Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesdays and Thursdays always make me feel like I'm running all day. The day starts at Department Store unloading the truck, so I'm there by 7:15. Even if the truck is late (and it is always late, by an hour or more, these days), we have plenty to do to get ready for it, so I usually click into fast mode and start moving merchandise. That pretty much sums up what we do there: We move stuff. Of course, there is a lot more thought into where we move it to than that sounds like, but I'm mostly the brawn of this operation. I am not great at looking at a set of tables and T-shirts and deciding how to make them look better, but I can move the table and shirts for you. Anyway, compared to teaching, which mostly involves pacing for me (and hunting for my chalk), and compared to copy editing (let's face it: that's just sitting), Department Store job is pretty active. I have been back working on the since school started, whereas before I was primarily in charge of making sure all the signs in the store were accurate (a never-ending job), so it has taken me a few weeks to get used to how tired my body has been. I am getting less tired now, but these are definitely long days for me.

Also, today is payday, so I need to go grocery shopping after work. Usually, there is nothing that irritates me more, but since I have actual money today, I'm happy to go. Then, I'm going to hear a speaker at 7:30, so my evening is pretty much chewed up by groceries, cooking dinner, and the speaker, but that's ok tonight.

I used to be a night owl. I'd be up til 1:00 a.m. every night, just because. I mean, I was doing this right up til I started at Department Store. But I'm not a spring chick anymore, and if I tried to do this schedule on 5 or 6 hours of sleep, I... I wouldn't be able to do it. I'd get sick. I'd be so tired I couldn't copy edit. So, last night I was in bed by 9:36, and lately, even on weekends, staying up til 11 p.m. is pushing it. But even so, I napped for a half hour between jobs today at lunch. So, I'm starting to feel like I'm living to work instead of working to live. I need to find something to look forward to. It's more challenging these days. In the past, I'd plan a trip, even a little weekend getaway, but right now, things are too tight. There is a light at the end of all of this-- it won't always be this tight. But right now, I need to deal with the money in the bank, not the promise of a different future.

But it's amazing what you adjust to: Sometimes the thing you look forward do is that you are going to forego coffee for a few mornings, but then when you stop and get a mocha, it's a real treat. And actually, sometimes these days, the treat is taking the occasional Sunday off so I get a two-day weekend.

I just now remembered something I used to say for years when I didn't really have to think about how much money was in the bank: I buy used furniture and used cars. For me, the lap of luxury was being able to dine out (or order in) frequently, and go to the bookstore and not limit the amount of books I got at one time. I remember saying,

"I don't want to get to the point where those things don't feel like treats to me, because if those things are always treats, I'll always kind of be all right."

And to some extent that is true-- but dammit, I want my books and takeout, LOL. It's hard to get used to so little financial wiggle room, but water seeks its own level. You adjust. You get creative. You start to figure out why people buy in bulk.

Last winter, I was hanging out with my friend Jamie on day, and all we were doing was talking and listening to music or watching TV and drinking wine. He said, "What would you be doing tonight if money were not an issue?"

"This." I told him. "This is what I was doing when money wasn't an issue."

And that felt really good.

I'm not writing about any of the things I'm thinking about-- I have a million things jumbling around in there, tossing around like socks in the dryer, but when I sit down to write, a few of the socks go missing. It might surprise you how much I think about social justice. Because I am teaching a freshman writing class, I am always thinking about what is going on in our world, and how to link that back to critical thinking. Right now, we are critiquing education. I feel so passionately about the shit I'm talking to them about, but I don't know how much of it is sinking in. I asked them the other day what an allegory was. A pond of blank faces stared back at me. I had to bite my tongue from crowing, "I love freshman! You don't know anything!" But it is kind of a big responsibility to realize how little these kids know. And that my job is to try to teach them how to think. Talking about thinking is trickier than you might think because it all gets so meta that it gets hard to unpack it all.
I recall, though, that there are usually a few weeks every semester where I feel like my class is a big mess, a pumpkin with its guts coming out of its mouth, but by the end, everything sort of comes together. Usually. Hopefully.

But my brain is tired now, and I have more work to do, so I'll close for now.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deer Crossing and other musings [Updated 9/30/14]

Today is better. I don't have any idea why. Nothing has changed significantly. But I do think that when my mom said that her brother wanted to know what was going on, she meant that he wanted to know the account and phone numbers to get her cable turned on. I texted him the information during my lunch hour, and set my mom up with her kindle (it has never really been used. we got it for her three years ago right after my dad died, but she has trouble with electronics and seeing tiny, all-black buttons on a black background is a problem) and the audio book of Outlander, which she is watching. I don't know whether she will try it out or not. If I were a betting woman or playing Pat Bingo, I'd say she will not. But at least I gave her the option to.

