Ball of Confusion

There have been so many blogs, opinion pieces, etc. about the poor rural whites who voted for Donald Trump. Why did they vote for someone so unlike themselves? Did they really think a rich, white New Yorker could do anything for them or did they just detest Hillary Clinton that much?  The answer is a complicated one, even for social scientists. There are people who dedicate their lives to studying groups of people and there are those who have lived the life and have their own opinions, e.g.,  Hillbilly Elegy. A lot of attention has been given to this group and rightly so, given the outsome of the last election.

I have made some observations lately and while they probably don’t come as a shock to anyone, I just want to talk about some of them, perhaps get some comments on your own experiences and maybe a layperson’s view of the subject. Much has changed in the years since I was a child. A lot of people say that the world is a better place and I suppose in some ways, it is. A lot of social issues are more understood now and people who are different don’t have as much fear about their differences.  For example, when I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who came out as gay, though it was suspected. Now there are LGBT support groups in high school. One way that things are better. Women now have more positions of power and more opportunities than they had in the 60’s and 70’s, with thanks to the pioneers who came before me. Of course, during the 60’s, civil rights became law. I have heard people say that crime is no worse now than it was then, it’s just more publicized now. I haven’t done the research, so I can’t refute that.

Today I heard a story on the news of a 13 year old shot dead in what appeared to be a middle-class suburban neighborhood just outside of Baltimore. I know quite a bit about the area and I have friends who live close to where this occured. I researched the history of the area and discovered that it used to be a fine place to live and raise a family, but now it is crime-ridden. The schools are mostly Title 1 and a lot of the housing is Section 8. What happens to a neighborhood to turn it “bad” in a generation or two? Much of the same problems that have afflicted the rural poor also have caused good areas in a city to become undesirable. Lack of good paying jobs (jobs going overseas), drugs, and gentrification (in the city) have contributed to the problem. There is something else that is a little more controversial and that is white flight. Historically, whites on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum have had different outcomes than blacks on the same spectrum and of course, we all know that institutional racism has a lot to do with that. Poor people who are hopeless about their futures cope in all sorts of ways, some not so good (drugs, gangs, etc.)  As I see it, the “ghettos” of the big cities are increasing in circumference, affecting suburban areas, bringing its crime, failing schools, drugs and everything else that makes those looking for a home keep searching.

My first home was a single family, very small home on a back road off of a main road in a suburb of Baltimore. My particular street was not usually affected by crime and the schools at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) were considered pretty good, but not great. My oldest son attended the local elementary school and middle school and seemed to do well. By the time my youngest got to elementary school four years later, he was a minority in his class, whereas my oldest had many white, middle-class classmates in elementary school. The school’s reputation started to decline. The school doors remained locked during the day. Many white families moved. Now, 20 years later, the test scores are abysmal and its ranking out of Maryland elementary schools is in the bottom 5%. (By the way, this is not meant to be a racist rant, it is merely observation)  Even in the planned city of Columbia, MD, where James Rouse’s vision was that all races and socioeconomic classes live nearby each other in “villages”, things have changed for the worse. The least expensive neighborhoods are still unaffordable for many and for those who can afford to live there, crime is a growing concern and the once very good schools are now producing low test scores and there are many more children in poverty. The families who fled our former elementary school 15 years ago probably find themselves in a similar situation now. I know for a fact that one family moved to an area that used to be a low-crime area but now is not.

What is happening to our country? The government can’t create family cohesiveness. As more and more families break down and (yes, I’ll say it) women continue to bear children that they are ill equipped to care for, things are only going to get worse. In my solidly middle class but aging neighborhood, crime is starting to become problematic. Many neighborhoods such as mine, with their 60’s and 70’s era homes and aging populations aren’t attractive to young professionals with children Those who can afford to do so move to bigger homes, farther away from the perceived problem areas.  This is a distinctly different pattern than the way things used to be. Many of my peers grew up in small homes. A lot of mothers stayed home during the day and could comfortably afford to do so.

