Mi mamá me mima mucho

“Mi mamá me mima mucho”—a silly tongue twister that I use to have my students studying Spanish practice the five vowel sounds.  We practice it slowly, emphasizing the tight, precise pronunciation of the vowels; then we practice it with speed, attempting a fluidity we hope to capture over time.  We use this easy tongue twister at the beginning of class for the first week or so, and I tell the students that they can call me, stop by my office, or find me around campus to recite it perfectly for extra credit.  Like most tongue twisters, the emphasis is on the sound, not the meaning.  Nevertheless, the “my mother spoils/pampers me a lot” meaning of this tongue twister has kept entering my mind over the past few weeks.  While I am not entirely comfortable writing about my mother being sick or my feelings of gradual, and now imminent, loss, I also feel like I can’t write about anything else right now.  Not about terrible governance, unfettered violence, bad politics, or rife social injustice.  There will be no informative links today, no self-assured comments about everything I know I’m right about.  I mostly just need to keep raining, at least for a little while, even if this isn’t really the point of the Gender Shrapnel Blog.

Last week I dreamt of being chased by a large bear, whose cubs seemed underfoot the whole time I ran.  I ended up in a beautiful treehouse enclosed by glass, scrambling to an uppermost branch which appeared also to be a coffee table.  As I peered down from this perilously high perch, the cubs were playfully trying to join me, and the mother bear was nowhere in sight.  When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t shake the dream.  I kept mulling it over, ignoring the obvious signs of what the dream was trying to work out.  When I googled “dreaming of being chased by animals” and “dreams about bears,” the quick results managed to take me by surprise and bring a fresh well of tears to my eyes.  I was dreaming about my mother, worried about her cubs, one of which I was (or am).  I was dreaming about slow decline and hospice and loved ones and fear and loss.  I was dreaming about this end stage of life that is such a challenge for us and those around us.  I was dreaming about our perilous perches that barely hold us against the devastation and desperation of the biggest loss of our lives.  I suspect I was dreaming, too, about my own fear of death.

After I gathered myself and moved towards getting work done, images of the dream kept returning, and with them came some kind of odd release.  Suddenly I experienced memory after memory of my mother, who is still here with us, and I gloried in these memories.  My mother casing a thrift shop for great looks and bargains.  My mother as the matron of honor in her youngest sister’s wedding.  My mother with a knife in her hand, looking threatening as the dog took off with one of the 24 sandwiches made for that day’s lunches.  My mother pulling me into a hug after I had a tough day at school.  My mother dressing up for her first day back at work.  My mother in the laundry room on Fairhill Road, surrounded by racks of drying jock straps and baskets of freshly folded laundry.  My mother testing me on vocabulary words for school.  My mother’s ankles creaking as she walked up the steps to tell us all to get to bed, that she had had it.  My mother’s eyes narrowing dangerously as she heard someone mention “a dumb football player,” with her sharp words not far behind, wondering aloud why people don’t talk about dumb tuba players.  My mother going to Europe for the first time at the age of 70.  My mother at 72 climbing the Segovia tower and vowing to learn Spanish.  My mother serving another homemade birthday cake to another excited child.  My mother looking beautiful for a party.  My mother telling us we couldn’t watch t.v., and giving us a list of things we could do (“You may talk with your brothers and sisters.  You may do a puzzle.  You may bake a cake.  You may play a game.  You may knit a scarf.  You may read a book.  You may do an extra credit project for school.  But you may not watch t.v.”).  My mother giving my father a good morning kiss.  My mother saying that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all (we have had several debates about that one since).  My mother holding my husband’s and my firstborn and our second-born and helping us to figure out how to bathe them (we managed to forget in the time between their arrivals, but somehow she didn’t).  My mother creating a special jelly bean box for each of the 15 grandchildren and hiding the boxes just before the youngsters’ arrivals.  My mother laughing a big laugh, cracking a big joke, living a big life. The image of my mother from the time I met her when she was thirty to now, at 82, always small and beautiful and strong, always smart and funny and over-the-top kind, often stubborn as hell.  Thank goodness for that flood of memories, which carries more along with it.  Thank goodness for today’s new memories, too, and, well, thank goodness for my mother.

Isn’t it amazing to think about how one life touches so many others, not just in that one lifetime, but way beyond it?  I guess this is the theme of at least one-third of the literary canon.  In the last few weeks, I have shared stories with my mother (“Remember the time, Mom, when we hit a deer?”  “Remember when we went to see flamenco at midnight?”  “Remember when you and dad roadtripped with Pat’s parents to meet our son?” “Remember when I worked at the hospital with you and we drove that old bomber of a car every day?”). I’ve also shared stories about my mother.  I’ve had the pleasure of sharing memories and tears with some of my mother’s dearest friends, who are wondering about her and loving her as they approach the mourning process.  My brothers and sister and I have sat with our dad and told more stories, always with that multiperspectivist view—the cubist painting that is a family.