I feel good about these things, but I was already in a better mood. Some days, I am physically exhausted, or feel off-- stomach or head upset-- so on days when I feel energetic, no wonky upsets or back pain (note to self: Never again unload 5 pallets by yourself. Never. Again), I really notice it and it is easy to be in a good mood. As I told Sam today at lunch, "I'm not going to look a gift mood in the mouth."

This morning I talked with my students a little about examples of foreshadowing in The Matrix, telling them, "Learning how to read the clues laid out in front of you will ruin entertainment for you for the rest of your life, but it's a neat party trick."

Dissecting things can ruin them. So there endeth the conversation about mood.

It is difficult to feel blue on a beautiful day, though.

I love college campuses. I can't help it. I am drawn to living within walking distance of them the way some people are drawn to the ocean or the desert.

Regarding yesterday's post, well, of course I'm still thinking about it. But I think I should also point out my own good fortune. I am complaining about being broke and not being able to meet my bills, but I honestly think that I am at full capacity right now: An adult working three part-time jobs in America should be able to pay their bills. I know-- that is crazy. But one of the reasons I decided to start just writing about it is that I'm tired of feeling ashamed or embarrassed. I hate to admit that Republican rhetoric gets to me, but it does. It's funny that most of the people who seem to think that unemployed Americans are just lazy and opting not to work are the working poor like me, but I think they look at their own lives and wonder why other people cannot do the same. There are so many factors: Mental illness, lack of education, lack of support, lack of childcare, a youthful indiscretion that now makes employment both mandatory and impossible to get, illiteracy, lack of qualifications, lack of available jobs. I am also writing about it because the number of people I know who are experience this bone-crushing poverty even with two adults working in the household is far larger than it used to be. Perhaps it is the company I keep. However, what I am reading in the media tells me that I'm not wrong. But nobody wants to admit it. Because we feel that we have failed. Even though that is not true, that is how we feel.

Back to the good fortune though: My poverty is largely driven by my geography and my decision to stay in this location for my children. And also, now, for my mother, because another move would be very confusing for her and very difficult on her physically. We moved her one floor up in her apartment building last year, and that was a hard adjustment for her. I dread thinking of the other, inevitable moves that we're facing. But I am not in denial about them.

However, used to think that if I were in a larger city, there would be more job opportunities available, and they would come with salaries commensurate with my degree and years of experience. I have a lot of safety nets: I have friends and family, I have my education, my upbringing and experience. And for awhile, I thought I had the possibility of a career in a new location. However, I may be wrong about this being mainly about geography, given what I am hearing about the economy nation wide.

Even so, good fortune: I have three jobs, but they are also three jobs I *like.* I enjoy my co-workers like crazy. If you had asked me five years ago whether I would enjoy working with a bunch of women, I would have insisted that it was impossible. However, that seems to be specific to some of the jobs I had in the past. I work with the funniest, smartest, kindest people-- and almost all of us are struggling. But talk about resiliency-- these women make me laugh until I cry about the absurdity of the situation in which we currently find ourselves (by the way, Chicago Manual of Style says we don't have to worry about ending sentences with prepositions anymore, but I find it a hard habit to break). One of my co-workers at the department store (which I love. I absolutely love. Honestly, it is one of the best jobs I have ever had. I have learned exponentially about how to put together shelving, how to use and load machinery I have never seen or used before, but also, again, the people I work with are phenomenal) and I always say when we are clocking out, "Time to go to my other job now." But we are both in the same boat, and that makes it a little better. And there are a lot of other people in this boat.

If you know me in person, you can probably see me knocking my knuckles on my head while looking around, even though I know there is no wood in my office.

Other good fortune: The boys (of course, do I really even need to mention them? they are so important they seem beyond mention, but I do, because I'm a wuss who thinks I need to make sure everybody knows that); I have pets! In the face of this, I am keeping some furry purries warm, safe, and fed. Maybe I shouldn't have pets, but they predate my situation, so I'm not going to kick them out.

I own my house, I have enough food, I have electricity and running water. And I am not joking about being grateful for each and every one of those things, because I know people who do not have any of those things. Who no longer have cars, who are hoping it doesn't get cold too soon, who have to choose which meal to eat, and which day to eat it. I know them. I am friends with some of them. I see them, and I admire their strength for getting out of bed and putting on clothes and getting on with it every day. You see them too, but one of the things I've learned is that just as people who have money don't discuss it with those who do not, those of us who are cherry picking the bills don't discuss it with people who have disposable income. We don't want you to think that a) we have failed; b) that we want you to give us money. Please. Please don't do that and don't think that; c) that we want your pity. It's easier to pretend we are all on the same playing field. And boy does a departmental store clothing discount go a long way toward leveling that field.

