October 31 2017

31 10 2017

Me and my boys, Alec and Max, taking a last walk together in Pawtuckaway

I am moving to Michigan.

This was a terribly difficult decision; the latest in a series of agonizing decisions. But I can’t keep on going the way I have been. The last several years have been brutal. They have worn me out. I feel defeated and humiliated, but damn it all, I did the best I could. The very best. And to hell with those for whom my best wasn’t good enough.

My friends understand why I am leaving Deerfield. Others will form their own opinions no matter what I say. People tend to pick through and reinterpret what they hear to justify their prejudices.

What matters most to me now is saving my home and my mother’s land. I’m not even so attached to the house itself. But selling the house means selling the land, and losing the land would damn near kill me. So for all its faults and bad memories, I must hang on to it. For my boys’ sake. For my sake. So that, in these uncertain times, we all at least have a place to live. Someplace familiar and secure. A good home.

I have been offered a job with room and board included. With luck, I stand to earn even more, up to what would actually be a comfortable income. I would be able to send money back to support the house, make needed repairs and improvements, pay off the mortgage. Max and Alec are staying behind to look after the place and do their own thing, with the help of Jen, who has become pretty much one of the family.

I will miss my family and my home very much. I will miss my friends here, I will miss the White Mountains, I will miss the familiar places that I’ve known since I was a child. I hope to come back from time to time to visit, and hope someday to come back to stay. But for now this is what I have to do.

I have given my notice at the library. I will be leaving at the end of November. I close this painful chapter of my life, and hope to begin to heal.

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October 28, 2017

28 10 2017

Once, from the top of Ben White Road, you could see the distant ridge
Back when the trees and I were small, and my mother was still alive.
The bridge across the stream has collapsed, its granite slabs cracked and tilted.
Only with care may a person cross. Things change, things change,
And my heart is left behind.

Above the ruined bridge is an old burial ground.
The graves were moved to the cemetery in town,
Except for the bones of a baby left behind.
Ephraim, distant kin, lies unmarked, buried deeper each year in leaf mould.

I was told this tumble of rock, trickle and pool is Lucy Brook
Though I can’t find it on any map.
My children played here as I did before them.
Tears salt the clear water and ripple my reflection.
Near the brook are the stones of the fire pit my father built.
We laughed, tending flames, cooking meals among the pines.
Things change, things change, and my heart is left behind.

Now come desperate times. Dreams fail.
I must leave, traveling west as others have,
To a place where I am welcome, new friends, and a chance to earn my keep.
Change, things change, much of it is good,
But my heart is left behind.





The Chimera

28 07 2017

The room crowded with friends
who each have someone else more significant.
Fear and craving
a magnet misaligned.

The child pushed out onto the busy street
doesn’t speak the language.
The girl writes down the order
gets it wrong anyway.
The woman studies the plans
builds a rocking chair
which collapses into splinters.

Sitting on cracked pavement at the edge of town
the sun sets, chill dew falls
bones ache.

Reflects a chimera:
The cup dropped, but–
a smile reassuring, hands are there to catch it.
The poles align, click tight.
The small coins, tarnished,
are yet sufficient.
The silence yawns not with empty solitude
but with sleepy contentment.





June 27, 2017

27 06 2017

I see so many posts and articles about the middle class, how certain policies will affect the middle class, warning that the middle class is disappearing, wringing their hands in anguish over the suffering of the middle class. Occasionally, someone mentions the poor.

If the middle class is struggling, the poor are being crucified. Their plight is far more tragic and terrifying. Yet the middle class gets far more press.

Is it because of the stigma attached to being poor? This ignorant notion that poverty comes as a result of character flaws and is purely voluntary? That the poor don’t deserve our compassion? That “hard-working Americans” are always middle class?

Is it that most of the people doing the posting and writing the articles, and those doing the reading and responding, are middle class? It’s all about them and the world they relate to, and the poor are these amorphous masses that they don’t really understand.

We are so immersed in the myths created by a prosperous America that we can’t get it through our heads that Reality just isn’t like that anymore (if it ever was). This is the Land of Opportunity. Work hard, go to college, and you’ll get ahead if you put your mind to it. Anyone can succeed if they just try. Which of course implies that those who don’t succeed must not have tried hard enough. Those who don’t have enough money must not be working hard enough, and have no one to blame but themselves.

The affluent look down their noses at the poor. Sometimes there is baffled compassion: “Why don’t they just [fill in the blank]?” Some times there is undisguised contempt: “They’d be fine if they’d only [fill in the blank].” The blank usually consists of options available to the middle class, which the middle class takes for granted. Options the poor simply do not have.

