Friday, December 24, 2010
And remember - whatever your beliefs regarding Christmas, take the time to celebrate the fact that winter is half over (even if it doesn't seem like it quite yet), that you have people around you who love and appreciate you (even if they sometimes don't show it in ways you expect), and that every day is a new day and a new chance for you to make your world and yourself better.
Friday, December 10, 2010
I realized today that unemployment benefits can be described as a work subsidy. We're paying people not to do anything, and we're paying them enough that getting back into the workforce at minimum wage means taking a pay cut, rather like farming eggplant instead of corn means taking a pay cut on the farm. Our system is broken. So how do we fix it? Simply raising the minimum wage won't work, clearly - it will only cause price inflation of basic goods and services (since McD's has to pay you more, their hamburgers will cost more). And dropping unemployment benefits to below the minimum wage would be fought every step of the way through congress. No one wants to lose "free" money!
Seriously though. What, therefore, should we do?
Today's reading assignment, no matter your politics or opinions on poverty:
And we expect people to take these jobs... why?
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Rick got LEGO sets for himself as an early xmas present; because they were buy one, get one half off like every year at Toys R Us. We spent all night after I got home from work sitting at the dining room table, constructing a really cool Jeep-like vehicle complete with working doors and steering, a full trailer and 4-wheeler. Nerd bonding is the best bonding!
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
His parents were showing him the cologne as they passed by. He was pumped about this, and was smelling all the different scent cards we had out and giving opinions and being a very good little shopper. When they came around to the register I got him a little sample spray of one of his favorites (with mom's permission, of course). He was so totally thrilled by it. His face lit up, and he held it up to his chest and said in his best manly voice:
"A LITTLE SPRAY FOR A LITTLE MAN LIKE ME!".
So it's a good thing I haven't yet. I almost did tonight, but I'm sure it was a fluke. I cry VERY easily (I get that tingling-nose, going-to-cry feeling any time the situation makes me look less than perfect, which is a lot of the time), but at work the last three weeks I've been the most cheerful, positive person on the floor. Boundless optimism is at my beck and call! I am not the sad sack of tears that I am at home where no one can see me, because crying is just not good for business! And I was doing very well at being cheerful and rolling with the punches, and I was proud of myself!
Then Black Friday hit, my teenage coworker started dumping her relationship drama on me and wanting advice (Ha!), and the area manager threw a fit today because we hadn't done all the things we should have been doing two weeks ago but which she didn't think to tell us about until Friday, which meant all of us spent the day running frantically around the department to please her (and it didn't work anyway, but if we sat still she would've bitten our heads off). I've worked nonstop since the 22nd, unless you count Thanksgiving as a "day off", which I don't because it was nonstop work here trying to make the house presentable so Rick's grandma could visit without me dying of embarrassment at not being able to keep the house livable. My first actual nothing-to-do day off in a week is tomorrow, and then I got asked to stay an extra hour and help clean up another department. Which is why I almost broke down and sobbed tonight in front of a really nice manager who just happened to get flustered at me.
Thankfully I got a minute alone and pasted my smile back on. I had to laugh the other day when one of the regular salesladies told me that I was always happy. I put on a happy face at work because I like to be liked (although the job's not that bad, so smiling does come easy). It works, but now I'm stuck with the reputation of always being happy... uh-oh. I get the feeling sooner or later I'm going to have a bad day, and they're going to think the world is ending.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
What amused me even more than boxes, though (yes, I am so easily amused that shoving cologne into shiny boxes works for me) was the fact that I am apparently not supposed to be happy about working seasonal retail and I definitely wasn't -expected- to be happy without some kind of outside influence. Co-workers jokingly tossed ideas back and forth - She's new. It'll wear off. Do you drink? Did something really good happen before work?
Nope, I just had a good day. Until I left, anyway. Then it was cold and windy and I had to wait for my ride (who was late because he was working on the Jeep, yay!), and I got home and the house needed cleaning and I wished I'd stayed in the store with the boxes. Making pleasing little gift boxes is so much more fun than cleaning litterboxes...
Monday, November 22, 2010
So here's a quick update to say I'm still alive; I'm behind on my NaNoWriMo wordcount by nearly 20,000 words, I wrote 6700 words yesterday in a mad bid to regain some sense of control over this month and I am working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (BLACK FRIDAY) this week. I'll probably start panicking about this on Tuesday night.
At least working at the Mens' Fragrances counter has provided me with some stories. It's terribly quiet, since cologne does not in fact have massive discounted sales like the clothing departments do. Customers also always seem to show up at the time we are paying the least attention. Granted, when there is -nothing- to do because you've cleaned the glass, tidied the displays, wandered three times around the counters and sampled half the scents it's easy to let your mind drift.
Anyway, Funny Moments #1:
I take great joy in watching most of my older, commissioned (I am not on commission!) co-workers wander aimlessly around the displays while I am helpfully asking the CUSTOMER making an appearance on the other side of the counter if I can help him with something. It's like wiggling a bit of bloody bait in a shark tank the way everyone else jumps and zeros in on the poor unsuspecting shopper. It helps that 4/5 of the ladies I've met so far are shorter than I am, and the gift set boxes we have stacked on all the counters are up to my nose. The others can barely see over them, and rely on me to tell them when people appear. I suppose this is in some way wrong or mean to find it so amusing, but we're all bored as hell and it's probably nicer to address the customer rather than A) wait for the others to notice him or B) wave frantically around the other end of the display for someone else to help him because I'm technically not a salesperson, just a "ringer" (read: cashier).
And Funny Moments #2:
The Prada Guy. He was a late-40s-ish man who came by during one of my long shifts, and since the super-helpful older ladies were at lunch/talking across the aisle at ladies' fragrances (behind another large stack of stuff) I decided I'd take him on. He wanted Prada. Easy enough; we only have one Prada set in stock. I found it after he followed me around two circuits of the cases (cut me some slack, it was like my third day!), which would have been funny enough since having a customer follow my obviously clueless ass around the fragrance counters has clear comedic value but when he found it, the following (approximately) happened:
Prada Guy: OH YES. He proceeds to pick up the tester bottle and stuff the nozzle halfway up his noze while inhaling.*
Me, the awesome saleswoman: We have this great gift set. Only for the holidays! It's got x, y, and z in it! And if you buy, you get a free toiletries bag in either pink or blue!
Prada Guy: Sprays both wrists and his chest with the tester bottle, and holds first one wrist, then the other, then both up to his nose, inhaling deeply each time and almost -moaning- with delight. I'm trying not to giggle at his... enthusiasm. This is the best scent *sniff* they've made in the last thirty years. *sniff, sniff* I love this scent. It is *Sniff* SO *SNIFF* amazing.
Me: So, what do you think? The set's a great buy. It's worth $dollars, which is only $fewdollars more than the bottle on its own. Are you getting just this today?
PG at this point gets the look that I'm beginning to associate with all the hit-and-run "just browsing" customers, which means that no, he's not going to pay for the $80 scent he just bathed in, but I'm one *SNIFF* away from rolling on the carpet, so he's forgiven. "I'll be right back, I'm gonna hit up the cash machine." he says, and hurries off toward menswear (there is definitely no cash machine there!), still sniffing his wrists. He's not to be seen again for the last 4 hours of my shift. By the time I settle myself behind a suitably tall display of gift sets and start giggling, my coworker is back from lunch, and I giggled so hard telling her about him that I think she thought I had been huffing the Prada too.
I can only hope that as things pick up going into the holiday season I get more funny customers and very few of the Mean Ones I've heard about.
*I am not exaggerating. Much. He was really intent on sniffing that bottle.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Anyway, I had yesterday and today off, and after some much-needed sleeping in and some much-enjoyed lounging, I spent this afternoon reading the blog of one of my camp friends' moms, who is an awesome woman and someone I wish I could spend more time with. Unfortunately, she still lives in New York. Fortunately, she's taken up photography as well as hanging around camp and updates several(!) blogs with pictures of the area for me to oooh and ahhh over, including my favorite place in the world - Camp Timbercrest (here is the Timbercrest Blog). I miss that camp SO much. I've written about camp before. I think it's awesome, and Timbercrest is the most awesome camp. I still get teary-eyed when I think about all the time I spent there and all the friends I made, and the fact that I can't just get in the car and drive over makes me feel empty deep down.
