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21 November 2014


When I worked retail during high school and college, I liked working the day before Christmas because my own Christmas shopping was mostly things I make. I was paid badly, and if there had been overtime for working those hours I would have been eager for the opportunity to work on a holiday, but there wasn't overtime for those hours. I worked in a store that was closed every Sunday and all major holidays. No one ever asked me to work Thanksgiving. I was also young.  

That was then, this is now. My pay was lousy back in the 70s, but adjusting for inflation, minimum wage is lower today. People should all be paid better and, maybe as important, we should give more than lip service to valuing family. Even minimum wage workers should have time with families. Too often they have no choice. 

My mother was adamantly opposed to Blue Laws, which were still in effect when I was a girl. I agreed that closing businesses on Sundays was ridiculous until twenty years or more ago when a Canadian friend pointed out that it supported family time for many low-paid workers. For families with children, Sunday might be the only time they have together. I hadn't thought about that before, and I changed my mind about Blue Laws. They accomplished something. They served a significant demographic that included many in the community I serve today. Now, with parents in many families I know working two or three jobs, all badly paid, this idea of leaving a few days a week or a year off the schedule seems even more important. 

Several people have insisted to me that it should be the choice of the employee whether to work on holidays. That's a nice idea, but I don't know of a business that chooses its hours of operation based on when its employees want to work. More often, days off and holidays off are limited by hours of operation. Entire seasons are blocked off from any time off, and mandatory overtime, legal or not, is often required of the most vulnerable workers. Overtime looks great, but a minimum wage worker shouldn't have to work crazy hours to make a decent wage or to keep a job, and that's the choice they must make all too often. 

Stores staying open late and in the middle of the night may be convenient for a few, but they also unnecessarily force people to work schedules that are unhealthy. My husband worked in grocery stores for many years, and always had stories about hysterical people banging on his door after they'd closed because they needed whipping cream. Do without the whipped cream. The pie will still be delicious. I do not understand why the lowest paid should be made to suffer for my poor planning. It's always the most badly paid who are inconvenienced this way. It drives me crazy.

I am going to make a serious effort to never again shop EVER at anyplace that opens on Thanksgiving. Not ever again! Penny's, Old Navy, Kmart, ToysRus, Bon-Ton (Elder-Beerman), Walmart, Macy’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Target,Staples, Victoria’s Secret, Office Depot/OfficeMax, Field & Stream, Cincinnati Premium Outlets (Monroe), Tanger Outlets — You are all dead to me.

It is only some elite workers who get to chose their hours. Nurses have no choice. Neither do others who provide the most essential services. Hospitals must stay open, utility workers and police and firefighters all work whether they want to or not. 

There are always opportunities to work during holidays in order to avoid family and for people who have none—soup kitchens are open and other charities need workers. Again, I do not believe for-profit businesses make decisions about when to stay open based on the convenience of their employees.  

If customers make clear that they do not need or want a store open on Thanksgiving, many people who would have preferred to stay home with their families would have that choice. Others can volunteer someplace in order to get out of the house.

20 November 2014


“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank

In the early 1980s, Fred had a law practice in Manzanita. He had a toddler and built a new house and he helped me out a time or two. He also swallowed up a lot of his client's money, or sniffed it—stories vary. Our neighbor lost over a hundred thousand. The total set some sort of record of malfeasance for my state. 

He also warned me that I didn't want to trust lawyers. They have no friends, their marriages don't last, they deceive people without trying, he said. This was at the July Fourth parade. I hadn't seen Fred in a few months and he'd greeted me warmly, even hugged me, I think. 

I hadn't entirely trusted Fred. He'd done work for me a few years before without over-charging, but he'd also offered a cheap solution to a problem I'd gotten myself into that involved transferring property briefly into his name. I decided not to do that. He smiled when I turned that solution down, and told me that before I signed something in the future, I should call him and ask if it was okay. I took him up on that some time later, calling him to verify that a contract I was signed was okay. He gave me the go ahead over the phone. Then I didn't see or speak to him at all for a time.

That day at the parade was the last time I talked to Fred. I realize now that he wasn't just being funny or satirical about his profession. He was heading down and no one to stop him. The malfeasance would become known after his death and many people would have reason to kill him—which results in one theory about his death.

I think Fred found he had no friends he trusted, his marriages had crumbled, and he'd deceived not only them but others who might have trusted him, and himself. 

