A Quiet, Clean, Thanksgiving

ottowa-starved-rock-002

 

This Thanksgiving has been the most relaxing one that I have ever had. It has also been the only one where I actually cooked the whole dinner for the household, and while that took some work, there was quite a bit of comfort that came with that control.

When I was a child, my family always put together a large feast, no matter what, and while we had our traditions (that I do hold dear), something about the food I made this year seemed cleaner, and more vibrant. The level of hygiene in our relatively modern suburban apartment kitchen is much higher than that of the 100 year old farm house kitchen of my (later) childhood. The tile and cabinets in that old house were from the 1940’s. One of our double (very chipped) white porcelain sinks was hooked up to a decades old garbage disposal- which was out of commission, and I can guarantee it was never really cleaned out or sanitized after we broke it.

We had mice, crickets, and other various, more minor, vermin, but somehow we managed to never have a roach problem. I would, from time to time, scrub the kitchen with bleach, making everything as white as I could get it, but in a house with three growing children, an elderly person (who shared the mother role with a teenager) and a mother (in the role of a provider and who was always worn out), two ill trained dogs, and a menagerie of passers through, nothing ever stayed clean for more than a day.

My grandfather was the neatest of us, but he was getting too old to keep up with the constant mess making. My mother, who is hopelessly messy, usually only added to the problem. My younger brother and sister were not much for sharing in chore duties. After the dogs used the legs of our kitchen table and chairs as chew toys, any neat and tidy illusion I could create in the kitchen was completely lost.

The dinner itself took place in the dining room.  The house we lived in matched well with the location, as it was on the brink of falling apart. The old couple that sold it to us managed to clean it up and make it look pretty decent. However a growing, rough and tumble family made short work of destroying it.  We did have a nice set of dining furniture, handed down from my great aunts, remnants of a bygone time of near affluence in my family. My great aunts came from the same depression era brood as my grandfather, but with their good looks and sparkling personalities, they were able to marry up a class. The best option my grandfather saw was to become a soldier, and he was eventually shipped off to fight in WWII.

Grandpa managed to become a decorated war hero, which we never knew until after he passed away. He was never proud of being a soldier.  The experience haunted him deeply. He suffered from severe PTSD, which he used alcohol to cure. While he did kick his alcoholism later in life, he never managed to work his way out of poverty. He had a daughter, who began having children while she was still a child. We all used to live in a government funded housing complex for seniors. When they changed the apartment complex into general public housing, transplants from the closing Cabrini Greens housing project in Chicago started moving in. What was once known as Vermilion Gardens eventually came to be known as the VG’s. We started hearing gun shots at night. My mother started coming across used needles and condoms in the parking lot, on almost a daily basis. Now in her early 30’s, she was established enough at her job to buy us a little house on the edge of the good and bad side of town.

So, our little broken family, with nice, antique furnishings would have our more fancy dinners in our beautiful dining room. The carpet was old, ratty, matted brown shag that was popular in the 1960’s. My mother wanted to replace it when we moved in, but never got around to it, I’m assuming because we couldn’t actually afford to do such a thing. While my mother did us a solid by moving us out of that dangerous housing complex, I don’t think that she understood that keeping up a house that you owned, and not rented, took money and time. Because of this, when the already old fittings and furnishings in the house were sullied or broken, they did not get replaced. We trekked around the house, our shoes full of mud and dirt, and it got so you would rather not remove your shoes inside. The dogs were not avidly potty trained, so a faint smell of dog piss was almost always present. We had a little piano, with broken keys, that didn’t make much noise because it needed work. This was also a gift from deceased aunts. It was never worked on, and it became a fine home for some of our many families of mice.

While my grandfather did most of the everyday cooking, my mom seemed to relish in preparing holiday meals. I think he was a bit too frail for heaving around a turkey, as well as spending the hours in the kitchen it took to prepare such a feast. She developed specific methods and recipes that my sister and I carry on religiously. In the morning, you make a cheesy potato dish that my mother refers to as “company potatoes.” There are recipes for this online, but she has her own special way of making it that is perfect. You must brine your turkey, and stuff it with apples, oranges, and spices, not stuffing. (This year we were given a free turkey from my boyfriends side of the family: precooked! I was horrified.) The stuffing must come from a bag, not a box, and you mix it with crumbled breakfast sausage, brown sugar, butter, chicken broth, sage, and maybe some nuts. Relish trays must have whole pickled beets on them, as the sliced ones do not taste as good.

