Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hifalutin

I'm just about finished reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

I almost put the book down after fifty or so pages. You've heard that adage, that for any book you should sample one hundred pages minus your age. Vance's book wouldn't have cut it by that standard. I didn't actually like it nor did I see the inherent value so many others had placed in it by page fifty. I hadn't gotten comfortable with his awkward style of writing, going from vaguely set family stories to statistics about the region. I kept reading because there was something that niggled in the back of my mind when I went past the fifty page mark, something familiar.

I hoped Vance would get to the point, would teach me something about my own roots. So I kept reading.

I'm from Indiana yet I don't come from a home like the one that Vance describes. I grew up in a college town, Bloomington. I was friends with the professor's kids. My father was an engineer so I didn't struggle to become the first of my family to get into college. In fact, my father, an uncle, my sister, and my brother preceded me.

But Vance's descriptions of hillbillies hit me in the gut. He eventually explained to me something I had struggled to understand my entire life. Why was I so uncomfortable going back home to visit and why did I feel so awkward going into situations above my station. I was, ultimately, from hillbilly roots.

Only two of my grandparents completed high school. My grandmothers both quit and had children before they were seventeen. Not one of them went to college. Yet, I was lucky enough to have two grandparents who were great readers, who became educated through the public library. That was probably my saving grace, probably what gave my father the impetus, with a wife, a child, and one on the way, to go to college, and to graduate. The rest of us flowed from his example. He made sure we understood that an education could change our lives.

Bloomington, Indiana lives on a great cultural divide. To the north lies Indianapolis and Chicago, both heavily urban influences. Even the culture brought from around the world to Indiana University shifted Bloomington squarely into that Northern mindset. South of Bloomington to Kentucky lies a whole lot of nothing, people might say, corn and soybean fields, toxic strip pits abandoned by coal companies, and then the Ohio river border with Kentucky. Oh, I know I'm missing some wonderful places, but bear with me. I'm talking about the impression I always had about Southern Indiana, about what outsiders thought of Southern Indiana.

I grew up speaking a bit of the Indiana twang. Don't ask me to pronounce hydrangea or peony. That accent rolls all the way north to the suburbs of Chicago where it shifts. But just outside of Bloomington city limits and south to the region where my cousins and grandparents lived, the accent sounded indistinguishable from Kentuckian. Go further south all the way to Georgia and it's still the same only stronger. That vocal divide, even as a child, put me on edge.

The kids at my public school who had the stronger Southern accent were looked down upon. Those kids were from the country, had no connection with the university. Teachers assumed that if I had that stronger Southern accent, that I was stupid, or at least ignorant. Even my parents tried to get us to pronounce our words without the heavier accent though it would have come naturally to them since they'd grown up with it themselves. We didn't say 'ain't' or 'nothin.' We pronounced the -ing on a word as if we could sing.

Yet, when we visited our grandparents and cousins, I was aware that we adopted the more Southern style of talking. It was just easier that way. It felt rude to pronounce the -ing like sing. I felt like an outsider in my family's presence when they said, "Y'all come on now." I didn't say y'all. I could copy their patterns of speech, but it felt rude, like I was making fun of them, but when I didn't shift it a little, I was an outsider. You'all was some kind of compromise I could make. I didn't say that at home or at school. So, during the week, I spoke one way and on the weekend with extended family, I spoke a different way. From a young age, I had to try to remember where I was.

When I was nineteen, I started a summer job at the Navy base about forty-five miles South of Bloomington. I had completed my first year at Purdue. I was going to be an engineer. On my first day at my new job, that title of engineering student backfired on me. My neutral accent backfired too. I realized that to fit in, I needed to adopt that drawl all the way down to the y'all. When I first spoke with my more newsworthy accent, they told me I was 'highfalutin,' too big for my britches. I was just some snot-nosed kid from the city come down there to tell them all how to do their jobs when they damned-well knew how to do their jobs already. And while I was at it, I needed to slow down my pace, both talking and working, because I was making them look bad.

Except for the engineers who ran the place, the people seemed proud that they hadn't gone to college, proud of their ignorance. They were even proud that they didn't read books. I didn't exactly know what to talk to people about if they didn't read books. I was a bookworm. Then, when I said that I was going to the East Coast for a week before I went back to college, that I was going to see New York City, they asked me why in hell I'd have any interest in a place like that. Some of them asked me why I even bothered going to college. They laughed at my pay scale, but we both knew I'd get a job when I was finished, that my pay would outstrip theirs in the first couple of years. I assumed they were just mad about it.

Yes, there was a divide.

Even now, when I go back to Indiana to visit, I find myself bringing on my old accent. I don't lay it on thick. But I think my mother is more comfortable with me when I hold it out for her hear, as if I hadn't really moved away, as if I weren't trying to tell her I was better because I had moved up and away.