See, I really love nature. "The woods" has been my favorite place for many, many years and I habitually seek out quiet, nature-y places when I'm upset. Unfortunately, since I started college I haven't found many of those places. I've been living in cities and large towns, cut off from the best parks by a couple dozen miles (unlike my mom's house, where we had a forest in the back yard), without a car for most of that time, and without anyone to share the trails. For years Rick and I have been saying: "It's spring, we should go camping soon!", and then: "we'll go camping this summer", followed by: "well, maybe we'll make it this fall", and finally: "it's too cold now. We'll definitely go next year." Of course, there's always something in the way of just throwing the sleeping bags in the Jeep and heading for Laurel Highlands. Invariably, I spend all summer humming camp songs and staring at state park websites and all winter wondering if running around in the cold is really as bad as I remember it being and whether any of the parks are open for winter hikes. I keep thinking I might give in and join a local hiking club, but I'd probably feel bad when I showed up with my 6-year-old fraying-at-the-edges hiking boots and plain cheap water bottle, getting winded on a 5-mile "easy" hike while the rest of group is hauling state-of-the-art frame packs and energy gel drinks on 30-mile hikes around the Allegheny park system. Is there a "casual nature walks" club for 20-somethings?
It would be better if I had a camp or a park here that feels as reassuring as Timbercrest did. I might even quit bugging Rick about camping if I could walk or bike to the nearest large stand of trees whenever I needed a nature break. Pittsburgh's very own Riverview park is within dog-walking distance and is a pretty big park, for being located on the edge of a city... but you can still hear the cars on the bordering highways when you're wandering the trails there. Call me a sentimental fool, but city noises just ruin the whole "oneness with nature" thing. And I don't have any hiking/biking/exploring buddies, which is to say: I'm lazy, and without anyone to encourage me to go out and explore the city's green spaces (and there are a lot!), I will sit in the house, complaining about the cold and the fact that it's supposed to rain all week and that I'm sore and tired from work, etc, and I won't be able to drag myself out for that utterly revitalizing walk. November is a lonely time for walking by one's self. Only nuts go out on a day like today, when it's grey and muddy from yesterday's rain, and windy and only 45*. I'm a nut, but I'm a lazy nut. I need other nuts to drag me out of my shell (pun intended).
So: Anyone local feel like making a new friend for some trail walking this winter? I don't bite (hard), and I can identify poison ivy!
Monday, November 08, 2010
Anyway, at least SarahThe is making me feel better. I found her blog a few months ago and bookmarked it because I wanted to read the archives. Reading about other peoples' lives makes me feel better. I am an introvert and a people-watcher, and I am a very dedicated blog stalker, when I'm feeling up to reading. So tonight I finally felt like reading, and got through several pages of blog posts from 2008, and with each one I've been smiling a little more and giggling a little more. SarahThe is funny, and fresh, and honest, and I am enjoying reading her posts from 2008.
The dog is also making me feel better. Mystra is not generally my go-to girl for making me smile, since mostly she does what we do - flops around the house, plays games with the cats and eats. She whines when she has to go out and barks to get our attention when the cats try to sleep on top of the fridge. She's very enthusiastic about guarding the house from both teenagers down the street and cats on the fridge. She has recently figured out, however, that she's able to get our attention for play too! And because we have recently changed our schedules (we are prone to staying up until 3am when not otherwise occupied by work, and the husband JUST got a job), she is used to playing with us long after normal people with day jobs have put their dogs to bed.
So tonight, just now at 12:20 AM, when I should have been in bed 2 hours ago because I have an interview on Tuesday morning and need to be awake before noon for once, she came walking up to my desk, fixed me with the "EXCUSE ME" stare, and proclaimed, loudly: "IT'S PLAYTIME." Then she started chewing on my hand, because when there are no toys nearby her idea of play (thanks to my ever-thoughtful husband, who thinks that wrestling with the dog is the best fun ever and should be encouraged never mind that she's 40 lbs of enthusiasm and teeth!) is to play catch-the-hand. She's never quite sure what to do when she catches it, because we long ago taught her that people are not for chewing, but the catching instinct is still very much intact, so she'll put my hand in her mouth and then spit it out, and as soon as the hand moves she tries to catch it again. It's often bad for my hands, since despite her best intentions I almost always come out of it with tooth imprints when she misjudges a pounce, but for some reason (I blame SarahThe and Scout's antics), I giggled at her tonight. A lot.
I should probably go to bed. There are, as usual, a lot of things in my head that want to be put down in the nice white space here, but I should probably let them ferment a little more. I have discovered that my thoughts are like wine; when they haven't been aged properly and the miscellaneous bits haven't settled out, they're often terrible.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
So I failed the Boundless Summer challenge. I knew from the start that I probably wouldn't finish it despite my saying otherwise. I figured that eventually I'd hit a challenge that was too xtian for me; that one of the challenges would require praying for someone I hated or standing up for a belief I don't hold and that I'd just quit in disgust. What actually happened was that one of the early challenges required calling a friend and bringing up how we could be a better friend to them, which is a rather awkward thing to ask someone. Not only have I lost contact with most of my friends since the end of college, I also hate phones. Talking on the phone makes me intensely uncomfortable (thank you, Neil Gaiman for that turn of phrase... (via Coraline)). I'm pretty sure I could go into a psychiatrist's office and come out with a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder and a prescription for Xanax. Of course, I don't have the money to go get myself diagnosed, so whether or not I have a disorder is beside the point. The point is that I don't like phones, so I put it off. And put it off. And put it off. And by the time I had decided, after laying in bed one night, that I really ought to just get it over with (because it couldn't possibly be as bad as I imagined, right?) it was 2 weeks later and I'd been smacked with a few more minor upsets, it was really warm, and didn't feel like continuing. I'm working on a half-baked plan to go back and finish it on my own time at some later date, skipping the phone (of course). We'll see how that goes.
In the meantime, I've been waiting impatiently for the unemployment office to finish its five-month-long "investigation" into the conditions under which I was "terminated" (I hate that word. I'm not a computer program! I'm a living being and I have feelings, damnit!). They finished it last week and sent me out a pair of nice, impersonal letters - one regarding my last call in July (when they told me they'd file a couple weeks I missed, and promised to 'hurry' the investigation) to tell me that no, I wasn't getting compensated for the weeks that I forgot to file/couldn't file due to lack of internet access/working on the house because I didn't have a good enough reason for missing the filing dates. The second letter told me I wasn't getting anything at all. Five months of waiting. FIVE MONTHS. They ruled that because I "should have known" the rule which the company states that I broke, I'm not allowed to be compensated. While logically I understand why the system works this way, I can't help but feel like I'm utterly worthless now because on top of the anguish caused by my mistake and subsequent firing, the denial letter after five months of not-quite-daring-to-hope tells me in no uncertain terms that I'm a terrible human being and don't deserve help, regardless of the fact that I only made one mistake. Regardless of the fact that I would have gotten down on my knees and -begged- to keep my job, that I apologized, that I had no history of stupid mistakes like that and that I did learn from it. In the eyes of bureaucracy, error is error, no matter the cause and no matter the conditions. If I had been fired without breaking a rule, even if I had been the least useful member of the company previous to my firing, I probably would've received full payment within two weeks of filing. That stings, and it's the typeset equivalent of a whip to my flagging self-confidence.
While I'm afraid to put my resume out there (especially after my laptop was dropped and the hard drive broken three months ago - we only just managed to recover some of the files last night and in the mean time I didn't find it worthwhile to re-create my resume and references from the much older versions I had saved online), I did land a 'job' last month. I'm now a freelance writer doing short local articles for Examiner.com. The pay might as well be nonexistent but it's something to do which ties neatly into the volunteer work I was already doing (I'm writing about urban agriculture). I figure eventually I'll either get tired of it and move on to something new, or find a new client with a higher pay scale. Maybe in 10 years I'll be able to make a living off my writing... a girl can dream, right?
