by the customer service representative not asking how his day is going, even when the transaction runs long, and says he “takes the initiative,” which is how he “stumbles” into a pleasant conversation, which turns out to be about weather and computers rather than the one he wanted about emotions. He leaves feeling okay about the interaction, and thinking that talking about your own feelings is pretty weird even when you’re trying.

Apparently, it doesn’t occur to him that she was working, not socializing, and the transaction was taking longer because the equipment was malfunctioning– requiring more rather than less of her concentration. All in all, the worse set of circumstances to talk about anyone’s feelings. The whole thing was clearly (from her perspective) a customer service interaction between a client in a place of business seeking services from a customer service representative; whereas he was seeking something entirely different, something the business doesn’t even sell.

The day three cashier, the 19 year old McDonald’s server, was the one Porter blurted out his bad day line to, and got a blank stare in response.

For a minute, put yourself in the server’s shoes. Just, imagine yourself in that age range, somewhere between the ages of 18 and 23. The things you were concerned about at that age. College classes, relationship drama, your parents health scares, paying bills your roommates had flaked on, your stupid co-worker who didn’t complete their tasks so you always ended up doing extra work, all that kind of shit. Maybe you had a kid, or were into drugs, or had your own health issues, or had siblings you were responsible for. Point is, everyone’s the star of their own story, and we all got our own stuff going on– that McD’s cashier had something important to them on their mind.

Also, the cashier is probably, unfortunately, all too used to customers mistaking her situational requisite politeness for something else. So when the interaction between the strange guy she’s never met abruptly and without warning veers into the personal, she’s responding in the way often advised as the least likely to encourage him and the least likely to get her fired.

Let me be clear. I know–because I’ve read Porter’s article–that his intentions were pure. I know he’s married and has a kid and wasn’t hitting on that 19 year old at McD’s. But she had no way of knowing that. From her perspective, if was very likely that responding to his crappy gray day line with, “Yeah, I do know what you mean–I’ve had a really bad day myself,” could have been read (and perhaps in the past had been read) as an “invitation” for more–like an “invitation” to ask for her number, or an “invitation” to ask her out for coffee.

From her perspective, staring blankly at him instead of engaging in polite conversation may have been the most politic response, because commiserating with him could have been seen (by him and many, many others) as an “invitation” and encouragement for his attention; while replying with a joke or sarcasm to deflect him, like saying, “And would you like prozac with your order, sir? Oh, wait, I can’t prescribe, because I’m not a doctor. Go to a therapist,” could end with a complaint and termination. There’s no assurance management would have her back in either situation.

She was staring, frozen, because she was stuck like a rabbit come unexpectedly face to face with a wolf. Sure, Porter is a vegetarian wolf in this analogy; friendly to rabbits, not planning on any hunts. He doesn’t want her to get fired, or ask her out. No plans to flirt. All he wants to do is go along, exploring his own internal emotions.

What he doesn’t realize none of that is apparent, externally, to rabbits. None of it can be communicated in the time of that interaction. All that exists between them is the customer-client dynamic, and he’s trying (unfairly, because he’s the one with all the power in this situation) to force it into a different mold, one that he wants.

On day four, his interaction with the young black Walgreens cashier (side note–does he know any of their names? He doesn’t note in the article, and I’m not sure if that’s because he didn’t bother to look, or because he’s protecting their privacy) is troubling not only in the context of gender and class, but in the context of race.

The day Porter interacted with her was the day Philando Castile was shot. However, because the cashier had been at work all day, she hadn’t been able to access the news yet. So Porter (a white male customer) talks to her (a black female cashier) about his grief, his reaction to the news of yet another incident of police brutality against a black person– clearly not considering the potential emotional impact this conversation could have on her while she is on shift, or how she might have a need to process it, or whether or not her management would be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

It’s obvious it never occurs to him that the black retail cashier might have had a strong negative emotional response she had to hide behind a bright smile; forced to suppress for the comfort of her customers and unable to deal with until the end of her shift, because she was all too aware that her managers wouldn’t be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

I wonder how white collar workers would feel, sitting in offices and working on projects, if retail and service workers treated them with the same breezy disregard. They’re in the zone, focused on their work, tip-tapping away at their keyboards, when suddenly and unexpectedly, the cashier from the grocery store, or barista from their coffee shop, or server from their favorite restaurant pops in and sits down beside them, no interview or appointments scheduled, to chat about their feelings and thoughts with cozy familiarity, expecting genuine interest and a warm welcome despite any lack of personal relationship.

How would they respond? Especially if was a daily occurrence?

How would their responses change if they knew there was a possibility they could lose their jobs, or future assignments, if they upset these chatty intruders?

Now, I applaud, absolutely, Porter’s desire to explore his emotions and upset the status quo. I think that’s fantastic. Near the end of his piece, he says,

“Many of us are risk-takers. We go skydiving, wakeboarding, speedboating, or even shopping-cart-riding (full-speed into a thorn bush on a rowdy Saturday night, amiright?).

But we won’t tell our best friend that we love them.”

— I spent a week, by Evan Porter

I wish he’d done that instead. That would’ve been great. He posited a week telling strangers, which he didn’t actually do. He very specifically (although I believe unconsciously) chose a class of “strangers” bound by their social location (economic class/ employment situation + gender/ social conditioning) to respond gently to his attempts at self-exploration.

Remember, there are male cashiers–but he didn’t choose male cashiers. He selected women. There are male and female shoppers and diners, but he didn’t choose shopper or diners, he chose cashiers. Four days in a row, he ignored all the other people in a store or restaurant to specifically seek out conversation with women sequestered behind a counter and register–an audience held captive by their employment situation, and a gender automatically perceived as “safe” for confiding in, and whose ages and physical appearances he specifically describes in non-threatening terms.

Porter’s article could have been really fascinating if he’d actually sought out strangers–maybe his little-known coworkers around the office, or other parents at daycare pickup, or shoppers at the market, or engaging in a Pokemon Go outing with his daughter and talking to other players at the park–people whose interactions with him would be voluntary, and not arbitrarily limited by the constraints of a customer service interaction.

If he found it too intimidating to risk rejection by putting himself out there through voluntary spontaneous interactions, he could have tried committing to structured-activity interactions, like going to a Meetup group even a night for a week, or signing up for a daddy-daughter playgroup, or looking up the local college/ community arts/ playhouse schedule for his city and attendings some theater or comedy events. There’s usually a solid crowd, and it seems like everyone ends up discussing their emotions when the arts are involved.

Or maybe he could have tried something closer to him, that doesn’t risk the censure of strangers–he could have tried opening up to the men in his life. Telling his best guy friend he loves him, or talking to his brothers/ brothers-in-law about emotions, or calling up his dad/ father-in-law/ male mentors and telling them honestly about the positive impact they’ve had on his life.

Or, if that’s too much (which, if you’ve had a lifetime being emotionally locked down, I can see how it might be), he could try journaling to get in touch with his inner self, like a gratitude journal.

Or, hell, even dropping acid or shrooms or going on an Ayahuasca trip. Hallucinogenic experiences are supposed to encourage emotional breakthroughs, right? So that could’ve been a super-interesting, offbeat way for him to explore the question with low social risk without all the problematic dynamics of classism and sexism that he ended up stumbling on.

That’s like five ways he could’ve tried his experiment that didn’t involve trying to rope female retail/ service cashiers into unexpected one-sided emotional interactions.

Mind you, I do think Porter was coming from good intentions in examining the limited socialization of emotions–the research he presented was cool, and, I mean, all working parents take the lazy/ easy route sometimes. I bet it was definitely easier to beeline the cashier’s line than try to strike up a conversation in the cereal aisle, and I’m willing to bet he didn’t even realize he was consistently targeting lady cashiers. I suspect this informal little experiment went astray because he stayed in the safe zone, rather than risking rejection. Which I get! Baby steps and all that.

It’s just, as a rule of thumb, if you find you need to utilize paid employees in order to avoid rejection as you explore untapped emotional depths, I’d suggest a therapist or counselor rather than a service/ retail employee.

Therapists are trained to deal with that all that psychological emotive stuff, and went into the line of work of helping people working through their emotion because they have the desire to do it. They want to talk about your feelings with you.