I don't know for sure. She's never said any of it outright, but it's a feeling I get, that my neutral accent makes me an outsider even though I'd been born in Indiana and lived there the first twenty-two years of my life.

And then there was New York City. I lived near there in my twenties. I could make a whole room full of New Yorkers laugh with my twang and the way I pronounced certain words. Hyderangie, piney. I felt like I went from intelligent to stupid in that simple transition and back again when I dropped the accent.

Why couldn't a biomedical engineer from Indiana be just as intelligent with her homespun accent as without it?

Because people assume that accent is connected with ignorance. I know. I entertained them with it.

I never told the New Yorkers that I could also make a whole room full of Hoosiers laugh with my Brooklyn accent.

So J.D. Vance's book, when he began to describe being an outsider, hit home. When he got down to the social structure of planned ignorance, it hit me again. When he described feeling of a different class when he attended Yale, it hit me one more time. Three strikes and I was out.

Hillbilly Elegy is worth the read. Vance has an important message that was worth getting past the first fifty pages. The hard part, the solution to helping that group of rust-belt underemployed people, that will be harder to solve. I rubbed up against some of those people, the ones who seemed proud to be uneducated, proud as they explained that they could work the system to get unemployment, proud that they hadn't read a book in the past ten years.

I read recently that Amazon is looking for a second location. Some reporters suggested that they could rejuvenate a whole region if they put it squarely in the rust-belt. I wouldn't want to bring big business into an area where the people prided themselves on ignorance and laziness. I've lived both in the Pacific Northwest and in the rust-belt. I can tell you that an encounter between the two cultures would not prove a happy one. Amazon would be better off sticking within city limits.

Thanks to J.D. Vance, I now know why.

Thank you for listening, jules


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Puerto Rico Needs Help

On Twitter, people are asking why Trump isn't sending help to Puerto Rico.

The answer is simple: racism.

Until last week, Trump didn't even know that people from Puerto Rico were American citizens. He will never understand that, respond to that. Sure, Puerto Ricans don't get the right to vote. Sure, they are still taxed. But they are citizens.

How is it that this is legal? What the hell is wrong with us?

No, don't tax us without representation, we said. We fought for that right. We died for that right. Yet, here we are doing the same thing to the people of Puerto Rico that England did to us in 1776. Hypocrite much?

What we need, what we really need is for Carmen Yulin Cruz to be President. I could get behind her. She's passionate about her people. She's out there, working to save lives. She cares deeply.

What the people of Puerto Rico really need is water, food, medicine, electricity. Now! People are dying needlessly. Mostly the elderly and children are dying. Think about that. Our most vulnerable people.  It's a travesty. It's a crime.

Is it a crime? Technically?

If it isn't, it should be. What the country needs to do right now is to get on the phone with their representatives and make as much noise as we made to fight the Graham-Cassidy bill. Please, our people are dying. Americans are dying needlessly.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trying to Help and Cleaning Up the Mess

Hurricaine Harvey is agonizing to watch. All those people in distress. The children, the frail people, the elderly, and the pets. It is sheer torture to watch. It's worse watching if you haven't done anything to help yet.

A truly helpful action you can take if you aren't near enough to go rescue people in your boat is to donate money. Look for your favorites on Charity Navigator. It evaluates how efficiently they spend the money you give. There are other worthy and reputable ways to donate as well:

There are many groups accepting donations, so follow your heart. But please, don't go through your pantry for those cans that are about to expire. Don't send stuff. Stuff is expensive to transport and isn't always what people in distress need, so money is the most efficient way for reliable charities to help people. Go ahead. Donate something, even a little bit. I can wait for you to come back.

*****whistling the theme song to Jeopardy******

And you're back. Great! Now, do you feel better? I'll bet you do. Feel the glow. All the charity we give out helps us too. I read that Sandra Bullock donated a million dollars. Go Sandra Bullock!

I have another thing to ask you about.

Did you watch as the news comparing Trump's visit to Texas to President Obama comforting victims of Sandy Hook? Were you shocked by the differences in how they conducted themselves?

I wasn't. At this point, it irritates me that people still bother to report Trump's foibles in front of a microphone. Is there news in his comments over the crowd size, his premature congratulations to a FEMA leader, his excitement over the scale of the disaster, and the profitable hat. That fucking hat. Shame on the person who buys it. Shame.

It sounded like Trump thought he was in Houston.  Did he know where he was? What a mess.

I almost forgot. Melania wore high heels and a hat that said, "Float us?" Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

But why is everyone still going on about Trump's inappropriate behavior? Where is the news in that?

Months ago, we were appalled over the  pussy-grabbing video. We were offended at the lie over the Inaguration crowd sizes. We were shocked by the wiretapping tweet. We were horrified over the Charlottesville press conference.