Of course, a life is the sum of these moments and of the unnarrated spaces between the moments.  How to tell the rest of the story about this beloved and loving person?  Well, it’s impossible.  The rest of the story resides in our laughter, tears, quivering hearts, and little personal memory boxes.

A month after a former colleague lost his mother, I asked him how he was doing.  He said, in his gentle, lilting, extrasyllabic Alabama accent, “Well, you know, it’s your mother.”  That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

One Administrative Assistant I Know and the Unrecognized Value of the Home and Office Resume

How many of you out there are or have been administrative assistants? How many of you work with an administrative assistant?  And how many think about the broad and deep work that administrative assistants do to keep organizations running?  Let’s face it, if an office lacks a capable office manager and/or administrative assistant, the office is not running well.  In this post, I address the role of the administrative assistant (AA), the preponderance of women in these roles, and the generally poor remuneration for and recognition of the importance of this job.  I also want to think about how many of the invisible tasks and responsibilities of the AA translate to other realms in which these jobs are undervalued.

When I was 10, my mother returned to work after having eight children in eight years and getting us all launched into school.  She became a part-time administrative assistant and had responsibilities in two different departments.  She soon moved to full-time work and from there became an “executive assistant.” Although I doubt my mother articulated this, I suspect her years raising children prepared her quite well for the spoken and unspoken tasks of the AA role.  She was expert at managing the lives of nine people.  This meant searching for and shopping for the best bargains at a discount bread store, a meat store, the regular supermarket, and even imperfect dough at a reduced price used for Friday night pizza. (I don’t remember my family ever having a pizza delivered until well into my college years.)  In office terms, she expertly operated the budget and did it better than most of us realized.

My mother was on top of nine schedules for nine very busy people at a time when there were no cell phones and when changes on the fly were difficult to effect.  She knew the logic of scheduling and the need to remind everyone to get us in the right directions.  She alone did the laundry of nine people and knew which uniforms for which events had to be ready on short notice for the next day.  My mother and father also parceled out the chores for all the children, which meant understanding how to do so equitably and efficiently.  My mother was already managing people—her own children’s work and her interactions with the doctor, dentist, teachers, band directors, and coaches of us all.  My mother was also a short- and long-order cook.  Her constant and varied grocery shops reflected the need to plan menus for a big group (again, on a tight budget).  Nine people multiplied by 21 meals a week for each equal 189 meals a week to be planned for, purchased, and prepared.  Two-thirds of those meals were prepared at 5:00 am, before the “official” work day began.

Imagine how easy going to the office must have seemed, compared to all the moving pieces at home.  I believe the underappreciated and usually unpaid (unless it’s outsourced, of course) labor of the home needs its own polished resume, one that reveals the high level of function and decision-making necessary and the great potential to move these skills from the home to the office workplace.  The updated resume should also make clear that these varied skills are essential in the office workplace and not always easy to come by.  Therefore, individuals who can claim these types of experience should be in improved positions to be hired and then to negotiate for higher and more appropriate salaries.

Administrative assistants’ jobs typically include managing the office’s operational budget, event planning, scheduling, communication (on an ever-increasing number of platforms), interactions with multiple people in the office and across the organization, planning meetings, tracking supplies, keeping records and reports, managing business travel, and responding to short- and long-term requests.  The personnel management piece must present deep challenges that many administrative assistants seem to overcome time and again with little fuss or fanfare.

According to this CNN article, as of 2011, 96% of administrative assistants and office managers were women.  (*See this link for more information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)  This convincing statistic means that the underpaid and undervalued work of the administrative assistant is by its very nature gendered.  Just as we are often unaware of what it takes to manage a home, we are also unaware of the broad and deep skills required to run an office or an organization.  Bleak statistics (e.g. from this 2015 US News report) on administrative assistant salaries confirm the ways in which we consistently undervalue this work.

Many of the skills and responsibilities I’ve listed above form a part of people’s workdays, no matter the profession.  As a teacher, adviser, committee chair, writer, and collaborator on research projects, I need and apply many of these skills every day.  The labor differential in my profession often falls along these same gender lines, as women pick up the invisible and undervalued chores of the workplace.  One male colleague labeled undesirable committee chair work as “mostly clerical, anyway.”  I translated this offhanded comment as: “I didn’t do the work because it’s beneath me”; “no one pays us for this work anyway”; “these skills are minor, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t have them”; “if I did have these skills, then of course the job would be important”; and “someone else will clean up this mess.”  He was right that we neither value nor compensate well the people—mostly women—who apply these skills in the home or formal workplace.