We also ate the other holiday meal staples, like mashed potatoes, and yams, and deviled eggs. We used the nice china that our aunts left us for awhile, until the serving bowls were all broken, and then we just used old margarine tubs. Nothing was wasted in our house, and we saved every bit of plastic and glass that came through the door. We never purchased a single piece of Tupperware. I continued to do this until the practice was shamed out of me by the more cosmopolitan friends I made, after leaving home. Even now, my boyfriend heckles me if I try saving a nice jar that some over priced spaghetti sauce came in.

No, this year, there were no dogs, with long nails and ill manners, scooting underfoot looking for scraps. Our food was served in lovely fiesta-ware vessels; there was not a single up-cycled margarine tub in sight. Heck, there wasn’t any margarine period, as everyone I know now much prefers butter. No mice were skittering in the background. I cooked my meal barefoot, and we ate in the living room, which has clean, new beige carpeting, no one thinks of keeping their shoes or socks on for any reason. We made the stuffing as my mother does, I have already mentioned the turkey outrage, but it wasn’t that bad, really. My yams were fresh instead of canned, and they tasted amazing.

I don’t yearn for those dirty days, but I reflect on them. The nature of my rearing has determined my trajectory for life. It helps me understand why I am where I am today, but what I don’t understand is why the vision of how my life would turn out was so very askew from how it actually did. Not that I would change anything, I would not trade a shred of wisdom gained for any sort of comfort or affluence I might of had if I did the “right” or “better” thing. But still I wonder, where am I going? What is the purpose of my life?

I feel incredibly grateful for the comforts that I have, but there is a nagging feeling that I obtained them at a price. Maybe that price is simply giving up some of my bohemian tendencies. I have experienced so much crazy in my 34 years, I feel like I could write ten books, easy, based on all of the experiences I have lived. It’s a strange feeling for me to even be able to spend a nice holiday weekend inside, because for most of the past decade I’ve spent the holidays working as a commercial horse carriage driver.

I think I can come to see this stage in my life as a quiet resetting of myself. If I am going to write some books, it will be helpful to have a nice, comfortable place to write them in. I have kicked some really bad habits, and I am working on reintroducing more healthy ones back into my life. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to be stable. If anything, I am rebuilding myself for new, and better, adventures.

Facebook

I can always tell when I am spending too much time on Facebook. We’ve all read the articles: Facebook causes depression. Comparing ourselves to glorified versions of our friends, coworkers, and former classmates is a bad idea. Yet, I find myself compulsively checking my news feed, more and more, looking for a little nugget of acknowledgement or approval. I become addicted to validation.

And then after realizing that no one is paying any attention to me, I catch myself judging other people, sneering silently, or, when feeling pressed to create some attention for myself, I may even leave a snarky comment. Of course there is the other side of the coin; when I can tell others to think me inferior, or when I feel like something I said or posted was misunderstood.

Social media is a weird, weird world. I’ve had a rocky go at Facebook from the start. I made a late transition from Myspace. One of my friends had to help me figure out what the point was. Sometimes, it’s awesome. I used to have a really interesting, picturesque job. That was a great time for me on Facebook, it was great to share all of my fun photos and experiences. But aging, changing to a more low key method of bill paying, and difficulties in my personal life have made it significantly less thrilling to share myself on social media. I have changed my life so much that my circle has drastically shifted, and shrank. I have had to unfriend and block many people. Accidentally happening on posts or comments from of these now “non-friends” stirs up uncomfortable feelings. I am still Facebook friends with people who wouldn’t have a real conversation with me in real life.

I started this post before the election. Since we now have a new president, social media has gotten even more twisted.I really thought that after the election, things would quiet down, but was I ever wrong.