When are we going to stop being shocked by Trump's consistently horrifying behavior?

No, Trump is not acting Presidential. He's not even acting like a normal human being. He has no compassion. He has no moral compass. He can't fathom what our dismay is over. And neither can I after we've all listened to it repeat and repeat and repeat in different manifestations of the same thing for so many months.

He is acting completely consistently with the man who took pleasure in firing people he didn't like on a reality TV show and with the man who bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. How is it still news when he's a braggart and narcissistic?

Even GOP leaders are beginning to take note of it. Charlottesville seemed to put them over the top. They tweeted vague responses against Nazis, against racism, against bigotry. Well, duh.

You know, when my son was a baby, my friends and I often took the kids to the pool, letting them splash about in the shallow end. Not once, when a kid pooped in the pool did the staff stand around comparing the kid to other kids who hadn't pooped in the pool. Not once did they stand there and talk about what he should have done instead.

They got the kid out of the damned pool and cleaned up the mess.

It's time for the GOP to get the kid out of the pool and clean up the damned mess.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, August 26, 2017

On the Other Coast and Still Frightened by What I Saw

I had lunch with a friend the other day. That's not unusual. We talked about the state of the nation. That's not unusual either.

What surprised me about this strong and involved woman was to hear her say that she was too exhausted by the rolling plethora of worst-case-scenarios that have afflicted the nation to keep fighting in the Indivisibles group. She said she was still furious but that she couldn't talk about it any more.

Then she proceeded to talk in detail about it for another half hour. She knew more than I did about what was going on and the implications.

I would tell you her insights about the EPA and the loss of safety regulations, but I'm not actually that good at listening and I don't retain information well. I should take notes when I talk to this intelligent woman. If she knows it and I can write it, we could make a pretty good team, you know? Get my friend the lawyer involved and we could move the nation in a positive direction. But I didn't take notes so I remember that she said something that was particularly relevant to continued life on Earth but I can't remember what it was. Maybe it was something about bleaching the coral reefs and how it will affect our food supplies. Maybe it was about the cycle of life and if you kill all the stinging insects, then bees are gone and we're going to die from lack of fruit and vegetables.

I hate my brain.

We also talked about guns. That part, I remember.

We both decided that we didn't want to go to the grocery store and walk past armed men who's political opinions differed wildly from ours. (I told her about my close encounter with the red-truck-tattered-flag man.) She basically said that when a group of armed people are loose in the streets, it's a vigilante and no one is safe, especially people who want to speak out on the other side of a political discussion.

And she also said, "Think about it. If a group of armed black men in paramilitary clothing showed up in a town, any town in this country, or a group of Muslims, that group of armed men would be shot dead on the spot. When a bunch of white men do it, it's okay even though it scared the shit out of a who lot of people."

It scared the shit out of me and I was sitting in my living room, 2804 miles away, watching it on TV.

Thank you for listening, jules


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Protesting for a Whiteness that Never Existed in Our Country

Days after the tragedy ending in Heather Heyer's death, I'm still trying to process what I saw in the news in Charlottesville, VA. I was appalled by the fury of the men, looking altogether like troglodytes with their torches, openly brandishing the Nazi and Confederate flags, marching while chanting 'blood and soil, blood and soil.'

What the hell did that even mean? I had to look it up. Blood and soil.

'Blood and soil' is a Nazi slogan popularized in 1930 and was connected with a proposal for "a systemic eugenics program, arguing for breeding as a cure-all for all the problems plaguing the state," according to Barbara Miller Lane and Leila J. Rupp in their book Nazi Ideology before 1933: A Documentation. Eugenics. So that slogan is one way to define a Nazi as a Nazi.

Since then, I've watched a lot of news. I watched as racist Steve Bannon was finally fired. I almost felt relief, almost. I hope he isn't in a position to cause trouble for a long long time to come. He seems like the type to continue to stir the pot wherever he is. I hope Mueller is investigating him. I hold a lot of hope in what Mueller is doing.

I listened to the video of the man who whined about getting arrested after marching in Charlottesville that night. Honey, if you protest, especially alongside men who bear the swastika, you should expect to get arrested. If you chant Nazi slogans, you're probably a Nazi. Do you remember in Aesop's fables, the story about birds of a feather flocking together? You don't get to say you weren't marching alongside a bunch of Nazis. What does that make you?

Shoot, when I protested in the Women's March, in the Science March, and in the March for Truth, I was always prepared to get arrested. I made sure I was marching among people who weren't agitators, looting, or breaking things. I looked for a group of women my age. I even marched with a group from my church, people who protested peacefully but with intent to make a point. I didn't want to get arrested. I was afraid of getting arrested, but I felt the cause was of such great importance that I was willing if I it was necessary to go to jail to make my point. I didn't do anything illegal, but I believed I could in fact get arrested.