Service/ retail employees are generally being polite because they have to in order to keep their job, and it’s the default human-mode in a civilized society. They just want to complete the customer service interaction without issue, finish the shift, and go home. They’ve got their own lives and their own problems. They don’t care about yours.

Trust me: They don’t get paid enough to care about yours. They don’t even get paid enough to care about the stuff you’re buying. Retail and service work are among the top five industries for job growth, with among the lowest wages. They’re not your untrained, underpaid therapist.

my town

Generally not a fan of country music, but there’s this one country song that resonates with me–echoes through my head as I drive the familiar roads of my hometown.

This is my town

where I was born, where I was raised

where I keep all my yesterdays

Where I ran off, ’cause I got mad, and it came to blows with my old man

Where I came back to settle down, it’s where they’ll put me in the ground

This is my town

(my town–montgomery gentry)

I wasn’t born here. I was actually born overseas in a military hospital. But I was raised here. I say “town,” but really I guess I mean “towns,” because the city I was raised in officially only has a population around 45,000 or so, but the boundaries bleed together with two other towns so the combined population of all three is 111,500. This is my town.

My town is linked by an Intercity Transit System–a bus route that will take me all the way from one end to the other. There is a train station, two bus stations, an historic downtown shopping area,  an awesome comic book shop, two Costcos, two Fred Meyers, six Safeways, and (collectively) about 30 other grocery stores–co-ops and local chains and market stalls and whatnot. There are the usual big box-store shopping options, a mall, a now-thriving shopping center that used to be a dead mall.

When I was a kid, the mall–the one that’s still functioning– used to host this Christmas/ Holiday village or train every December. It was really cool. They’d set up a series of train cars or a village row along the hallway, and the kids could go through the little rooms doing different crafts. Volunteers dressed in elf costumes would sort of guide/ corral the throng, and there was a table for gift wrapping.

I guess it was free, or very low cost, because I remember my parents taking us every year. We’d make things like cotton ball snowmen and paper snowflakes and foam-cutout ornaments, and at the end we could get a picture taken with Santa at the Sears studio setup (that did cost something–my parents never did that part). They don’t do that any more. I don’t know why– maybe because for a while there in the 90’s, the mall was trying to rebrand and be all cool and updated and a lot of their community involvement seemed to go by the wayside during that time? Changed their signage, tried to get everyone to call it something something shopping center, I dunno. We all just kept calling it Capital Mall, like always. Recently I noticed they have the old signage back up, from the 80s.

There are approximately 30ish elementary schools, and about 20ish middle and high schools (combined), and three colleges–one community, one public, and one private. There’s a ridiculous amount of churches. Someone once told me–I don’t know if this is true or not–that Washington has the most amount of church buildings per square capita in the United States, but the lowest church attendance. If true, it’s certainly amusing.

There are two hospitals. Soon to be three. Six funeral homes. Two public cemeteries and one (possibly two) private/ religious ones, that I’m aware of. Technically, each of the three cities has a separate police force, and there’s also a county sheriff’s office, as well as the Washington State Patrol. So  I guess we actually have five separate police precincts in the area. For most of my life, it’s felt like a safe and generally crime-free area.

Growing up, I used to sneak out of my bedroom window late at night and walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t up to anything, I just couldn’t sleep and felt restless. I lived in a split level suburban house, in a neighborhood that was pretty evenly divided between owned and rented homes. Down the street was an elementary school, and up the way was a public park and the post office. The neighborhood had no street lamps to speak of (still doesn’t); no light pollution to drown out the stars. I would walk in the cool dark night, alone and unafraid.

In high school, most days I walked home– 2.7 miles, stopping at the library on the way home. I could’ve ridden the bus, but I hated the bus and I like walking. So I walked instead.

Foolish, I guess.

There have been several rapes and sexual assaults reported on trails in the area over the past year or so.

They are on trails I used to walk on. Trails I used to rollerblade on. I used to rollerblade at night with a friend, from our neighborhood to the state capital campus and back home again, for hours and hours in the summer nights; unconcerned by the darkness or presence of strangers.

The other night my husband and I went downtown for a #blacklivesmatter rally. Neo nazis lined up in opposition, trying to drown out our solidarity by screaming invective and hate. Several others milled about, trying to simultaneously distance themselves from the neo nazis and convince us to discard the #blacklivesmatter movement because #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter. It was an impossible argument to make.

I feel like, when your allies are neo nazis, you should re-examine your position. Maybe consider the somewhat confrontational and uncomfortable notion that you don’t actually have all the information and historical context you think you do.

I remember when I was 17 or so, my older sister taking me downtown for a concert or something … I was supposed to be her chaperone, ha. She wore a long sweater over opaque tights, like a minidress, and lent me her button-down brown leather skirt, which I wore with a cream crop top. So 90s. There as an alt band playing, something in the vein of Sleater Kinney grunge. The door was black with stickers on it, and the air smelled like weed and cigarettes–both of which I smoked back then, although I pretended not to, around my family. The crowd was too noisy for me, and when my sister found her date, I bummed a smoke from a stranger in the crowd and slipped out the door to stand in the alley, which was quiet and smelled like weed. I’ve never been a fan of concerts or live music.

The downtown core was littered with used needles. There have always been drugs in downtown, but I swear the drugs are different now. When I was 18/19, I lived downtown for a while, as part of the drifting/ homeless scene, while I dated one of the downtowners. Harder drugs were available, and a lot of my friends used them (I stuck with weed and cigarettes), but mostly I recall people being into weed, hallucinogens, and maybe a little cocaine. I never tried anything like that–cocaine, heroin–completely off-limits to me. D.A.R.E. had well and truly frightened me with their narrative of the one-time-use addictive properties. I can’t even recall meth. It must have been on the scene, by then, but I just don’t remember it.

Today weed is legal, which is good, and (ironically) I no longer use it. I’m generally pro-drug legalization, as I believe in taxation and regulation. When I walk through downtown, the smell of weed no longer seems to permeate each alley and doorway–probably because, as part of the legalization process, restrictions were placed on public usage, but there are used needles everywhere. I guess we must not have well-funded needle exchange program.

I feel tired.

There was a shooting in my neighborhood in June. Three people were killed. There was another shooting in downtown in July, over a traffic disagreement–a pedestrian and a motorist disagreed about right-of-way, and the motorist shot the pedestrian, then drove away and called 911. The pedestrian is in critical condition at the hospital.

Side note–the disagreement started when the motorist allegedly violated the pedestrian’s crossing space, and the pedestrian slapped the car hood, then used their skateboard in anger and slammed it against the motorists’ vehicle, causing the driver’s side window to shatter. While I admit this would be frightening (having been inside a car in the driver’s seat when an abusive ex kicked the window of the car in on my face), I would also point out that the motorist was still able to drive away from the scene, as evidenced by them doing just that moments later. 

The shooting was unnecessary–they were inside a steel cage of a vehicle powered by gasoline. The pedestrian was, well, pedestrian. A year ago, a police officer in the city used a similar defense (felt threatened by a skateboard) to justify shooting a black youth in the back. Skateboards: A real threat.

There was a quadruple shooting in a home of one of our towns in July. The officer on the scene said it was the first such shooting in the town’s history.

Apparently, 2012 public records showed about 10 percent (rounding up) of adults in this county having a concealed carry permit. That’s a lot of guns. Pew surveys show that most Americans who own weapons, own multiples.

I think about that, when my son goes to a friends house. I think about the news story about the kids on the military base just a year or so ago, about my sons age–around 12-16–and they were goofing off, playing in a field. One of them had found their dad’s handgun, and the familiar story played out.

There was a shooting at my old high school in 2015. My nephew will go to that school. My son practices drills at school, in case a disgruntled classmate brings a parents’ gun to school and tries to kill his classmates and teachers. In the past four years, he’s been sent home three separate times because of gun threats to the school.

My brother owns guns. He doesn’t speak to me for unrelated reasons. Sometimes I wonder if the next time we hear about each other will be a news article about a school shooting where one of us has lost a child, or a mass shooter at his place of work, or someone going road-rage on me and shooting me while I’m riding my motorcycle.

It’s weird to live so close to someone, and be so far apart.