Speaking of volunteering: Fall is upon us, which means volunteering is winding down. The Tuesday afternoon sessions are done and now there's just Thursdays, which are harvest and farm market days. I go in the mornings now, and pick tomatoes and okra and swiss chard to sell at the market. I don't help with the afternoon markets, because they're usually the most popular volunteer times and there are plenty of others who actually need the volunteer hours for senior projects or community service orders. Still, I like the harvesting. It should last through November, when we'll plant the last of the garlic (did you know that planting garlic in the fall is best, because it overwinters and then comes up earlier and bigger in the spring?). Winter work is intermittent, from what I hear, and I'm not sure I'll be needed, so I expect a long, boring winter as usual. I hate winter. The highlight of the entire time is NaNoWriMo, and I'm not even sure why it's a highlight any more, since I've won once in 7 years and haven't really learned much from the experience.
The house isn't ready for winter, either. We have a lot of work to do. The last big rain we had soaked through wall under the bathroom glass-block window; the shingles outside have been missing since before we moved in but we didn't realize the damage was that bad. Of course, there was a massive colony of carpenter ants under that same window sill, so the wood there already needed replacing. Apparently, the water damage in that wall has been ongoing. We can't afford to replace the entire wall and I'm hoping we won't have to. For now, we'll probably try to replace the few feet under the window where the ant damage was most obvious, put up new shingles on the outside, add a vapor barrier to the inside to protect the new cement board and tile and pray that there aren't any other leaks we're not seeing.
In more positive news, I'm making a braided rag rug for the wash area in the basement. I hate cold, concrete floors so it's a selfish measure more than anything else, but it uses some of our old clothing that wasn't good enough to be donated. I'm hoping to finish it by the end of the week, barring severe boredom from trying to sew it all together by hand. I figure that even if the rest of the house is unfinished when the snows come, I'll at least have the satisfaction of not freezing my toes off when I do the laundry. So: look for pictures soon. You may now proceed to leave fawning comments regarding my obvious prowess with bits of fabric.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Comment as follows is the exact wording left on "No Left Turnz":
I care more about my cats than about most people because most people don't give a flying... I'm not even going to finish that sentence. Let's just say that until we all stop flinging mud at each other in selfish little "No, I'M right!" squabbles, I'll keep enjoying the company of my non-judgmental little kitten more than that of the selfish, miserable, disconnected human race. I still love humanity dearly and I still work every day to try to make my world better and make the people around me healthy, happy, and glad to have me around... but I despair of my cause every time someone posts something like this miserable diatribe, because it speaks to the human tendency of "Us vs Them" so strongly and I would give my life to see that tendency wiped out. WHY must we divide ourselves?
I'm by no means insane but I do love nature. Does that mean I am a target for your hatred? Should I be embracing stainless steel and concrete instead? I've never heard the term "skyscraper-hugger", but is that what we should aspire to be? Just because a couple of bad eggs jumped into the "environmentalist" basket, am I supposed to shun the label entirely? Aren't hunters and farmers environmentalists? If not, what should I call them?
This entire blog is really the epitome of selfishness and hatred. The devil's in the details, so to speak - and this little detail, this little corner of the web, is perpetrating the exact kind of hatred and divisive thinking that prevents all of us from reaching that mythical "better tomorrow". Instead of wasting your time spreading hatred online, why aren't you out helping your community in whichever way you feel you can serve them best?
I do not hate you, but I am ashamed for you. You are the reason I will never call myself a conservative OR a liberal. I refuse to associate myself with any party that agrees that hatred and slander is a good use of its time and energy, and I cry for those who are too wrapped up in tearing down what they are opposing to work toward what they promote.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
(reflections on a McDonald's meal)
"In truth, my cheeseburger's relationship to beef seemed nearly as metaphorical as the nugget's relationship to a chicken. Eating it, I had to remind myself that there was an actual cow involved in this meal - most likely a burned-out old dairy cow (the source of most fast-food beef) but possibly bits and pieces of a steer... Part of the appeal of hamburgers and nuggets is that their boneless abstractions allow us to forget we're eating animals. I'd been on the feedlot in Garden City a few months earlier, yet this experience of cattle was so far removed from that one as to be taking place in a different dimension. No, I could not taste the feed corn or the petroleum or the antibiotics or the hormones - or the feedlot manure. Yet while "A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts" did not enumerate these facts, they too have gone into the making of this hamburger, are part of its natural history. That perhaps is what the industrial food chain does best: obscure the histories of the foods it produces by processing them to such an extent that they appear as pure products of culture rather than nature - things made from plants and animals. Despite the blizzard of information contained in the helpful McDonald's flyer - the thousands of words and numbers specifying ingredients and portion sizes, calories and nutrients - all this food remains perfectly opaque. Where does it come from? It comes from McDonald's.
But that's not so. It comes from refrigerated trucks and from warehouses, from slaughterhouses, from factory farms in towns like Garden City, Kansas, from ranches in Sturgis, South Dakota, from food science laboratories in Oak Brook, Illinois, from flavor companies on the New Jersey Turnpike, from petroleum refineries, from processing plants owned by AGM and Cargill, from grain elevators in towns like Jefferson, and, at the end of that long and tortuous trail, from a field of corn and soybeans farmed by George Naylor in Churdan, Iowa."
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. pp 114-115.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It's not barren, but there's little hope. You can see it in the faces of the people here and in the run-down houses, with rotting porches and loose shingles that owners can't afford or don't care to fix. The Pittsburgh Project is working to change that by focusing on youth education and community service in a way that empowers the people they help. They help those who can not help themselves. They teach the local kids environmental stewardship, gardening skills, home maintenance, leadership and interpersonal skills. They have programs which attract mission groups from all over the country who come to provide destitute homeowners with home repairs and cleanup. It's an amazing project and it's making a difference. The park across from their headquarters is low-priority for the city, but they've kept up the maintenance, cleaned up the areas that used to be drug havens, planted gardens and re-opened the pool. The kids love it. The after-school and summer programs are full. There's work to be done!
Someone asked me why I'd bother doing something that's bringing in no money and taking time away from our home repair, when I'm out of work already. It's not about the money; as much as I'd love getting paid for what I'm doing with the project I wasn't motivated to join the group because I was desperate for funding. It's about helping out, feeling good, doing something to give to the community and improve the place where we all live and play. It's about providing a good role model for the kids, making my life an example of responsible living, and having fun with a group of people who are passionate about making the world a better place - one tomato at a time.
I could still use a job, but jobs rarely feed the soul. This experience will give me more than resume padding and new friends. It will give me peace, and that's something all of us need. Do you volunteer? Why, or why not?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I'm going to go do the dishes and tidy the house to show respect for my wonderful man, who I "abandoned" the other day to volunteer while he was helping the delivery guys get our new appliances into place. What better way to wake up from a nap than waking up to a clean kitchen?
Things to consider: Do you show love and respect to each other in your relationships? If not, why? Do you think that others deserve unconditional love and respect, or is there something you expect from them first? Is it fair to withhold love and respect from someone, even if they do not appear to love or respect you? Why or why not?
Monday, July 12, 2010
I read the verses and then the chapter to get some context, in 3 different versions (to get further context regarding the translation). The instructions in these verses are general instructions for how to get along with each other: Be kind; be humble; be generous, and treat your enemy as your friend. It's good advice to heed in relationships of all kinds.
I have seen many relationships between family and friends fall apart because one party did not treat the other with kindness or respect. It's hard to watch and harder to experience, especially when one of the people involved is trying to repair or maintain a relationship while the other is oblivious to the destruction they cause. Selfishness, patience and generosity are all necessary to be a great friend, sibling, or spouse. I hope that I can keep this in mind as I move on in my relationships!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Right off the bat, I'd like to note that Mr. Croft has no credentials related to relationship or marriage counseling, psychology, sociology, or even theology (aside from a year as a "pastoral assistant"). FotF doesn't even tell us what kind of attorney he is, so I checked with Google. If this is him, he's in "litigation", mostly the 'business and gov't' kind. Therefore, his experience as an attorney is completely irrelevant to the matter of Christian Dating.
