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Is Your Stimulus Check Really Stimulating?

I’m not a spender. Growing up wearing hand me downs, being afraid to ask my mother for money, and having spent the majority of my life not being able to “keep up with the Jones’s” made me frugal. Having expensive taste without the income to support it taught me to save for what I really wanted instead of wasting my money and settling for a cheaper, more disposable substitute. Age and travel altered my priorities. I prefer the freedom that comes with having good credit and no debt. Nowadays I rarely buy anything new as I realize there’s no value in it. New cars lose a large percentage of their value the minute you drive them off the lot. Same is true with furniture, jewelry, and clothing. I enjoy window shopping, finding deals at thrift stores or on Craigslist/FB Marketplace where I’ve bought these items in like-new condition for a fraction of the cost they’d be new or at an antique store. Sometimes I’ll even do a trade.

When my roommates brother recently made millions from a Bitcoin investment and gave him $1,000 “just because,” my roommate didn’t know what to buy. Like me, he has everything he needs and is in a position to buy whatever he wants. He asked me what I’d do if someone gave me $1000. I said I’d get my hair done and buy the mirror at the thrift store I’ve been eyeing even though, at $50, I think it’s overpriced. Maybe get a mani and pedi, too. The rest I’d save until I found something that I really wanted. Or maybe I’d take a trip; I’ve been dying to ski Whistler. But probably not. 

Now I have $1,400 coming to me as a stimulus check. Honestly though, it’s not really that much money. It certainly wouldn’t even cover one month of my rent if I didn’t have roommates. But I do, fortunately, as well as a job. So, what am I going to do with my money? After seeing firsthand how the community here supports one another, I know I’m NOT going to spend it on Amazon or at any chain stores. (If you haven’t read it yet, please check out my article https://wordsworthywriting.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/community-in-action/ ) Helping these billion dollar companies make more money while local businesses struggle only makes the rich richer and does nothing to help thy neighbor. As much as I’d like to save it all for a rainy day, I won’t. Aside from paying down my credit card, I am going to use most of it for its intended purpose: to stimulate the local economy. I’ve scheduled a long needed haircut, have plans for a manicure and pedicure, and may see an acupuncturist or masseuse or someone who can help me with the constant pain in my neck and shoulders. I subscribed to a local magazine, of which 25% went to a local environmental non-profit. I’m also going to subscribe to the NYT as I believe quality journalism should be supported. I’m going to fill my gas tank. At almost $3.00 a gallon, when I don’t even need a vehicle to get around town, that’s a big deal for me. At least in Oregon that actually does help the economy. We pay a premium for gas here because we aren’t allowed to pump it ourselves. The extra money pays the wages of the jobs created by having pump attendants, and I’m happy to contribute. All of this will equal half of the check.

Since I don’t attend religious services, I’ve decided to ‘tithe’ a portion of this money on food for another homeless person we will be housing at the end of the month. I might also splurge and get a fly fishing lesson. It’s a beautiful, tranquil activity that I’ve fantasized learning since I saw A River Runs Through It, a feeling which was recently revived upon reading the book. Although, as ungraceful as I am, I’m not sure it will have the poetic elegance as portrayed by Brad Pitt or Norman Maclean. Maybe I’ll just support the local art community. 

That makes at least eight local individuals, organizations, and businesses that will benefit from my conscious spending. I realize my small spending is a drop in the bucket, but if everyone in the community contributes a drop, soon the cup will runneth over. Why wouldn’t I want to help them? They’ve shared all their talents and risked everything to have a business that contributes to making my life more comfortable and attractive. They forego the riches of capitalism to take care of our mountains and rivers and the rising homeless population. They are my neighbors. I see them at the local coffee shops and at the parks with their children. If you don’t need your stimulus check, how are you going to spend it? How can you help your community through conscious spending?

If Variety is Good Why is Diversity Bad?

Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes. It must be true. It’s why some people cheat on their partners, or why people get excited with new and fresh styles in all classifications of the arts. It’s why the arrival of yellow and purple carrots created quite a stir of delight in kitchens around the world. We seek it in our diets, fashion, and lives. Could you imagine if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life? What if there was only one type of cheese, or everyone wore the exact same style of clothing? Variety is a completely natural occurrence as can be seen throughout nature. There isn’t only one kind of bird or tree. Heck, there are 12,000 types of grass! Variety is something we yearn for when we’re in a rut and something we actively seek to keep from getting in a rut. The degree to which we embrace diversity and change reflects our level of emotional maturity.

If variety is so good, then why are so many people so afraid of diversity and change? In the ’60s, some kids that grew out their hair and dressed like the Beatles would get beat up at school. In the ’70s, the term “hippie,” which by definition, was a long-haired unconventionally dressed young person that advocated a nonviolent ethic, was spat out like a dirty word. The punk rockers of the ’80s who dyed their hair “outrageous colors” or styled them in spiky mohawks, were teased and ridiculed. Why? Why are we so threatened by someone looking, thinking, behaving differently from us? Nowadays, we look back on those eras with nostalgia, as well as the understanding that those rebels and trendsetters paved the way for the more liberal and accepting America we know today. Yet we still have a long way to go. Here, in the 21st century, taxpayers have to waste money to have laws passed that create natural hairstyles as a protected class. Why was this even a thing? Why are people so insecure and full of hatred that they feel the need to control how someone wears their hair???

Why are some people so afraid of blacks that it creates panic by just laying eyes upon them? Why are hardworking brown skinned people considered freeloaders and given the crappiest of jobs? How can we enjoy the diversity they bring to our lives yet hate the entire race? It’s so hypocritical, and screams of such entitlement and superiority that it’s frightening. From music to fashion to food, foreign people and places have constantly inspired mankind. I couldn’t imagine eating one kind of food my whole life. I love ethnic food, be it Mexican, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, or African. The spices and colors and flavors, oh my! In fact, the most boring food in the world is American. Burgers, dogs, fries, steak…how insipid can it get? I love these talents they share and I embrace the people that bring them. Different cultures bring different perspectives, knowledge, and ideas; that has to be a good thing! Nothing in America is actually “ours” since the only true Americans are the natives. Everyone else came here on the boat, bringing with them ideas, knowledge, and perspectives acquired in foreign lands. In fact, our government and corporations, to this very day, continue to court the best and the brightest from other countries and bring them here to work in the sciences and sports. They are offered citizenship so we can claim them, and their accomplishments, as our own.

Just as there are eggs in a variety of colors from white to green to brown, sometimes even with speckles on them, people come in a variety of colors, sometimes even with freckles on them. And like eggs, inside, we are all exactly alike: we think, we feel, we bleed. So why is it so difficult to accept variety in skin color? Would we feel so threatened if a race of blue people suddenly showed up? I believe most would welcome them because they are different. They’d be cool. And blue is such a pretty color, like the sky or the sea.

Aren’t black and brown pretty colors too? I ask this, and the questions above, because I’m genuinely trying to understand how people can hate the way they do. I’m also hoping that by asking pointed questions, individuals might pause for a moment to reflect on their honest answers. And maybe, just maybe, one person may realize an ugly truth about themself and change their ways. There’s no doubt that systemic racism certainly has played a large part in people’s attitudes. Funding schools based on the taxes collected from residents in an area instead of distributing the money according to the number of students in a school, is a sure fire formula for perpetuating stereotypes and widening the gap between the haves and have nots. Then there are the negative connotations associated as black or dark: black hearts, black sheep, black cats, dark prince, angel of darkness, devils food cake, and in the olden days, blackguard. While the origins of these words really have nothing to do with the color of people’s skin, when everything that is good is white (white knights, white flag, angel food cake, even white lies are considered harmless), the subliminal messages are there, loud and clear. 

Generation after generation, greedy old white men have been in power. They dictated school curriculums, controlled news and media outlets, preached our scriptures, and monopolized the lucrative oil, steel, and railroad (and later, automobile) industries. They had all the money and power and anyone that was different from them was considered a threat, including women. So they mastered the concept of divide and conquer. 