It feels like a metaphor, almost, for the town. Like all my yesterdays are laid out in landmarks, mapped out close to the touch in happy memories across this beautiful place with its awesome parks and trails and libraries and shopping and everything I love … but then, there are also used needles and a growing white supremacist movement. There’s a subtle racism I didn’t really notice when I was growing up, because, well, I’m white. There’s a disturbing amount of unsecured guns. There are school shootings and threats. There’s classism and unemployment and homelessness, and all these other awful things I hate, things tainting my adoration of this place. Things that make me feel far apart from the community, things that make me want to scream for the pain of it.

I’m furious at the inequalities inherent in the system. I want to scream, because trying to engage with the status quo is so frustrating–the business owners, the politicians, the community members. Trying to support and fund actionable, research-based solutions to systemic institutional inequalities is seen as unfair–“welfare,” “rewarding laziness,” “encouraging drug use,” “affirmative action,” “harmful to small business owners,” “unconstitutional,” and their just interested in preserving their financial security and social privilege.

 

Vent

This article popped up on my feed today. Some mom venting about how mean people are bc she has a large family. Six kids.

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Having been raised in a family of five kids, I have conflicting reactions to a six-kid family. As someone with four siblings, I find the idea of six children to be perfectly normal–a regular-sized family. Paradoxically, as a parent to an only child who rather thinks we’re facing serious overpopulation issues, I also find such family to be appallingly and irresponsibly large.

To my mind, there’s no need for it. Our global population is straining. People live decades longer. We haven’t even figured out adequate global resource allocation. Humanity is killing the earth–our living environment–and ourselves along with it. We need to stop having so many kids. It’s selfish and irresponsible on a community level.

The mom in the article seems to think it’s about judging her for finances or weird lifestyle choices. Doesn’t seem to realize that many people who look askance at large families are, in part, disgusted by the needless and selfish excess; the greedy consumption of resources exemplified by this one family.

Consider: One individual eats 7,000 animals over a lifetime. An acre of farmland supplies nonmeat sustinence needs, although the acreage needs to be moved/ crops varied so the land doesn’t get exhausted and create another dust bowl situation. Average human is said to consume some 14,600 gallons of water. A human life is measurable in quantified resources.

It is selfish for a person in a first world country with the capability of limiting their family size to opt for a larger family and deprive those in need of valuable resources that have been globally diverted to the prioritized first world countries.

Was frustrated by the article, but it was liked by an acquaintance on her friends page, and didn’t wanna start a pointless argument. Made the mistake of reading the comments.

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Never read the comments.

Fuckers.

How dare I dedicate all our family resources to the care and upbringing of one child, instead of splitting limited resources between four to six kids? Right? Fuck me for wanting to provide the best possible life for my kid.

WPC Lecture Notes Series | Second Thursday Workshop | Redacted

I’ve had a stressful/ annoying few days. The facilitators of one of the Thursday workshops I attended in 2013 at the WPC-14 saw the tidied up lecture notes I originally posted a few years ago as part of a lecture notes series. I guess they saw the lecture notes regarding their workshop on 8/20/2015, three years after the original workshop had been posted. They contacted me asking me to remove the entry due to copyright violation. It kind of surprised me because I was pretty sure I hadn’t violated any copyright, and because I had properly credited them.

Apparently they believed I had recorded their lecture with a/v equipment. Again, surprise: Washington is a two-party consent state, and that’s against the law, so: No. Also, I think, against WPC regulations, so, again: No.

Also, a waste of my phone battery.

Plus, I studied Journalism, worked for the student newspaper, type an average of 80 wpm, and the WPC allowed laptops. I had no need for a recording device. I had me. I wish I could take it as a compliment to my writing and note-taking skills, but let’s face it: It’s been three years since the workshop in question. Unless they were recording us without permission for their research, their claim is ridiculous and un-provable. Memory is fallible. There’s a three year gap, and I know for a fact that I missed a lot of information in those workshops. It was frustrating.

But maybe it is illegal to post lecture notes? I’ve heard some rumblings in the field of copyright law about professors suing students for posting lecture notes online, so I looked it up. Right now, like a lot of copyright law, you’re generally safe as long as you’re not making any profit, which I am not. The ads seen on this WordPress site are because I am utilizing the free (for me) WordPress platform, which the WordPress company runs ads on to support the ability to provide a free blog platform. At least, that’s how I assume it works.

But still. I was cool with removing the entry. I did respect them as academics at the time they contacted me, and they seemed like nice enough people in the one (professional/ academic setting) I had met them in three years ago.

Plus, there are legitimate reasons for academics/ professors to be concerned about their lecture notes floating around online (students cheating/ plagiarism/ etc.). And when they originally contacted me all of 24 hours earlier, I did genuinely feel badly for overstepping my boundaries.

So I agreed to delete the text of the entry and edit it to reflect that, according to the wishes of the workshop facilitators — who would remain unnamed — I would be removing the detailed notes for Thursday’s workshop, along with an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

I chose to do that because it was efficient/ lazy/ low effort, and also it kept the lecture notes series complete and whole while honoring their wishes for anonymity.

I was in the midst of drafting a rather long entry detailing how I had come to the decision to post the lecture notes, the amusing shorthand mistakes I made that led me to doing deeper google research on the workshop in question, which had led to the lecture notes having the additional advantage of being supported by research (I abbreviated their research topic “SSS” in my notes, which was … confusing when I came back to them later), and an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

The apology basically acknowledged that they’d spent decades investing their lives into this research, and I’d just listened to an inspiring workshop and spent a few hours a week editing and cleaning up the lecture notes to anonymize the work shop participants. I was trying to honor them and amplify their voices, and had clearly overstepped my bounds in doing so, and I was sorry. The apology, like this entry, did not name names or reference the research or name-check the workshop in question. There were several other workshops that day — ah, the anonymity of being one in a crowd of many.

While I was drafting the entry, less than 5 hours after I responded to their most recent e-mail (and less than 24 hours after I responded their first one), I received yet another terse email from the facilitator of the workshop in question, telling me that deleting the original text of the entry and removing the tags, their names, and any reference to their work wasn’t good enough. She then threatened me with a lawsuit and told me that she was glad I could no longer afford to attend the WPC, and that I am a bad ally.

She also told me that it wasn’t about whether or not I was making money on this blog (i.e.: copyright infringement), it was about personal privacy: That this is about the personal rights of the individual and whether or not they were being recorded (which she wasn’t, as I had already assured her, multiple times — unless taking notes on a laptop now counts as recording someone), and whether they consented to their personal information being online.

She referenced (as she had multiple times) a vague WPC policy about privacy. I’m not entirely sure which one she means. I’ve combed the WPC site up and down and haven’t found a specifically worded privacy policy, although I’ve found many other policies, such as the Accountability and Taking Action and Mission and Values, as well as the Community Agreement, all of which are what inspired me to share my lecture notes, in the spirit of collaborative learning and sharing the information we learned at the conference with a wider audience. She did not provide the specific conference policy she was referring to in any of the 6 emails she sent over the 24 hour period.

It may be the Community Agreement one, which is why I edited my notes to remove the identifying information of any of the conference attendees when I posted the workshop notes. I assumed that the workshop facilitators would be proud to stand by their presentations. Unfortunately, because I did not post my lecture notes from the WPC until 6 months (in some cases up to a year after) after the conference itself, I had long since thrown away the handouts from the workshops, and could not find the contact information for most of the facilitators online — including the facilitators in question.

And, as I stated, as soon as the facilitators contacted me, I removed the entry from public view with the intent to edit it to completely remove the original text and replace it with a notation that the (anonymous) facilitators of the (unnamed) workshop had requested removal of the text, and issue an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

Honestly, I really did think that editing the original entry to entirely delete the text they objected to and replacing it with new text that in no way named them or their research would honor their wishes while retaining the integrity of placement in the lecture notes series and keeping everything orderly.

I admit I did not take into consideration that the facilitators in question are … advanced in years and perhaps not as familiar with how internet programs such as blog platforms work.

Even so, I was shocked and stunned by their reaction to what I thought was a very reasonable response. I responded in as timely a manner as I could while engaged with family activities they were interrupting. I locked down public access to the post and responded politely to their e-mails.

Yet they clearly expected me to drop everything without hesitation and respond unquestioningly and uncritically to their demands, bowing and scraping to their authority.