I am inspired though, to become a more politically active person. I think one of the best uses for social media is to argue politics with other people. By that I mean engage in active conversations, not post fake, inflammatory, memes and stories. (That’s called propaganda FYI, and it’s nothing new.)

So here’s hoping for an engaged 2017, where I will worry more about who I am and what I stand for than how cool I appear to be compared to my friends.

Blessings!

rose_leaf

While working on my novel this morning, I began drawing from my experiences as a french horn player in the school band. I chose to play french horn because the school provided it. My mom was never going to buy me a musical instrument, we were too poor. This is usually my train of thought: I didn’t get this or that, be it the attention I needed, the lessons I needed, I didn’t get to pick what I actually wanted to play because we were poor, blah, blah. Then I realized- my school had a band, and an orchestra! I got to play (albeit badly) in them. I was there, I did it. My grandfather did not even get to go to high school because his family was so poor, it was the great depression. Many schools today don’t have music programs because they can’t afford them. I am lucky!

It paradigm has shifted… I’m almost dizzy. I really need to stop taking my experiences for granted. I have blessings.

Into the World of a Living Wage

brick_smokestack

Yesterday was my final day of work at my minimum wage job. Monday I start working some place new. I switched jobs because the pay; even with all of the fabulous vacation time and insurance and 401K, $8.25 simply isn’t enough to allow me any living beyond my basic necessities. I stayed for four months, hoping for a raise or promotion. Most of the people there do not speak fluent English, or have even a high school education. The only language that I can say I speak is English. I have some education beyond high school, and even some work experience that, in my eyes, would make me a good prospect for a leadership position. I gave my best effort, and was told often that I was very smart, and I felt incredibly valued there. My coworkers loved me, I have made many good memories working with them, and even though we could not always communicate verbally, we came to know each other.

The only person who made me feel vaguely unwelcome was my supervisor. Besides myself, he was the only other white person in the department. I think that the company keeps the assembly department staffed with people who don’t speak English, and/or who aren’t educated, with purpose; this means they have an excuse to keep paying them a dismal wage. The more apparent my capability became, the more uncomfortable he seemed to be with me, and I really feel that although he paid me many compliments and was very kind when I left my notice, he was relieved in some sense.

This would only be the third time in my life (and out of probably 20 or so jobs) that I have left a notice. Usually I am terrible with goodbyes. A recent boss baited me with raises and promotions, and said everything he could think of to make me feel guilty, until I agreed to stay on. Said job, and many others, I have disappeared from, leaving tearfully, in some kind of conflict. Handling the social awkwardness of quitting is a new skill in my tool kit. I can say that making the effort to properly disembark has paid off.

It took four months for the employment agency to get back to me with something worthwhile. I applied there before I began working this most recent job. They only had second of third shift positions available for me, and I am done working nights. So I agreed to sign on at the company where my boyfriend works. Whenever they need people (which is often), he mentions something to me, but I never went for it, because what person over the age of sixteen wants to make minimum wage? I’ll tell you who, a desperate person- when it was harder than I anticipated to find something reasonable, I said okay to $8.25, eight hour days with no overtime (aside from the occasional Saturday), air conditioning, a chair to sit down in, paid vacation, and health insurance. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good deal considering the easiness of the work.

I received a call from the employment agency a couple of days ago. I didn’t anticipate anything worthwhile, but I thought that I would at least see what they had. It turned out to be $12.00/ hour, and first shift. I had to agree to come in on Monday (three working days away), or they would give the job away to someone else.

After I took a drug test and went over the specifics with the manager at the employment agency, I was on my way to tell my current boss that I would not be there on Monday. I had intense butterflies in my stomach; I had no idea how he would react.

He was understanding, and said that I did a good job and that they would miss me. But it really didn’t appear to bother him at all… like I said I think he prefers to keep the department homogeneously immigrant.