Fortunately, we have recently broken many of the barriers that, for centuries, held people back in this country. We’ve had an African-American president and now we have a female vice president of color; not just black, but Asian as well. What is even crazier is that in the US of A, a country, that is supposed to symbolize freedom, we are so far behind other countries in this regard. We are one of the few developed nations around the globe that has not had a woman as a Head of State. When 87 other countries have had female leaders, how can we really believe we are the leader of the free world? Women were voting in 20 other countries before the US allowed it. The legalization of same-sex marriage was only just passed in 2015, long after countries like South Africa, Uruguay, and extremely Catholic countries like Brazil, Spain, and the Republic of Ireland. Why do we believe it’s our place to judge another for the color of their skin, who they love, pray to, or what they do to their bodies? There are much bigger problems to focus on in this world than sticking your nose into what somebody else does in their private life that has zero effect on you.

In life, where change is the only constant, and variety is the spice of it, it’s time to embrace diversity in its entirety. It’s not going to go away, we can’t live in the past, and trying to fight it only causes hatred and misery. Negative attracts negative. As Ernest Holmes said, “Change your thinking, change your life.” Love is the answer, choose love. At the very least, choose acceptance.

Community In Action

I’ve lived in a lot of states throughout the US; mostly in the suburbs of big cities where most people were all about themselves. Here, it’s 130 miles over the mountains and through the woods to the nearest big city. Until now, never had I experienced living someplace where there was a true sense of community. Not only do the residents consciously support locally owned businesses, but many go out of their way to avoid places and products that are sell-outs, like a local brewery that sold out to AB InBev a few years ago. (I was schooled on that transaction my first week here.) It’s a town where people are kind and supportive. The radio broadcasts information that is of direct importance to us. The local credit union sponsors, among other things, a monthly Pay It Forward award to individuals that help their community. The hospital, the largest employer, is a non-profit. Businesses, small and large, donate to local charities, and there are a lot of them. Due to the massive influx of people, the homeless population is expanding, the women’s shelter is overflowing, and institutions that help people who are struggling to pay their rent and/or utilities, are running out of funds.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to spend my remaining years making the world a better place. I want to make a true impact. A year ago, when I settled in Oregon, I was hoping to get a job in a non-profit. Unfortunately, COVID hit shortly after I arrived and jobs became scarce. Not having a degree in something like education, social work, or psychology, made it even more difficult to find employment in a non-profit. Instead, I settled for a receptionist job in a residential property management firm. Supporting owners, many of whom live out of state, that charge outrageous sums for small apartments so they can pay for their third or fourth house, while the people that actually grew up and work here can’t afford to rent, is not my idea of making a positive contribution to society. So it was a rare chance that came along that gave me just such an opportunity. One of the local non-profits, J Bar J Youth Services reached out to us. They had submitted an application for a kid (19 yo) who had been homeless for a couple years at least. Neighbor Impact was going to pay for all but $100 of their rent for a year. A case worker would continue to work with them over the course of the year to help them get a job, a drivers license, and a vehicle so they could be self sufficient by the end of the year. The kid was getting some Social Security that would pay the remaining rent, utilities and food. Could we help? 

My boss calls me a bleeding heart and tells me I need to blacken it. I respond that it used to be black and it took me a long time to un-blacken it. Despite her snarky-ness, she supported me 100% in my efforts to get the kid housed. Ultimately, it would be up to the owner to approve the application. Without violating fair housing laws, I told him as much as I could. In the end, he wanted me to meet the person and follow my gut. So I did. The kid was shy and polite, and so excited when I showed him the apartment. My report to the owner was positive and he gave his final seal of approval. 