It’s Raining

 

 

 

 

 

The skies have been sobbing for several months.  Gray clouds, torrents of tears, occasional peaks of sun, more torrents of tears.  The rivers are overflowing, thick brown mud churning as the waters make their serpentine path through this beautiful area.  This is southwestern Virginia in a climate-change spring and summertime.  While skies are gray and rivers are brown, everything else is green, green, green.  It’s beautiful, if you’re in the mood, you don’t think too much about the doom of ignoring climate accords, and you don’t have arthritis.

I’m a bit of a “torrents of tears” person.  I’ve always cried easily—at sad stories, sentimental moments, and hilarious events.  The tears just flow.  I used to apologize for them but eventually learned not to.  Now I just keep tissues nearby.  At this point, too, after having plugs literally placed in my eyes’ tear ducts to slow corneal erosion, tears are always welled in my eyes, just physically sitting there to maintain the health of the windows to the soul. I also use dozens of small vials of artificial tears each week, just in case my own natural sentimentality and plugged tear ducts aren’t enough.  So, yes, it’s raining, and so am I.

Over the last several days, I have sat with my father and brothers in my mother’s hospital room in the ICU.  While the notion and reality of tears and sobbing play a part in this context, my focus here is not on my own or my family’s worry and sorrow.  I’m writing today to sort through, in a preliminary way, what there is to cry about as we consider our health systems.  I’m concerned about three main factors: decentralization of care, poor communication, and high costs.  The comments I make here are quite apart from my support for the Affordable Care Act, which still makes the most sense for most people in the United States.  (*See this post to learn more about my support for the ACA and opposition to the AHCA.)

Deep knowledge about and experience in treating specific conditions are important.  We need nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and doctors to specialize in treating specific systems and parts of the body and specific illnesses and ailments.  I don’t argue at all with specialization, but I am concerned that an extreme focus on specialization has made us forget about the whole person who becomes the medical (and “medicalized”) subject.  There are excellent medical personnel who are working long hours to take outstanding care of patients.  The complexity of the job they do must be much greater than I can imagine, as they combine intellectual smarts, physical skill and stamina, and emotional intelligence.  They interact with many patients (more and more, as pushed by a healthcare system overly hungry for greater profit), their co-workers, the insurance companies, their internal and external IT systems, and the pharmaceutical companies.  A gigantic population of the aging introduces even more needs and ethical considerations in the healthcare realm.  All the while, medical personnel are trying to take care of real, live human beings who are complicated bundles of the physical, emotional, and intellectual.  They’re also dealing with the families of their patients.  It sounds close to impossible to manage it all, doesn’t it?  But they do it, and they keep up the pace, and I respect this.

One significant problem, nevertheless, is the decentralization of patient care.  From the patient and her family’s perspective, a medical emergency brings a foreign environment (the hospital, with its weird beds, beeping machines, loud entrances and exits, and frequent interruptions of rest and recovery), a host of visits from dozens of medical practitioners (the ones I listed above, plus the people who take meal orders, clean the rooms, and check on insurance policies), and a bewildering stream of disconnected explanations of the patient’s state (platelets here, crackly lungs there, the unexplained threat of “interventions,” whatever they are).  Oftentimes, the general practitioner, or primary care physician, is nowhere on the scene (busy as he or she may be with the hectic day-to-day of office and clinic visits).  This leaves the interpretation of the multiple explanations and medical pokes, prods, and procedures to the surrounding family members, who are often taking turns being in the room to nurture their loved one and understand the medical messages.  It ends up feeling like the patient who has a neurologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, oncologist, and hematologist becomes just a line item for each of these specialists, who is doing her or his darnedest to take good care of the patient, but who often seems unaware of the other doctors’ movements. In fact, my mother just spent three days in the hospital before being able to communicate to a medical staff member that she really wanted and needed her teeth brushed.  The little things for a patient’s care and daily well-being also matter and can be easily overlooked.

In my own case, I have a primary care physician who is wonderful.  Nevertheless, when I went to her to try to understand the big picture of my health (which doctors to trust; when to get a second opinion; how a drug for one chronic condition affects a different chronic condition; how certain forms of exercise are of harm or benefit; etc.), she asked quite bluntly (which I appreciated), “What do you want me to do?”  I heard myself answer, “Well, it would be great if you were to centralize my care.”  And that’s when I realized that the only people really centralizing care at this point are the patients themselves.  I realized, too, that this enormous burden, which I believe is a significant outcrop of the medical industry’s attempt to protect itself from risk, has dire implications for patients’ mental well-being.