So why tell us he's an attorney at all? It's a basic rule of sociology: Anyone with a Degree is More Important Than You and Knows Better, and is therefore Qualified to order you around. There have been studies done on obedience to authority figures, and it clearly works in real situations. Even I have experienced the obedience phenomenon when I tell people I was a Behavioral Therapist. Isn't psychology fun?
Regardless of Mr. Croft's lack of actual related credentials, let's assume he's a smart guy and has enough general life experience to give us some dating suggestions. We'll start with the first article: Biblical Dating: An Introduction. He begins with a pair of Basic Assumptions that color the entire series: Inerrancy of Scripture and its close cousin Sufficiency of Scripture. Basically, Scripture comes from God and is therefore neither flawed nor has errors, and also therefore it is Sufficient to guide Christians in all areas of their faith and life; nothing is left out of God's Instruction Manual.
Ok. So we start with a definition of biblical dating:
We may define biblical dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman:
1. That begins (maybe) with the man approaching and going through the woman's father or family;
2. that is conducted under the authority of the woman's father or family or church; and
3. that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal.
While I've never been a fan of the whole "asking her father" thing, it does help when starting any relationship to have adult guidance and good role models to look to for help when things get awkward or difficult. Authority is something entirely different, and I do take issue with that. I have no problems with #3, though. Dating for me was never about getting into short, semi-casual relationships "just because". I've always considered it to be a search for a mate. I don't think casual dating makes much sense from either an evolutionary standpoint or a moral one. People are built for love and attachment - the goal of all life on earth is to reproduce, and in our case that goal includes hanging around long enough to properly raise our young. So marriage, or at least a settled domestic partnership, is a good idea, and therefore dating ought to lead toward partnership.
The rest of the article bashes on modern dating. He makes a few good points - that many people are entering the dating world entirely self-centered, looking for the person who fills their wants and needs without thinking about whether they are ready to fill someone else's wants and needs, that others are only dating to fill some basic emotional or sexual need without looking for the future commitment, and in doing so are keeping themselves satisfied in the short term but damaging their ability to commit to marriage in the future. Our system is flawed. But do we have to return to 300AD to get around that? Wouldn't advocating personal responsibility and attention to the needs of others get you the same result? The historical and social context for our current dating behavior bears examining; is this 'trend' going to continue, or will a few more generations experience the backlash of single mothers and unattached 40-somethings, and be pushed into marriage earlier than we were?
[derail]Mr. Croft mentions regret - in the context that he has never heard a Christian not express regret for a sinful relationship before they turned around and started living a more Godly life. It's not surprising. Most cultures (and Christianity is a culture) will encourage you to look back on the time before you came into the fold as one of disgrace, or at least one of ignorance. Why? Is it so important to alienate ourselves from our pasts that we must be told that not a single one of our companions has ever accepted past behavior as a good or necessary thing? I firmly believe that everything we experience is a chance to learn about ourselves and the world, and that we put ourselves into situations because we subconsciously know (or, if you will, God knows) that we can benefit from the lessons we will receive. If you regret something, you haven't learned everything you could from it, or are denying the lesson. I've made quite a few "mistakes" in my time, but I work every day to understand why and to eliminate regret. Life is too short to look back with sorrow and guilt, and besides, isn't thankfulness a lot more spiritually mature? So I strive to be grateful for the lessons I've been given, instead of regretting that they had to be taught. [/derail]
Now I'm going to nitpick at the biggest issue I see with Biblical dating. "Men initiate, women respond". Men are, of course, put into leadership roles in the Bible.
Hollywood's perfect woman runs with the boys, knows what she wants, and is aggressive en route to getting it — especially romantically. Hilariously, Hollywood even writes these characters into period pieces, as if the normal woman at all levels of society in the 18th and 19th centuries was a post-feminist, post-sexual-revolution, "there-ain't-no-difference-between-me-and-you" libertine.
Take one look at 18th century London with 10,000 prostitutes top-to-bottom, courtesans to streetwalkers, and tell me that society hasn't always had its share of "liberated" women! The "normal" woman back then succumbed to a lot of peer pressure when she chose a husband and lived a "normal", quiet, meek life. The "normal" woman had to live with her husband taking a mistress and say nothing, as it was common for him to do so and in some cases encouraged, especially when the wife wanted to avoid pregnancy (contraceptives being neither readily available nor Godly)!
Historically, ancient Rome (from which Christianity sprang) was a patriarchy, and most societies since have been patriarchal. There are few surviving female voices from those times to tell us whether they liked their roles in the household; whether they struggled as women today do with their expected roles; whether their husbands left their togas on the floor. There's been debate since 200BC regarding women's independence and authors in all eras have blamed women to some degree for ruining families by taking on male roles, whether it was owning land or money in ancient Rome or having the ability to work outside the home in more recent times. There's nothing new about the debate regarding male and female roles. It's rather telling that despite Mr. Croft's insistence on the vague historical ideal of women as meek and willing participants in the Patriarchal order, a good hard look at history says that the ideal has existed as long as written history, and so have the "recent problems" regarding marriage and family values. I'd much rather hear "either can initiate, as long as they do so with honesty and good intentions". Defined roles are not bad (see my post "Femininity" regarding gender roles), but I think the definitions should be left up to individuals.
Now that I'm through with the reading I realize: I wanted to get mad at these articles. I fully admit that I went into this Challenge geared up for a full-on "Logic vs. Religion" rant about the various ways in which Biblical dating was both absurd and cheerfully ignorant of real life situations. Despite that initial reaction on my part, the rest of the articles are fairly straightforward and agreeable. Even though I'm still tempted to pick God right out of the equation, the guiding principles - communication, getting to know not only the person but his/her friends, family, etc to better judge compatibility, taking it slow - are all sound concepts to apply to dating in general, Christian or not. And of course, it reminds us not to leave our friends behind in our zeal for finding a mate. (Keeping a healthy social network is another post on its own)
Really, despite Mr. Croft's repeated assurance that Biblical Dating does not include "playing at marriage" and warns against too much intimacy and getting to know someone "too well" before marriage, lest a breakup cause more damage than it really should, he does advocate a lot of getting-to-know-you kinds of discussions. Discussions are GOOD. What he doesn't advocate, clearly, is finding out whether your potential husband leaves his socks all over the house by moving in with him. I guess you should just ask his mother! In all seriousness; I would bet that the most awkward part of marriage is learning to share your space with someone else. Suddenly you have two dressers, the closet is half full of someone else's clothes and there are socks on the living room floor. Old habits are hard to change, and again he gives the advice that to solve potential problems, you must communicate. Nothing wrong with that!
I think that what I am most having a problem with is the idea that women need to subject themselves to some invisible authority who will make all of their important decisions for them. I love the quote "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it is yours (love it forever). If it doesn't, it never was." And really, that's what women are advised to do in this series of articles - let go of the control.
The wording is enough to get under my skin! Even though the meanings are similar, the first quote puts control in the hands of the reader; the second puts it in the hands of God. I guess this is something I have to work through - my own desire for control. But that's another blog entry on its own, and a lot more learning ahead. For now, I'll just say that I have not been forced to submit to my partner but that I do on occasion simply because I love him and respect him. And really, that's what dating should be about - respect for the other person; wanting to find someone who is worthy of that respect and who can not only help you in your own growth, be it spiritual or material, but who can be helped by you. All relationships are a two-way street, and I think a lot of people forget this.The Lord is sovereign. If it doesn't work out with a particular guy because he didn't step up, the Lord will cause something else to work out. He knows what is best for each of us, and all of us must learn to trust him — especially about things that are really important to us.
I'm glad these articles reminded me of the work it takes to willingly put your partner first in a relationship, instead of selfishly asking them to put you first. The challenge certainly gave me a lot to think about this weekend!