When I did not move fast enough to comply with their exact demands (deleting the entry rather than privatizing and editing it), they became litigious and insulting. Gleefully reveling in the fact that my economic class prevents me from partaking in the same academic opportunities they enjoy? Telling me that a real ally of the WPC would just comply with their demands without hesitation? Who does that?

I don’t want to die on this hill. Deleting the entry is not a battle I care about fighting. I have some … anxiety and mental health issues around organizing things. So I take some extra medication and schedule an extra therapy visit. Whatever. It really doesn’t matter to me in the long run, and it clearly does matter to them.

The edited entry that would have taken its place is also trashed, bc it was a lot more apologetic and even toned, and I’m feeling impatient and pissy right now with how quickly they stepped to pulling class and academic rank. I don’t need this level of stress in my life, and I don’t really want to waste the time and energy on this bs.

These classist elitist tone-policing academics who revel in the poverty of others have already e-mailed me 6 times in a 24 hour period, and have already conceded in that short time frame that this isn’t even about a copyright violation but about their discomfort with their research and name being mentioned on a non-academic public blog and threatened a lawsuit, all because I didn’t “snap to” and “fall in line” with their exact orders quickly enough.

At this point, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that they do not feel comfortable standing publicly by their research, in which case I am doubly happy to honor the wishes I was already acceding to.

Admittedly, my opinion on the quality of their research and their ability to separate academic rigor and emotional bias has taken a rather substantial hit over the past day, and I no longer feel comfortable endorsing them at all. Also my opinion on them as individuals. But they would probably say the same of me, so we’re all even.

So … Thursday’s second workshop lecture notes of the WPC conference that I attended three years ago have been removed at the request of the facilitators. The original entry was completely deleted, not merely edited. So that’s where we’re at.

~*~

Edit: I edited this entry a few days later to correct a few grammatical issues, and wanted to add a few thoughts on the anonymous scholar thing.

When these guys first contacted me, I was excited — as always — to have the opportunity to talk to fellow academics and equals (as I viewed them). I may not have a doctorate, but since I don’t subscribe to that whole degree valuation thing anyway, that doesn’t particularly matter to me. To me, a doctorate indicates that someone has a certain specialization of interest in a field — it does not mean I should automatically bow and scrape to them in all matters, or defer to them as an authority or my social and moral superior.

They were, naturally, reserved and standoffish in their language in the emails, yet polite and professional. Because we are strangers, because they were being professional, because they were irritated with me yet having to ask a favor of me. Although they were polite, and although I am well aware of the effect of projected ‘tone’ in email, I felt I had a reasonable sense of what they thought of me.

I had, after all, had the opportunity to observe them lecture at a workshop for an hour. My original notes on the lecture were peppered with observations on their interactions, (the blonde one stayed in the background, spoke so softly that I didn’t catch her name, and seemed apologetic about her presence at the conference — not sure if because of her race or gender; the woman of color was an older woman used to getting her way and leading the discussion, something of a steamroller in personality, and brought up her religious beliefs frequently, often with an evangelical tone).

It’s true they can read this blog to get a sense of my personality. I suspect that one of them might have the personality to put aside her hurt at our disagreement and do so with an academic, fair eye — although I suspect she would deem it not worth her time. The other, if she read my blog, I suspect would do so only in the hopes of finding some damning piece of evidence that fulfills her expectations about my character, and would quickly grow bored of the exercise and let it go because she has more important things to do.

Anyway, after the whole thing went down and they transitioned so quickly to threatening litigation and taunting me about my inability to enjoy the same opportunities as them, I copy-pasted the e-mails into a word document to work through them and try to figure out what their deal is.

As a note, emails are not considered private, so thank the gods I have no concerns there if they get any freak-out privacy concerns.

As I went through the emails, I realized part of the problem is the age difference. I recall the woman of color, the one leading the correspondence, as being rather elderly. When she was insistent that I “delete it entirely” and got angry about the “right to personal privacy and consenting to her name on the internet” it was the type of angry ranting that 70 year old tea party people who don’t know how to use the internet do. I don’t recall her being that old — I thought she was in her 50s or 60s — but I suppose anywhere over the half-century mark is old enough.

It is possible she didn’t understand that even just removing the post from “published” status would give it the appearance of being deleted, from her point of view, even though it would technically be a “draft” in my blog. Also, in a blog, you can restore “deleted” posts from the trashcan. It seemed clear from the way that they phrased their acceptance of my word that they didn’t actually believe I did not tape record them — so if they actually understand how the internet worked, why would they believe I deleted the blog post?

They had clearly signaled they believed me to be a dishonest person, even though I was doing my best to deal fairly and honestly with them while spending time with family and on a motorcycle trip. With the frequency of her emails, she was also signaling something else to me: That I needed to fall in line and acquiesce without question or hesitation to her social and moral authority in this situation. They have the doctorates, they have the education, and therefore they feel they have the right to dictate what the unwashed masses can and cannot say.

This definitely one of the reasons I decided not to pursue a doctorate path, despite the offers of sponsorship from some of my professors during my final years at Evergreen. I mean, the other huge contributing factors were the stress on the family and the massive student loan debt accrued through higher education.

But the ridiculous degree valuation — this ivory tower academia sense of insularity, that knowledge is to be hoarded instead of shared. This is why I rejected becoming officially one of their peers in academia. I know I have the intelligence to go toe to toe with most doctorates (in the humanities — I don’t pretend to be able to hold court with scientists!); I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. If an academic needs a piece of paper to recognize that in someone … that’s a problem. That tells me way more about the supposed academic than it does about me.

I still do not understand where these particular team of professors were coming from — I did feel their research was worthwhile, and if I was an academic with similar research, I would have been happy to stand publicly by it and see it discussed by everyday people. But then again, I do believe that education should be readily accessible to everyone. I frown on ivory-tower academia and disapprove of the economic restrictions and financial debt that are crushing the dream of higher education.

I must accept the cold reality that we are diametrically morally opposed: I believe in collaborative learning, and they believe in restricting information. I believe in freedom of information, it would seem that they do not. I believe in treating all people, regarding of economic situation or education level, equally. Their treatment of me clearly signaled they felt my economic situation and education level made me their inferior.

Then I followed their email address to the website of the college they teach at and a whole new dimension to it opened up. The totally religious lady who was constantly evangelizing her religion at the WPC? She’s Catholic! Dude! They’re Catholics, teaching at a private Catholic university for religious interests! Of course they don’t want their research associated on the blog of a dirty filthy atheist, we’re gross.

Now I’m just amused at the whole thing. Religion is funny and makes people act in weird ways.

… At least, I hope that’s it. Religious discrimination sucks balls, but at least it’s better than wanting the lecture notes removed from the blog due to classism and ivory tower academic insularity.

Because their copyright claim on the lecture notes is debatable at best, especially once I complied with their demands (and then they were just being controlling about how exactly I structured the ensuing content on my blog) and absolutely no-one, anywhere in the USA, has the “right” to have one’s name removed from the internet. You can like it or dislike it, but that’s the way it is.

For Jennifer, a comment continued.

Regarding the housing/ income thing … I know exactly what you mean. I don’t know how much John has shared of our marriage story with you, but the (not-so-brief) version is that when we first got married in April 2001, we were both working minimum wage jobs. I was a hostess at a pie restaurant, and he worked at a plant nursery. In June 2001, I learned I was pregnant, and he was laid off that same week due to a workplace injury. We had to move back to Olympia, which meant I had to quit my job at Shari’s. Over the next year, he looked for work and I … well, I was pregnant. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to get hired when you’re pregnant.

So then we had Kidling, and by then John was working at run-of-the-mill retail place (think Walmart or Target). Soon after, he got a job at his current employer. Starting wages meant we received TANF and EBT benefits, in addition to housing aid and WIC. We were still barely scraping by. I looked for work, but with a high school diploma and no long-term work experience (my parents didn’t want me working during high school; I was supposed to be preparing for college. That did not work out in my favor.), the only jobs I could get paid minimum or barely above minimum wage. And childcare, as it turns out, is expensive. If I had gone back to work, my entire paycheck + a portion of John’s would have had to pay for childcare, and we would no longer qualify for any of the aid we were getting.