That last was what ruined him.  

When I was a girl, we talked about ruining lives quite a lot. Girls, especially, could ruin their lives by becoming pregnant. Boys could be arrested. To some extent these are still ways to ruin lives. 

There are other ways than drugs, babies, and crime. Babies still make me saddest, because a child should never ruin anything. A child should be a gift and never a punishment. Sometimes I wish everyone could agree on at least that. 

Lives are damaged by bad marriages, hard work and sacrifice that we'd like to honor. Accidents can destroy us, wartime experiences can leave leave us gasping and wounded even without a mark except on our souls. 

But where there is still life, they say, there is hope. And I know that to be true. Fred would have gone to prison soon enough, but his lifestyle was never flamboyant. He might have rebuilt if he'd had a scrap of hope. He was depressed and medicated himself unwisely, and like all addicts, he had no sense about how he got what he thought he needed. 

I would say this, because it's good advice I try to recall when I am feeling low: Have hope, do in the day what is needful to the day, and treasure the glimpses of heaven afforded to us all, even in our troubles. 

19 November 2014


Time magazine has been irritating me lately. They are attacking teachers and women. One thing after another. They withdrew "feminism" from their list of bad words, but the more I think about it…  

After Emma Watson's public appeal as a UN spokesperson for women's rights, Time published a rebuttal of sorts. I wish I could say it is an interesting article, but it's really not very interesting. Though well written and "persuasive", it's full of holes. Cathy Young points out that despite asking for men's help, the speech is about what women need. True. It's also true that it is men who have had and continue to have the power to make that change. Women are in a position to help men change the sexual stereotyping dynamics men suffer from, but since men control the political and financial world, those worlds will not change without men making the choice to change them. And given that this is a UN rather than US speech, the situation is that much more dramatic on that larger stage where women are routinely denied basic human rights, education, and opportunity. 

Cathy Young takes the side of men, presenting them as an abused and unsupported, embattled and discriminated against.

… and I do not see they need her help. 

Sometimes the people who have "made it" despite everything are unduly hard on those who have not. If I can do it, the thinking seems to go, either do it yourself or shut up. The brilliant Richard Rodriguez, for example, went through a period like that. After benefitting from affirmative action he became the darling of the political right for attacking that system. He was young and maybe a little cocky about his success. He grew out of that, I think. 

The men in my life, though apparently not in Young's, recognize that gender equity is good for everyone. Pretending that women are the ones with power to make it happen belies everything real in this world. Pretending that because men suffer too it's unfair to focus on women—slavery, sexual exploitation, lack of suffrage or any sort of standing under the law in some places… I don't think it requires much imagination to see why the situation of women in many places in the world is more urgent. I think it is obvious why the campaign centers on the needs of women. 

Maybe I'll put Time on my list of bad words. Maybe Cathy Young will grow up a little and smell the coffee.

18 November 2014


I have been clearing out my draft folder: "Here's why you have no right to feel that way." That line makes me nearly hysterical. I have responded (inappropriately) with anger when someone attacked something I've said on the basis that I have no right to "feel" this or that—especially when they think it's fair to make a joke of what I feel. 

Disagree with logic, sources, priorities, present another perspective, offer compassion or a shoulder to cry on, but do not tell people they have no right to their own feelings. 

It is also true that in my job I am always onstage. I am a performer and my audience expects me to be at the top of my game every single moment. It can be exhausting. 

Both my husband and I had a busy day yesterday, intense, productive, and exhausting. We decided to lie down for a short nap early yesterday evening. Sometimes we do that, take tenth minute or a bit more in order to stay awake till ten. We intended to watch a movie later on, but instead we slept through till morning. Ten hours of sleep. (Sleep is something we were talking about in class yesterday.) I have to say it was kind of lovely. 

Today, thanks to Susan Baertlein, Oregon Shakespeare Festival is coming to our school. They will not disappoint.

Feeling . . . rested. Feeling hopeful that my students will have a great day today, that those seniors who haven't completed their Senior Research Papers will make progress, and that no one will tell me how I am supposed to feel about that. 

I feel great. 

17 November 2014


If the magic doesn't work, you did the spell wrong.

If people disagree with you, it's because they fail to understand how right you are. 

If only you were thinner, older, younger, richer, more attractive . . . 