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I really dislike and distrust Focus on the Family. I have for a while; even during my adolescent years when my father was doing his most intense spiritual searching and taking me to churches along the way, listening to FotF on the radio, and handing me FotF-approved tape sets on relationships, I wasn't sold on their approach. I thought them shallow; trying too hard to appeal to as many people as possible, spewing the same thoughts over and over again in a desperate attempt to brainwash listeners without ever encouraging true thought or growth in faith. And I think I've finally pinpointed why I disliked them so much: They Lie.
Our young believer listens, and two subtle evils begin to work in his life. Focus On The Family first admonishes our believer to keep listening, because their programs will help heal the damage in his soul. They don't just come out and say it, but the message is clear. If he wants to learn how to be a better Christian, he need look no further. In other words, they set themselves up as the authority on moral living. This little device hooks our young believer. If he rejects what's being broadcast by Focus On The Family, he is rejecting the information God obviously wants him to hear.
He keeps listening, and over time the second evil takes root and does its damage.
Focus On The Family tells our young Christian what good Christians do. They talk about how to love correctly. They talk about how to talk correctly. They talk about how to believe correctly. They talk about all the evil sins our Christian should avoid. But unfortunately, they inadvertently use themselves, their speakers and their leaders, as examples of what good Christians do. They do this by holding up their own interpretations of Scripture as God's will for our young believer's life.
Now, FotF recently sprouted a new website/media offshoot called "Boundless", aimed at single twenty-somethings and young married couples. They're trying their hardest to be the Cool Ministry on the block, which to me is both ridiculous considering their already large following (why conform to our "immoral" society's ideas of 'cool' when you already have 3-5 million listeners?) and scary - I don't want people like my sister and brother-in-law being targeted by an organization that preys on the weak and confused, especially when they're using FACEBOOK as a way to get their message across!
So when I stumbled on the Boundless Summer Challenge through a pair of Christian friends of mine, I wasn't terribly impressed with the whole idea of Boundless, or the Challenge itself - I mean, they're offering an iPad for "the person who completes the entire challenge and writes us the most compelling final essay". (Keep in mind that the only way they know you've completed it is by you following them on Facebook, which gives them access to your wall and your Facebook Notes, in which you are expected to keep a daily journal of the "tasks" they set). Maybe it's just me, but the idea of offering any prize at all for a challenge which is supposed to be about immaterial, spiritual growth seems a little like... what's the word I'm looking for?... desperation? Hypocrisy? Reeking of underhandedness - ah, duplicity!
Still, the idea of participating grew on me despite the threat of winning an iPad. For a start, I noticed that nowhere in the selling points for the challenge does it mention that it's Christian-only or even that it's directed at any given God or Faith. In fact it's not until the first Task appeared today that the word "Christ-followers" (not Christians!) was written in relation to the Challenge. Well, I'm a follower of Christ, if you translate that to mean "I follow the Golden Rule!". And since "The primary benefit in this Challenge is growth in godliness and the enjoyment of fellowship.", I'm going to translate "godliness" as "cleanliness" (no, not really, but I thought that'd get a laugh), that is, enlightenment. I'm going to use this challenge for growth toward Nirvana and the enjoyment of the fellowship of humanity.
So! While I'm not interested in using the Boundless Summer Challenge as a way to improve my relationship with Christ, I'm going to follow along anyway. The first task is a 3-part: Register on Facebook, pray, and ask people to join. I'm not interested in the iPad, so I feel no need to register with these people and allow them access to the most private parts of my public life (Because I do actually have privacy settings enabled; I'm not sharing my information with the entire world!). I consider this blog entry my official, formal registration for the Boundless Summer Challenge. "Praying" (or at least meditating) I will do. If I come up with any interesting thoughts I'll share them later today. Finally, asking: Consider this my invitation for you to join me on my 31-day journey through faith and spirituality. Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), you are welcome to use this challenge to improve your relationships with people, study whatever religious texts you feel will help you in your journey, and meditate daily on how to live a better life (whatever "better" means to you is ok). If you'd like support, a dialogue, or just want me to know that you're participating you are welcome to leave a comment with a link to whichever website, profile, or blog you'll be updating for the next month. The challenge starts today, but you can join any time during the month (unless you're joining with them on Facebook; they set the deadline at Monday, July 12). Here's to a month of spiritual growth!
Oh, and for the friends who are doing this, especially N: I am going to pray not that you don't condemn yourself if the new baby prevents you from completing these tasks, but that you never feel or are ashamed of the "condemnation" of FotF and its members; that you remain innocent of the greed and anger that cloud its work and that your faith and companionship with your husband grows stronger not because of a few days spent in contemplation but because of a life well-lived with honor, compassion, and grace.
I leave you with this:
Is it better to satisfy one thousand desires or conquer just one?
Samsara poses this question, with beautiful cinematography and careful attention to detail. A young Buddhist monk trained from the age of 5, Tashi begins to desire the experiences of the outside world and is allowed to leave the monastery to live in a nearby village - but what does he learn about himself and the nature of the Buddha in the process?
As someone who is interested in Buddhism, I found this movie both entertaining and thought-provoking. It's also spurred me to continue my study of Tibetan, which I and a friend are beginning together. Although right now I only have a basic grasp of the alphabet, I'm enjoying the feeling of being new at something.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Here, I am torn. I love the dialogue I can have with these women at times, and I admire their insights on life, appreciate their dedication to their homes and families, and envy (yes, I admit to such an emotion!) their talents and skills (cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting and crochet, soap and candlemaking, gardening, art, music, song, and so much more!). I feel unaccomplished at 24, next to these graceful and mostly humble young women. I am sure I could achieve most of what they have (I do not aspire to be a parent, and that is one difference I do not wish to erase), were I to apply myself. However, I am not a Christian and that brings up some tension.
I do not want to be a Christian, and I have chosen my spiritual path after a lot of thought, not because someone else was doing it or because I felt the need to fit in. I fully appreciate the appeal of religion; I understand its use in leading a purposeful life and the support it provides for both men and women seeking to live according to a moral code and belong to a supportive, tightly-knit group. I don't think there's anything wrong with living according to religious principles; I simply choose not to. And I feel that because of my choice I am not welcome to engage in discussion or befriend some of these women; they speak words of welcome but they discuss openly the fact that those who do not follow Christ/YHWH/Yahweh/Jeshua are not to be 'left alone' or 'tolerated' but actively spoken against and encouraged to join the fold. Some of them speak of "standing out from the crowd" of sinners and non-believers and then turn around to encourage conformity and group support within the ranks. I have yet to decide how hypocritical I think this is, but I know Christians aren't the only group to do it (there's an entire blog post on the psychology of groupthink just waiting to be written).
I'll give you this - you choose your friends, and if one of them does something you don't approve of, you have every right to say something. Against strangers, though? If I want criticism of my life I have no further to look than the nearest mirror; I don't need others to judge me for me. I think there is a fine line between living an upright life in support of the Lord and proclaiming loudly that anyone who doesn't live such a life should convert immediately. We all have the right and the duty to "be the change we would like to see in the world", so to speak. We have the right to surround ourselves with people who support our lifestyle or to go into the world to witness to others, knowing the intellectual dangers that associating with those different than us can introduce - namely, having our opinion softened or swayed by the very people we would like to convert. We all recognize that to associate with someone is to be influenced by them and maybe the loud proclamations against nonbelievers are simply a way of protecting oneself against the inevitable erosion. I still don't think it's the correct way of going about things.
I think that if you want to live a certain lifestyle, you should do so. Live in a way that glorifies God, or Nature, or yourself. Blog about it. Welcome discussion. But be open and accept that others will come to you seeking more than condemnation. Be an example to those around you of the things you hold most dear. If you live as a true example of the things you wish to uphold, others will seek you out and convert to your way of thinking on their own; seeing your success and happiness will bring them around more effectively than a hundred thousand years of proselytizing ever could.
I want to live with grace and let my actions speak for me. I only hope I'm not letting my mouth get too far ahead!
Monday, May 24, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
We also discovered that behind a giant mirror (it literally covered the entire chimney from mantle to ceiling in the living room), there were remnants of some really cool old wallpaper which we've got to remove before we can paint. The 50's come back to haunt us...