I may be pining for a simpler time, but I don’t believe that any hard working American should have to live in unsafe conditions. If you are working full time, you should be able to provide for a family. I could go on a tangent now about the rising costs of healthcare, funding for education and raising the minimum wage, but that’s a rant for another day. In the meantime, I hope I haven’t offended too many with this post. These are merely observations, not judgement calls or victim blaming.

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Bucket List

This is on display here in my hometown. There is chalk available and people write in what they wish to do or accomplish before they do. It was interesting to read the wall. Some of the responses were heart breaking, some thought provoking and some just plain silly. Someone had written in F U C K, but someone else came along and changed the F to an R. Just doesn’t have the same meaning, does it? Changing it to a B might have made more sense, I don’t know.

I haven’t really thought about my bucket list, because that tends to depress me, leading me to regrets about things I have not done, rather than focusing on the fact that life is short and opportunities should not be wasted. I didn’t graduate from college. Not even community college. I attended long enough that I should have graduated, but I didn’t. My early adulthood was a hot mess. Depression, anxiety, family struggles and abandonment issues prevented me from making good decisions. So, yes, graduating from college is something I would write on the “Before I Die” wall. There are so many things I could say, but many of them involve other people involved like “have grandchildren” or “move back to my home state.”  I would like to travel to Canada or California, at the very least. I would very much like to see more of this country, especially the west coast and northern states. My “before I die” list is pretty simple. Learn some crafts, go to school, do a little traveling. I am already pretty blessed with the life I have. I try not to take anything for granted.

What would you write on the wall?IMG_1905

Abe the Arachnid

I have never, ever been a fan of spiders. In fact, when I see one, I usually find the nearest heavy object in which to smash them to smithereens. My capacity to actually care about the life of a spider surprised me recently.

My job can be quite solitary. There are people who come in and out, but for all intents and purposes, I work alone most of the time. One morning in May, I noticed what I thought was a Daddy long-legs spider hanging from a web behind the door to my office. Of course, my first reaction was to kill him, but something made me stop and reconsider its life. He (she? it?) wasn’t threatening me and he was actually kind of cute. The next thought I had was to gently put him outside, but even that seemed cruel and heartless. So, Abe (as I named him) stayed. He hung around, literally, for a few days and became part of my space. He was always out in view in the morning, but by the afternoon, he found places to hide, I presumed. One day, Abe wasn’t in his usual spot, but had found a new place not far away, but in a much more open area. I did start to worry that someone else might see him and stomp him, but every morning, he was out and every afternoon, he was hiding again. I looked forward to seeing him. I realize that this sounds crazy. I also started noticing more spiders, so I guess he was procreating. There were at least 4 other spiders taking up residence in the office and I decided to let them all live, even though I was momentarily freaked out every time I saw one in a new place.

Yesterday, I came in to the office late and a co-worker who only comes in occasionally was there. She joyfully declared that she had killed “at least 4 spiders” and I guess she expected praise, but I was mortified and quite saddened. After she left, I looked in all their usual places, but there were no spiders to be found. I mourned Abe and his family and tried to console myself with the fact that they had lived inside the office for almost 2 months.

This morning, out of habit, I looked for Abe and he was there, in his usual place. I can only surmise that he knew he was in danger and ran for his life as fast as his 8 legs could travel.

I hope to see many more little Abes very soon. Does this mean every spider who enters my personal space will be welcomed? Probably not, but this experience has taught me about the infinite capacity to care for even the smallest, most feared among us.

My mother’s politics

My mother is a quiet, reserved person and she would never be described as an activist. She spent her life molding the minds of her students in her many classrooms. She may be quiet, but she has always had strong opinions about things and the way she taught me about them influences me even now.

These days it is not uncommon to see advertisements that feature what I call purposeful role reversal. A father may be folding the laundry or a mother is coaching sports. In the 70’s, there was an ad for Jif peanut butter and the tag line was “choosy mothers choose Jif.” The fact that the commercial insinuated that only mothers choose peanut butter and that you’re not a good (choosy) mother if you don’t choose Jif pretty much outraged my mother. She stuck with her favorite, Peter Pan, thank you very much. She showed me that it was possible to “vote” with your wallet.