So we stayed on welfare for about 18 months after Kidling was born. It paid our medical co-pays, put food in our cupboards, helped keep our rent down, and meant that we could afford to put gas in the car and diapers on Kidling’s bum until John was promoted to full time and his wages started going up.

Over the next few years, I was the sahp, doing everything I’d been taught growing up in the LDS church to save money — canning and home-cooking and cleaning and childcare and cloth diapering and sewing/ mending clothing. John worked and (briefly) went to school full-time (a decision we disagreed on, given the nature of the school, but it was grant-funded), sometimes two jobs. In 2005, we bought a house.

When we bought it, the mortgage + taxes + homeowners insurance cost less than our monthly rent. We were really excited. We were doing everything right. We were on our way up. We were finally getting out of the early years of poverty and enjoying financial security.

Then the housing meltdown. Then the motorcycle injury — a car hit John one day when he was riding to work. Then the flood. Turns out, flood insurance does not cover a rental to live in during the time your home is under repair … and it also turns out, we had no family nearby to move in with for months at a time.

I had a brother who was willing to house us overnight, when the house was actually flooding. A friend who let us crash for a month in his basement while John and our motorcycling buddies started the teardown of the flood-damaged floors and walls. But then we had to move into the gutted house and live in it, with space heaters running to keep us warm. And I was working part time and going to college, and John was injured and on disability wages, and we still made too much money to qualify for any sort of welfare aid. I went to the food bank in those months.

As bad as that was, we got past it. Within 6 months, John was back at work, and 6 months later, the house was almost completely repaired. And then it turned out that those grinding months of poverty; of trying to pay for repairs on the house and the mortgage and the $600+ heating bills from using space heaters in an uninsulated house instead of the (flooded) heat pump — those months had a horrible consequence.

Our credit was tanked, the situation didn’t count as a “hardship”, and our mortgage rate skyrocketed. The next thing we knew, we were paying almost double the original mortgage. We started siphoning from John’s retirement just to stay in the house. We applied for hardship reductions, spoke to the housing authorities, visited financial aid counselors, etc. etc. I kept looking for work, but in Centralia work is hard to find — especially work that would pay enough to justify childcare. And for me to work in Olympia, the pay needed to justify childcare and the commute costs.

In the end, I finally convinced John to surrender the house in bankruptcy. It was better to give up that house than mortgage our future.

So I really, really get from a visceral and very emotional place how if feels to buy a house in a good market turned bad. I hope your housing situation has a much better conclusion than ours did.

We lost almost everything to move up to Olympia. We sold our cars, most of our stuff, and surrendered our home. We intentionally and knowingly tanked our credit for the next 7 years. We did all this so we could live comfortably within our means. Now we pay less than $1000 for housing, we don’t have any car payments, and we have no commute costs. When we moved here in 2012, we were living paycheck to paycheck and were often in the red. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to build some small savings, send me to college, and even help out some loved ones in need.

When I write passionately about poverty and pain and humiliation, I write from the perspective of someone who did everything “right” according to the social mores perpetuated in our society. My husband works full time. We didn’t have more children than we could afford. We owned a home. I was going to college and working part time. We did everything “right,” and we still struggled with poverty. And there were times when we didn’t have anything to eat, because everything had gone to bills and commuting costs, and my deepest wish was that the welfare and food stamp programs had enough money in them to encompass needy families like mine, who were a good $20,000 above the poverty line, but still scraping by.

I remember when we were having our budget assessed by the financial counselor, we admitted (shamefully) that we smoked and had an $8 monthly expense of Netflix. Many other well-intentioned people had told us that if we “really” wanted to improve our financial situation, we would cancel expenses like Netflix or smoking or ever buying alcohol. Money, many people told us knowingly, was for bills and food, and that was all.

So I was ridiculously, brought-to-tears grateful by the response of the financial counselor. He looked at us compassionately and said, “Everyone deserves some way to relax. $8 a month isn’t going to even put a dent in your debt … but it will help you take your mind off it for an afternoon. Do what you gotta do.”

It’s funny. After we moved up here and stabilized financially, that’s when we quit smoking. Before, we smoked because we couldn’t afford date nights or family activities, and smoking was an excuse to step outside and get a 15 min break from the kid and some adult-only conversation. But after we moved up here and filed bankruptcy and stabilized our finances, we didn’t need that. Now we go to movies and fairs and festivals and on long drives and short day trips together. We have regular date nights and family time.

So all of this together sort of coalesces to explain why I feel like limiting the choices of the many because of the behavior of the few is damaging … not only to those who meet the Federal guidelines for poverty, but for all those families who need government aid and never even come close to qualifying because we’ve so gutted and de-funded the system.

thoughts on police brutality

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I recently read this article on Mic.com: The DOJ Just Released Its Cleveland Police Investigation. In case you weren’t aware, apparently the Department of Justice has been investigating nearly 600 use of force incidents which occurred in 2012 and 2013.

The author of the article, Gregory Krieg, selects 8 disturbing facts from the report and summarizes them. Sans summary, these are the facts he shared:

  1. Cleveland police officers consider themselves an “occupying force” and one station has a sign calling it a “forward operating base.” (as in an occupying military force)

  2. More than 100 patrol officers chased a single car through city streets speeds surpassing 100 mph for about 25 minutes.

  3. Officers twice “drive-stunned” a suspect they had on the ground in handcuffs. (that apparently means delivering the shock from the taser without actually firing the darts. The report found that drive-stunning was used to punish rather than subdue).

  4. An officer punched a handcuffed 13-year-old two times in the face.

  5. Officers routinely violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and rarely offered an explanation.

  6. A sergeant shot at a recently escaped hostage who was wearing only boxer shorts; the boy had just escaped after being held captive by “armed assailants.”

  7. Officers shot a man with his hands in the air.

  8. “CPD officers hit people in the head with their guns in situations when the use of deadly force is not justified.”

The Department of Justice is also examining use of force incidents, practices, and policies in almost 20 other police departments nationwide, including our own Seattle Police Department due to ongoing complaints of police brutality. I know of several incidents in Seattle involving racially charged police brutality … the Seattle police are kind of locally notorious for their behavior, so I’m not surprised to hear they’re being investigated, as well.

Remember, all these investigations regarding police brutality were instigated long before the Ferguson outrage. The investigations started in 2013 because of hundreds of complaints per year and backlogged complaints over the previous years. The brutality has continued nationwide, even as police departments were actively being investigated. Ferguson is not an anomaly in terms of police brutality. It is the norm. Those riots could be happening in pretty much any precinct across the country right now.

Of course, the usual suspects on social media have responded, basically saying some variation of, “Not all cops are like this,” or, “Rioting isn’t the answer,” or “What are you doing to change the situation?

First off, the “not all X are like this,” is a stupid and reductive argument that I despise. It’s a pointless and obvious thing to say. Of course not all X are like whatever the current conversation is about. The sole reason for even making that statement is just to detract from the original discussion by starting a related argument about semantics and nuance.

Not all men are rapists. Not all feminists are misandrists. Not all misogynists are serial killers. Not all cops are racist bullies. Not all gun owners are irresponsible fuckwits. Thank you for stating the obvious. The normal, sane, non-discriminatory, responsible, nice people are not the problem under discussion. The issue under discussion is the crazies messing it up for everyone. I hate it when someone (myself or someone else) brings up a perfectly valid point, ie:

It is not the right of cops to be judge, jury, and executioner, and we need to stop bad cops from abusing their power,

and a disturbingly loud contingent of the population responds,

Cops are heroes! Not all cops abuse their power! How dare you! Don’t act guilty if you’re innocent! Cops are heroes!

And it’s just like … uh, thank you for completely fucking missing the point. We’re not having the same discussion here. Nuance exists. Here’s a mindblowing thought: It is possible for a police force to have both good, heroic, kind officers and cruel officers who abuse power and are violent. It is also possible for good, kind officers to turn a blind eye to cruelty and abuse of power because they fear repercussions to themselves or their families. We need to change the policies that allow abuses of power to perpetuate and give cops a bad name.