While I’ve done a variety of volunteer work, nothing has filled me with joy like this has. I was so excited to be able to actually use my position to do something impactful. Inspired, I organized a canned food drive for the kid at the small outfit where I work. The generosity of my contributing co-workers was overwhelming. Between six of us, we provided him with enough cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper goods, and food to take care of him for a while. It’s expensive to start from scratch! It didn’t stop there, either. Furnish Hope delivered furniture after he moved in so he wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor and he’d have dishes to eat off. And I have offered to give him some cooking lessons so he isn’t eating junk/fast food all the time.

Too many people feel that homeless people are nothing but eyesores and junkies that need to go away. This was a big learning experience for me and a lesson in compassion about the massive homeless community we have here. Because I’m curious, I asked the case worker a lot of questions and she was happy to share. And the more she shared, the more I cared. Most  of these people have mental health issues. One kid she works with suffered a brain injury in a car accident as a kid and has been homeless, with his family, since he was nine years old. Nine! He’s been on his own since he was 16. He smokes a lot of weed because it helps with the constant pain. We can’t help him but my heart aches for him and his family. There are countless versions of this story. It never before occurred to me that many homeless people have been homeless since childhood. When one starts out in life that way it’s nearly impossible to get out of that situation. They can’t get a job without an address and clean clothes, or with a “criminal” record littered with trespassing violations. Because, when you’re homeless, you wander. When you wander, yes, you’ll probably trespass. She also told me of property management companies slamming doors in her face, hanging up on her, or yelling at her. I guess not everyone here is about solidarity.

I think what brought me the most joy was not just helping someone but that I actually saw the work of an entire community come together to make this happen. I’ve always been cynical of charities, believing that I was just contributing to the million dollar salary of the CEO. And for many national organizations that’s not far from the truth. (You can check the top salaries of a non-profit at https://www.charitywatch.org) So this broke down that wall of skepticism for me. If you really think about it, it probably took the contributions of hundreds. From the those that shopped at local businesses that donated to the charities, to the tireless leg work of the various non-profits, the kindness of the owner, and everyone at my work, each person played a part, whether direct or indirect, in getting this kid off the streets and into a home. Maybe we are all just cogs in a wheel but a wheel can’t turn without cogs. It’s proof that when individuals work together they can create real solutions. It’s treating people with dignity and giving them second chances, life skills, and an opportunity to succeed. So please, spend consciously, donate to local charities, help if you can. Be part of the solution. Thanks to the cogs, and the dedication of a few, there’s now one less homeless kid out there.

One Love

Why can’t we all just get along?

I’m tired of hearing about yet another senseless killing of an innocent black man. I’m dumbfounded that, as advanced as Americans are in science and technology, many are still psychologically stunted in the Jim Crow era. 

We know that racism is learned and not innate. There are examples everywhere that show how young children don’t even see the color of ones skin. So I began to wonder, when exactly, does this happen? Of course, if a family is racist, it begins at birth. But what about children born to more progressive parents? Or mixed families? In my case I can tell you exactly when it happened.

My son grew up in a diverse neighborhood. Our neighbors were white, black, Indian, and Asian. He played together with all the children in the tot lot behind our townhouses. Children of all races were welcomed in my home. My black neighbor, Kevin, who lived across the street was a very dear friend of mine and often came over to hang out. He was only known as “Kevin” even though he lived with a white man with the same name. It was very important to me that my son not grow up identifying people by the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. 

I enrolled him in Montessori school. One day I picked him up from kindergarten and he said, with genuine curiosity, “Mom, did you know Kevin is black?” “Yes,” I said, “I know that. How do you know that?” I tried not to show my fury as he told me, that at 5 years old, he learned it during Black History Month. 

It’s not that I object to learning about the important contributions of blacks in history. In fact, it’s absolutely vital. My objection is that, by segregating it we are perpetuating race divide. Once we start saying ‘African American,’ ‘Asian American,’ etc., we immediately identify them as different from us. Aren’t we all just Americans? With so many mixed race people, I wouldn’t dare make the assumption that someone is African American or any other kind of American. By having a Black History Month we are minimizing the importance of other races as well. The USofA was built on the backs of, and with the blood and sweat from, people from around the world. Why can’t we just teach our children about people along with their photos? Why is there a need to categorize them? It’s their story, the ability to overcome and conquer despite the discrimination they faced and the injustices they endured, that are what’s important. It’s possible to say why they were discriminated against without attributing a color or race to it. Even whites were prejudiced against because they were Irish, or Polish, or whatever. For a long time, Italians weren’t even considered “white.”