The decentralization of care connects profoundly to the communication problems in the medical industry.  People who feel well could easily find it hard to track which doctor does what and why, and so imagine the increased difficulties for people who don’t feel well.  Most medical personnel do introduce themselves and identify their roles, but they frequently do not give an explanation for why they are poking, prodding, pouring, or popping.  It is even rarer for an explanation to be linked to the previous ministrations done to a patient.  While there are still many, many nurses and doctors who look at and really see the whole person/patient, many others are distracted by entering data into computers whose screens become the focus of attention.  They mumble to a screen, ask rapid-fire questions whose responses they don’t seem to register, and sometimes even ask why the patient is undertaking a course of treatment prescribed by that very doctor!  Sometimes they don’t even touch a patient, which certainly contradicts best practices from non-western medical traditions.

Some doctors charge patients for a missed or changed appointment, but the patient receives no recompense or reassurance when the doctor’s office changes or cancels an appointment.  Patients also often have to describe their symptoms on one single visit to numerous medical personnel, leading patients to believe that no one is actually listening.  One of my own sources of frustration is the perennial update of the medications list.  I bring an updated list to any doctor I ever go to, but the list is never updated by the next time I visit.  If this small example is extrapolated to the realm of urgent care, then we should have profound concerns about who is aware of a patient’s whole self and well-being.  Who is taking care of this communication?  Do they understand the uneasiness that poor communication sows?  Again, I believe the stresses on medical personnel are enormous, and so I am blaming the system, not its employees.

Not unlike the argument I made about the airlines in the “Who’s Sorry” post, I believe that many of the people on the frontlines of patients’ frustration with the big system are women—nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse aides, and insurance billing personnel.  While 2016 statistics show that CEOs of the biggest healthcare businesses (with pharmaceutical and insurance companies appearing to earn more than hospitals) are mostly men (the people on this list named Jody, Kelby, and Kerry are also men), we know the large majority of nurses and nurse aides to be women (here are old 2003 Bureau of Labor statistics that provide statistics on men and women nurses, African-American nurses, and Asian nurses in the United States; these 2015 statistics from Becker’s Hospital Review sort only by women-men).  Again, the people managing the healthcare industry and earning astronomical yearly salaries (in the tens of millions) are not the people dealing with the day-to-day frustrations of the problematic industry from which the ones in charge profit so greatly.

An additional obvious element of healthcare costs is the impact they have on patients.  (Here’s a useful link from the Kaiser Family Foundation about costs in the healthcare industry.) High premiums and deductibles, reduced employer contributions, decreased job mobility due to limits on pre-existing conditions, and high hospital and drug costs all contribute to a health system that is suffering from extreme ill health.  We need leaders who are willing to have broad and open conversations about the gray clouds and storms of our nation’s healthcare industry.

I’m Worried

The “Loving People” post from two weeks ago ends with questions about how we navigate our world and if we can do so in more universally loving ways.  In that post, I expressed anguish over the hazing death of a Penn State student and the unbelievably cruel, violent, and callous response of the student’s “friends,” or “brothers.”  As I write this week’s post, I realize that I can’t stop thinking about that example of cruelty and applying it, in a variety of ways and with more complex social justice concerns, to the murder of Bowie State University student Richard Collins, a black student killed by a white University of Maryland student who is a self-declared white supremacist.  I am thinking about the cruelty inherent in Trump’s bombing of Syria as he tucked into dessert at Mar-a-Lago.  I am connecting the callousness to the ICE agents in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who ate breakfast at a diner where they subsequently staged a raid.  I am worried.  I am deeply worried every day about the vertiginous race to the lowest place we can be.  (This was probably the wrong week to start watching “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)

When I was little, I worried a lot, as I think many kids do.  I worried that my parents would die, that a sibling would fall ill, that a classmate would suffer hardship.  When I was eight and my family no longer even flirted with going to church, I had a weird, unindoctrinated, and fervent system of prayer that included a roll call of a lot of people and some obsessively repeated motions.  At that age, too, as I recall, I was in an experimental, ‘70’s-style, mixed third and fourth grade class, in which the third graders had the task of teaching material to the fourth graders.  I was always worried that “my” fourth-grade charges weren’t learning the material thoroughly enough.  I used to write study guides and practice tests and go over them with my classmates, hoping they would be prepared enough for upcoming assignments and tests.  When my brother had a slumber party for his birthday, I worried that one of the guests wasn’t involved enough with the group and got him to join the wiffleball game (maybe much against his will, I don’t know).  These actions might have resulted from a strange combination of extreme sympathy and a savior complex.  I didn’t quite make things up to worry about, but I certainly found them everywhere I went.