15 November 2014


I don't find it easy to write the truth about how I feel. I chose this fall to begin writing about my mother's last years, how I loved her and miss her still, and the confusing fuddle of emotion connected to her life and death, my brother's estrangement and mental illness, becoming the oldest of my family, thinking about death and the future. I feel gratitude, but sadness and sometimes anger. It is the anger that is most troubling, connected as it seems to me to cruelty—an emotion that spreads shame across my image of myself as a person committed to kindness. 

That work has been hard. I have managed only a few walks with my husband and the dog this month. The last warp is off the loom and a new one might get on the loom over Thanksgiving, if I am caught up with school work. I would like to begin a new novel and weaving and writing of my own. There are many projects demanding my attention, but there is no time.

For the next couple of weeks I must devote my weekends and evenings to scoring projects and papers. Students are anxious and some are impatient for their grades. They have worked hard. I would like time off, but no. There are not enough hours to do it all, but if I am diligent, there will be time later on to do the rest of it.

14 November 2014


Big hint: That wedge of "cloud" tinted a pretty amber by the lowering sun isn't sunset and it's not cloud. That's the line of smoke flowing down off the hills just behind my community and then turning south.
Yesterday I was wide awake at one in the morning. What would I take out of the house if we had to evacuate? 

This isn't an entirely hypothetical question. We have been ordered to evacuate during tsunami danger. But Wednesday night's worry was different. For the second time this year, we had wildfires in Arch Cape. It all started three days ago, on Tuesday afternoon, Veterans Day. 

Gary and I are remodeling the kitchen. It's something we've meant to do for many years, but when the thirty-year-old Sears range finally died it was time. We'd replaced stovetop coils and oven elements, the oven door was held on with duct tape and rubber bands—no joke!—but the final straw was the simultaneous blowing of the electrical panel breaker, smoke, and the discovery of a hole in the bottom of the oven. It was time to let go. 

We looked at stock cabinets, then pursued a bid from a Portland cabinet-maker. When the bid came in more than twenty-five hundred over the estimate, we looked closer to home. I swallowed hard and contacted the finest cabinet maker I know, Ed Overbay, and he brought both understanding and a reasonable bid. There were knobs and countertops to consider, sink and faucet and appliances. The fridge is a little gimpy, but working. Gary had the $70 garage-sale DW and smoking range hauled away when the water heater broke down.  


Tuesday was a holiday and Gary and I talked to Mike about the plumbing and then drove north to search for a range and dishwasher. We only found a fridge we liked (which we don;t think we really need yet), so we headed south toward home empty handed. By the time we passed Arcadia, we could smell smoke. 

More smoke.

The fires were timber land slash burns that went out of control in (forecasted) 40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph. Firetrucks passed us. By the time we arrived home the entire neighborhood smelled of smoke though the fires at that time were north of us, flowing like a river down to the sea. East winds blew hard enough to tip breaks over backwards. That evening smoke made a beautiful sunset—a full hour before the sun actually went down—sun glowing on smoke above. Stimpson Lumber Company personnel watched the fire through the night, but wind and smoke prevented containment. 

Wednesdays I usually stay into the evening to keep the Library open for students and to offer help as needed. I had my doubts about staying late this week because the fire was still burning. The blazes were covered in newspapers and television stations, though most got details wrong. (This KOIN 6 link to "Hug Point Complex fire burning near Cannon Beach" is the one with photos of Arch Cape, but says the fire began on Monday, the 11th. It began Tuesday the 11th.) One news agency spoke to a firefighting spokesperson who expressed hope that the wind would die down in the afternoon and make possible containment of the fire the Oregon Forestry Department estimated at 50 acres. The wind did not let up, but I did stay till 6pm, and on the way home I saw an orange glow behind St. Peter's. 

The fire had moved south. Within hours it burned nearly due east of my house, and a lot closer that the news was reporting. There were emergency vehicles of all sorts at every road headed east off highway 101. 

So Thursday at one in the morning, I was awake and trying to decide what, aside from ourselves and the dog and cat, we would rescue if the fire moved closer. The second thing I thought of was the term projects from my Honors students. Honest. I considered my mother's dolls, books, the skull cups, but I came right back to the term projects. So many hours invested. They might literally cry if I let those things go up in smoke. So. My jewel box, maybe, the carton with "Reading for Writers," my mother's Patsyette doll, and whatever else I had room for. 

I read for a while in the middle of the night until I heard rain pattering our roof. And then I went back to sleep.  

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