I understand the inequity in the representation of important contributions by African Americans. I respect that until there was an uproar demanding inclusion, until 1976, history books in this country were very monochromatic. I get that bias is skewed not only in American history classes but also in current society, although it continues to improve. Black people need role models that look like them, that they can look up to and be inspired by. But, so do girls,  Latinos, Asians, and every other ethnic group. 

To me, what is most important is that the whole history is taught. Roots should be required to watch in middle school. I had black friends my entire life and when I watched it at nine years old, I was mortified that people were so cruel and could do such unspeakable things to one another. And all because of the color of their skin! It made me cry and angry and ask questions. It definitely impacted me. The atrocities that whites inflicted upon others needs to be ingrained and taught as a lesson on how not to behave. Just as with the holocaust.

It’s not healthy to dwell on the past, but it is important that it isn’t forgotten, or skewed, either. It’s equally important to teach about the brave, everyday people that protested the savagery and helped others regardless of their race, religion, or gender. Examples of coexistence and team work should be emphasized. It wasn’t until recent years when I learned that it was the Chinese who built the railroads in much of this country. They lived in atrocious conditions and were treated not much better than slaves. And what about the Jews and Native Americans? Disturbingly, history books are repeatedly being rewritten. Recently, the Native American atrocity, Trail of Tears was rewritten to soften the horrific episode. I don’t even remember learning about Wounded Knee in school. To this day we oppress, kill, and rob the Native Americans for their land–and make no mistake about it, it’s ALL their land. Then there’s Christopher Columbus who is celebrated as a hero when, actually, he was a merciless brute. 

Perhaps, if Americans were taught the whole, raw truth about how this country became so ‘great’ people wouldn’t be so proud to be American. Maybe they’d be more empathetic. Maybe fewer caucasians would identify the country as, ‘white Christian being taken over by foreigners.’ Of course that would be counter-productive to our leaders who use patriotism to send us to fight battles of greed, both at home and abroad, that they wouldn’t let their own children fight. Divide and conquer. John Lennon’s Imagine comes to mind. I’m getting off-topic now. 

How would my son’s and the next generations behave toward one another if schools just taught about important people and not separate them by skin color or gender? Would Ahmaud Arbery, Randy Evans, Stephon Clark, and the countless other innocents still be alive? Why was a bomb dropped on MOVE but not on Waco? I still wonder, if it weren’t for Black History Month, how long would it have been before my son learned that some of his friends were “black” and, therefore, dissimilar from him? It’s an inevitable consequence as it creates an awareness that didn’t exist before. And once you’re aware, you can’t be unaware. I think, “tainting the well” is an apt turn of phrase here. It was something that he hadn’t noticed up to that point in his life and I feel that the education system robbed him of a part of his purity. We can do better than this. We have to because all lives matter. 

A Stitch in Time

This morning, when I finished my shower, the tub was filled with water. It was still draining, but very slowly. I decided to give my dad a project (he loves to have projects to do). As he plunged the drain in the bathtub, the toilet started to gurgle up the funky water from the pipe between it and the tub. So he took the plunger to the toilet. He was nearly working up a sweat as he repeatedly worked to clear the bathroom channels. Suddenly, loud gurgling sounds could be heard from the kitchen sink. 

A little hair had come up from the bathtub drain but not an amount that would cause a blockage like that. As I watched this whole process unfold, I realized that this was a metaphor for  life’s problems. Although the tub was where the matter surfaced, the cause went much deeper. Just as the tub still functioned, but not at full capacity, when something is troubling us, we often find ourselves going through the motions, our verve gone. At first we might think those few surface hairs, or irritants, are the real problem, but, as often is the case, the problem is much bigger and goes deeper than we want to admit. 

