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.


  1. Jen you are amazing. You're doing all the right things and it has to pay off in the long run. Your mom has an incredible support in you. If we all could be so lucky someday.
    It really is hard to make a living these days. I think a lot of people are feeling it. We certainly have. At the Chalk on the Walk recently we all wondered who can afford to shop there.
    So glad you have good people to work with.Good karma must be heading your way. (Right???) In the meantime good for you for savoring your gift mood. Not that I know how you even find the time.

  2. Hola, Elder Mitchell! How did an LDS missionary find my blog??

  3. Oh my heck, are you April's son???

  4. Also, the above comment is not from Nathaniel. It's his mother April Mitchell:) I'm just an idiot and can't figure out how to switch users when I'm logged into the blog I keep for him on his mission. You may already remember Joanne was my grandma so your dad was my uncle.

  5. I'm so happy that yesterday was a better one for you. I didn't know about the new preposition rule. That's mind blowing. Truly.

    Which jobs do you go to on Saturday? I hope it's another good one today. XOXOX

  6. Jen, I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your words. I love the blatant honesty (for which I remember you well, by the way, and have always respected very much indeed), and also the optimism. I say optimism because even in the face of a lot of challenge and difficulty, you write in such a way that shows that none of us are alone in our trials. I think that the reaching out, the speaking of "that which shall not be spoken" is incredibly brave, and necessary. I've watched family members and friends go through what you're experiencing, and it terrifies me. Some of what they have gone through is a result of decisions they've made (both good and bad), and some is crappy bad luck...and even in my fear that this could easily happen to me (all it takes is a broken ankle to sideline a foodserver for six weeks), one thing you wrote deeply resonates: unless my entire family and group of close friends somehow disappear, I'll never be hungry, homeless or alone. This is also what makes me angriest about the rhetoric out there painting people who can't pay their bills as being lazy, and that it's always their fault, their failure. Maybe it is sometimes...people make mistakes, bad decisions, abuse substances, etc...sure they do. But I think mostly, people are doing their level best, and not everyone has a safety net of family and friends who would never let them be homeless. Not everyone has a fallback of supporters who love them and care what happens to them. And I think that those of us who do have those things have no right to judge or demean or shame those who's not a level playing field out there. It's just not.