Long before conservative Christians began speaking up politically and years before the Moral Majority was formed, my mother was on guard to protect me from certain types of religious indoctrination. Vacation Bible school was forbidden and if a friend invited me to church or youth group, the group/church had to be investigated by my mother. If they had any conservative/prejudiced/evangelical leanings, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend. My churchgoing desires were satisfied by her taking me to a local liberal Episcopal church, where I would be confirmed.

In 2015, same-sex marriage became the law of the land. The first thing my mother said to me about the decision was, “too bad Uncle Max and Charlie aren’t alive to see this.” Uncle Max was her paternal uncle and Charlie was his partner. I knew about Uncle Max and Charlie because my mother was honest about their relationship. In the mid 60’s, most gay people had to keep their orientation a secret even from family members. As a young child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I knew my Great Uncle Max was different, but in my eyes, he and Charlie were just handsome relatives whom we saw at holidays.

My mother is now 75 years old. I love the fact that she has friends of all races and religions. Her strong opinions are something she holds close to her and unless you are family, you might not know about them. As long as you respect her, she will respect you and her political views won’t be discussed among friends. I admire this and strive to emulate her quiet strength.

Enough with the graduations!

I am tempted to temporarily suspend my Facebook account until after graduation season is over.  I just find the constant graduation pictures and celebrations, complete with tears and “my baby is all grown up now” posts too much. First of all, your five year old didn’t graduate from kindergarten. They are moving to 1st grade. Your 8th grader will be a high schooler now. If your 5th grader failed elementary school and has to stay back a year, I’m sorry, but for the rest of the kids moving on, it’s no big deal. Really. One friend of mine actually posted that today was a big day for her daughter as she moved from 9th grade to 10th. Um, not a big deal. Let’s put away the tiny caps and gowns and save the celebrations for graduations that really matter, like high school or college. Enough with the tears and emojis all over Facebook. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. I apologize. It’s been 6 years since my youngest child graduated high school and the oldest one graduated college. I can guarantee that I did not go crazy on social media then, bombarding all who gave a shit with pictures and tears. I posted one picture of each of the high school and college graduations. One. There was not a countdown to the “big day” or collages of the children or side by side comparisons of him as a toddler and him as a graduate.

Why am I so cranky about this? I feel as though I should comment on all of these pictures with appropriate supportive comments such as, “Aw, congratulations to little Johnny” or “I can’t believe she is 10 years old already!” Your child is doing what every child in every school has done everyday for hundreds of years and the fact that they “passed” kindergarten or 5th grade is not necessarily a reason for caps and gowns, diplomas and parties. My youngest son had a rough time in 5th grade. I was happy that he did make it and took him out for lunch on the last day of school. We didn’t have a party and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to participate in any graduation ceremony if the school even had one.

Celebrations are fun. I get it. Some people live for parties and like to make a big deal out of things. The problem I have with all of these “graduation” ceremonies is that when you make a huge deal out of every transition or every childhood growing up step, it diminishes the importance and specialnesss of the ones that really matter. It also teaches the child that simply making it from one grade to the next without failure is really something to be commended. I disagree with that. It is expected. It was expected that I would graduate from high school. (For the record, not a single one of my peers ever had a graduation or ceremony for any graduation except high school and/or college.) Same with my children. I did not feel the need to whoop it up and hoot and holler and when they walked across the stage to get their diplomas. The fact that they graduated was not the reason for celebration, but the recognition that they were no longer public school students and were moving on to the next phase of life, which is adulthood, was certainly a reason to celebrate.

Liberalism gone crazy

When I first moved to the south, I was on the lookout for a group of people that would fulfill my need for spiritual growth. A few years ago, my husband and I attended a screening of Robert Reich’s documentary about the 1% and met many like-minded people. One of those was a local “radical” Presbyterian pastor who not only had his own church, but facilitated a spiritual group for all faiths. I decided to attend this spiritual group and attended a few of their functions. The group meets in an old church in a not so great part of the city. Venturing there alone at night is not really something I feel comfortable doing, so I often had my husband accompany me. Last time we were there, we noticed that they had a strict “no weapons on the premises” policy, which is common here in a concealed carry state. Unfortunately, my husband was carrying his firearm. We felt pretty bad about this, but at the time, we just didn’t know.  During that same function, which was a dinner fundraiser and poetry slam, we were forced to eat vegan because the group’s facilitators are vegans and by darn, shouldn’t everyone be vegan? At the time, husband and I were on a strict low-carb diet and meat was a staple in our diets. Needless to say, we left there feeling very pissed off.