Second, that rioting isn’t the answer: Again, shut the fuck up. Don’t be a fuckwit. In one of my classes at Evergreen, we had this namby-pamby idiot hippie who was preaching love and peaceful response in one of our seminars. It was MLK day, and we were talking about the peaceful protests MLK promoted. You know what this quivering ballsack said? He said that MLK and his associates were no different from the Black Panthers and terrorists. He said that peaceful protests — counter sits and the bus boycott and whatnot — were still acts of aggression because they were a form of resistance and resistance is inherently aggression. Then he suggested that a truly peaceful way for MLK and his allies to change the world would be to plant a garden in their neighbors yard.

I shit you not. Plant a fucking garden. To end racism and discrimination.

Now you tell me, if your neighbor is a racist, homophobic, sexist fuckwit, you think having a queer woman of color going in to plant a garden in his yard is going to help matters? I don’t think so. I think the type of person who thinks another person is worth less because they happen to be queer or a woman or a person of color is the type of person who will get all aggressive and angry about trespassing on their property. I think that if civil rights activists tried to go onto their neighbor’s property and plant a garden, that would also be seen as an act of aggression.

I think that riots, protests, etc. are a natural response when a community or population is pushed too far. There’s only so far you can bend until you break. History is full of uprisings. When they are successful, it is called an uprising or a rebellion, and it is cast as heroic. When it is unsuccessful (or perpetuated by people of color), it is called a riot and is cast as overreaction.

When the colonists went and raided British ships in the Boston harbor to throw tea overboard, that was a riot. That was a minority population rising up and destroying the property of the ruling class. In our history books, we call it the, “Boston Tea Party,” and laud it as the spark that lit the flame of rebellion. It has become a mythical and heroic moment; the instigators brave men who were fighting for a brighter tomorrow. At the time, it was not so cut and dry. The individual characters of the participants included men who were not wholly perfect. Some had unsavory pasts.

So what if Michael Brown robbed a convenience store? Darren Wilson didn’t know that. Wilson just shot a guy who didn’t obey his orders. The robbery did not factor into Wilson’s response or decisions. Hypothetically speaking, even if Wilson had been aware of the robbery allegations, murder is not the correct response to that situation. First, there’s just no way to defend murdering someone in response to the theft of property. No material item is worth more than human life.

Second, that was not Wilson’s job. His job, as a police officer, is to detain the suspect. The suspect is then supposed to be tried and found guilty or not guilty in a court of law by our justice system — you know, lawyers, judges, juries, that lot? Then, upon being found guilty, a sentence is determined by the court. Not cops. Wilson skipped (at minimum) like three steps in that system. He went straight for shooting. Hell, he didn’t even shoot a suspect, so far as he knew. He just shot a guy on the street who didn’t immediately obey him.

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Finally, what am I doing to stop police brutality? Well, that’s an interesting question there, and one of the reasons I think riots are starting to break out. Like many in America who have accepted the blatant reality of police brutality, I feel helpless in the face of it. Not threatened. I am a white woman, and the heart-aching reality is that I benefit from the safety of that racial privilege. And I treasure that safety. I would like that safety to be extended to all the people of color in our country.

Everyone should be able to feel safe walking down the streets in their neighborhood, regardless of the color of their skin. Every innocent individual should be able to feel comforted, or at least unmoved, by the sight of a police officer or cruiser. Not frightened, or trying to figure out how to come across as least threatening, or wondering if this is the day they die because they “looked threatening.”

But I don’t know how to change it. Police departments are not accountable to ordinary citizens. They should be, but they’re not. I can urge my elected leaders toward reform and changing legislation, but that’s a slow and ongoing process. It’s been ongoing for many years. Investigations have dragged and politicians have prevaricated, and the brutality has continued. Lives continue to pile up. In the face of political intransigence, is it any wonder that riots are beginning to break out?

What else do I do? I don’t know. I don’t live local to the places with rioting, so there aren’t protests or riots I can attend. The closest protests to me are in Seattle, which is still an hour away. So instead I post about it on social media. I discuss it online. I argue and debate and attempt to educate my fellow citizens about police brutality. I continue to write my legislators and agitate for police reform. I feel helpless and pointless, silent and useless in my empathetic pain.

As a civilian who does not have the ability to report on internal department training and work safety issues, I cannot effect change from within. How can civilians within the community change these situations? I don’t know. Obviously, contacting elected representatives and voting in politicians who favor reform is one step. But it’s a long and not always productive process, and sometimes it’s not enough to change things. So when you’ve worked within the systems allowed to you and nothing has changed, how do you call for reform then? I favor police reform, as do many. I fear that the protests and riots currently sweeping our country are a natural and even necessary response in the face of overwhelming silence for these calls for reform.

So what sort of reform do we want? Personally, I favor reform that includes strong citizen review boards comprised of community members; holding officers found guilty of unnecessary force criminally responsible for their actions; and incorporating policies (as well as legislation) that accounts for the role of unconscious bias and adrenalin in police responses.

I also favor reform that stops tying the funding and supply provisions of police departments to drug-related arrests. The war on drugs has been a HUGE player in the overall militarization of the civilian police force, and we need to enact legislation and policy changes that address this incredibly serious issue.

I am a fan of cameras on cops. I favor reform that enacts that, too, especially as preliminary studies and testing indicate it is beneficial for the the police and the community. Such cameras benefit the police by providing more context to the incident in dispute and appear to encourage better behavior and de-escalating tendencies in both the police and the community when use of them is properly implemented

Overall, I would like police in general to shift toward policies that are keyed to responding to and investigating crimes instead of trying to predict/ prevent. They’ve shown themselves woefully inadequate at predicting, preventing, and de-escalating situations, so it would be nice if they stopped trying and just focused on investigating crimes and catching actual criminals.

the thankful post

I don’t believe in god(s) or whatever, but I do believe in expressing thanks and gratitude for the good things in your life. I think this is psychologically healthy, and helps us focus on and appreciate the positive. Although Thanksgiving as an American holiday has a deeply problematic history, the tradition of a harvest festival predates the colonisation of America. I also like the idea of a day set aside to recognize and celebrate that which we are grateful for. So with all that said, I would like to express my gratitude(s).

I am grateful for my husband, who is my best friend and lover and partner in crime. He makes me laugh, he has my back, and he’s the coolest and most intelligent person I know.

Of course we have our disagreements and ups/downs, like every couple, but that is yet another thing I am grateful for. Over the course of our marriage, we have both committed to improving our communication skills. Thanks to John’s commitment to our relationship and his willingness to participate fully in the often-difficult work of introspection and addressing his role in our mutual disagreements, we have both experienced a level of personal growth, maturity, and commitment that I used to think was a myth.

To get mushy and direct (instead of hiding behind increasingly verbose descriptives: Being married to John has made me a better person. Watching John push himself to be a better person has inspired me. John makes me believe in the innate goodness of the human spirit. Also, he’s sexy and hilarious.

I am grateful for our son, who is a clever, quick-witted, and intelligent child full of compassion, grace, and affection.

Rolling the genetic dice is always chancy. Aside from issues of mental or physical abilities, there are issues of personality. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of dealing with a difficult family member; someone it’s hard to believe you share a gene pool with. If it happens with siblings and cousins and parents, it can clearly happen with children. I feel very lucky and thankful that we have a kid I get along with, and whose company I (generally) enjoy.

I am further grateful that both of us get along with our son — I cannot imagine the pain and heartache some parents must deal with when an unlucky role of the genetic dice means their partner and their child are forever at odds.

I am grateful for my friends.

I have always considered friendship to be a special notion. In our modern culture, the term “friend” is often casually applied to everyone we have semi-regular positive or neutral interactions with. Under this litmus test, I am “friends” with former coworkers or classmates that I haven’t seen in years, but keep in touch with on  social media. “Friends,” in the colloquial modern parlance also encompasses acquaintances that I see or interact through social media with on a regular basis, or people whose company I enjoy and have the potential to be actual friends, but we are prevented by life circumstances and scheduling from investing in the real work of a mutual friendship.

Taking the above paragraph into account, I have (outside my family) a very small handful of friends. To me, a friend is a platonic relationship that is otherwise akin to that I share with my husband. My closest friends are people who “get” my quirks and accept them, who are there for me (as I am for them) in times both difficult and happy. I value these relationships beyond measure, and am very grateful to have these generous and wonderful people in my life.