It's funny, because when I didn't worry about how much money was in the bank, really, just sort of knew that I wasn't running out, because there was enough and I have never really had exorbitant spending habits, and it hasn't been that long ago, I didn't care as much about my appearance. I was much more willing to wear exercise clothes or sweats-- I didn't care if people thought I looked poor, because I knew I wasn't. Now, I dress up more, I wear makeup more often, do my hair more often, because I don't want people to think I look poor. Isn't that funny? I didn't realize that I was doing this until this morning.

So, I am going to write about this. Because I have a voice. And I am going to speak for me and I am going to speak for all of our friends and neighbors who can't speak about it. They need a voice. We need to express it. When I was in high school, I heard statistics like, "One in ten people are gay." We would always look around us, as if trying to guess which one of us it was, and it was almost as if it were a disease we were afraid of catching. Poverty is very much like that. And when it became safe(r) for gay people to talk about it, we discovered that they had been quietly living among us the whole time.

So are the invisible poor, my friends. So are the invisible poor.

One final note, because, whew, this isn't exactly a quick read, is it? When I read first read about this, it infuriated me. John Boehner says that

“I think this idea that’s been born out the last – maybe out of the economy last couple of years that, ‘You know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this, I think I’d just rather sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”

I want to put my hands around his neck and squeeze. Because I know he knows that isn't true. The article continues to pinpoint what makes me so angry about this:

But Boehner has offered a peek behind the curtain – the Republican argument isn’t about economics, so much as it’s about personal animosity. The Speaker and his allies seem to think there’s something wrong, and perhaps even offensive, about families struggling to get by.
It’s part of the same phenomenon that leads GOP officials to demand drug tests for those relying on the safety net. If you need a hand keeping your head above water, it may very well be the result of a drug addiction. If you want a job and can’t find one, the argument goes, the problem is almost certainly your fault – it’s because you’d “rather sit around” than work.
It stems from a school of thought that says many social-insurance programs shouldn’t exist because struggling Americans are lazy and simply don’t deserve public assistance.
My friends, a few years ago, I was listening to Car Talk on NPR, when an upset woman called in. She was upset because she had hit a deer and wrecked her car. However, the thing she was upset about was this: She wanted to know why there was a Deer Crossing sign at that point in the highway, because that is a very high-traffic area. She thought that it was irresponsible and dangerous to place the Deer Crossing sign there, and suggested it ought to be moved to areas with less traffic.

Blink. Blink blink.

John Boehner, sweetie, they don't put up the Deer Crossing signs for the deer.

Edited:  One of my former students asked me to unpack my analogy a little more (i.e., what the hell are you saying, Jen?), and this is what I said:
He [Boehner] sees unemployed Americans and thinks that there must be jobs out there that they are refusing because they would rather sit around-- he doesn't acknowledge that lack of available jobs (or many other factors) and our whole political and economic structure is a bigger reason for unemployment, so the poor do need assistance. So, Boehner is behaving like the woman who thinks that Deer Crossing signs tell the deer that they can cross there, so such signs shouldn't be in high - traffic areas, not realizing that the sign is there to warn motorists that deer tend to cross there. Her objection to the sign is based on her thinking that the sign is somehow instructive or permissive for the deer themselves. My twisted analogy is that there is a somewhat warped interpretation of cause and effect going on in both cases.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Confronting a big societal taboo

Money is the last taboo. I am going to be covering topics like this and dating and sex. I have silenced myself for years because I felt I couldn't write about the things that absorb most of my attention. If you are uncomfortable with these topics, feel free to stop reading now. 

I have led a very privileged life for most of it. What has been eye-opening to me has been the discovery that before I was really poor-- and I define this as having to play a game I call "bill roulette" every month: Do I pay the electric bill or buy groceries and insulin?-- before I experienced this firsthand, I admit that I enjoyed my privilege. The eye-opening part is how much that I thought I would always have it. Ah, hubris. You get me every time.

This month has been bad because I haven't gotten my first paycheck for teaching yet. And because I am teaching, I am earning less at JCP. So anyway, my mom helps out a lot with groceries and this month we got hit particularly hard, so her money ran out last weekend. I had put money into my household account for electricity, but I moved that into my groceries account. So, my mom's cable got shut off. 