My other coworkers were surprisingly emotional. Tears welled up in their eyes, and mine in turn, as I explained to them the best that I could that I would no longer be working with them. I had no idea they are as fond of me as I am of them. They asked, “more money?” and I nodded in response. They are happy for me, and proud of me. They told me that I am so smart, a very good worker, and that I am sure to succeed in my new endeavor. The more matronly ladies made sure to tell me how sweet I am, that I am very cute and have beautiful eyes, and that they love me. I made a giant batch of cupcakes for my last day, and they fed me lunch when I realized that I hadn’t made myself one because I spent all night and morning baking and frosting.

I have never had such a send off. I have learned the value of taking time to say good bye. And I will miss those people. They were so kind and welcoming to me, and so proud and grateful to be here in America.

 

 

Life on Mend, Choosing a Reality

Fountain_Daley_PlazaI’ve felt another writer’s block start to creep up on me over the past week. Life has been going pretty well: my novel grows in spurts, when I can find the time and energy to get up in the small hours of the a.m. to add to it. I am a morning creative, and since my day job starts at seven, I have to get out of bed extremely early to catch that good energy. Blessings in the form of new ideas for big stories have graced me with their inspiring favor. But, I’ve also been feeling fear along with the inspiration.

The library has been good for me. We have a nice one in the suburb where I reside. It’s not massive and beautiful like the Chicago library, but also it doesn’t need security guards nor does it smell like piss. I’ve found books there to help me with the more technical aspects of the art. This is quelling the apprehension a bit, but I am still finding it difficult to polish off my characters and scenes. In me is a terrible habit of writing all of my stories in the past tense, and the different perspectives are challenging concepts for me.

Besides the stress I am creating for myself with this wild dream of being a writer, life is pretty grand. My only other issue is that I don’t have the kind of funds to keep up the kind of hobbies I would like to, but that’s a pretty common complaint among the underclass, to be sure. Sometimes the issue is not so much the money, but that I don’t want to experience the activity alone. I’ve lived plenty of life alone… I want someone to share my observations with. You would think that since I have a boyfriend, this might not be such an out of reach idea. Sadly, he doesn’t like to do some of the things I do, especially any activities that are outside of the house. He’s great to live with, and I can get him to go out to eat, or maybe see a movie, but unless it’s something well within the confines of his interests, he’s content to stay sitting at his computer. I could throw a fit and guilt him into say, attending a jazz festival, but why would I torture him like that?

No, it is not fair for me to rely on him for all of my socialization. What I need are some friends. Unfortunately, I have alienated my more healthy friends and consciously distanced myself from the less healthy ones. I don’t know if the idea of making new friends is more or less scary than the idea of writing novels.

Beyond all of this, I am trying to find happiness is the life that I have lived, and in the quiet predictability of the life I have in front of me. I didn’t know that I was evading reality all of those years, and I am still learning, or maybe deciding, what reality is.

An Effort to Feel Well as an American

Petrified_Wood

Sometimes, I listen to NPR while I work.

Eight hours of public radio on the daily is sending my political identity through loop-de-loops. I’m more feminist now than I ever have been, which other women have told me happens as you age. It takes some time to figure out just how ingrained the biases in society are. It’s unsavory to think about, and hard to accept.

Being a feminist  doesn’t make me a democrat or a liberal. I used to identify as libertarian, but I don’t know if that is true anymore.

When I hear pieces related to class on the radio, my political feels really go haywire. Journalists go on adventures into marginalized, minority neighborhoods, and do interviews with the people who live there, especially those who are trying to make changes for the better. They talk to lower class white people in rural Ohio, and ask them who they are voting for and why. And they do this with seeming heartfelt concern, passion. But, sometimes, I sense some condescension.

The people who speak on these radio shows are well educated. I don’t know for a fact that none of them have had a poor upbringing, but I get the feeling as I am listening to these programs, while they are talking about the insignificant, low class, low income, low education factory worker (ahem: ME), they are, in their own heads, speaking of an “other”. Maybe the people of color who live in those neighborhoods feel this way too, maybe they feel like, “Oh look, that’s nice, some white guy has shown up to do an interview to make himself look like a caring person, then he packs it up and goes home. That’s cute.”