Continuing thoughts …

There are many other things I am grateful for, as well. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend Evergreen, and for all the wonderful experiences I had there. I am grateful for my acquaintances, who enact a different yet also valuable influence into my daily life. I am grateful for my living situation — I live in a beautiful state with a wonderful family in financial comfort and good health. I did not do anything in particular to deserve all this — I happened to be born into a situation and family that positioned me in a financial and educationally stable position. I happen to have been lucky enough to be born in a society where my race, sexual identity, and gender identity are valued.

Because of this background, I was ideally positioned to have a high probability of having a happy life unless I consciously made some really serious fuck-ups, like trying cocaine or meth as a teenager. I didn’t do that. So even though I had some minor fuck-ups and run-ins with the law as a teenager, my race and class status shielded me from any disparately egregious consequences. I didn’t do anything to deserve this luck, and I am both very aware and very grateful for the role chance and family background has played in my current happiness.

My heart is with those families in Ferguson and across the nation who are dealing with the unfair cruelties the cards of fate and society has dealt with them through the social hardships bestowed by their economic status, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. On this day of gratitude, as we ponder on all that we are grateful for, I would also encourage everyone to consider how we can reach out to repair the social wrongs that perpetuate such massive inequalities and how we can work toward a better world not just for our children, but for all children.

Talking about it is good. It’s a start. It’s necessary. People will say that talk solves nothing, but that’s not true. Ending slavery started with talking. Gaining suffrage for non-propertied men, black men, and eventually women started with talking. Democracy started with talking. All great social movements, all change starts with an idea, a notion. And we share that idea, that notion. We talk about it. We expand on it. We educate. We lecture and share and grow, and eventually talking becomes action but we also keep talking — we explain why we’re acting, we explain the necessity of action.

So talk about it. Spread the word. Acknowledge and learn about social inequality. Educate yourself and others. Brainstorm ideas for change, and then move forward with them. Change is possible. The tides of history have shown us how to carve out new shorelines, so don’t listen to the naysayers who claim there is no inequality, or there is no point to trying. Don’t be afraid of the possibilities. Be grateful for the opportunity. We live in a transformative historical moment — grasp it with both hands and move gleefully into our shared future.

the glad game

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pollyanna lately. That’s another film that I watched as a kid, which had a much greater influence on my personality than I think anyone realized at the time. I mean, when I was a kid, I laughed at the cheesy storyline and the happy-go-lucky Pollyanna. I was like the rest of the town, cynical and rolling my eyes at Pollyanna’s determined cheerfulness.

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But things change, and as I’ve matured I’ve come to see the value of maintaining a positive outlook in life. I’m no believer in the “power” of positive thinking to heal people, prevent illness, gain wealth, and so forth. Still, I do think that having a positive attitude (especially when you live in the rainy PNW and are prone to depression) is a good coping tool.

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Keshia Knight Pulliam as Polly in the 1984 TV musical adaptation of Pollyanna, which I love because it’s a musical.

I have a lot of things to be glad about, but (as noted in my last entry) I’ve been feeling kind of glum lately. So I figured I’d play the glad game real quick, and name a couple things I am really glad for today.

I am glad I have more time at home and less stress.

Shortly after we moved to this area 3 years ago, I took on a lot of stress all at once. I had some health issues I was not dealing with in the hopes they’d go away, my family was assaulted by a crazed neighbor and I had to file a restraining report and take care of my husband’s resultant medical issues, and I started attending college as a full-time student. At about the same time, I found full-time employment in a law office. Thought I was excited for the opportunity at the time, it quickly became apparent that it was a very toxic work environment with no clear chain of command.

In short, it was stressful and upsetting. I started taking hormonal birth control to try and manage the pain from my health issues, and because of the hormones, stress, and packed schedule I ended up packing on about 60 lbs over the next two years. I went from 165 to about 210. I’m told I carry it well and don’t look that heavy, but that part doesn’t matter so much to me. The point isn’t whether or not I look fat, the point is whether or not I feel fat.

Like, can I engage in all the activities I enjoy without getting out of breath and sweaty and worn out? Can I kick the soccer ball around with my kid, walk a mile to the grocery store, hike down to the waterfront? Can I row a boat, pull up a crab trap, and clamber over rocks? If I get worn out after only 5 or 10 minutes, then I’m getting too out of shape, too heavy. I feel fat.

I can’t do anything!

Well, this summer I graduated from college. Our medical and legal issues are resolved. I am no longer employed at the toxic work environment. In other words, although I am working on my book and looking for work, my days are still pretty open. So I decided that this was the year I would commit to eating healthier and exercising, which I’ve been documenting on my social media under the hashtag #exercisealifestyle.

I changed my diet, shifting my focus from storebought foods that were rich in carbohydrates, starches, preservatives, and sugars to homemade meals. For snacks, I started eating pickled asparagus and black olives, hoping to encourage the growth of healthier gut bacteria. I don’t believe in ever “banning” a food, because I think that just makes a person crave it more. It seems to be working — since I shifted to foods that encourage different gut bacteria, I’ve noticed a huge reduction how many sweets I actually want (which is way less than you’d think).

Once school started, I decided to incorporate some exercise. So every morning, I put the leash on Azura and head out for a quick 15-20 minute walk around the neighborhood. After a few weeks of this, my 7th grader felt bad that I was walking his dog (which should be his chore) and suggested that instead of waiting until after he left to the bus stop, I walk with him to the bus stop, so he can walk his own dog for a bit. He also joins me on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the weekend walks, which is awesome. I get some quality time with my boy and I walk the dogs and I get exercise! It’s a win-win-win!

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When John got his bonus, he purchased a new bicycle for the boy and (at my request) a bicycle for me. So now when I go shopping, I ride my bicycle and put the groceries in my little basket. Often, Kidling accompanies me on these trips — more quality mom-son time, and a chance to build health habits.

With all these lifestyle changes, I’ve lost 10 lbs since school started in September! I’m pretty excited, and I’m also enjoying the structure and routine these activities add to my day.

I am glad I have a supportive and appreciative husband who is understanding and patient.

I’m pretty privileged in being able to take the time to work on my book and be a little pickier about my job search, though. I don’t have to take another toxic job where I get paid below living wages and get pulled between two employers with conflicting expectations. I have the leisure to spend time applying to positions I really want to work at, positions I know I would do well in and where I would be fairly compensated. I have the leisure to work on my book and do some freelance work, and I have that leisure because of my husband and his employer– mostly my husband, though.

His employer is great, don’t get me wrong. They pay a living wage and provide excellent and affordable benefits. The position is stable, with almost union-style layers of protection for worker’s rights. My husband is a hard worker and has growth potential at the company. As in any position, there are hiccups and work drama that occasionally cause him stress, but overall he’s very lucky to have a well-paying and supportive employer in this economy, and especially in retail. We know that.

When he first starting working with his current employer, he was also working at a big-box retail store we’ll call Trendy Red Dot, which is pretty similar to this other Big Mart retailer, but trendier and with better marketing. Both TRD and Big Mart pay minimum wage, discourage unionization, and have faced issues with discrimination due to factors such as gender, race, and sexual orientation. They also have high employee turnover due to the poor employment conditions, pay, and beneits.

The thing about jobs at TRD and Big Mart vs. an employer which pays a living wage, invests in their employees, offers affordable benefits, and provides job security is that a job at any of these places can suck sometimes. Even the best employers hire managers who get bogged down in the petty drama of inefficient management and personal vendettas, and every job has the occasional issues with personality conflicts or some employees doing less and refusing to pick up the slack. That’s how jobs are.

The biggest difference between these three places is that when work at TRD or Big Mart starts sucking balls, the employee knows perfectly well they can walk out the door and find another crap minimum wage job with awful benefits somewhere else, and maybe, just maybe, those people will be cool (although, lets face facts: even if the employee decides to stick it out at their shitty job with their shitty bosses, at-will employment is pretty much the law of the land in most of America, and the job is never secure).

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But when the work environment at a Good Employer starts going downhill, the employee has real incentive to work with the employer to resolve the issue– retail jobs paying a living wage with good benefits and job security are not exactly a dime a dozen. My husband and I are both glad that he was lucky enough to land a job with his current employer.

So with all that in mind, it really is my husband who’s the gold star here. He could insist I go work at TRD and contribute with positive income to the household finances. Even though his income can support our family of three and our menagerie, he could still insist that it is only fair for me to work for money. He could be the type of person who views the money he earns as solely his, instead of income for the family. He could be the type of person who views the work I do as not actually work, because there’s no paycheck to validate the efforts.