Many children let go of obsessive behaviors as they come to understand the shape of their world and to predict outcomes and consequences, and I think I did the same.  (Playing basketball all the time probably helped, too.)  Other people revealed their thoughts and obsessions, and I realized that living is a more intensely shared enterprise than I had recognized, that we take care of each other through actual administration of care, sympathy, and humor.  This was a relief.  It allowed for more laughter and company, but didn’t dictate less care of others.  There have been many carefree and happy-go-lucky times.  That makes me fortunate, I know.

The accordion of emotions, however, continues its expanding and contracting tune.  I am really worried again, and my current actions are analogs of the weird prayers, practice tests, and wiffleball politics of my youth.  Learning new software programs, figuring out fundraising strategies, meeting with small and large groups every day of the week, speaking and working with other political activists, reading books about it all—this is the job after the “day job.”  It’s the extra job of education, protest, and activism that comes from heightened worry, or anguish.

I am worried that in the United States we buy far more guns than books, that we are going to lose our public school teachers in the face of budget cuts and complete lack of support, that we are privileging health care for some over the possibility of health care for all, and that we are sanctifying meanness, cruelty, and violence.  I have these constant images of our nation as MASH unit, with the White House staff trying to stay ahead of each new gaffe and cruelty of their leader and much of the rest of the nation tending to people and groups who are bleeding in both all-too-real and metaphorical ways.  As an adult, I also want to be attuned to how individuals and groups might want or not want the care offered.  This is a delicate balance, one that requires awareness, research, specific goals and actions, and time.

This all means that I, and maybe we, need to gauge the placement and level of worry over the short and long term.  I need to figure out how much of the worry to invite in so that I can be a citizen who is aware of the increased limitations and dangers around us, but who is also capable of having clear goals—local, regional, national—and taking smart actions.  The murder of black individuals, mortgaging of women’s health and lives, limitation on the movement and autonomy of the LGBTQIA+ community, and raids on hard-working people and families cannot be what defines us, and so changing these trends must be a priority.

The example of tucking into a meal before destroying other human beings cannot serve as a “new normal” in the United States.  I am deeply worried.

Lock Her Up

(Remedios Varo, Witch Going To The Sabbath [1957]; https://www.wikiart.org/en/remedios-varo/witch-going-to-the-sabbath-1957)

As I drive south on I-81 in Virginia towards my home, I pass an old barn with a giant “Lock Her Up” sign nailed to the top.  The barn serves as a homemade billboard, publicizing its message for thousands of cars and trucks passing by each day.  The billboard reminds me how Michael Flynn led chants of “Lock Her Up” at last year’s Republican National Convention.  Oh, the irony.

A friend drives her car behind a truck with a multitude of stickers.  One of them is an exaggerated, Barbie-style female shape, in a sex pose, colored in with the confederate flag.  The caption is “Southern Style.”  Other stickers on the truck boast of the truck owner’s military service.  The sticker reminds me of how the confederate flag imposes racist, and now also explicitly sexist, messages masked as nostalgia for the past.  This is a past for which many people feel nothing akin to nostalgia, due to the overriding and violent oppression they and their ancestors experienced in that past, a past which resembles in too many ways the present.

A few days ago, I drove behind a truck that had a sticker that recommended that its readers, “Ditch the bitch.  Let’s go goose hunting.”  This prompted me to wonder who “the bitch” was and why the ditcher would engage in what appears to be an unsatisfying relationship with the ditched.  Things might work better, I thought, if the ditcher skipped the unwanted union with the “bitch” and just went directly to killing birds.  The bumper sticker evokes a general misogyny that seems even more unleashed than usual over the past year.  (*See this Gender Blog post on the “B-word,” used in reference to Hillary Clinton frequently during the campaign season.)

This past week, Donald Trump claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt.  He tweeted, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”  According to this article from the Smithsonian Magazine, tens of thousands of women were executed in witch trials in Europe between the late 1300’s and the late 1600’s, and of course most of us are familiar with the Salem Witch Trials here in the United States in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  History professor Mikki Brock’s interview in Motto is an excellent critique of Trump’s use of the term ‘witch hunt.’  The Motto piece states: “One of the great ironies of this of course is that Trump is not someone who has an especially high view of women,” Brock said. “For Trump to co-opt that term to paint himself as a victim shows a total misunderstanding and woeful ignorance of women — but also an unwillingness to see how power structures work and to be sensitive to the deep meanings behind this terminology.”