I’m not saying that these journalists do not truly care about the plight of the poor. I just wish that we could speak for ourselves; that we would not be not so helpless. The community needs to stand up and speak for itself, because there are without a doubt people smart enough, in any underprivileged community, to be able to communicate with the world at large what is going on there. The journalist just visiting the underprivileged neighborhood is really just slumming. They may care, but who they care about inside of their own heads is not an “us,” it’s a “them.”

Why aren’t there more articulate lower class people speaking out for themselves? To be a journalist, you have to be educated. Being educated means more than getting student loans or grants or scholarships. It means being supported, to be a student you need community. Illness, children, and even sabotaging family members can get in the way of a person struggling to attend school. If your family members have never been to college, they cannot help you to navigate the system of financial aid, to understand what will cause you to lose that aid, or what may be pitfalls of unnecessary debt. If a poor person manages to earn a bachelor’s degree, it is worth less, and does not mean that a network is in place to assure that an individual will reach their highest potential.

You need credentials to speak, with authority, not as a guest, on the radio. I think that too many members of society walk around thinking that you need credentials just to justify your existence. What does it even mean to reach your highest potential? I don’t know a single person who would prefer living on welfare to working. Is it too much to treat members of society, who work in jobs that don’t require education, with respect?

Last week I heard some economic blowhard journalist talking, in a very snarky tone, how manufacturing jobs “are never coming back.” Oh really? Apparently this guy is a psychic. I understand why so many of our goods- and even services- are being rendered over seas: Americans want to be paid a decent wage and don’t want to be worked like a slave. It’s wonderful that our history has included a few high points, and labor laws are one of the things I think we, as Americans, can be proud of. Americans need to push it to the next level. Our society should demand that we have goods produced locally if reasonable, because it does not make sense that crap made thousands of miles away costs less than if the same crap were made down the street. I’m not talking about things that are purchased for the sake of craftsmanship, that’s different, (and should be addressed too, but that’s a separate issue) but the main concern is the bulk of the goods bought and sold in our economy. If you can have a factory continents away, employ workers and buy materials there, and somehow still save money shipping the final product all the way over here, then more than just a few people in this supply chain are getting the shaft. And those people are the workers who are used and abused in countries that don’t bother to have labor laws, as well as the Americans who don’t have it in them to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a bartender, and would just like a decent job, with decent hours, and decent pay.

Donald Trump may say that he has every intention of making that happen for us, but I don’t trust him not to get our country blown to smithereens. Hillary Clinton has some nice blurbs on her website about increasing the number of factory jobs with some kind of program… but I highly doubt that if she gets elected that she will ever actually address the issue while in office.

It’s not really up to Trump or Clinton to make these things happen for us. It’s not up to the snotty journalists on NPR. Do you know who listens to news journalists? Rich people. They even brag about how affluent their audience is! Society acts like there is some kind of sin associated with being “blue collar.” Happiness doesn’t just magically happen for rich people, or for educated people. Those folks are not “better” or dare I say it, worth more, than someone poor and uneducated! Being a good and decent person matters more- far more- than being book smart or wealthy.

 

 

A Poem, Life on the Fritz

I came across this poem while looking through my writing. I was living in a hotel room, with my sister, just after a stay in the hospital.

phone 043

Sitting in the bathtub. Hotel bathtub motivation. Hotel bathtub meditation. Living day to day, hand to mouth, the old
cliche.

Trying for the right thing. Telling myself it’s going to be alright, no matter the outcome. Any job will do. Spending more
because we have less. Settling for less because we want more. Connecting the dots from then to now, and desperately
wanting it to make sense.

God please let us get this apartment. God please show me the way. Does it make me weak, that I don’t like making certain
decisions for myself? Being self possessed usually gets me into trouble. My choices often don’t work out the way I intend.
I learn from the mistakes, but if mistakes are my teacher, and they are bound to happen, does it really matter which
direction I let the river take me in? Paddling against it is tiring, and it stresses me out. I don’t want to drown.
Is it too much to ask, just to want to stay floating?

Certain things will not do. Certain people must stay. While we choose who to commit to, others are lost in the choice.