What I do– saving money, budgeting, managing household appointments and necessities– I sometimes refer to as negative or neutral income. I use my time as a stay-at-home to reduce costs by handling the budget, shopping, meals, and clothing repairs (yes, I can sew. A little.). Instead of being angry that our finances are about $20k/year less because I am choosing to look for a job with more stability and long-term growth, my husband is supportive of my dreams and goals and grateful for the benefits of having a stay at home parent.

I’m available on his days off so we can enjoy family activities, and I handle the chores, meals, budgeting, childcare, legal, medical, and all household paperwork. If our son calls from school, I can be there in a hot minute to bring him lunch money or homework or pick him up. If my husband forgot his nametag, he just needs to text and I run out to his workplace. It makes life easier for everyone to have a central command, so to speak.

The downside, of course, is that most households can’t survive on a single income. Additionally, the reason I am the stay-at-home parent instead of my husband is because of social reinforcement. I would very much like to work. I am educated, I have a BA, and I am driven. This summer, I arranged several informational interviews, and received extremely positive feedback. I was praised on my work history, education, and career goals. My work history is spotty, due to the time spent in college and as a stay at home parent. Career counselors tell me the work history spottiness is less of a problem in this depressed economy, but I still have trouble finding work.

When we looked at the incomes from our two jobs a year ago, I was working for a law office at $10/hour with no benefits. I was expected to do all the receptionist work, take on legal secretary duties, train new front desk employees, handle the rent payments for their property management firm, handle marketing and holiday planning, manage the office budget and inventory, shop for my bosses groceries and deliver them to her home, pick up laundry, deposit the checks at the bank, and handle all mailing duties. If my bosses did not provide enough money for an errand, I was expected to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed in my paycheck. I was not allowed to work overtime and was discouraged from taking sick days, even when I had surgery. I have a college degree.

My husband, meanwhile, has a high school diploma and is getting paid double my hourly income. He has benefits, yearly cost-of-living increases, and bi-annual bonuses. He has a chain of command — if his supervisor starts trying to make him pick up her groceries, he can talk to their manager. His job has clearly outlined duties, and if he is called to perform tasks that he isn’t trained on, the manager is the one who will get in trouble.

When we looked at our relative work-life balances and average incomes, my husband’s situation is clearly superior, although we have invested in a degree and white-collar skill set for me. On top of that, I am the one who has consistently lacked the job security provided by a just-cause clause in my employee contract. After my most recent employment experience, it just made sense to have me stay at home and focus on searching for a position that was more lucrative, secure, and offered better work-life balance. The stress a low-income job brought to our family was not worth the financial benefits, such as they were.

And I am so glad that we are in a position that we could make that decision. I am so glad my husband is supportive, understanding, and loving about the reality of social structures that shape our lives, instead of demanding that I just get a job, any job. I am so glad that I have this opportunity to focus on my marriage, my family, and my book. And I know that I am so privileged and lucky to have this opportunity, which makes me even more grateful for it.

worldviews in film, cont. (again)

So far I’ve covered how Robin Hood was influential on my nascent socio-political conscious, while both Beauty & the Beast and Dangerous Beauty acted as key influences on my relationship with feminism and religion. Next we’ll look at the influence of Newsies and Swing Kids on my attitudes toward authority figures, workers rights, and social welfare programs.

So, both Newsies and Swing Kids are Christian Bale vehicles. Oddly enough, this is a total coincidence. I actually thought Bale had a super funny (like funny ha-ha) looking face when I was a teenager.

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Look at that goofy face! | Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

Newsies

Newsies is about labor rights, freedom of the press, and worker activism. There are also themes of elitism, class stratifications, social mythologies, bribery and corruption, and the harm unregulated social institutions (like the Refuge) can cause. And it’s all told through Christian Bale and the medium of song and dance, so it’s a double win!

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Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

There’s this one part in Newsies where Davey (David Moscow) is explaining why his dad is unemployed to Cowboy (Bale). Davey and his little brother took the job selling newspapers in part to support his family now that his father has been fired. Davey’s sister and mom are also both working; the entire family is clearly working hard to support themselves, and the loss of their primary income is a significant blow to their financial well-being.He tells Cowboy that his dad was injured on the job while working at the factory, and that, “He’s got no union to protect him,” so they fired him.

In the context of the film, this line is delivered after the Newsies spend a day trying to sell papers covering a local labor strike, and after Cowboy and Davey personally witness a riot with the labor strikers. So it’s not like the line comes out of nowhere–it’s totally in context. It was only years later that I realized how pro-union a line like that actually is.

So, Newsies is another film inspired by a true story: The Newsie Strike of 1899. Now, the way selling newspapers worked back then is that the newsies would buy the papers in bulk, then go out on the streets and hawk them to passerby. If they did well, they would cover the cost of the papers and make a little extra. If they didn’t do well, they had a stack of useless papers and were out the cost of them. And mind you, most of the newsies were, as described in the opening narration, “poor orphans and runaways.” Newsies were often homeless children being exploited for their labor.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

The story really takes off when the newspaper magnates of the day, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, decided to charge the newsies more for their papers. There’s no real reason for it, except that pennies add up and newsies are exploitable. Pulitzer and Hearst, like the other wealthy tycoons of the era (and like many of the modern 1%) were perfectly willing to increase their already substantial wealth by putting the screws to the rank and file … in this case, homeless children living in poverty.

The newsies react with outrage, and led by the character of Cowboy (who’s based off the real-life leader of the newsie strike, Kid Blink), they decide to form a newsie union and go on strike, which they end up winning. There’s obviously more to the story than that, with the usual ups and down of plot, but that’s the essence of the film.

Newsies clearly illustrated the old maxim that power corrupts. They depicted wealthy employers as more interested in consolidating their wealth then in protecting the welfare of their employees, and it was a truth I began to notice reflected in the world around me.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios

A year after Newsies came out, my dad’s employer downsized and pushed all the non-contracted employees into early retirement. My dad went into private practice, but it wasn’t as financially reliable as his previous gig. When I acquired my first job at the age of 16, I further internalized how little power or influence workers actually have.

Maybe if I hadn’t watched Newsies a dozen times a week since it came out four years earlier, I would have just accepted the employer-employee relationship as a necessary power dynamic. But Newsies had taught me that even the lowliest of employees still has value. My belief that all workers should receive a living wage, health benefits, and unemployment protections were originally inspired by this film.

Swing Kids

Swing Kids, Hollywood Pictures (1993)

Swing Kids is about how adult-trusted and propagated institutions of authority can indoctrinate kids into evil. In the film, Christian Bale plays a 1930s German youth who, with his friends, goes to underground swing dancing clubs in the city. Hitler has spoken out against swing clubs, and they are being subjected to raids. In one of these raids, Bale’s character is picked up by the HJ (Hitler jugen, or Hitler Youth), and begins to attend their meetings.

As a teenager watching this, I was discomfited by the superficial similarities between the HJ and the BSA, which my brothers were both in. I knew the BSA only as a force for good at that time in my life, but I couldn’t escape the reality that both the BSA and the HJ were adult-approved mainstream programs aimed at keeping kids “out of trouble.”

Viewed from a modern lens, the eventual choice of Bales’ character to eschew dance clubs and side with the HJ is a clear fall from grace. He has failed to uphold his moral code, he has “chosen” to become a Nazi. Sure, he did so with the explicit encouragement and approval of the adults around him, but we all know it was the wrong choice. We have the benefit of hindsight. With the context of history, it has become apparent to us that the HJ was way more trouble than swing dancing clubs.

In the context of the era the film takes place, though, there’s a disturbing parallel story. This story is the story of a bad boy gone good — this is the story of a kid who keeps getting in trouble, but manages to cut out the bad influences and get his life in order.

If the same movie was made today, but with kids lying to their parents and sneaking out to smoke weed instead of dance swing clubs and the BSA instead of the HJ, it would be a story of redemption and growth; an inspirational story about a guy who overcame temptation and the bad influence of peers in order to become an upstanding pillar in the community. That’s pretty disturbing, and that parallel message taught teenage me an important lesson about blind trust in authority.