So that's that. We're trying to get things in move-in shape (a big task, considering the copper plumbing was stolen from the basement before we bought the house, and all the rooms need serious cleaning), and it's a huge task... but we're EXCITED.
That's all for now - more updates soon - hopefully with pictures!
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Been waiting for stuff to settle, and I hate waiting. I get flustered, and waste my time with things like this word game, which although supposedly good for your verbal skills is also infringing on my ability to finish my paperwork (as usual; anything is more exciting than paperwork).
Monday afternoon I've got another appointment with the adviser at the community college and will hopefully be able to register for classes right then and there. Once that's done for sure I'll have to re-work my summer schedule at least for the mornings that I'll be in class, and after that I'll need to check on funding for fall and scramble to get my fall schedule worked out as soon as I can get the class listings, because that class schedule will determine which client (if any) I can keep and which will have to be dropped. I'm planning on tutoring this summer/fall and possibly changing jobs to pick up any slack in income, and will need to know when I'm free to do that as well.
This week some time we're supposed to be getting new neighbors - a single mom and two young children. Since we're moving out soon we probably won't get to know them very well, but I hope they're quieter than the last neighbors!
Saturday, my sister comes to town. I haven't seen her since... over a year ago, maybe more. It's been a long time, although it didn't seem that long until I thought about it. There will be a lot to catch up on!
And next Friday we close on a house, and I expect the rest of May will be lost in a flurry of cleaning, repairs, and packing. We are planning on giving notice at the beginning of June or July, depending on how long it takes us to fix the place up, so we'll be out by August, a year after we moved in. As soon as the new house is secure I'll be bringing my gardening tools over and setting up the veggie beds. The raised beds I was working on were left unfinished due to a run of bad weather and our sudden house search, and last week I finally gave the pallets away to two people from the local Freecycle group where they'll be turned into a chicken coop and someone else's raised beds. There's one left; the only one that had been finished and filled. I planted a few onions, radishes and greens in it, just to have something to show for my efforts. When we move I'll harvest what I can and re-seed with nasturtiums so that the new neighbors have something pretty to look at this summer.
Later this summer I'm hoping to take off work for a week or two. I want to go camping, visit some friends and/or invite friends to visit us here, and catch up on my reading. There will be lots going on this summer! What are your summer plans?
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Straight Talk About Charter Schools (The Answer Sheet; a Washington Post blog).
...okay, so I do have something to add. I was going to just comment, but I'm not registering for yet another site just to drop one comment, so here it is:
Our "public" school systems (public schooling, private religious schooling, and charter schooling) are failing us across the board - charters are only part of the problem. The "experts" can't even agree on what makes a good school, or a good teacher.
They forget the most important part - what makes a good student? And that answer - the parents, the community, the culture, the teacher prep programs, AND the school... that's too much for most candidates pushing educational reform. They'd rather focus on merit-based pay (yes, let's blame the teachers!) than admit that there is something intrinsically wrong with a system in which parents are allowed to verbally abuse their child's teacher, in front of the child, and the teacher has no redress; in which teacher salaries are much lower than other equally-educated professionals and teachers often pay out of their own pocket for classroom supplies because their funding is misspent on football uniforms; in which sports and American Idol are elevated beyond research facilities, community involvement, or responsible living as the summit of American achievement, and in which teacher prep programs spit out graduates from the bottom of the SAT score pool, the ones who often can't spell, let alone read aloud - but they make awfully good bulletin boards!
The schools are failing us because we are failing them.
And now on to the other topic of the day: Summer camp!
I think about summer camp all year. It was my second home for most of my childhood. A lot of important things happened there. I worked there for 3 years after getting too old to attend as a camper, and I loved it so dearly that I still have to wipe away tears after singing the songs I used to lead around the campfire. I miss it in ways that are impossible to describe. You know how, sometimes, you find a place that is so perfect that you feel as though you found something that you never knew you were missing, but now, you can't stand leaving? That feeling describes how I feel about camp. And that, more than anything else, is why I advocate so loudly for children to attend a camp.
Not everyone likes camp, and not all camps are the same, but for many children it's an experience to which nothing else will compare. The friends you make and the lessons you learn stick with you - not just practical things like identifying plants or using sunscreen, but life lessons: friendship, teamwork, an understanding of nature and all its cycles of life, death and rebirth. And for a child with autism, camp can be a place where the lessons from school, especially social lessons, are repeated and built upon, so that come September there hasn't been a backslide. Camp is important, and not just for the child - how many parents tear their hair when school lets out because they don't know what to do with their child?
Camp is a big choice for a lot of families, but it can be a great time if you put a little planning into it. If you are considering sending your autistic child to camp, now is the time to do it. Really, March was a good time to start looking - some fill up fast, but depending on your area, some camps may still have spaces open, and if not, now is a great time to research for next year and work on any skills your child may need for a successful camp session.
To find a camp, you may look online, but I recommend local research first. Many camps are small, and don't have much (if any) web presence; camps also develop reputations which may not be aired on their website and which may influence your decision. My Summer Camps covers the basics in the US and Canada, and you can ask your child's teacher, behavioral therapist or doctor to compile a list of appropriate camps. Brochures may be available at offices or through your child's school. Available camps may range from half-day social programs to full-week sleepover camps with adjustments for the needs of the children they serve. Most here are day camps which run approximately the same hours as a school day and allow the child to continue a school-like schedule as well as allowing families some freedom to retain home services through the summer months.
Keep in mind that your child's functional level will be considered in the camp application. If your child is not potty trained, is a flight risk, or has other concerns that would require one-on-one aid, look for a camp where a nurse aide or behavioral worker would be welcomed. In PA, some camps invite the child's current behavioral therapy staff to work with the child at camp, which helps with continuity of experience for the child as well as easing the burden of camp staff. Other concerns may be:
1.Communication: If your child does not speak, does he or she have an appropriate system in place to communicate needs to camp staff? Can (s)he bring a technological aid such as a dynavox? Are staff familiar with your child's mode of communication?
2. Behavioral concerns: Does your child show aggression (either toward self or others)? Do you know their tantrum triggers, and does the camp environment and/or staff address them? Will your child require restraint during tantrums? Does your child follow directions and have basic social skills like sharing and turn-taking? Will your child pick up any new behaviors from other campers?
3. Medical concerns: What medications will your child need to take at camp? What medical conditions should staff be aware of and able to treat? Autism-related or not, all camps will require a medical checkup and knowledge of allergies, medications and medical conditions. If you plan right, you can use your child's school physical for camp, and vice versa.
4. Sensory needs: If your child is on a "sensory diet" or has known sensory needs (needs to get up and move, needs to be squeezed, needs a fidget toy) you may want to address this with camp staff. Since many special-needs camps focus on children with a wide array of needs, and not just autism, you'll want to ensure that camp staff or the child's care provider at camp have the tools they need, and not assume that they know all about sensory issues. A child whose sensory needs have been met is more likely to learn and enjoy camp!
5. Funding! Some camps are expensive - do they offer funding? If not, can you apply for a grant or 'scholarship', or do you have to raise the money? A woman not too far from me is trying to raise $2300 for her daughter to attend a special-needs camp, by making and selling jewelry. To her, it's entirely worth it. Would it be worth it to you?
Most of all, consider your child's interests, desires and needs! A camp should be a good fit for the child, and if possible, should spend some time with your child before accepting an application. It will help the camp evaluate your child's fit for the program, and help your child get to know their potential camp leaders.
Camp is pretty awesome, and I believe that it can be a great way for both parents and children to enjoy summer. If you can't go to camp, consider keeping your child on a schedule anyway. Get them up at around the same time, put them to bed at around the same time (bedtime is VERY important!), and structure their meals and a few activities. Not only can a schedule decrease summer tantrums and make life manageable, but come September the school will really appreciate you!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I've been excited for the washer all week the way a kid is excited for a new toy. For one thing, this means we don't have to drive across the city to use grandma's 70's-era appliances, which have ruined at least 2 of my sweaters by mysteriously shrinking them and take forever to dry heavy loads because the dryer overheats and has a long cooldown cycle. For us, the washer/dryer in the house is a convenience. We could have kept using the ones available at grandma's, but we managed to afford a set of our own. And it got me thinking (what doesn't, these days?).