I listened to a man who whined about the hatred he's received since his Nazi rally in Charlottesville, that he was afraid to go back to college because of it. He complained about the speech aimed at him, as if people on the other side of the issue didn't also have the freedom of speech. He tried to say he wasn't a Nazi but that he wanted to protest "the fundamental transformation of the composition of our country." Isn't that the definition of Nazis? The Nazis 'reorganized' the composition of their country one Jew and gypsy at a time. 

I also think this guy should look at the composition of our country over time. Take a history class, dude. You don't have a clear understanding of the composition of our country throughout history. It wasn't as a white as you think it was.

Hell, you're probably not as white as you think you are. None of us are. I think I may be part Neanderthal.

Thank you for listening, jules



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Objects of Fear


"I'd rather have my child, but by God, if I have to give her up, I want to make it count," said Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother, at her daughter's memorial today. I stood and watched the news, tears in my eyes. Heather Heyer gave her life for her belief in equality.

Would I be so eloquent if I had to speak to the world about losing my son?

I don't think I would. I have never felt so afraid in my own country. I have never felt so ashamed of its leadership. I have never felt such agony over what I believed existed in our past, not in our future.

Civil rights were won when I was a child, back in the 1960s. It's what I believed anyway. I was so naive.

Yesterday, when I came out of the grocery store, someone had parked a little too close to my little car while I shopped. Usually, that doesn't mean much, a man in a hurry, a woman just wanting to get home after a long day at work. The truck that parked too close to me was red. It waved two tattered American flags, and was covered in Trump/Pence and NRA stickers.

My resist sticker looked meek next to this ostentatious display. I was a afraid when I saw the shadow of feet behind the truck. A man was unloading groceries next to me. I didn't make eye contact. I tried. I couldn't think of what I'd say to a person like this. Didn't he know how all of this display on his truck looked after the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA?

He did. I'm sure now that he knew exactly how it looked. I quickly got into my car. I was tempted to lock my doors. He looked over at me as I carefully backed out of my space. I still couldn't look back at him as he stared.

I don't have enough courage to stand next to Heather Heyer.

Something had passed as a flash in my mind as I pushed my cart to my car, that I should look into the bed of that truck to see if there were tiki torches lying there. They were objects of fear. I was glad I had resisted that urge. The man had followed me outside too quickly and I would have been caught.

I don't have enough courage to hold Heather Heyer's banner, to hold her determination in my heart.

I'm so sorry, Susan Bro. I am so very sorry.

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, August 11, 2017

This Is Our Nuclear Family

Being a resident of the West coast, I can tell you that my anxiety over the words of the man on vacation at his New Jersey golf course has increased tenfold. The North Korean leader is unstable, has been for a long time. Ignoring him seemed to work for the most part. Then, somehow he was thrown against the ratings-monger that calls himself POTUS.

Twitter is lit up with official Presidential phrases like

'...fire and fury...'

'...the likes of which you have never seen ...'

and

'...locked and loaded ...'

The people of Guam are looking down the barrel, as are the people of South Korea. And everyone on the West coast is looking down the barrel of a long but loaded gun. Millions of people sit at the brink of this insane but nuclear bickering.

Why is this guy even talking? He's supposed to be on vacation, golfing, watching late-night comedy, checking propaganda letters describing his greatness. He's not supposed to be in a spitting match with another unhinged and bloated dictator.

Can't someone read POTUS the story John Hersey wrote about the different layers of hell when the atomic bomb on Hiroshima went off? It isn't a long book. Can't they explain to him that this is nonfiction?

Yet again, I'm losing my belief that any action of civic-minded people, any peaceful protest, any reasonable letters to the editor, any discussion with our representatives will have any impact whatsoever on this administration. Will no one in charge act to protect us from the madness? Is Mueller going to conclude his investigation before we reach the conclusion of this atomic skirmish?

And now Trump wants to go to war with Venezuela? What? Did I miss something? What happened with Venezuela? 

Christopher Moore, one of my favorite authors, wrote on Twitter today: I'm anxious. You anxious? Me too.

Then, I remembered a theoretical conversation I had with Mike while we watched an apocalyptic movie a couple of years ago. I don't even remember what movie it was. What would we do if we had three days before the world ended?

We both decided that we'd be right where we were, walking the dog together, making a good meal, hanging out with our boy, texting our friends and family funny pictures of ourselves, and maybe watching reruns of Star Trek on TV while cats lounged on our laps.

It's a good time to live the authentic life you always intended to live, especially if you live on the West Coast or anywhere near the Sea of Japan.

Thank you for listening, jules