The clog started a couple months ago but it was minimal, so I ignored it. After a month it was much worse, and I meant to tell my father about it before I left the country for a month, but I’d been busy and distracted, and never got around to it. When I came back, I found the problem hadn’t gone away even though I had. Just as the junk preventing free flow through the pipes didn’t miraculously disappear because I was busy and went away, our problems don’t go away either, no matter how much we ignore or run away from them. But I was exhausted from travel and didn’t feel like dealing with it. A few days later the clog was so bad I couldn’t ignore it. Finally, I told my dad about it. 

My father, despite an advanced degree, is old school and believes in fixing all things himself. Only when he’s tried everything, and the problem persists, does he admit it’s beyond his abilities and call a professional. So, after working on the clog for twenty minutes without success, he went to the hardware store to buy a small snake. That didn’t work either. So he went back and bought a bigger snake. Still no resolve. He made yet another trip to the store for some chemical product to dissolve the gunk. Fortunately that did work because the next step would have been a call to an expensive plumber (is there any other kind). Had I said something when I first realized there was a problem, he probably would have been able to fix it in ten minutes. Instead, it took two hours, three trips to the hardware store, and XX dollars before this problem was resolved.

Our problems are like that. We ignore them, push them down and pretend they don’t exist until they make their presence known by manifesting in our relationships or our health. They show up as anger and impatience, or in our bodies through things like skin conditions, fatigue, depression, stomach ailments, high blood pressure, and more. Eventually we have to go to therapists or doctors to help us fix ourselves. Or maybe we don’t and our relationships end or our health declines.

Just as strange noises in our cars prompt us to immediately take them to the mechanic to avoid a complete breakdown or more expensive repair, many issues in our life would cease to exist if we addressed them as soon as they come up. Ninety-five percent of the time, “address them” means simply, honest communication. If we did this, advice columnists would be out of business. Because most people don’t knowingly behave in annoying or hurtful ways, many “problems” are often one-sided. For example, say a colleague at work creates, what they think are, cute nicknames for everyone. Some people love theirs, but you hate yours. Is it easier to say to this person at the outset, “Look, I don’t like nicknames. Please call me by my given name,” or ignore it until it catches on and people from outside the office start calling you that? If your partner has an annoying habit that makes you insane, how do you address it after they’ve been doing it the entire three years you’ve been together? Wouldn’t it have been easier to communicate your feelings as soon as you realized you couldn’t stand it? By not doing so, it can grow to seem like a mountainous obstacle and slowly chip away at your relationship.  

Nobody likes confrontation, especially when the other person is really nice. Addressing items early on, from a place of love, prevents situations from escalating into problems. There’s a reason why roommates have house rules, companies develop employee handbooks, and the military enforces codes of conduct. When people know what the boundaries are, they will behave accordingly. If they don’t, they understand there will be consequences. 

One way to help prevent machines from breaking down is to perform regular preventive maintenance. This could be changing air filters, greasing parts, or cleaning motors. People also need preventive maintenance. This can look like vigorous exercise, healthy eating, and daily mediation. If we take care of ourselves, physically and mentally, we’ll be in a better, stronger state to deal with things as soon as they come up.

We all have a toolbox, it’s just a matter of finding the right tools to do the job. If you don’t have the right tools, you can acquire new ones. Book stores, the internet, and confidantes can all provide resources to help you tackle your difficulties. When you can’t find the right tool, or the problem is too big for you to handle, bigger than your toolbox, it’s ok to ask for help from an experienced professional with a bigger box and a larger variety of tools that have been tried and tested. It’s always okay to ask for help. We aren’t born with all the answers.

Unlike in the plumbing example, in life we can’t just pass the torch and expect someone else deal with our problems. We have to take responsibility and deal with them ourselves. And its easier to do that before they become seemingly insurmountable. As the adage goes, a stitch in time saves nine, so nip situations in the bud and enjoy life more.