First thought: poverty. Yeah, yeah. I'm wearing that welcome mat thin. It struck me full-force today just how badly we treat the poor, though... and how even a simple thing like doing laundry can hurt. See, we've been in the position before (when we moved down here, in fact) of having to visit a laundromat and PAY to do our laundry. One huge basket and $10 in quarters later, half my jeans were still damp and we'd run out of money. Keep in mind we weren't even paying for detergent - we brought our own. What do the poor do? They certainly aren't getting much help as far as washing clothes is concerned. I wonder as I look over my own struggles what the people living so far below my income level can possibly do about laundromat fees. Even people with washers in their apartment complex have to pay - often a couple of dollars per washer. How do the poor manage to pay? At college the washers started at $1.10 my freshman year, and by my senior year were up to $1.50. Those who could go home on weekends never used the dorm washers.
Which brings me to kids washing clothes. A good number of people I knew at college didn't know how to separate light and dark clothing, let alone read tags, wash red shirts alone to remove excess dye, or not shrink things in the dryer. Many of the students at my college were there on scholarships; some though had no excuse for not knowing how to do laundry, other than the fact that no one taught them. I don't know about other households, but I was taught how to do the laundry and so were my sisters. But it seems that a lot of kids are missing out on this essential part of life, and it makes me worry. Parents seem to put a lot more emphasis on good grades and lots of sports practice than on good life skills these days.
It also makes for an interesting comparison to autistic kids, many of whose parents can only wish that their child will be able to do his own laundry one day. I see a lot of treatment plans for kids on the spectrum that call for self-help skills like making sandwiches and folding clothes - stuff most of us take for granted. It's interesting that while the rest of us are busy worrying about whether our children will be doctors or lawyers, the parents of autistic kids have it right and are worrying about whether their child will be able to make chicken nuggets without burning the house down. I guess having a kid with a developmental delay really makes you re-think your priorities.
The above is not meant to downplay the frustration that comes with raising kids, especially autistic kids. Parents with kids on the spectrum often do want to be able to dream normal dreams for their children. They want to be able to blithely mention that Timmy's growing up to be really good at math, and might become an engineer, or that Susie won an award for her high school speech competition. For most, autism takes away the opportunity to dream, and replaces it with a daily struggle to complete the most mundane tasks. I've worked with 11 year-old kids still in diapers, with first-graders who couldn't identify the letters of the alphabet. It's not easy to teach those kids how to tie their shoes, let alone read the instructions on a box of macaroni and cheese, follow them properly, feed themselves and clean up after eating. To get a deeply autistic child to that point would be a lifetime effort in many cases.
And speaking of autism: I've been reading a news follow-up on that mother who killed her son in NY earlier this year. To have an 8 year old who can't even tell you he's hungry, let alone that he loves you... what a distressing idea. But it seems to me she was going about things the wrong way. The article quotes friends who describe her as a woman on a crusade - one even goes so far as to suggest that her "devotion" to finding a cure for her son was itself something twisted by her own motivations: "[one friend] believes her obsession was ''a control issue, the feeling that she would be the one to save that child, almost a salvation quest.''" They mention that for all the money she had, she didn't have a secondary caregiver (nanny, babysitter, behavioral therapist). Hmmmm.
I get the impression that this woman really was somewhat insane. Whether she ended up that way or started that way we'll probably never know. She certainly could have used help with her child, but for some reason reconsidered sending him to specialized schools or finding a state which would provide good wraparound care. She spared no expense on strange, cutting-edge treatments but refused to let the child out of her own hands. She seemed so desperate for help... but only if she was the one to give it. And I wonder: are the overbearing/underbearing parents I so often see with kids on the spectrum simply showing normal human behaviors on high alert due to their child's diagnosis, or is a parent with one of those two polar personalities showing gene expressions which in a child may become autism? It certainly seems that some parents show obsessive or otherwise autistic behaviors themselves (but have no diagnosis), but no one has yet studied personality traits of parents in relation to their child's diagnosis, and I doubt it'll happen soon - likely it would be seen as adding insult to injury to claim that our personalities affect our child's abilities.
Well, the washer's caused the basement drain to back up and spill rich, black silt all over the basement floor (third time this year the drain's done that... first two times were due to sudden thaws after long cold snaps). Guess it's time to call a plumber. Still, I'll take a backed-up drain over a laundromat any day. The basement is warm, the washer works beautifully (and quietly!), and sooner or later the snow will melt and give me an excuse to garden while the laundry does its thing. I already have onions and peas and lettuce and mint sprouting. Onward, spring!
If you see these, DO NOT CLICK THEM. I'll delete them as soon as I can and I'm going to consider implementing comment moderation so that these don't get through. Blogger needs to provide us with a good way to flag these comments so their service can remove the offending profiles and/or block them, but in the meantime I advise anyone who sees a comment like this to warn the blogger about it and ignore it.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
(halted while I go do the dishes and further ferment these thoughts). On a related note: I don't mind doing dishes - the reason I put them off till Midnight on a work night (given that I called off work this evening because of a sore throat and slept half the day, I'm not quite tired yet anyway!) is because I hate the back aches that come from slouching over our not-quite-tall-enough sink. Sometimes being tall sucks.
Right, but back to the thinking. I've been reading more than I had before Christmas, given that it's midwinter and I've been calling off sick a lot (yet another issue that needs to be addressed, but will probably be put off till I get my taxes done and see if I'm getting anything back to pay the doctor), and that I got as a Christmas present a wonderful, magical gift card to Half-Price Books, which makes good on its name's promise with a great variety of fun stuff.
So in the last few weeks I've consumed a book on school bullying, a bestselling journalist's exploration of the working-class life, and a selection of essays by New York Times journalists about the class divide in modern America. (I link to Amazon, because it has pictures and reviews. These should be available in your local library system if you'd like to find them for yourself). I'm now starting another poverty-related book: The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shippler.
Aside from the bullying book, which I picked up because I'm one of the survivors of school bullying, these books are variations on a theme which has starred heavily in my experiences, especially since I started my current job. The issues of class and income in our country are ones I have long been aware of in some form or another; they influenced how I was raised and how I currently live. And sometimes, they make me feel really uncomfortable, depressed, or just plain mad.
Poverty is a tricky thing to define but in this country there is little argument that poverty describes a pretty big group. Dictionaries say things like "Lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts" (American Heritage), "Want or scarcity of means of subsistence" (Webster's International, 2nd ed). I like the third definition: "The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions." (Webster's Collegiate). Poverty in this country holds that connotation - of someone who can't afford what the "rest of us" desire. A lot of the "poor" that I know are quite happy where they are, including my father who despite occasional sighs over the availability of funds to pay the gov't their due (in land taxes and the like) seems rather content to chase turkeys around the yard and dig up potatoes with his girlfriend. Is he "poor"? Yes. Is he lacking in love, housing, or food? No!
I have no doubt I'll never be rich in the traditional sense of the word. I'm too far in debt; even if I got a better job tomorrow, worked my way up to a decent middle-manager position with great benefits, won enough on a lotto ticket to pay off my debts and continued to save for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be rich. And so I fall firmly into the lower class at the moment, with vague hopes of becoming lower-middle and a homeowner in some far-distant future. I figure I'll be rich in other ways, with laughter and friends and loving family and a great-looking veggie garden. But even if I make all my homesteading dreams come true, I'll still be "Poor", which strikes me as very odd, and a very undesirable label. And from this vantage point, the books I'm reading ring very, very true, and bring up a lot of food for thought about why I'm so bothered by poverty and class-ism.
The books say things like this:
"Breaking away and moving a comfortable distance from poverty seems to require a perfect lineup of favorable conditions. A set of skills, a good starting wage, and a job with the likelihood of promotion are prerequisites. But so are clarity of purpose, courageous self-esteem, a lack of substantial debt, the freedom from illness or addiction, a functional family, a network of upstanding friends, and the right help from private or governmental agencies. Any gap in that array is an entry point for trouble, because being poor means being unprotected... With no cushion of money, no training in the ways of the wider world, and too little defense against the threats and temptations of decaying communities, a poor man or woman gets sacked again and again - buffeted and bruised and defeated. When an exception breaks this cycle of failure, it is called the fulfillment of the American Dream." (The American Myth, as the author later calls it).