In this May 18, 2017, article in The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan speaks with historian Mary Beth Norton about witch hunts and witch trials.  Norton sees the witch hunt as “an expression [more] of military fear” in which white citizens believed the devil controlled Indians and witches.  Norton adds, “The problem that I set for myself as a historian was figuring out why Salem was so different, and my answer was fear of Indians and the Indian war and how the fear of the Indians got conflated with fear of the witches.”  Historians Brock and Norton tell us that the key to the witch hunt is the idea that a person is unfairly targeted (made “other,” as in the case of Native Americans and many women) or falsely accused.  Of course, then, we have to see Trump’s use of this term as analogous to his claims of “false news” for any media outlet that tarnishes the overblown image he has of himself. The man who just takes what he wants sees himself as unfairly targeted.  The man who encouraged, rally after rally, to have supporters chant “lock her up” sees himself as unfairly targeted.  Oh, the irony.

The “Lock Her Up” metaphor stretches to other women-punishing policies of the Trump administration, including the AHCA and the Global Gag Rule.  See this April 4, 2017, Foreign Policy article for more information on Trump’s anti-woman policies.

Politics seems to breed corruption. I’m not a political scientist and can’t speak to the history or statistics of this statement, but it certainly seems true to the casual observer of the political sphere. In this sense, if corrupt practices are part and parcel of how business is done, then I am concerned that women presidents and prime ministers (and potential presidents and prime ministers) are held to significantly higher standards than their men counterparts.  Former Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office last year, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office this year.  This is a high percentage of specifically women leaders to be impeached!  (*The Pew Research Center reported on March 8, 2017, that “There are 15 female world leaders currently in office, eight of whom are their country’s first woman in power, according to our analysis of data from WEF and other sources. While the number of current female leaders – excluding monarchs and figurehead leaders – has more than doubled since 2000, these women still represent fewer than 10% of 193 UN member states.”)

(https://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2016-03-23/political-crisis-relegates-rio-olympics-to-an-afterthought)

By many accounts, Dilma Rousseff and Park Geun-hye seem to have been engaged in corrupt practices, practices that are a part of the system in which they move.  I am not saying that impeachment wasn’t (or was) appropriate in these two cases, but I am saying that male colleagues seem to escape the intense scrutiny to which high-level women leaders are subjected.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who seems only to have done an exemplary job in her office, illustrates the “Lock Her Up” metaphor even more clearly.  As she provided constitutional rationale both for criticizing Executive Order 13769 and for warning of Flynn’s compromised position, she was accused by Senator Charles Grassley of leaking information to the news media and scolded by Senator John Cornyn for making an “enormously disappointing” decision about the travel ban. (*See this The New York Times opinion piece from 5-11-2017.)

Remember, too, that Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz was arrested for laughing at the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions.  The New York Times reports that Fairooz and two other protesters face “up to 12 months in jail, $2,000 in fines, or both, depending on the outcome of a June 21 sentencing hearing.”  “Lock Her Up” apparently extends from e-mail servers all the way to laughter.

What and whom do they want to lock up?  It seems we are somehow still afraid of women’s authority, success, irreverence, and genius.

Loving People

When I was young, my family of nine had little money.  This meant a lot of things.  It meant that “making it to month’s end” was just a way of life.  It meant that all clothes were hand-me-downs.  It meant that birthdays and Christmas brought necessities—underwear and socks.  It meant that my brothers and sister and I saved the brown paper bag in which our lunch was graciously and lovingly packed by our mother for the first day of school, and we saved it every day thereafter until the threads could no longer carry a sandwich.  I don’t think we thought about this much back then.  It’s just what we did, how we lived.

What this mostly meant, though, was giving a lot and not expecting much in return.  Then you would be surprised by how very much you got in return.  We had (and have) loving parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and siblings.  That is the biggest gift of all.  We played all the time when we were really little.  We always had companions.  In fact, quiet space was at more of a premium than companionship, which was freely and abundantly given.  When we were a little bit less little, we started to work to earn money for clothes we would buy ourselves and for going to the movies and such.  We did so willingly and capably, and then we were grateful for every moment of spare time we had to read, play, and hang out.  Our parents told us about this thing called college—my dad had gone, and my mom had worked to pay for two brothers to go—and they told us it was worth saving our money for it.

When I was in college, I ended up majoring in French and Spanish and minoring in Italian. Somehow I knew that all the people with whom I wanted to speak in the world and all the texts I wanted to read would not come from the English-speaking world.  I didn’t know how to be career-driven, to think that I could or would just have any career I wanted.  I didn’t know what an internship was because I still worked my minimum-wage job in the hospital microfiche department during every school break.  I didn’t know how to “package” or “sell” my experiences to make them a coherent whole.  I was a coherent whole, the sum of my loving family, my experiences, and my developing opinions about the world.