Quel disastre. I am not even kidding.  All and any attempts to get my mother to do word puzzles, read, crochet, jigsaw puzzles-- something besides watch tv-- have failed. So, not having cable is a pretty huge deal. I got out my cornucopia of other activities and asked her just to hold on til Tuesday.
Nope. She called my uncle this morning and asked him to pay the cable bill, and then she called me and told me my uncle wants to know what is going on. 

I don't know. I have three jobs and I can't make my monthly bills. I am stretched pretty thin right now, so I don't know that a fourth job is feasible.

So, I feel like a pretty big fuckup. Where did I make the wrong turn? Marrying at 22? Staying home with my kids for 7 years and no income? Staying in Missouri? Two divorces? Taking 6 months off to take care of my dad and not working and watching my client emails dry up? I went to college and got a master's degree. I foolishly thought for most of my life that I would always be privileged. I am glad I'm not. I am a humbler person for it. But I don't want my mom and kids to suffer for it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Read-Through

It was 2004 when I first started my blog. That was at jenorama.blogspot.com  Then I got Moveable Type and a domain name and moved to jenorama.com. I found it difficult to blog there because the blog reminded me so much of my friend Karl, with whom I had originally started blogging. Karl passed away in August 2008, and it is the first time I have experienced a death that reverberates through my life even today.

I have recently been thinking about taking up blogging again, so here it is. I decided to return to this blog, because even though I chronicled taking care of my father until his death of melanoma in June 2011, it's been long enough (hey, I stopped blogging in about June 2011-- coincidence?) that I can write here comfortably. And I am tired of sprinkling blogs through the Internet.

One of the reasons I decided to start blogging again is that I have so much going through my head every day that I feel like my head might spin off if I don't try to get some of this out and organized. It's like my closet: I have clothes, but I don't know where all of them are all the time. So, I have been taking them out of my closet, laundry baskets, and drawers, and trying to organize them so I can dress for work more easily in the morning. It has actually been somewhat slow going, and this blog is going to be sort of like that.

I have also been inspired by my friend Bibi's recent return to blogging, too. I find myself looking forward to her updates, which is surreal, because I haven't really read/written blogs for quite some time. It seems like at one point we were all doing it, and then Facebook sort of eliminated the need to blog as a way to keep in contact with people, so gradually we all left off. And by "we were all" and "we all left off," I mean the five people I can think of who used to blog and now don't. I wouldn't want to generalize beyond that.

I left Kirksville in January 2011 to stay with my father in Utah during his illness, and so, not being in town, I didn't see very many people I used to see out and about.  But even after my permanent return to town in May of 2011 (I moved my parents here, and then my father died), I have been relatively reclusive. During my first marriage, I honestly did not know what it felt like to feel comfortable or happy in my own home. I remember Sam's first grade teacher telling me that she loved being at home so much, it was hard for her to leave. I really could not put myself in her place. But my life has changed now, significantly, and now I really would rather be at home than anywhere else. Even having to go to the grocery store really irritates me, though you wouldn't know it to run into me.

I'm a cheerful person. I am cheerful by nature. I joke around a LOT. I love to laugh. But I wouldn't say that I am a happy person or a content person.

Recently, I listed the ten most influential books on me, and I included Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women. Part of why I love these books is that they show people displaying incredible grace under pressure. And that has always been an admirable trait to me. However, I don't know that I am capable of grace under pressure. Sure, I'm capable of being polite, courteous, funny, compassionate, but I feel sort of broken. I have no ambition, and no hobbies. And very little interest in either. I feel like I am going through the motions of my life, but I haven't felt very engaged with it for years. Instead, I feel like I try to escape into my head so far that I'm not really left in the real world. I have recently gotten into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so the line from "Can't Stop" iterates on repeat: "This life is more than just a read-through."

But I can't seem to get past the read-through part. I worry that I am wasting time, years, because I should be interested in more, doing more, participating actively in life more. The other day, I was smoking a cigarette outside of work (I have three jobs, and smoke at one because I have a pack of cigs to finish off-- I have, for the most part, quit and switched to my e-cigarette). One of my co-workers told me, "Aw, Jen, those are going to kill you," and I glibly replied, "That's the point!"

But I'm not really being glib. Life has been... difficult, crushing, abusive, good, ecstatic, complicated, up, down, whatever. But it hasn't really been all that. I find that it's like a movie or a book that I think is going to be really smart and satisfying and then I am left slightly unsatisfied and want to eat ice cream instead so I'll feel better. I worry that I will regret this attitude and my paralysis, my inactivity. However, then I think that even when I regret it, it won't be for long, because then I'll die and I won't have to worry about this crap anymore.