The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Shippler, David K. (New York: Vintage, 2005), p5.
After some personal observations this week that brought reality sharply home on the heels of having read all this scholarly discourse, I wondered what we can do (and more specifically what I can do) to alleviate the problems we're seeing. If there are so many widely-read books out there about poverty and class issues, why are there so few widely-promoted organizations devoted to fixing them? If so many people struggle in poverty every day, why aren't more of them working -together- to ease the struggle? And a question for the politicians: if the struggle with money is such a serious problem that the President is now admitting that the so-called middle class in America has been struggling since before the recession, why is consideration of this growing class of between-the-cracks Americans not higher on the list of things to look at when passing legislation?
Readers of this blog know me as a huge proponent of education - something that would alleviate the skill deficits of many working poor, would improve self-esteem and (hopefully) add purpose to lives, and might even improve friend networks as students (both kids and adults) meet teachers and workers who would support them instead of dragging them down. However, teaching a person won't guarantee them a job (that's the economy's problem). It won't provide the help they need from the gov't or private charities (volunteering is a good option, but not the only one!), and it won't set a better starting wage or give the option of advancement. And for the middle class, it's hard to say that education would have helped them avoid low-interest variable rate mortgages, overspending on brand-name "necessities" and chasing that terrible cultural belief that You are defined by Your Stuff. Education may teach you how to pursue a better life, but it won't guarantee you'll get there or even that you'll be immune to people who prey on insecurity to sell goods. A lot of highly-educated families are now paying the price of keeping up with the Joneses.
Then there's the question of whether it's even possible to eradicate poverty and class, and if so, whether it's a desirable option. Poverty provides our economy with cheap unskilled labor, which in return provides the consumer with cheap goods and services, which creates an upward cycle of saving and spending for both company and individual. The only ones who fail to benefit in this upward cycle are the working poor who eventually disappear into the shadows of their employers' skyscrapers. If they did benefit, eventually someone else would have to replace them at the bottom. We can't pay everyone in our society $14/hr (what a study in Nickel and Dimed quotes as a "living wage"). If we did (and if companies actually dealt with it and didn't immediately make the problem worse by outsourcing their factories to China and thus removing the jobs entirely from our market), the prices of goods and services would rise immensely to make up for the new "wealth" pouring into the hands of the poor, as well as the increased cost burden on business... and we'd be back to square 1, only with inflation to boot. In economic terms, in order to keep capitalism afloat, someone somewhere has to lose.
Some people go willingly into this sacrifice. They don't mind the long hours, the tedious and often body-breaking labor, the low pay. They have other loves - stargazing, their kids, their tiny gardens. Others hate it but have no escape and still others willingly try their best to break free only to be beaten back down. But the ones who choose to live a quiet, frugal lifestyle are never thanked; the ones who attempt and fail to rise are rarely comforted. I've always wondered why the mantra that "hard work will get you somewhere" is so rarely confronted and so often upheld as the absolute Truth in this place where hard work is as likely to turn around and bite you as it is to lift you into the executive's Comfy Chair. David Shippler provided some food for thought on this one, as well:
"...the American Myth also provides a means of laying blame. In the Puritan legacy, hard work is not merely practical but also moral; its absence suggests an ethical lapse. A harsh logic dictates a hard judgment: If a person's diligent work leads to prosperity, if work is a moral virtue, and if anyone in the society can attain prosperity through work, then the failure to do so is a fall from righteousness."
I've seen that attitude at work; it prevails in comments online when I or someone else offers the information that they can't afford this or that, it shows itself when a co-worker sheepishly admits they shop at a thrift store and then hastens to add that it's only for play clothes for the kids - as if wanting to save money is the same as not having any to spend.
Then again there's the other side, the anarcho-socialist railing against The Man that riles up the traditionalists and at first glance makes sense to a lot of disillusioned youth - that poverty is not anyone's fault but that the poor are victims: of corporations, the government, the rich and all their bad influences. I don't like that reasoning, either. It excuses the poor for their bad decisions because most (but not all) decisions can be traced to a lack of options or a lack of education - and therefore it is the system's fault that people end up poor, drug-addicted and in gangs and it's the system's responsibility to get them out. A lot of people, especially a lot of borderline-poor people, use this as an excuse for why they do the things they do.
And I feel like if these attitudes don't change - if people continue to think that hard work is all that's separating a single mom on welfare from the suburbanite couple the next neighborhood over, or conversely that the suburbanites are somehow repressing the poor by supporting sweatshop labor to make their angora sweaters, we'll get nowhere in the discussion of how to alleviate poverty. And I do want to alleviate it. I think a lot of the reason I'm bothered by poverty is that I've seen the higher levels of it - places where my parents lived for a long time, where the term "paycheck to paycheck" doesn't just describe your work schedule but your life schedule - waiting for the money that barely covers the bills, worrying about missing a day or the car breaking down or the school taxes, scared of your dependence on things going just right, unable to gain security on your own and yet too far above the poverty line (by $10 or by $1000) to get help. That kind of balancing act, the fact that someone who is making enough to "get by" isn't really secure or happy at all, is what bothers me - that, and the fact that if you're in this group, you don't talk about it. It's a silent struggle, and admitting it is an exercise in shame, because of the poverty stigma and the worry that you really aren't good enough, after all.
Then there's abject poverty, which is in a class all its own. While the moderately poor and lower-middle classes have to worry every week about whether the next paycheck will be enough to keep a roof over their heads, the abject poor are worried about whether they can stay with their mothers or sisters much longer. They have the longest climb to food security, their own space to live, and for many of them, a regular job. They are the least educated and the most desperate, and they are the ones I most want to help, even though I'm still trying to help myself get steady. I feel like I'm part of a shipwreck, clinging to a board while the lifeboats sail away, and still trying to dive back into the water to pull more people up, even though it may cost me the board and make rescue that much more difficult. Having lifeboats help would be better still, but lifeboats are organizations of people, and they're not all thrilled about the risk of tipping the boat - they may not save someone unless the water is shallow or rescue is already imminent.
In reality, poverty is not an extreme of laziness or repression. It's a sliding scale between personal choices and poor support systems, and it will take a combination of societal help and personal responsibility (there's that big bad R word again!) to dig most people out of abject poverty. I want to be part of that societal safety net. I try to help myself first (personal responsibility!), because saying "no" can be the difference between sinking under the combined weight of hangers-on, and keeping a few afloat. I make sure the rent is paid before I give to charities; I make sure we have enough to eat before I offer food to the neighbors. But I'm also trying to lead by example. I want people to see that even though I am barely keeping my head above water, I can still hold out my hand. I want others to think about doing the same. I think that selfishness is a terrible sin when so many people in the worst circumstances can find it in themselves to be selfless. I think that community safety nets in the form of shared gardens, resource centers, and mentoring can really improve quality of life, even if they don't improve income levels, and I think that connecting someone to the health of their community in such a vital way as growing food together, cleaning up the neighborhood, or running programs for the kids is a measure of security, a hedge against dropping out and letting go.
After a lot of thought on this issue, I think that I'd really love to spend more of my time working on the problems of poverty - getting people away from their friends' tiny apartments and into a place where they can afford to take a day off work, fix a car, buy furniture, take night classes... even if we can't "solve" the poverty problem, I think it's our duty as human beings to help each other find security: food security, housing security, safety in their own homes and the knowledge that their kids aren't going to turn to drugs as the "only way" to reach their dreams of wealth. Poverty may always need to exist to provide room for wealth, but it shouldn't have to mean starvation in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Poverty should be stability. It should be the knowledge that you are still important in the system and the gratitude of those who rely on your labor. It should be a chance to improve yourself, but the security of knowing that even if you spend the rest of your life where you are, you'll never go hungry.