I did, however, imagine the wonders of studying abroad, of living in Canada or France or any one of the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries or Spain.  Financial aid didn’t travel abroad back in those days, so I made do.  Making do was hearing a language I spoke and wanted to speak better and going to speak it with the person (intrusive, I know, but I didn’t see it that way back then).  It was reading books in French and Spanish out loud to myself to practice my accent and think it was normal for me to be speaking in another language.  This was long before the Internet would explode with resources for people like me.  Making do was seeing college friends study, work, and travel abroad and tucking the possibility away for a day when I could pay my way.

I remember when I was asked in the interview for my first job after college what I thought of all the students at the school being wealthier than me.  I shrugged (not a great interview response) and said I didn’t give those things too much thought.  The person who asked the question and I both laughed about it months later when my first car ever, a boat my dad insisted I buy so that I’d be “safe” on the roads, needed a jump in the school parking lot long after everyone had gone home.

At the age of 22, I went to a Grateful Dead concert.  I had spent my life listening to Motown, funk, rap, and Latino music.  While kids at my high school sported black concert t-shirts from iconic ‘80’s groups, I was forbidden to go to rock concerts because they were “a den of iniquity” and “a waste of hard-earned money.”  To this day, though, I’m both amused and thankful that I was allowed to go to all the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts I wanted.  This got me going into a lively city and realizing I had a city vibe waiting to be awakened.  It got me trying new things with dear friends for life.

As I was saying, though, Grateful Dead space jams were decidedly not my thing.  Nevertheless, when I arrived at the concert, I was taken by all the loving people.  I really was.  Everybody just sporting their tie-dye, weaving and dancing, wishing each other “a good show.”  Tens of thousands of people (yes, drunk; yes, stoned) peacefully gathering together made an impression on me.  I guess it made me understand the giant flowers my mother’s young sister had painted on the walls of her room in the late ‘60’s and the stolen kisses she shared with her then-boyfriend, now-husband of 40 years.  I did also develop an appreciation for “Shakedown Street,” which is by far the best and funkiest of the Grateful Dead repertoire.

I’ve buried the lede here because, as you can see, I’m profoundly grateful for the family, friends, teachers, and colleagues who shaped my early life.  At the same time, as a mature adult, I’m deeply distressed by how much hatred I see in the world.  Besides the abominable political scene, which this blog takes to task for many of our politicians’ cavalier, me-first, discriminatory, and violent practices, I have been so distraught by the continued violence against black lives and the now-entrenched marginalization of people who are not white, male, or Christian.

I also have read the accounts (ABC News; The Chronicle of Higher Education) of the most recent hazing incident at Penn State and I can’t shake the images of the night’s events.  (Here is an ABC News piece on hazing incidents across the U.S.)  The “brothers,” now charged with involuntary manslaughter, seem never to have loved anyone, never to have given without expecting something in return.  Their hazing practices are not rooted in true brotherhood or humanity or love for another.  They are rooted in hatred and violence, and I just don’t understand these systems that foment violent, white male power and enact it in cruel and deadly ways.

What makes people open to loving others and adventurous about who the others might be?  What makes people assert their own domination over others, never learning to truly love?  How does this translate into a world view, a way of loving people and knowing people who love?  How does it translate into the work we do, the work we do beyond the work day, the way we love this work because it makes a difference for people?

Is this not a way to exist in the world? And, if so, why aren’t we electing more of these loving people who will give and give and not expect much in return, only to find that they get very much in return? 

AHCA B.S.

How many of you out there have a pre-existing condition or know someone who does?  Hmm, let me count, yes, that looks like, well, everyone.  Do you have a father with prostate concerns or diabetes or a weak heart?  Do you know women who have given birth? (I’m guessing you know a few.)  Have you ever heard of a newborn with a serious medical condition?  Do you have or know children with special needs? Are you someone or do you know someone who has limited funds for routine care and/or unexpected medical needs?  Do you live in a state that has rejected federal funds for Medicaid expansion?

As I write this, the roll call of House of Representatives votes on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is in.  217 Republicans in the House voted to pass it.  Not one Democrat did.  Final tally: 217-213 (with 20 Republicans voting against and one no vote).  *See this link for the full list: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll256.xml.  Excuse my French, but this is absolute bullshit.  Hyperpartisanship is killing the United States public.  I’m no longer just speaking metaphorically.  This health care act is killing us.  (Remember: The ACA was helping us.)