The problem with this place is that they are pushing agendas just like christian fundamentalists. If I agreed with all the tenants of their agendas, I might be okay with it, but I’m not. Yesterday one of their administrators saw a police officer sitting in her car in their back parking lot and asked her to leave because “weapons, badges and uniforms” are against their policies, as they don’t want to make those who fear such “symbols of violence” uncomfortable at their center.  I couldn’t believe it.  They’re basically saying that ex-felons, illegals and minorities matter more to them than other groups and that police officers, who put their lives on the line for THEM and others every day are not welcome unless they are not in uniform and unarmed.

I have contemplated donating a little money to their organization, but I won’t now. I’m actually considering sending them a ripped up check with a note expressing just how foolish and discriminatory they are being.  This, in a place with the words “justice”, “mercy” and “peace” in their name.  Hypocrites and far-left agendas being taken too far.

13 Reasons why…or not

Spurred by a friend’s recommendation, I chose to binge-watch the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” based on the popular young adult novel by Jay Asher. I never read the novel, though I have delved into many YA novels at my ripe old age and that is another post for another time.

“13 Reasons” is the story of Hannah Baker, a teen who has committed suicide. On her last day, she records 13 tapes (yes, cassette tapes) each one aimed at calling out a certain person who contributed to the mess that became her young life. It certainly does become a mess and the ones who are called out have either betrayed her, broken her heart, ditched her as a friend, slut-shamed her, and the biggie, raped her. The web of deceit, lies, betrayals, anger, and dysfunction grows with each episode and with each tape and even though you know that each of the people called out has done something to hurt Hannah, you can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for all of them, bearing shame, guilt, abuse, drugs, alcohol, parental abandonment, you name it. For example, Hannah’s former best friend is raped by a “friend” while passed out. Another friend lives with his druggie mother and her drug dealing boyfriend while attempting to maintain his outward appearance of “big man on campus.”  The tapes are passed around, from person to person, each person who is named on the tapes must listen and then pass the tapes to the next in line.

Meanwhile, Hannah’s parents are trying to figure out why their daughter did this. The protagonist, Clay, is a nice guy who is a former friend and potential love interest for Hannah, but he betrays her as well by not trying hard enough.  It is through Clay listening to the tapes that the viewer finds out about each of the people named on the tapes.

So, you get the picture. I had a huge problem with the premise of this show. Obviously, the friends of Hannah had horrible things going on in their own lives and all of the interactions between these friends are connected in a huge horrible web which supposedly led Hannah to take her own life and her friends who let her down are now left with the tapes, which pretty much blame them for her suicide. The culture of bullying at Hannah’s high school seems like a good subject to tackle, but I’m just not sure the end result of the discussion should have been the suicide of a young girl. The suicide scene is a very graphic depiction and certainly not for the faint of heart. The idea of the tapes is an interesting concept.

This brings me to my teenage  years. (a long time ago)  Has our society really gotten that much meaner and more viciously cruel? I knew MANY people who were bullied. I was bullied.  My brother and I were victims for years. I solved the problem by physically fighting back. What has made kids today so fragile? Is bullying so much worse due to social media? What is it?  I was the victim of a sexual assault at age 12. I knew many girls who were. I had friends betray me and I knew friends who lived through much, much worse without resorting to checking out permanently. When you’re 15 or 16 and your life is in the shitter, it does seem that things will never get better. Kids these days have resources that we never did. So many formerly taboo subjects are now discussed openly: sexuality, transgender people, drugs, alcohol, etc.

I would not recommend this program for any young person. I believe there are better ways of talking with your children about bullying, rape, drugs, alcohol, abuse, sexuality, etc. than this show. Romanticizing and normalizing suicide as an option is not an option.