Why don’t they save up their money for (car, home, school, etc.)? When every penny goes towards paying your bills and that still isn’t enough, when you have to choose between paying the rent and eating, the idea of having spare change to save up is ludicrous. Even with grants and financial aid, going to school requires some outlay of money, and usually transportation. Also, when you are poor, you don’t qualify easily for credit and loans. Doors open to the affluent are closed to the poor.

Why do they live in such squalor? There isn’t much choice. If something breaks, there is no money to fix it. If something wears out, there is no money to replace it. So you cobble together and patch up and make do with whatever spare parts you can get for free, usually something scavenged out of what others have thrown away. The result isn’t going to be lovely.

Why don’t they get a better job? Because the job market stinks. For any given job that offers a livable wage there will be a huge number of applicants. Only one is going to get it. The rest are thrown back into the pond. Part-time work is often all that can be found. Businesses often hire very few full-timers in order to avoid having to give them benefits, filling the void with a pool of workers who get just shy of full time. Business owners think that’s good business. Workers call that poverty.

Those benefits, particularly the medical ones, are desperately needed. If one can’t get them through an employer, and one can’t afford insurance (if you’re choosing between rent and groceries the odds are excellent that you can’t afford health insurance) then one must rely on Medicaid or some other form of assistance. And guess what’s being cut.

So you are sick and stressed and hopeless. No matter how hard you try, your options are limited and your prospects dim. You are not a superhero, not gifted with exceptional brains or stamina or determination. You just want an even break and you aren’t going to get one. You get angry, maybe violent, maybe abusive to yourself and others. You are a rat in a cage being subjected to random electric shocks. And you are told it’s all your fault.

Let’s go back to the blessed middle class. Many are one paycheck away from disaster. They purchase their lifestyle with dangerous debt. The loss of a job could be the loss of the house, the credit cards, the beginning of the catastrophic plunge. At least when you are among the blessed, you do have options. You can afford lawyers and accountants to help you manage things. You have contacts that can advise you and help you. You have friends and family who can get you through the crisis. You can avoid becoming one of them.

The poor. The struggling. The ones who can’t afford nice cars and attractive houses. Who can’t afford to send their kids to good schools. Who go to the grocery store and can’t just buy whatever appeals to them, shop organic or indulge some special diet. Who have to resort to food pantries and soup kitchens and other forms of charity. Who eat fast food instead of fine food, who shop at Goodwill and church rummage sales. Who live in ramshackle houses or cheap apartments, can’t afford to get their teeth fixed or their hair done. You know, the ones you look down on and shake your head over. The ones you feel so superior to.

Picture this. You’ve been hit by a car. You are laying in the street, broken and bleeding. A crowd stands around you looking down at you in disgust. They say, “God, you’re a mess! Why don’t you clean yourself up?” They say, “Don’t just lie there. At least make an effort to get yourself off the pavement.” They say, “What, you expect us to help you? What about personal responsibility?” They say, “It’s your own fault for walking out in front of that car.”

That is poverty.





June 15, 2017

15 06 2017

Oh, how we want to share with our children the things we know and value! And oh, the disappointment when we have to accept that they just aren’t interested.

Each generation as it ages becomes increasingly disgruntled with the generations that follow. The older are critical of the younger. Critical of their values, their priorities, their choices, their work ethic, their lack of discipline and ethics. My parents’ generation disparaged mine, and now my generation wrings its hands over my children’s. I overheard in the library a couple of women my age talking about “kids these days” in ways hauntingly like what my parents would have said about me.

I remember. I saw the lives that adults had made for themselves, what they thought was important, and I rejected it. I saw what a mess the world was in, all the suffering, all the corruption, and determined that if this was what the values and choices of previous generations had brought us to, I wanted no part of it. I saw people working their asses off, sacrificing themselves to achieve success as they saw it, only to grow old and die without having lived life fully. Not me, I thought. Not me!

We remember our childhoods, how we were raised. If we had happy childhoods, we try to do the same for our own kids. If we loved playing in the woods, or baking in the kitchen with Mom, or building things with Dad, or spending hours reading or doing crafts, that’s what we want for our kids. We try to share the same things. But the world is not the same as the one we grew up in. Our kids quite likely will not have the same interests we did, especially as they grow older and discover what’s going on outside their parents’ sphere of influence. This can cause parental panic and the desire to protect one’s little darlings from the corruption—as we see it. When this doesn’t work, and they go their own way as young, curious, gregarious humans will do, the parents are heartbroken.

If our childhoods weren’t so happy, or we dwell on the mistakes our parents made raising us, we declare that we won’t make those mistakes. We wind up making different mistakes, which our kids then resent us for. Again, heartbreak.