The representative from my district in Virginia, Bob Goodlatte, declares himself proud to appear on the list of “ayes.” He is, kindly put, a Trump lapdog.  Goodlatte, in the company of mostly white, male, and Christian Republicans (*see this slideshow for the demographic breakdown of the Congress: https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/slideshows/the-115th-congress-by-party-race-gender-and-religion), has again chosen to ignore the constituents of Virginia’s Sixth District in order to pander to national, damaging trends.  Why do the demographics of our members of Congress matter, you might ask?  They matter because Trump and the trumpkins continue to push a traditional supremacist agenda that benefits them and their cronies and deeply damages the lives of those who are not like them.

We know this to be true if we do our own sample roll call of executive orders given since January 20, 2017:

“Implementing an America First Offshore Energy Strategy” (4-29-17)

“Buy American Hire American” (4-18-17)

“Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” (3-28-17)

“Revocation of Federal Contracting Executive Order” (undoes fair pay and workplace regulation work done under President Obama; 3-27-17)

“Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” (seeks to give more power to the executive; 3-13-17)

“Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers” (ignores completely [and repackages in the reverse] violence against black people and black lives; 2-9-17)

“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (1-27-17)

“Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” (1-25-17)

“Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” (crackdown on sanctuary cities; 1-25-17).

Many of the executive orders emphasize an expansion of executive power.  Look at the words.  Pay attention to the rhetoric, which both discriminates and co-opts language from the left. If you’re not a trumpkin, you are less than human.  If you are black, LGBTQIA+, Muslim, a woman, Latinx, or from another nation, you don’t deserve to live here, work here, love here, or be cared for here.

Make sure to take a look at Alabama’s H.B. 24, which was signed into law two days ago.  The bill allows “some state-licensed adoption and foster care agencies to reject qualified prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs” (cited here on the Human Rights Campaign website).  It is challenging and soul-sucking to absorb this bald discrimination and hatred.  Furthermore, again, look at the words.  Pay attention to the rhetoric.  This bill is called the “Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act.”  The use of “inclusion” co-opts language from the left and can easily lead to false conclusions about the legislation itself.  There is nothing inclusive about this legislation.  It excludes LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples from adoption and fostering.  It reduces the pool of prospective parents and excellent caretakers for children in Alabama.  It is bullshit.

The partisan Indivisible guide provides information here about the AHCA, or Trumpcare.  They state starkly that there are 10 principal reasons for which we should worry about the AHCA.  I am copying and pasting them here because we need to see the numbers and read the discrimination, and we’re going to need to keep bringing this proposed (and half-passed) devastation to the attention of people in the United States:

IF YOUR REPRESENTATIVE VOTED FOR TRUMPCARE, THEY VOTED TO:

  1. Take away health care from 24 million Americans. This is according to nonpartisan estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This will result in 24,000 – 44,000 more Americans dying every year from lack of insurance. Not to mention medical bankruptcies, lost wages, untreated illnesses…
  2. Hike deductibles by $1500 on average. TrumpCare pushes Americans into low-quality, high cost-sharing health insurance by providing meager tax credits compared to the Affordable Care Act. This is the opposite of what Trump promised in his campaign.
  3. End the federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions. TrumpCare incentivizes states to drop consumer protections, meaning insurance companies will be able to charge people more if they have a pre-existing condition. 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition. People could face premiums well over $100,000 a year.
  4. Allow insurance companies to charge older Americans significantly more for their health care. A single, 64 year old adult making $26,500/year would have to pay $14,600 in annual premiums—a 750% increase from current law.
  5. Cut $880 billion from Medicaid, a program that more than 70 million Americans, half of which are children, rely on. TrumpCare cuts federal funding for the program, which will result in states having to ration care and cut the quality of services.
  6. Put lifetime and annual benefit caps back on the table for even those with employer coverage. This means a baby with a serious medical condition could use up its lifetime limits in the first month of life under TrumpCare.
  7. Make women pay more for health insurance than men. Because insurance companies could charge more for pre-existing conditions like breast cancer or assault survival and because pregnancy care no longer would be a required benefit, women would once again pay morefor health care than men.
  8. Defund Planned Parenthood. Nearly 3 million Americans, especially women and families, receive affordable health care services annually at Planned Parenthood facilities. TrumpCare prohibits any funding from going to these clinics.
  9. Harm children with special needs by cutting Special Education funds for schools. Medicaid funds a large portion of education for students with a variety of disabilities. Buried in the bill is a provision that no longer recognizes schools as required Medicaid providers, on top of the massive cuts to the program.
  10. And, it does all of this in order to pay for $600 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

I’ve said this several times in this post.  Look at the words. Pay attention to the rhetoric.  And then call out the bullshit for what it is.  We must stop moving dangerously backwards.