Then there are the parents who are determined to give their kids every advantage. Only the best of everything. Their children must be happy, and any unhappiness is a problem to be immediately solved. Then they wonder why the kids grow up expecting the world to do the same for them. When life doesn’t oblige, they get angry and resentful. They do not understand hard work and self-sacrifice because it was never required of them. The generation that did the hard work and self-sacrificing then scorns these kids with their attitude of entitlement.

Each generation raises the next with expectations. Each generation tries to impart their wisdom, their values, their experiences onto the next. Each generation looks at the next with the eyes of age, judging the young by the criteria of the old.

Each generation is disappointed.





June 8, 2017

8 06 2017

She kept messaging me. Each time with a different version of what she had already said. Each time I politely repeated some version of, “I’m afraid I can’t agree. That’s not how I see it.” Finally I had to stop responding.

A friend of mine had the same experience, trying to end a futile argument with, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” But the person just kept at it. My friend and I agreed; the behavior was obnoxious.

In similar situations when I disagreed with someone, I’ve been accused of not listening. I’ve been accused of refusing to see the truth. I’ve been accused of being blind to the facts.  It makes me want to yell, “Just because I’m not persuaded by your arguments, it does not mean I am not listening. I hear you perfectly well. I disagree. I am going to continue to disagree no matter how you rephrase and repeat. Please, just stop!”

And yet, I have to admit, I’ve been in situations where my point seems so clear and inarguable that I can’t understand why the other person doesn’t see it. What I am trying to convince them of is obvious. Why don’t they listen to me? Why don’t they get it? I get frustrated. I get upset. I keep hammering at them.

Just like the person who didn’t want to “agree to disagree.”

Ideally, we all realize there are arguments we are just not going to win. When we have discussed something with another person long enough to get the clear picture that there is no way we are going to convince each other, we politely end the discussion. Sensible intelligent people take the hint when they are told, “I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree.” It’s a graceful way out of a deadlock. It’s civilized society’s way of avoiding coming to blows.

But if one of the people involved is strongly motivated, is passionate about their point of view, is absolutely convinced they are right and feels it is urgently important that they convince the other person because of what’s at stake, how likely are they to give up? If I am sure that your ideas and actions are going to do terrible harm to the community, and I must stop you at all cost, I am not likely to “agree to disagree.” I will keep arguing right up to the bitter end to prevent this terrible evil you are determined to bring about. You, of course, think that what you are doing is sensible and necessary. You aren’t going to listen to my hysterical warnings, no matter what I say.

Which one of us is objectively in the right? It depends on a thousand other things.

It makes me want to give up on the whole messy business of public discourse.  A lot of people feel the same, refusing to discuss “politics”.  And yet, our whole system of government is based on citizen participation.  And we can’t develop informed opinions unless we talk to each other, get the benefit of other perspectives, work out compromises.  So unless we are going to withdraw into the conflict-free cocoon of our echo-chambers, we have to put up with the cacophony, annoying as it may be.





June 2, 2017

2 06 2017

Puzzles again.

Perhaps they are so satisfying because they are problems with definite answers. In a world where problems often have no solution, or the solution is so complicated and baffling that it is beyond us, puzzles provide relief and comfort. Here is something I can solve. Here is something which, if I persist, will reward me with the satisfaction of resolution. I understand how to do, for example, a jigsaw puzzle, although crosswords or sudoku are much the same. I can be certain that there is a way to put the pieces together that makes a complete, coherent picture.

I don’t know how to solve the problems of people I know who are suffering, who have health issues, money problems, miserable relationships or just cope with depression and despair. The labyrinth of human relationships remains always an incomprehensible conundrum to me. The black box of my own psyche remains impenetrable. I do my best to try to worry loose threads of the tangle, but in the end, all I can do is throw up my hands and let go of it. I’ll never figure it out.

But puzzles, ah! I begin with a jumble of chaos, much as the world appears to be. One by one, I find pieces that fit together. Slowly a picture begins to emerge. And finally, it is all there. I have done it. I have figured it out. It is finite, sensible. Within my grasp.

I have done my puzzle for the day. Now, daunting as it is, I need to apply myself to the puzzle of living. A room the size of a gymnasium whose floor is covered with puzzle pieces. Over the course of my life I’ve worked out some of it; there are sections I’ve managed to put together. The rest? Futility.

There are those who claim to have solved the puzzle. I don’t believe them. The more certain they are, the less I trust them. These voices of certainty all say something different. Their answers don’t agree. One may be right; all are likely wrong; or there is some logic-defying Schrodinger’s cat of a way that they can all be right at once. Even that is a puzzle.

Never mind. The sun is shining briefly after days of clouds and rain, and the prediction of more rain and clouds to come. Let me do what I can and turn my face to the sun while it lasts.